Home > Wings (Black City #3)(3)

Wings (Black City #3)(3)
Author: Elizabeth Richards

We stroll through the tranquil garden toward the exit, taking our time. I’m in no hurry to become Dr. Craven’s human pincushion. On top of my heart condition—I had a heart transplant when I was eight—I recently contracted the Wrath virus, after an infected Darkling boy bit me. Since my arrival at the rebel base, the Sentry doctors have been trying to cure me, injecting me with experimental vaccines and drugs. Until I came here, I’d made my peace with dying, but now that there’s hope I can get better, I’m terrified the treatment won’t work.

Elijah thrusts his hands into his pockets as he walks beside me, the sleeves of his jumpsuit rolled up to reveal the leopardlike spots on his arms. The metal bands around his wrists glimmer in the fake sunlight. Looking at them, you’d think they’re just pretty pieces of jewelry, but I know what they really are: shackles. They denote his status as a slave to the Bastet Consul, who also happened to be his father. Elijah’s relationship with his father is complicated to say the least. Or was complicated, I correct. The Bastet Consul was murdered nine days ago, along with Elijah’s half brother Donatien.

“How are you coping?” I say gently.

Elijah shrugs, knowing what I’m talking about. “Fine. Terrible. I miss them, despite everything.” He lowers his gaze. “I can’t help but feel my dad got what he deserved, though.” His topaz eyes flick up to meet mine.

I don’t say anything, but deep down I agree with him. The Bastet Consul used Elijah to lure me and Ash to Viridis, under the pretense that they wanted to join the rebellion. However, it was just a ruse to get us to Viridis so they could hand us over to Purian Rose’s forces. The plan backfired, as the Sentry double-crossed the Bastets, and his father was killed in the ensuing fight. We only just escaped with our lives.

I should be mad at Elijah for his part in the conspiracy—I was angry at him for a few days—but he was only following his father’s orders. Besides, when Garrick kidnapped me in Viridis, Elijah risked his life by coming after me. Neither of us knew at the time that Garrick was working for my father, so it was a brave thing for him to do. And now he’s a “permanent guest” here, forbidden to leave the compound in case he tells someone about the Sentry rebels. Elijah won’t be seeing the surface for a while, at least until I’m able to persuade my father to stop being so ridiculous and let him go. I think that’s why he volunteered to work in the UG. It’s the next best thing to the outside world.

We pass a bush of bright yellow Pollyanna lilies, and I brush my fingers over the flowers. Orange pollen bursts into the air.

“My sister was named after this flower,” I say.

A sad smile passes over Elijah’s lips. Polly was murdered a month ago by my former bodyguard and boyfriend, Sebastian Eden, on Purian Rose’s orders. Elijah was with me when I found her body. Grief tightens around my throat like a vine, threatening to strangle me.

I slip my fingers into my pocket and find the blade concealed there. I’d made a promise to my sister that day. I told her I wouldn’t stop fighting until Centrum was nothing but burning rubble around Purian Rose’s feet. And when that moment came, I was going to stride up to that son of a bitch and drive a dagger straight through his black heart. We approach the toolshed and I walk past it, my hand still clutched around the knife.

3.

NATALIE

THE HOSPITAL IS A LEVEL UP from the UG, next to the main entrance, and by the time we reach it, I’m out of breath. I pause outside the glass doors, steeling myself for what’s to come—an intravenous drip to help with the anemia, plus a cocktail of antiviral drugs followed by several excruciatingly painful injections. We’ve been following this procedure every day since I got here, and although I’m grateful for the treatment, I hate every second of it.

I glance up at Elijah. His Adam’s apple nervously bobs up and down in his throat as he stares at the doors leading into the hospital. I gently take his hand.

“You don’t have to come in with me,” I say. “I know you hate these places.”

My mother and Dr. Craven held Elijah hostage in their laboratory in Black City and experimented on him. It was his venom they used to create the Golden Haze, which killed several teenagers in Black City and resulted in my mother being sent to prison, so obviously Elijah’s not a big fan of hospitals. Or Dr. Craven. Or my mother.

