Bzrk, p.2
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       Bzrk, p.2

         Part #1 of BZRK series by Michael Grant
 

  Stone pretended to weigh the alternatives. “Abigail’s bonnet … Singapore girls in formfitting saris. Hmm. Tough one.”

  Earbuds back in.

  Here am I living in it

  Here am I in everything.

  His sister, Sadie, had gotten him started on punk, probably thinking he needed something less, well, insipid than what he came up with by following his usual pattern: downloading whatever his friends were listening to. Sadie was like that, one of those people untouched by trend or fashion, comfortable building her own world out of what she liked, from tunes and styles and reads that could be so ancient they were cobwebbed, up through to things so new they barely existed yet. Sometimes it was like she imagined something and conjured it into reality.

  Sadie could be a prickly little witch, but at sixteen she was who she was in a way that Stone could not quite equal. Didn’t bother him, not really. Stone had a defined role to play. He was the heir, the scion, the eldest. There’d been lots of times he envied Sadie’s freedom—man, who wouldn’t?—but he was okay with his destiny. Someone had to do it. Might as well be him.

  Spent so much of my time thinking

  Feeling like I’m under attack.

  Overlooking the reality in front of me

  Wandering down so many paths.

  And for his mother, whose ashes had settled into the Atlantic at the midpoint between her native London and her adopted New York.

  He looked out of the window, veering his thoughts away from that last image. Not right now, not right now, not that memory.

  Stone and his father had taken off from Teterboro and now were flying over the Meadowlands. Down below, a game. Football, American style.

  Stone’s life had been split more or less evenly between New York and London, so he could appreciate both sets of sport obsession: football and baseball in the States, soccer and cricket in the U.K. Still couldn’t imagine what anyone saw in hockey, because …

  Then he remembered.

  Earbuds out.

  “Hey, isn’t Sadie at that game?”

  Grey looked up and smiled, a conspiratorial look. “And I’m sure she’s loving every minute of it.”

  Stone laughed. “Yeah. Nothing Sadie likes better than being outside in the cold and part of some big, cheering crowd.” He shook his head. “I hope the dude is worth it. Is it that Tony guy I met?”

  Grey nodded. “I think highly of his father. Tony himself … well, I suppose I could offer Sadie some fatherly advice on that kid.”

  They both burst out laughing. The idea of Sadie listening to advice from anyone. On any topic. Let alone her love life.

  “You’re not that brave,” Stone teased.

  “I’m not that stupid,” Grey countered with a look of mock fear. Then, in a softer tone, turning his eyes away, looking out and down, “She’s got your mother in her.”

  Which just veered Stone back to a place he didn’t want to go. He nodded and didn’t trust his voice to answer. Not even a “Yeah.” Even one syllable could break his voice.

  Earbuds in.

  Shot Baker was done. Someone else was singing, another song Sadie had put on his playlist. Come to think of it, was there anything on it that Sadie hadn’t chosen for him?

  Down below, the stadium was a huge, oblong cereal bowl filled with eighty thousand Jets fans. The Jets actually had eighty thousand fans this year, because it was early December and damned if they weren’t still in contention.

  The fans were taking advantage of the clear, weak, low-slung sun of fall. The sleet and the cold wind would come soon enough; a last sunny Sunday, even a chilly one, was not to be wasted.

  A blimp turned lazily above the stadium. It looked like some leisurely version of sperm and egg from up here. The image brought a smile to Stone’s lips. He totally had to work that into his next English comp paper. Freak out his teacher with a sudden display of analogy. Or was it simile?

  Earbuds out, reluctantly.

  “Hey, I see her head. That’s her, on the left,” Stone said. “End zone.” Making conversation so Grey wouldn’t think he was upset about the mention of Mom. From this height the tops of heads were a mere suggestion of a dot.

  “No,” Grey said, “She’s closer to midfield.”

  Like he knew right where she was sitting. Playing along, Stone thought. Although, sometimes it seemed to Stone that their father knew Sadie’s every move. They had something, those two.

  Sadie and Grey fought—word battles with all kinds of subtext Stone could hear but not understand. Word ninjas, those two. Fortunately Stone had always gotten along with his sister, because he’d be the first to admit he could not throw down in a verbal battle with her. The girl could put a knife right into your ego.

  Sometimes it made him jealous that Sadie and their father could yell at each other. He and Grey never did.

  The jet banked a sharp left. Like the pilot had read Grey’s mind and wanted to give the boss a chance to peer down and make out the top of his daughter’s head. Or like—

  The turn was too sharp.

  Way too sharp, hard and sudden. The right wing was arcing downward.

  Stone was pulled against the bulkhead by gravity. The pad fell from his father’s lap. Grey’s FAIRLY DECENT DAD mug scooted across the table and toppled over to roll down the aisle.

  “What the hell?” Grey demanded.

