(By Aral Bereux) Although Julianna Rae’s story recalls a fictional time when the One World Order grasps the United States of America in its stranglehold, events and new technology development are based on current times. Electronic tattoos, RFID chips, hostile drones and the Social Credit System are all insidious certainties threatening our innate rights as free people. Unlike us however, J Rae is a fictional character taking a stand for her freedom. Her world, similar yet different is of evolved human species joining the fight from around the world. Today, we can only hope for such realities. But I have hope. As I write this introduction, Hong Kong protestors take a stand as the world applauds them; Paris may be in the throes of another revolution against their stifling government; and the United States — well, the world is watching . . . This is an account of J Rae’s struggle on behalf of some real-world citizens who are truly worried about their future, and what may happen if we give away our freedoms. Although the world of Watchers and Walkers aren’t real, I’m sure some of you can read between the not so blurry lines of a dystopian future lingering in the background.
The cage door slammed.
Julianna Rae lifted herself from the floor long enough to see the polished boots step back. They were sinister kicking boots from the Kicker and her ribs hurt like hell. Her wrists shook from exhaustion and her knotted hair clung against damp skin as his footfall moved to the neighbouring cell. The arrest flashed back. Everything had happened so quickly.
‘Prisoner 64721 secured,’ boomed the voice from the Watcher who owned the kicking boots. ‘Lockdown complete!’ he yelled down the long corridor, his voice bouncing over the concrete walls. A faint echo of his words responded, confirming his action—and he looked down at his prey.
‘No surrender.’ Her breath pushed a strand of damp hair as the words repeated silently on her lips, and she rolled onto her back, her body exhausted against the cold, hard floor. The fluorescent lights dimmed as she closed her eyes; the desperate events of her arrest flooded back: the truck escorting her to the camp, the clamor of chains pinning her feet and wrists against the interior steel walls, the shouting, the guns, the punches; it all looped in her mind, shadowed by the lingering movement returning as she opened them again to the crouching Kicker dissecting her physique through the cell bars.
‘Did the Family order this?’ Her stomach churned under her cable-tied hands but there was nothing left to vomit. Her eyes met steadfastly with his, defying his authority before travelling down his leg. A spattering of brown ruined the polish of one shoe, probably remnants of her puke, she thought, and she snuffed. ‘They did, didn’t they?’
‘This captivity thing really suits you,’ the Kicker said, dusting off his black shirt despite being clean, moving over the space where his name badge was conveniently missing. ‘. . . wanted to move you to the room without the amenities, but the boss refused,’ he teased and glanced across her cell.
She followed what attracted his sharpness. Brown and red hues decorated the paint behind the cell’s toilet. A stirring cool breeze from the window above curled around her body, raising bumps on her skin; its gentle howl masked the steps shuffling behind the closest wall.
‘Suppose you’ll be pissing in the corner anyways,’ he stated flatly. ‘Traitor,’ he whispered.
Julianna’s lips stretched a cut into a painful sting and a salty trickle coated her tongue. ‘Traitor? It’s J Rae to you—and shall I piss on your boots while I’m at it, Sergeant?’
‘And now you finally speak, you little brat.’ Sergeant Kicker’s hands lashed out at the bars, rattling the cage as he straightened. ‘Not that it matters with the lieutenant on his way. A Master Watcher like him . . .’ he sniggered. ‘And when he’s done, and when your uncle’s finished, I’ll be the one yelling your death orders in front of the firing squad.’
Her lips parted to speak, but Sergeant Kicker moved away to greet others walking in from where she couldn’t see. Voices travelled along the concrete walls, but she couldn’t decipher their muddled words.
If her family—thee Family—organized her arrest, it didn’t matter. It didn’t change the reality of the cell walls surrounding her. She was now, she figured, a political prisoner.
A vast silence otherwise lay over the building as the fluorescent lights buzzed overhead. She squinted under their blue-white ambience.
‘So, she’s down there?’
Julianna turned to the voice receiving a handover report.
‘And she’s still not cooperating?’
‘It can’t be,’ she whispered. A flake of paint bounced on her breath before escaping through her cell window; her body shook away any attempts to get up.
‘. . . let’s see if we can make her talk then.’
‘Shit,’ she whispered to herself as a key bunch rattled with each footstep. Her hairs stood vertical to her goosebumps, knowing the abilities the man at the end of the walkway held. It was a tribute to the Watcher’s psychology—remembering those at the Club with their incessant distractions swaying her barely dressed body into their arms—she shivered at the thought of how easily their own private whispers clawed their way into her mind, just as she thought she felt something inside her thoughts now.
Yet visions of the High-Security Division running her down and hiding behind their balaclavas clouded her mind, this time as her vision blurred out the bad paintwork above her. She whispered to herself to stay awake, chanting it under her breath, but staying awake was harder than she thought, and she felt herself mutter ‘They exhausted me’ on the last memory of leaving Club Star.
Just an informal chat, they’d said as they led her to the truck, her feet barely skimming the ground. And then she arrived at the notorious reprogramming camp, Camp 10. Her stomach had pitted as they drove past the gate’s razor-wired fences to disappear her into the night—taken away by the strangers in black, never to rate a mention in the breaking news. And why would she, she thought? The voice at the end of the corridor would never allow a Norm to make the papers; and if it slipped out, then the media’s flair to smother the truth for a greater world order always won out.
Laughter filled the corridor, but not from the men in her current reality; the men hidden in balaclavas filled her vision again—their eyes scanned the night for trouble as they dragged her beaten body behind their truck.
Julianna squeezed her eyes against the mutterings hiding behind rotting wood doors—seeping between cracked plaster as they dragged her into the cold night, half undressed from arriving home from the late shift. But then they flicked open again to the bars still holding her prisoner; unsurprised by the screams still filling her head from her apartment building; silenced from a soldier’s hard fist banging along the corridor—; threatening everyone still awake—; was she asleep or still awake? Warning them to stay inside as she tripped over the worn carpet they dragged her along, taking skin from her toes as they went.
Her body trembled a painful breath out and she tried to sit up. But her mind fumbled again. And then the interrogation had started the moment her bare feet hit the gravel of Camp 10’s grounds and kept going until her body refused their yelling and questioning.
