Skip to product information
1 of 4

Project W.A.R. #3

Subject Zero

Subject Zero

Regular price $12.99 USD
Regular price $16.99 USD Sale price $12.99 USD
Sale Sold out
Tax included. Shipping calculated at checkout.
Paperback

PLEASE NOTE: As this paperback is shipped directly from the printer, it is unsigned. If you would like it to be signed by the author, bookplates are available for purchase.

A war with no winners. The time for retribution has come. Blood demands blood.

Subject Zero is book three in the Project W.A.R. trilogy.

With time running out until her vision becomes a reality, Wynter must face the cost of survival and decide whether her life outweighs the many that will be lost if she does nothing.

Minority Report collides with Akira and 1984 in this thrilling apocalyptic dystopian trilogy about a young woman living in a totalitarian society who has a rare illness that gives her the power to see the future.

WHAT READERS HAVE SAID

"An explosive finale to a heart-wrenching series about love, loss, sacrifice, and the lengths people will go to protect the things they love. It's the conclusion we've been waiting for, but could never have been ready for." ★★★★★

"Subject Zero is a rollercoaster of nonstop action and jaw-dropping discoveries that will leave you gobsmacked in the best possible way. I kept thinking there couldn't possibly be another twist, and each time I was wrong." ★★★★★

"Amazing story that leaves you begging for the next one." ★★★★★

MAIN TROPES

  • Double Agents
  • Unlikely Allies
  • Struggle with Illness
  • Impending Apocalypse
  • Dysfunctional Family
  • Fight Against Fate

SYNOPSIS

A war with no winners. The time for retribution has come. Blood demands blood.

Stripped of the control her life depends on, Wynter once again finds herself face to face with the future she’s sacrificed so much to prevent. With a clock ticking down over her head, and the destruction she saw in her vision soon to become a reality, she must decide whether to run from the chaos or fight it. To take fate into her own hands or watch as the Heart, and everyone she loves, burns.

Trapped behind enemy lines, Wynter must accept the help of unexpected allies and embrace the role she’s destined to play, even if that means losing everything. She will need to battle her way through the capital—and through the symptoms of her advancing illness—to try to put an end to a war she feels responsible for before it’s too late.

But the greatest war is the one raging inside her, and with time running out, Wynter wonders if being the monster everyone believes her to be is such a bad thing, after all…

Or if it’s exactly what the world needs to save it.

Brace yourself for this heart-racing conclusion as Wynter Reeves embraces her harrowing fate, for she holds the key to humanity’s salvation—or its devastating demise. This dystopian epic will grip your soul and leave you breathless, as corruption and hope collide in an unforgettable battle for mankind’s survival.

SUBJECT ZERO is the final book in the Project W.A.R. trilogy.

LOOK INSIDE: CHAPTER ONE

Pain, violent and maddening, tears through my body like a rush of heat, boiling my organs and burning every inch of my limbs on its rise to my skin from the inside out. The agony pounding through my head is only interrupted by the clang of metal against tile, the sound of the impact a sharp, grating scratch that draws my blurring gaze to the floor. My breaths reverberate in my ears, and blinking a hazy film of tears from my eyes, I glimpse the outline of my discarded collar.

The one tool keeping my power in check now a hunk of useless metal, destroyed, at my feet. 

For the last few years, I wanted nothing more than to be free of this tether to Dr. Richter and to the constant trauma I endured at his hands. But, as the understanding of what losing this link will mean sinks in past the expanding surface of pain, I find myself mourning its loss almost more than I grieved over my father or Rai. Perhaps because, without it, I know there’s nothing I can do to save anyone from the monster living and thriving within me—the monster its removal has unleashed on this world.

Without the collar, the few people I have left are dead.

A convulsion barrels through my weakening body, and as the seizure intensifies, my legs buckle, no longer able to support the burden of my weight. What little strength I’ve been clinging to slips away like heat escaping my skin in the cold. 

