Bzrk, p.16
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       Bzrk, p.16

         Part #1 of BZRK series by Michael Grant
 
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  Wilkes shook her head, but still said, “He wasn’t all bad. Just kind of a dick.”

  But something was off about her cynicism. A false note. And Plath saw her turn away quickly to hide some emotion.

  “Now,” Nijinsky said briskly, “as bad as this has been, we have big things to deal with. With Vincent at half strength we need you two trained and ready. Your biots are being kept dark and cold. Below a certain temperature they become dormant. You may still experience flashes, but you should be able to sleep. So. Go do that. Sleep for a few hours. Then training starts.”

  “What if we don’t want to train?” Plath demanded. “What if we just want the hell out of this asylum?”

  Wilkes made a sardonic sound. “Honey, you are already all the way in. There is no out for you.”

  Nijinsky did not dispute that. He said, “Go. Sleep.”

  Plath wanted to sleep. It was dark in the room. The window was too dirty to see through, and even though she guessed it must be morning out there, somewhere, only a faint gray penetrated to highlight peeling paint on the high ceiling.

  She could feel her biots, still, as a sort of nagging presence in her brain. Like a child crying in another room. But at least she was no longer looking out through their eyes.

  She felt numb, almost dead inside, and raw and angry outside. She wanted to smash her fist into the wall. She wanted to sleep. She wanted to throw open the door and just run, run right the hell out of this horrible place. And she wanted more of the whiskey.

  She wanted her mother. And her dad. And her brother.

  And she wanted the boy in the next room, because even if her mother and dad and brother were still alive, they would never be able to understand what had happened to her.

  But he would. Maybe. Keats.

  They had set it up this way, of course, Vincent and Jin. Probably not through some grand conspiracy, they had just known that two terrorized teenagers given poets’ names would reach out to each other.

  She wondered if his door was locked.

  She wondered if she tapped, just softly on the wall, would he hear her? So softly it wasn’t even a tap. So softly she could deny it?

  She barely touched knuckles to wall.

  A louder but still quiet tap at her own door.

  He had come. Instantly. He’d been lying awake, too. He’d been waiting for her summons.

  But still, she could just … not. She could just not respond. And he would go away, because he wasn’t a guy who would push at her, was he? How could she know? She’d known him a few hours and barely spoken.

  But she knew.

  Plath got up and went to the door. She composed her face and opened it.

  Keats stood in sweatpants, bare feet, and a T-shirt. “I’d like to talk to someone,” he said. “I’d like to talk to you, I mean.”

  Again, she liked him, because what he had done was pretend she hadn’t tapped on the wall. He was letting her deny that neediness if she chose to.

  “Come in. I’d show you around, but there isn’t much to see.”

  He took the sole chair. She sat on the edge of her bed. She was in a man’s T-shirt, legs bare, socks on her feet. He was probably seeing too much—the T-shirt was white aside from a faded logo. And he was noticing, but she didn’t care.

  “What have we got ourselves into?” he asked.

  We.

  Ourselves.

  Plath had no answer. Words seemed too small.

  “I guess we’re not supposed to tell our real names,” Keats said.

  She shook her head. No.

  “I’m from London.”

  “I love London.”

  “You’ve been?” He smiled shyly, delighted to find something they had in common.

  “My mother was English.” She watched to see if he noted the past tense. He did.

  “Wish we were there?” he asked.

  She let go of a small, abrupt laugh. “God, yes. Or anywhere.”

  “Euro Disney?”

  The suggestion was so perfectly absurd she started giggling. And that brought a smile, a real one, to his lips, and his blue eyes lit up even brighter than before.

  “Really, any of the major theme parks,” she said through laughter. “I’d go see the giant ball of twine in Kansas.”

  “Is that real?” he asked.

  Suddenly serious she said, “Dude, I no longer feel qualified to say what’s real and what isn’t.”

  He looked down. “Dude. Well, my America visit is complete. I’ve been called ‘dude.’ ”

  She took up the bantering tone. “How have you liked America so far?”

  “Oh, it’s about what I expected,” he said.

  That unleashed an almost hysterical burst of laughter from both of them.

  “You suppose they’re watching us?” Keats asked, looking up at the ceiling.

  “I hope so. That way they’ll be able to see this.” She held up the middle finger on both hands and stuck them in the air.

  “So,” he said, faltering a little, “would you go out with me sometime?”

  “That depends. What did you have in mind?”

  “We get something to eat. See a movie.”

  “I shot that man.” The words were out before she knew they were coming. A sob escaped behind them. And quiet tears.

  “Yes.”

