The name thundered through the room as I stared at the broken shards of glass from the bottle General Eaton had thrown.
I stood there, stuck in absolute disbelief, watching the amber liquid seep over papers littering the floor. Some looked like junk mail from when Houston was a bustling city. A brightly colored advertisement for a new furniture store opening downtown. A blue pack of coupons never opened. White envelopes with the word urgent in red written on them. All were evidence of a life left behind by whoever had once called this building home before the electromagnetic pulse bombs were dropped, rendering the city habitable only by those desperate enough to remain hidden in a dead zone.
Had the owners evacuated, or were they lost in the chaos that followed the EMPs like so many hundreds of thousands?
Why was I even thinking about any of that? Someone’s mail wasn’t the most pressing concern. It was like my brain shorted out at the mention of his name.
Sergeant Jason Dasher.
The masses knew him as the fallen war hero, a patriotic icon lost in the war protecting mankind against the invading Luxen. I’d once been a part of those masses, but I’d since learned the truth. Dasher was an evil man responsible for horrific experiments on both humans and aliens, all in the name of the “greater good.”
But he was an evil, dead man.
Nothing more than a ghost I couldn’t remember, because his wife had shot him. The same woman I’d believed to be my mother up until I’d learned I wasn’t really Evelyn Dasher but a girl named Nadia Holliday. Which was roughly around the same time I’d gotten smacked upside the head with the knowledge mother dearest was also a Luxen.
Sylvia had married a man responsible for forced pregnancies between Luxen and humans, nonconsensual mutations, kidnappings, murders, and the subjugation of her own people. Not only that, she had worked for the institution responsible.
A secret organization that existed within the Department of Defense, one that had started out with the task of assimilating the Luxen into the human populace long before the public knew the aliens even existed. They’d studied the Luxen’s unique biological attributes that not only made them resistant to every human illness but also enabled them to heal any number of physical injuries a human could suffer. The Daedalus sought to use the knowledge gained to better the life of millions, but all of that had gone sideways fast.
I still had no idea how to come to terms with any of that. I didn’t think I’d ever truly be able to, but the fact it had been her who’d ended his life had helped.
She’d shot Dasher when he’d attempted to renege on the deal—the bargain that saved my life and robbed me of it in the same breath. The Andromeda serum had cured the cancer that had been killing me, but it had stolen my memories of who I used to be.
And it had turned me into … well, a thing I had learned was called a Trojan. Something that couldn’t exactly be classified as just human.
Right now, that little factoid was taking a back seat to the latest are you freaking kidding me breaking news.
Jason Dasher was alive.
A dull ache flared in the pit of my stomach as I shook my head. I tried to take the next logical step that said Eaton wasn’t the type of person to have misspoken, but my brain was so overloaded with all that had happened. And holy drama llama, a lot had happened in the last couple of months.
Jason Dasher was alive, and that wasn’t even the most messed-up part of it all. I was coded to answer to him like I were nothing more than a computer responding to commands. A dead man who was now alive. A man who was a monster and could seize control of me at any moment.
“Impossible,” a low voice growled.
Heart turning over heavily, I looked to my right. He stood beside me, not just any Origin—a child of a Luxen and a hybrid—but one who was more powerful than even the strongest Luxen.
He had a last name now, one that he’d picked after I’d argued that just because the Daedalus never gave him a last name didn’t mean he couldn’t have one. He’d chosen the surname King, because of course he would, but Luc King sounded good—sounded right. And I’d just been happy that he’d given himself one, because the lack of a last name had been one of the many ways the Daedalus made sure their creations remembered they were things and not living, breathing entities that thought, felt, and wanted like anyone else.
The last name made him more human, but at the moment, Luc didn’t look remotely human.
Not when the irises of his eyes were the color of jeweled amethyst and his pupils burned like bright diamonds. A white glow surrounded the taut shape of his body. The angles of his cheekbones appeared sharper, and faint, tense lines bracketed his full lips.
What surrounded him was the Source, a pure energy that was at the very core of the Luxen, making them so dangerous, so fascinating. The breathtaking power could give life, and it could end it in a nanosecond.
More times than I cared to admit, I’d found myself staring at him in a sort of astonished fixation, attempting to figure out what it was about the lines and angles of his face or how his features were pieced together that made him so beautiful. Everyone got a little lost staring at him when they first saw them, so I didn’t feel too shallow. Male. Female. Young. Old. Those interested. Those not. All were affected to some degree, and right now, when he no longer hid what he was, there was a wildness to his beauty, primitive and raw.
Luc was as lethal as he was awe-inspiring, and I loved him—I was in love with him, and I knew deep down that I’d felt the same when I’d been Nadia. Everything about him fit everything about me, and what I felt for him now had nothing to do with his appearance or because there were residual emotions left behind from a different life. It was because of him. Love took root with his cheesy, horrible pickup lines and silly gifts that really weren’t gifts at all. Love grew each time he looked at me like I was the most precious and cherished being in the entire universe. Love spread with his enduring patience that came with no ties or stimulations. He was there for me, always had been, with no expectation that I would feel anything for him. And I fell in love with him all over again when I realized that when he sincerely believed I’d never return to him, he still hadn’t stopped loving me.
