Ordinary (Exceptional Book 3) (4 page)

BOOK: Ordinary (Exceptional Book 3)
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"Sabine, get in the cab," Ally spat out.

"What, why?" Sabine said nervously.

"Because it's my turn to drive, now that Lilla is out cold." She shot Luke what she hoped was an angry look. "And I don't want to look at either of these two right now."

"One of us should be up front," Max said. "To watch out for Rogues."

"I think I've proved I can handle myself when it comes to the Rogues," Ally responded.

Max opened his mouth, most likely to speak about the previous night's events, but Ally silenced him with a look.

Luke and Max seemed suddenly amused by the whole scene, and Stosh was creeping toward the transport slowly. Ally gathered the map off the ground and went to kick dirt over the small fire they had made in the middle of the lot. She strode to the left side of the transport and climbed in. Sabine joined her shortly, and then she heard the back door of the transport slam shut.

"You know, you told me a few weeks ago that Willow said Max makes you feisty. He makes you different." Sabine waited until they were back on the road to speak up. "But I think that Luke makes you... you."

"What does that mean?" Ally responded.

Sabine shrugged. "I'm not sure, it just sounds right. When I picture you, I see Luke too. Maybe it is just because that’s how I first met you, but he fits into the puzzle.”

"Who would you pick?" Ally asked. "If it were you?"

Sabine stared out the window. "Are you saying you need to pick?"

Ally sighed. "I'm not sure I want either of them right now."

Sabine glanced at her from the other side of the cab. "Luke."

Ally looked at her and Sabine smiled.

"I think it's always been Luke, and Max is a distraction from the hurt you endured during the separation from him."

"Maybe we should focus on watching for Rogues," Ally's gaze moved back to the road. She was vaguely aware that Luke could hear them through the wall behind her head.

They fell into a comfortable silence. Ally watched the road and Sabine watched for Rogue attacks. She meant what she had said, about not wanting either of them. It seemed strange to worry about something so minor when they had a bigger picture in front of them. Maybe after they reached the southern city she could think about love. She loved Luke at one time, and maybe she still did, but so much had changed. Then there was Max, a boy who had started to change just recently. He was the boy who knew her best as she currently was, but he was changing too. They all were, and Ally was afraid of what might be left of each of them when things finally settled down.

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER SIX

[ marnie ]

 

Marnie sat on the white bed with her legs crossed. She was staring at a square window, which had appeared this morning when she had asked the voice for one. The wall had shifted and suddenly she had sunlight. She had stood by the window at first, wanting to take in all that she could. It overlooked a courtyard of some sort, and the building stretched out on either side. There was a large terrace across from her that people could walk under, and it was even big enough for vehicles to move through. She could see the large city buildings from here, several of them just across the street. Many were just empty structures, not secure enough for people to enter. At least, that was what Marnie had heard back home. She assumed they were the ones that were missing their tops. A few looked like something massive had walked up and bit the upper levels off, the tops of the skeletal buildings looking like jagged teeth.

"Marnie," Voice said.

It addressed her that way each time. Not quite asking a question, just as though it felt like saying her name.

"Yes Voice?" she gave the response she had come up with that morning. She hadn’t slept well last night, and she yawned.

"I'm going to be sending the General in now," Voice answered.

Chills ran up Marnie's back. The General was in charge of the groups of soldiers that watched over the Exceptionals and Ordinarys in Zone D. Even though there was a board of leaders, too, he might as well be in charge of it all. That was how much power he had.

The door in the wall slid open and a large man stepped through, ducking to avoid hitting his head. Two soldiers followed behind him, their drab green and brown uniforms seeming bright in the white room. They were young and proud, and they stood by the door with their hands clasped in front of them and their backs straight.

The General stepped right up to the bed, looking down at Marnie with his arms crossed over his chest. Marnie couldn't think of any other word to describe him except burly. Big arms, big legs, a thick neck, a heavy mustache, and eyebrows that nearly covered his eyes. She could see how he might be terrifying, but her natural inclination was not to fear. Normally she could read a person's thoughts when they came near to her, and therefore she could understand their intentions.

It was this morning that she fully understood why she had cuffs on. It wasn't that the Ordinarys worried that she might harm someone, it was that they were afraid she would read their minds.

