Three terrifying months.
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By Marnee Blake, Candace Havens
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2016 Marnee Bailey
All rights reserved.
Mistake. A huge mistake. It's not safe enough yet for this type of trial. I lost two rats only yesterday. Even a five percent mortality rate is too high, and we're at nearly twenty percent. Fields is going to kill someone.
Mark's thoughts tripped through Kitty Laughton's mind as she slouched on the examination table in the sparse white exam room. With her arm outstretched, she watched as the research assistant took her blood. Again.
That she noticed him at all was a huge feat. It had been weeks since she'd paid attention to anything.
It hadn't started that way.
At first, right after her capture, she'd listened to everything, while Dr. Fields worked through countless complications with Solvimine, the drug that made her hear thoughts. When Fields stopped coming to work on her himself, there had been three assistants before Mark and countless orderlies. Yet, she discovered nothing to help her.
After weeks of vigilance, she stopped. It was exhausting. Maddening. Disheartening.
But one benefit of being held hostage and constantly forced to stretch her mind-reading ability was she'd also learned to block everything out. What a relief.
The days stretched on. She'd expected her friends — Blue, Luke, even Jack — to come for her. They'd grown up together, in Glory, Colorado. They'd been changed together, by Fields's drug. They'd lost their families and become orphans together.
She'd even made progress getting to know Seth, the soldier who'd been unlucky enough to have been in Glory and been changed with them. She didn't make friends easily, yet she'd believed he'd come to like her.
But no one came to save her. Nothing changed.
After a while, she'd stopped bothering to block the world out with her power. She hadn't needed to. She hadn't cared enough.
Now, though, she listened.
An entire battalion of soldiers. I'm sure this isn't what they signed up for when they took this job, to be part of this psycho's ego trip.
Psycho's ego trip? Definitely Fields. She'd recognize his description anywhere.
"Fields is going to give them Solvimine. Against their will." Her voice was raspy. When had she spoken last?
Mark jerked, as if only remembering she was there. "Stay out of my head."
"You stay out of my head," she snapped back. He should stop thinking about it if he didn't want her to know. Surely he realized how this worked.
She stared at him, trying hard to hear more, as he removed one vial and replaced it with another. He glared back. Stay out of my head. Stay out. Stay out.
But though he intended to stop her with the singsong words, she saw what he wanted to hide.
Fields did plan to give the drug to the soldiers.
It would be disastrous. As far as she knew, no one else had taken Solvimine. Not since Fields used it on her town and killed almost everyone.
Her heart rate beeped faster on the monitor next to her. This couldn't happen.
As Mark finished the last vial, he stoppered it and took it across the room to the refrigerator, sitting to record something on the sheet there.
She wondered what Fields told his assistants and the orderlies about her. Even here, where the drug was best understood, she was an oddity, kept under lock and key, treated as if she was dangerous.
Her, dangerous. That was laughable. The other victims of the drug had received physical enhancements — telekinesis, amazing speed, and strength. Even Fields had taken it and become telekinetic. Yet she was kept in solitary confinement.
Kitty didn't get it. Her power was inconvenient at best, devastating at worst. If she hadn't relied on her "gift," she might have been more wary of Jeremy, the man who'd betrayed her, and avoided being captured by Fields in the first place.
As far as she knew, she was the only mind reader after the change. Fields was desperate to understand how that gift worked.
Then again, maybe no one cared how she was treated. Maybe they were compensated too well to question anything. Any time anyone began to speculate why she was there, they disappeared. Ignorance seemed to pay.
She retrieved the cotton ball Mark left for her, pressed it to the inside of her elbow, and covered it with a piece of medical tape, like the pro she was.
She blinked, determined to clear the past month's fog and piece together the facts around her.
The assistants and orderlies had visited her cell a lot in the beginning. Endless experiments, some of them causing nosebleeds and headaches, even a seizure. After that, though, they stopped testing the abilities she already had. Instead, they started in with the drugs. Drug after drug. She rejected food in cycles because they hid things in what she ate. She'd hold off for a day or so until, starving and thirsty, she couldn't take it any longer. She'd eventually eat, always ending up sick in some way, or knocked out. She'd wake with new bruises on her arms or obvious needle holes, even stitches. She would hurt for days, rejecting offers of pain medication because she didn't trust that what they were offering was, in fact, pain medication at all.
Eventually, she stopped her hunger strikes and accepted whatever they gave her. Yes, they would feed her what they wanted, but she needed to eat if she planned to live.
And she wanted to live. She couldn't help it.
