Justice

Rebecca Royce

 

Prologue

My name is Rachel Clancy.

If you’ve been reading these accounts, then you already know my name. But I feel the need to introduce myself to you every time I start a new one, as if you might have just found me, or you’re a stranger. Manners dictate the introduction, although I suspect I’ll never know your name in return, which is okay. Maybe it’s better I never do.

I haven’t held anything back from you. I haven’t tried to make myself look better or less selfish or more mature. No, I’ve written everything down the way I remember it happening. Someone else might remember the events differently, but this is how it happened for me, or at least how I see it when I think about the years between my sixteenth and eighteenth birthdays.

Eighteen would have made me a grownup in the Before Time, in the days before Dr. Icahn’s experiments nearly ended the entire world. In the time after, sixteen became the year we achieved maturity. Still, for me, since I could remember what my life had been like before, eighteen meant something when I finally got there.

It indicated I’d survived, somehow. When I blew out the candles, low-sung lyrics of Happy Birthday filling the room and my mother and father cheering, I couldn’t help but disbelieve I’d actually made it to my birthday. Was it all a dream? Had I died in the field, been eaten by a Werewolf, and these thoughts of my eighteenth birthday were imaginings of my dying mind?

Writing these tales, telling them to you, helps me to believe they happened.

But the sad truth is, if you’re reading them, then most likely I am dead.

I don’t know if I’d give them to anyone in any other set of circumstances.

If you’re reading my journals, then it’s possible I never saw year nineteen.

The thought would make me horribly sad if I couldn’t feel it in my bones that justice is coming, on her way, down the road—traveling toward us. Those who destroyed humanity will have their reckoning.

Reader, if I didn’t live long enough, I hope you enjoyed seeing Icahn fall. I hope everyone reveled in it, partied through the night, kissed and cried out with glee for the way he ended.

Even if I never got to see it.

Chapter 1

“My heart. Oh no, I’m dying.” Chad gripped his chest and fell to the ground at my feet. He twitched dramatically, and I sighed. Shaking my head, I turned my back on his display.

I knew why he perpetually pretended to die. My mother, Chad, and the four others we suspected had been cloned—although we didn’t really know who had and hadn’t been, since Icahn had evaded capture—liked to joke about the fact they might drop dead at any moment.

“Sick” and “perverse” were the two words that came to mind when they acted on this humor. Chad’s twitching fell into the roll-my-eyes-and-walk-away category of reactions.

With my back turned to him, he could never see how each and every time he did this, my eyes filled with tears.

Chad leapt to his feet behind me and then grabbed my arm as I’d managed to wipe my fear away.

“Are you done being a jackass?”

He smiled and nodded. “For now. So, I’ve been thinking about your birthday.”

“It was yesterday.” We’d all celebrated. My parents, Chad, his brother, Micah, his parents, his two much younger brothers, his sister, Tia, and her husband, Glen, their baby, Keith…in fact, the entire complement of Warriors had turned out to wish me a happy eighteenth. Everyone had been there, except Deacon.

My former best friend, who’d tried to kill me and who, for some ridiculous reason, I couldn’t seem to write off in my heart. I didn’t love him, not as I did Chad, but best friends were hard to come by. If Deacon ever returned from wherever Icahn had stashed him and gave me a proper apology, I’d probably forgive him. As long as he got down on his miserable hands and knees while he did it.

“Yes, I’m aware. We had cake.”

He pulled me against him before kissing me square on the lips. I melted. After everything Chad and I had been through to be together—and it really had been a lot: his death, his cloning, his memory destruction and that of my now-dead ex-boyfriend—we couldn’t seem to stop touching each other. All the time.

It had to be making everyone around us want to gag.

I didn’t care.

Wrapping my arms around Chad, I kissed him as if I might not be able to tomorrow. I had certainly learned the hard way. Several times.

He pulled away to look at me. “So, your birthday.”

I sighed, laying my head on his chest. “Yesterday.”

“Right. Well, we got to celebrate with your family and all our friends, but not alone.”

I leaned away to look at him. “What did you have in mind?”

The habitat alarm blared to life, ending whatever discussion we might have had about any particular topic he wanted to talk about. There had been a time when I hadn’t wanted to discuss the subject he wanted to bring up. I hadn’t wanted to consider any new element to our relationship at all. It had seemed too scary.

But lately? I didn’t mind the look he got in his eyes when the subject of moving forward came up.

Now, however, we had to find out what threat had caused the alarm to sound. I hadn’t experienced the physical discomfort indicating monsters were nearby. Humans were most likely the guilty party.