My lungs constrict as small gasps of air leach from my lungs. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t think. A black mist unfurls across my eyes, and through the expanding fog, I glimpse the exam room floor rushing upward like the jaws of hell opening to swallow me whole. 

My kneecaps slam hard into the gleaming white tiles, coaxing a strangled cry from my lips. Although unpleasant, the jarring jolt to my bones is insignificant compared to the fire of pain raging through me. I can feel it—the returning threat of death as it infiltrates my veins like a fast-acting poison, spreading quickly. Burning my insides. The monster has been patient, awaiting this moment, while I’ve been living on borrowed time, foolishly hoping and, at times, even allowing myself to believe, this day wouldn’t come.

Time this disease will now strive to steal back.

Without the collar, the only thing in this world capable of ensuring my survival is gone. There’s nothing else in existence that can slow or cure the parasitic plague of my condition. Without the collar to pause the advance of my illness—to keep me in much-needed control—my symptoms will just resume their assault from before the respite of Richter’s so-called cure and lead me into the smothering tides of what is sure to be an agonizing death. Now, when all hope is lost, the monster will win. And soon, Wynter Reeves, as I am at this moment…

This side of me will cease to exist.

The unrelenting full extent of Ultraxenopia—finally free of its cage and running rampant inside me—seems to take on a physical form with its assault, sinking its claws into my flesh without mercy and reclaiming the hold it lost the day Dr. Richter ensnared me in this collar. It grabs me, squeezes me tight in its suffocating embrace, whispers familiar taunts in my ears. 

Goosebumps pimple my flesh as it hisses those three weighted words, which have followed me since I was a child. 

“I’m sorry, Wynter,” the monster says. It speaks in a strange muddled voice, half my father but also half Ezra—a hybrid of the two people I love most in the world, created from my most painful memories and torn straight from the one moment I want to avoid.

The one moment that haunts me now more than ever.

As the mental image of it manifests in my thoughts, the exam room melts away to reveal a warped twin version of myself, the deep pools of her soulless eyes staring back into mine, black, empty, and unblinking. Around us, ash and dirt hang heavy in the air like smog, the taste of death and decay thick on my tongue. 

The silence between us is unnerving, but when I part my lips to break it, the ground quakes, signaling the impending end of all life, as if that one unspoken word is the catalyst for the future I’ve been trying to run from. A moan rips through the desolate landscape, vibrating through the musty air and under my feet, and on all sides, the buildings of the Heart tremble for a moment before caving inward. Surrendering to their fate, they collapse, crumbling into jagged mountains of rock and glass.

“I’m afraid!” the other me shrieks, her voice clear despite the thunderous rumbling all around us. My gaze darts back to hers, my heart racing. But, to my bemusement, her lips don’t move and her face is composed—a mask of stone. Unmoving. Unfeeling. 

Resigned. 

I furrow my brow, staring into her eyes where I see myself reflected in their inky depths. Like her, I’ve lost what little semblance of humanity I had retained in my appearance. Now, I look inhuman.

Like the angel of death Richter and the State shaped me into.

As my black-eyed twin continues airing her woes, her lips eerily still despite her cries, it registers that the ranting I’m hearing isn’t coming from her—from this manifestation of the monster I’m becoming. It’s coming from me. My fears. My emotions, long bottled up.

All of it, every word… 

I’m the one saying it.

Tears slip down my cheeks at this realization and gather on my lower lip, filling my mouth with the tang of salt when I speak. 

“I don’t want to kill anyone else. I don’t want to do this. I don’t want to die!”

Nodding, the monster extends her hand and touches her fingertips to my right cheek, as if to ease my fear with her touch. But the relief I anticipate doesn’t come. 

Instead, I feel only terror when her skin grazes mine, my stomach turning as the contact between us triggers the world to tilt on its axis, throwing my center of gravity off balance. Darkness seeps in at the edges of my vision, smudging her face and the surrounding apocalyptic wasteland, both fading into black as I tip to the side, falling…falling…

Falling.