As the days slipped by — she'd lost track of dates a while ago — they'd stopped coming as often. Her only contact with the world would be when her food tray slipped into the slot in her door. This was the first time in over a week that she'd seen anyone from the lab.
Now, she got it. They hadn't needed her anymore to study Solvimine. Fields thought it was ready for prime time.
She scanned the sterile room. There was only Mark and an orderly, the examination table and then another table full of medical supplies and scientific equipment.
This exam room was different than the one in Fields's first hideout. A while ago — again, no telling how long — she'd been drugged and had awakened in a new cell, nicer than the first. Much nicer. And there'd been this exam room, much better equipped than the last one.
Fields had received new funding. No one told her who — no one told her anything, and they kept their thoughts bland — but there was money here. A lot of money.
It didn't matter, not now. What did matter? Getting out of here. Saving others from her fate. Or worse, the fate of her parents.
She hadn't considered escaping in a long time. She'd tried three times in the beginning. She shivered, remembering waking up in a straitjacket.
That hadn't been pleasant.
But people were going to die. More people. And Mark knew. He knew people could die. What was the matter with him?
Her hands fisted and anger coursed through her. He should do the right thing. He should tell management. He should go. She glared at the back of his head, sending the silent demands at him like daggers.
He lowered the pen he'd been writing with to the table. "I should tell management. It's the right thing." He lifted his head. "I should go right now." He stood and squared his shoulders, suddenly purposeful.
No way. Those were her words. Exactly those words.
Had she done that? There was no other explanation for his sudden change of heart. She'd put her thoughts in his head.
Horrified, she gasped, covering her mouth. It broke the spell. Mark halted on his way to the door, shaking his head. "What the ..." He turned, pointing at her. "That was you. Wasn't it? You did that." He spun toward the door and pressed the big red security button there.
This was bad. She had to move. Now.
Acting fast, she dove for the counter next to her, coming up with the needle he'd used to take her blood. Closing her fist around it, she lunged at Mark, plunging off the table, the needle over her head.
The rage was intoxicating. It filled her, completed the places that had been empty.
Mark caught her wrist, holding it away from him. She cried out, the sound primal, like an animal. Her hand drove relentlessly toward Mark's neck. His eyes widened and fear passed through them. The adrenalin coursed through her, giving her more strength than she'd ever imagined possessing. The tip of the needle inched closer and closer to his skin.
Then Mark's thoughts blasted into her head, a string of chaos. No words, only emotions, raw and jagged. Terror. That was fine with her. He should be scared. After what they'd done to her, let them be afraid.
But it was the helplessness that made her waver. She knew helplessness too well. Her hesitation gave him the upper hand. He yanked her arm back, drawing the needle away from him.
The familiar sting hit her in the hip followed by the just as familiar floating. Tranked.
In her anger-filled haze, she'd forgotten about the orderly.
Then, she knew nothing.
* * *
The wheels of the custodian bucket squealed as Nick Degrassi pushed it with the mop down the corridor.
He moved slowly behind it, humming, like any janitor might when alone scrubbing floors at night. Dressed in the one-piece green jumpsuit of Goldstone's custodial staff, he worked the mop in the methodical way he learned during basic training: section by section, in the creases, doubling back to be sure he didn't miss any spots. The job didn't require much attention. He'd always been a perfectionist, so cleaning came naturally to him.
Instead, he spent the time counting the rooms and minutes until he got to where they were keeping Kitty.
He'd been at the Goldstone building for two weeks. He wanted to be here sooner, but it had taken some time to get through the military red tape.
Damn military and their bureaucratic bullshit.
Sure, they had a right to mistrust him. After all, Nick, his friend Seth, and Seth's girlfriend, Blue, had pretty much destroyed an entire building at Fort Sam Houston. The Army was not pleased with them.
Not that he'd had much to do with the actual destruction. He'd been there, though, and gotten a first row seat while Seth and Blue did the heavy lifting. He had to admit, the image of Blue, bloody from a bullet wound to her shoulder, her short hair standing on end as she used her telekinetic powers to rip apart a wall? Something he'd never forget. And he'd seen some pretty messed up stuff.
So, Seth and Blue had been forced to retreat to her mother's trailer in Idaho to lay low, and he'd gone to play nice with the brass. He'd set up a meeting with Major Martins, the officer who'd turned them in, to make peace. Between them, they'd established that they needed each other — Nick and his friends because they were a small group, some boasting extraordinary powers, but alone with few resources; the Army because they were searching for a madman who'd given people super powers — and they'd devised a plan to work together.
The Army wanted to find the doctor who'd done this and stop him before he could create any other special people. Nick, Seth, and Blue had agreed to assist in exchange for leniency.