His gaze drops to my hand, which is still holding on to his. “Anything for you.”

Guilt coils up inside me, and I move my hand away. Hurt flickers across his face. Elijah confessed he had feelings for me a few weeks ago, when we were traveling to Thrace, and we’ve both tried to pretend like he never said anything, but it’s always lurking in the corners of our friendship. He holds the glass door open for me, and I enter the hospital.

Everything inside the ward is clinical and white, apart from the green door at the end of the room, which leads into Dr. Craven’s laboratory. The ward is filled with all sorts of machines that whir and beep, and whose sole purpose, I’m certain, is to give me a migraine. Rows of metal beds line both sides of the room. Standing by one of them are my parents, who are in the middle of an argument.

“I’m not going to discuss this again, Jonathan,” Mother says tersely. She’s painfully thin, with sharp cheekbones, pale skin, and black hair that is neatly pinned up into a chignon.

“She was my daughter too,” Father says in the stiff I’m-trying-not-to-shout voice that he uses when he’s really mad. “I raised her as if she were my own flesh and blood.”

I’m still caught off guard by the sight of my father. Until nine days ago I thought he was dead, so it’s taking a little getting used to, having him back in my life, especially since the man standing here now isn’t the one I remembered. Father used to be classically handsome, like a movie star from the old films my sister and I used to watch, with a strong chin, mischievous blue eyes and an easy smile. He never smiles now, although it’s probably not easy for him to do after the Wrath mauled his face.

I was with him when he was attacked, and his wounds were so severe that it seemed impossible Dr. Craven would be able to save him. So when my mother told me Father died, I’d believed her. I didn’t even question her when she refused my request to see his body, saying it would be too traumatic, or why she demanded a closed casket at his funeral. I’d just assumed she didn’t want people looking at his mutilated face. In reality, my father had been stabilized by Dr. Craven, and then secretly transferred to this facility to be nursed back to health, while we buried an empty coffin.

It hurts that my parents kept this enormous secret from me, but I understand why they did it. My father was considered a traitor of the state, so it was safer for all of us if he just stayed “dead” while my mother continued working for Purian Rose as if her loyalties were still with him. To a point, they were; I know she agrees with his segregation laws. But my mother’s first loyalty is to this family, as I came to realize months ago when she confessed she only agreed to Purian Rose’s plan to infect Darklings in Black City with the Wrath virus, because he threatened Polly and me. She’d ally with whoever is most convenient to us at the time. Right now, that’s the Sentry rebels.

“Siobhan, we can’t keep putting this off. She’s not coming back,” Father says.

To my surprise, Mother lets out a pained sob and crumples against my father.

“I can’t do it, Jonathan, I just can’t,” Mother gasps between sobs.

Father wraps his arms around her. I’m stunned at how broken my mother looks. I’ve only ever seen her like this once before, on the day she was sent to prison. She hasn’t spoken to me about what they did to her there, but I’ve heard the rumors: torture, sleep deprivation, starvation, drugs—all designed to break a prisoner’s spirit.

The door at the end of the ward opens and Dr. Craven enters the room, clipboard in hand. He’s a tall, middle-aged man with vivid green eyes, wiry bronze hair, and half-moon spectacles perched on the end of his long nose. He’s wearing a pristine white lab coat over his bottle-green jumpsuit. For twelve years, Dr. Craven worked for my mother in Black City, as the head of the Anti-Darkling Science and Technologies Department. He’s also been our family’s personal physician for almost two decades—he was the one who performed my heart transplant when I was younger.

Dr. Craven engineered the C18 “Wrath” virus, which was designed as a biological weapon against the Darklings, so he’s my best hope of getting cured. My father mercifully didn’t contract the disease after he was attacked by an infected Darkling, but I wasn’t so fortunate. Perhaps it’s because I have a Darkling heart inside me? Or my father’s just immune? We’re still trying to work it out.

“Hello, pumpkin,” Dr. Craven says.

My parents pull apart, and Mother quickly dabs her eyes.

