Home > Wings (Black City #3)(4)

Wings (Black City #3)(4)
Author: Elizabeth Richards

“And he should be one of them.” I stand up and yank the IV line out of my hand. “Ash is a vital part in the war against Purian Rose. He’s Phoenix, for heaven’s sake! Doesn’t that mean anything to you people?”

Father leaps to his feet. “Where do you think you’re going?”

“To Viridis,” I say. “Maybe Beta Squad missed something. Someone there might know where Ash and the others went.” I turn to Elijah. “Are you coming?”

He nods, getting up.

“Sit down!” Father commands.

Elijah immediately sits.

“You don’t have to listen to him,” I say to Elijah, then to my father: “You have no right to keep him prisoner here. We’re going.”

“And how precisely are you getting to Viridis, hmm?” Father says.

“Stow away on a train, steal a truck, whatever it takes,” I say. It’s a risky journey through enemy territory, which is why I’ve been reluctant to try it, given my already ill health, but my father’s left me with no other option.

He blocks our path. “You’re not leaving this compound.”

“You can’t order me about. I’m not one of your lieutenants,” I say.

“No, I’m your father,” he snaps. “I understand you think you love that boy—”

“I don’t just love him, I’m connected to him.” I press a hand to my chest. “When you took me away, you wounded Ash in a way you will never understand. He’s hurting, Dad. I can feel it.”

“Natalie . . . ,” Father says, his voice softening.

“Ash deserves better than this,” I continue. “He sacrificed himself for me. He took the blame for a murder that I did, and he was literally crucified for it! And this is how you repay him?” My blood boils, furious with my father and the Commander. I’m tired of trying to persuade them to find Ash; it’s obviously not going to happen and every day he’s out there, he’s in danger. If I want this done, I have to do it myself. “I’m going to find him, and nothing you can say will stop me.”

I push past my father, and Elijah follows.

“What about your treatment?” Father says.

I hesitate. I haven’t thought this through. How long can I survive without my injections? Will it be enough time to find Ash and bring him back here before I get too sick? I’m not so sure.

“Don’t do this, Natalie, please,” Father pleads. “Your mother and I have been through enough. We can’t lose you, and from everything you’ve told me about Ash, he wouldn’t want you to die for him either.”

I stop. That did it.

Elijah looks at me. “We’re not going, are we?” he says quietly.

I shake my head and return to my bed, defeated.

Just then, Dr. Craven returns from his laboratory, his eyebrows drawn together as he studies the results of my latest blood test on his clipboard. My stomach lurches, sensing something is up. Elijah’s fingers slip through mine. His hand is slightly calloused and warm. Comforting.

“So, what’s the news, Doc?” I try to sound casual, my fingers tightening around Elijah’s.

“Well, I’m sorry to say you’re still infected with the Wrath,” Craven says, and my stomach twists. “So we’ll have to continue with the course of injections—”

“Am I going to die?” I blurt out.

My father and Elijah look at Dr. Craven expectantly. We all hold our breath. It’s so silent, I can hear my blood swooshing in my ears. He takes off his glasses.

“No, pumpkin,” Dr. Craven says. “Although you’re not cured, it looks like the virus is going into remission. The treatment’s working.” He smiles at me. “You’re going to live.”

4.

NATALIE

MY FATHER AND CRAVEN discuss my results—apparently if we continue with the injections for the next few months, there’s a good possibility the virus could go into complete remission—but I’m finding it hard to concentrate. A sound between a laugh and a sob escapes my lips. I’m going to live.

Elijah engulfs me in his arms. “I knew you’d be okay, pretty girl.” I lean against him, grateful for the support, although a small part of me wishes that it were Ash’s shoulder I was resting my head on now. “We should celebrate.”

I glance hopefully at my father. “Can we go to the surface?”

He gives me stern look. “No, of course not. We’ve just been over this.”

