‘Put it away, Sergeant.’
Her heart sank; they weren’t the Sergeant’s footsteps after all.
‘We have her now,’ the voice continued.
The Sergeant glared at her, his finger caressing the trigger. His frustration obvious from their talk, and now he was hunting for payback. Like the ribs aren’t enough, she thought – and as soon as she finished, the watcher glaring had tuned into her frequency, listening to her every contemplation.
He smiled. The Sig holstered tightly to his thigh. He turned from her gaze to walk safely along the yellow line painted in the center of the walkway, whistling softly. A large painted six displayed in the same yellow loomed on the grey concrete wall across from her cell; when Sergeant Kicker moved, she read it clearly. The line he walked served as a safety barrier. Crossing made the officer prey to the prisoner. Julianna waited, crouched and silent in cell six, hoping his arrogance betrayed him, and for Sergeant Kicker’s conceited whistling to stop.
‘Isn’t that right, J Rae?’ The footsteps stopped short of her sight. ‘The Senate no longer offers you protection. Your family’s done with your bullshit.’
‘Well, if the family’s done with my bullshit and the Militia serve the family…’ She paused. ‘You can see where this is going, right?’ Her heart sunk.
Julianna didn’t receive a response. Since age four, her uncle raised her; now he’d turned her in. Senator Douglas Cathan, a Master walker on the Senate, was one of the few left holding the balance of power. Julianna’s refusal and rejection of the Senate’s stance and their Militia support in the New World Order, came at a cost. Most paid with their life, some paid with their freedom. After refusing initiation too, a reprehensible crime in her family, Julianna understood they weren’t in the trade of forgiveness.
Her arrest, under order of the New World General and Senate, landed her in a reprogramming camp. What they found in her apartment cemented the deal. They had a traitor in the Family, and, of course, it was Julianna Rae. She thought of the evening as she tried to loosen her wrists from their bonds. She knew the moment they found the comms transmission plate her downfall was ensured, and even though they were blank and with no intelligence on them; the possession of a comms meant one of two things: communication with the Rebellion or communication with the Militia, and she sure as hell didn’t support her Militia captors.
She looked up. No one stood in front of her cell, but the boot steps belonging to the familiar voice continued their amble from the security doors. Her hands were still tightly clasped, bleeding where the plastic cut into her skin.
Taris knew her loyalties, too – he had ever since their ritual walk together on the family estate one evening. That one slip of the tongue on the eve of his conscription, the one she still cursed for releasing, about sympathy for the Rebels in the Sectors, was all he could stomach. Their engagement halted the following morning and he’d hated her ever since. Now his signature scrawled across her arrest warrant. The one they shoved under her nose the night before. She’d recognized the writing; the orders were explicit, yet his absence during the entire process of her capture left her wondering. If the rumors held truth, Taris didn’t have time for pitiful arrests, she thought.
Before the arrest, life had been good. No, it had been certain. Now it wasn’t. The rumors surrounding Taris placed him on the Council as a new member and as a solid contender for the Senate. His ambitious nature gave him power. She was safer in the cell than beside him.
Julianna coughed. A spattering of blood sprayed over the sheets on the bunk. Their questioning had been brutal. The New World Order experience fell short of the warm and fuzzies like its promises in the news. Unfamiliar faces in a familiar uniform tormented her until her body gave up in spite of itself, when she passed out in the very chair that held her hostage.
She didn’t mean to break, not so easily, but ignoring their questions and posing her own had infuriated them, turning their routine interrogation into savage torture.
Thank you, New World Order, thank you so very freaking much, but the thought did little to comfort the pain under her ribs.
The NWO had turned the world to shit in two short years. No one escaped its forceful nature.
Her bound hands rubbed together and a fresh trickle of blood rolled onto the stained sheet, connecting the dots of the already scattering of blood. She sensed him watching from the cell door.
Prisoner 64721 looked up at her captor.
Taris Madison stood tall. His already broad shoulders looked larger in the all-black commando uniform he proudly wore. Three gold lines displayed his senior rank on his shirt sleeves and his epaulettes, and the Lieutenant Madison name badge read easily from Julianna’s distance. His wispy blonde hair with its natural wave displayed his only fairness while he hung on the bars of the cell door to peer over her, disregarding the yellow line. He smiled widely, smiling a flawlessly aligned smile.
His officers stood to his attention, respecting their senior command in his freshly pressed uniform. The military life agreed with him, Julianna thought. She’d rarely seen him clean-shaven in their time together, but today he was entirely perfect. The standard Militia-issued Sig holstered tightly against his thigh, but as a senior, he also carried a combat knife. She knew it was for appearance more than action, dating back to the family traditions of sword-carrying over the centuries. They’d modernized it for practicality, but its intent was the same, and it rested neatly beside his firearm.
‘Right where you should be, J Rae.’ His hands gripped the bars loosely and he leaned back, nodding to the cell next door. ‘In the company of another Rebellion loyalist, too.’
