Unwind / Page 44

Page 44



But it's too late. The impact of a tranq bullet is more effective than any detonator. Blaine and the guard are instantly incinerated as the six quarts of liquid explosive coursing through Blaine's body ignites.

* * *

Mai hears the explosion. It shakes the entire storage room like an earthquake. She doesn't think about it. She can't. Not anymore. She looks at the detonators on her palm. This is for Vincent. This is for her parents, who signed the Unwind order. This is for the whole world.

She claps once.

Nothing.

She claps twice.

Nothing.

She claps a third time.

The third time is the charm.

* * *

The moment Risa sees Lev standing below, on the red carpet, an explosion rips through the north wing of the Chop Shop. She turns to see the entire wing crumble. "Oh, my God! Oh, my God!"

"We gotta get out of here!" yells Dalton, but before he can make a move, a second explosion roars beneath them, sending the air-vent caps shooting skyward like rockets. The roof beneath their feet cracks like thin ice, and the entire roof gives way. Risa plunges with the rest of the band into the smoky abyss, and in that instant all she can think of is Connor, and how the band never got to finish playing his farewell anthem.

* * *

Lev stands there as the glass blows past him. He sees the band fall as the roof collapses. A howl builds up inside him, escaping his mouth, an inhuman sound born of an agony he can't describe. His world has truly ended. Now he must finish the job.

Standing there before the ruined building, he pulls out the sock in his pocket. He fumbles with it until he finds the detonators. He peels the backs, revealing the adhesive, and sticks them to his palms. They look like stigmata, the nail wounds in the hands of Christ. Still wailing his agony, he holds his hands up before him, preparing to make the pain go away. He holds his hands up before him. He holds his hands up before him. He holds his hands up before him.

And he cannot bring them together.

He wants to. He needs to. But he can't.

Make this go away. Please, somebody make this all go away.

No matter how hard he tries, no matter how much his mind wants to end this here and now, another part of him—a stronger part of him—refuses to let him clap his hands together. Now he is even a failure as a failure.

God, dear God, what am J doing? What have I done? How did I get here?

The crowd, which had run at the sound of the blasts, has come back. They ignore Lev, because there's something else they see.

"Look!" someone shouts. "Look!"

Lev turns to see where the kid is pointing. Coming out of the ruined glass doors of the Chop Shop is Connor. He's stumbling. His face is a shredded, bloody mess. He's lost an eye. His right arm is crushed and mangled. But he's alive!

"Connor blew up the Chop Shop!" someone yells. "He blew it up and saved us all!"

And then a guard bursts onto the scene. "Get back to your dormitories. All of you! Now!"

No one moves.

"Didn't you hear me?"

Then a kid slams the guard with a right hook that practically spins his whole body around. The guard responds by pulling out his tranq gun and shooting the kid in the offending arm. The kid goes to dreamland, but there are other kids, and they tear the gun out of the guard's hand, using it against him. Just like Connor once had.

The word that the Akron AWOL blew up the Chop Shop zigs like lightning through every Unwind in Happy Jack, and in seconds, disobedience erupts into a full-scale revolt. Every terrible is now a terror. The guards fire, but there are simply too many kids, and not enough tranq bullets. For every kid that goes down, there's another kid that doesn't. The guards are quickly overwhelmed, and once they are, the mob starts storming the front gate.

* * *

Connor has no understanding of this event. All he knows is that he was led into the building, then something happened. And now he's not in the building anymore. His face is wrong. It hurts. It hurts had. He can't move his arm. The ground feels strange beneath his feet. His lungs hurt. He coughs and they hurt more.

He's stumbling down steps now. There are kids here. Lots of kids. Unwinds. That's right, he's an Unwind. They're all Unwinds. But the meaning of that is slipping from him fast. The kids are running. They're fighting. Then Connor's legs give out, and suddenly he's on the ground. Looking up at the sun.

He wants to sleep. He knows this isn't a good place, but he wants to anyway. He feels wet. He feels sticky. Is his nose running?

Then there's an angel hovering above him, all in white.

"Don't move," the angel says. Connor recognizes the voice.

"Hi, Lev. How are things . . . ?"

"Shh."

"My arm hurts," Connor says lazily. "Did you bite me again?"

Then Lev does something funny. He takes off his shirt. Then he tears his shirt in half. He presses half the torn shirt to Connor's face. That makes his face hurt more. He groans. Then Lev takes the other half of his shirt and ties it around Connor's arm. He ties it tight. That hurts too.

"Hey . . . what . . ."

"Don't try to talk. Just relax."

There are others around him now. He doesn't know who. A kid holding a tranq pistol looks at Lev, and Lev nods. Then the kid kneels down next to Connor.

"This is going to hurt a little," says the kid with the tranq gun. "But I think you need it."

He aims uncertainly at various parts of Connor's body, then settles on Connor's hip. Connor hears the gunshot, feels a sharp pain in his hip, and as his vision begins to darken he sees Lev hurrying shirtless toward a building that's pouring out black smoke.

"Weird," says Connor. Then his mind goes to a quiet place where none of this matters.

