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Nemesis (Project Nemesis #1)

By:Brendan Reichs

Nemesis (Project Nemesis #1)
        Author: Brendan Reichs



I swore to myself I wouldn't die that day.

Up and down.

Come at me, you bastard. Sweaty-palmed as I gripped a battered Louisville Slugger, eyes glued to my bedroom door.

He was already inside the trailer-early this time, as the first slanting rays of sunshine began peeking over the mountains. While Mom was still away at work. I'd heard the front stoop creak, and instantly knew who had come.

That I was trapped.

Right here. In my own home.

Another unpleasant first.

I wasn't scared. Not of him. Of this. That's just not how it worked anymore.

But my anger simmered near the edge of control.

A floorboard groaned.

I took a calming breath. Narrowed my focus to audible noises beyond the door, a flimsy piece of sliding metal that couldn't stop a toddler. All that separated me from a monster who'd come to snatch my life away.

Silence stretched, then another muffled step. I tensed, prepping for battle.

There's no sneaking quietly across my crappy, not-so-mobile home, a fact I'd established many times during my sixteen years of life. I knew exactly where he was standing. How his weight was aligned. What the man was seeing as he peered across our shabby single-wide, eyes glued to the only other place I could be.

So why the delay?

I thought furiously, cycling through possibilities. Was he waiting me out? Could he possibly believe I didn't know he was there?

The first shot exploded through the door. High and left, but I panicked just the same.

A gun this time.

I dropped into a crouch, options rapidly dwindling.

The window.

I darted toward a grimy, dirt-streaked square of glass overlooking my single bed.

Too quick. I never sensed the trap.

The second bullet punched through the closet, slicing into my right shoulder and spinning me like a top. I gasped in pain. Fell against the bedside table.

The third shot tore into my chest.

My legs faltered. I tumbled to the floor, struggling to breathe, blood bubbling on my lips as I stared up at the drab fluorescent lights on the ceiling. Pain tinged everything red.

He'd been waiting for me to flee. I'd accommodated him. Checkmate.

I lose. So I die. Happy birthday to me. 

The door slid open. I barely flinched.

A man entered, tall and thin, with coal-black hair cut short. High cheekbones. Narrow, elegant nose. He wore the same unadorned black suit as always. Silver sunglasses. Shiny black boots. His work clothes, I supposed.

Behind the opaque lenses, his face was utterly expressionless.

That always got to me. What kind of human could do such horrible things, yet show zero reflection of them in his features?

A psychopath. That's who.

The black-suited man stood over my punctured, broken body. Squaring his shoulders, he pulled the slide on his weapon, a gleaming black handgun that fit snugly into his palm. The barrel rose.

"Why?" I croaked, as my heartbeat lost its rhythm.

We'd been through this before.

Same question. Always the same question.

"I'm sorry," he said quietly, taking aim directly between my eyes.

Same reply. He always apologized.

I wasn't going to scream. I'd done it before, and refused to give him the satisfaction. I wasn't going to beg either. I'd learned that didn't get me anywhere.

But I wanted an answer.

"Why?" More gurgle than words. Liquid was filling my mouth, hot and wet. The hole in my chest burned like a sliver of the sun.

I knew a response wasn't coming. So, ever so slowly, marshaling my last remaining strength, I lifted my left arm. Hand shaking like a storm-tossed willow, I crooked my elbow, turned my palm inward, and carefully extended my middle finger, thrusting it at his blank, stone-carved face.

"Go to hell," I whispered, choking on my own blood.

"I'm already there."

A thunderous bang, followed immediately by another.

Agony. Then, nothing.

Hello, death. Long time no see.

Darkness enveloped me.





My eyes slid open.


Blink blink blink.

Birds zipped by overhead, squabbling as they rode the updrafts. Inhaling deeply, I smelled huckleberry and red cedar, mixed with the indescribable sharpness of evergreen trees. Pine straw was jabbing me in the back.

A sour tang filled my mouth, like I'd been sucking on pocket change.

No pain. No lingering hurt. Or sadness. Or rage.

I felt nothing. Absolutely nothing. Just a tenderness to the scar on my left shoulder.

Exactly like last time. And the time before that. And the ones before those.

