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Dark swan, p.1
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       Dark Swan, p.1

          part  #2.50 of  Otherworld Assassins Series  by  Gena Showalter / Romance & Love / Fantasy
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Dark Swan

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To the amazing Kresley Cole and Larissa Ione. The fun I had with you guys cannot be expressed with words--only with interpretive dance.


And to Jill Monroe, the best friend a girl could have.





Good night, sleep tight,


Wake up bright

In the morning light

To do what's right

With all your might.

--A CHILD'S LULLABY, Author Unknown





PROLOGUE


All right, girls. It's time to say good-bye."

Good-bye? No! Twelve-year-old Lilica Swan longed to command Dr. Walsh to die, badly. Here and now. If she did, he would be forced to obey. Maybe. Hopefully. She had skills, could compel anyone to do anything. A little something called voice voodoo. If, however, her voice voodoo was muted because of the drugs she'd been given, Walsh would only be compelled to beat her with an old cattle prod. Again. He loved to beat her with a cattle prod.

Decisions, decisions.

Her sister Trinity placed a gentle hand over hers, and Lilica sucked in a breath. Oh! The warmth and softness of another's skin! But even as her body rejoiced, her mind reeled. Why would Trin touch her when the action was forbidden? Taking such a risk . . . well, it could only be a silent request not to use her voice voodoo. So. Decision made. Just like that.

Lilica locked her jaw and pressed her lips together. She lived by a single rule: Do anything, anytime, anywhere for her sisters, no matter the consequences.

At the moment, the three of them occupied a small monochrome room. Between Lilica and Trinity stretched a table piled high with massive tomes meant to raise their IQs. Each girl was supposed to read at least one book from start to finish in their allotted hour together.

Later today they would be tested about what they'd learned.

Their other sister, Jade, stood in the far corner, banging her head against the wall. The poor darling was desperate to escape her pain.

Lilica hid a wince when the mirrored wall cracked, and Trinity's hand clenched hers. If the doctors discovered just how deeply they cared about each other . . .

"Trinity," Dr. Walsh prompted.

"I'm sorry." In a blink, Trinity severed all contact with Lilica.

--Do not whimper.--

Her voice voodoo and myriad other alien superpowers probably weren't functioning properly anyway. When did they ever? Dr. Strings, her personal tormentor--a.k.a. handler--shot her up with . . . something every morning. All she knew was it kept her weak. She hate-hate-hated weakness.

And the injection wasn't even her biggest obstacle! Longing, desperation, and sorrow suddenly flowed through the bond she and the other girls shared, snagging her attention. Trinity's emotions. The urge to hug her sis proved strong, but somehow Lilica resisted.

"We'd like to stay together." Trinity's voice was as soft as the honeysuckle scent she so often produced. A delicate scent completely at odds with the white-knuckled grip she now had on the table's edge. "Just a bit longer."

Trinity had always been the calm, accepting one, her nature the perfect complement to her angelic beauty. Little Divine, the staff sometimes called her. With her blond ringlets, wide blue eyes, and pale skin, she was exactly what their creators had envisioned.

Lilica was . . . not. Her hair and skin changed colors with her environment. One day she could be pale or dark, the next day she could be pink, blue, or green. Or anything in between! She hadn't yet learned to control the phenomenon.

The scientists who worked at the Institute of Otherworld Technology--IOT--hated the ability, because she could be difficult to find. But then, she was never supposed to have been born. They'd hoped to construct a single superbeing. Someone neither human nor alien but the best of both. Then the egg split. Into three.

The girls had often been referred to as the Swans; hideous at first, but expected to grow into incomparable beauties. Not that appearance mattered . . . in the beginning. The triplets had become instant commodities.

Now, however, appearance mattered greatly. And Trinity and Jade had grown into beauties. Lilica alone remained the ugly duckling.

Beauties attract. Beasts repel.

The girls created through an experiment had also been the focus of one. Nature versus nurture.