A searing pain spreads through my left shoulder and arm as I collide with the floor, the chill of the ceramic sinking into my bodysuit like a rush of ice water. I’m cold, so cold, and my lids are heavy, but I fight against the temptation of sleep, forcing my eyes to stay open. 

Slowly, as I cling to waking, the features of the exam room slide back into focus, and I concentrate on each detail before me in turn, a shaky breath parting my lips. The dim blue light. Rai’s body stretched out on the bed. Ezra, Jenner, and Quinn…all motionless on the floor. And him

The man behind this chaos.

Dr. Richter leans over me with a smug smile, squatting down to the floor, his elbows perched on his knees. “Shh…” he croons, brushing the sweat-matted hair from my eyes. “Everything is going to be all right. Soon, this will all be over.”

Holding my gaze, he reaches inside his coat, his hand emerging a few seconds later from the interior chest pocket, fingers clamped around a syringe. With a quiet laugh, he flattens his palm, presenting the capped needle like a trophy. I suppose, to him, it is. A symbol of his power and control over me.

Dread turns my stomach. There’s nothing I can do. He’ll inject me with the syringe’s contents and I won’t be able to fight back or stop him, every inch of me held down by debilitating pain. I’m helpless. No…worse than that. 

I’m powerless. 

More tears track down the sides of my face. This is like the collar all over again—another way for him to show he owns me and can do whatever he wants with my body, my own desires and wishes be damned. Just as he’s proven time and again throughout the years we’ve known each other, I can never outsmart him.

Dr. Richter will always win.

I glance down at the shimmery silver liquid inside the transparent barrel, which glistens in the minimal light illuminating the room. It would be beautiful if the threat of it wasn’t so obvious.

Pinching the syringe between his fingers, Dr. Richter removes the plastic cap with his teeth, spitting the clear shell back out on the floor. With his other hand, he grabs me by the back of my neck, raising my rigid body upright.

I whimper, my pulse throbbing deep in my ears. “What…is…that?” I wheeze, glaring down at his hand.

“Shh…” he says again, his grip on me tightening.

His nails dig into my neck, and I wince as the needle punctures the skin at my throat. The liquid is bitterly cold when it enters my body, and I shiver as it passes through me, spreading along the underside of my skin. The sensation—a freezing prickle followed by fire—sends all my nerve endings into a frenzy, igniting the pain receptors in my brain until I feel the frigid burn everywhere. 

A rising sense of panic swells deep in my chest, but when I try to scream, the hoarse cry that rips from my throat is a broken sob barely louder than a breath. Every second is drawn out by the agony swelling inside me. I can’t take it. 

I just want it to stop. 

Another seizure strikes without warning, the tremors tearing through me more violent this time. Discarding the syringe, Dr. Richter smooths a hand over my forehead, considering me with a spine-chilling fondness. As his fingers move down the side of my face, caressing my wet cheek, my limbs jerk uncontrollably and bile surges up from my stomach. 

It’s only now, as the pain sinks deeper and death creeps closer, that I realize my plan has failed. I can’t turn myself over to the people attacking the Heart and end this war I’m responsible for…because I’m going to die before I can even attempt to. I’m going to die before I can change a damn thing, and Richter will watch, smiling, as the world dies, too. 

My teeth chatter, threatening to bite off the tip of my tongue, when the convulsions intensify, each spasm—along with Dr. Richter’s hands—pinning my hips and legs to the floor. My tormentor cocks his head to one side, his eyes tapering behind his silver glasses, appraising my twisted expression with glee.

“Even when you fight against me, you’re still the perfect obedient pet, always doing precisely what I expect. And now, thanks to the accelerant taking root in your veins, it won’t be long until you fulfill your purpose on this planet.” Shifting, he eases my shoulders and head onto the floor, then straightens, his smiling face cast in shadow. Although I try to move, the spasms rocking my limbs and the stabs cutting into my brain hold me down.

