August stopped in mid-stride when the answer hit her. “Kill me.”
John’s eyebrows raised. “What?”
“Kill me, so I can resurrect. I died, resurrected, then I healed Graysen.”
“That’s insane!” John shook his head. “No way. You don’t owe anything to that man. He could be dead for all we know. Good riddance.”
Hopefully, he was, for all their sakes. “I gave my word. My father always said a man’s word is his honor. If he were here, he would do the same thing.”
Concern flared in Brandon’s blue eyes, and her heart squeezed with a physical ache. “August, no.” His jaw tightened. “That isn’t going to happen.”
“It’s the only way to save her. We don’t have any other choice.”
“We sure as hell do. You aren’t doing it,” John said, his voice stern and louder than usual.
“Just because you came back to life once—twice—doesn’t mean it will happen again. What if it was a fluke? I love you. I can’t lose you.” Brandon’s eyes shifted to Keena. “Her doctor can continue to do what he can for her. After that, it’s out of our hands.”
August understood their reluctance. She was skeptical, too. She knew it was the right thing to do. She had to try. With only two-hundred children left, Keena was the future, their future. Besides, August wanted to know how her newfound paranormal power worked. “We can do it in a controlled environment with Dr. Higgs. I trust her. She knew my father and understood what he was trying to accomplish. Having her here will lower the risk if I can’t come back on my own.”
“Enough of this crazy talk.” Brandon glanced at his watch. “I need to get back to work. Roman is waiting. You know how he gets if I’m late for security detail.” He placed his hands gently on the sides of her face and kissed her. “I love you.”
The warmth of his lips made her feel safe and treasured. “Right back at you.”
John grinned, his brown eyes sparkling. “You two remind me of my wife and me when we first started dating.”
August’s cheeks warmed. “I wish we could have met your family.”
Everyone had a story of their lives ripped apart, tragic death, and shattered dreams of the future.
He blinked and looked away. “I…wish you could have, too.”
Her shoulders slumped at his grief, and his misery crept into her heart. He’d lost his family on the day the ice came, when the church where they sought refuge collapsed, the old stone building crushing his wife and two daughters. When August was found, he had taken her under his wing, trained her how to use numerous weapons and taught her hand-to-hand combat so she could protect herself in the new world.
As Brandon headed to the door, he glanced over his shoulder at her. “We’ll talk after my shift.”
Her heart skipped a beat, and nervousness took over. “Okay.”
She had to tell him she couldn’t have children. Even though he’d said he didn’t want to bring a child into this new world, they were closer, in love. He deserved to know the truth. What if he had changed his mind? Where would that leave her?
Keena’s arms jerked beneath the sheets and caught August’s attention. She rushed to the bed.
John followed. “Is she having a seizure?”
“I’m not sure. It doesn’t look like it.”
The teenager sat up abruptly, surprising them, her hazel eyes huge, staring at nothing, as if in a trance. Then she pushed her long brown hair out of her face.
John lowered his voice to a whisper. “This can’t be normal.”
“I have no idea what’s normal anymore.” August put her hand on the teenager’s, hoping to soothe her. “Keena. Can you hear me? It’s August. Do you need anything? Is something wrong?”
“I…am…the nightingale…buckle your boots in my father’s house…ice blood flows from the men on sticks…” She continued staring, resettled in the bed, and her eyes closed.
August slanted a glance at John. “That was weird.”
“You’re telling me. What do you suppose she meant? Sounded like a lot of mumble-jumble to me.”
She bent the words around her brain for a minute, struggling to decipher Keena’s words. None of what she had said made any sense. A riddle, a puzzle.
“I’d better get the doctor.”
August grasped John’s arm. “Wait. We both know there’s only one way to help her. Please. You need to kill me.”
In the near future…
August Madison glanced at her watch, then back at her father, her shoulders tight with anxiety. “Minus seven minutes.”
Anticipation flickered in his blue eyes as he smiled and watched the images of the dozens of military aircraft taking off from various airports throughout the United States and around the world on the mammoth digital screen inside the university’s largest auditorium.
As chief climatologist of the International Climate Change Initiative, he believed he’d finally discovered the answer to the world’s most pressing issue. With the oceans growing more acidic, dozens of animal and plant species becoming extinct, and the atmosphere ten degrees higher than a decade ago, widespread catastrophic weather events, each more violent and deadly than the one before had increased. Hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes, droughts, and horrific flooding due to rising sea levels had caused the destruction of some nations and continued to kill millions around the globe.
All of that was about to change.
“Can you check on Luke and Chloe?” her father asked under the increasing commotion surrounding them. “They should be here by now.”
August frowned at the cause of her stress. She wasn’t surprised by her brother’s tardiness. He was always late, an eighteen-year-old who had an excuse for everything. All he had to do was pick up their younger sister from school and show up on time for their father’s shining moment. Just be on time for once. Do what was expected. One time.
“I’ll call him.” August snatched her phone out of the back pocket of her jeans and hit speed dial. He finally answered on the fourth ring, right before voicemail kicked in. “Where are you? You’re late.”
“Chloe was poky leaving class.”
August rolled her eyes, knowing her brother had been up all night playing video games with his friends. She’d bet her Yale tuition he’d been sleeping and hadn’t gotten up in time. “Hurry up, Dad’s asking for you.”
“I’m pulling into the university parking lot. Wow, there’s a ton of people here. I didn’t know this was such a big deal.”
She checked her watch again. Five minutes. “You’ve known your whole life how important this is to him.”
“I’ll be there in two minutes.”
August ended the call and forced a smile for her father. “They’ll be here soon.”
He nodded and put his arm around her shoulder. “I don’t want them to miss it. This will be a story you’ll tell your own children one day.”
She smiled, imagining a future where the climate wasn’t the dominant issue of the day. Her father hadn’t been this happy in a long time. Five years almost to the day her mother had passed away, he deserved some happiness.
While the auditorium filled to standing room only with faculty, students and media, excitement buzzed in the air. Her father really was about to make history, his experiment, his hard work, bringing them to this moment. She took a seat in the front row beside him and looked up at the screen. A low hum caught her attention. Unsure where the sound came from, she glanced over her shoulder, searching for her brother and sister, disappointed that Luke would probably be too late. The humming grew louder. August covered her ears, the high-pitched deafening sound too much.
An earth-shattering boom savagely rocked the auditorium.
The tile floor cracked and shifted under her feet. The seismic force catapulted her out of the seat, slamming her left shoulder and the side of her head into the floor with a hollow whump. Dazed, August staggered to her knees, then to her feet and reached for her father’s hand, mere inches away through the smoke and dust. She couldn’t get to him.
Phantom outlines of people bumped into her, scurrying by, searching for an exit. Screams, sobs, and moans filled her head. Blistering heat ripped through the room, as if the atmosphere was being sucked out by a high-powered vacuum. Her heart thrashed in her chest.
Where were Luke and Chloe?
She fought back tears as panic drove deep into her bones. Stretching out her arm, she reached for her father again and struggled against the growing clatters and groans.
A gale-force wind rumbled like a freight train, and the building blew apart.
Chunks of debris pelted down around her.
August tripped on something, maybe someone, and landed flat on her back. While she gasped for each painful, labored breath, electrical wires popped and sizzled around her and shot fiery particles everywhere.
Overhead, a metal beam swung wildly in her direction, like a giant pendulum. A pungent, suffocating odor, similar to lighting a million matches, filled her nostrils. An acidic taste touched the tip of her tongue and burned the back of her throat. Muffled quiet descended over her. The world blurred.
Then came the cold.