The Healer (military romantic suspense) (The Dregs Book 3)

PROLOGUE

Nate

A door slammed.

Footsteps sounded down the long corridor. I tensed. Were they coming to take me back to the lab for another experiment? I didn’t know how many more experiments I could withstand. The last one had nearly killed me. The General had barely returned me to my cell a few hours ago after the last experiment had put me in a two-day coma. I’d just awakened earlier that day, in a daze, my memory fuzzy about what had happened prior to the experiment. But now I remembered it all.

A few days ago, we had discovered that the experiments had given me the ability to heal things. A supernatural ability to repair wounds, soothe pain, seal up nasty cuts. Once I located the injury, I could focus my healing ability on that injury, and then heal it, sending energy through my hands and into the wound.

To test out my new abilities, The General had strapped another prisoner to a bed in the lab. Then he’d ruthlessly slammed a hammer down on the kid’s wrist, breaking it in several places, ignoring the boy’s wails of agony. Next The General sliced across his victim’s throat, then he stabbed the poor kid in the abdomen, and finally, he raked his blade clear down the length of the boy’s inner arm, a deep gash from top to bottom, leaving muscle and bone exposed.

I’d stared, sickened by The General’s cruelty, trying not to gag, until he thrust me forward and ordered, “Heal him. Let’s see what you can do with your ability.”

I’d attended the neck wound first, cauterizing it closed before the poor kid bled to death. Then I’d attended to the abdominal wound, but quickly discovered my abilities didn’t allow me to go deep, that though I was able to ease the boy’s pain, I couldn’t heal deep internal injuries. I inspected the broken wrist next, but after concentrating hard on my talent, it became apparent that I was unable to heal broken bones, either. That was beyond my ability. So I next tackled the nasty gash down the kid’s arm, which I was able to heal completely and cauterize shut. Then I focused my soothing touch on each of the wounds, numbing the pain. The boy relaxed and thanked me.

“Interesting,” The General murmured. “You can heal surface wounds and shallow to moderate-depth muscle and tissue damage, and you can anesthetize the pain. But broken bones or deep internal injuries are beyond your abilities. I’m going to train you to be a medic. I’m going to put your ability to use out in the field. But I want to see if I can get more out of you. We’re going to conduct some more experiments to see if we can give you the ability to fix all injuries. Just think what we could do with you if you could repair a damaged heart or a severed spinal column.”

I lowered my gaze, though defiance raged hot inside me. I didn’t want this ability. I didn’t want to be a healer. And I sure as hell didn’t want to be here. But it wasn’t as if I had a choice. I was a prisoner here. I couldn’t escape. I was only fourteen years old—or at least, I thought I was. My memories were fuzzy, at best. They kept me drugged most of the time, messing with my mind. Most days I couldn’t even remember my own name. I think I’d been here at the facility for about a year now, but I couldn’t remember how or when I’d first arrived. 

The General had sent me back to the lab the next day and forced more excruciating experiments on me, injected me with more drugs and animal DNA, more pain, more suffering, as he tried to turn me into a supernatural healer unlike anything on earth. But all he succeeded in doing was put my organs under so much stress that I fell into a coma. Apparently, I’d almost died. So The General had brought me back to my cell and told me to rest for a few days while he thought about what to do next.

So here I waited.

What horror would he inflict on me next?

The footsteps paused outside of my cell. I wanted to ignore whomever was out there, but I was scared shitless they had come to take me back to the lab. So I bolted upright on the bed, my head spinning with the movement.

I waited. Tense. Afraid.

The General thrust the door open with a loud clang. He shoved another kid into the cell. I rose from the bed, not wanting to be at a disadvantage. 

“Nathan, I want you to meet Antonio,” The General introduced. “You’ve probably seen him around the facility. He’s the same age as you. I’ve decided to pair you two up. From here on out, he will be your partner in all activities.”

He pushed Antonio farther into the room with a hard shove between his shoulder blades. “Go on. Nathan is your roommate now. Christopher is gone. Get over it.” Then The General went out and pulled the heavy barred door shut with another loud clang. His footsteps echoed down the corridor as he walked away.

I’d never had a roommate before.

Antonio eyed me with the blackest eyes I’d ever seen. We were about the same height and build. He was darker complexioned, maybe Mexican or some other South American nationality, but his facial features were similar to mine, which made me think he must be mixed race, that one of his parents was probably Caucasian. In fact, our facial features were so similar that if I’d been darker skinned, or if he’d been lighter skinned, we could be brothers.

“Hey,” he murmured, slowly glancing around the cell. “Nathan, was it?”

He had a distinctive Spanish accent, though his English sounded normal. I guessed Spanish had been his first language, but he’d been speaking English long enough to have mastered the language now.

“Nate,” I corrected. “I hate Nathan.”

His lips twitched. “Call me Tony. I hate Antonio.”

We both chuckled softly, eyeing each other up and down for a long moment.

“You speak Spanish?” I asked.

He nodded. “You?”

I shook my head. “No. Just English.”

Silence reigned.

I cleared my throat. “So, who was Christopher? What happened to him?”

Tony’s gaze turned sad. “He was my roommate. He didn’t survive the last experiment. He seemed fine at first, then he started having a seizure on his bunk.” He shuddered and closed his eyes. “White shit was coming out of mouth, his eyes went blank, he was jerking and flopping around like a fish.” He opened his eyes, his face turning green. “It was the first time I saw someone die.”  

“Shit. Sorry, dude.”

He shrugged, trying to act tough, though he couldn’t hide the horror in his gaze. “I have a feeling it won’t be the last person I see die.”

“Yeah,” I murmured. “Me, too.” I hadn’t yet witnessed another person’s death, but I had no doubt I soon would.

“So what’s your supernatural talent?” he asked, his gaze filling with curiosity.

“Healing,” I murmured. “What about you?”

“Healing?” he repeated. “Like a doctor?”

“Yeah. I can heal wounds, soothe pain, that kind of stuff.”

“Wow. Cool. Mine’s not so exciting. I just hide things, make them disappear.”

“Hide things? How? What do you mean?”

He shrugged. “I don’t know the right word. Conceal? The General called it smuggling. I’m a magician, I guess. I make things invisible.”

“Even yourself?”

“Especially myself.”

“That’s cool. You’ll have to give me an example.”

His lips twitched. “Sure. You can show me your talent, too.”

We were both silent again, neither wanting to be the first to show off our talents. I was sure we would have plenty of time in the future for that. “Later,” I said. “You’ll need some kind of injury first.”

He scrunched his face. “Yeah, later.”

I sat back on my bunk. “So, I guess that means I’m The Healer and you’re The Smuggler.”

Tony chuckled. “Yeah.” Then a shadow fell over his face. “Unless we don’t survive the next experiment.”

The thought sobered us both. We grew silent again. He climbed onto the top bunk and plopped back on the mattress. “Night, amigo.”     

“Night.” I lay back on my bunk and tried not to think about the future.

From that day forward, our connection grew. Strengthened. We began experiencing each other’s emotions and physical pains shortly thereafter. I don’t know if it was the close confines of our cell and being in constant contact with each other, or if it had more to do with all the experiments and the drugs and animal DNA that The General pumped into our veins. But whatever the reason, we soon became more than roommates, more than partners, more than best friends. Our bond was so strong that nothing could ever come between us.

We were brothers. In war. And out.

Nothing would ever tear us apart.    

We were the dregs.