But now she stared at the ceiling, forcing herself to stay awake again, cursing more herself than those in the black uniforms as the keys and footsteps drew closer.
She stretched her fingers as much as the plastic binds around her wrists allowed and she moved her arms until they woke again. The concrete floor offered little comfort, but her reality was too fractured for caring; it came and then faded back and forth and then back again as she watched the shadows stretch their lingering heights to the wall on the other side. The visions blurred; the countless questions echoed.
Who is Isis? What connections do you have with the Rebellion? Where’s the Safe House?
She barely had a notion of her interrogators’ questions; she was a delivery girl for the Guild, an impartial preternatural Switzerland-like coven that hid from conflict—and who offered a strange comfort now lacking in the Militia-controlled sectors. She danced for a living when she didn’t courier their comms through Club Star patrons and she followed their instructions to the letter: Never peek at the messages; don’t ask for codes, names or offers. No one told her anything. Isn’t Isis a bird?
A rush of water soaked the towel already suffocating her face and she had passed out during questioning, and then Sergeant Kicker had arrived for his first interrogation.
The footfalls stopped and dull whispers of intent followed, ones she wasn’t privy to. She hated the prets who saw themselves superior with their long lives and abilities after generations of evolution—hiding themselves from their lesser ‘Normal-genetic’ descendants until it was time to weasel in with an economic coup.
Watchers and Walkers loyally served the World Order in their own vision and destroyed half-castes and sympathizers like her.
Rolling and lifting her tired body until her knees were comfortable, Julianna knelt for her approaching captor, more surprised to see Sergeant Kicker pointing his gun. Did she lose consciousness? How long had he been standing there for?
‘Put it away, Sergeant.’ A distant voice ordered.
Her heart sank. She was right about the voice not belonging to a stranger. She knew it all too well.
‘We have her now,’ the familiar voice continued. Metal scraped along each cell bar, teasing her before they shoved the keys inside a pocket.
The bars made Sergeant Kicker pirate-like as her trembling body wavered. If she cocked her head right, a bar blocked one eye and half his face. He wasn’t the prettiest man-watcher alive, and she wondered if Kicker was a secret half-caste himself. Finishing her thought, his eyes narrowed and darkened.
‘Nope,’ she moved to see his full face between the bars again. ‘You’re still dog-ugly.’
The gun raised.
‘Don’t let her bother you, Sergeant. She’s just harmless teasing and you’re going home to your family tonight.’
Sergeant Kicker smiled. It didn’t help his face. The gun holstered tightly to his thigh, and he started along the yellow line stretching down the walkway’s middle, whistling softly as he went. A number six loomed on the wall behind him; when Sergeant Kicker moved, she saw it in the shadows where the light didn’t reach.
‘J Rae, on the other hand, is stuck here.’ The footsteps stopped short of her cell; the familiar voice belonged to the right face. ‘You no longer have the Senate’s protection, and FYI sweetheart: A message from your uncle says your family’s done with your bullshit.’
‘Sucks to be me then.’ But Julianna received no response. More unwanted memories flashed, this time of Senator Douglas Cathan, one of the few Walkers left holding the balance of power on the Senate—the asshole uncle who had raised her since she was four, and close associate to the man standing in front of her.
Taris Madison blocked the number six on the wall. His broad shoulders faced her small frame, large in the all-black uniform he wore. His senior rank, given away by the Lieutenant Madison name badge, was easy to read from her cell.
‘Is this about my self-imposed exile?’ She paused. ‘You don’t think torturing me over it’s a little too much—even by the standards of the New Order’s political correctness policy?’
His wispy blonde hair moved from his face as he hung on the bars of the cell door. She sensed his enjoyment. Her rejection of the One World Order came at a cost, just like the citizens who paid for these indiscretions with their lives.
‘I suppose saying sorry comes a little too late?’ she asked.
Taris’s flawlessly aligned smile broadened. ‘Your arrest has nothing to do with your running away, Julianna; and what we found in your apartment has only cemented your short future in Camp 10. I’ve been told you’re refusing to answer our questions, little lady.’
She rolled her eyes. ‘So, I guess that’s an outright no, then?’
‘Finding the comms’—and though they’re blank, J Rae, their possession means only one of two things. Don’t pretend you don’t know this already.’
‘Oh, but I don’t,’ she teased.
‘Let’s avoid the hoop-jumping, okay? You’re in communication with the Rebellion—’
‘—Or Militia,’ she corrected.
Taris still smiled a shit-eating grin. ‘You forget how well I know you. All those ritual walks together on the family estate when we were engaged. All those lies you bullshitted me.’ His eyes darkened at the memory he pushed inside her mind. ‘Your sympathy for the Rebels.’ She remembered back to the eve of his conscription, and her words were enough that he called off their wedding.
‘Speaking of bullshit,’ she changed the subject. ‘They showed me the order you signed as I was being dragged here. I know we’ve had our differences, but you can’t possibly still believe I’m working with the Rebellion.’ Julianna considered she was safer in the cell than beside him and went to say more before a cough stole her words. Red droplets painted her fingers; the One World Order experience fell short of the warm and fuzzies like its promises in the news and did little to comfort the growing pain under her ribs.
Prisoner 64721 looked up at her captor.
‘Right where you should be, J Rae.’ His hands gripped loosely at the bars and he leaned back, nodding to the cell next door. ‘In the company of another Rebel, too.’
‘Locking away young girls now, Taz?’ a male voice teased from the cell next door.
Julianna’s forming bruises strained, protesting as her bare feet stubbornly found gravity to search for the face belonging to the new voice.
‘My boys roughen you up, sweetheart?’ Taris glanced down the line and yelled at his officers. ‘I told you men to go easy on her—she’s spitting blood for fuck’s sake.’
She heard a ‘Sorry, boss’ and used the top bunk to lean against.
He smiled sadistically. ‘Sorry, J Rae. They’re an overzealous bunch—tough to control.’ His eyes lingered over her body. ‘Not that I expect you to understand the patriotism and conviction they possess for our illustrious new world.’
‘Spoken like a true dick. Is that how you’re referring to the Order turning our world to shit in two short years?’ She shrugged. No one escaped its forceful nature, she thought and discarded everything else running through her mind, closing it to Taris’s heightened ability. His simple presence drained her strength—a strong Watcher who had mastered his craft over years of practice. She thought him a Norm when they were first engaged, someone like her, someone with no abilities—just another lie he had people blindly believe.