“Hey, Dr. Craven,” I say, taking a seat on the edge of my bed. “Long time, no see.”

He smirks a little. I’ve spent most of my time at the hospital since I got here.

The pager on my mother’s belt beeps and she checks it. She turns to my father. “It’s the Commander. He wants me to call him right away.” My dad runs the military operations here, but as the highest-ranking government official in the compound, my mother is technically his boss. She looks at me, uncertain.

“That’s fine. You should go!” I say, a little too enthusiastically. I love my mother, but we can’t spend more than ten minutes together before we end up bickering.

Elijah gives her a cold look as she walks past. When she’s gone, Father plucks a book from his pocket: The Adventures of Captain Redbeard. My heart sinks. That’s definitely more my dad’s taste than mine.

“You don’t have to stay here; I know you’re busy.”

“I’m never too busy for my little girl.”

I cringe slightly. That’s still how he sees me—as his little girl. Father squashes beside me on the narrow bed, stretching his legs out in front of him, while Elijah sits cross-legged on the bed next to us. They take turns reading the dialogue, putting on stupid voices and making me giggle—Elijah’s damsel in distress is hilarious. It’s a welcome distraction as Dr. Craven inserts the IV line into my hand and starts the treatment.

Thankfully for me, Dr. Craven is a very cautious man and has been working on an antidote to the Wrath virus since he first engineered it several years ago, on the off chance it might jump species. He was right to be concerned—I’m the living (well, possibly dying) proof of that. But the antiviral drugs have never been tested on humans before, as he didn’t get a chance to complete his trials before having to go into hiding after the Golden Haze scandal, so we have no idea if this is going to work.

I try to focus on the story as Dr. Craven draws my blood before starting the intravenous drip. He takes the sample to the lab to run some tests to see if the treatment’s having any effect. I’m not optimistic; the last eight results have all come back showing there’s been no change in my condition.

“What were you and Mother arguing about?” I ask my father.

Father puts his arm around me. “We were discussing Polly’s memorial service. I thought it was time we had one, but your mother doesn’t agree. She’s not ready for it.”

I picture how broken my mom looked earlier, and understand what my father means.

“Do you miss her?” I whisper.

Father gives a curt nod, his jaw clenching. He loved Polly deeply, despite the fact that she wasn’t his biological daughter. Her real dad was Purian Rose. My mom had an affair with him early on in her marriage to my father and got pregnant with Polly.

“Why did you stay with Mom when you found out Polly wasn’t yours?” I say.

Father glances at Elijah. He pretends to read the book, politely ignoring us.

“I didn’t,” Father says. “When I discovered the truth, I left her.”

I sit upright, surprised. “I had no idea.” Although Mother deserved it, I can’t help but feel sorry for her. “Why did you come back?”

“Your mother was truly sorry for what she did,” Father says. “And I had to accept some responsibility for what happened. My work took me away from her for months at a time. It didn’t help that we’d been trying for a family, but it just wasn’t happening.” His thin mouth sets in a grim line. “It caused a lot of strain between us, and I wasn’t there for Siobhan when she needed me,” he continues. “So she found comfort in another man.”

“Purian Rose,” I mutter. Gross.

“Was it wrong of her? Yes. But is she totally to blame? No,” Father continues. “We saw this as our second chance to be a family, Talie. It wasn’t easy, but over time I forgave her. And I’m so glad I did, because we had Polly and then two years later we were blessed with you.” He kisses my forehead. “I love your mother. I have no regrets.”

I peer down at my engagement ring, thinking about Ash. We’ve overcome plenty of trials, so I can sort of understand how my father managed to forgive her.

“Dad, I was wondering—”

“We’re not discussing this again, Talie,” he says, cutting me off.

“You didn’t even know what I was going to say,” I reply.

“You were going to ask me to send out a search party for Ash,” he says.

“If you’d just let me speak to the Commander—”

“He’s been very explicit with his orders,” Father says, using the curt voice he usually saves for his lieutenants. “He feels we’ve done enough. We can’t spare any more resources on this, Natalie. We have our own priorities.”

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