Read Erased Online

Authors: Jennifer Rush

Tags: #Juvenile Fiction, #Action & Adventure, #General, #Love & Romance, #Science & Technology, #Juvenile Fiction / Action & Adventure - General, #Juvenile Fiction / Love & Romance, #Juvenile Fiction / Science & Technology

Erased (7 page)

BOOK: Erased
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Another agent stood to my right. Without my gun, I didn’t stand a chance.

I staggered to my feet and ran. Fire burned from my throat down to my lungs. The land crested to a hill, and the river came into view. I barreled toward it, having no plan other than escape.

When I reached the bank, I cut left and quickened my steps, ignoring the voice in my head that said I couldn’t run far enough, fast enough.

Someone crashed through the pines several feet downriver. It was the same agent who had kicked me.

He’d already outpaced me. I was dead.

I staggered back as he charged. I swung with a right-handed punch, but he dodged it easily and countered with an uppercut that landed at my side.

The force behind the blow threw me off-balance, and I stumbled off the riverbank and into the frigid water.

The agent jumped in after me and wrapped his hands into the folds of my jacket collar, yanking me to the surface.

He head-butted me, and I whipped back, the dull ache of the hit vibrating through my skull. My eyes blurred, crossed. My teeth chattered together. I couldn’t think straight.

I blinked, trying to clear my vision, when I saw the man pull a needle from his inside jacket pocket. He bit off the orange cap and spit it out. The current rushed through my legs.

Summoning every ounce of strength I had left, I wrapped my hands around the agent’s wrists and pushed upward, trying to kick his feet out from beneath him. But his stance was solid, and my legs felt weighted down. I couldn’t get enough momentum to do any damage.

He brandished the needle with a closed fist, like a knife.

I fought against it, teeth gritted, feet planted in the river muck. But I was losing fast.

I tried to memorize the man’s face, so that when I finally had the opportunity to get revenge, I would know exactly where to start.

A shadow stretched across us. Sam? Cas? Another agent?

The needle sank into my neck and I cried out.

The shadow came closer in a rush of movement. Whoever it was, he took the agent’s head in his hands and yanked to the right. The man’s neck popped and cracked, and he sank into the water, eyes wide and blank.

The current fought against me and I lost my footing.

“Come on,” someone said, and grabbed a fold of my jacket, pulling me toward the bank with one quick yank. The needle was carefully extracted from my neck with gentle, gloved fingers.

When I was on solid ground again and I could focus, I looked up to see which of the boys had saved me, but it wasn’t Sam or Nick or Cas.

It was Trev.

“What are you doing here?” I took a step back, getting a better look at his clothes. He was in full combat gear, too, the same gear all the other agents wore.

“Oh my God,” I said.

He held up his hands. There was a rifle on his back, the strap slung across his chest. “I’m not going to hurt you.”

Cas called my name somewhere in the distance.

“What are you doing here?” I repeated. Panic edged into my voice. “Did you set us up?”

“No, I didn’t. I swear. I didn’t know we were going to be here tonight. I just found out. And when I did… I came looking for you as soon as I could. I…” He paused, searching for the right words, in the way that only the old Trev would. The Trev I knew best. “Something else is going on here. I don’t know what. But… be careful. Okay?”

“Anna!”

Cas again.

I didn’t look away from Trev. I couldn’t. He’d saved me. If he were here to set me up, I’d already be in the Branch’s hands, wouldn’t I?
I tried to think of all the other ways he could twist this to the Branch’s advantage.

“You should go,” Trev said. “Don’t tell them I was here. Please.”

When I didn’t answer, he took a step closer. “Anna? Please?”

I let out a breath. “Fine.”

He nodded, grabbing hold of the gun strap across his chest, as if he needed to lessen the weight on his back. “Be careful, please.” He started off in the opposite direction.

“Thank you,” I called quickly.

Trev looked over his shoulder. “You’re welcome.”

I watched as he disappeared into the woods.

“Anna, that you?” Cas said a second later.

“It’s me.”

“You okay?” He pushed aside a pine branch and came up beside me on the riverbank.

I was soaked. Shivering. Sore. “Yeah, I’m good.”

“You gotta hurry up and get back to the lab, then.”

Instantly I went into panic mode. Was something wrong with Sam or Nick? Had they been injured?

“Why?” I said quickly. “What happened?”

“We found your sister.”

11

WHEN I RETURNED TO THE LAB, THE
boys were pushing wounded agents into the last cell on the left.

“Lock it up,” Sam ordered, and the handler punched in a series of commands on the control panel. The glass wall slid into place, sealing the remaining agents inside.

“Open the others,” Sam said next, and the handler followed the order, freeing the two boys I’d seen when we’d first arrived.

