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Authors: S. Harrison

Tags: #Juvenile Fiction, #Science Fiction

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BOOK: Infinity Rises
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A spike of pain lancing deep into my chest.

A high-pitched squeal.

Heat and pain pumping through me.

My back arches like my spine is trying to burst through my rib cage, and my teeth grind in my skull. My animal instincts scream at me to fight this unseen attacker as my jaw clenches in rolling spasms and my eyes snap back in my head.

I’m hit by a bolt of lightning. I scream out into the void, my cry echoing through the dark. A gust of wind rips violently through me, and my whole body is wrenched from the ocean of darkness like a fish on a hook as an intense explosion of white light bursts on a far horizon. Everything fades back to black. My skin burns with a cold electric fire and crackles with sparks of pure energy.

“Ohhhh . . . mmyyy . . . god!” says one of the voices. The faraway voice I heard before seems nearer now. The words are closer together, faster, easier to understand. And if I’m not crazy or mistaken, they almost sounded like . . .

“She took a breath and opened her eyes for a second! What
was
that?” asks the voice, and I know it for sure. It’s Bit.

I don’t know how, but I can hear her.

“That, girlie, was a massive dose of fortified adrenaline. Right into her heart,” says the other voice. It’s still quite far away, but I can understand it now, too. It’s the voice of the bearded man.

The burst of air seems to have cleared my head a little. I can feel my senses slowly gathering back into my mind as the static sparks dancing across my limbs begin to wane. I flex and stretch my arms; I can move again, much slower and with more difficulty than I’m used to, but at least now I feel closer to being alive than dead.

“Hello?” I call out into the void.

“Did you . . . ? I swear, I just heard something!” Bit’s voice says from somewhere in the darkness. “I heard it in my head.”

“Hellooooo!” I shout out again.

“It’s Finn! I can hear her! Finn, it’s me, Bit! I can hear you!”

“Concentrate on our voices, Finn,” says the man. “Pull them toward you. Keep talking to her, girlie.”

“Finn, we’re here to help!”

I focus on Bit’s voice and will it to come closer.

“Dr. Pierce says you need to stay with us. Concentrate! Don’t give up, Finn! Fight!”

Bit’s voice is getting louder and louder with every word.

“Bit? Can you still hear me?” I call into the distance.

“Yes, Finn, I’m right here!” she calls back.

“Who is there with you? Where am I? What happened?” I shout.

“My name is Dr. Pierce . . . ,” the man’s voice replies. “You’re in my laboratory, and you’ve been hurt, Finn. You’re attached to a machine called a Neural Interface. It allows your subconscious to communicate with ours.”

“Your name is Dr. Pierce?”

“Yes, Finn,” says the man’s voice. “But I seem to recall that when you were younger, you used to refer to me as ‘Graham.’ Among other things, I was also the groundskeeper at Blackstone Manor. I’m not surprised you didn’t recognize me when they brought you down here. You’ve had a nasty concussion, there was blood in your eyes, and it’s been years since we’ve seen each other.”

“Yes, I remember you now, Graham. My nanny’s last name was Pierce . . .”

“Theresa was my wife. I saw what she tried to do to you up there in the clean room, Finn; I was watching from down here. You must have been terrified—no doubt terribly confused about how it was possible that she was even there, her face on that robot, trying to hurt you, but if we get through this, I promise I will try to explain . . .”

“I know what happened, Graham; I was standing beside her when she died two years ago. I remember all of it.”

“But . . . how?”

“I’m beginning to remember all sorts of things. How my memories were altered, how my life has been controlled. Did you help them, Graham? Did you help them take my mind away from me?”

The beat of deathly silence reveals Graham’s guilt to me before he even has the chance to say the words.

“Yes, Finn. I . . . I’m ashamed to say that I did.”

Furious blooms of rage unfurl in the pit of my stomach.

“I regret that more than you will ever know, Finn, but please listen to me: Right now we have a much more pressing matter to deal with. We’re running out of time. You’re very badly hurt, and I need your help to . . . We need to try and . . .”

Graham’s words choke in his throat, so I finish his thought for him.

“I don’t have long to live,” I whisper. “I know. I can feel it.”

“No, you’re not going to die,” Graham says firmly. “Not if I can help it. Now, please, listen carefully. Everything I’m about to tell you is going to sound extraordinary, but I assure you that it’s real. There is another side to you, Finn. There’s a separate personality that exists alongside yours. It inhabits your mind, shares your body.”

“I know, Graham. I know about Infinity.”

“I don’t see how that’s possible . . .”