He raised her eyes to his with an imperceptible reach only a Watcher could accomplish, waiting for his chance to leap-frog into her guarded mind again.
But she limped to the cell bars, defiant in keeping her eyes back down as she pushed her wrists through the gaps and sung inside her mind. He reached for his knife, unclipping the stud that held it in place and sung the gentle song with her. She wasn’t alone in her thoughts—she couldn’t block him out completely, but it was a useful distraction as he edged the blade from its holster.
Julianna waited for the knife to oblige with her bindings and contemplated the sign behind him, warning officers not to cross the yellow line. Her naturally auburn hair covered most of her face, hiding her green-eyed gaze as she planned, and as she hummed the song out loud, watching the cold blade slip between her wrists. The sharp edge cut through the binds like butter and the bounds snapped away, rushing blood through her long fingers as she flexed them back to life again. Her lips parted, gently at first, with no signs of deceit before the grip of her teeth snapped down into Taris’s unsuspecting hand.
‘Shit!’ He tried pulling back. ‘Fuck!’ The yellow line caught sprays of his blood on each tug.
Loose skin ripped between her teeth as he tore from her mouth, leaving skin she spat out.
‘You freaking bitch,’ he yelled as the knife bounced into her cell, landing against her foot.
For a moment they both stared at the weapon before he gave up for the bleeding. She grasped it first, madly wiping the salt from her lips; reminded of her half-caste identity and what it could do. She had tasted Taris before, during a binding ritual he’d forced. With her blood in him and his blood in her, Taris sensed her location if they were close enough to each other. And yet, she thought to herself, tonight he failed in the simplest task of expecting her next move.
‘Holy fucking shit, boss. Look what she’s done to yer hand!’
‘What d’you just say to me?’ Taris snapped and held his wrist. ‘Get him outta here!’
‘Refer to paganism in here again and I’ll kill you myself! Get him away from me!’ Taris ordered as they dragged the soldier out.
He clasped at his shaking wrist. Steady streams of blood trickled under his shirt sleeve, the pressure from his other hand doing little to stem the bleeding between his torn thumb and finger. His rare experience with pain darkened his eyes, betraying his true preternatural self as his pupils measured her in their black stare. Sergeant Kicker shouldered through the crowd of soldiers, now back in his circle.
‘Right where you should be, Taz.’ The neighbouring Rebel peered through his cell door, giving her a glimpse of his dark hair and matching brown eyes. ‘Remove the invocation and heal yourself. Take your knife back,’ he taunted before moving away from her sight again. ‘Ah, that’s right . . .you can’t in here.’
She thought the stranger howled under his breath. She now understood why Taris wasn’t healing himself. Safeguarding a breakout at all costs—Taris had spelled the building to remove everyone’s abilities, but it also muted his own power in return. He stood as a normal man, a Watcher without abilities who was bleeding all over his perfectly polished boots.
‘You idiot,’ the neighbouring prisoner teased. ‘Your own paranoia screwed you over again.’
Taris watched intently—the piercing blue charm returned to his eyes; his expression fixated on the knife she continued to hold.
And then the unexpected whisper of words pushed deep inside her mind, uninvited. Just stay calm. . .The invocation stops him from attacking.
The knife slipped along her fingers and she felt herself nod.
He’s got orders not to touch you.
The unexpected intrusion from next door broke her concentration, but she understood a Watcher’s whisper when she heard it. The guns rose as red lasers danced across her chest.
‘Leave her for now,’ Taris ordered. He hung on the bars of her cell door, stepping between the laser trails and her body. His bloodied prints remained while his hands slipped to a lower grip.
‘Julianna?’ Taris called softly.
His magnetic glare arrested her senses, and his lips parted when she looked. The rhythm she’d hummed had abruptly flatlined.
‘Hold your thoughts, sweetheart.’ His eyes glistened and he wet his lips. ‘And his. . .For my visit tonight.’
She stepped back until the bunk’s edge encouraged her to sit, catching her softly where she collapsed. The neighbouring prisoner’s footsteps stopped silent behind his own cell wall.
‘I’ll fuck you over later—’
‘You know I like it rough,’ she said, but it was half-hearted and without any conviction. The not-so-funny joke did little for the lingering pain from the interrogation clawing inside her body, and her head was unbearably thumping. ‘Leave me alone, Taris,’ she whispered and stared into space. ‘I’ve nothing to tell.’
‘Once I’m done with you, you’ll be begging for death,’ he continued. ‘I’ll make you bleed—’
The prisoner interrupted. ‘Fuck, you’re a sick unit.’
But Taris ignored him. He sang sweetly, teasing her instead. ‘I know something you don’t know.’
She sighed. ‘Come on, Taz, we’re playing childhood games now?’
The singing stopped. ‘Intel says your parents are alive,’ he stated.
Julianna departed her thoughts and paused. She was suitably alert to avoid the trap he was setting for her. Julianna’s father, a wealthy, no-bullshit-policy kind of man, had disappeared just before the height of the takeover. Her years of searching for him exhausted all possibilities.
‘That’s impossible,’ she said, getting to her feet. The prisoner’s whitened knuckles curled around his cell door bars as he listened.
‘Intel says they’re not dead.’ Taris crossed his arms. The dripping blood no longer bothered him. ‘Rumor has your father working for the Rebellion.’ He leaned in. ‘Suppose you know nothing about it or the money he stole? Know anything about this so-called Isis or anything to help our New World?’ He gestured. ‘We could exchange information for your father’s whereabouts, you and I. All I need is Isis and the Rebel’s headquarters, maybe even some black-market secrets and we’ll call it even, say.’
She almost laughed.
‘Anything at all, Julianna. I’m sure we can come to an arrangement,’ his voice offered. ‘I could even let you work for us, perhaps arrange something for your freedom,’ he sighed, ‘but then you keep saying you’re not a Rebel, so I guess it’s pointless even continuing on about finding your father and this Isis leader.’
She closed their gap, touching her toes to the bottom of the barred wall between them, waiting for him to take another step closer.