  Neither had anything to say for a long time after that. Both sat in the dark, perched awkwardly on the edge of chair and bed.

  Finally Plath yawned. “If I asked you to stay with me tonight … I mean, if I said I wanted you to lie next to me and sleep. Could it be just that? Could it just be that we—” Her voice broke and she couldn’t speak.

  “You mean could we just be here together because we’re both scared to death? And hurt? And don’t have anyone else?”

  She nodded. “Yes. That.”

  She lay back on her narrow bed. He came and lay down beside her. Only their shoulders and thighs touched. For a while they lay staring up at peeling paint. And then, finally, sleep took them both away to terrifying dreams but also to a degree of oblivion.

  In Brooklyn, a similar scene.

  Though Jessica did her programmed best, the Bug Man just lay in his bed staring at the ceiling.

  He had beaten Vincent. That much he owned. No matter how Burnofsky sneered. No matter how much the Twins may have raged—at least in Bug Man’s imagination, because they didn’t call.

  He had beaten Vincent.

  He had.

  Would have finished him off, too, except for stuff that happened in the macro. Which was not Bug Man’s fault.

  The reports that came in from the lone survivor of the McLure building massacre mentioned a Taser. That’s what had kept Bug Man from finishing Vincent.

  Macro stuff. Up there. Not down in the meat. Down in the meat Bug Man had taken Vincent out.

  Damn right.

  Whatever Burnofsky had to say.

  Within a millimeter of dragging a still-living biot off the field. God, that would have made Burnofsky depressed to the point of suicide. And the Twins? They would have kissed his butt with their nasty freak mouths.

  He could have messed with a captured biot until Vincent admitted that Bug Man ruled the nano.

  Ruler of the nano.

  So cool.

  That would have been …

  He heard sounds coming from outside his room. His mother getting up to go to work. His aunt would sleep another hour.

  Bug Man rolled out of bed and pulled on his clothes.

  “What’s the matter, baby?” Jessica asked.

  “Nothing.”

  “Come on, sweetheart, I can—”

  “Shut up,” he snapped. Then in a gentler voice, “Look, just leave me alone, okay? Just …” He left her and went to the kitchen.

  Bug Man’s mother was a mother-looking woman. She was overweight; she didn’t dress fancy; her hair was done once a week at salon run by another black woman from Britain, although she was from somewhere to the north,
Newcastle or whatever.

  His mother was watching the coffee brew. Just standing there.

  “Hey, Mum,” Bug Man said.

  She looked at him with a critical eye. “You got in late last night.”

  The small TV on the counter was tuned to a cable-news channel. The sound was off. The picture was some jittery new bit of video from the stadium. It showed the plane hitting the stands. Still. Even now.

  “Yeah. There was a … you know, screw-up. A thing that happened.”

  “You didn’t get fired, did you?”

  “No, no, nothing like that.” He reached past her to snag a mug and filled it with coffee though the pot wasn’t fully done. He added milk and sugar, lots of sugar. “They actually love me at work. I think I’m, like, their best guy. Tester. You know?”

  His mother shook her head slowly, not to what he’d said, but to what she’d seen on the TV. “Kind of person who would do something like that. Savages.”

  For a moment—but just for a fleeting moment—Bug Man almost connected that word savage to himself. Almost made a link between the horror on the screen and his own actions. But it passed and left no trace.

  “No, they love me at work,” he repeated, hoping she would hear it this time.

  “Just make sure you remember how lucky you are to have that job. So many people out of work.”

  “Yeah. Well, I’m good at it. That’s why they have me. Because I’m the best.”

  The toast popped up.

  On the screen a man ran trailing fire and smoke, tripped and fell, and died.

  “If you’re having toast, I’ll put some in.”

  Bug Man sipped his coffee.

  He had beaten Vincent. Yeah, he owned that.

  Next time he’d finish it.

  He took his sweetened coffee back to his room, sent Jessica packing, and despite the caffeine, fell asleep.

  Bug Man woke suddenly, knowing he was not alone.

  Four men stood around his bed. They were strong men, all dressed in casual clothing, innocuous pinks and tans and teals.

  “What?” He sat up but only made it part of the way before powerful hands grabbed his biceps and his ankles. They flipped him over onto his belly.

  “What the hell?” he cried.

  “No one’s home,” one of the men said. “Yell all you like.”

  A phone was thrust into his face. A video image appeared. To his horror it was the faces of Charles and Benjamin Armstrong.

  “Anthony,” Charles said in a calm, measured voice. “We are not about ego. We are about peace and unity, bringing all humans together, so that all men are brothers and husbands, all women sisters and wives.”

