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Extraordinary Sample Chapter

Bianca

The same nightmare haunts my sleep. Strapped to a table. Screaming. Blood. Injections. I wake with a start, sweat casting a glaze over my face. Hound’s steady, soft breathing reminds me I’m safe.


I hadn’t meant to stay, but once we started chatting, it just carried on. It’s easy to understand how the two of us were once so close. Conversation came naturally. He even told me a few stories from our time together that made me laugh. I don’t remember laughing. It felt so wonderful and normal. When I asked him about his relationship with Vortex, he just grimaced and reassured me that nothing had truly happened. He never felt connected to her in any intimate ways, just as a really close friend.


Eventually I rested my head on his chest as we passed jokes about Nevermore’s bird-like features or overall contempt for humanity until we fell asleep.


I slip my feet over the edge of the bed and search for my jacket. Despite the dreadful dream, this had been one of the best nights I can remember. Not that my memory is reliable these days.


As I slip out the door and close it softly, I try to keep my movements as silent as possible so I don’t wake either of them. I turn once the door is firmly shut and yelp, pressing a hand to my chest.


Nevermore is perched on the arm of the sofa as if he knew I was coming. “Will this be a constant thing?”


My cheeks heat. Nothing happened. Hound and I just talked. But how this must look to anyone else! I want to tell him no, but the words fumble at my lips. Will it be the last time?


Nevermore just nods with that sneer on his face. “At least you kept the noise to a minimum.”


“I gotta go. My dose …” I stab a thumb over my shoulder toward the front door.


“I wouldn’t bother too much about that.” He rises and stalks toward me. Something about how he moves makes my skin crawl.


“Um. Okay.” Without meaning to, I step backward, away from him. “Can I ask you a private question?”


“No.” Nevermore stops a foot away from me, and his beady eyes penetrate me in a manner that makes me feel violated.


“Why do we call you Nevermore?” I ask, hoping for a diversion from the utter discomfort. Why won’t my feet move? “We all have call signs that make sense except you.”


 “Because my last name is Poe and I apparently remind people of a raven,” Nevermore replies without flinching. He doesn’t seem to look at me, but through me.


“I don’t understand.” Something presses against my mind, like a palm pushing down. What is he searching for?


“Of course you don’t,” he sneers, glaring at me as if I’m a complete moron. I want to punch the expression off his face. “Poe was a famous writer from the 19th century. Wrote a poem about a raven who drove a man into madness.”


Madness. A sensation that is creeping up on me. What is it about him that makes me freeze up in dread when he peers at me like this? I only blink dumbly.


Nevermore sighs in revulsion, as if he considers me the dullest thing he has ever encountered. “The raven could only say nevermore,” he explains flatly.


I swallow the lump lodged in my throat. “So can you drive people mad?”


The rim of his lip curls up in a way that makes my heart thump irregularly, and the bridge of his nose crinkles. “The mind is a delicate thing once you know where to prod.”


My first day of training surfaces. The strange, arid plain. The lightning. The figure without a face. Was that his doing? Something else presses at my memory. Something I feel like I need to remember; something urgent. But I can’t seem to pull it back.


At last, I regain command of my body and step away. “Okay. I was just curious. I’ll, um, I’ll see you later.”


“Unless I see you first,” he says as I try not to run for the door. The way he says the words suggests something much more sinister, despite the obviously fake jovial tone.


It takes all of my inner strength not to race back to the security of my apartment. I don’t feel like I’ve really put distance between myself and Nevermore until I close the door to my bedroom.


There’s no way I will sleep again now, so I change into workout clothes and go down to the training facility to run, lift, and climb. The exercise will help me feel like I’m in control of myself, even if it constantly feels like my body is not my own.

***

After hours of intense workout, I return to my apartment to shower and change. I had expected to see Nevermore and Hound in the training facility at some point, but they never came. Once I’m fresh and dressed, I knock on their door, curious about what has kept them. To my own astonishment, I’m also eager to see Hound and talk to him again. What if Hound got into trouble for talking to me last night? I only remember scattered fragments of our conversation.


No one answers the door.


Odd.


I knock again, and as I wait for one of them to answer, the elevator doors open at the end of the hallway.


“They aren’t here,” Forrest says, approaching with two plastic bags in hand.


“Where are they?”


“Patrols.”


“Then why am I here? I should be out there with them? Did they search for me before leaving? I was only down training.” The words spill out of me in a flood. The fact that they left me behind hurts. Are they still upset with me for freezing up on that mission? I thought we were past that.


Forrest holds up the takeout bags. “I figured you and I could dine and chat.” Without waiting for my answer, he opens my apartment door and enters.


I cast a glance at Hound’s door and my shoulders sag. Would they rather be out there without me?


I close the apartment door with a slap as Forrest sets up the sushi along the counter. We settle into the barstools.


“You’re mad at me,” I mumble, powerless to meet his gaze.


“For what?”


“Freezing in the field. Failing that first mission.” I poke at the sushi roll.