‘News flash,’ she accused, ‘I don’t know who Isis is. I work for someone far more important than the Rebellion or Militia—and my parents are dead, asshole. Very, very dead. So, nice try.’
His hands reached the bars again. ‘Your Guild connections don’t threaten me, Julianna, they mean absolutely fucking nothing—’
She pulled back and aimed. ‘Oh, but I think they do, you prick.’
Spit trailed down his cheek to the hand mopping it up.
Julianna continued, ‘Don’t you ever mention my father again.’
‘Biting and spitting. I see you haven’t changed your ways since we last locked horns.’ Taris caged her into his hypnotic stare, holding her gaze as he searched her mind. The lasting taunt ended when a frown creased his brow. ‘You’re stronger than I last remember.’
‘Maybe you’re just weaker than you realize,’ she responded, frowning as Taris took Sergeant Kicker’s rifle.
‘Just a red rag to a bull, sweetheart.’ He cocked the gun and weighed it in his hands before pointing it.
The cells were quiet now. Everyone waited.
‘No,’ he muttered to himself, lowering its aim from her face. ‘Last chance, Julianna. Are you cooperating with the wishes of the World Order tonight or not?’ Taris asked.
‘Meeeh!’ A dull thud broke the anticipation. ‘Wrong answer.’ The stock of the rifle punched between the cage bars again, dropping Julianna into the ground as it drove into her stomach a second time. He pulled back with his body, thrusting it through the bars until she curled away from the attack.
Blood seeped between her fingers. The ceiling blurred above her, and when she caught her breath and the sight of his face, she saluted him with a single bloodied finger.
‘Keep the knife, bitch,’ Taris snarled. The rifle returned to Sergeant Kicker’s hands. The officers stood to attention, their weapons lowering. ‘When you’re ready to talk about your father, call for me.’ His eyes angled to the other cell. ‘You both know how to whisper—even in here it seems.’
‘What about me, Taz? Forty-eight hours now, I’m getting claustrophobic.’ The prisoner rested against the wall, keeping his distance from the bars as the rifles raised again.
‘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 a guaranteed position on the Senate with your arrest. Couldn’t be happier at the moment.’
The prisoner stood at his cell door. ‘You okay over there, princess?’
‘Keep your distance or I’ll move you to the slot.’
‘But she likes it rough, Taz.’ He raised his eyebrows, taunting him. He pitched his voice higher and extended his bound wrists. ‘Do I get my cuffs off now?’ He batted his eyelids and blew him a kiss.
Julianna laughed despite the pain. The officers lingering around her cell door followed Taris to the end of the building where he counted the manual override keys before scanning himself out.
‘Enjoy the company, Caden,’ he called. ‘I hear the Council will reach their decision tomorrow morning.’
‘Prefer the firing squad,’ Caden called back. ‘For what it’s worth.’
Taris swiped his security clearance to unlock the external doors. ‘I prefer a good hanging myself. It’s cheaper.’ His voice trailed out behind the doors that locked tight.
‘Well,’ the prisoner muttered, ‘other than a big hole in the ground, I’d say he’s still an asshole.’
The overhead corridor lights flickered out one at a time, leaving them in sallow moonlight.
‘Did they seriously just turn off the lights?’ she whispered as she pulled herself up.
‘Every night to save on power,’ he sighed.
‘Are those cameras infra-red?’ She pointed to the corner wall outside her cell.
‘They are,’ he said. ‘But they don’t even work yet—I know from my time on the dark side here. We didn’t have a budget large enough to import the copper required to finish the job.’
‘Good to know,’ she whispered, staring at the corner camera outside her cell door. ‘About you on the dark side, that is.’
Julianna traced the rough edge of the lock panel on her cage. A large gap in its frame exposed red wires underneath, and she noted the loosely welded plate and potential wire poking close to the surface.
‘What you did just then . . .’ He pointed a finger in the air, stealing her distraction. A glimmer of light reflected from the cuffs binding his hands.
‘Was a really dumb move,’ she finished and wiped a line of blood from her lip. The static cameras blinked in their direction. ‘Are you sure they’re off? Are there any cameras in here that actually work?’
‘Only in the compound. Figured video evidence of custody deaths wasn’t a requirement in here.’ He nodded and leaned against the bars for a better look, ignoring her distraction. ‘Power runs through them but no cables to transmit a live feed . . . you know, I wouldn’t have picked you for a Rebel, Miss Rae.’
She moved from the camera’s line-of-sight. ‘Only against the Family. But now they’ve ruffled my feathers again—and here I was, trying to keep a low profile with a Coven.’ She waited a moment, still staring at the cameras. ‘And you? Why are you in here?’
‘Jealous cousin and I woke up to myself.’ A smile reached his eyes. He nodded toward the knife in her hands. ‘Any good with a blade?’ He stretched his hands through the bars.
‘I heard your whisper.’ She reached for his cuffs with the knife tip. ‘It surprised me. I rarely hear them and even then I think I’m hallucinating.’
‘You either can or you can’t. It’s about all I can do in here, anyway. He’s locked this place down with some impossible spells to lift—even for me.’
The blade glided over the steel and into his skin and she looked up apologetically as he sharply pulled away.
‘Don’t worry about it,’ he said, sucking at the trickle of blood leaving his hand before pushing his hands out to her again.
The blade tip returned into the lock and pushed at the internal lever. ‘These aren’t what I’m used to.’ She maneuvered the knife to another angle. ‘What are these cuffs anyway? It’s like they’re countering my every move.’
‘They bind abilities,’ he said as the cuffs loosened with a click, and he drew his hands away quickly. ‘It seems you and Taris have a complicated history for a so-called Norm and an asshole Watcher,’ he said.
‘I can help get them off,’ she said, still offering her hands through the bars.
‘No thanks.’ He moved from her sight. ‘Limited time. They’ll tighten if you play for much longer anyway.’ A crunch filled her cell. The cuffs slipped away from his deformed hands and he slipped one thumb into its place. He rested against the bars nursing his other hand. ‘Julianna Rae,’ he repeated to himself. Sweat beaded on his forehead. ‘You’re the young girl Doug Cathan took in years ago—Peter’s daughter.’
‘Peter?’ She looked up from the wires. ‘So, you knew my father then?’ She watched him pulling at his thumb.
