Bzrk, p.20
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       Bzrk, p.20

         Part #1 of BZRK series by Michael Grant
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  “Can we undo what we do?”

  Nijinsky thought about it. He stood with his arms crossed, perfectly clean and pressed as always, the only perfectly neat object in that miserable building. “We can undo some of it. Most of it, if we do it right away. Over time it becomes basically impossible to undo. Although we can layer a whole new connection and alter the brain’s path.”

  “What are you doing to Anya Violet?”

  The question caught Nijinsky off guard, as she’d meant it to. He gave her an approving smile. “I don’t know. She’s … Well, Vincent has responsibility for her.”

  “He got to her first,” Plath said. “Right? But somehow the other side guessed his move and they were waiting.”

  “We don’t think she’s been wired by them, if that’s what you’re asking. She was just infested. Vincent—we—got careless.”

  “He’s wiring her now, isn’t he?”

  Nijinsky said, “Let’s get back to your training.”

  So she trained. She sent word to Stern, the McLure security chief, that she was safe, that she was in Switzerland at a mental health spa where she was getting help with grief counseling.

  Did Stern believe that? Probably not. But she was the McLure. And as Stern had said, he did what the McLure asked of him, even when it meant pretending to believe a lie.

  The day would come when she would have to meet with the lawyers and hear the will read, and discover what her father had planned for the unlikely reality that had now occurred: Plath … no, Sadie … alone in the world.

  But of course Vincent had plans for handling that. “Not time to worry about that now,” he had told her. “We have the biggest fight in the war ahead of us. We got lucky the other night, thanks to Caligula and Wilkes, and we know what the other side is up to. We have to deal with that. We have to stop them. Then we’ll have time to deal with your future.”

  “I don’t enjoy being treated like a piece of some big puzzle I’m not allowed to see,” Plath told him. “I’m not the dumb chick who needs to be kept in the dark.”

  “No one thinks you’re the dumb chick,” Vincent had said in his grave, sincere way. “But we compartmentalize information. We set up roadblocks, so that if they take one of us, break one of us, manage to turn one of us, the damage can be limited.”

  “Just tell me this. We’re not all there is, right? It’s not just you and Jin, Ophelia, Wilkes, me, and Keats. It’s not six people, right? Seven if you count Caligula. Because then I’m really just a fool.”

  Vincent nodded, taking the question seriously. “It’s not just us. No. There are people above us. Lear. And there are other cells. In other places. Some will be coming soon to help us with this battle.”

  That had reassured Plath. A little, anyway. And she slept better that night. Okay, she told herself before she fell asleep, we’re not alone in this. I’m not one of seven lunatics. I’m one of maybe hundreds of lunatics.

  She’d wished Keats was with her so she could say that to him and make him laugh. And for a while she’d lain there in her bed picturing him just a thin wall away, wondering what he was doing. What he was thinking. Wondering if when he saw her in his mind’s eye, he saw the bulging aneurysm deep in her brain and felt some mixture of pity and disgust.

  Or whether he thought of her lips, up in the macro, the pink, soft lips, not the nanovision of tea-colored parchment.

  She wondered if he knew the color of her eyes. She knew his. Even after seeing the truth down in the nano she saw his eyes as blue, blue, blue.

  In her entire life Sadie had never thought this much about a boy. In fact, add up all the boys she’d ever thought about and it didn’t equal the time she spent in just one night thinking about Keats.

  When she analyzed this fact, it made little sense. Keats was far from being the most handsome. Sadie had gone out with some extraordinarily attractive boys. And yet, remembering them, flipping through them like an iTunes rack, she wanted none of them here, now. She wanted none of them to knock on her door. Not the way she wanted Keats to knock, right now.

  You’re messed up, she reminded herself. You’ve gone through hell. You lost your father and brother while almost dying yourself. You saw people burning. You were hurt. Your brain was messed with. You were attached to your own little hideous, deadly, creepy insect children.

  You shot a man and watched him bleed.

  And you went where only a handful of people have ever been. You saw things no one needed to see.

  You’ve been down in the meat.

  The boy next door spends part of his day inside your brain, weaving Teflon reeds into a basket to keep you from dying.

  None of this leads to a wise, considered decision. All of this leads to rash and stupid and desperately needy decisions. All of this pain and death and fear leads to your needing to be held, needing to be lifted out of it all. It leads to fantasies of Keats and his hands and his lips and his body.

  Was he thinking the same things about her? Right now, this minute?

  She could imagine the pictures, the fantasies in his head. He was a boy, after all, so yeah, he thought about her. In some very specific ways no doubt. Which was fine, so long as whatever he thought of her, however she looked, whatever he imagined her doing, it had nothing to do with dangerous human-eyed mutant insects down—

  Footsteps. Loud, not concerned with nighttime.

  A loud knock—a banging, really—on her door.

  “Up. Now. Up and dressed.”

  She recognized the voice. Caligula.