“If this is Deacon’s cronies again, I’m going to stab them through their worthless hearts.”

I swallowed away the pain hearing his name brought me. Six months and I wasn’t over what was—and was not—Deacon’s betrayal. He’d had his mind erased in order to forget me, and all of that had been my fault, considering I’d bargained with a madman to make the amnesia happen. I’d realized pretty quickly that I’d made a terrible mistake, but everyone had mostly forgiven me. It wasn’t Deacon’s fault his memories hadn’t returned when Chad’s and the others’ had. The real question was why the others remembered at all.

But his actions since then? The constant violence? Leading an uprising against us on Icahn’s behalf? Yeah, for those I could call foul.

“I hate the daytime attacks. It was bad enough when the Werewolves could start a fight in the sunlight. Now it’s three times as bad. The Wolves and humans during the day, plus the Vampires and the Werewolves and the humans at night. We never get a break.”

“Which is exactly why they think we’re going to fall apart.” Chad pulled his machete off his back as we headed for the elevator. Machetes took out humans and Wolves alike. The blades would even slow down a Vampire. Lately, a machete had been Chad’s weapon of choice.

“Right.” I tried to stay positive like the other Warriors. They all seemed so certain we would ultimately prevail in our battles. Sometimes I didn’t feel quite so sure.

Not that I’d ever tell them. Doom and gloom helped no one.

Chad was on duty, but not me. Technically, I should be sleeping, because I had to face an evening run with the Vamps. But ever since I’d lived Upward, I hadn’t been able to sleep during daytime hours unless they drugged me, which I hated. In the event of a siege, all Warriors would have to be on duty. Sleepiness would get me killed.

“Be careful up there.” I kissed Chad straight on the lips. “There’s no coming back anymore.”

He squeezed my cheek with his free hand. “It’s better, beautiful. One life. One chance to get it all right.”

This had become a routine for us. I reminded him of his mortality, and he took the chance to make me feel better about having destroyed the cloning machines. I’d done it even knowing Chad could drop dead at any time. There had been no other choice that I could make. But it created permanence to death once more.

If Chad died, I couldn’t return him to my arms again.

I waited while he rode the elevator Upward, until the dial showed he’d reached the top. Maybe it would be a minor skirmish, or none at all. False alarms did happen.

Sighing, I hugged myself. The habitat, miles underground, maintained a steady temperature to keep us comfortable. But I felt cold. If I didn’t know where everyone I loved was—if I wasn’t certain they were fine—then it often seemed as if I couldn’t breathe.

Chad would be with the others on duty, a large group, and they all took care of one another. I knew, because I’d been there with them. The Warriors had become such a cohesive group of fighters, we could all practically hear one another’s thoughts—if we were fighting monsters.

Going up against regular humans, which happened more and more, put someone like me at a disadvantage. I didn’t have the size or strength to beat down a man bigger than me, which was why I’d been delegated solely to monster-fighting.

I turned my back on the elevators. Maybe I’d find my parents. I knew what Chad wanted, even though he hadn’t gotten to say the words aloud. He wanted us to move out of our parents’ homes and in together. Heck, if I gave him the chance, he’d probably propose.

And if he did, I’d say yes. Eighteen would have been too young in the Before Time.

Now it would be foolish to delay happiness. We might go Upward and never return.

The elevator dinged, and a shout caught my attention when the doors opened.

I whirled around. “Chad?” I didn’t know who had yelled, but my mind always went to him first these days.

Instead of Chad coming out, it was Micah, Chad’s younger brother and my close friend. Glen, their brother-in-law, hauled him through. Glen had married Tia when she’d gotten pregnant. She’d fallen apart as a Warrior and had made a decision that being a mother was preferable to fighting. At the time, she’d been my closest friend, but even though we’d mended fences, these days we didn’t understand each other well.

I didn’t trust her one hundred percent of the time, but if I was going to have any kind of future with Chad, it was going to have to work. They were family.

Glen bellowed as he dragged Micah forward. I rushed over to them. “Are you hurt?”

Even as I asked the question, I could see blood seeping through a makeshift field bandage on Micah’s shoulder.

With a shove, he pushed Glen off him. “It’s a flesh wound, and he’s hollering like a banshee.”

“Flesh wounds can fester.” I shook my head. “You need to get it looked at.”

We lived in what essentially amounted to pre-Civil War times in terms of medicine. Despite that, Dr. Icahn had built machines using technology so sophisticated I couldn’t have understood it even when I’d lived in a techy time.

