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Macmillan Childrens Publishing Group

Null Set

A Cas Russell Novel

Cas Russell (Volume 2)

S. L. Huang

Tor Books



MY NAME is Cas Russell.

Except a little over a year ago, I found out it isn’t.

That night a woman named Dawna Polk stood over me and melted my brain, filling it with scenes from a mislaid life, flashes of a past I’d forgotten to miss. She’d cracked the window into shredded fragments I’d only glimpsed in dreams, negative spaces where I’d never noticed the blank emptiness of what was gone.

In the scattered time since then, I’d been shocked to discover that everyone else had memories of a coherent existence. Memories of being a child, of growing up. Of a life before becoming a supernaturally mathematical retrieval specialist who drank her way from one job to the next.

Yeah. That would be me. Cas Russell.

Right now, however, I was unfortunately not drunk. Right now I was crouched on top of a metal shipping container in the Port of Los Angeles with a high-powered rifle in my hands. Five people stared up at me from a rough semicircle on the ground, all clad in black to match the moonless night, and all more than ready to kill me if I took my eyes off them for the least split second. They were the first break we’d had in finding their shitstain of a boss, and I was going to make them tell me.

Even if I had to do it without torturing them. Because torture would piss off the tall black man who’d decided to become my conscience, and who was currently forcing a sixth trafficker up alongside the rest with the business end of his Glock.

“Okay?” I called to him.

“Okay,” Arthur called back. He started roughly patting down his prisoner.

“Here’s how it’s going to go,” I addressed our standoff. “The first one of you who tells me how to find Pourdry gets to live. The rest get to see how well their organs can withstand the hydrostatic shock of a .308 round. Clear?”

“Fuck off,” snarled the guy whose hands Arthur was zip-tying, which was stupid, because I twitched the rifle over and pulled the trigger. The shot whizzed by and buried itself in the ground behind him, so close it grazed his neck. A dark line of blood welled up, and the guy froze.

From less than a foot away, on the other side of him, Arthur glared at me. He didn’t like when I was cavalier with guns, even though he knew I could predict exactly where I would hit, probability one. Whatever had Swiss-cheesed my memory had left enough skill at instantaneous mathematics to hit a penny falling behind a wall from a mile away through a windy hailstorm.

The dudes below me, however, did not know I breathed superhuman knowledge of velocities and forces. They only saw me fire a shot that would have killed a man if it had been an inch over—and all a foot from my own backup like a goddamned maniac.

“Hey, that was lucky,” I said. “Next time my aim might not be so great.”

Everyone stayed very still, except for Arthur, who finished securing the guy he’d brought over and moved on to the rest. His eyes kept flicking up to me with just a little irritation. Okay, more like a lot.

I ignored him and very obviously adjusted my rifle to the next person in line. Quickly rising to the ignominious title of largest human trafficker on the West Coast, their boss was the scum of the earth, but somehow he inspired devoted allegiance in his rank and file. Which meant I had to make these people more afraid of me than they were loyal to Jacob Pourdry. “I’ll ask one more time, and then this gets violent,” I said. “Tell me where—”

The back of the guy’s head shattered, and a rifle report rang out just as his body slumped to the ground.

“Russell!” yelled Arthur.

“Not me!”

The other goons scattered and started clawing for weapons. A second one went down, jerking as if on a marionette string before he hit the dirt almost right next to Arthur. I tracked the kinematics of the trajectories back, measuring against speed of sound, the math blasting clarion in my head, and dove off the shipping container.

I protected my rifle in a perfect shoulder roll to come up by Arthur’s side and grabbed the back of his leather jacket. “This way. We need cover!”

One of the traffickers tried to track us with his sidearm as we ran. My rifle took him out before the sniper could. We dashed around the corner, out of their line of sight.

But handgun rounds would punch right through the shipping containers like they were made of butter, let alone the rifle rounds the sniper was using. I sprinted through the maze, skidding into sharp turns and putting as many layers of 14-gauge steel as possible between us and anyone with a gun. Arthur followed without question. He knew to trust my math.

I slapped at my earpiece as we ran. “Pilar! Surveillance, now!”

“On it,” chirped a perpetually cheerful voice in my ear. “Checker says he doesn’t have eyes on who’s shooting at you yet. Four of the goons are down though.”

“We gotta get to the kids,” said Arthur.

Right. The whole reason we were here in the first place—to rescue the shipment of children these assholes had been trying to smuggle into the city for the worst of purposes. Arthur had wanted to get them out first, but I’d insisted we take the chance to try for intel on the man behind it all. We’d been after Pourdry for months, but he was a fucking ghost.

Copyright © 2019 by S. L. Huang