The bloggers reading Helix ARC are very happy that they get to read from Rhett’s point of view as well. Chapter one starts with Rhett, but I take you back a little before the ending of ISAN so you get to see how and what had happened before the blast.
Helix will be released with a sale on ebooks. Grab it before it goes up to the full price. Here is the link: http://www.ISAN.agency
Nick, is your team in position?” I released the transmitter button.
“Yes. Ozzie is approaching with Mitch and a few ISAN female assassins. The blonde assassin has a Taser pointed at Ozzie’s back. They’ve just passed the Leviathan Hotel’s fountain. Be careful, Rhett.”
“Don’t worry about me. Keep an eye out. ISAN guards are here, trying to blend in.” Ava and I had made it to the side building of the hotel—the rendezvous point.
“Yeah. I see them. Signing out. Get ready.”
“Signing out.” I peered up at the sky to make sure the gliders were in position.
Ava tapped her foot and glanced about seeming confused and uncertain. “It’s time?” She bit her bottom lip, her eyes growing wider.
My pulse thundered out of control. I felt like I was sending my girl to be executed. “Yes. Stay here. Mitch will come get you.” I wanted to sound cold and leave her, but instead I wrapped my arms around her. “This is killing me. I don’t want to let you go, but I have no choice. Please, find a way to remember me and our past. And follow your instincts.”
I held onto Ava like she was my life line, the way I should have held her on the day of our escape from ISAN. Little did I know she would sacrifice herself so we could flee. No matter how tightly I held her now, she had to go.
Ava blinked away tears forming in her eyes. She tried to hide it by turning her head. “Rhett.”
Good. A good sign.
At least, I hoped, spending the last three days with me had made her reevaluate ISAN and what they stood for.
“I love you, Ava.” I kissed her forehead and released her.
My heart crumbled into thousand pieces. Losing her the first time was painful enough, but letting her go now was utterly unbearable. But I have to. I steeled my resolve. If I didn’t leave now, I wouldn’t be able to. Without a glance her way, I hid behind a giant geometric-shaped statue.
Mitch reached Ava and led her away.
Her first step sliced through me like a laser and I bit my tongue to keep from crying out. I have to let her go.
Meeting in a public place with innocent citizens hustling through would lessen the chance of an attack from ISAN’s formidable network.
So far, not a hitch.
A blonde assassin escorted Ozzie to the place where Ava had stood. I waited for the ISAN assassins and guards to retreat.
Ozzie remained still and quiet. I, on the other hand, jerked and nearly had a heart attack when a female hologram popped up to remind me not to touch the statue. Cursing under my breath, I politely nodded and arched my body away until it was satisfied.
Ozzie had a cut lip. No black eyes, no blood on his face, and thankfully nothing worse. From his gait, he seemed to be in good physical condition, but that didn’t rule out mental scars. I would have to examine him later. Regardless, he was alive and well.
I let out an explosive breath. I’d been half out of my mind imagining the abuse he would have endured during interrogation, but he showed no signs. Surely Mr. Novak had put Ozzie through the wringer unless my source had protected him.
“Ozzie, don’t move. Stay still.” I clenched my teeth, pained with every step Ava took from me.
“Okay,” Ozzie replied in a monotone, keeping his eyes straight ahead.
I gripped my weapon tighter. Poorly concealed ISAN guards eased through the sea of citizens. If ISAN played dirty, I would too.
All senses on alert, I hunkered behind the statue, finger poised on the trigger, praying my willpower didn’t give out so I wouldn’t take down every ISAN guard in view.
Go ahead, bastards … shoot me. Give me a reason to fire back.
I wanted their blood, but in an exchange of bullets, the gliders above might take fire, explode, and land on the mass of people. And what would happen to Ava? She was being taken away by the enemy and the only reason I hadn’t shot the ISAN guards in the kneecaps and danced on their corpses was that I wanted her to be okay. I wanted them to treat her well and not harm her.
Who cares about gliders when my heart is being ripped out and shredded with each step she takes away from me?
With precise aim, I could switch off the laser guide and take the guards down before they knew what hit them. But we would be blamed if a glider crashed or any citizens were hurt. The ubiquitous drones flying about would have the video on the air within minutes. An outright attack would give ISAN the leverage they needed to brand the rebels as aggressive and give them the authority to put us down.
Rebels? I sneered. Couldn’t ISAN have thought of a better label?