As Dr. Richter looms over me, drinking in the spectacle of my pain, the gentle glow from the emergency lights reflects across the lenses of his glasses, obscuring his eyes behind a blue flash. His grin widens, revealing his teeth, and with that one gesture, he looks less like a human and more like something out of the fairy tales my father would read to me when I was young. Like something not of this world, but like something else entirely.

Something truly, unspeakably evil. 

Grimacing, I force my gaze to the side, glancing at the three immobile figures spread out across the floor at different points in the exam room—on Ezra, Jenner, and Quinn, who have all been caught in the middle of this warped game between me and Richter. I never wanted this. I never wanted to involve any of them with this part of my life. I only wanted to keep Ezra and Jenner safe. I only wanted to protect them from certain death and destruction.

I only ever wanted to protect them from me.

Guilt constricts my chest, but my nagging thoughts of self-reproach are fleeting, my brain unable to focus for long on anything beyond the crippling pain in my head. Another turbulent fit rocks my body as my eyes shudder open and closed, then wrench open again, my pulse skyrocketing at the sight of the wicked smirk twisting Richter’s lips.

He claps his hands together with a low, mocking chuckle. “Everything has fallen into place just as I envisioned. All that’s left to do is wake Ezra so he can witness the finale to this grand production. He did, after all, help us get to this point. We wouldn’t want him to miss a second of it, now would we?”

“There’s only one problem with that—”

My eyes jerk wide, and the same surprise overwhelming my senses flickers across Richter’s face as he spins around, putting his back to me. I follow his startled movements as much as my increasingly sluggish vision allows, my heart racing a mile a minute with recognition, anticipation, and fear. 

That voice—

My heart constricts when I see him, my brain only managing one coherent thought. 

I didn’t kill him. 

Ezra’s name springs free of my throat in a gasp, but he doesn’t spare me a glance. Blood is matted in his unkempt hair—dripping down his already bruised cheek from a wound on his scalp I can’t see—but instead of worry, all I’m aware of is the relief coursing through me just knowing he’s okay. And alive. 

I choke out a breath, desperate to coax those hazel eyes in my direction, but I lack the strength to speak. I silently beg him to look at me, but if he’s aware of me here on the floor, he doesn’t show it, his attention fixed on his brother. 

A smirk hooks up one edge of his lips. “I’m already awake.”

Ezra thrusts his arms upward, slamming a large, flat object into the side of Richter’s skull with such force that, for a moment, I allow myself the gleeful belief that my tormentor might be dead. The collision makes a tinny, metallic sound that results in a wobbling echo.

On impact, Richter’s head snaps to the left, his glasses knocked to the floor, the frames bent and broken, the lenses cracked. For a few seconds, he teeters on his feet before crumpling, his gray eyes rolling back in their sockets.

Exhaling, Ezra drops his weapon, the medical tray clanging loudly against the white tiles. His chest heaves as he lets out a breath, and after checking with a nudge of his foot that Richter is unconscious, he finally looks in my direction. 

“Wynter?” he rasps. Even in my disoriented state, I’m aware of his panic as he races forward, sliding to his knees at my side. His hands are cold as they press to my face. “Wynter, can you hear me?”

Although I try to stay awake, my eyelids droop, and the exam room melts into an indistinct smear of shades as the finer details fade. 

“I’m sorry,” I breathe as darkness rises to claim me. “I didn’t…mean to…” 

“Hey. Hey! Wake up. Stay with me.” Ezra grabs me by the shoulders and shakes me gently until I pry my eyes wide. “I got you,” he murmurs, wrapping his arms around my torso and pulling me close to his chest. His fingers graze my aching skin through my bodysuit. “Everything is going to be okay.”

I manage a weak nod, feigning belief, even though his words are a lie. I know all too well what’s coming for us.

Everything is far from okay.