“She’s been showing me her memories. I thought I was losing my mind at first, but it’s all starting to make some kind of bizarre sense. I’m different than everyone else, aren’t I, Graham? My father did something to me that made me different.”

“You are different, my dear, dear Finn. You are his greatest creation.”

“What am I?”

“Finn, please, there isn’t any time for this. You may be the most remarkable person who has ever lived, but that doesn’t mean you can’t die. Please do what I say. You have to find Infinity. She must have been knocked somewhere into the back of your mind when you and your friends were attacked.”

“We were attacked? I don’t remember . . .”

“No, of course not, Infinity was in control. You need to find her, wake her up, and let her take control again. Now, I know this will sound strange to you, but you have to believe me when I tell you . . . Infinity has a unique and astounding ability. She can heal these wounds right away.”

“Really?” asks Bit’s voice.

“Yes, really,” replies Graham. “We call it Spontaneous Trauma Restoration. Infinity can heal these injuries almost instantly, merely with a focused thought.”

“Oh my god. How is that even possible?” asks Bit.

“Now is not the time, girlie . . . Finn, please believe me!” he says.

“I know, Graham; I’ve seen that, too,” I say. Faint flashes of a sunny afternoon, buckled bicycle spokes, and a broken arm flicker before my eyes.

“Then . . . you must know that she’s your only chance.”

“I don’t trust her. She’s dangerous. Why can’t you tell me how I can heal my body?”

“Finn, it took years for Infinity to develop the mental discipline required to heal serious wounds. Even if you do find her and manage to wake her, the chance that she will be able to repair this level of damage is slim at best. There have been so many times I’ve regretted the choices that were made for you without your knowledge, how we played god to satisfy our curiosity about what we could do with you.”

“Why are you telling me this?”

“Because now is one of those times, and you need to understand. Infinity was two years old when we accidentally split her mind and, to everyone’s surprise,
you
appeared. You and Infinity are as different from each other as two strangers walking in opposite directions on the same road. You were raised to be a normal girl, Finn, so we could hide you in plain sight, and normal girls aren’t supposed to be able to instantly heal their wounds. The truth, and I wish with all my heart that it wasn’t, is that you aren’t able to heal yourself . . . because we made you forget how. I’m so sorry.”

“Please, Finn!” begs Bit. “Please find her! You have to try!”

“Please try, Finn.” Graham’s voice is shaking. “I don’t want to lose you. Either of you.”

After what I just heard, I’m not only shocked—I’m furious. But I also know that Graham is right. I may be some kind of twisted experimental guinea pig, but this guinea pig doesn’t want to die. Infinity is my only chance. If she can fix this, then I have no other choice but to find her, and if there’s the tiniest, dimmest light at the end of this tunnel, then I’m gonna try my best to reach for it.

“Please, Finn,” Graham implores again. “I’m trying to save your life.”

“How do I find her?” I ask into the void.

“Thank you, Finn.” Graham’s words, at first awash in relief, suddenly become stern. “Now, listen closely. You need to begin by thinking of Infinity. Any memories that she showed you, think of those again. Focus on a specific moment that stands out to you, and go there in your mind. Think of her mannerisms, her personality. Tie those to the memory; try and feel what she was feeling at the time. If you can do that, then hopefully you will be drawn to wherever she is.”

“I’ll try,” I murmur.

“That’s all I can ask for,” says Graham. “I’m doing my best to keep your body alive, but please remember . . . there isn’t much time. You must hurry.”

“Good luck, Finn!” yells Bit. She’s not even trying to disguise the worry in her voice.

I take a deep breath, close my eyes, and think of the first and only time I ever met the other side of me. It was somewhere like this, inside our head, the tapping of her shoes through the darkness. The sound I now know was the monster in the attic coming out to play. Of course, I remember her face; it’s
my
face, identical in every detail but one. The look of death in her faraway stare is the chasm that separates us. The moment I picture that look, her face becomes a stranger’s mask. Graham is right; we may share the same body, but we are nothing alike.

I remember her breath in my ear, her voice a poisonous whisper. I remember her fingertips raking through my hair like a spider stroking a fly before its fangs are bared. My heart beats faster as I remember, and I almost stop. What if she takes over again and I can’t get back? Would wandering this limbo, trapped between our minds until we die, be worse than dying right now? Then I remember Nanny Theresa choking me. Infinity saved me; she saved
both
of us. Without her, I wouldn’t be here to make this decision, and yet, whatever Infinity did between then and now has led us both back to the brink of dying once again.