  There was an intercom in Grey’s armrest. He punched the button. “Kelly. What’s the matter?” Kelly, the pilot. She’d flown the jet for six years. Like a member of the family.

  No answer.

  “Strap in,” Grey told Stone. He stood up, but the g-forces threw him off-balance so that he had to sort of twist around his seat. He fell against a bulkhead and then pushed himself back up and lurched toward the cockpit door, moving like a drunk in a strong wind.

  Now the jet was tilting not just to the right but downward. A definite dive. Like way too steep. Through the window Stone saw the field below already closer, and tilted crazily. Big men on a green rectangle seeming somehow to run uphill. He saw the Jumbotron screens showing a replay.

  “Kelly!” Grey had reached the cockpit door, barely holding himself up. “Are you okay in there? What’s happening?”

  Grey rattled the little door handle. The door did not open.

  That’s when Grey looked back at his son. Their eyes met.

  Weird how much a two-second glance could convey. Fear. Sadness. Regret.

  Defeat.

  Grey banged on the cockpit door. “Open up, Kelly! Open the door!”

  Stone unbuckled and lurched to his feet. But the floor was falling away from him. It was as if he couldn’t fall fast enough to keep his feet on the floor. Like when a roller coaster crosses that first big crest and suddenly you are gravity’s toy. The ceiling came down and hit him. Not hard, but the ceiling had no business hitting him at all.

  Stone didn’t walk to the cockpit door, he tumbled. He snatched at seat backs and missed, fingers slapping tan leather, feet scooting uselessly on carpet. He plowed hard into his father.

  Grey was slamming himself as well as he could against the cockpit door. Yelling. Cursing, which was not something Grey McLure did.

  The plane was tilted so sharply now that it was more vertical than horizontal. Stone lay on his back on the carpeted floor and kicked against the cockpit door beneath him, while his father lay pressed against the bulkhead and slammed himself against it.

  “Dad! What’s happening?”

  Stone kicked again and again.

  A sudden give. The doorjamb cracked. One more hit would do it.

  Stone hauled himself back up, using the seats to climb, like a slippery ladder, then dropped, feet punching out with every bit of power he had to give, and with a sound like a breaking branch the door gave way.

  Stone fell through in a tangle with his father. The two of them hit Kelly’s seat and crashed into the instrument panel, smashed into the windshield. Pain shot through Stone’s knees, his elbow, his shoulder.
Didn’t matter because now the green field was so near. Zooming up at him.

  A flash of Kelly’s face, eyes blank, mouth bleeding from hitting the instrument panel, short-cut gray hair matted, staring hard in horror. Staring at something maybe only she could see.

  A flash of the stands full of people.

  His father flailing, legs tangling, something broken, head hanging the wrong way, too confused to …

  “Dad!” A sob, not a shout.

  Stone pushed himself back from the instrument panel and somehow found the stick with his right hand and pulled hard.

  Kelly turned to look at him. Like Stone’s action was puzzling to her. Like she was amazed to find him there. With dreamy slowness she reached for the stick.

  The three of them tangled together in a heap and the field rushing up at them. So fast.

  Way too fast.

  And Stone knew it.

  But he pulled back on the stick and yelled, “Dad!” for no reason because there wasn’t anything Stone could do but look at him with eyes full of horror and so sad; so, so sad.

  “Dad!”

  The jet began to respond. The nose started to come up. The stadium seats looked like they were falling away, and now the top of the stadium, the upper rim was in view.

  And some remote, still-functioning part of Stone’s brain realized they were actually inside the stadium. A jet. Inside a bowl. Climbing toward safety.

  Faces. Stone could see thousands of faces staring up at him and so close now he could see the expressions of horror and see the eyes and open mouths and drinks being spilled, legs tripping as they tried to run away.

  He saw team shirts.

  A redheaded kid.

  A mother pulling her baby close.

  An old guy making the sign of the cross, like he was doing it in slow motion.

  “Dad.”

  Then the jet flipped. Up was down.

  The jet was moving very fast. But not quite the speed of sound. Not quite the speed of sound, so the crunch of the aluminium nose hitting bodies and seats and concrete did reach Stone’s ears.

  But before his brain could register the sound, Stone’s honest brow and strong nose and broad shoulders and his brain and ears, too, were smashed to jelly.

  Stone was instantly dead, so he did not see that his father’s body was cut in two as it blew through the split side of the cockpit.

  He did not see that a section of Grey’s shattered-melon head flew clear, bits of gray-and-pink matter falling away, a trail of brain.

  A small piece—no bigger than a baby’s fist—of one of the great minds of modern times landed in a paper cup of Coors Light and sank into the foam.

  Then the explosion.

  THREE

  Sadie McLure didn’t see the jet until it was far too late.