Trinity, the firstborn, had been awarded the exalted position of the positive. Jade, the second, had been dubbed the control. And Lilica, the last to be born, had been labeled the negative.

Nurture had very clearly won.

Jade mumbled, "Make it stop . . . stop . . . it has to stop." One of her abilities allowed her to see the darkest desires lurking in the mind of anyone nearby . . . to see into the future as well . . . to know when those dark desires would be fulfilled. And despite the drugs that she too was given, the ability never switched off.

Bang, bang, bang. Hair the color of newly fallen snow danced with the movement, the tresses a perfect contrast to her gorgeous green skin--the reason for her name. Although, most of the staff called her Little Delirium. The crazy one.

Better than Lilica's nickname, she supposed. Little Wicked. The evil one.

Dr. Walsh sighed. "Trinity, my dear. I know you merely pretend to read while you and your sisters are together. You stare at Lilica, and she stares at you. It's a waste of valuable time. Especially when you have such important work to do."

Anger pricked at Lilica. Anger she knew her sisters experienced through the bond. Work to do, he'd said. People to devastate, he'd meant.

Trinity could steal superpowers, whether those powers belonged to a human or an alien. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Lilica could amplify superpowers. A curse disguised as a blessing. She had yet to encounter a physical body able to survive the intense surge of energy she unleashed. Within seconds, a person's respiratory and circulatory systems shut down. Within minutes, every other system followed suit.

And, well . . . Lilica enjoyed hurting those who had hurt others. Through her bond with Jade, she saw her victims' worst sins, which was why she never hesitated to strike. She liked displaying her superior strength. She craved power. More. All.

Perhaps that was the real reason the doctors considered her so evil.

Trinity pressed her hands together, forming a steeple. "Please. Let me stay with my sisters just a little longer. Afterward, I'll work harder than ever. I promise. Please," she repeated.

--What are you doing?-- Lilica mentally screamed at her. When you begged, you revealed a weakness to be used against you.

Here, someone always used your weaknesses against you.

Dr. Walsh offered Trinity an indulgent, adoring smile. "Schedules are important to maintain. You know this, Little Divine." He paused, tilted his head. "I think you're old enough to be Lady Divine now."

The light in Trinity's eyes dimmed as her sense of depression magnified, overshadowing every other emotion arcing across the bond.

Dr. Walsh cupped her shoulder, causing Lilica's stomach to twist. "Besides, separation from your sisters is necessary. What if your ability adversely affects Little--Lady Wicked, or vice versa? What if Lady Delirium adversely affects you both?"

Jade could both steal and magnify, but only at much lower levels.

"I don't want to hurt my sisters," Trinity said, head bowed. --I'm only happy when I'm with you. Without you, I'm not whole.--

The words were spoken directly into Lilica's mind. The words were spoken directly into Jade's mind as well, despite the mental onslaught she already endured; and she wrapped her arms around her middle and stilled at last, the internal conversation distracting her.

Dr. Walsh inhaled sharply. "Why did she finally stop? Are you speaking with her telepathically? Answer me!"

Silence.

Everyone suspected the Swans possessed the ability, but no one had ever been able to prove it.

"We won't hurt each other," Lilica said. She would rather die. "You are a liar, Dr. Walsh, offering flimsy excuses to keep us apart." To keep Trinity all to himself . . .

Lilica's stomach twisted harder.

Dr. Walsh shuddered at the sound of her voice. Despite her anger, every word she uttered contained a musical lilt, as if she were singing a dark, haunting lullaby. He should have been used to the phenomenon by now. Even when she'd cried as an infant, she'd seemed to be singing.

"We are stronger together, and it scares you," she continued. "You fear what we can do." In fact, she was certain the staff would have kept all three girls in different cities if daily contact hadn't been so vital. Without a glance, a smile, or a conversation, the triplets began to shut down.

"One more word out of you," he said through gritted teeth, "and you will be punished."