Tears carve lines down his cheeks but he wipes them away, setting me back down on the floor. Ripping off his jacket, he bundles the fabric and places it under my head like a pillow. If I have another seizure, the material should at least protect my skull from any direct impact with the tiles. Not that it really matters.

Seizure or not, I’m already dead.

Jaw straining, Ezra wipes a rogue tear from his chin. “We never should’ve come back. We should’ve left—” He falters, and the column of his throat shifts when he swallows, the sound audible in the hush of the room. Clenching his teeth, he mutters, “We should’ve left when we had the chance.”

Mere hours ago, after saving our lives, Quinn offered us the chance to escape, saying he’d take us to a safe place outside the Heart. But we didn’t go, we didn’t flee, because I encouraged Ezra and Jenner to fight—to hold PHOENIX accountable—and because we were all adamant about saving Rai, even though I think part of me always knew she couldn’t be saved. But also, because I knew running wasn’t an option. 

And, deep down, I had already accepted this war would only end with my death.

Tremors ripple over my arms as I reach for Ezra’s hand, my movements lethargic and clumsy. He meets my near lifeless grip and squeezes, his brows tugging together when I guide his fingers to the naked skin at my throat. 

His eyes drift down to my neck, then to my discarded collar on the floor, understanding forming in his gaze. Realizing what I’m trying to tell him, he scowls. “We’re going to get out of here,” he promises, “and we’re going to figure something out. I refuse to lose you, too. I won’t.”

A traitorous tear dashes from my left eye. Blinking it away, I turn my gaze from Ezra and take in the scene of ruin I’ve wrought upon the people who were only trying to help—to protect me, even though I don’t deserve it. Two bodies lie on opposite sides of the room, one on his back in the far left corner and the other prostrate in a pool of blood not far from the right side of Rai’s bed. 

Quinn. 

“Alive…?” I wheeze, my voice breaking.

Ezra blinks, his face pale with shock, but at the sound of my voice, he snaps out of his stupor and jumps to his feet, stumbling across the exam room. He shakes Jenner by the shoulder, who rouses with a groan and sits up, disoriented but unharmed. Ezra then scrambles over to Quinn, carefully flipping him onto his back. 

As Ezra examines him, my vision fades in and out, the clarity of the room changing every few seconds like the ebb and flow of a tide. I squint, watching as he checks for Quinn’s pulse before rifling through the ex-Enforcer’s pockets, retrieving the very same shackles our former enemy removed from my wrists after saving us from execution. That moment seems like it happened in another lifetime rather than only a handful of hours ago. 

So much has changed so quickly. That thought turns my stomach, and as the blood collects beneath Quinn’s body, it occurs to me that I never thanked him. 

I make a mental note to do just that if he survives.

Exhaling, I press my cheek to the cold floor when another wave of pain slams into the walls of my skull. Through the darkness swelling over my vision, I can just make out Ezra’s expression as he jumps to his feet and stalks toward his motionless brother. Rage burns in his eyes as he hoists Richter upright and props him into a sitting position against the metal table on the left side of the room—the same table I was examined on every single day for over two years in this hell.

Nostrils flaring, Ezra binds Richter’s wrists in the shackles, his attention flicking between his brother’s limp hands and his white DSD-issue coat. Once the restraints are secure, he crouches, removing two objects from the deep pockets—the remote control for my now defunct collar and the pistol Richter used to shoot Quinn. 

And possibly Rai, I consider, shuddering. 

For a moment, Ezra stares at the remote, understanding darkening his gaze as his eyes drift from the black device in his hand to me. He must know I would never attack him or Jenner. Not willingly. 

Not unless I was forced to.

“I didn’t mean…to,” I whisper again, pushing the words out with effort.

Ezra’s face loses the last of its color as his eyes blow wide, returning to his hand. As the realization forms in his gaze, his lower lip quivers, peeling back in disgust.

Raising his hand, he growls, just loudly enough for me to hear, “That piece of shit.”