"Exceptional 9405," The General said.

"General." Marnie looked up at him.

A vein throbbed on the General's neck.

"It's ‘Sir’ to you," he growled.

"Sir General," Marnie tried again.

She was pretty sure the soldier on the left of the door cracked a smile, but she didn't want to get caught staring at him while the General was right in front of her.

"Have you been briefed on why you are here?" he asked.

Marnie shook her head. "Not at all."

"We have several prisoners that we need questioned." The General looked at her like he expected her to understand.

She scratched the back of her head. "Isn't that your job?”

The General scowled.

"Sir," she added.

The soldier to the left of the door was definitely smiling.

The General sighed. "We've exhausted our own methods of getting answers from the prisoners."

Realization hit Marnie in the face, and she smirked. "You need me to read their minds."

The General nodded. "Exactly."

"No," she responded.

"Excuse me?"

"I don't use my abilities that way." Marnie prodded her temple. "I don't share other people's secrets."

The General's face was turning a nice shade of red at this point.

"I don't think you understand," he said in a low voice. "It wasn't a request, it was an order."

Marnie frowned. "Or else? There is always an
or else
."

The General smirked. "We'll get your mother involved."

Marnie was scowling now. "What happens when I'm finished? Do I get to go home, once you have your answers?”

The General shrugged and his demeanor turned cocky. "I suppose, once we are through with you."

"When do I start?" Marnie asked. She wasn’t really close with her mother, but she also couldn’t put her in danger because she didn’t feel like cooperating. The Ordinarys here had treated her well so far, and she had had more than enough food to eat.

"This afternoon. Sergeant Nickols here will bring you at fourteen hundred hours, precisely."

Marnie didn't have a clock, but it wasn't like she would be busy doing anything else at that time. The General had motioned to the soldier to the left of the door, the one that seemed to have a sense of humor. He was staring at the wall in front of him now, his face completely composed.

"Sergeant Nickols," Marnie repeated.

Outside the City, the Exceptionals just called them soldiers, but here they appeared to have different titles.

The General left the room and the soldier to the right of the door followed after him. Sergeant Nickols remained behind, his posture and stern expression holding strong. The door slid shut behind the others.

Marnie leaned back on the bed and sighed.

"Voice," she said.

"Marnie," the voice replied.

"Why do I need a babysitter?" she asked.

Before she turned fifteen, which was the age at which Exceptionals were assigned to jobs, she had traded for goods by offering babysitting services to other Exceptional families. There were many mothers who needed their children cared for while they went to work, or did tasks around their homes. It had been that way for a long time, Marnie’s mother had told her.

"Your risk of harm has elevated," Voice responded.

Marnie raised her arms and looked at the cuffs. "They seem to be working just fine. I can't read Sergeant Nickols mind."

Sergeant Nickols’ stern expression faltered for a moment, his eyes flashing toward her.

"Not as a harm to others," voice said.

"Oh."

They weren’t afraid of Marnie harming others, they were afraid that she was going to harm herself before they had a chance to use her. The thought hadn't crossed her mind before now, and even as it wandered through, she gave it a quick shove out of her brain. She wasn't a coward, not like her father had been. She couldn't harm people with her abilities. She would do what the General asked of her, and then he would send her home.

"Voice."

"Marnie."

"Is Sergeant Nickols allowed to talk to me," she asked.

The soldier’s eyes flashed to her again and she smiled at him. The action seemed to make him uneasy and she just shrugged.

"Yes," Voice finally responded.

"Can I have playing cards?"

Voice was silent for several minutes. Marnie had determined that it was during these moments of silence that whoever controlled Voice was probably getting permission to carry out her requests. Finally the slot in the wall opened up and playing cards slid through. Her mother had sets of playing cards at home, and most of them were faded and torn. This set was crisp and brand new. Marnie knew that there had been buildings full of these decks nearby before the virus. Zone D and the Sectors were not lacking in playing cards, just food and water. Generations of parents had passed down classic games to their children, and many of the children had created a few of their own.

Marnie waved the pack of cards in the air. "Sold... I mean, Sergeant?"

Sergeant Nickols looked at her and then back at the wall.

"Voice said you can talk to me."