“I will, but Glen here is carrying on like I’m about to die. I’m not. It’s even clotting. I’m not going to pass out.”

“Good.” I patted his other shoulder. “What’s up there? Humans?”

“This group is from nowhere I’ve heard of. Keith has them cornered, interrogating them. I’m not even certain they speak English. Icahn must be digging deep to find people to fight us. Or maybe he’s trying to show us his endless resources. Either way, they’re a nasty bunch. Chad said to tell you not to worry. He saw me on my way down. I’m supposed to remind you we Lyons are too mean to die…twice.”

I whacked him on the arm. “That’s just cruel.”

He grinned. “I know.”

If Keith had prisoners, then maybe I could help him. These days the non-Warriors did most of the interrogation. We caught them; they got information out of them. Never before had we been so in sync.

It wasn’t the Warriors versus the non-Warriors anymore. Now we were the habitat Genesis against the world. Or at least against everyone involved with Icahn.

It worked for us. Sharing a common enemy made us better to each other. Kind of sad, but it was the truth. I had a hard time imagining no one else on the planet—not that there were that many people left—had risen against their version of Dr. Icahn. According to him, and who knew if we could even believe him, there had been a lot of scientists involved in the downfall of humanity and they all ran their own habitats or locations all over the planet.

Had anyone else ever revolted against the oppression? How had they won?

Or had they all lost? Did superior force beat out what was right every time?

I hit the elevator button.

Wasn’t there any justice in the world? Had there ever been?

The elevator opened, and I stepped inside. I’d always hated the elevators, almost as much as I hated living below ground. One of my not-so-secret wishes was that we would eventually get to live on the earth’s surface again. We had done so briefly, before I’d made a terrible mistake and Icahn had moved us all below ground again.

Sometimes I wondered why any of them even spoke to me anymore. I wouldn’t have blamed them if they’d wanted to get rid of me.

I traveled Upward. If there was a big battle going on, I’d try to stay out of the way. They didn’t need me becoming a hostage or getting someone killed. My days of causing problems that would make everything worse were behind me. I wanted to win, I wanted to end Icahn, but if it wasn’t my destiny to be the one to take him down, that would be fine too.

Mostly I wanted everyone to survive. Any other eventuality, I could live with.

The elevator groaned to the surface. One day it was going to quit working. I shuddered at the thought. To be stuck forever somewhere between the surface of the earth and Genesis? Would I run out of oxygen first or die of thirst? The elevators didn’t run on the oxygen supply pumped into Genesis from above. If we were trapped inside one, eventually we would suffocate. Or so they’d told us. Who knew what was true?

It shocked me Icahn hadn’t yet blown up our only means of transportation to the surface. Doing so would stop us cold. Of course he wanted Genesis back. For some reason, he was obsessed with the place. Blowing up the entrance would make it impossible for him to use it.

Why did my mind have to go to those places? Particularly when I was inside the device.

The doors opened, and I stepped out. Silence met me, which meant whatever battle had occurred hadn’t happened right against the doors. Something positive, at least.

My senses remained quiet. No Werewolves around, which was a good thing.

My ex-boyfriend, Jason, who had been a Werewolf, had had his problems—a lot of them. But he’d lost his life saving mine. Until the day he died, he’d insisted I was his mate. Maybe I was. I’d never really know whether he’d actually scented we belonged together or convinced himself he had. I’m not a Wolf. I’m a human being. I fall in love, and I can fall out of it. There is no promise of forever for me.

Now I fully expected his father to come looking for me with death on his mind—as soon as he managed to extricate himself from Icahn, who was holding him prisoner.

Jason’s sisters might make a run for me too. Or any of his pack members.

Basically, if a Wolf from his pack caught me, I was royally screwed.

Once in the woods, I ran quickly toward the prisoner holding center. Order and logic commanded how we did things these days. One stop for the prisoners before they were shuffled downward to be interrogated. Not the mess of disorganization that had destroyed a lot of our chances before.

Keith’s voice caught my attention, and I moved toward it. He’d probably be with the prisoners. I passed a large oak tree I knew well, because it had been sliced up in some battle and now bore a mark resembling the number three. The three-tree.

My mentor held his machete. He swung, and a man—taller than Keith, with light brown hair—surged forward, his sword drawn.

I covered my mouth to force myself not to scream a warning. Keith didn’t need my help. He’d taught us all to fight…or maybe he hadn’t. Maybe that was a constructed memory, planted by Icahn. I could never deal with the ramifications of all the mind manipulation. I’d long ago decided if I remembered it, then it held some truth whether it had actually happened or not.