  She rolled out of bed, stumbled to her clothing, dressed with shaking hands, and stepped into the hallway. Keats was there before her.

  “What’s happening?”

  He shook his head, mystified. They found Vincent and Wilkes in the common room. Anya Violet sat in a corner, meek, wary, diminished.

  Caligula said, “Is this everyone?”

  Vincent said, “Ophelia is visiting family. Jin is out.”

  Caligula smirked. “Yeah, he’s quite the party boy, isn’t he?”

  “What’s going on?” Vincent asked, impatient. Plath noticed the way he avoided looking at Anya. And she noticed that Anya’s lipstick was smeared a little, and that some of it, a trace, was left on Vincent’s cheek.

  “The Beijing cell was just hit,” Caligula said. “Two escaped, everyone else dead. The Delhi cell barely escaped a team that went after them, three dead there. Armstrong is coming after us. Trying to take us out before the main event.”

  “Do they know this location?” Vincent demanded. He was on his feet. All business now.

  “Let’s not wait around to find out,” Caligula said. “Grab your bugs, leave everything else. You have two minutes.”

  “All of you, get your biots,” Vincent ordered.

  Plath and Keats ran, along with Wilkes, to the upstairs lab.

  “Grab any crèches up there,” Vincent shouted after them.

  It wasn’t two minutes but closer to five before they were ready. Plath had her groggy biots crawling into the safety of her own ear, walking through pollen and dust and around tiny hairs the size of bamboo.

  In her pocket she had a crèche—two of Ophelia’s dormant biots.

  “Well, that was kind of like two minutes,” Caligula said dryly. “Now, we don’t know what’s outside. I’ve got a car waiting. But we don’t know. So here.” He handed a gun to Plath. “You did okay with one of these last time.”

  “I don’t want—”

  “I don’t give a goddamn what you want,” Caligula said. He noted the gun in Vincent’s hand. “Rule number one: no one accidentally shoots me. I will resent it.”

  In the end there were no AmericaStrong TFDs waiting out in the New York City night. They crammed in the back of a long black limo and drove out of the city toward Long Island.

  Caligula sat in the front next to the driver. Vincent tapped on the separating glass and said to Caligula, “I’ve contacted Ophelia. You want to pick her up?”

  Caligula cons
idered. With his hat off for the drive Plath could see that his long hair was a fringe, and that the bald spot on top was split by a livid, jagged scar running back to front.

  “She have a car?” Caligula asked.


  “Tell her to get on the nearest highway. Doesn’t matter what direction. Just tell her to keep moving until we can reach her.”

  “Don’t you have anyone you can send to bring her in?” Vincent asked.

  Caligula turned in his seat. His smile was incredulous. “I’m not Five-O, Vincent. I can’t just send Danny and a squad car. Anything from pretty boy?”

  Vincent shook his head curtly. The glass partition rose again.

  “So, having fun so far?” Wilkes asked Keats.

  He managed a faint smile. Then he turned his head and looked out of the window. They drove through darkened Brooklyn.

  No one seemed to want to talk except Wilkes.

  “Anyone else hungry? Doughnut places are open. We could buy a dozen assorted.”

  No one answered.

  “Raised doughnuts, not the cake ones,” Wilkes said. “I don’t really like cake doughnuts, although I will eat them. But for one thing, in a cake doughnut the hole is all crunched up. I believe a doughnut should have a true hole.”

  She let that sit for a moment, smiling at Keats. Then said, “I like to stick my tongue in the hole.”

  Keats looked a little panicky.

  “How about you, blue eyes?” Wilkes asked innocently. “Do you like to stick your tongue in the hole?”

  “I’m not hungry,” Keats said defensively.

  Wilkes blinked theatrically, doing a double take. “Is that true, Plath? You should know him well enough by now to know whether he likes to stick his—”

  “Wilkes,” Vincent said wearily.

  “What? If he doesn’t, I’d be happy to train him,” she said, and laughed her odd heh-heh-heh laugh, cracking herself up. Then she looked out of the window and began digging a sharp thumbnail into the flesh of her arm. Repositioning and doing it again. And again.

  Plath met Keats’s eyes and saw that he had noticed it, too.

  Each of them living with the fear in their own way. Anya Violet practically defining a separate space as she refused even the slightest acknowledgment of the others. And Vincent tapping into his phone, face blank, eyes glittering, the corners of his mouth tugged downward even more than usual.

  “Is it much farther?” Keats asked Vincent.

  “At least an hour,” Vincent said. “If you can sleep, do it.”

  Keats nodded and closed his eyes.

  It didn’t fool Plath. Or at least she didn’t think it was real until Keats started snoring softly. Her immediate reaction was outrage that he could sleep at a time like this.

  “I like your boyfriend,” Wilkes said.

  “He’s not … whatever,” Plath said wearily. “You have one? A boyfriend, I mean?”

  “Not a boyfriend,” Wilkes said. “There was this guy I would occasionally share a sweaty hour with. It was just sex. Comfort. Not love. That’s over.”

