Unremarkable (Anything But #2)(3)By: Lindy Zart
Empathy for the UDs rose in her, overwhelming and dizzying. Honor understood how they felt. She’d thought she’d known, but she hadn’t, not really. It was a horrible feeling—your freedom being taken away, your humanity stripped down to nothing; kept locked up, treated like an afterthought, and a mistake as well.
Clenching her teeth, she shoved the fear away and tried to focus. Honor didn’t know how to give up, how to not fight, and she wasn’t going to allow herself to find out what it felt like now. She couldn’t do anything or help anyone tied to some metal bed like she was, so obviously Honor needed to figure out how to get untied from the bed.
He didn’t really miss her; Ryder was surprised by that. Shouldn’t he miss the woman that gave him life? In the last two and a half years, the woman he knew as his mother had disappeared, left him. He didn’t know the woman who vaguely resembled her—the woman with her ever-present wine in hand and vacant eyes who slept more hours than she didn’t. His mom was as good as dead, like his father. His dad he missed. Every day he missed the sound of his voice, his laughter that rumbled like a thunderstorm of mirth. His chest tightened and Ryder shook the pain away.
It was July in Orchardville, Iowa. The air was stifling hot and thick with humidity. Each breath Ryder inhaled was choking, not anywhere near a reprieve like it should be. Sweat dampened his dark blond hair and trickled down his face and back, making the light tee shirt and jeans he wore uncomfortable. He assumed the proper stance and lined up his weapon with the target and let off a round, the power of the gun thrilling. Each bullet had a name and the name was August.
His insides were hollowed out with guilt. Ryder had no one and nothing, nothing but this UDK taint and the burning need to prove to himself that he wasn’t bad, that he could somehow make a difference. To prove that he could avenge Honor and what had been done to her, even if it had been by his own hand. He had to redeem himself, and if that wasn’t possible, he had to at least try.
Working himself beyond his capabilities was how he was going about it. He trained hard, mentally and physically. A machine bent on vengeance was what he strove to be. That’s all he’d thought about for the last six months. The charade of sucking up to Superior August and the UDK society was wearing on him, but he had to keep doing it. Otherwise it was all for nothing—all the loss, all the pain, all the lies—it had to be for something.
“Good job, Delagrave. You hit the target each time.” His instructor, Agent Wallace, clapped him on the back. “Next time try to get it in the center of the target, your aim was a little high.”
He set down his earmuffs and gun, saying, “I wasn’t aiming for the center of the target.”
Wallace’s eyes narrowed as he looked at Ryder. He was in his mid-forties with black crew-cut hair and a thick, bulging neck. He glanced at the target and then back at Ryder with a frown on his face.
“I hit my mark.” Ryder ambled away, a cocky grin on his lips. He’d hit his target every time—center of the forehead, right where he’d aimed.
As soon as he left the shooting range, the grin dissipated. Superior August was waiting for him. Squinting his eyes against the sun, Ryder warily approached the man he’d once thought a mentor and now viewed an enemy.
“Nice shooting, son.” He clapped him on the back and Ryder fought not to recoil from his touch and his ‘son’ reference. Once he’d basked in the endearment; now it seemed like an unwanted brand, something that linked him and August as one. He no longer wanted that connection—any connection—to Superior August.
“Thank you, sir.” The ground was uneven and hilly, the trek back to the facility an especially long one under the fiery sky. Trees surrounded them on all sides, the smell of moist grass and dirt thick in the air. It would be a perfect haven, if not for the bulging monstrosity of a building in the middle of it all.
“You keep overachieving as you are and in no time you’ll be ranked Agent Delagrave.”
“That’s the plan.”
Superior August rubbed his square jaw as they walked, musing, “One would almost think you have an ulterior motive, pushing yourself as you are.”