Home > Steelheart (Reckoners #1)(11)

Steelheart (Reckoners #1)(11)
Brandon Sanderson

We worked our way through those tunnels for over an hour. Occasionally we passed vents blowing air. The Diggers had gotten some things working down here, but most of it made no sense. Still, there was fresh air. Sometimes.

Prof led the way in that long black coat. It’s a lab coat, I realized as we turned another corner. One that’s been dyed black. He wore a black buttoned shirt beneath it.

The Reckoners were obviously worried about being followed, but I felt they overdid it. I was hopelessly lost after fifteen minutes, and Enforcement never came down to this level. There was an unspoken agreement. Steelheart ignored those living in the steel catacombs, and they didn’t do anything to bring his judgment down upon them.

Of course … the Reckoners changed that truce. An important Epic had been assassinated. How would Steelheart react to that?

Eventually the Reckoners led me around a corner that looked like every other one—only this time it led to a small room cut into the steel. There were a lot of these places in the catacombs. Places where the Diggers had planned to put a restroom, a small shop, or a dwelling.

Hardman the sniper took up position at the door. He’d taken out a camo ball cap and put it on his head, and there was an unfamiliar emblem on the front. It looked like some kind of royal crest or something. The other four Reckoners arranged themselves facing me. Abraham got out a large flashlight and clicked a button that lit up the sides, turning it into a lantern. He set it on the floor.

Prof crossed his arms, his face emotionless, inspecting me. The woman with the red hair stood beside him. She seemed more thoughtful. Abraham still carried his large gun, and Megan took off her leather jacket and strapped on an underarm gun holster. I tried not to stare, but that was like trying not to blink. Only … well, kind of the opposite.

I took a hesitant step backward, realizing I was cornered. I’d begun to think that I was on my way toward being accepted into their team. But looking into Prof’s eyes, I realized that was not the case. He saw me as a threat. I hadn’t been brought along because I’d been helpful; I’d been brought along because he hadn’t wanted me wandering free.

I was a captive. And this deep in the steel catacombs, nobody would notice a scream or a gunshot.

6

“TEST him, Tia,” Prof said.

I shied back, holding my rifle nervously. Behind Prof, Megan leaned against a wall, jacket back on, handgun strapped under her arm. She spun something in her hand. The extra magazine for my rifle. She’d never returned it.

Megan smiled. She’d tossed my rifle back to me up above, but I had a sinking suspicion that she’d emptied the chamber, leaving the gun unloaded. I started to panic.

The redhead—Tia—approached me, holding some kind of device. It was flat and round, the size of a plate, but had a screen on one side. She pointed it at me. “No reading.”

“Blood test,” Prof said, face hard.

Tia nodded. “Don’t force us to hold you down,” she said to me, removing a strap from the side of the device; it was connected to the disc by cords. “This will prick you, but it won’t do you any harm.”

“What is it?” I demanded.

“A dowser.”

A dowser … a device that tested if one was an Epic or not. “I … thought those were just myths.”

Abraham smiled, enormous gun held beside him. He was lean and muscled and seemed very calm, as opposed to the tension displayed by Tia and even Prof. “Then you won’t mind, eh, my friend?” he asked with his French accent. “What does it matter if a mythological device pricks you?”

That didn’t comfort me, but the Reckoners were a group of practiced assassins who killed High Epics for a living. There wasn’t much I could do.

The woman wrapped my arm with a wide strap, a bit like what you use to measure blood pressure. Wires led from it to the device in her hand. There was a small box on the inside of the strap, and it pricked me.

Tia studied the screen. “He’s clean for certain,” she said, looking at Prof. “Nothing on the blood test either.”

Prof nodded, seeming unsurprised. “All right, son. It’s time for you to answer a few questions. Think very carefully before you reply.”

“Okay,” I said as Tia removed the strap. I rubbed my arm where I’d been pricked.

“How,” Prof said, “did you find out where we were going to strike? Who told you that Fortuity was our target?”

“Nobody told me.”

His expression grew dark. Beside him, Abraham raised an eyebrow and hefted his gun.

“No, really!” I said, sweating. “Okay, so I heard from some people on the street that you might be in town.”

“We didn’t tell anyone our mark,” Abraham said. “Even if you knew we were here, how did you know the Epic we’d try to kill?”

“Well,” I said, “who else would you hit?”

“There are thousands of Epics in the city, son,” Prof said.

“Sure,” I replied. “But most are beneath your notice. You target High Epics, and there are only a few hundred of those in Newcago. Among them, only a couple dozen have a prime invincibility—and you always pick someone with a prime invincibility.

“However, you also wouldn’t go after anyone too powerful or too influential. You figure they’d be well protected. That rules out Nightwielder, Conflux, and Firefight—pretty much Steelheart’s whole inner circle. It also rules out most of the burrow barons.

“That leaves about a dozen targets, and Fortuity was the worst of the lot. All Epics are murderers, but he’d killed the most innocents by a long shot. Plus, that twisted way he played with people’s entrails is exactly the sort of atrocity the Reckoners would want to stop.” I looked at them, nervous, then shrugged. “Like I said. Nobody had to tell me. It’s obvious who you’d end up picking.”

The small room grew silent.

“Ha!” said the sniper, who still stood by the doorway. “Lads and ladies, I think this means we might be getting a tad predictable.”

“What’s a prime invincibility?” Tia asked.

“Sorry,” I said, realizing they wouldn’t know my terms. “It’s what I call an Epic power that renders conventional methods of assassination useless. You know, regeneration, impervious skin, precognition, self-reincarnation, that kind of thing.” A High Epic was someone who had one of those. I’d never heard of one who had two, fortunately.

“Let us pretend,” Prof said, “that you really did figure it out on your own. That still doesn’t explain how you knew where we’d spring our trap.”

“Fortuity always sees the plays at Spritz’s place on the first Saturday of the month,” I said. “And he always goes to look for amusement afterward. It’s the only reliable time when you’d find him alone and in a mind-set where he could be baited into a trap.”

Prof glanced at Abraham, then at Tia. She shrugged. “I don’t know.”

“I think he’s telling the truth, Prof,” Megan said, her arms crossed, jacket open at the front. Don’t … stare …, I had to remind myself.

Prof looked at her. “Why?”

“It makes sense,” she said. “If Steelheart had known who we were going to hit, he’d have had something more elaborate planned for us than one boy with a rifle. Besides, Knees here did try to help. Kind of.”

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