Taylor Brooke © 2018
All Rights Reserved
Brooklyn opened her eyes. Darkness pressed down on her. It weighed heavy on her chest and arms and legs, folding around her like silk. She felt sheets beneath her, fingertips twitching restlessly, stiff from hours or days or weeks of being stationary. She curled her toes and shifted back and forth on the stiff mattress. The fog began to lift. Where am I? Where are they? It came back to her little by little. The camp, the woods, the river, the warehouse, the club, then Juneau. Flashes, stills, moving pictures she struggled to remember, memories she couldn’t fit the right voices to.
She flared her nostrils and sat up, bracing for an onslaught of pain that didn’t come. Her pupils dilated. She took a breath and another, steadying her heartbeat. She lifted the edge of the plain, gray T-shirt and checked for wounds. There was nothing but smooth skin.
Porter’s thumb on her rib—her splintered bone. His hand smashed over her mouth. Helicopter wings. Engines—Rayce in a bed next to her—I’m bleeding—searing pain in her chest—a tube shoved between her ribs—Serisky. She threaded her fingers through her hair and gripped the top of her head, pulling herself into a ball.
They’d been taken. Juneau had found them.
Brooklyn’s cheeks heated and her throat clenched. She didn’t know what they’d done to her. She didn’t know where she was. She didn’t know where to go. She was suddenly at odds with her instincts, battling the urge to break down, to scream for help, and welcoming stillness instead.
The room smelled sterile. Like plastic, maybe. Clean. Brooklyn counted her fingers and then her toes, ran her tongue across her teeth to make sure none were missing, and kept the anxiety pooling in her gut from climbing into her throat. Now was not the time to break down. Her vision blurred. She swallowed hard and whispered, “My name is Brooklyn Harper.” One breath. “I am nineteen.” Two breaths. “I’m from San Diego.” Three breaths. “My name is Brooklyn Harper.”
Silence cradled her voice. She had never been alone like this—the kind of alone that swallowed her.
Brooklyn buried her face in the sliver of space between her knees and chest. She inhaled through her nose, deep and long, and let it out in a swift breath through her mouth.
You’re trapped. They’re gone. It’s over.
Fear played behind the rest of her thoughts. Fight or flight. Focus or panic.
“Okay,” she breathed out. “Okay.”
There was a nightstand next to the bed with perfectly round edges. She reached out and pushed it, not surprised to find it bolted to the ground. There was nothing else. She moved her legs too quickly and blood rushed into her feet. Pins and needles made her knees buckle and her shoulders ache. Her head spun when she stood, but she planted her feet, and stayed steady. You’re alive. There was nothing else. Stay alive. Just the nightstand, the bed, and a door on the other side of the small room.
Click. Click. Air through gears. Something turning. Brooklyn’s attention flicked to the white sphere humming in the far corner. She walked back and forth. It moved with her, following every step she took. A camera.
They’re watching me.
Brooklyn didn’t know what was worse; this stillness or knowing that she was being studied. It made her afraid first, angry second. She dragged her palm across the wall, feeling for any dip or seam, but there was none. No handle, no lock, and no hinges. A tiny window, shielded by a locked metal panel, allowed the outside to look in.
She shoved her index finger in her mouth and nibbled on her nail. Pacing turned to sitting, then back to pacing. Seconds turned to minutes. Or maybe they didn’t. She had no sense of time, no sense of direction. It could’ve been days. Trapped. The word kept coming back, sinking into her bones. You’re trapped. She searched for a vent. An outlet. Anything. But the camera kept humming and the darkness kept pressing on her and Brooklyn was achingly alone.
She debated screaming. Hurting herself. Clawing at the window until the glass shattered—if it could shatter at all. But before she could do anything, the sound of footsteps shuffled on the other side of the door.
Her heart lurched. She scrambled onto the bed and crouched in the corner, poised like a viper. Whatever came through that door was going to let her out or she was going through them. The room illuminated. Brooklyn squinted, fists heavy on her wrists, and held her breath.
“It’s just me.” Gabriel spoke with a warm smile. “I wanted to check on you.”
The tension in Brooklyn’s chest unraveled. Memories ran at her, climbed over her, were shoved down her throat and choked on.
Blood on Gabriel’s white teeth. Black streaks through her blonde hair. The way she tasted.
Brooklyn’s eyes stung. “You’re alive?”
“Of course I am,” Gabriel said. She took easy steps and reached for Brooklyn’s hand. “The Surrogates brought me back here and the doctors gave me a couple transplants. I’m good as new.”
“I…” Brooklyn wanted to lace their fingers, but she didn’t. “I watched you die…I watched them take you and then you came back and…”
She remembered Dawson’s voice from the motel. Look at its mouth.
Gabriel hushed her. “None of that matters, does it?”
Brooklyn’s heart pounded. Her fingertips danced across Gabriel’s face, landing sure and firm on her lips. Perfect. Unmarked. Unfamiliar. Brooklyn’s nail caught the edge of the clone’s smile and dug in. “They did a good job,” Brooklyn whispered. She traced its cheekbones, the slope of its neck. “You’re just like her.”
The smile stretched across the clone’s face evaporated. It lunged, grappling for Brooklyn’s throat. She acted on instinct and heaved both legs back, aiming the soles of her feet at the clone’s chest. Brooklyn needed to get to the door. Quickly. Now. Right now. She bolted, but the clone snatched her ankle and she went crashing to the linoleum. Brooklyn hit the floor and huffed. She cocked her knee back and smashed her heel into the clone’s nose.