  The boy she was with—Tony—was not a boyfriend. Not really. But maybe. If he grew up a little. If he got past being weird about the fact that his father was just a department manager at McLure Industries. That he lived in a house half the size of the McLure home’s garage.

  “Sorry about these seats,” Tony said for, oh, about the tenth time. “I thought I might get access to my buddy’s skybox, but …”

  Yeah, that was the problem for Sadie: not being in a skybox while she watched a game she didn’t understand or like.

  Until Tony had brought it up, Sadie had had no idea what a skybox was.

  So not the most important thing in the world, that disparity in income. If she limited herself to dating the kids of other billionaires, she wasn’t going to have much to choose from.

  “I enjoy mixing with the common people,” Sadie said.

  He looked startled.

  “That was a joke,” she said. Then, when he didn’t smile, she added, “Kidding.”

  Try to be nice, she told herself.

  Try to be more flexible.

  Sure, why not a football game? Maybe it would be fun. Unless of course it involved some otherwise perfectly attractive and intelligent boy apologizing for his five-year-old Toyota and his jacket, which was just … she didn’t even remember what brand, but he seemed to think it wasn’t the right brand.

  If there was a downside to being well-off—and there weren’t many—it was that people assumed you must be a snob. And no amount of behaving normally could change some people’s mind.

  “Have a nacho,” Sadie said, and offered him the cardboard tray.

  “They’re pretty awful, aren’t they?” he replied. “Not exactly caviar.”

  “Yeah, well, I’ve already had my caviar for the day,” Sadie said. And this time she didn’t bother to explain that that was a joke. Instead she just scooped up a jalapeño and popped a chip in her mouth and munched it gloomily.

  This was going to be a long date.

  Sadie could be described as a series of averages that added up to something not even slightly average. She was of average height and average weight. But she had a way of seeming far larger when she was determined or angry.

  She was of average beauty. Unless she was flirting or wanted to be noticed by a guy, and then, so very much not average. She had the ability to go from “Yeah, she’s kinda hot” to “Oh my God, my heart just stopped,” simply by deciding to turn it on. Like a switch. She could aim her brown eyes and part her full lips and yes, right then, she could cause heart attacks.

  And five minutes later be just a good-looking but not particularly noticeable girl.

  At the moment she was not in heart-attack-causing mode. But she was getting to the point where she was starting to seem larger than she was. Intelligent, perceptive people knew this was dangerous. Tony was intelligent—she’d never have gone out with him otherwise— but he was not perceptive.

  Jesus, Sadie wondered, probably under her breath, how long did these football games last? She felt as if it was entering its seventy-fifth hour.

  She couldn’t just walk away, grab a cab, and go home; Tony would think it was some reflection on his lack of a diamond-encased phone or whatever.

  Could she sneak a single earbud into the ear away from Tony? Would he notice? This would all go so much better with some music or an audiobook. Or maybe just white noise. Or maybe a beer to dull the dullness of it all.

  “Clearly, I need a fake ID,” Sadie said, but too quietly for Tony to hear it over a load groan as a pass went sailing over the head of the receiver.

  Sadie noticed the jet only after it had already started its too-sharp turn.

  She didn’t recognize it as her father’s. Not at first. Grey wasn’t the kind of guy who would paint his plane with some company logo.

  “That plane,” she said to Tony. She poked his arm to get his attention.

  “What?”

  “Look at it. Look what it’s doing.”

  And the engine noise was wrong. Too loud. Too close.

  A frozen moment for her brain to accept the impossible as the inevitable.

  The jet would hit the stands. There was no stopping it. It was starting to pull up but way too late.

  Sadie grabbed Tony’s shoulder. Not for comfort but to get him moving. “Tony. Run!”

  Tony dug in his heels, scowled at her. Sadie was already moving and she plowed into him, knocked him over, skinned her knee right through her jeans as she tripped, but levered one foot beneath herself, stepped on Tony’s most excellent abs, pushed off, and leapt away.

  The jet roared over her head, a sound like the end of the world, except that the next sound was louder still.

  The impact buckled her knees as it earthquaked the stands.

  Then, a beat. Not silence, just a little dip in the sound storm.

  Then a new sound as tons of jet fuel ignited. A clap of thunder from a cloud not fifty feet away.

  Fire.

  Things flying through the air. Big foam fingers and the hands that had been waving them. Paper cups and popcorn and hot dogs and body parts, so many of those, tumbling missiles of gore flying through the air.

  The blast wave so
overwhelming, so irresistible, that she wouldn’t even realize for several minutes that she had been thrown thirty feet, tossed like a leaf before a leaf blower, to land on her back against a seat, the impact softened by the body of a little girl. Thrown away like a doll God was tired of playing with.

  She felt the heat, like someone had opened a pizza oven inches from her face. And set off a hand grenade amid the cheese and pepperoni. The first inch of hair caught fire but was quickly extinguished as air rushed back to the vacuum of the explosion.

 
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