Maybe, if I find her, I can reason with her? Maybe we can live a life somewhere in between who I am and what she wants? Maybe. A
huge
maybe. But if dying is the only alternative to trying . . .

I choose for us to live.

I take myself back to that time in my mind, to the memory of her face hovering over mine, her touch gentle against my brow as she smiled down at me with her serpentine facade. “There’s no need to worry,” she said, and I desperately wanted to believe her. In fact, I did believe her, right up until the moment she cocked her head and her painted smile became a sinister line. Her eyes flashed with a cruel fire as she twisted her wrist, her snake-fast grip pulling my hair tight in a fist.

This memory seems so real I can almost feel it. Ow! I
can
feel it! Infinity vanishes, and with a violent tug, my whole body is wrenched by the roots of my hair as I’m jerked backward. The darkness seems to drop away beneath me, and I scream loudly into the nothingness. This isn’t part of the memory! This is happening now! I try to see above my head, but I can’t. I grab at my hair, but it’s wedged tight. I splay my arms out, my fingers grasping for holds that aren’t there as I’m completely upended and dragged, kicking, flailing, and struggling, then sent plummeting down into the depths of the black and endless void.

CHAPTER FOUR

Graham told me that thinking of Infinity might draw me to her, but I didn’t expect anything like this. I feel like I’m being kidnapped, dragged through the night toward a horrible fate. I reach back and tug at my hair again, but it’s still tightly wedged in the blackness. It won’t budge. I close my eyes and try to calm down by telling myself that this isn’t real, that it’s all in my head, that I chose this and it’s the only way to save us.

It doesn’t reassure me at all.

The darkness ripples through my body, rushing loudly through my ears as I’m pulled toward who knows where. I do my best to ignore the noise and gather my thoughts, picking through them for another scrap of Infinity. I need to find her. And no matter how bizarre this may be, I have to believe that what I’m doing will lead me in the right direction.

I take a deep breath and concentrate, doing my best to put myself in her shoes. I imagine her all alone, cold and wounded, far away, filled with fear, and close to death. A situation that I, unfortunately, realize is true for both of us.

Nothing.

I shut my eyes tight and try again, but this time I dip into the well of my own lonely past, hoping that my feelings of abandonment will draw us closer, that our shared isolation might be the bridge that connects us. It seems to work, as suddenly, out of nowhere, I see an image of her frightened face in my mind. I immediately try to hold on to it, clarify it, pull it into focus. My hair tugs at my scalp, and I gasp out loud as my body jerks in a completely different direction. My heart begins racing, and a wave of panic surges through me as her face flashes again, but this time it’s splashed with blood, wide-eyed and terrified. A shock of freezing air hits me like a swift slap to the face, and the flurrying darkness becomes a chilling wind. The black of the void snaps to a field of pure white, and the image of Infinity sinks into it, engulfed by it.

My skin feels like it’s been pressed against ice. I’m fraught with confusion as thick, blurry columns of shadows begin emerging from the white and moving toward me, roving past me, surrounding me. My breathing quickens as the long stripes of shadows begin taking on a roughly hewn texture, their fuzzy edges condensing and sharpening into focus until soon they’ve transformed into thin, dark trees towering all around me, stark against the blanket of a snow-covered forest floor. I look up and see snowflakes gently drifting down from a gray sky that’s crisscrossed with the black spindles of bare branches overhead.

I don’t feel like me anymore at all. I feel strong, focused, determined, and . . . deadly.

CLICK CLACK.

It’s the unmistakable sound of an automatic rifle being cocked right behind my back. The muzzle of the rifle jabs roughly at my head as a deep male voice threatens menacingly in Russian.

“You move, and you’re dead.”

I freeze in my tracks.

“Who are you?” he demands.

Not only do I understand the man behind me, but I also lie to him in perfect Russian. “My name is Sasha.”

“Turn around.”

I do as he says. The brown-haired man is 1.8 meters tall and dressed in a white-and-gray-patterned winter combat uniform. He has a nasty-looking scar under his left eye and at least four days’ worth of stubble on his face. He smells like sweat and campfire smoke.

“What are you doing in this forest?”

“I’m collecting firewood for my family,” I say, offering up the bundle of small logs and branches in my arms.

“Where is your family?”

“We have a small farm. Not far.”

With the gun still pointed at my head, he shifts his eyes up past me, scanning the forest from left to right. His gaze snaps back to me as the radio crackles to life on his hip.

“Viktor, check in.”

