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A Girl Called Nine: The Sentinel Series, #1

A Girl Called Nine: The Sentinel Series, #1

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A Girl Called Nine: The Sentinel Series, #1

Length:
221 pages
2 hours
Publisher:
Released:
Feb 3, 2017
ISBN:
9781944535162
Format:
Book

Description

When Rand Matthews witnesses a teen runaway attack a man in a diner, only to find her leaping out of his truck bed once he returns home to his ranch, he's at a loss. There's something strange about this girl, like she's been mistreated or abused.  


Worried about how the child might have gotten that way, Rand is determined to help her. As he and his ranch-hand Cole learn more about her and the events which brought her to the ranch, they soon realize that their new house guest is no ordinary girl....

Publisher:
Released:
Feb 3, 2017
ISBN:
9781944535162
Format:
Book

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A Girl Called Nine - Valery Keith

Prologue

When Nine saw the puppy and the gun, she knew this was bad.

Even worse, Dr. Greene looked openly happy, which meant that he expected her to fail. He was the only doctor here who obviously didn’t like her, something she had been told was due to professional competition within the program. She didn’t really care about the reasons as much as she just didn’t trust him for the way he looked at her, the faintest traces of resentment in his eyes.

Unlike the other doctors, the ones she liked, he didn’t address her politely. He called her names like the prototype, his sneer making it clear that he thought very little of her, no matter how well she performed. She always avoided Dr. Greene as best she could, an easy task since he was generally busy working with Seven and Eight, whom he clearly preferred. So she was a little surprised to see him now.

Please sit. Dr. Greene indicated the chair across from him.

The puppy was sniffing at his feet, its little tail waving in obvious happiness. Nine had never seen a real puppy before, so she was surprised by how much plumper and softer it looked in person. Seeing her preoccupation, Dr. Greene spoke, his tone very satisfied.

Would you like to play with it?

After glancing at him to see that this was not a trick, Nine sat down on the floor with the puppy, ignoring the gun sitting on the low table. To her astonishment, the puppy felt even softer than it looked, a sweet, clean smell rising from it as its little pink tongue licked her face.

Kept inside this facility her whole life as she had been aside from brief trips outdoors in the fenced compound during survival training, she could do nothing more than marvel at this new experience. Her hands slid over the puppy’s sleek coat as she held it. She had no idea of how much time had passed, but when Dr. Greene spoke, she was startled.

Now you need to kill the puppy. Take the gun and shoot it in the head.

Shocked, Nine jerked her head up from the puppy to look at him.

What? Shoot the puppy? Why?

Dr. Greene frowned, his jaw tight as he glared at her.

"Haven’t we spoken about this? Do not ask why. You know better. Just do it."

There was the faint crackle of the speaker turning on, then Peter spoke.

Dr. Greene, I’m going to have to protest one more time. This is against the recommendations and established parameters of the program. Furthermore, this violates safety protocols. With all due respect, sir, I have to formally protest against your decision in this case. I honestly think this is a bad idea.

Oh, did you receive your doctorate in genetics when I wasn’t looking? Dr. Green sneered through the glass at Peter. So now you’re a renowned expert in the field, are you? Oh, wait, that’s not you, that’s me. In fact, it’s very simple, even for you. You press buttons like a trained monkey, while I make history. So maybe you should stick to what you know and let me do my job.

There was a pause, then Peter’s voice came through the speaker again, even flatter than it had been.

Of course. My apologies, Doctor.

Satisfied that he had cowed the help, Dr. Greene turned those beady eyes on her again where she sat on the floor, the puppy in her lap.

Get up. Now.

She gently lifted the puppy out of her lap and placed it on the floor before climbing to her feet. Dr. Greene was holding out the gun, a demand on his face. When she shook her head in denial and made no move to take the gun, his eyes narrowed.

You will take this gun, he hissed, and shoot that mangy dog right in the head. You are not here on vacation, Nine. This is part of your training and you will do it.

Is it dying? she asked curiously. It doesn’t look sick. Is it suffering? Is that why you want me to shoot it in the head?