Keith remained, in either version of my memories, the strongest fighter I knew. He dodged out of the way, and I pumped my fist in the air in silent celebration. The man tripped, hitting the ground. Keith stormed toward him and, with a slash of his machete, took off his head. It bounced when it hit the ground, blood squirting everywhere, like some kind of deranged soccer ball waiting to be kicked.

I gasped. Why had Keith killed him when he could have spared his life? I closed my eyes for a second to hold off my gag reflex. Killing monsters didn’t bug me, but this new life we were living, in which we had to fight our own kind and end their lives? I couldn’t deal with it as well.

I’d seen Keith kill a human before. To save me, he’d eliminated one of the Icahns. Of course Isaac and his sons cloned my attacker. The victim had run a lab for his father. His death didn’t really count.

Somehow, I had to not be a baby about this. It always made me want to scream, even though that made me a hypocrite. I wanted to kill Icahn. I would if I got the chance. I’d set out to kill Jason, whom I used to make out with even after I’d known he was a Werewolf.

“Atrocities happen in war, Rachel.” Keith had his back to me and was wiping off his machete with a towel he’d worn around his waist.

How had he known I was there? I stepped forward. If we were going to talk, then we needed to be closer. I didn’t feel like shouting.

“I heard you had prisoners.”

He turned to smile before shaking his head. “Had being the operative word.”

“They’re all dead?” Huh. My world shifted on its axis a little bit. Were we no longer taking anyone alive? When had this happened, and why had no one told me? Not that it mattered what I thought, exactly, but shouldn’t I have known? Somehow I had to get downward, where I could find a hidey-hole in Genesis and cry about this for a little while without anyone knowing what a wuss I really was inside.

He walked toward me, determination in his step. “It’s not like I’m exactly thrilled about it. We tried to take them prisoner, but I’m not going to keep and feed people carrying these things on them.”

In his hand, he held a small device. He placed it on my palm. I stared down at it.

“Some kind of receiver.”

“Yes. I think he’s trying to spy. Send us a bunch of fighters who can’t speak our language and then listen to us talking in front of them. We only lucked out on finding it because Micah took one down and it fell out of his shoulder. They’re implanted.” He shook his head. “Not going to risk it. They all get to die,” he shouted into receiver. “Dead. Dead. Dead.”

He threw the thing on the ground, stomped on it until it was in pieces and then shook his head. “Feel better that I feel shitty about this?”

I wasn’t used to him and vulgarity going hand in hand. Lately the grownups had been treating me as if I was one of them, which I guessed I technically was. Still, it felt…weird.

“I don’t like any of this.” I stared up at the sky. The sun hung high above the horizon. When had I last been Upward in the middle of the day?

My skin was warm, a nice change.

Keith sighed. “Me neither. What kind of world is this for my son? I mean, it’s terrible I preferred the lie of it all. The untruth we lived with for so long. But it would make raising him easier.”

“My fault then.” I’d pretty much singlehandedly altered things by reappearing in their lives after I’d been erased from them. I hadn’t meant to do it, but my arrival had created the change.

“No. It’s not your fault. Sometimes things just are. Don’t you remember what I said to you right before we were frozen? In the Before Time?”

“You told me not to believe Icahn or any of his people and you weren’t exactly sure what was going to happen to any of us.”

Keith put his arm around my shoulders. “Still good advice. Don’t trust Icahn. Everything else is dust in the wind. We have no control over it. We never did.”

His words sounded kind of depressing. “It has to change, Keith. He’s not some kind of divine entity. He’s an old man who had too much power. Now he has less.”

Someone screamed in the bushes behind me. Two men charged us. I hadn’t seen them or had any idea they were there. Keith ducked, shoving his machete into one of their chests. I reacted without thought. Like I would have if it had been a monster attacking us, I shoved my machete right through the other one’s neck.

Blood spurted all over me. It drenched my face, covering me from head to toe. I’d been disgusting before, covered in monster blood, and yet I couldn’t take my gaze off my hands this time. Because the red mess hadn’t come from the undead or a Werewolf. It was human.

My fingers were sticky; slimy, even. The blood coated my skin, seeming to sink in, as if it wanted to invade my system, using my own body as its transportation system.

Diseases like AIDS were a thing of the past. When Icahn had us under cryogenic sleep, he’d taken the opportunity to cure us of such afflictions. So I wasn’t going to get sick because I’d chopped off this dude’s head.

Still, I darted to the side to keep Keith from being struck by my vomit. I emptied my stomach onto the ground, retching uncontrollably.

I’d killed my first human. And I’d done it without one single conscious thought.