The man looks at me carefully, from my eyes, down over the shabby jacket covering my threadbare yellow cardigan, my tattered dress, my worn-out brown leather shoes, and up to my face again. He lowers his assault rifle and pulls the radio from its pouch.

“Viktor checking in,” he grunts.

“Everything OK?” asks the voice.

“Nothing to report. Going to check the southwest boundary, then heading back,” says Viktor. “Don’t let Andre eat any more of my cookies. My daughter made them especially for me.”

“Sure, but I can’t promise you that
I
won’t eat them,” the voice says. It’s followed by a jovial laugh.

Viktor smiles. “I’ll be about twenty minutes.” He stuffs the radio back in its pouch and looks at me.

“How old are you, Sasha?”

I meekly whisper the only grain of truth he’s gonna get out of me. “I turned seventeen one week ago.”

“Really? I have a daughter about your age. You’re a good girl to help your family, but now you must take your firewood, go home, and don’t come back here again. This is not a safe place for pretty young girls like you. There are wolves and bears and scary men with guns,” Viktor says, smiling down at me.

I cock my head and look up at him. “How many men?” I ask.

Viktor’s smile fades, and his eyes narrow. “Why do you want to know this?”

“My father makes vodka in the summer and keeps it in the cellar for winter. People say it’s very good. One bottle shared between two men will last the whole night and keep the cold away. I can bring some for all of you? Leave it here by this tree? My father won’t mind; he was a soldier once, too, a long time ago.”

Viktor’s smile slowly returns. “You are a kind girl, Sasha. That would be very good.”

“How many bottles shall I bring?” I ask.

“Well, we are big men. Bring one for each of us; six bottles will do. I will return in an hour. Make sure to call out when you return, so that I know it’s you.”

“There are six men?” I ask.

Viktor nods and smiles again.

“Thank you, Viktor.” I drop the firewood, and my leg becomes a blur as my front kick slams into Viktor’s diaphragm. The last air he will ever breathe sputters from his lips as he buckles, his knees crunching into the snow at my feet. I bend down, grab his head, and twist hard. I’m instantly rewarded by the glorious popping sound of his neck bones separating in his throat. Viktor twitches once, then slumps lifelessly onto the snow. His dead-eyed face, now amusingly almost backward on his body, is slack-jawed and completely still.

I crouch beside my small pile of wood and sort through the sticks and branches until I find one of the short logs lying among them. I check the bark to make sure it’s the right one and unscrew the end. I pull out a thin, folded piece of gold-colored cloth. I unfurl it with a flick of my wrist and drape it over Viktor’s corpse. I push the short pegs attached to the corners into the ground with the heel of my shoe, and as I stake the last one, the cloth silently changes color to match the snow beneath it, perfectly camouflaging Viktor’s dead body. I pick up my three special logs, tuck them into a small sack slung over my shoulder, and trudge farther into the forest, following Viktor’s boot prints. They lead me around a loosely circular perimeter, and it isn’t very long before I see movement between the trees and smell smoke wafting from a small fire. I crouch behind a tree and take a moment to focus on consciously enhancing my hearing. Voices gradually grow in my ears like a radio tuning into a distant signal.

“What about you, Erik; why do you think we’re out here?” one of the voices asks.

“I don’t care,” says another voice. “We are getting paid a lot of money to guard one cabin in an empty forest a hundred and fifty kilometers from anywhere. So I’ll just keep my questions to myself and walk around it for as long as they pay me to.”

“Hey, don’t touch those,” says a different voice. “They’re Viktor’s.”

“But they’re so good,” says another man.

“Hands off—I made him a promise. Eat something else.”

“Here, have some of my wife’s
oreshki
.”

Yes. There are five distinct voices. Viktor was telling the truth. Well, why wouldn’t he? He was talking to a defenseless little farm girl promising liquor. I smile to myself. It’s time to go in. I close my eyes and think of waterfalls: huge, cascading torrents of water pouring down my face. When I open my eyes, there are tears trickling down my cheeks. I practice a quiet, mournful sob and almost burst out laughing. I punch myself on the leg and try again. I make a sound like a mewling puppy and decide that it’ll do the job just fine. I’m thankful that none of the guys in the Blackstone Covert Tactical Division can see me right now. I set off, crying and whimpering, crunching through the snow toward the men’s camp. When I’m just within earshot, I call out in my most pathetic and desperate-sounding voice.

“Help . . . please? Someone help me.”

They’re still quite far off, but I can see the men’s faces suddenly snap to attention in my direction.

“Who goes there?” shouts a voice as the click-clacking sound of weapons being readied echoes through the trees.

