Hello, clever reader.
If you found your way to this page through decoding, snooping, advanced googlery, or other ingenious activities, then please don’t share the link online – this page contains SERIOUS spoilers for the Mortal Coil series. I’d love to hear how you found this page. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with “Special” in the subject field and I’ll do my best to reply 😀
Read further ONLY IF YOU HAVE FINISHED THIS CRUEL DESIGN!!
SERIOUS SPOILERS FOR THIS CRUEL DESIGN LIE AHEAD!!
SERIOUSLY, THIS SPOILS THE WHOLE BOOK AND MEANS/ADDS NOTHING UNLESS YOU’VE READ IT!! IT WILL MAKE NO SENSE BUT SPOIL ALLLLL THE THINGS!
I MEAN IT – THIS IS THE EPILOGUE TO THIS CRUEL DESIGN!! LIKE, THE VERY VERY END OF IT!
You have been warned.
Now that you’re here – and that you’ve DEFINITELY read both This Mortal Coil and This Cruel Design – would you like an extra little scene to reward your excellent detective work? I’ll say it again – if you haven’t read THIS CRUEL DESIGN yet, then TURN BACK NOW! This scene was originally included in the working drafts of THIS CRUEL DESIGN but my editors and I decided to cut it. I thought briefly about opening the third and final book with this scene, but I think the book opens far more powerfully with another scene I’ve written. SO – that leaves us with a fun orphan scene like this that I always hoped readers would see. Here it is – in all its unedited glory. Hopefully it answers some questions for you. Now, you’ll just have to wait for book 3 to see what happens next…
Okay, here it is…
DELETED SCENE: EPILOGUE – CATARINA
Lightning crashes in the distance. A deep, rumbling sound that tugs me from the silent, inky depths of my unconsciousness. Part of me tries to fight the sound–to crawl back into my sleep, but a pulse of pain in the base of my skull drags me from it and into my skin. I’m lying on something hard and cold. The floor. I blink, trying to sit up, and the darkness around me spins, resolving slowly into the outlines of a room. Concrete walls, triangular fluorescents, a genkit and wall of screens humming beside me.
I’m back in the Zarathustra lab, but Jun Bei is gone.
There is no hint of her voice, no whisper of her presence. I lift my hand cautiously to the back of my head. The metal socket is there, but there is no wound or burn in the skin around it.
What the hell happened to me?
“Cole?” I call out. My voice is hoarse and cracked, but he should still be able to hear it with his tech. There’s no response, though–no reply, no footsteps. I push myself to my hands and knees, fighting a flare of panic. This is wrong. I shouldn’t be here–I should be back in the desert. Maybe we flew here and the others are in another room, or back in our camp in the woods. Maybe Cartaxus took me. The lab is silent, though. No voices, no heartbeats, no footsteps from patrolling soldiers. The air is cold, scented with disinfectant, and the window beside me shows a view of the three-peaked mountains, a lightning storm crackling across the horizon. I’m in clean cargo pants and a black jacket, a gray Cartaxus tank-top underneath. I try to stand up, and feel something off in the weight of my arm.
I freeze, yanking back my jacket’s sleeve.
My cuff is gone, and the skin where my panel should be is dim.
No, no no. My mind spins for explanations. I must have been hurt—something must have gone wrong with the implant. Someone must have brought me here to recover or try to fix my tech. The last thing I remember is the mainline connection, Jun Bei wrestling for control, and the harder I try to remember more, the more the pulse in my head grows into an ache. I force myself to stand, drawing in a steadying breath. My skin is prickling, my hips aching from the cold floor, and my boots are muddy and slick with grass.
When the hell was I outside?
I push my hands back through my hair, looking around. The genkit on the wall is running, but the screens set around it are showing bands of snowy, black-and-white static. There are shelves on the wall behind me filled with rows of sample containers, and a humming fridge in one corner is stocked with vials of nanosolution. I look down at the bare, olive skin of my forearm, willing my panel to turn on, trying to drag my comm-link’s interface into my vision, but nothing appears. No menu, no icons. No flickers on my skin as I close my eyes and search for a wireless connection.
My tech is completely off. It must have crashed or glitched.
Or maybe someone turned it off to stop me from being able to fight.
I turn, scanning the room. My head is still aching, but the pain is fading. I feel like I’ve been drugged-—sluggish, clumsy. My eyes take a second to focus whenever I try to look at anything. Double doors hang open, revealing the concrete hallway on the lab’s ground floor. I lurch across the room and push through the doors, stumbling out. Triangular fluorescents flicker on above me, lighting up an identical lab on the other side of the hallway. It’s gleaming and new, its shelves fully stocked, its counters pristine and neat. I stagger past it to the foyer and weave through the chairs, slamming my shoulder into the lab’s heavy steel front doors to shove them open. The hinges screech, but there are still no voices. This doesn’t feel right. Maybe I’m dead. Maybe this is what heaven looks like.
Maybe I’ve skipped right past heaven and fallen into hell.
“H-hold it together,” I murmur to myself, my voice tripping on the words. Outside, the air is cool and humid, thunderclouds dark overhead. The occasional flash of lightning catches on puddles pressed into the grassy parking lot. There are pigeons in the distance, spots of color arcing through the canopy, their cries forming a hiss of background noise, like rain against a window.
“Hello?” I shout, cupping my hands around my mouth. “Anybody out there? Cole? Leoben?”
My voice echoes back to me, but nobody responds. The cries of the pigeons rise, but there is no sound of footsteps, no whining engine.
I am completely and utterly alone.
And I have no idea how I got here.
“This is… not good,” I murmur, flipping my collar up, glancing up at the storm clouds. A light rain is misting down, just heavy enough to form gleaming droplets on my hair. I look down at my boots, checking that they’re waterproof, then step on to the muddy driveway. Our campsite wasn’t far from here, and neither is the wreckage of Leoben’s jeep. Maybe there’ll be something there I can salvage to get in touch with the others.
I wrap my arms around my chest, holding my jacket shut, jogging down the driveway. My boots slosh through the puddles, sending icy drops of water soaking into my cargo pants. The driveway rises up a hill, winding through a copse of towering spruces and I slow my pace, my muscles tiring, sweat beading across the small of my back. It shouldn’t be this hard to run. I must still be wounded, or at least recovering. I should have jacked myself into one of the genkits in the lab to check my tech, or searched through the basement. I don’t know what I’m doing out here in the rain. This is stupid. I’m panicking. I crest the hill, staggering through the copse of cedars, and jerk to a stop.
A rain-streaked valley lies before me, the three-peaked mountains jagged in the distance. Pigeons whirl through the trees, through the low-hanging cloud wafting through the forest. I drag in a breath, scrunching my eyes shut, and open them again, staring ahead of me as though the image might change. But it doesn’t.
I fall to my knees, gravel biting into my skin, bringing up both hands to cover my mouth.
I’ve followed the driveway in a straight line, and yet the image ahead of me is unmistakable.
It’s the Zarathustra lab. I’ve just ended up at the same place I started from.