‘Locking away young girls now, Taz?’ a male voice teased from the cell next door. She was surprised she’d missed the shuffling of footsteps behind her cell wall.
Julianna straightened her legs, stretching to find the face belonging to the deep voice next door. Her body’s forming bruises screamed against the pain, as her bare feet found their place on the floor.
‘My boys roughen you up, sweetheart?’ He glanced down the line and yelled at his officers playfully. ‘I told you men to go easy on her!’
She heard a ‘Sorry, boss,’ and used the top bunk to lean against.
‘Sorry, J Rae. They’re an overzealous bunch. Tough to control.’ His eyes lingered over her body. ‘Though a traitor like you wouldn’t understand the passion they hold. The conviction they possess.’
She discarded her spinning thoughts. Closing her mind to a creature of his status, power, and ability, drained her strength. Her head ached with concentration. She’d slipped with Sergeant Kicker in the interrogation. She knew they’d sensed something, and Taris patiently waited for his chance to leap frog into her mind on the next opening.
She limped to the cell bars, keeping her eyes down and her mind empty as she pushed her wrists through the gaps, and sung inside her mind. He reached for his knife and sung the gentle song with her, mocking her with his ability to read her mind. She wasn’t alone in her thoughts, she couldn’t block him completely, but it was a distraction. He edged the blade from its holster.
She waited for the knife to oblige with her bindings. Her auburn hair covered most of her exotic features as she hung her head and hummed the song aloud.
The cold blade slipped between her wrists. The sharp edge cut through the binds like butter and the bounds snapped away, rushing blood through her long, fine fingers as she flexed them to life again. Her telling smile was his only warning. Crossing the yellow line betrayed him, and she bit down on his hand, tainting the yellow line with a spray of his blood.
‘Fucking bitch!’ he yelled.
The knife dropped from his grasp, bouncing through the bars and into her cell as they both leapt for it. She reached it first as he gripped his bloodied hand. The salty, red liquid on her lips reminded her of what she would become if she took her initiation. She had tasted him before during a binding ritual he had forced. With her blood in him, and his blood in her, Taris sensed her every move and knew her every location – something she knew she’d never rid. She wiped her mouth clean, removing temptation and the very thoughts she had tried so long to escape. She went back to her thoughts of the Guild.
Should’ve listened. They warned me, they knew this would happen.
Only she had listened, but the months of covering her tracks had failed. Now she was squaring off a watcher and batting her usual out-of-league average. Looking up she watched the blood flow steadily onto the concrete.
An officer ran to his aid. ‘Holy fucking shit, boss. Look what she done to yer hand!’
Steady streams of blood trickled under his shirt sleeve as the number six wall supported his lean, and he cringed. The teeth marks went deep into the webbing of his thumb and finger. Flexing his hand, the rare experience of pain tore through him in the way the Norms felt pain. It flicked a deep switch in a watcher’s preternatural instinct and she’d flicked his good and proper, she thought. Two more Militia officers returned with their assault rifles pointing at her, from their side of the line, as the blood continued to pool on the ground.
Sergeant Kicker’s cunning smile broadened. She weighed the knife in her hands and stepped from their reach. She waited. His calm reaction unnerved her.
‘Taris,’ she called. The heavy knife twirled back and forth between her able fingers.
His cold eyes met with hers, turning grey in his anger. Taris struggled in his search for self-control.
She held her ground and waited, knowing if the door opened, he’d pounce and rip her apart.
‘Right where you should be, Taz.’ The traitor peered through his cell door, giving her first glimpse of his dark thick hair and matching brown eyes. ‘Remove the invocation and heal yourself. Take your knife back,’ he taunted before moving from her sight again. ‘Or they could do it for you. You weak bastard of a dog.’
She closed her eyes; yes, an invocation, of course! Safeguarding a breakout at all costs, he had cast an invocation to remove everyone’s abilities. The building bound his power; he was a normal man standing before her, a watcher without ability, without healing powers, bleeding all over the place. She laughed in her own mind. His very own paranoia had clipped his wings.
Taris calculated the situation; his expression though, still rested on her. Julianna twirled the knife, then stopped and stood still.
Please keep the door closed, she thought. He’s going to tear me apart.
But it was the whisper of words in her mind saying ‘Nice move,’ that caught her undivided attention. She spun at the faint whisper inside her mind and dropped the knife.
The invocation stops him from tearing you apart, the whisper continued. She nodded, a little confused by the uninvited voice in her head. The unexpected intrusion from her fellow comrade next door had broken her concentration.
The guns rose higher, aiming the red lasers on her chest and neck before settling once more into position. ‘Leave her for now,’ Taris ordered. He hung over the bars of her cell door. His bloodied prints remained while his hands slipped to a lower grip.
‘Julianna?’ Taris called quietly.
She retrieved the knife and pushed it into her pocket. His magnetic glare arrested her first glance up and his lips parted into a satisfied smile.