With a shout of frustration, Ezra smashes the remote control against the floor, his chest heaving as the device explodes into several pieces, scattering across the white tile. Rising, he shoves Richter’s gun in his belt—replacing the pistol he stole from one of Nolan’s lackeys, which seems to have gotten lost in the chaos—before fixing me with the full force of his gaze.

“He will never control you again,” Ezra vows, voice hard and hazel eyes silvered with tears.

Then, in the time it takes for me to blink, he’s on the move again, dropping to his knees beside Quinn and clamping his hands firmly against the right side of his torso. Blood seeps up through his fingers, gushing over his hands. 

“Jenner, a little help?” he pleads.

Jenner, whose face is awash with confusion, turns slowly, locking eyes with Ezra. “What the hell happened?” he asks, sounding dazed.

Ezra sneers. “My asshole brother happened.”

A loud cough punctures the silence, followed by a few breathy grunts as Quinn jerks into waking, his obsidian eyes bulging in confusion and terror. When he tries to sit up, Jenner jumps into action, scooping his gun off the floor—which was torn from his grasp when Richter forced me to attack him—returning it to his belt before racing across the room to help Ezra by forcing Quinn back down again. As he restrains the ex-Enforcer against the floor with his forearm, Jenner grabs a spare sheet from under Rai’s bed with his other hand, pressing it down on his wound.

“Hey, man, don’t move! You’re really hurt.”

Quinn’s only response is a croak as his head lolls to the side, his tongue darting out to wet his dry lips. Although ashen from blood loss, he’s awake and alert and makes repeated attempts to move despite Ezra and Jenner insisting he needs to keep still. Ignoring them, he fans his arm out to the side, his hand curling into a fist, except for one finger…which points directly at me.

All three sets of eyes fix on my face as my body contorts, my limbs locking and back arching unnaturally, foam spitting from the sides of my mouth. Ezra calls out to me, but his voice seems so far away, like time and space are separating us, placing us on different fields of existence. Still, he reaches out, crossing that distance, although it feels so impossibly far. 

His arms wrap around my back, holding me tight, as a strong, metallic stench fills my nose and a warm, sticky wetness seeps from between my lips, tasting of copper and something acidic. Ezra wipes his hand over my mouth, and although he tries to hide it from me, I glimpse the smudge of red staining his fingers. 

Blood, I realize, aghast.

My blood.

Just like I feared, now that the clock on my disease has resumed, the time I have left is being siphoned away as payment for the extra years I survived. Thanks to Dr. Richter, how long do I have?

When is my time going to finally run out?

Ezra shifts position and draws my head into his lap, gently stroking my face. As the seizure subsides, I search for his eyes through the expansive fog of pain weighing on my senses, making me groggy. The hazel depths gazing at me will me to speak.

Despite my exhaustion, I muster the only words I can think of—those at the core of our connection to each other.

Words that always make my past and future collide.

“I’m…sorry…” 

His mouth fights a grimace as his face contorts with resurfacing rage. Taking care not to jostle me too much, he props my head on his jacket again, then returns to his feet, yanking Richter’s gun free from his belt. The fire in his gaze continues to burn as his finger folds around the trigger.

I force myself to stay awake, focusing on Ezra’s retreating back as he storms toward where Richter is slumped, shackled to the table. Leaning down, Ezra slaps him hard, then grabs him by the neck of the shirt, shaking him.

“Wake up!” he shouts, venom lacing his tone.

As Richter comes to, his gray eyes flicker from his younger brother’s face to mine.

Ezra releases his grip on his shirt and shoves him hard into the table leg. “Help her.” He glances at me, his hand shaking as he repositions his grasp on the gun.

A wry, gloating smile shapes Richter’s lips. “I’m sorry to disappoint you,” he says, slurring the words, “but I can’t do that.”

“What do you mean you can’t?” Ezra barks. He backtracks, reappearing at my side just long enough to pluck the collar off the floor before rounding on Richter again, tossing the thick metal ring in his lap. “You’re the one who did this to her, so fix it!”