There was a hint of a smile on his face.

Marnie sighed.

"Voice."

"Marnie."

"Can Sergeant Nickols play cards with me?"

"Yes."

The Sergeant cleared his throat and stepped toward the bed. Marnie slid all the way against the wall so that he could sit at the bottom and face her. He was her age, maybe a little older, and had light features. Pale skin, pale hair, blue eyes. Back in the Sector, Marnie might have found him cute.

She set the deck between them.

"Have you ever played War?" she asked.

He nodded his head, watching her carefully.

"Just a warning," she told him. "I know this is a game of chance, but I'm undefeated."

She grinned and then began to split the cards between them.

 

 

CHAPTER SEVEN

[ ally ]

 

By late afternoon, the abandoned towns gave way to more tree covered roads. Ally found that driving the transport was peaceful with Sabine riding next to her. Her ride with Luke had been tense from the moment he slid into the seat next to her. The roads here were less mottled than the ones near the City, and Ally found that she rarely had to swerve around debris or look for a detour.

"Do you think we should stop soon?" Sabine spoke up. "It's been a few hours, hasn't it?"

Ally nodded. "Three or four I would think."

A large green sign was coming up on their right, and Ally slowed as they passed it. She had come to learn that there was a system to these signs. There would be a name and then a number after it. The smaller the number, the faster the town came up. Some of the towns she could see from the roads, and other times she figured they would have to drive a short distance to find them.

The number next to this town was two.

"We should be near a town soon," she said. She looked at the fuel gauge, something Heath had taught her to do. "And I think we need more gas."

Sabine nodded. "Luke put some in earlier, but it looks like he had a ton of cans in the back."

In just a few more minutes, a small road cut off of the main road they were on. Ally pulled onto the side road and it took them up a small hill. The road she was on cut across another road, and went back onto the main road she had just been on. She spotted buildings to her left and turned the transport in that direction. She went over a bridge and came to a small lot on the right, which she pulled into.

By the time she and Sabine climbed out of the cab, Luke already had the back door open and they were climbing out.

"How's Lilla?" Ally asked.

The question had been on her mind since they left the last location.

The two boys looked at the ground, a gesture highly out of place for Luke.

Ally pushed past them and hoisted herself into the transport, hurrying to the cot against the wall. Lilla was breathing, Ally knew as much by the rasping noise coming from her throat. It was labored breathing though, and sweat dotted Lilla's forehead and cheeks. She was pale, and her usual rosy lips were a shade of purple.

"Lilla," Ally whispered her name. Out of the corner of her eye she saw Luke jump into the transport. He made it look so easy, covering the four foot height with a simple leap. "Is she going to die?"

Luke met her gaze. "Probably."

"Did this happen often with your test subjects?" Ally asked.

"About twenty-five percent of the time," he responded.

"Where's Max?" Ally asked. "I want him to hear that."

Luke bit his lip nervously. The gesture was very much like the Luke she had first met, and she had to try hard to focus on the fact that his actions said otherwise.

Luke's gaze flitted behind her and she spun around. She had been so intent on getting to Lilla that she hadn't taken a moment to look around the transport.

Ally covered her mouth with her hands and closed her eyes. "Oh Max..."

He was lying on the cot across from Lilla, his arms crossed over his chest.

"Is he..."

"No," Luke said. "Just sleeping."

Ally covered the short distance in a crawl and touched Max's face gently. His features were etched with concern, his eyebrows furrowed and his mouth pulled down in a frown. He still had color in his face and lips, and he was breathing easily.

"How long ago did he take it?" she asked.

"An hour or two," Luke responded. "Just before Lilla took a turn for the worse."

Ally stood and faced Luke. "I need fresh air."

She tried to push past him but he grabbed her arm.

"Ally wait," he pleaded. "Talk to me."

"I don't even know who you are anymore." Her voice stuttered as tears blurred her vision.

"It's me, Ally. Luke. The same Luke you met at the boundary line this summer."

Ally shook her head. "You're not the same. Neither of us are. The Luke I knew, he wouldn't have done this." She motioned to Max and Lilla. “And the Ally you first met may not have cared so much, but I do now.”

"I was trying to help. It was our best chance at survival," he said.