Part Seven

Consciousness

"A human being is part of a whole, called by us the Universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest—a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us . . . Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty."

—ALBERT EINSTEIN

"Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I'm not sure about the universe."

—ALBERT EINSTEIN

66 Connor

Connor regains consciousness with nothing but hazy confusion where his thoughts ought to be. His face aches, and he can see out of only one eye. He feels pressure over his other eye.

He's in a white room. There's a window through which he can see daylight. This is unquestionably a hospital room, and that pressure over his eye must be a bandage. He tries to lift his right arm but there's an ache in his shoulder, so he decides it's not worth the effort just yet.

Only now does he begin to piece together the events that landed him here. He was about to be unwound. There was an explosion. There was a revolt. Then Lev was standing over him. That's all he can remember.

A nurse comes into the room. "So you're finally awake! How are you feeling?"

"Good," he says, his voice little more than a croak. He clears his throat. "How long?"

"You've been in a medically induced coma for a little over two weeks," says the nurse.

Two weeks? With a life that has been lived day to day for so long, two weeks sounds like an eternity. And Risa . . . what about Risa? "There was a girl," he says. "She was on the roof of the Chop—of the harvest clinic. Does anyone know what happened to her?"

The nurse's expression doesn't give anything away. "That can all be sorted out later."

"But—"

"No buts. Right now you need time to heal—and I have to say, you're doing better than anyone expected, Mr. Mullard."

His first thought is that he hasn't heard her right. He shifts uncomfortably. "Excuse me?"

She fluffs his pillows. "Just relax now, Mr. Mullard. Let us handle everything."

His second thought is that he's been unwound after all. He's been unwound, and somehow, someone got his entire brain. He's inside someone else now. But as he thinks about it, he knows that can't be it. His voice still sounds like his voice. When he rubs his tongue against his teeth, those teeth are still the ones he remembers.

"My name is Connor," he tells her. "Connor Lassiter."

The nurse studies him with an expression that's kind, but calculated—almost disturbingly so. "Well," she says, "as it so happens, an ID with the picture charred off was found in the wreckage. It belonged to a nineteen-year-old guard by the name of Elvis Mullard. With all the confusion after the blast there really was no telling who was who, and many of us agreed that it would be a shame to let that ID go to waste, don't you agree?" She reaches over and adjusts the angle of Connor's bed until he's sitting up more comfortably. "Now tell me," she asks, "What was your name again?"

Connor gets it. He closes his eye, takes a deep breath, and opens it again. "Do I have a middle name?"

The nurse checks the chart. "Robert."

"Then my name is E. Robert Mullard."

The nurse smiles and holds out her hand to shake his. "A pleasure to meet you, Robert."

As a reflex, Connor reaches out his right hand toward hers, and gets that dull ache in his shoulder again.

"Sorry," says the nurse. "My fault." She shakes his left hand instead. "Your shoulder will feel a bit sore until the graft is completely healed."

"What did you just say?"

The nurse sighs. "Me and my big mouth. The doctors always want to be the ones to tell you, but the cat's out of the bag now, isn't it? Well, the bad news is that we weren't able to save your arm, or your right eye. The good news is that, as E. Robert Mullard, you qualified for emergency transplants. I've seen the eye—don't worry, it's a decent match. As for the arm, well, the new one is a little more muscular than your left one, but some good physical therapy can even that out in no time."

Connor lets it sink in, playing it over in his mind. Eye. Arm. Physical therapy.

"I know it's a lot to get used to," says the nurse.

For the first time Connor looks at his new hand. There are bandages padding his shoulder, and his arm is in a sling. He flexes the fingers. They flex. He twists his wrist. It twists. The fingernails need clipping, and the knuckles are thicker than his own. He runs his thumb across the pads of his fingertips. The sense of touch is just as it ever was. Then he rotates his wrist a bit farther, and stops. He feels a wave of panic surge through him, one that resolves into a knot deep in his gut.

The nurse grins as she looks at the arm. "Parts often come with their own personalities," she says. "Nothing to worry about. You must be hungry. I'll get you some lunch."

"Yeah," says Connor. "Lunch. That's good."

She leaves him alone with the arm. His arm. An arm that bears the unmistakable tattoo of a tiger shark.

67 Risa

Risa's life as she knew it ended the day the clappers blew up the Chop Shop—and everyone eventually did learn that it was clappers, not Connor. The evidence was indisputable. Especially after the confession of the clapper who survived.

Unlike Connor, Risa never lost consciousness. Even though she was pinned beneath a steel I beam, she stayed wide awake. As she lay there in the wreckage, some of the pain she felt when the I beam came down on her was gone. She didn't know whether that was a good sign, or bad. Dalton was in lots of pain though. He was terrified. Risa calmed him down. She talked to him, telling him it was all right—that everything would be fine. She kept telling him that right up until the moment he died. The guitar player had been luckier. He was able to wrestle himself out from under the debris, but he couldn't free Risa, so he left, promising her he'd send back help. He must have kept his promise, because help finally did come. It took three people to lift the beam, but only one to carry her out.


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