‘Sounds like they’ve been chasing you for a while.’ He studied his broken hand again.
‘Family issues,’ she confirmed.
‘Family issues?’ His brow etched with curiosity. ‘Right. So, you don’t think you’re in here for other reasons then?’ His thumb resisted his attempts to return it into place.
Julianna eyed him. ‘No. I just pissed on the wrong people’s boots, is all.’ She leaned her hands out again. ‘Here, I’m not sure what I’m doing but let me try.’
He gave over his broken hand and nodded, giving her the go-ahead to wrench his thumb forward; she ignored the stomp of his foot as the joint slipped half in, and pulled again to feel it connect.
Not talking, his teeth gritted.
‘Sorry,’ she muttered and edged away from his self-directed temper, leaving him to himself to slide her fingers along the smooth walls and steel bars. The only way out was the way they came in. She eyed the red wire again.
‘You didn’t answer me directly, Miss Rae,’ he said. ‘About being a Rebel.’
Julianna knelt in front of her cell door’s lock. She didn’t respond to the comment but edged the knife into the metalwork encasing the wiring for her door, popping up a mess of red and white tentacles with her knife blade. ‘I’m not with the Rebellion.’ She crossed two wires and sparks flew. ‘Occasionally I help the Guild through the Covens, but nothing worth mentioning.’ More sparks dropped on her hand.
‘Typical Guild response,’ he huffed. ‘Very non-committal.’
She gave him a look. The gate cracked open.
‘But resourceful.’ He leaned on the bars. ‘What about the rumor of the Seer appearing?’
‘What about it?’ She looked up at the cameras. ‘Just another myth. Surely someone your age understands there’s no one to save us but us,’ she said as she walked backwards to watch the cameras. ‘They’re in the same position.’ She paused. ‘So is my father alive then?’
Caden peered from his cage, waiting for her to reach the security panel.
‘Use your shirt,’ he called. ‘Press over it; there should be enough oil residue for another scan.’
She wrapped her thumb with the edge of her shirt and pressed down slowly. The monitor blinked, acknowledging the scan with a frozen green screen.
He paced in front of the cell door. ‘Try pressing harder, Miss Rae.’
Julianna grumbled as the cell door’s schematics remained locked. ‘It’s green but not doing anything,’ she called back.
He shook his head. ‘Maybe confirm the Unlock in the middle of the freaking screen—’ the door swung under his weight and he sighed. ‘Thank you,’ he said on his way down the corridor. Latching her arm, he hurried past the panel to the doors keeping them in. ‘However, we’re in a bit of a hurry.’
She glanced at the fingers digging into her skin.
‘What?’ he said, letting her go. ‘Manhandling new to you? Taz a pussycat in the sack? If we dick around in this place—’
‘I’m quickly not liking you,’ she said.
They both turned their attention to the door’s security panel.
‘We need a proximity card,’ she said, looking around.
‘Yee of little faith,’ he said and concentrated his hand over the square. The door moved an uncertain inch until he gripped at its handle and pulled.
They peered through the gap. ‘They’re changing shift,’ she muttered.
‘Yes, they are,’ he agreed. ‘I guess we got lucky.’
‘Not that I’m disagreeing, but I’m counting a shit load of soldiers out there. I doubt the parlor tricks of a Watcher are useful against a camp full of autos and snipers.’
‘Parlor tricks?’ His dark eyes counted troops massing in the main quadrangle. Shift reports exchanged hands before the day officers left for their quarters. ‘They’re thinning out at least,’ and he screwed his nose. ‘Really? Parlor tricks? I can’t believe you just said that, you disrespectful little wench. Master Watcher to you, little one and we’ll talk about this later; now stay alert and follow what I do . . .’ he trailed off and put his fingers between his lips to whistle.
His eyes moved in her direction. His head didn’t. Caden pursed his lips again, silencing the nearby guards with his second call.
‘Are you one of those half-assed crazy Watchers senile from living too many centuries? We just got out of the freaking cells and now you’re locking us back in! What the fuck?’ she hissed.
Caden pushed her to the doors. ‘Get ready,’ he whispered. ‘Be quick.’
Her eyes widened. Ready for what? Her thoughts were loud enough that he heard her mind yelling at him. His head turned, and the door closed. He heard her all right, loud and clear but with no intentions of telling her anything more.
What an asshole, she thought. And he glanced down at her, eyebrows raised.
‘This isn’t funny,’ she hissed.
‘Mildly amusing.’ He cocked his head and stood behind the doors as rifles pushed through the entry. Two officers followed, steadying their sights against Julianna as the doors closed tight. Lasers hovered over her body while they scanned her.
‘Prisoner 64721—drop your weapon and get down on the ground!’ The female officer ordered. ‘Get down on the ground now! Or I’ll shoot!’
Julianna’s fingers obediently opened for the knife to fall in front of her.
‘Get down on the ground!’
The bulkier sergeant kicked the knife behind him, oblivious to the hand curling around it. ‘The other prisoner,’ he demanded. ‘Where is he?’
But streaming hot blood pouring down his neck stopped further questioning. His second-in-command fumbled for her radio, holding it to her lips, unaware of Julianna’s fist cutting through the air and into her face.
Caden stared as the body fell beside her dead partner. ‘Ah, wow.’
The radio dropped from her hand.
‘You’re a scary angry pet when you wanna be,’ he said, almost proudly. Quickly now,’ he said and started tugging at the dead man’s uniform before it stained too much with his blood. He examined the T-shirt and left it—everything else he took.
Julianna just shook her head.
‘Kill or be killed,’ he said, noticing her stare. ‘Get undressed. We’ve just found our way out.’
Julianna hesitated over the girl’s boots, unlacing them nervously. Dancing scantily clad with women at the club was entirely different to undressing them, she thought, and she looked down at the pants she tugged over the limp officer’s ankles.
‘I can’t believe I’m doing this,’ she muttered more to herself.
Caden buttoned the new shirt over his tattoo-covered chest. ‘Believe it, Julianna. We just got our freedom back.’ He clipped the radio onto his new belt. ‘But we need to hurry.’
She glanced up. Ancient symbols stretched around his torso, and along his arms, disappearing under the shirt. Some she recognized from time spent with Taris; status markings of a Watcher possessing the highest abilities—but most of these she’d never seen.