The fight didn’t last long. Even if the clone was as strong or capable as an Omen, there was something missing. Brutality, maybe. Recklessness. Desperation. Brooklyn didn’t know. She didn’t care. Her throat was dry and her lashes were wet, and the clone had the greenest eyes. Blood spurted over its lips. It sank against the wall and touched its mouth, glancing at the red, red blood on its fingertips.
Curiosity was strange on things that looked like people.
She jolted forward, grabbed the clone by its jaw, and twisted until she heard the vertebrae on the base of its neck snap. The clone fell to the side; its body a long-limbed heap against the wall. Brooklyn took quick steps out of the open door and into the hallway.
On the right, a line of black-armored guards stood with their guns drawn, pointed at her chest. On the left, there was a narrow white hall lined with doors. Her gaze swept sideways, fixed on the guards. She heaved in even breaths, watching them watch her, and wondered if they were afraid.
They should be.
A nurse slid around a bulky guard. Her face was obscured by a mask, but she held a clipboard to her chest and her platinum hair was fastened into a bun. She blinked, unbothered. “Hello Miss Harper. You’re awake.”
“Where are my friends?” Brooklyn buckled her fingers into fists. The clone’s blood soured the sterile air.
“Juneau thought stress tests would be a good start to their training. Same as you. Now—” She paused to retrieve a long, thin syringe from her pocket. “—I’d rather not have to sedate you.”
A guard stepped forward. Brooklyn stood her ground. He reached for her. She grabbed his wrist and twisted, bending until bone broke. Another guard rushed toward her. She slammed her bare foot into his kneecap. Her legs seized. Brooklyn yelped and toppled to the ground. A thin black wire coiled around her ankles. The armored soldier who had thrown it walked toward her, and Brooklyn growled, snapping her teeth like a dog. The other guard held his wounded arm and stumbled to his feet.
“Do not resist,” one of them said, voice distorted behind a black shield.
The nurse cleared her throat. “Careful, gentlemen. I’d tie her wrists if I were you.” She tilted her head, sighing as she flicked her bored gaze from Brooklyn’s legs to her face, assessing her. “This would be much easier if you’d comply, Miss Harper. There’s nowhere to go. This facility was designed specifically for the Omen Operation. The quicker you come with us, the quicker you’ll see the other assets you arrived with.”
Brooklyn stared at the guard. His gun was mean and sleek, barrel pointed at her chest. He gestured to the wire around her ankles.
“He’ll remove that, and you’ll be free to walk,” the nurse added. “But if you decide to break any more bones, I’m afraid we’ll have to tranquilize you. Either way, you’ll be taken to the holding room.”
She snarled when the guard reached for her. “And that’s where my friends are?”
“I’ll give you ten seconds,” the nurse said.
Fine, she thought. I might as well walk. She nodded to the guard and he cautiously removed the wire from around her ankles. She could strangle him with it. She could take it, sweep his legs out from under him, and snatch his gun. But all it would get her was a needle in the neck.
She needed to find everyone first. Whoever was left, at least.
The nurse nodded and swept her arm out, gesturing for Brooklyn to walk down the hall. “This way.”
They led her through a set of steel doors, down another white hallway. Doors lined each wall. The ceiling was paneled with lights. Her reflection muddied the glossy floor. When they came to the second to last door on the right, the nurse stopped. A gun prodded Brooklyn’s ribs. Another brushed her shoulder. She straightened her back and waited, trying to calm her jittery hands and too-tight lungs. Breathe. The nurse flipped open a security panel, punched in a code, and Brooklyn watched a red light wave from left to right across the nurse’s eye. Retina scans. The lock clicked. Breathe.
“We’ll be back shortly,” the nurse said.
One of the guards prodded her hard with his gun and shoved her through the door.
Soft arms cushioned her. She’d fallen right into someone’s chest and she gasped, squirming against them. They held on tighter. She knew Dawson’s skin. His breath. His broad shoulders. But she squirmed anyway, thrashing in his grip.
You might not be you.
She pulled back and clawed at his neck. “Prove it,” she snapped. “Prove you’re you.”
“Fuck you, seriously?” Dawson snapped, and ripped away from her fingernails. “It’s me, Brooklyn. It’s me, same guy you punched in the warehouse—what do you want me to say?”
“Good enough,” she blurted, and wrapped her arms around him.
“I get it, they sent one into my room too, but c’mon,” he growled. “We’re here. I’m okay. You’re okay.” His mouth was warm on her throat, face buried in the crook of her shoulder. “It’s you, right? You’re okay?”
Brooklyn let him hold her. She touched his arms and his shoulder blades and cradled the back of his neck in her palm. “Yeah, it’s me, and…” Nothing was okay. “I’m fine. Are you?”
“I’m alive,” he said. He pulled back and his nose touched her temple. “Porter?” She shook her head. His blue eyes were an angry sea, crashing into her. He bit down on a wince to keep it at bay. “Julian?” She shook her head again. Dawson looked different now, harsher in this light. His hair was gone, buzzed close to his skin, paler, body more compact.
“I was alone,” she said. “I don’t… I don’t know where they are.”
He let her go and she wished he hadn’t. “I’m sure they’re fine,” he said.
Brooklyn knew a lie when she heard one.