  “What happened?”

  “Got shot. I guess he, uh …” Wilkes shook her head angrily as her voice choked. “I guess he bled out. Because some stupid bitch ratted him out to the Armstrong Twins.”

  She stared pure hatred at Anya. And Plath recoiled in shock as she understood. Renfield and Wilkes? No way. The arrogant young aristocrat and the tattooed tough chick?

  Comfort. Someone to reach out and touch when night and fear closed in around you.

  Wilkes dug her thumbnail again, and this time drew blood.

  Ophelia drove Interstate 84 between Waterbury and Hartford. She had a gun on the seat beside her. She had two of her biots in her brain, sitting, doing nothing. She had to hope that the other two of her “children” were cared for.

  She had to hope that the house of her grandfather, which she had just left, much to his surprise and concern, was safe from attack.

  She had to hope Vincent and the others were well.

  She had to hope that car pulling up parallel to her was not a problem. She had no illusion that she could somehow win a gunfight with a carload of TFDs.

  “Na hanyate hanyamane sarire,” Ophelia said. It meant, roughly, that consciousness was eternal, not vanquished with the death of the body.

  Which was no doubt very comforting to very enlightened people. For her part Ophelia did not feel particularly enlightened. She felt cold fear.

  Nijinsky had danced hard and drunk hard, and now he was considering the possibilities among the three guys who had made serious efforts to hit on him. Well, the three who were even in the game. More had taken a run at him, various twinks, bears, muscle pups. But none of them were his type.

  Nijinsky liked guys with an edge. With something dangerous about them. Punks. Anarchists. Homothugs.

  He checked his BlackBerry then remembered the battery had died. It needed replacing, it wasn’t holding charge as well as it used to. Well, BZRK could survive without him for a night.

  Now, back to the possibilities. One was at the bar, one was dancing, one was falling down as his legs buckled. Now on his butt on the floor, down amid knees and feet, he was clawing at his chest, at the two Taser prongs that had whizzed past Nijinsky.

  The music was more than loud enough to deaden the zapping sound. Where the hell? Nijinsky crouched instinctively and spun like a parody of a guy trying to look ninja.

  Something hit him hard in the back of the head. Hard enough to send him staggering forward. A woman, not big, just a woman who looked like a suburban housewife, strode right through the dancers who, when they spotted the gun in her hand, backed away fast.

  Nijinsky felt dizzy. There was no pain yet, just something like the echo of a massive blow. A club or one hell of a big fist. He was stunned. Unable to comprehend.

  He leaned back against the bar, knocking over a stool in the process. A pair of very tough bikers made to rush the blonde woman. She swung the gun toward them with an “I wouldn’t if I were you” look.

  The music died. Now Nijinsky heard cries and shouts and voices yelling that someone should call the cops.

  “My name is Sugar,” the woman said to Nijinsky. She pushed the muzzle of her gun directly against his temple. “If you even come close to touching me, I’ll blow your head off. Don’t want your nasty little bugs in my brain. Now walk.”

  He walked. Staggered. Out the back door. There he was clubbed again on the back of his neck. It was a hard blow, and it should have knocked him unconscious. It didn’t, but he saw the opportunity and slumped, eyes closed, head lolling.

  Rough hands grabbed him under the arms and tossed him into the backseat of a car. They handcuffed him.

  “You sure it’s safe to touch him?”

  “As long as he’s unconscious he can’t do anything with his biots.” Sugar, in the front seat. Nijinsky kept his eyes shut. His head on his chest. Regulated his breathing. No signs of consciousness.

  “I’ve seen this guy somewhere before,” one of the men said.

  “Billboards,” Sugar said. “He’s the model they use for Mountain Dew Extra.”

  “Hey, yeah. I’ll be damned. The MDE guy. Huh.”

  Nijinsky’s biots were already on the move, emerging from his eyeball to race down his cheek. A part of him thought: this powder I’m wearing has an interesting variety of shapes. It was probably basically talcum, although it came with an expensive name brand. It was strangely like rock flakes. All jagged and irregular. His biots clambered over a landscape of the weirdly sharp boulders.

  Maybe next time skip the powder.

  The car sped through the night. The biots sped across his skin to his lips. Here would be the tricky part. His head was swimming as the pain in his neck and head hit him full-on. Damage had been done to skin, muscle, and bone.

  Oh, yes, pain. Oh, yeah, oh, shit. Don’t show it, Shane, don’t show any sign of consciousness.

  The biots clambered down ov
er his upper lip. And again, he regretted the goo of lip gloss. It was sticky and slowed his boys down. But now they reached the barrier between skin and mucous membrane.

  Time for tongue.

  He’d seen a tongue down at the nano once before. It wasn’t his favorite thing to see. Carefully, slowly he stuck the tip of his tongue to touch his lip.

  Through his biots he saw a dark mass coming down out of the sky.

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