I scanned the remaining cells. There was a third boy in the cell on the far right. He was tall, with short red hair, a face painted in freckles, and brown eyes that came across as more guarded than aggressive. When his cell opened, he cautiously walked out.

I looked at the cell next to his as a figure stepped out from the shadows.

It was a girl, a worried expression on her face, lips parted just enough to breathe a bubble of condensation on the glass. Bruises covered her left cheek. Her eye was swollen.

“Anna?” she said. Her lower lip trembled. “Is it really you?”

“Open that cell,” Sam ordered.

“I am. Sorry,” the handler said. “She just came in yesterday. I’m still getting used to the code to her room.” The man punched in a series of numbers.

I hesitated in the center of the room, worried somehow that I was dreaming, that I was having a flashback.

“There, that’s it,” the handler said, and the cell opened and Dani burst out, tears streaming down her face. She lunged at me, frail arms wrapping around my neck. The faint scent of bar soap wafted from her.

Slowly, stupidly, I returned the hug and Dani trembled in my arms. “I can’t believe it’s you,” she said. “I’ve been searching for so long.”

She sobbed harder.

I didn’t know how to comfort her.

Dani finally pulled away, put her hands on either side of my face. She was taller than me by a few inches, skinnier by at least ten pounds.

“Are you okay?” she asked. “Are you—” She looked over my shoulder at who I could only guess was Sam. Her eyes welled again and she stepped around me to wrap Sam in a hug with the same ferocity as the hug she’d given me.

“You found her. Thank you. Thank you for keeping her safe.”

She pulled away and kissed him gently on the cheek. Sam immediately flicked his attention to me, checking my reaction.

I dodged his stare.

“We should get out of here,” I said.

For once, Nick backed me up. “They’ll send another team as soon as this one misses their check-in.”

Cas started plucking things off the dead men and women. Mostly guns. Some clips.

“We taking these guys?” Nick asked, nodding at the three boys we’d released from their cells.

“For now,” Sam answered. “At least long enough for them to adjust.”

And for us to question them.

Cas appeared at my side. “Here,” he said, handing me a black leather jacket. “Looks like you took a dip, huh?”

I frowned. “Not by choice.” I took the offering and examined it. “Any bullet holes or blood?”

“Not that I could find.”

The fact that I was stealing clothing off dead people was too ludicrous for me to process. I tried not to even think about it as I tore off my soaked jacket and slipped into the leather one. It was fleece-lined right down to the sleeve cuffs, and cropped at the waist. A thick, oversized hood hung down my back. The overwhelming scent of leather mixed with the sweet, crisp scent of perfume, and I wondered
what kind of woman had worn this coat, had spritzed herself with perfume today not realizing that she’d lie dead in a basement by sunrise.

The red-haired boy stepped forward. “What about Thomas?”

It took us a second to realize he was referring to the handler. After opening Dani’s cell, Thomas had made himself as small and inconspicuous as he could. He was pressed into the far corner, hands up.

“He nice to you?” Sam asked.

The boy shrugged. “I guess. He didn’t hurt us, if that’s what you’re asking.”

Sam gestured to Cas. “Put him in one of the cells.”

Thomas, the handler, willingly entered the fourth cell. “Thank you for sparing me,” he said as Sam hit the button to lock him inside.

“Don’t thank us yet,” Sam said. “Hard telling what Riley will do to you once he finds out you lost the
units
.”

Thomas deflated as the realization settled in. Riley wasn’t the forgiving type.

“Let’s go,” Sam said.

I looked over my shoulder at the woman whose coat I now wore. I’d come to terms with taking the life of anyone associated with the Branch. They knew what they were getting into when they signed up for the job. But that didn’t mean I didn’t feel remorse.

Before we escaped Branch headquarters, I’d killed the man in charge. Connor. Killing him at the time had been easy. It was what came after that tormented me the most.

I still saw his face in my head almost every day. I wondered how long I would see that woman’s face, too.

Maybe forever.

I thought about saying a prayer, or some final words to send the woman’s spirit off or whatever it was you were supposed to do to respect the dead. But all I could come up with was
Thanks for the jacket
, and I whispered it as I filed out the door.

12

I’D GOTTEN USED TO STAYING IN AN
actual house, so I wasn’t exactly thrilled about having to rent a motel room. The décor was garish. The sheets were stained. And the windows were painted shut. When I’d pointed this out to Sam, that we had zero alternate exits, he’d grumbled something about it only being temporary.

He split us between two rooms, with him, Dani, the red-haired boy, and me in the first room. Cas, Nick, and the other two boys, Jimmy and Matt, were in the second.

The red-haired boy, whose name was Greg, sat in the chair in the corner. Dani sat on the edge of the bed, across from Sam and me.

“Tell us everything,” Sam said.