“I’m not mad,” he says around a mouthful of unagi. “Was I disappointed in your performance? Sure.”


I wince.


“But I wasn’t mad.” Forrest shifts on the stool and leans an arm against the countertop. “Maybe I just expect too much from you.”


The words are as efficient as a slap. I would almost rather have him mad at me. He sounds so much like Dad it makes my heart ache.


“But you didn’t send me out into the field with my team,” I say. My appetite is slipping despite the colorful rolls. “I feel like this chasm has opened between us.”


Forrest rolls a piece in soy sauce. “You are all I have left, B. I will not cast you off because you failed to arrest someone. Everyone out there that night failed. Don’t hold it all on yourself.”


“Maybe, but I was the only one who froze up.” I pop a piece of sushi into my mouth and chew slowly, deliberately.


“You’ve been through more than most of the others,” Forrest points out, taking a drink of his root beer. The condensation collects on the glass bottle and fat drops roll away from his fingers. “But I want to make sure you are okay now.”


I shrug, uncertain how to respond. Forrest lost parents, too. He must understand on some level.


“Nevermore said you spent the night with Hound,” he says casually, as any big brother would when he discovers his sister is sleeping with someone. “Is this a thing again?”


“No. Maybe.” I droop, dipping a yellowtail roll. “Nothing happened. We just talked.”


For a split second, Forrest pauses. The moment passes so swiftly I’m uncertain if it was real or imagined. “Yeah? About what?” His tone is light and conversational, but something about the way his shoulders have strained up makes me feel like he is concerned.


“All sorts of stuff.” I chew and swallow, my hunger returning gradually. “He told me stories about when we were together before, helped fill in some gaps. Forrest, we laughed. It felt so wonderful. I don’t remember the last time I really laughed.”


He absently brushes his thumb over the condensation on the bottle and starts picking at the label. “It’s been a while.”


“You know, you are always asking questions about me, but you never tell me about you,” I say. “Are you seeing anyone? How are you getting along without Mom and Dad?”


Forrest puffs out his cheeks. “No, I’m not seeing anyone. Work has kept me so busy.”


“Don’t bury yourself in work to avoid grieving them,” I say, laying a hand on his forearm. “I’m here, if you need to talk.”


The smile on his face is sad as he meets my gaze. Deeply, profoundly sad in a manner that makes my heart clench up for him. How lonely he must be when he’s alone!


The wailing of an abrasive alarm shatters the silence of the apartment. It blasts from my bedroom, making both of us start. A second later, an identical alarm screams from inside Forrest’s pocket. He frowns and plucks out his phone, tapping at the clear surface. The alarm on his device ceases, but the one from my room continues to wail.


I rush to the bedroom to snatch my tablet and kill the noise, reading the message as I shuffled back out to join Forrest.


TARGET ACQUIRED

ALL UNITS ACTIVATED


Forrest is already on his feet, fingers gliding over the surface of his phone as I tap on the flashing red dot on my tablet screen. A map of Pax pops up off the surface, marking out one house. A red dot inside the house pulses.


“I have to go,” Forrest says in a rush.


“Is this him?” I ask, slipping my tablet on the countertop.


“Who?” he asks, sliding on his jacket that he had draped over the back of the chair.


“Ugene Powers,” I say in a near growl.


Forrest freezes, staring at me like I just grew extra limbs. I’ve just given Hound away, but I don’t care.


“What do you know about him?” Forrest asks warily.


“That he’s a terrorist. That’s all I need to know.”


Forrest shrugs his jacket on the rest of the way and nods as if satisfied with my answer. Providing no further information, he turns toward the door and moves in long, urgent strides.

“You are safer here,” he says.


“The notice called for everyone!” I protest, following on his heels as I slip on my jacket.


“He is dangerous and I can’t risk him getting his hands on you. No. You stay.” He yanks open the door.


I slap a hand against it and slam the door shut hard enough to crack the frame and shake the entire wall. “Don’t you dare! You are the one who told me I’m the strongest in the city, that you need me. I will not be left here like a helpless girl while you and my team are out there. Let me help you. I want to bring him in. Let me prove myself!”


“Bianca—”


“If I don’t leave, you don’t either, and I know how much you want to get your hands on him.” I stand between him and the door. Let him try to move me. “I’m going.”


Forrest emits a rare growl of frustration and rakes a hand over his neatly cut dark hair. He is usually so well composed, even under pressure. Am I wrong to insist on going? No. I’m right. He needs me.


“If he is so dangerous, I don’t want you out there where he can harm you,” I say, softening my tone. “Forrest, you are all I have left, too. If something happened to you and I was here, I would never forgive myself.”


Forrest’s lips thin in a tight line and he waves impatiently at the door. “Fine. But you stay with me.”


“Obviously.” I open the door and sprint toward the elevator


Excitement pumps through my limbs and my heart races as we ride up to the docking bay. Finally, a chance to hit the radicals hard and take down one of their leaders.


I won’t fail Forrest a second time.


I won’t fail my parents.

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