The Army's goal served Nick's more personal aim. If they found Fields, they'd find Kitty. He hated thinking of her locked away somewhere, with no one to help her.
Rationally, he knew they'd located her in good time. Goldstone was a premier military contractor, secretive and sketchy. They had ways to hide pretty much anything. If he'd tried to find her alone, even with his military training, it would have taken much longer. Even then he might have failed. This had been the only option.
That hadn't helped him sleep these past months.
It had been worse because Martins had sidelined him while the intelligence guys tracked her down. Nothing bothered him more than being out of the loop. But Martins had insisted he do the first phase of special operations training, as originally planned in his military orders, while the spooks searched for Fields. Nineteen grueling days at Fort Bragg. Martins had been adamant. It would prove Nick's dedication, he'd said. Besides, recovering Kitty was a covert operation, and Nick needed special training. When Nick had argued, Martins had pointed out that there were soldiers better trained for the job. He'd suggested they didn't need Nick at all. That had shut him up.
When the time came, he needed to be the one to get her out. It was on him. He should have seen what his roommate, Jeremy, had planned all those months ago. He would be the one to fix the mistake.
So, here he was. They'd suspected Fields was working with Goldstone again, and that Goldstone had tucked him back under their umbrella when they'd discovered the drug worked. They also suspected that Goldstone wanted to keep an eye on the doctor, in case damage control was needed. Again.
But Fields's whereabouts had been unclear until recently. Martins believed the cover-up went high into the ranks at Goldstone, but the legal channels to track Fields were slow. There was little concrete evidence against him, nothing to force Goldstone to hand him over. While Martins pursued the lawful aspects, Nick and three other covert operatives applied for work at Goldstone. The other three landed jobs in security, but Nick didn't have their military experience yet. Those guys were older, each with over six years in special ops. Nick had enlisted at eighteen, but that was only three years ago. Martins had forged a medical discharge for him, so Goldstone's HR hadn't been able to offer him a job in security. Instead, they'd suggested a job in the custodial department, complete with a cushy benefit package. It had been a blessing in disguise. Next thing he knew, he was packed off to a super secret research facility in the Black Hills of South Dakota.
Thanks, Martins. Nick didn't know how he'd done it, but he had gotten them in. That was the power of the military.
Nick had arrived before the others, two weeks ago, to give him time to find Kitty. The other three arrived two days ago — he'd needed to wait for them before he could move on rescuing her. The plan was that he would get her out through the ventilation system while the others secured Fields.
Nick tried not to think, over the past three months, of what Kitty was doing. He had to think she was well.
He hoped he was right.
He turned the corner, toward the high security wing. The bored guard sat on the other side of the gate, flipping through a Men's Health magazine. Nick touched his fingers to his brow and flashed his badge.
The guy reached under his desk. A buzzer sounded, and the gate's locking mechanism triggered. Nick pulled it open, held it with his hip, and pushed his bucket through. The guard's brow furrowed. "You new?"
"Yeah, man. Started a couple weeks ago."
"Huh. Well, only one prisoner right now. Down at the end." He jerked his thumb in that direction. "Let me watch her door while you clean in there. She's not much of a physical threat. But don't talk to her," he warned. "She knows things." He tapped his temple, obviously meaning to scare him. Instead, the way he said it pissed Nick off. She was a person, for Christ's sake.
The guy — Leon, his badge read — stood then and turned his back, digging into his pocket for his keys.
From his own pocket, Nick pulled the tranquilizer gun he'd lifted from a distracted guard two days ago. Leon made a satisfying thud as he crumpled to the ground. Working fast, his eye on the camera in the corner, Nick hoisted the guy the best he could, dragging him across the floor. He was heavier than he looked, but Nick got him propped in the seat behind the desk. Leon's head lolled, but he hoped it would buy him some time. If anyone glanced at the security camera, maybe they would think the guard had nodded off.
The keys had slipped out of Leon's grasp when he fell, skating across the floor. Nick snagged them on his way by. Damn, so many.
Only one door was closed at the end of the hall. He tried three keys before one turned in the lock. The door swung open.
Inside, the room was dark. Nick didn't know if that was by Kitty's choice or an enforced punishment. He'd heard she'd been involved in some sort of scuffle in the medical wing yesterday morning.
Not sure what he might find, he reached for the light switch.
"You should leave that off, Nick. There are cameras in here, too." Her soft whisper crept out of the shadows.
Excerpted from Avenged by Marnee Blake, Candace Havens. Copyright © 2016 Marnee Bailey. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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