Her panicked mind spewed out her thoughts. Well, now I’m screwed. The music rhythm she’d hummed had disappeared completely.
‘Hold that thought, sweetheart.’ His lips stretched into a closed grin. ‘For my visit tonight…You know I will.’
She sat heavily on the bunk and stared at the wall in front of her. Her comrade’s footsteps paced restlessly behind, back and forth in his captivity.
‘Promises, Taris. You know I like it rough,’ she said, but it was halfhearted. The pain from the interrogation crept into her body again. ‘Looking forward to our next encounter.’
‘Once I’m done with you, you’ll beg for my mercy,’ he said.
No doubt, her lips whispered. Julianna’s frayed mind endured his constant tugging. Invocation or not, he still reached deep into her psyche to disturb and taunt. He couldn’t get his answers, but he could mind slap her with his intrusions, when he wanted to. The concealment tricks the Guild coven had imparted, wore thin and her headache grew thick.
He sung gently in his smooth tones, teasing her. ‘I know something you don’t know.’
She sighed. ‘Come on, Taz, we’re playing childhood games now?’
The singing stopped. ‘Your parents are alive.’
She stood again, facing him from a safe, unreachable distance. Her quick movement made him step back, but her own heart pounded.
‘They’re dead,’ she said, and watched the stranger’s whitened knuckles curl the cell bars.
‘Are they?’ He crossed his arms. More blood dripped carelessly onto his boots.
The officers positioned themselves behind him with their weapons ready, and Sergeant Kicker’s cunning smile turned into a shit-eating grin.
‘Rumor has your father working for the Rebellion.’ He leaned in. ‘Know anything about that? Know anything about this so-called Isis, or anything to help our cause?’
His mind closed in again. She looked away.
‘Anything at all, Julianna. Tell us so we can come to an arrangement. I could let you work for us.’ His eyes lowered. ‘But you’re not a Rebel, so you wouldn’t know about those things, would you?’
She closed their gap, touching her toes to the bottom of the barred wall between them, waiting for him to take the last step on his side.
‘I wouldn’t know. I work for someone far more important than the Rebellion.’
His hands reached for the bars again. ‘Your Guild coven connections don’t threaten me—’
She shook her head, pulled back, and aimed.
Spit trailed down his cheek until it met with a handkerchief from his back pocket.
‘Typical of your disgusting habits.’ He locked her into his hypnotic, serpent stare. His charisma melted away as his pupils engulfed the usual brightness they held, to display black, bottomless pits of nothing.
Let the invocations hold, please, let them hold, she thought. Christ, let them hold or I am so screwed right now.
Taris exchanged his handkerchief for Sergeant Kicker’s rifle. ‘And what should I do to repay you for that deed?’ He cocked it and weighed it in his hands before pointing it in her direction.
‘No,’ he muttered to himself, lowering its aim from her face. ‘Something better.’
Taris punched the stock of the rifle between the cage bars. He hammered it through again, dropping her into the ground as it drove into her ribs. He pulled back with his body, thrusting it down a final time into her soft belly, as she lay helpless below him.
Blood seeped from the broken skin, trickling through her splayed fingers pressing hard against her side. She let her weak body fall flat. The ceiling hung over her in a dizzying spin.
‘Keep the knife, bitch,’ Taris snarled, while the rifle returned to the Sergeant’s rough hands. The officers stood to attention, their weapons lowered. ‘When you’re ready to talk, call for me. You know how.’ His voice was sharp.
He peered into the cell next door.
‘What about me, Taz? Forty-eight hours now. I’m getting claustrophobic.’ The prisoner rested against the wall, keeping his distance from the bars, eyeing the rifles.
‘The Council are still deliberating.’ Taris examined the blood congealing in clumps on his hand. ‘No hurry.’
‘Still gunning for my Council position?’
‘Nah, only the good fight, Cade. I have my spot guaranteed on the Senate after this, I’m happy with that.’
The prisoner stood at the cell door. ‘You okay over there, princess?’
Taris leaned in to the prisoner’s cell door. ‘Keep your distance from her or you’ll be moved to the slot.’
‘But she likes it rough, Taz.’ He raised his eyebrows, taunting him. His voice pitched higher and he extended his bound wrists. Taris jumped back. ‘Do I get my cuffs off now?’ He batted his eyelids and blew him a kiss.
Julianna laughed despite the pain. The officers lingered over her before flanking Taris along the walkway to administer the electronic door locks on the wall panel. Taris stopped at the end to press his hand against it. He quietly counted the manual override keys before signing himself out.
‘Enjoy the company, Caden. I believe the Council will be reaching their decision tomorrow morning,’ Taris called.
‘Prefer the firing squad,’ Caden called back. ‘For what it’s worth.’
Taris swiped his security clearance to open the external doors. ‘I prefer a good hanging myself,’ his voice trailed out, behind the slamming doors.