A nefarious laugh reverberates through the room and ricochets through every inch of my body. As the horrible, calculating echo of it beats in my ears, a rising terror swallows my sanity whole.

“Surely, you’re aware by now that collar was the only thing keeping her alive?” Richter asks. “Without it, she’s doomed. There is no other cure for her condition.”

Ezra cocks the gun, reaffirming the threat in his hand. “Put the collar back on, then,” he snarls.

Richter glances between us, his expression triumphant despite the fact that he’s the one handcuffed on the floor. Squaring his shoulders, he rests the back of his head against the leg of the table. 

“That collar is a sophisticated piece of technology, the sole of its kind created with the singular focus of protecting and preserving the security of the State. It was designed to cease all functionality should it ever be removed or tampered with. So, you see, Little Brother…” His grin widens, his face splitting into a demented smile. “It cannot be fixed.”

During the two and a half years I served as, first, the DSD’s guinea pig, and then, the State’s weapon, there wasn’t a day that went by when Dr. Richter didn’t assess the collar for faults. To ensure it was doing its job. He never took it off. He never spoke of upgrading it or altering the model. He only made certain the leash that kept me chained to him and in control was working.

I knew the collar was valuable—possibly even more so than I was—but I always assumed that was because we went hand in hand. Without one, the other was useless. 

Except, now, I realize it was more than that. The collar was valuable because it was unique, the sole of its kind…just like me. And since Dr. Richter had no other patients to subjugate, no other victims to turn into weapons since his other attempts to create more had failed, the State had no reason to produce other collars. That technology my control is reliant upon…

It can’t be fixed or replaced.

“So, make a new one,” Ezra demands, losing patience. “I’m sure you know how.”

Richter scoffs. “That one collar took years of development to create and an entire team of qualified engineers to manufacture. Somehow, I doubt all the needed components survived the explosion…”

I lie still, a silent witness to this conversation, picking up what words I can in my lethargic state. At the mention of the bombing, my eyes drift to Quinn. I recall our conversation outside the DSD, before our confrontation with Richter. At the time, I didn’t think much of it—of Quinn’s suggestion that someone was working with the enemy from within the State, giving them the intel to target this place. Now that I allow the thought to sink in, I can’t help wondering if maybe he was right. Perhaps the enemy isn’t really an enemy at all and just wanted to erase what the State had created before it could be used to hurt anyone else.

Before I could be used to hurt anyone else.

What little hope had stirred within me at Ezra’s words—at the notion of the possibility of a new collar—promptly dies at the amusement in Richter’s voice. “Even if, by some miracle, the required parts were all intact, it would still take months to construct a new one. Something tells me she doesn’t have that much time.”

Lunging forward, Ezra jams the muzzle of the pistol against his brother’s forehead. Richter doesn’t even flinch. 

Instead, a derisive snort pierces the silence between them. 

“Are you going to kill me?” Richter asks.

“Tempting,” Ezra considers, drawing back the barrel, “but no. As much as I want to pull this trigger, Wynter should be the one to kill you, not me.”

Richter chuckles. “She’s had the opportunity to end my life countless times, and yet, here I am. Alive. Why do you think that is?”

A lump swells in my throat at his confession. In all the time Dr. Richter held me captive, I had several chances to kill him; there were so many moments when we were alone and I could’ve ended his miserable life without lifting a finger. But I never attempted to out of fear. Fear of what would happen to me if he wasn’t around to guarantee my control. Fear of why I was allowing myself to do his bidding.

Fear of what I was forcing myself to forget.

But now, I remember everything and, unlike before, Richter no longer has the threat of my collar to use against me. He’s severed those strings from my body, ending my unwilling stint as his puppet. The control I’ve been clinging to is gone, along with any reason to keep him alive.

No reason other than Rai, I remember.