‘Any slower, sweetheart, and I’ll lock you in the cells myself.’
Julianna pushed her pants over her knees, almost taking her underwear with them.
He chuckled quietly as he adjusted his shirt sleeve to cover the last of the markings stretching down to his wrist.
‘Nice ink,’ she said as she finished dressing. The uniform felt warm against her skin. The collar released a sweet perfume scent. ‘Local shop or something a little more upmarket?’ She knew they were from levels of initiation and rites he would have endured in a previous life, but the words rolled out before she could even control them. The stress of this shitty night was finally getting to her, she thought, and instantly regretted her words when he threw her a displeased look.
‘Nice rack,’ he retorted. ‘Plastic surgeon?’ He had two buttons to go, which he worked on as he peered outside the door. ‘We need to move if we’re doing this.’
He took the sergeant’s sidearm for himself, strapping it to his thigh and left the rifle in the mess flooding out.
‘What about her?’ she asked as they both looked at the girl on the floor. The pretty blonde with pouty lips lay deathly still.
‘The best Militia are dead Militia,’ he replied. He knelt beside the girl and checked for a pulse. ‘And she’s one of the better ones.’ Caden threw the girl’s cap at Julianna’s chest.
‘She’s dead?’ She stared at the body as Caden straightened. ‘I killed her?’
He took the cap from her frozen hands and pulled it tight over her head. ‘Look down, follow me.’ He paused. ‘And definitely don’t speak.’
Julianna glanced at her fist—it didn’t even hurt.
‘Julianna.’ Caden’s pull broke the macabre concentration, surprising her with his sudden change in appearance. His already dark hair deepened in color and hung over his damp brow. His face became clean-shaven and free from the lines that had cornered his eyes earlier. She admired it as much as the one in the cell and couldn’t help but stare.
Caden held the door open; freedom was close enough that Taris’s spells were ineffective against his power.
‘You’re a shape-shifter,’ she said, noting to herself that he was free—and if I hadn’t already been beside him, he’d already have escaped.
He frowned, overhearing her thoughts. ‘You helped me, so we go it together, okay?’
She nodded. He’d read her again, intruding where he wasn’t welcome, reading and interrupting her thoughts. Now he could shape-shift. She stared at the unfamiliar Watcher, feeling the world as she knew it slipping away. She’d killed a person, and he hadn’t even flinched. It wasn’t a world that she wanted.
‘Is your mind always this noisy?’ he asked. ‘A deaf-mute could hear you from another country away.’
Heat rose to her cheeks. ‘Got any other half-assed plans that might see us getting killed tonight?’
He looked across the compound. ‘I’m looking at this as a one-chance-only.’ The moonlight and floodlights made it easy to map their environment. He escorted her outside. ‘We have a thirty-second offer never to be repeated.’ Soldiers handed over shift reports and comms plates to the night shift, oblivious to them marching across the compound in stolen uniforms.
Caden saluted passing soldiers who acknowledged his authority.
‘The dark side you were referring to—so you’re Militia then?’ she whispered.
He nodded to the yellow stretch of light following from the tower to the corner of a building and guided her behind it.
‘Council, like I said,’ he whispered. ‘I like to think of myself as a reformed Rebel these days. Nobody’s perfect.’
The change-over shift was complete. New security sat in their checkpoint, finding comfort in freshly made coffee and The Bulletin’s propaganda. The monitoring between radio calls paused, waiting for radio checks and the shift change to acknowledge transmissions. The tower guards checked their ammunition before settling into position for the night. Another round of spot-lighting from the overhead towers lit the compound, and Caden peered around the edge of the building.
‘That wasn’t a Councillor’s salute.’
‘And I’ve time to explain my resume right now? Another day, perhaps.’
‘I didn’t mean—’
But the sirens cut off any trailing thought. Soldiers ran to their posts and the sentry guard armed himself as his newspaper scattered to the ground. Loose, slippery papers fell, and a coffee cup spilt.
Caden leaned back, pressing against the wall and taking her with him in an embrace that draped around her shoulders. The close smell of blood lingering on his shirt urged a rising lump in her throat to go higher.
‘You okay?’ he whispered, and she shook her head. She was most definitely not okay she thought to herself as a warm hand rested on her stomach.
His gentle touch stole her nausea away, first settling it before healing the bruises covering her body. Any evidence of Taris’s assault melted away under Caden’s hand—her health restored in seconds with an invisible warmth renewing her entire body.
His eyes brooded over her shoulder, and she gave him a nod he returned—a lets-get-moving nod they both understood as urgent as they started through the open quadrangle and into the checkpoint booth.
A frantic guard dismissed him with a hand cutting through the air as the monitor under the glass screen displayed images of herself and Caden. He didn’t see the palm angling into his chin and Caden’s hands reaching to snap the job finished. Julianna presumed the man lifeless when his body collapsed head-first into the waste bin under the desk.
‘Was that even necessary?’ she whispered.
Caden shrugged and slammed a hand against the over-ride button. ‘Probably not.’ They glanced out at the gate opening. ‘But I never liked the guy. Time to go,’ he said and grabbed her hand to run.
The gate crunched across the gravel, slowly opening for their escape. Caden slipped through first, narrowly making it with Julianna dragging behind, and they ran into the vast woodland for cover, the Jeeps having to wait.
They ran hand-in-hand through the trees and rocks, weaving in and out with the scenery blurring around them. Footsteps gained on them before disappearing; flashlights shone, bouncing off the tree trunks and damp grass. Jeeps roared in the distance. Hover drones hummed, their laser eyes flashing behind them, angrily scanning the ground for traces of body heat or other readings they could find. Their breath hung mist on the cold air and their thumping hearts struggled to catch up.
Julianna felt as though her lungs would burst. Her legs followed Caden in leaps and bounds, and when Caden slipped, they went together, plummeting down a steep ledge, sliding down rock and landing into thick mud. He sat up, holding her close as they pushed against the ledge, waiting for the footsteps and voices to pass above them.
She glanced from his chest to his face. The smell of muddy sweat replaced the stench of blood. Caden watched over her shoulder, their lips almost touching with the rise of her chin as they waited.
He looked down at them. ‘You hurt at all?’