"Yes, but look what it’s done. It's something that Aden would have come up with."

Ally felt a pang of regret at her words when she saw the hurt expression fall across Luke's face. It was gone in an instant, replaced with a mask of anger.

"I'm nothing like my father," Luke growled.

"Oh really," Ally retorted. "Because when I found you in the City two weeks ago you were everything like him."

Luke backed away from Ally and she took her opportunity to move around him. She climbed out of the transport and walked past Stosh and Sabine.

"I'm going to use the restroom," she said over her shoulder, as though she was actually going to find a bathroom in this deserted lot.

Ally thought over how mad she had been at Max the last time she spoke with him. She told him she couldn't even bear to look at him, and now he might never wake up. He had become a good friend over the past several weeks, even though he often hinted at wanting more. Sometimes she had even felt like she wanted more too, but her feelings were all jumbled with Luke back in the picture. Max had been loyal, pledging to help her from the start. He followed her into the City even though he thought it was a lost cause, and even helped take out Rogues from the roof of a warehouse.

"Ally, wait!"

Luke was beside her, his body arriving in a blur. He stepped in front of her and took hold of each of her shoulders, bending down slightly to look into her eyes. She met his violet gaze straight on, knowing her own green eyes were fresh with tears. He leaned forward until his forehead touched hers, and the intimacy of the act made Ally's heart skip a beat and her pulse race faster.

"I'm done letting you walk away from me," he said.

And then his lips were on hers. The kiss was gentle and drawn out, his hands cupping the back of her neck and pulling her closer. When he finally pulled away they were both breathless.

"You have to trust me. Please," he said.

"I want to," Ally responded. “But like I said, I'm not so sure I really know you anymore. And how well did I even know you to begin with?”

Luke stepped back a little and took both of Ally's hands in his own. "I'm not denying that we've both changed since we first met, Ally. I think even without our special circumstances, most people change as they grow older. It's less important that we stay the same, and more important that we change together."

"And where are you headed, Luke?" she asked. "On your road of change?"

"Truthfully, I'm not sure."

Ally let out a small laugh. "I feel just the same."

"Really?" Luke cocked his head. "Because you seem to have it figured out. The southern city, a new start..."

"You know what I'd really like?" Ally said.

"What?"

She looked up at him. "I want everyone to have an equal chance."

Luke watched her, confusion displayed on his face.

She pulled her hands from his and motioned around her, spinning in a full circle.

"At some point, this lot was full of vehicles, and that foundation over there was a building of some sort. There was a town full of people nearby. All Ordinarys, all with normal lives that didn't include ability fueled fights in a warehouse, attacks by mutated Exceptionals, or dangerous treks across the country."

Luke stood motionless, listening to her.

She ran her fingers through her hair, which was knotted and dirty. "I just wish we could be like that again. I didn't like working my butt off so the Exceptionals could live a perfect City life, I didn't like being in a City where I was treated like a servant, I don't like having to run for my life and be fearful of who or what I might come across."

"You realize you are wishing for something impossible," Luke said.

"Is it really?" Ally asked. "I mean, even if things can't go back to exactly how they were, couldn't we at least handle treating each other like equals? The Luke I first met, the Luke I fell in love with, seemed to think the same."

Luke reached for her, as if to take her hands again, but then let his own fall back to his sides. "Things have order, or at least they did before the Rogues. What if we can restore that order again?"

"And what happens when there is a new enemy?"

"What enemy?" Luke asked. "The people left in this country are so spread out, and so set on survival, that we've all left each other alone for decades. A century even!"

"One day it won't be enough," Ally responded. "Someone will come for us, or you'll go looking for them."

Luke gritted his teeth. "Let them try."

Ally watched the way his body tensed, starting in his legs and coiling up until the veins in his neck protruded and his violet eyes were glowing. She hadn't seen anger roll off him like this before, not this strong. She had no idea what fueled him to be this way.

"I need to use the bathroom." Ally pushed past Luke and continued toward the edge of the lot, where there was a thick covering of brush and trees. "I'd appreciate it if you didn't follow me," she added dryly.