Dani worried at her lower lip. “I thought you were dead. Both of
you. For a very long time, that’s what I believed.” She inhaled, leveled her shoulders. “I’ve been in hiding ever since you were captured,” she said to Sam. “I was shot, and the Branch left me in a field, probably assuming I’d bleed out. But I survived. And Anna…” She blinked, and several tears escaped her eyes. She swiped them away quickly with delicate finger. “I thought you were killed with our parents. And then I heard a couple of months ago, from one of my old contacts in the Branch, that you two had popped back up, that you’d escaped some top secret facility in New York.

“So I did some digging into a few old Branch contacts and got a couple of leads. I went looking for you, but Riley found me first. I think they were planning to use me as bait.”

“Makes sense,” Sam said.

She nodded and smiled. “Thankfully you found me before they could set their plan in motion.”

I scooted closer to Sam. I desperately wanted to take his hand in mine, if only for the comfort, but I knew it wasn’t the right time. If Dani didn’t know about Sam and me being together, there was no telling how she’d take the news.

“So… what did they do to you?” Dani asked me. “While you were in that lab?”

That was a long story, and one I didn’t feel like telling right now.

“Well, I just learned about you a few months ago,” I said. “I didn’t know I had a sister until then.”

“They altered your memories.” She shook her head, closed her eyes. “I’m so sorry.” She scrubbed at her face, and when she dropped her hands, she was staring right at me. “So you really don’t know me from a complete stranger, do you?”

I wasn’t sure how much to tell. I had flashes every now and then, but I hadn’t told Sam yet, and I didn’t even know how reliable they were.

“Not really.”

She pursed her lips, then said, “They’ll come back eventually. I can help fill in whatever blanks you have, if you want.”

“Thanks.”

“You’re next,” Sam said, nodding at Greg, who’d been silent nearly the whole drive there. “You remember anything before that lab?”

Greg shook his head. “None of us do.”

“How long have you been there?”

“Six months.”

That wasn’t very much time compared to how long we’d been in the farmhouse.

“Anything else? Anything that might be useful?”

Greg folded his hands across his midsection as he thought. He was extremely fit, but then, almost everyone associated with the Branch was.

“Nothing I can think of,” he answered. “I wish I could help, man. I owe you big for getting us out.” He sat forward, propping his elbows
on his knees. “You’re one of us, aren’t you? The Branch gave you the Altered drug?”

Sam nodded. “Did they tell you why you were here?”

“They said we had to be quarantined because we’d reacted badly to the drug. Said we’d signed up for the program back before we lost our memories. Said that our heads were empty
because
of the treatments.”

“You believe that now?” Sam asked.

“No. You’re locked up long enough, you start asking questions. And when those questions go unanswered, you lose faith that you’re being told the truth.”

“The Branch doesn’t know the meaning of the word,” I said, and the bed squeaked as I shifted. “If you want my advice, don’t believe anything the Branch has told you. It’s all a lie.”

I looked across the space between Dani and me. The Branch had told me she’d died, but if I knew Riley and Connor at all, I suspected they’d known for a while that she was alive.

Which meant they’d been waiting for the perfect opportunity to use her against Sam and me. Play her like a pawn.

But she was safe now.

The Branch had failed.

Nick met Sam and me outside while Cas stood watch over the other boys.

“So, what do you think?” Nick asked, shoving his hands in his coat pockets. “They a threat to us?”

Sam scanned the parking lot. There weren’t a lot of people checked in to Nuva Boulevard Motel. Only one other vehicle was parked in the lot.

“If they’ve been genetically altered like us,” Sam answered, “then yes, they pose a threat. But that depends on whose side they’re on. So far it seems like they’re grateful we helped them escape.”

Nick snorted. “We didn’t
help
them escape. We did all the goddamn work.”

“You know what I mean, Nick.”

I stepped between them. “We need to focus on where we go next. We can’t cart the others around with us. It’s too many people to deal with.”

“Agreed,” Nick said. The wind kicked up, and a curl of dark hair fell across his forehead.

“We can’t just cut them loose,” Sam argued. “They’re trained assassins with no memories. And who knows what else the Branch was doing to them.”

“You think they have a programmed commander?” I asked.

All of us went silent as we considered the possibilities.

“If Riley is the commander…” Nick said, and trailed off.

“Then having them around is a huge risk.”

“What about Dani?” Nick said.

“What
about
her?” I asked.

“She was in the lab. Who knows what they could have done to her in that amount of time. Or maybe this was their plan all along. Maybe there’s a tracking device on her.”

“Then I’ll check her,” I said.

Sam sighed, the collar of his jacket shielding his face, catching his breath before it hit the frigid air. He turned to Nick. “Dani isn’t up for discussion. We’ll check all of them for tracking devices, and in the morning, we’ll send the boys on their way.”

“Fine,” Nick said, though his tone of voice said it was anything but.

BOOK: Erased
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