Never beg, never break. Never back down. "One. More. Word," she said, her eyes spitting hate at him.

Trinity gasped with horror.

--I want you happy always.-- If Lilica had to deal with a punishment so Trinity and Jade could stay together, she would. To her, no one else mattered. Her sisters were the only people who cared about her well-being, the only people who understood her pain.

Perhaps things would have been different out in the real world. But besides the staff at IOT, the only other living beings Lilica had ever interacted with were criminals being used as lab rats.

A superbeing must hone her most lethal skills somehow.

"Very well. You've earned your punishment." Dr. Walsh waved toward the door. "Trinity. Jade. You have five seconds to walk out of this room."

So much for keeping them together.

The girls remained in place, unwilling to leave Lilica to her fate.

"Now you've lost dinner privileges," he snapped. "Continue to defy me, and you'll miss breakfast as well."

He planned to starve her sisters? Lilica's anger sharpened into a nearly uncontrollable rage. She drew in an unsteady breath--calm, remain calm--and gazed anywhere but Dr. Walsh's direction. She tried to avoid her reflection, too. An impossible goal. The small room had six walls, some made up of mirrored two-way glass, some painted black; together they formed a hexagon.

Better to observe you with, my dear.

She was a thorn among roses, a chameleon, sometimes as dark as her sisters were fair--but always with a heart to match. Or so the staff had told her.

You are the true beauty, both Trinity and Jade had often whispered to her. We pale in comparison.

Now Trinity remained fixated on her, ignoring Dr. Walsh, who'd reached into the pocket of his lab coat. No need to guess why. He had a syringe filled with happy juice.

He'd been around since the beginning and considered himself an expert on all three Swans. He wasn't, not even close, although he did recognize the signs of impending doom.

--Go with him.-- She would survive. --I'll be fine.--

"No breakfast," Dr. Walsh announced, his voice lashing like a whip. "Next, you'll receive ten lashes, same as Lilica."

--Go!--

A muffled sob escaped Jade, but she stepped away from the wall.

Trinity jumped up, tears welling in her crystalline eyes. "I'll . . . I'll take the lashes for Lilica. Please. Let me. I'd be so grateful to you, Dr. Walsh."

Lilica's heart attempted to burst from her ribs, the already fragile organ desperate to escape this terrible moment. While her mind couldn't decipher the sudden light in Dr. Walsh's eyes, her heart could. It screamed, No! Never!

She would die before she allowed Trinity to be hurt or, worse, indebted to the doctor.

She stood and faced Dr. Walsh fully, a demand for his attention. He gave it . . . and he gulped, his beard bobbing with his Adam's apple. Then he looked away. No one but her sisters had the stones to peer into her eyes for longer than a few seconds. Today her eyes were black as night, like the paint on the walls or . . . a midnight sky without stars. An expanse so vast that anyone who stared too deeply or for too long became lost, never to be found.

"I hate you with every ounce of my being," she said. He shuddered again. Like all the doctors here, he wore special earplugs whenever he was around her.

An obstacle, but not a dead end. The device was a filter, not a block, able to dilute her voice voodoo but not mute it.

"Your feelings are of no concern to me, and your defiance has earned you another ten lashes." He approached her, lifting the syringe from his pocket.

She reached out to clutch his wrist, knowing contact would strengthen her ability, and shouted, "Be still." She pushed every ounce of her power into her vocal cords.

He obeyed instantly. Excellent. Optimum levels!

Elation joined her rage. But . . . any second, orderlies would burst into the room to grab her. She would be pinned to the ground, Dr. Walsh's needle shoved into her neck. Hours later, she would wake up in her room, bound to her bed, vulnerable to whatever new abuse these people wished to inflict upon her. But she didn't care.

Threaten my sisters and suffer.

"Lilica," he began. Sweat dotted his brow, and the pungent scent of fear wafted from him.

"Be silent," she commanded, and again he obeyed in an instant.