“Alpha Squad can escort us, so you don’t need to worry about us running off,” I continue. “We’re just asking to go to the surface for a few hours, Dad. It’s not an unreasonable request. We’ve been cooped up here for more than a week; it can’t be good for my health.”

“A little bit of sunlight might do her some good, Jonathan,” Dr. Craven agrees.

I flash a grateful smile at him and he winks at me.

“What if you get spotted?” Father says.

“We’ll wear disguises.”

He sighs, his resistance melting. “Alpha Squad should be in command central.”

Yes!

• • •

As its name suggests, command central is in the heart of the compound, at the junction between the hospital, admin offices and Mess Hall. Every minute or so a subway train swooshes past us as we wander down Main Street. The soldiers use the trains to navigate the city-sized military complex, but after what happened the last time Elijah and I were on a train—we were attacked by a gang of Wraths—we opt to walk. The amount of time and money that went into building the compound still astonishes me. I’m even more surprised that Purian Rose knows nothing about it, but it turns out there are more traitors in his administration than he realizes.

The secret compound was built during the first war as a refuge for a bunch of paranoid government officials, who planned to hide here if the Darklings won the war. The Darklings lost, but those same government officials, headed by Emissary Vincent—the former leader of the Copper State, before she was assassinated a few weeks ago—continued to use the base to build an army against Rose, with the support of the Commander. They believed Rose was leading the country into social and economic ruin because of his obsession with the Darklings. It was time for a change. Those officials are here in the base, although I barely ever see them. They prefer to keep their luxury quarters away from the “riffraff.”

Soldiers in rust-colored jumpsuits immediately stop what they’re doing and salute my father as he walks past. Even though he’s dressed the same as them, he exudes authority. He nods at a few of the soldiers, even attempts the occasional smile with his scarred lips, but there’s a cool air around him. The soldiers keep a respectful distance.

Dr. Craven chuckles as Elijah grabs my hand and twirls me all the way down Main Street, both of us laughing. We earn a few odd looks from the passing soldiers, but I don’t care. It’s nice to have a bit of good news after so much heartache recently. We’ve all lost people close to us, including Dr. Craven, whose son Sebastian is missing along with Ash and Elijah’s half brothers. It’s hard to care about Sebastian when he raped and murdered my sister, but he’s still Dr. Craven’s son; I understand why the doctor is worried about him. Still, the doctor’s not going to get any sympathy from anyone around here. If Sebastian turned up right now, he’d be executed on the spot, and Dr. Craven knows it. It might be best for him to stay lost.

There’s a lot of hubbub as we enter command central—a circular room filled with military-grade com-desks and glass walls covered in digital screens, which stream live updates of the Sentry rebels’ military operations. The soldiers manning the com-desks salute my father as we stroll through the room. On one screen I notice Zeta Squad entering a munitions factory, and on another, Omicron have just destroyed a bridge. They plant a cerulean blue and black flag at the scene—the very flag that Ash designed for Humans for Unity. I furrow my brow. Elijah looks quizzically at me.

“What are they doing?” he says.

I turn to my father. “Are you pinning these attacks on Humans for Unity?”

He nods. “Why draw attention to ourselves if we don’t need to? Humans for Unity are the perfect cover.” He smiles, pleased with himself. “I was worried they’d get in our way, but they’ve proved most useful, keeping Rose distracted while we undertake our own missions.”

“We’ve been doing more than keeping Rose ‘distracted,’” I say through gritted teeth. Even though I’m technically a Sentry, I see myself as a member of Humans for Unity first and foremost. “We liberated Thrace two weeks ago.”

“And you did a fine job, Natalie,” Father says, patting my shoulder. “But we need to focus our efforts on strategic targets. Things that might actually help us win this war.”

My lips pinch together, annoyed by his patronizing tone. Did he really just say that? Father strolls over to the com-desk while I turn back to the digital screens, needing a moment to calm down before I say something I regret. One of the monitors is broadcasting the latest news from SBN, the government-owned network. A glamorous blond reporter with sea-green eyes, February Fields, is reading the news.

