I stood still, frozen by shock, for over a minute.
Victor…Collins…I said the name over and over in my head, convinced that I was misreading it somehow and that eventually it’d change into something else.
You need to move, I finally told myself. The other workers were starting to give me weird looks as they passed me in the hallway. If I stood here much longer, someone was going to start asking questions I didn’t have answers to. Whether or not Victor was in there…and he couldn’t be…I’d be better off in that room than I was out here.
Praying that the door didn’t need a scepter scan like Dex’s had, I tested the doorknob and found it unlocked. I opened it and stepped inside, doing my best to look as if I belonged here. I wasn’t a nurse. I had no idea what nurses did. How the hell was I supposed to do…nurse-y stuff…to whoever was in here without tipping off everybody and their grandmothers that I was an imposter? Closing the door behind me, and trying to ignore the nervous sweat that was crawling over my skin, I turned to see my supposed patient.
And nearly gagged.
“Oh, God!” I moaned, backing away until I hit the wall.
Well, that was one question answered: the burnt and mangled pile of flesh in the hospital bed was definitely not Victor. Maybe it had been at one point, but whatever he’d been through had obviously taken a lot out of him…and off of him…and obliterated even more.
My stomach did a flip at the horrible sight, but I clapped a hand over my surgical mask-covered mouth to keep from throwing up. Nurse Rattichat, whoever she was, was obviously known around here. She wouldn’t throw up because of a patient she’d probably taken care of hundreds of times, so neither could I.
The last time I’d seen Victor, just a few days before I’d run off, he’d been a tall, dark haired man in his mid-forties. That was before the bearded man in the black coat had gotten to him. Looking at him now, I wasn’t sure how they’d even identified him. He looked like a corpse that had been dug up and admitted to the hospital a decade too late.
His body was all but stripped of its skin. I could even see his skeleton in more than one place. His left arm and both of his legs were gone, and his right eye socket was a gaping hole in his unrecognizable face. I stared at him for a long time, but he never moved a muscle—what few muscles he had, anyway. His chest didn’t even rise and fall with his breathing. I wasn’t kidding when I said he looked like a corpse. There shouldn’t have been any way in heaven or hell that this guy was still alive. And yet, a very un-magical looking heartbeat monitor showed a surprisingly steady, healthy pulse.
A shiver went down my spine. This wasn’t the first time I’d seen him survive what would have killed anyone else. Once, Hendricks had dropped a semi-truck on him. Then he’d blown it up. Barely a month later, he’d shown back up as if nothing had happened.
What the hell was this guy?
And, more importantly, what did I do now?
I was supposed to be a nurse, and Victor obviously needed medical attention. Inching my way across the room, convinced he was going to jump up and scream like a haunted house prop, I stopped at the foot of his bed. A clipboard hung from it. Tentatively, I picked it up. The date at the top was from three years ago.
Subject was found a week after his confrontation with the Slayer known as Granger, it read. As per his unusual circumstances, naturally he was still alive.
“Yeah,” I muttered, glancing at the pathetic pile of burns and bones. “Naturally.”
The next entry read, His regenerative abilities are still active, but for an unidentified reason are working much more slowly than they ever have before. The symbol on his chest appears and disappears sporadically, which it has never done before. The symbol changed again, as it often does after he has sustained a life threatening injury. Perhaps that is the cause of its current sluggishness. I have wanted the chance to study Victor for decades, and now I finally have the chance. Query: will breaking more of his bones have any effect on the speed of his recovery?
I cringed. I didn’t need to read the signature at the bottom to know that these were Dr. Lacken’s notes. Freaking psychopath.
While the patient’s regeneration is indeed taking longer than usual, I have made a discovery! When the symbol vanishes, the recovery slows even further, almost to the point of stopping entirely. I have run the numbers, and deduced that at his current rate he will not fully recover for another five years! The board of directors was not happy to hear this. There is much work to be done, and not enough people to do it. They will just have to wait, though. All forms of healing magic have proven ineffective on Victor. The only option, short of pulling the plug, so to speak, is to let his abilities run their course.
I flipped through the notes, scanning them until something caught my eye. This one was from just a few days ago.
The patient has successfully regrown one of his arms and most of his head. Inner organs are working surprisingly well, considering. I have developed a theory. Obviously, I have no way to verify it, as the patient stubbornly refuses to regrow his vocal cords, but I believe that Victor is intentionally suppressing his healing abilities. Forcing them to work slowly, or even to not work at all. If that’s true, this is amazing. We had no idea he had this level of control over them! The question is, why?
Second theory: it may be possible that his healing abilities are limited. Perhaps he has, shall we say, a “pool” of this magic that he draws from in order to heal. Could it be that this “pool” is beginning to run dry? These are easily the most severe injuries I have ever seen him sustain—an impressive feat in and of itself. It is no exaggeration to say Granger disintegrated most of Victor’s body. I have no doubt that the power needed to heal these injuries is immense. Perhaps enough to suck the well dry, so to speak. By forcing his regeneration to work so slowly, could he in fact be conserving energy? Allowing his magic to work in tandem with his body’s natural healing abilities? This is truly fascinating. I must know more! If and when he makes a full recovery, I shall ask the board for permission to disintegrate him again.
Nothing but vague notes detailing what Victor was regrowing and when followed that, and I hung the clipboard back on his bed. As I did that, though, a bright light suddenly filled the room. I jumped back with a gasp, but Victor hadn’t moved an inch. Instead, it looked like someone had lit up a lightbulb inside his chest where his heart should have been.