Julianna shook her head to his whisper and studied the ledge above them. The footsteps returned with the accompanying hum of a drone close by and a laser breaking through the mist, missing Julianna’s boots curling underneath her.
Be still, he whispered, and his arms tightened around her where they huddled. His voice pushed inside her mind, its tone reaching every inch of her body but not finishing—his hand slapped over her mouth as the machine dropped in front of them, and the sting of a knife sailed over her shoulder.
The drone splashed into the mud with Taris’s combat knife poking from its viewfinder.
A soldier called out, ‘Looks like the drone’s gone east!’
Their held breaths let go. Caden freed the knife and raised a pointed finger toward the trees.
They weaved along the rocks and trees stretching man-sized roots toward the river. The Jeep engines faded into the night and the flashlights were no longer visible. The lasers in the sky faded away, with only the moonlight breaking between the clouds for light.
Caden and Julianna rested, listening to the rapids drown their heavy breathing as she slid against the steep rock sheltering them.
‘Home free,’ Caden said. He crouched to catch his breath. shaking his head. ‘If this is your standard evening, Julianna Rae . . .’ he drew in another deep breath. ‘You can bloody well keep it.’
Laughing hurt her; she glimpsed over her shoulder, searching for their predators. Silence lingered in the mist. No manufactured noise, no drones, no dogs, no Jeeps or gunshots; just the river flowing, the wind, and the rain. When she turned back, Caden held a sliver of broken glass in one hand—while balancing the knife on his thigh he scratched two lines into its blade.
‘What’s your last name?’ she asked.
‘Madison. Taris’s cousin. Can’t choose your family though.’ He wiped his face dry on his sleeve. He held the knife out. ‘Here. Every trophy needs an inscription.’
She studied the two small lines carved into the blade, perfectly straight and easy to see.
‘You good from here?’ he asked.
‘I can find my way,’ she nodded, pocketing the knife into the holster that came with the uniform. ‘So . . . my father?’ She looked around for any unwanted company.
He pointed in front. ‘North’s that way,’ he paused. ‘In case you’re wondering.’
She wasn’t getting an answer. ‘Eastbound actually.’
His expression raised. ‘Back to the sectors then?’
‘My ride’s there, my job. It’s where I live.’ Her smile faded. ‘Have to look for a new place though.’
‘That sucks, but I hear Sector Three isn’t so bad.’
‘He’s really alive then?’
‘Yeah.’ His hands rested on his hips. ‘Yeah, Julianna, he really is. But it’s complicated.’
She pursed her lips for a moment, fighting the sinking feeling pounding away in her chest. ‘I’m sure it is.’ She kicked at a loose rock.
‘Bunking with the Guild? It explains why he couldn’t find you. He really had no idea.’
She nodded. ‘At least he’s alive, right?’ But she wasn’t convinced. ‘Can you tell him that I . . . that I’m relieved, too?’
His face softened. ‘Yeah, for sure I will.’
‘Thanks.’ She nodded and sighed. ‘See you around, C Mads.’
‘Hope so, J Rae—stay safe in Sector Three, huh?’
‘I wasn’t the one in cuffs,’ she said, walking away from him. The rain threatened to start again, and her boots, already full of water, felt heavy with the mud. The comment about Sector Three sunk deep inside her thoughts.
‘See you in the Rebellion, wise ass,’ he said, a grin cocking the corner of his mouth. ‘Isis is gonna love you.’
She glanced back, quick enough to see him disappear into the thick trees heading west. She headed east, hell-bent on getting her bike back—and her life for that matter. But she wondered why Sector Three was now the first stop on her list.
March 2025: The new Credit System is here, and I fear for all those caught in its grasp. If my predictions are correct—and I’m no seer—it’s only a matter of time before they implement the last of their strategies. The last strands of our freedom are snapping away, threadbare; the ordinary citizen has no means to hide. Who can fight a drone with their fists? And with the next phase being electronic tattoos… I’m working on them, but the coding’s complicated; It seems an impossible task, and refusal of one carries a death sentence… I must tell my brother Max.
Julianna’s bike shuddered as she increased its speed. The patrols closed in behind her. Pedestrians crossing roads jumped into gutters, yelling abuse as the bikes sped past, their anger gagged by the roaring engines. Drones weaved above the scant evening traffic, waiting on orders from the patrol to take over their hunt as evening curfew thinned the crowds. Now, as Julianna weaved her bike between the last of the cars on the open two-lane road, the patrol’s pursuit became easy. Too easy, she thought, swinging a glance into her side mirror. The space between them narrowed—the comms’ screens scratched against each other in her back pocket; the last-minute detour to the Guild now seemed a very bad idea. The late return without her forged papers meant that the new Civic Credit System’s dry-run using city cameras was successful. The Militia had finally found her.
Isis had warned of the coming technology—they just didn’t have a release date until today. The kamikaze insect bleeding over her visor led to the facial scan from a passing drone. It fed her naked features into the national database—the helmet pulling her normally unkempt hair from her face for its task, and she panicked. It was enough for the technology to match her against the outstanding warrants and enough to link her GPS into nearby drones and bike patrols for a pursuit.
Julianna sped past another billboard flickering a pixeled image of her face. It failed, even as the drones closed in for a fresh reading and the street cameras moved to capture her speeding through curfew-hour traffic.
She glimpsed over her shoulder. The billboard’s screen scrolled to Militia statistics and then polar bears as the patrols closed in. But her smile faded at the thought of Isis hacking the system for the sleek bikes racing behind her, reflecting the sunset as their bodies bent against the wind. Julianna’s bike shuddered again, held together by stolen pieces.
‘If you can hear me, this confirms your suspicions about Taris, yeah?’ But silence filled her helmet. The voice-activated microphone blinked a broken red signal inside her visor.
The bike engines drowned the sound of her breathing. Taris controlled the immediate five sectors and were always a travel risk from the east-side gates. The last-minute trip to the Guild’s Coven took her from Sector Three’s safe house, and she was already late for work. She just needed to get into Six, where guards accepted bribes and where she could slip into the club’s anonymity. Six, she kidded herself, was safe from the personal vendettas of one Militia lieutenant—one involving a girl biting his hand a long time ago.