“You’re letting Ava go?” Ozzie’s line of sight was the same as mine.
Ava glanced back over her shoulder, her face a mask of concern and somberness. She had left freely, but her gray eyes, those beautiful, soulful eyes, showed hesitation and maybe regret. Then they turned baleful and her posture stiffened when she pivoted toward the ISAN transport.
That’s my girl. Give them hell.
Ozzie’s words slithered inside my gut. You’re letting Ava go.
I let her go.
I let her go.
I wanted to shove him, punch something, tell him I had no choice. I wanted to chase her down and beg her not to leave. She belonged with me. I could help her find her father and her twin. She wouldn’t have to do it alone.
There was nothing I wouldn’t do for her, even give up my own life. She was my world. No matter how long it took to get her memory back, I would be patient. But we were running out of time.
Ava and I knew ISAN would not release her easily. They’d hunt her to the ends of the Earth and kill anyone in the way. Ava was one of a kind. She knew that, too, but she held back like she didn’t want to believe it.
To ISAN, she was a commodity. When they learned her full potential, they’d want to dissect her DNA. Experiment on her. They would push her—no doubt they’d already tried. Not just Ava, but the other girls too.
A roar reverberated inside the hollow space in my chest. My knuckles cracked as I clenched my fists. The universe had a cruel sense of humor, the way Ava kept slipping through my fingers. Even after I’d moved mountains to kidnap her. Even after I risked everything to take her to the Abandoned City. She was a gamble worth taking, even when my heart felt like it had been carved out and scorched.
I had no choice, I reminded myself for the thousandth time as she disappeared. They would’ve hunted down my team as well. The safety of all those individuals who had escaped with me, who had become my family, had to be my first priority. I had no room to be selfish, no matter how much agony ate me alive.
Giving Ava that last goodbye kiss, watching her leave with Mitch, felt like drowning. But it wouldn’t be our last kiss. I would do whatever it took to get her back. As for Mitch, I had a score to settle with him.
“You should know me better than that, Ozzie.” I adjusted my cap and shoved my hands inside my pockets. “I don’t let a precious dove loose when she doesn’t have the intention of flying back home.”
My transmitter clicked beside my ear, and I cocked my head to listen.
“Sniper, ISAN guards left their posts.” The first captain, Nick’s voice resonated through my wireless communicator.
About twenty of my men had come with me, each with a Taser hidden under their garments. I’d instructed half my team to enter the hotel as tourists, but to be mindful of possible ISAN guards, while the other half scattered and blended with society. Some leaned against trees, others sat on benches, and the rest strolled near the water fountain.
ISAN guards wore all black. I did the same, except I added a black cap, the cap Ava had worn, so my team could spot me. Her scent, a mild hint of lavender and vanilla—ISAN soap—still lingered.
It had become my favorite smell.
They told us in ISAN training that lavender relieved stress, anxiety, agitation, and other things I didn’t care to know. It was all bullshit anyway. Nothing would make me feel better about this.
“Everyone, hold your posts,” I said into the earpiece. “Nick, when the coast is clear, guide everyone back to our station. I have something to take care of first. Command the ship. Don’t let Katina run all over you.”
“Aye, Aye, Captain. I’ll try not to let her pretty face talk me into anything. Stay safe. See you at the base.”
“You too. Stay safe. And don’t call me Captain. Over and out.”
Though I protested every time, I couldn’t make my friends stop calling me Captain. Yes, I was mostly responsible for their lives, but only because I had been their superior at ISAN. The title had somehow carried over once we escaped.
Everyone had looked to me for direction from the beginning. If Ava had made it out, we would both be helping our group. But things hadn’t turned out as planned. Becoming their leader had helped me move forward without Ava. To distract myself, I needed a purpose.
When ISAN sub-gliders soared into the air, my stomach twisted.
Gritting my teeth, I stared at my feet to gather myself. The ache of Ava’s absence expanded and formed a life of its own.
“Is it okay to move now?” Ozzie whispered.
Crap. Ozzie’s still out there.
The effort of controlling my rage had made me forget about him.
“Yeah, the coast is clear.” I grabbed Ozzie in a one-armed hug when he rushed around the statue. “You gave us a scare. Did they hurt you?” I pulled back to examine him.
“Would you stop gawking at me? I know I’m hot, but please, Rhett. We’re friends and I don’t swing that way.” Ozzie punched my arm lightly, a goofy grin spreading.