No, Dr. Greene said, like he relished telling her this, it’s not sick. It’s a perfectly healthy puppy who could grow into the very picture of man’s best friend. But you are going to shoot it in the head anyway, because I have ordered you to do just that. Everyone else here might have excused your defiant attitude, but I will not. I have given you an order. How you feel about that order is irrelevant. You will do this and you will do it now.

Nine made no move to take the gun. What happens if I don’t?

Do you remember Six? he asked, his voice malicious.

Dr. Greene, came Peter’s voice through the speaker, now sounding worried.

Quiet or I’ll have you fired, Dr. Greene snapped back, his eyes never leaving hers. Six was much like you, Nine. Defiant, always questioning. Like you, she believed that she had a right to determine which orders she would fulfill and which she would ignore. She also refused to shoot the puppy, failing this test just like you are in danger of doing now. Maybe I should have warned her about the consequences, too, but I didn’t. And do you know what happened? That was the last straw. The next morning she was marched from her room right into Medical to be put down like a stray dog. Fitting, don’t you think?

Nine thought about it as she looked at the gun he still held out. She had seen Six, who was much older, multiple times in the halls when she was younger. Like she was now, Six had been petite, with long blonde hair, big blue eyes and the same delicate, symmetrical features. While they did not look exactly alike, she believed, casting her mind back to her memories of Six, they looked similar enough to be related. Maybe they even were, she considered.

But now she would never know, because Six was dead. Shot full of something to stop her heart, she had probably thought it was another blood test or a vitamin D shot. Six had no idea it was coming because he had not told her. Without a word of warning, Dr. Greene had sentenced her to death because she wouldn’t kill a puppy.

Forearmed with the knowledge that she was trading her life for that decision, maybe Six would have chosen differently once she had thought about it more, Nine realized. But she wasn’t Six. Her hand trembling, she took the gun from Dr. Greene.

Excellent. Now do what you were made to do.

So she shot Dr. Greene right in the head.

One

Martin Tuttle, CEO of Sentinel Biotech, listened to his head of security with a frown.

You can’t be serious, he finally said, not even trying to hide his irritation. I’d assumed you would have been able to locate her by now. It has been several days since the incident, after all. If you haven’t been able to recover her, did you at least find out what happened?

Harry cringed slightly, despite being almost as big as the desk Martin sat behind.

Greene loaded the gun with live ammo, which is obviously against protocol. The tech overseeing the session argued against it, but Greene wouldn’t listen.

He nodded at the desk, where his report sat in front of Martin, before he continued.

The full transcript is in there. Greene felt this specific prototype, referred to as Nine, was routinely defiant and required a stronger course of conditioning to override that tendency. He believed that a strong enough traumatic event would create a more compliant temperament. He argued routinely about it with Dr. Lewis, who considered the prototype merely curious rather than rebellious. According to multiple other employees, their rivalry was well-known in the lab and quite heated at times.

And what does Dr. Lewis say?

That he was trying to sabotage her success by traumatizing the prototype and damaging her career to help his own.

Do you believe her?

She believes it, Harry said slowly, and I don’t doubt it. No one liked Greene, especially not the people who worked with him. But I also think Lewis and the tech know more than they’re saying. They’re both too attached to this specific prototype. There’s something there, something they’re not telling me. They didn’t like Greene, sure, but it’s more than that.

And their thoughts on this prototype, this Nine?

They’re acting like she was a normal kid who made a mistake. Harry grimaced. Like she borrowed the car without asking or skipped school, rather than shot a man point blank in the face. And not just some stranger, but someone she saw everyday. It gives me the creeps.

Yes, you’ve never made a secret of your feelings about genetic modification, Martin noted, letting just a faint trace of his annoyance bleed into his voice to hurry this recitation along. But in this case, you are going to swallow those concerns because I need you on this. You know the potential value of this program. I don’t want to find out later that one of my competitors was involved and we missed that. If that’s the case, I need to know now. If Lewis or the tech were involved in her escape in any way, then take care of it.

Harry’s eyes flicked to his, his expression completely flat.

Subcontractors are approved at that point, I assume, sir?