  “Listen, I’m sorry about—”

  But the video was still running. It wasn’t live; it was recorded. It was a message.

  A sentence.

  “Your pride cost us a victory in that battle, Anthony. Your pride.”

  “Let me go!”

  “We love you, Anthony,” Benjamin said.

  They held him, one set of powerful hands for each limb, but then the man holding his left ankle must have managed to have a hand free, mustn’t he? Because that man had a club in his hand. Bug Man could see it, glancing frantically down over his shoulder, a thick, round, polished, dark piece of wood.

  “But punishment is demanded in this case,” Benjamin continued.

  “However much we regret it.”

  “What the hell?” Bug Man cried, and the club smashed down on the back of his thighs.

  The pain was incredible. Unimaginable.

  “We do love you, Anthony.”

  And a second blow landed. He cried out in agony and fear.

  And a third blow and every muscle in his body was twanging tight as he screamed into his pillow and one of the men holding his arms bent low, brought his ugly yellowed eyes close to Bug Man’s tear-streaming, strained face, and said, “That was from the bosses. But we lost good men last night, you little Limey piece of shit. So this last one’s from us.”

  The club came down hard and for a moment Bug Man’s brain just shut down.

  He felt their hands release.

  He heard them leave the room and close his door.

  SEVENTEEN

  Plath did not dream of the night’s violence. She dreamed about her brother. In her dream he had grown up. He had a family. Two little girls and Sadie—not Plath, Sadie—was coming over for dinner, and it was all strangely televisionish, not real. The girls were perfectly pretty. Eating a cereal in a bright box: Kellogg’s Nanobots.

  At first that didn’t seem strange to dream-Sadie as she walked through the scene.

  The kitchen was middle American, with a refrigerator covered in children’s drawings and pictures and report cards with Straight A’s! Yay! written in red pen.

  It was nothing like the home Stone would probably have had. In the dream he had a more prosaic life than he’d have had if he had lived and taken over McLure Industries.

  The cereal was coming out of the box now, crawling in a swarm toward the little girls’ bowls, refilling as they spooned up the crunchy nuggets.

  “I didn’t feel a thing,” Stone said.

  “You must have been afraid,” dream-Sadie argued.

  And behind him, back where Stone couldn’t see but Sadie could, the nanobots were crawling up over the little girls’ white arms and over their colorful dresses and up their necks and all the while the girls smiled.

  “Bang and it was over,” Stone said, nodding like it was true and like he remembered it and like there was nothing at all strange about his commenting on the circumstances of his own death.

  The cereal nanobots were disappearing into little pink ears and noses and eyes.

  She woke up.

  A knock at the door.

  Someone in her bed, a chest her head lay upon. She yanked back.

  “I’ll get it,” Keats said. He worked his arm, the one she’d been sleeping on, like it was numb, which it probably was. He opened the door.

  It was Ophelia. If she was surprised to find them both in the same room, she didn’t show it. She had two Starbucks, two bottles of water, and a brown bag with some kind of pastry, all in one of those corrugated carriers.

  “Need you both in about twenty minutes,” Ophelia announced. She even had a smile that said, “That’s an order, not a request.”

  In the bag they found muffins. One looked like blueberry, the other might have been raspberry.

  “I’ll take the blueberry,” Plath said. The cups were both lattes. They drained the water bottles, sipped the coffee, and wolfed down the muffins, no time for talk.

  Keats reached over and brushed a crumb from Plath’s mouth.

  “Probably shouldn’t …” Plath said. She meant that they probably shouldn’t do that. The touching thing that was the prelude to more. That’s what the smart part of her was saying, while a completely different part of her was wondering why he hadn’t touched her in the night as they lay side by side.

  Keats looked up sharply. He nodded once, a regretful expression. Then, “What do you think is on for this morning?”

  “Something disturbing,” Plath said.

  Keats smiled. “Thanks for taking care of me last night.”

  “I thought it was the other way around.”

  Keats shook his head and looked down at the floor. “I was a mess.”

  Plath said, “Yeah, you’re right. Me? I was fine.”

  A small laugh. “I wish I didn’t have to call you Plath. I don’t want to think of you as a poet who gassed herself.”

  She was so close to telling him. Sadie. That’s my name. But with an effort she stopped herself. “They want us close. But they don’t ever want us to forget.”

  Ophelia showed them to a room they had not seen before. It was up a ridiculously narrow interior staircase. It was like a shabby parody of the lab from McLure. Someone had hammered together a plywood table shoved against narrow, greasy windows that let in the gray gloom of New Y
ork. On the table a couple of mismatched microscopes, something that looked like a very expensive Crock-Pot, a small stainless-steel freezer.

 
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