Ally spared a glance behind her as she stepped into the trees. Luke was standing just where she left him, but when he noticed her watching, he turned and walked back to the transport at an Ordinary pace. She walked for several minutes before stopping behind a large tree. She looked down at her hands, covered in dirt and dried blood. She knew she was a mess, and the sad part was she couldn't sense her own filth anymore. She didn't smell to her own nose, and she didn't smell the others. She, Stosh, and Sabine had grown used to it when they had traveled out of the City, and eventually to Champaign. She wondered what Luke thought of her now. He hadn't been without a warm shower in the entirety of his life.

Ally was reaching for the button on her jeans when a hand slid over her mouth. She immediately brought her hands up to the strong forearm and dug her nails in, but the unknown person didn't budge. She noted that the arm was of a normal color, not the green or gray of Rogues. Warm breath hit her ears.

"Are there more of you?" a man growled.

Ally continued to resist and the man pulled her roughly against his chest.

"I asked ya a question, girl.”

Ally shook her head against him.

“Seems odd dat you would be travelin‘ alone. A lil’ girl like you.”

The man had a strange way of speaking. His words were drawn out and at times, unfinished.

If she could only scream so that Luke would hear her. She had no idea if the man holding her was Ordinary or Exceptional, but she knew she didn’t have a chance of overtaking him on her own.

Ally changed tactics and nodded against his chest.

“Does that mean there are others?” he asked.

She nodded again.

“Scream and I’ll slit yer throat. Then I’ll find yer friends and slit their throats, too.”

The hand on her mouth loosened and she stepped from the man’s hold. She spun around to face him and she had three immediate thoughts.

He’s Ordinary.

He’s dirty.

He’s ugly.

The last thought was mean, but it was true.

He was tall and thick, more bulky muscle than anything else. He was wearing a ratty button up shirt, and worn jeans with patches and holes. The small amount of skin that was exposed was tanned and caked with dirt. His dark hair was long and matted, as was his beard. He had on brown work boots, and dirt trailed up to the knee of his pants as though he had been walking through a pool of mud before finding her.

The man gave Ally a sinister smile and she realized that he was missing several teeth as well.

“Where are yer friends?”

Ally’s eyes flicked to his dirt covered hands and she saw that he was carrying a long hunting knife. She might be able to outrun someone so large in a footrace, but she might not be able to outrun his knife.

“Best shot in northern Texas.” The man raised the knife.

Another man appeared beside her. Considering he was just as large, and dirty, as her captor, she wondered how he had approached so quietly.

“There’s a group of ‘em by a truck, Big Sal,” the newcomer said. “One gal and two boys by the looks of it.”

“Four youngins in one afternoon, Big Dean,” Big Sal said.

Ally glanced back and forth between the two men.

Big Sal?

Big Dean?

“That’s gotta be a record,” Big Dean responded.

“What do you want from us?” Ally managed to sound confident with her words even though she was shaken up on the inside.

“You dare speak to a man that way?” Big Dean stepped forward with his hand raised.

Ally flinched, prepping for an assault.

“Stop!” Big Sal shouted. “Don’t muss her up. We can get a good price for her.”

Ally didn’t like the sound of anyone getting mussed up. She
really
didn’t like the sound of them getting a good price for her.

Big Sal observed her with curiosity.

“On second thought, I bet this gal belongs to one of them boys out there. Maybe if we rough her up a bit, they’ll come runnin’. We won’t hurt her anywhere someone in the market will see.”

Big Dean shrugged. “I say we take it to the boys, let ‘em know we can walk on their territory any time we want.”

Ally hoped they continued to bicker back and forth. Someone was bound to come looking for her soon, most likely Luke. Max would have followed her by now, but he.... couldn’t.

“We fight better in the woods,” Big Sal said. “It’s what we know. I don’t wanna go walkin‘ through no empty lots.”

Big Sal moved toward Ally now, and grabbed her arm, pushing up the sleeve of her shirt.

“I’m sorry bout this,” he said softly, and for a moment Ally believed he might mean it. “Big Dean, get the bandages ready.”

He jammed the tip of the knife into the upper part of her bicep and pulled it downward with precision. Ally took one second to marvel at how quickly and efficiently he cut, making sure she would bleed just enough. Then the pain caught up with her and a scream rose in her throat, one she couldn’t seem to capture.

BOOK: Ordinary (Exceptional Book 3)
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