Until Luc, I didn’t even know it was possible to love this deeply, this endlessly, and it was equal parts exhilarating and terrifying. The mere idea of losing him …
A shudder took me even as I reminded myself that very few things could gain an upper hand on Luc. I’d seen what Luc was capable of firsthand. Turning human and Luxen alike to nothing more than scattered ashes with just a touch. Tossing people like Frisbees with just a wave of his hand. Human or not, people didn’t just fear Luc’s strength. They respected it. He wasn’t the alpha. He was the omega, and I didn’t doubt for a second that one of the only reasons the world wasn’t already under the control of the Daedalus was because Luc had turned on his creators.
But now one of them was somehow alive—the one who had made sure my life as Nadia, my life with Luc, had ended.
“I saw it.” Luc’s voice was thick and ragged with absolute power churning inside him. “I saw it with my own two, fully functioning eyes. Sylvia shot Jason Dasher.”
“Just like you believed the Daedalus was truly gone?” the general countered, facing us. He was an older man, maybe in his sixties, with silver hair cropped close to his skull and a face lined with experience. A man who’d spent his life serving his country and should be enjoying his days in blissful retirement in someplace like Arizona or Florida. Instead, he was here, in what was now referred to as Zone 3, hidden among humans the government had decided weren’t worth the stress of evacuating, unregistered Luxen, humans that Luxen had mutated—known as hybrids—and other Origins who’d escape the Daedalus.
“That with the destruction of the Origin Project, the Daedalus was simply no more?” Eaton said, referencing the program responsible for the creation of the Origins.
Luc went utterly still, and my skin pebbled in response. “Do you think I’m foolish?”
General Eaton’s jaw flexed.
“Or naïve?” Luc’s voice was soft now, scarily so, and when he spoke again, I really hoped that Eaton answered and did so wisely. “Well, do you?”
“No,” Eaton clipped out. “I don’t think that.”
“Good to hear that. I’d hate to have to change your mind.” Luc had moved forward a foot or two or three, and I hadn’t even seen him move. “I never believed they were completely eradicated, nor did I think their goals would end with them. Humans will always want to be on the top of the food chain, and they will never stop seeking power.”
The way Luc said humans made it clear that even though the mother he’d never met was human, he didn’t view himself as one, and a last name hadn’t changed that.
The gnawing ache in my stomach pulsed as he said, “But every facility I could find is nothing but ash now, along with a vast number of those who ran the Daedalus. I knew the Daedalus was still alive and well the moment that girl that Evie went to school with did the impossible and we found those serums at her house.”
He was talking about April Collins, a frenemy who’d hated on the Luxen so much she’d rallied together like-minded classmates and held daily protests. The irony of it all was that April wasn’t even human.
She was like me.
Her hatefulness was engineered by the Daedalus and had the sole purpose of sowing fear and distrust of the Luxen into the human populace.
When Heidi and I had somewhat accidentally exposed her as something other, April nearly killed Heidi by putting her entire hand through my friend’s body.
Luc and I had found a stash of serums at her place, but we’d had no idea what they were for and we’d lost them when Luc’s club was raided. The serums weren’t the only thing we’d discovered at her place. We’d also found her handler, who I’d … shot … in the head like it was something I’d done before.
For all I knew, it could be something I’d done countless times before, and I just had no memory of it.
“And the Daedalus survived only to grow stronger, to grow smarter,” Eaton said.
“That doesn’t explain how a dead man is supposedly alive,” Luc shot back.
That was a damn good point, one I couldn’t wait to hear explained, but I suddenly felt … weird. Wired, almost. Like I’d downed three of those espresso shots Zoe liked to drink. Had to be the fact that I was hungry and unused to not having at least several tablespoons’ worth of sugary snacks by this point in the day. I pushed the odd jittery feeling aside and focused.
“Did you see Dasher die, Luc?” Eaton asked, shoulders sunken and weathered face tired. “No. All you saw was that he was shot and that he bled.”
“He was shot in the damn chest, man.” Luc’s hands curled into fists. “He went down and didn’t get back up. It was a mortal wound.”
“Did you hang around afterward?” The worn leather couch shuddered when Eaton sat, his long legs stretched and boneless as he met Luc’s stare fearlessly.
Luc didn’t answer for a long moment, and a ripple of power flared around him, causing the air to thicken.
“I wanted to destroy everything that he was, erase him from this earth, but I couldn’t.” His chin dipped, head tilting to the side. “Jason had contacted members of the damn alien task force when I arrived. Officers were on their way. I feared my presence would…” He trailed off as the veins under his skin began to glow as white as his pupils.
“You feared if you lingered, your presence would jeopardize her.” Eaton jerked his head in my direction.
We were made for each other.
That was what Eaton had told us. That the Daedalus had a hand in us meeting the first time, when I’d been Nadia. That they were counting on him to form some kind of bond with her—with me—and through that bond, they thought to control him.
Copyright © 2020 by Jennifer L. Armentrout