Martin appreciated that question, because unlike Nine’s escape, it was exactly what he had expected. Harry never liked to get his hands dirty when he could find someone else to do it, creating one more layer between him and the body. Martin, who had built a pharmaceutical empire in much the same way, appreciated that about Harry, which is why he had made him Head of Security and kept him there for years now. Even better, Harry was wise enough to never question the order, only the methods he might be expected to employ. It made him invaluable, Martin thought, smiling at him now.

Yes, subcontractors if needed, he confirmed. Did you draw up an estimate of how far she might have gotten, using various methods of transit based on her starting point?

At the man’s nod, he continued, making a distinct effort not to snarl.

And you’re openly monitoring law enforcement on the local levels for anything involving a girl of her description? Is IT pulling any security footage available from that region? Harry nodded again. Excellent. Speak with the doctors about activating her remotely, but do nothing with that yet. Just get the codes from them. We’ll keep that fail-safe in reserve for now. After all, I’m sure we’ll recover her long before we need to resort to that.

Should I have a team on standby for immediate recovery?

No, no team. Not yet. Once you know her approximate whereabouts, I’ll handle it in-house, so to speak. He smiled. Seven and Eight are ready for their first field trial before we present them as finished assets. Unlike Nine, they have already been micro-chipped in preparation for that service, so at worst, you may have to collect them if there are any issues. But even with that risk, this might be a nice time to show their benefactors that not all that time and money was wasted despite the early failures.

When Harry said nothing, Martin just smiled humorlessly.

Yes, I know. It gives you the creeps.

They can see in the dark, Harry replied flatly. Not to mention all the rest of it. I see the utility, but it isn’t human, what they are. It’s, he paused, obviously searching for the least offensive word even as his lips thinned, "odd."

"Well, they are odd, Nine especially, since she hasn’t even started her socialization yet, Martin agreed, pleasantly surprised that the other man had chosen such a diplomatic word. But that’s precisely why it should be easy to track her down. She has no idea of how to move in the world like a normal person, nor how to interact with anyone outside of a clinical setting. She won’t be able to hide for long. Someone will call her in as confused or on drugs and we’ll have her."

Yes, of course. If that’s all, sir, then I’ll get right on that.

Please do. Martin gave him a look. This is to take priority over everything else. Prototype Number Nine is the culmination of decades of work and billions of taxpayer dollars. If any of this gets out, they will disavow all knowledge and leave us to be ruined. To avoid that, we must recover her as soon as, his lips quirked, "humanly possible."

With a crisp nod, Harry left the room, leaving Martin to look over the city as he thought about it. This was a nightmare, true, but he was certain that it could be handled quietly enough. He had not lied about how easily she would be spotted, after all. Nine was hardly ready for polite society by design. They held that training until last, both for security reasons and because it allowed well over a decade of intensive conditioning to be set first. That meant issues like compassion and morality were always secondary to the training they had received, so that they acted first and thought later.

But none of the three surviving subjects were stupid. In fact, if he had to be honest, any one of them would put his intellect to shame. But that was not the same as social polish, which Nine was sadly lacking. He had watched clips from the videos of her sessions and he had to admit that physically at least, she was perfect. She looked like a beautiful young girl, harmless and entirely fragile, but that was far from the truth. Genetically modified and raised as she had been, Nine was deadly.

Just as he had always hoped, she would be the perfect assassin.

Two

When Rand Matthews saw the girl slink into the diner without a parent, he was surprised.

Even ragged and dressed in shapeless clothes far too big for her, she was a future beauty, no doubt about it. Petite and frail, with long blonde hair and delicate features, she looked very young and totally out of place in a diner frequented by local ranchers and interstate truckers. But even more concerning, she was acting like she might have been transported here in someone’s trunk, which worried him.

Even from across the diner, she looked dazed and battered past the obvious as she stood just inside the doorway and actually sniffed the air like some starving orphan. He caught Stacey’s eye and jerked his head in that direction. Seeing the girl poised there like she might run, Stacey bustled forward.

Honey, you look hungry. Let’s get you seated so we can fix that.

Stacey settled the obviously nervous girl at a

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