6 November 2042, Boston Settlement, Former U.S. Territory
Madison opened her eyes to nothing. Wherever she was, it was too dark to see. Her head was pounding, her mouth dry. She wasn’t sure how much time had passed since she and Sully were taken to… where? She kept still and concentrated on the sounds around her. Hers was the only breathing. No ambient noises other than the rain. She listened as it sloshed against the roof. It wasn’t a crisp noise, not the sound of water beating down on a solid surface. It was sluggish—the sound of water treading ash and sludge trying to find its way ever downward. Madison squeezed her eyes shut and swallowed hard.
The Spent, she thought. We’re in the fucking Spent.
Madison was nine, maybe ten years old the last time she’d been in the Spent, following in silence close behind her father. My father…
Madison pushed her feelings down—that hurt and anger—flexing her back, legs, and arms so hard her whole body shook with violent tremors. She curled up, pushing those feelings deep enough not to matter.
They’d killed him. In front of her. Put a bullet right in his head.
Madison’s body shook harder, a high-pitched keening emanating from her. The fuckers. They could have left him. The keening grew lower, more vocalized. The fuckers. Memories brushed her thoughts—walking the streets of their colony at night under the bright, twinkling repurposed Christmas lights strung up between buildings, Madison clutching her dad’s hand for security—and the deep keening grew into something loud and painful, assaulting her own ears. The noise culminated in one long, hate-filled word:
Madison rose to her knees, folding forward at the waist as her forearms beat against the floor in percussive, bone-jarring unison. She cried out in pain which only served to feed the anger, and she slammed her arms down on the ground again—elbow to fist—every part of her skin stinging as it hit the surface. She raked herself back in until she was slumped, kneeling, exhausted.
“Hey, kid, maybe keep quiet, huh?”
Madison whipped her head around. The dark was disorienting. But she knew the voice.
“Glad to see you’re finally awake. Well, hear it, anyway.”
Madison moved around the room on her hands and knees, following Sully’s voice. When her fingertips hit resistance in front of her, she held her hands out, feeling the cool concrete block under her palm. It was rough, pocked, cracked in places.
“How long have we been here?” she asked.
“Little over a day,” Sully said. He made a choked sound. “I wish I could tell you everything is going to be okay, kid, but… I don’t even know where we are.”
“The Spent,” Madison said.
“You say it like you know it.”
“I do. I mean… I’ve been here before.” Madison let her eyes grow unfocused as she gazed into the middle distance of the dark. “A while back. Before my dad got sick. This is a shit place to be.”
“I imagine anywhere probably seems like shit when you’ve been kidnapped, drugged, and beat,” he said. He’d barely finished the sentence when his voice changed, frantic. “Kid, are you okay? Are you hurt? Did they—”
“Relax, Sully, I’m fine,” she said, rubbing at the scratches on her arms. At least that damage had come from her. She looked around; the dark was still too much. But she could hear Sully well enough.
“Oh, thank God,” Sully said. His voice droned on, but Madison wasn’t listening.
She ran her fingers along the ground where it butted against the concrete block wall. The dirt was loose. She dug a little hole with her fingertip, scratching at the dirt, loosening it more. There was something… She scratched more frantically. Something close. She’d made about an inch of headway when she felt it. A divot in the dirt under the concrete block.
She widened the hole she’d made, enough to fit both hands under the block. She scraped at the dirt, pulling it to her, then pushing it to the right.
“Hey, kid, are you even listening?”
She jumped. Sully must have been silent for some time without her even noticing.
“Would ya just shut it for a minute,” she said. A little more. Just a little… “Ha!”
Light filled the tiny fissure she’d made. She pushed at the dirt on the other side of the concrete block, fingers digging. Her upper body was pressed against the floor, up to the elbow of her arm under the block, her fingers worrying at the dirt, almost desperate now.
“The fuck is tha—,” Sully’s voice was a little too high, a little too loud.
“It’s me, Sully, it’s my hand! See?” Madison whispered. Sully went silent, but Madison could hear his weight shift before his clammy fingers enclosed hers.
“What are you doin’, anyway?” Sully muttered.
Madison pulled her hand away from Sully and sat up. There was just enough light to show her how dark the rest of the room really was. She clenched her jaw and turned back to the light. It was small. It was weak.
But it was there.
“I don’t know. Something. Anything that might help us get out.”
Madison leaned forward, prepared to start digging again, but stopped short when she heard something heavy drag against the ground. She jerked around, scanning the dark behind her, but no… That wasn’t right. The sound had come from…
“Get your fuckin’ hands off me.”
Sully. It came from Sully’s room.
Now what, Maddie? She squeezed her eyes shut, listening as they dragged him off, a cacophony of new and colorful words that couldn’t possibly mean anything good coming interspersed from Sully between echoing blows.
Now what, Maddie?
7 November 2042, Boston Settlement, Former U.S. Territory
The edges of the crushed note in my hand bit at the flesh of my fingers. Empty threats. I’d make sure of it. Whoever had kidnapped Sully’s daughter might have him and Madison now, but we’d get them back. We’d get them all back.
How do you plan to do that?
“Felix?” My head snapped up, eyes finding Kaitlyn’s. Worry etched the lines around her eyes. I felt betrayed. No. Not my feelings. His.
Brinly placed a hand on Kaitlyn’s arm and guided her back a step. Away from me, from us. I took a deep breath. I needed to get control of whatever was happening here. I put a hand up, hoping Brinly and Kaitlyn understood to just stay put. I didn’t think I could speak without laughing. This was too much too soon. I retreated to Bill’s room, the man’s body still as cold and lifeless as when I’d left it. Had they killed him in front of Madison? Had Sully been able to protect her from at least that?
The way you hadn’t, you mean?
“How are you here?” I asked.
Felix and I had always had a very specific relationship. This was my body, and I had to give Felix permission to use it. For most of our lives though, our adoptive father, Rian, helped Felix suppress me with medication. While Felix is in control, I’m still conscious and aware, but whenever I’m in control Felix is dormant. Until now, apparently.
“What’s changed, Felix?”
You used me.
“Are we on that again? You fucked us over, so.”
It was Felix’s fault the former head of GDI—Government Directive International, the last real militarized global governing agency—got away without giving up who was involved with Kazic.
You made me take a bullet for you.
“That’s not what happened. This is useless.”
Kazic… it had to be related. Kazic was the reason we existed. An experiment starting back in the 1960s to enhance brain function, Kazic eventually morphed into an assassination project with biological warfare as the method of murder and a chimera as the mode of delivery.
Currently, the bioweapon lived in Felix’s DNA while the vaccine was in mine. Our genome was different enough that while I was running the show, we weren’t contagious. If Felix was up top, though, he could kill anyone with a touch. I don’t pretend to understand more than that. If Felix could talk to me now though, when he shouldn’t be able to…
I reached out and grabbed Bill’s hand. Nothing.
Looks like you’re safe for another day.
“Shut up,” I said.
Sure, nothing happened. This time. But Felix was talking to me while I wasn’t allowing it. That was wrong. Very wrong. I found that spot where Felix was and wrestled him down. I pushed until he was quiet and nothing was left but emptiness.