“And today’s main story: Darkling Ambassador Sigur Marwick has been found guilty on charges of terrorism, for his role in the Black City bombings in which twenty Sentry guards lost their lives and hundreds of others were injured.”

The shot cuts to Sigur as he’s being led out of court. He looks malnourished and gaunt, with dark shadows under his eyes. One eye is milky white after he was blinded in it, the other a sparkling orange. He’s wearing a gray prison jumpsuit, which hangs off his slim frame, and his rippling ice-white hair twists and swirls around his angular face, sensing the air around him for blood. I knew Sigur would be found guilty, but even so, the news rattles me.

February Fields returns to the screen. “The ambassador’s execution has been scheduled for two days’ time. In other news, preparations have begun in every city across the USS for the nationwide Cleansing ceremony next week, the largest of its kind ever to be broadcast live on television. Sentry officials are expecting upward of eighty million Pilgrims to attend the public ceremonies, where Puri—”

“Turn that crap off, will you?” Garrick says from the com-desk in the center of the room. The Lupine is enormous—over seven feet tall—every inch of that packed with thick muscle. He has a mottled gray mane that has been styled into a shark’s fin down the center of his head.

Next to him is another Lupine, Sasha, who has a dyed pink mane that matches her neon lipstick. She’s got a chunky metal belt around the waist of her jumpsuit, which has been unbuttoned to reveal the top of her cl**vage. The Lupines make up two-thirds of Alpha Squad. The final member is Destiny Vincent, a stunning black woman in her early twenties with long cornrows that have been tied back into a neat bun.

Nearly all the men in the base have a crush on Destiny because of her model-good looks—she used to regularly grace the covers of Sentry Youth Monthly when she was my age—but underneath that pretty exterior is a woman not to be messed with. She knocked Private Jones out last week during a card game when he accused her of cheating. She was, but that wasn’t the point.

She catches my eye and winks. Destiny and I hit it off immediately, as we have a lot in common. We’re both from high-profile Sentry families—her aunt was Emissary Vincent—and we mingled in the same social circles growing up, so we have plenty to gossip about.

At the head of the com-desk is my mother. She’s deep in concentration as she gazes at the screen, which casts a bluish glow over her pale skin. Projected onto the screen is a map of Centrum. Five glowing orange dots move about the map. A male voice crackles over the com-desk’s speakers.

“This is Omega. We’re in position,” he says.

Mother lifts her eyes as we approach the com-desk. They widen as she notices the grins on all our faces. She looks hopefully at Dr. Craven.

“The treatment’s working,” he says.

Mother grips the com-desk, like she might fall over, and lets out a shuddering breath. She doesn’t make any move to hug me, but she’s not one for public displays of affection. “That’s wonderful, absolutely wonderful.”

“Natalie and Elijah would like to go to the surface,” Father says. “I told them it was okay. Alpha Squad can escort them.”

Garrick and Sasha shoot annoyed looks at each other, while Destiny beams. Obviously I’m not the only one who is desperate to get out of here. I grin at Mother.

She sighs, nodding. “All right. Just be back in time for lunch.”

Destiny, Garrick and Sasha each collect a gun from the weapons locker and join us by the doorway. Elijah turns to Garrick.

“Has there been any update on my mom?” Elijah asks.

Garrick shakes his head. “Sorry it’s taking so long, but Gray Wolf is swarming with Sentry guards right now, as it’s the closest city to the Tenth, so my guys are having to keep a low profile.” He clamps a hand on Elijah’s shoulder. “We’ll find them.”

Elijah frowns, unconvinced.

The investigation into Yolanda, Lucinda and Kieran’s whereabouts would move faster if the Commander would offer some assistance, but he ordered my father not to waste any resources looking for them or the Ora, neither of which he considers of “stategic importance” to the Sentry rebels. Luckily for us, Garrick’s pack is based near Gray Wolf, so as a personal favor to us, he asked them to investigate.

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