“What in the world?” I whispered to myself, walking around the bed to get a better look.
It wasn’t in his chest, I realized, it was on it. A weird symbol I had never seen before was etched into him, alternating between his skin and bones where one ended and the other began like a magical tattoo. According to Lacken’s notes, I guessed that was the source of his weird healing powers. Looking as close as I could without touching him, it almost looked like a crudely drawn face.
And yet, healing powers or not, he was lying as still as a corpse on his bed. Powerless. Helpless.
At my mercy.
“I could kill you,” I found myself whispering, to my own surprise. “Right here, right now. And you’d deserve it after everything you’ve put me and my family through. Don’t pretend you wouldn’t!”
He didn’t reply.
I clenched my fist, the urge to do just that rising up in me to an almost unbearable degree.
“I’ve killed so many people,” I said down to him. “I’m not the same girl you used to bully around. Is there any reason why I shouldn’t do it? Even one?”
The symbol on his chest was beginning to fade. If Lacken’s notes were right, that meant that he was at his most vulnerable right now. No mystical Wolverine mumbo jumbo to fix him. Looking around, I saw a small tray by his bedside with a few medical tools on it. A mirror like you’d find at the dentist, some bandages and gauze—and a scalpel. With my heart beating in my throat, I leaned across his bed and grabbed it.
Then the symbol reappeared in a flash of light. I recoiled—but not before Victor grabbed me by the arm.
I admit it, I screamed when that slimy, fleshless hand wrapped around my wrist. Its grip was surprisingly strong, and I nearly ended up pulling Victor out of his bed. His single eye swiveled around to look at me. My blood ran cold in my veins. If there was any doubt left in my mind that this was Victor, the sheer amount of disdainful hatred in that eye was enough to convince me.
He opened his lipless mouth and, in a voice as dry as sandpaper, rasped, “Soooo…Pehhhh…Guhhhhh!”
My mind went blank with terror, and I did the only thing that made sense: I stabbed the scalpel into his wrist. He gasped in pain and let go of me, his hand twitching spastically as I ran for the door. A slimy green handprint stayed on my sleeve where he’d grabbed me. I threw the door open, not caring who saw, and sprinted down the hallway. People were giving me more than weird looks now, but it didn’t matter. All I wanted was to put an entire galaxy between me and that hideous, disgusting thing!
I don’t know how far I ran. All I know is that never once did I encounter a dead end and have to turn around. Majestic’s headquarters was massive. Miles wide, at the very least, and even taller. When I finally ran out of breath and had to stop, leaning against the wall while I struggled to breathe, I felt like must have been in the next zipcode.
NO. NOT HERE.
I suppressed a groan. Really? My Silverblood had to choose now to cause trouble, here of all places?
NOT STOP. RUN MORE.
“Oh, shut up, would you?” I snapped under my breath, drawing an offended look from another nurse that was passing by. “This isn’t a freaking hunt. We’re—”
NO HUNT! HUNTED! RUN MORE! NOW!
I paused. The Silverblood actually sounded…afraid? That was something I’d never heard before. What would be enough, even in a place like this, to scare the biggest, meanest monster I’d ever met?
I froze. No. It couldn’t be. I looked up at the room in front of me.
Project Silverblood, the sign read, clear as day.
“Oh crap,” I whispered. “Oh shoot, oh…”
Why was I even surprised? Running aimlessly around a building the size of Rhode Island, why wouldn’t I end up in the one freaking place I didn’t want to be? And yet, I didn’t move. My brain was screaming at me to turn tail and run the other direction until I was on the other side of the planet, but I didn’t. I couldn’t.
“There’s something in there,” I said, actually taking a step toward it.
I wasn’t sure how I knew that. Or, rather, I knew exactly how I knew that, since I’d helped catch the Silverblood they were currently running tests on. What I didn’t know was why that kept me from running.
NO IN THERE! the Silverblood in me practically begged. GO IN THERE, NO COME OUT! NEVER!
It was right about that. Probably the first thing it’d ever been right about. Stark and Majestic had had an agreement. So long as I was under his roof, they couldn’t touch me. But I wasn’t under his roof, and I hadn’t been for three years.
I was under their roof now.
And yet, I took another step forward. My thoughts drifted back to that night that I’d laid in a parking lot, out in the open, while Dex, Edgar, and Victor had hidden in the shadows. They’d used me as bait to catch the original Silverblood, the one that had bitten me and killed my dad. But…
I shook my head. No, that couldn’t be right. Stark was the one who’d changed me and killed Dad. He’d admitted that himself. At first I had assumed that he’d gotten out again just like he had the first time, but Majestic had made it clear that their patience would only hold out as long as their current test subject did. That meant they’d had one even when Stark was leading the Silverpack.
So who the hell was in that room?
As if to answer my question, a long, sorrowful howl split the silence from behind the door. It sent chills down my spine. Even in my human form, I could understand it as easily as if it’d been speaking English.
It was a cry for help.
Desperate, lonely, in unimaginable pain, it was begging to be let out. Or killed. I couldn’t see the poor thing, but after what Majestic had almost definitely done to it I doubted there was much difference between the two in its eyes anymore. It howled again, and I reached out and grabbed the doorknob, a strange sense of determination rising up inside me.
It was locked.
“What the hell!” I whispered in frustration, rattling the doorknob angrily.
“I was just thinking the same thing.”
I spun around with a gasp to see Dex standing right behind me. Before I could say anything, he grabbed me by the wrist and dragged me away.