Drawing in a tremulous breath, I cut my eyes to the bed in the corner. As much as it breaks me to admit it, she’s dead, broken beyond any hope of repair. Her heart might be pumping blood through her veins, but the hard truth—the truth I now have to face—is we lost her that night at the magistrates building.

And for that, Richter doesn’t deserve to live.

In my peripheral vision, I glimpse Ezra shrug. “I really couldn’t say, but I have a feeling you might’ve just changed her mind.”

Richter responds with a sharp, biting cackle. “You think you know her so well, but the only person who truly understands her is me. She is death incarnate. Mors vincit omnia. ‘Death conquers all,’” he translates. “Have you seen her kill before, Brother? You think I’m a monster and yet you defend someone who has decimated entire armies—”

“Stop talking,” Ezra warns.

“Or what?” Richter goads. “You don’t have the stomach to kill me.”

Ezra tilts his head to one side and taps the barrel of the pistol to his lips, as if contemplating the idea. “Yeah,” he agrees with a tentative nod, “but I never promised not to shoot you.”

An ear-splitting bang rattles the remains of the building, which threatens to cave in and crush us to death, entombing our bodies in a grave of sterile surfaces and glowing blue emergency lights. Black spots emerge in front of my eyes, and my ears ring from the gunshot, making the pounding in my head unbearable.

My eyes slam shut, as if doing so will help fight the pain. I’m so tired. I just want to sleep—to slip away from this madness and escape into dreaming, even if where I end up is a nightmare. 

A memory jerks me awake, and with fear, I remember something from before I returned to the DSD two years ago. The days spent before the mission to Zone 1. Days I spent in a comatose state. 

If I go to sleep now, who knows when I’ll wake up? I can’t afford to lose any more time.

Not when the clock is already ticking.

Blinking away the shadows from my eyes, I peer at Ezra and at the gun at his side before turning my drowsy gaze to his brother. Richter clutches his leg, his face draining of color as his teeth grit together, biting back what I hope is a scream. As he grunts, blood oozes from a hole in his pant leg situated just above his left knee. His restrained fingers claw at the wound to no avail, only making the blood bubble faster.

As if sensing my joy at his suffering, his wild eyes dart to mine—the hue of his irises nearly identical now to his complexion, his skin growing whiter by the second. Sweat beads along his hairline as he bares his teeth and lets loose an animalistic snarl, spit flying from between his chalky lips. 

As the pool of blood building beneath Richter’s leg expands across the tiled floor, the room begins to spin, making me nauseous. Dizzy, I close my eyes to settle my stomach only to be assaulted by images I’d rather not see. The one nightmare I can never escape projects onto the backs of my eyelids and in every thought until I see it all over again, just as I did the first time. 

Darkness. 

Destruction. 

Death. 

Every aspect of my vision is exactly the same. No matter what I do, no matter which path I take or who dies along the way, the future never veers from its intended destination. It always ends with me… 

And with the desolation of our world.

A scream cranks open my lips, ripping free of my throat, as the images fade and yet another wave of convulsions rise to take their place. Leaping up from where he kneels at Quinn’s side, Jenner crosses the distance to my thrashing body, tugging my back against his chest and holding me upright and still through my seizure. But he can’t protect me from the wrath of this disease. 

No one can anymore.

Ezra’s eyes find mine as Jenner shouts out his name, but I can’t tell if they belong to the Ezra of the present or the Ezra I always see in my vision—the one who’s sorry and who I’ll have to watch die because I failed to find a way to save him and Jenner from that terrible future. From me. 

Whichever version it is, I hang onto his voice as the world around me is engulfed by darkness, his every word the only anchor between me and unconsciousness. 

“If she dies, so do you!” 

“Don’t you understand yet?” Although weak from his wound, Richter laughs again—a cruel, malicious sound that cuts through me like a knife to my chest. 

His voice is the last thing I hear before the darkness finally pulls me under. 

“We’re already dead.”

View full details