I call to them, “Help me, please; I’m lost!”

The men begin moving, fanning out in formation. Their torsos are rigid, and their assault rifles are propped under their chins as they stride through the snow toward me. It isn’t long at all before I’m facing a semicircle of guns. One of the men aims his rifle at my chest as the other four sway their guns from side to side, scanning the forest around them.

“Where did you come from?” barks the man.

“I was with my brother. We were gathering wood when a bear found us. He told me to run, and now I’m lost.”

“Show me,” grunts the man. “Show me what is in the bag.”

I unsling the sack from my shoulder and reach into it, feeling the ridges on the sides of the logs.

“Slowly!” shouts the man.

I pull one log out of the sack, and as I do, I press a piece of bark on its edge and begin counting slowly down from ten in my head. I throw all three logs on the snow in the middle of the half circle, then show the man the sack is empty and raise my hands.

“What should we do with her?” asks one of the men.

“We have our orders. We shoot her and leave her for the wolves.”

“I can’t just shoot a peasant girl for no good reason,” protests another man.

“We were ordered to kill anyone who walks into this forest. That’s reason enough for me.”

“And what if her family comes looking for her?” asks another.

“Then we shoot them, too,” says the man. “Radio Viktor. Tell him to come back now.”

“Viktor won’t be coming back.” The moment I say the words, the man standing in front of me looks me right in the eyes.

“What?” His expression changes as he goes from simply being on edge to suddenly being highly suspicious. “Who are you?”

“The last person you will ever meet.” I dive onto my stomach as the spring-loaded log launches into the air. With a pressurized hiss, it spins like a lawn sprinkler, spraying thick blue gel in a wide circle before crunching softly back down on the snow beside me. Molecular acid eats through flesh and bone faster than molten steel burns through Styrofoam, and all around me that fact is proven true as I hear guttural croaking and wet gurgling sounds coming from every direction. The wildly contorting men desperately clutch at their faces as their noses, eyes, lips, tongues, and vocal cords are rapidly liquefied. One man claws at his collapsing skull, and his jaw detaches into the palm of his hand as his skin drips like molten wax from his disintegrating fingers. Only one of them manages to make any kind of stifled scream as they all drop one after the other, crumpling into heaps as what remains of their heads dissolves into mushy pink puddles of hair and blood. It’s pretty gross, but very effective. I must admit, Onix sure can fabricate some pretty nasty gadgets, but I’m not gonna let him take
all
the credit. After all, I did design this one myself.

No need to hide these bodies; there’s no one left to find them. I throw the empty acid log into some nearby thicket, put the other two logs and one of the men’s pistols in my shoulder sack, and head through the trees into their camp.

There’s a steaming pot of hot water hanging over a lazily flickering fire surrounded by a ring of stones. There are three self-assembling enviro-shelters, six folding stools, and two open plastic footlockers with cans of food and field rations. Two of the shelter doors are open, but the third is closed and secured with a padlock. I kneel beside it, unscrew the end of a log, retrieve my multitool, and easily pick the lock. Inside, there are two folding beds and a small table with a tidy stack of books, a computer slate, and a manila folder. I open the folder and sort through the documents inside.

Halfway through the files, I find what I’m looking for: a map. It shows the forest, a red circle indicating the position of this camp, and, farther in, two and a half kilometers northeast of here, a small building. That’s where my target must be. Harold Rachtman, the ex-Blackstone board member who stole highly classified computer files on Richard Blackstone and fled into hiding. I want those files. I need to know all I can about the man so I can get close to him . . . and kill him with my own two hands. I memorize the map, step out of the shelter, fish a compass out of my pocket, and start running.

I crunch through the snow as quietly as I can, but I also keep up a good pace. It isn’t very long before I see smoke rising out of the chimney of a small wood cabin up ahead. I cautiously approach, circling around through the trees skirting the side of the rustic building. As I get closer, I see movement from the corner of my eye and quickly dart out of sight. I carefully peer around the side of the tree and see two men with automatic rifles slung over their shoulders walking from behind the cabin. One offers the other a cigarette, and they stand at the corner smoking and talking quietly.

I watch and wait. It doesn’t take very long before they finish their cigarettes, share a drink from a flask, and separate, heading in opposite directions around the outside of the cabin. One disappears from view around the back, and I wait a little longer, until the other man is almost to the corner at the far end. I’m about to make my move to the closest outer wall, but I instantly freeze in my tracks as a man’s voice suddenly bellows into my mind.

BOOK: Infinity Rises
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