So good to see that nerdy smile. Safe. He’s safe.
“Good to see you, dork.” I flipped up my middle finger.
As we laughed, I scanned Ozzie’s body again.
Eyes clear: check.
Humor: check. Sort of.
As I reached for the tracker scanner in my back pocket, Reyna jumped on Ozzie.
“Welcome back, dufus,” Reyna squealed and smacked his arm.
Ozzie stumbled back a few steps and rubbed his forearm. “Ouch. What the hell, Reyna? What’s that for? And why is everyone calling me names?”
“Shut up, Oz. I missed your face. You pushed me out of the way and got caught instead. It should have been me.” Reyna finished in a calmer voice, relieved tears glistening in her eyes.
Reyna and Ava had been best friends, but when we’d left ISAN, Reyna had attached herself to Ozzie. They had become inseparable.
Ava and I had wanted Ozzie and Reyna to hook up, but it had never worked out for some reason. In a different environment, maybe? Ava would get a kick out of it if they did.
If she could remember …
Ozzie shrugged, his blue eyes lighter in the morning sun. “I would have died if they had captured you instead of me.”
Reyna let her tears fall and wrapped her arms around Ozzie once more in a bone-crunching squeeze.
Their friendship warmed me a tiny fraction, and then I thought of Ava. My heart followed her, and my chest would remain empty until she came back. It would take a while, but I would never give up. I sighed through my nose, gazing up at the gray clouds as if I could still see that damn sub-glider, then turned to Reyna.
Reyna blinked, her green eyes darkening at Ozzie. “Did they hurt you?” She swallowed as if regretting she’d asked. “They better not have touched you.”
Ozzie scrunched his face, his muscles taut. The machine hummed as Reyna scanned his body for a tracker.
No beeps. Good.
“No.” He relaxed his shoulders, but his voice sounded off. “Mr. Novak never came to see me. Mitch and I squared off, but nothing came of it.” He pointed at the cut on his lip. “I fell trying to escape at the Abandoned City. But I don’t ever want to go back to ISAN. It brought back terrible memories.”
Reyna shoved the scanner into her rear pocket and patted Ozzie’s back the way a mother would. “Well, you’re back with us now.”
I closed my eyes. None of us ever wanted to go back. I still had nightmares about the innocent lives I’d taken when I hadn’t been in control of my mind and body. The memory of friends being shot down like wild animals on the day of the escape haunted me. I’d never forgotten. Even with my eyes open, I saw images of kids I had trained, or spoken to in passing, dropping to their death.
“Are you sure that’s all they did to you?” Reyna’s eyebrows knitted together. “Maybe they made you forget.”
Ozzie scowled, tilting his chin higher. “I would know if they made me forget.” He flashed a glance at me, then back to Reyna. “Wait, I meant …” He scratched the back of his head. “Just trust me. Okay?”
“Fine.” Reyna narrowed her eyes. “Don’t hide anything from us. You don’t have to be embarrassed, and it wouldn’t make you any less of a man if they had—”
“I’m fine. For the last time.” Ozzie squeezed her and spun her. “I’m fine. I’m in one piece.”
The way he couldn’t make eye contact with me told me otherwise. I would have a private conversation with him later.
“Put me down, bear.” She laughed.
Bear. Ava had called Ozzie a bear with a soft heart. I had to agree. He looked like he could knock you down with one swipe of his paw, but in truth his gentle soul could snap like a twig because he trusted easily. He was always looking for the good in people.
“Come on huggers, let’s get the hell out of here.” I smacked their backs lightly and pushed them along.
Ozzie kept his step with my brisk pace. “Ava?”
As I weaved around pedestrians, Reyna watched my back, her gun tucked inside a holster which she covered with her oversized sweatshirt. She had to hide her weapon from the drones hovering about. Being caught with an unregistered firearm would warrant jail time.
“What about Ava?” My words came out flat as I admired a young couple strolling by the bridge.
That could have been us. At the hopeless thought, I walked faster.
I continued to observe passersby. How wonderful it would be to live a normal, mundane life. Never having to look over my shoulder, never having to kill.
A man spoke into a chipped wireless phone, and only he could see whoever he was speaking to. From his wide smile, I figured his girl was on the other line. No one else lingered by the water, opting instead for the raised boardwalk encased in clear fiberglass.
“You didn’t give me an answer.”