I was lying in the center of a forest clearing. The clearing, of course, tucked inside a stand of longleaf pines, on a jagged slope to the north of my tiny Idaho hometown. A glance at the sky told me it was early morning, but not the same day as before.

Though I knew it was pointless, I tried to remember how I'd gotten there. But I was grasping at smoke. There was nothing. No hazy impression. No magic flash. No blast of white light, or sensation of weightlessness, of flying, of rising through the clouds to my continually denied eternal rest.

That's not how it worked. I simply felt pain, died, and then woke up again.

Here. Always here. In this place.


"I'm not crazy. I am not."

I liked saying it out loud, as if challenging the universe to argue the point.

I bumped a fist against my forehead, then rose, pawing twigs and leaves from my short black hair. Unsnarled my necklace. No iPhone to check-I'd find it charging on my nightstand, right where I left it-so I smoothed my jeans and crumpled Boise State tee, the same clothes I'd been wearing during the attack.

No blood. No singed holes. No acrid stench of panic sweat. Not a misplaced thread to evidence the .45 caliber slugs that had ripped through my body. The faded garments looked and felt the same as always.

I shivered, and not from the temperature. Though it was chilly. My breath misted in the gusts swirling down the mountainside. Fall mornings at this altitude are no joke. It's a wonder I hadn't frozen to death while lying there exposed.

I snorted in a most unladylike fashion, then hugged myself close.

Yeah, it'd be a shame if I died, right?

I'm not immortal. At least I don't think so, anyway. I age normally, even though I have this curious habit of dying and coming back to life. I'm not like a ghost or vampire, either. Those guys are un-dead, or so I've been told.

No. I just . . . reset. Open my eyes. Get up. Start walking home.

• • •

If there's ever a zombie apocalypse, head for my town.

Tucked high in the Bitterroot Mountains, Fire Lake might not be the most isolated place in the United States, but it's close. Go any farther north and you're in Canada. There's only one way in or out of the valley-a slender, two-lane bridge spanning a three-hundred-foot drop into Gullet Chasm, some of the toughest river country in Idaho.

People make the trip, however, since the town is surrounded by national parkland. The lake itself is a tourist pull in summer months, balancing out winter ski-bum traffic and keeping the valley stocked with visitors nearly year-round. A few magazines have named Fire Lake the most beautiful vacation spot in America. I can't disagree.

Not that I cared that morning as I crept down the mountainside. I had one goal in mind: to slip back home without being noticed.

It took ten minutes to reach the first houses. There I paused to tighten my sneakers-had I been wearing them when shot?-before slinking into a park area north of town. I scurried along back roads, skirting the neighborhoods above the main village.

I had no intention of telling anyone what had happened. Not after my experiences as a child. I was cold, hungry, and demoralized. Desperate for a shower. An emergency sit-down with my psychiatrist would qualify as torture. 

I already had a little blue pill. Mandatory counseling. There was nothing I enjoyed less than my sessions with Doctor Warm Smiles, the two of us fencing while pretending not to be. For fifty minutes every seven days, I fought to protect my secrets while he pried at them with all his shrewd kindness. Exhausting.

Dr. Lowell hadn't believed me when I was little. No one had, not even Mom. My horrifying memories were "the product of a troubled mind."

So forget it. I wasn't saying a word.

Reaching the business district, I hurried west, toward the rougher end of the valley. The typically vibrant neighborhood felt deserted. I passed small-but-charming hotels with no signs of guests. Most of the vacation houses had their shutters locked up tight. The streets had an almost ghost-town feel. Strange, even that early.

Then, with a wince, I remembered what day it was.

The Announcement is tonight, genius. Think that could be it?

September 18, 2017. The most anticipated press conference in history. That evening, just after sunset in the Rockies, Asteroid 152660-GR4 would clear Jupiter's gravitational field, allowing its path to be definitively calculated.

We find out if the Anvil will kill us all.

Fear gripped me. It was a measure of my own problems that I'd forgotten the one tormenting everyone else.

I crossed a footbridge, then turned right onto Quarry Road, heading back upslope. Almost home. I knew time was short-I was pretty sure it was Monday, which meant school, which meant I had to hurry. The road dropped behind the ridge, and I turned left onto a gravel driveway plunging out of sight.