As his gaze widened with horror, hers slid to the only door, where a pad of lights glowed, indicating someone was punching in the code necessary for entry. "You will not enter this room," she called.

Though voodoo worked best with contact, it still worked without. The lights stopped flashing, and the door remained closed.

Today is my day!

Lifting to her tiptoes, she removed Dr. Walsh's earplugs, then wrapped her fingers around his neck. The increased contact somehow comforted her--the warmth, the different textures, the very life that pulsed within another soul.

Find comfort with her enemy? Never!

Disgusted with herself now, she gazed deep into his eyes. "If I fail to kill you today, you will kill yourself. You will kill your colleagues too." Always plan ahead.

"Kill," he repeated. "Myself. My colleagues."

Still at optimum levels! With the flip of a mental switch, she created suction between their flesh--a suction he couldn't break without ripping out hunks of his skin. Not that he fought her.

With another mental flip, her power gushed out of her and into him . . . rather than concentrating on his human characteristics, it focused on trace amounts of alien DNA. Well, well. He must have experimented on himself.

His desire for more power would be his downfall. Her power met his, charging it like a battery. He shook. He seized. Sun-weathered skin turned red, and blood trickled from his eyes and nose, his body unable to contain so much excess so swiftly.

She felt no pity, offered him no mercy. Little Wicked? Yes, oh yes. She was the coldhearted monster he'd trained her to be. She owed him pain.

Suddenly the door opened. No, no, no. The orderlies must have summoned others, those she hadn't compelled to stay out. Smart. Next time she would have to make sure to cover every base. They surged into the room, pulled at her, hit and kicked her, but they failed to separate her from Dr. Walsh.

"Leave her alone!" Trinity shouted.

"Don't you dare touch her!" Jade screamed.

The girls fought with all their might to reach her, determined to protect her from further injury. The orderlies turned their aggression on her sisters, striking with fists and steel-toed boots.

"Stop!" Lilica shouted. "You will stop."

They didn't.

Argh! No more voodoo.

She'd used too much power on Dr. Walsh--whose knees were in the process of buckling. He tumbled to the floor, taking her with him. Only then did the suction loosen.

One of the orderlies pounced, shoving the syringe into her neck. She hissed at the sting. A stream of warmth in her veins . . . Darkness shrouded her mind.

As she fought to remain awake, she laughed. "If he lives, he's going to kill . . . you . . . all. . . ."

Someone kicked her in the stomach, and air exploded from her lungs.

--Lilica!-- A cry from both her sisters. She didn't have the strength to respond.

No matter. Things at IOT would never be the same. Either Dr. Walsh's colleagues would kill him, fearing what he would do if he lived, or he would do exactly as she'd commanded. He might be able to resist her voodoo for weeks, months, even years, but one day, he would obey her. The compulsion had taken root; she'd seen it in his eyes.

These orderlies were doomed. One day, she and her sisters would be able to escape. One day, they would finally have a chance to live.

As the darkness beckoned her deeper into the abyss, she smiled.





1


Help me."

The feminine whisper drifted through the hall. Dallas Gutierrez finished tying his boot and glanced up. No one had entered the small corridor. He straightened. As the sound of muted gunshots and squealing tires rang out, he solved his first case of the day. The TV was on.

Clearly I'm the greatest Alien Investigation and Removal agent ever to live.

But then, Dallas Gutierrez did his job the same way he did everything else, even bragging: with style. He was certain the one-night stand he'd left sleeping in bed would agree. Not that he would ever ask her. He shuddered. Waking her would defeat the purpose of tiptoeing into the hall to dress.

And yeah, okay, leaving without saying good-bye was a total douche move--even when done with style--but both he and . . . Cori? Cadi? They'd agreed their time together would revolve around pleasure, not permanence.

Dude. I even suck in style.

To be honest, he deserved a participant ribbon for last night's performance, not a gold medal. Picking a companion for the evening had become a chore, kind of like deciding which STD he preferred. And sex . . . sex had become a duty rather than a desire.
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