If I knew him, he was blaming himself.
“We had a deal with ISAN. I couldn’t hold onto her forever.” I didn’t look at Ozzie when I spoke, walking faster as if I could outrun the vise tightening around my lungs.
“Was it because of me?” His voice lowered as he matched my stride.
Ozzie always thought everything was his fault.
I halted. Reyna ran into Ozzie’s back, spitting out swear words. Ozzie grunted and spun around to examine her forehead.
“Sorry.” He ruffled her hair.
Reyna swatted his arm and stuck out her tongue.
“No, of course it wasn’t because of you.” I scrubbed my hand down my face and exhaled heavily, my chest rising and falling to the rapid beat of my pulse. “You had nothing to do with it. When Ava found out about her father and her twin, she made up her mind to go back. I don’t blame her. I would have done the same. Besides, she didn’t remember us. There was no reason for her to stay. I wish I could’ve done things differently, but having to trade you for Ava was not the reason Ava returned. So stop thinking you’re worth saving.” I patted his cheek.
Ozzie rolled his eyes. “I knew you cared about me. Sort of.”
“What are we going to …?” A gust of wind lifted Reyna’s voice and carried it off.
The cool ocean misted my face, reminding me of the time Ava and I had passed there. She was the ghost of my past and present. Hopefully, the future would be different.
I glanced past Reyna, and my heart stopped. Ava? For one moment, I almost rushed to the girl whose hair and frame matched Ava’s. It took me a second to process today’s events.
What the hell was I thinking? Ava was long gone.
I shook the thought away and answered Reyna’s question.
“I told Nick to go to the base. We’re going on foot to Cleo’s, and from there we’ll head to our base using the hidden glider. The next day, we’re going to sweep through the Abandoned City and head to Zen’s. He has updates to share with us.”
“Is Zen okay?” Ozzie squinted at the sun breaking through the clouds. “I have no idea what happened to his men when Mitch found us. Were there many …?” Ozzie looked over the undulating water.
“No. Not a single death. Tased and dazed, yes, but no deaths.”
Lucky for us, Zen was not only a brilliant scientist, but also had a military strategy background.
“Good,” Ozzie breathed, a bit more cheerful than when he’d first arrived.
Being moody would do no one any good. “Let’s see who gets to Cleo’s first. On your mark. Get ready. I’m counting down. Three. Two.” Thinking of Ava, who had never let me finish counting down to one, I bolted first.
“Cheater,” Ozzie belted over his pounding footsteps behind me. “You’re just like Ava.”
“You didn’t say one, Rhett.” Reyna’s annoyed voice faded in the sharp breeze.
“Nope, I didn’t.”
I missed Ava so much I used her tactics. Those few days she had graced me with her presence, however forced, I had been alive and happy. I’d smiled for the first time since I had arrived at the mountain base.
I’d tried to stay grounded, to not expect Ava to stay with me, but I had hoped. When she’d placed our hips together and joined our shared tattoo and then muttered WIT—whatever it takes—I’d thought I had made a breakthrough. But I hadn’t.
It had taken months for Ozzie, with Zen’s help, to crack the ISAN system. I’d hardly eaten or slept in all that time, especially once I’d found out Ava couldn’t remember me.
The code name Sniper should have gotten her attention when I messaged her, but she’d acted like a stranger. At first, I’d thought she held up her pretense not to know who I was just in case ISAN had monitored her TAB, but Ava would have at least sent back an encrypted message.
Those messages had driven me insane. I had punched the screen and broken things around me. If it hadn’t been for Zen and Ozzie, I might have done more damage, and I might have more than scars on my knuckles.
Never had I imagined a situation in which she wouldn’t remember me.
I supposed with advanced technology, anything was possible. However, I had my own theory. I believed Ava had the ability to erase parts of her own memory in self-preservation.
Her father had used a special serum on her. She had abilities none of us had, which could explain technology no one knew existed. ISAN’s mental mission technology read thoughts superficially, so they’d know she wasn’t faking. That’s why ISAN would trust her memory loss completely enough to put her back in the field. But I could be wrong.
I clenched my fists, sprinting, running from the memories of Ava and our past in ISAN.
If Ava hadn’t made herself erase her memories, then God help the person who had.
If ISAN thought Helix had transformed me into a monster, they hadn’t seen anything yet.
Hold on, Ava. I’m coming for you.
Hope you enjoyed chapter 1.