Loose hair slapped at the visor. She pushed it from the view of the streets, almost colliding with a drone’s sudden drop in front of her. It hovered, undisturbed by her screeching halt.
‘Shit!’ she skidded her bike to a stop. Passing traffic merged into one lane, bypassing the inconvenience as the drone’s camera blinked. A second drone joined in its stare, losing gravity before finding itself above its partner again.
Julianna kept her helmet’s visor down this time. Her breathing echoed inside the sweaty chamber as her eyes scanned the street. ‘Come on, Isis,’ she whispered to herself. ‘Do something.’ She waited and noted the emptying streets. Most of the traffic was gone.
The drones continued their gentle static drift in front of her, waiting for the bikes and their next command.
‘Isis,’ she hissed and waited for the silence in her helmet to break. The officer leading the chase left his bike.
‘Visor up. ID card. Name.’
‘You know my freaking name,’ she whispered inside her helmet as the officer knocked hard on it.
‘Hello. Anyone home? I said visor up and identification card ready. You’re in violation.’
The drones angled toward the stationary patrol. The view through her visor was as distinct as the sunset beating its orange hues through the clouds. Julianna saw the fine detail of the robotic discs in their struggle to hover as an invisible string dragged them closer to their doom.
‘Something’s wrong with the drones,’ the officer perched on his bike said and then experienced why. The drones bounced their bellies against each other and spun into his body.
The order in her helmet came promptly.
There was a dull clang. The officer lay wounded on the road, joined by his offsiders trying to help him to his feet.
‘Get the hell outta there!’ The gravelly voice ordering her to flee belonged to Isis.
Blood oozed from the man on the ground, his leg badly cut. The other men remained oblivious to Julianna’s bike disappearing.
Her visor’s broken signal turned green with his voice. ‘Did you get the comms?’ The buildings blurred and the road lines melted into a single streak rolling under her wheels.
The city buildings of Sector Five drifted behind. The billboards scrolled headlines fed by Militia propaganda machines as she weaved through the last of the cars moving home for curfew.
She cleared her throat before speaking into the helmet. ‘They’re in my back pocket.’
‘Good. They’re ramping up the search for key Rebels, and you, my dear, are at the very top of the list I just sighted . . . look sharp, you’ve another on your back.’
She glanced behind. A patrol bike fought its way through the last of the hemmed-in traffic, unwilling to let her disappear.
‘Don’t forget the club tonight. Caden’s meeting you there with another comms rather than risking the longer ride to the safe house.’
‘Can I focus on not getting arrested first?’ She paused at the chewing in her ear. ‘Are you eating something?’
‘Having dinner,’ he said flippantly. ‘Is there anyone at the club you can trust to run the comms in for you? Given the current climate, I’d prefer you left with him tonight. Just until they finish this Civic System run and facial recog. I’ve recoded their systems script, enough it’ll take it offline a while longer and give you a chance to leave unnoticed.’
‘The city’s too risky, Julianna.’ She heard a fork drop to his plate. ‘Creeping up and looks like he’s brought some drone support.’
She heard a background shit echo through her helmet. Another thick strand of hair blocked her vision as she hunted for escape routes.
‘Any suggestions?’ she asked, contemplating the side streets.
‘Leave the drone to me. You might have to deal with the uniform yourself.’
She geared down, revved her bike, and rode up through the center of the pavement.
‘You don’t . . . like, watch me when I’m on stage, do you?’
The first of the sirens cut through the emptying streets when she took the sharp turn. The time on her visor noted it was the last twenty minutes of curfew call. She’d be the last person on the streets in ten.
Isis groaned in the background. ‘Stay focused.’
Oh, I’m focused, she thought. Focused on my arrest: the patrol division on their bikes; the drones homing in, waiting for a rise in heart rate before firing their white-hot lasers. ‘Just wondering with all your fan-dangled tech. Just feel we’re at a point in our relationship where I can ask. It’s kind of wrong if you do.’
‘You have no idea the—why d’you turn in there?’ Cutlery dropped to his plate again.
Julianna rolled her bike along and her feet tip-toed the ground for balance. The street turned into an abandoned causeway of scattered wooden crates and overflowing dumpsters to weave in and out of. She looked up, her feet touching the ground, sitting on her bike as it purred in its place, contemplating the dead-end in front of her.
‘Shit,’ she whispered.
A chain mesh fence blocked her in. Two rows of razor wire laced the top of the three-meter-high obstacle; thick and tightly coiled, housing Sector Six behind it.
‘More like double shit,’ Isis replied. ‘Behind you, kiddo.’
The rev of engines echoed from her exit.
Julianna’s vital processes slowed down as she turned her bike to face them. Two bike patrols perched in her path, straddling their machines with dark visors turned down. A drone hovered in front of them.
‘Gotta go now,’ she whispered and removed her helmet.
‘Julianna Rae, you’re under arrest by order of the Territorial Army.’
‘You mean the Militia?’ she corrected as she pocketed the bike key and kicked down her bike stand. The concealed blade slipped from her jacket to her fingertips—her good luck charm from Caden—she never left home without it. ‘You’re deluding yourself by calling it another name. By what Articles are you arresting me this time?’
The patrols remained where they were, unmoving with their bikes still running, ready for another pursuit. The leader’s voice broadcasted through his helmet. Burly shouldered, he met her step, blocking the company behind him when their boots almost touched.
The hovering drone settled above.
‘By what make believe Article? I have a right to know.’
His baton left its belt clip. ‘You’re in breach.’ A streak of lightning stretched between its two prongs as he flicked its neck toward her body. Twenty-five hundred charged volts pointed in her direction. ‘That’s all you need to know.’
‘Oh,’ she said, clutching her helmet. ‘You’re one of those officers.’
Her helmet aimed center of his groin. He caught it one-handed instead, tossing it into the dumpster beside them. She rolled her eyes. There goes Isis, she thought.
‘And you’re one of those entitled pricks. Daddy didn’t discipline you enough as a kid?’ His baton poked at her arm, dropping her to her knees. ‘That’s more like it.’ He teased her other arm with the electric surge, and she pulled away. ‘Nothing a reprogramming camp can’t fix.’
She sensed the officer smiling under his dark visor. The escape of a chuckle leaked out over the speaker as he loosened his handcuffs from his belt.
The knife loaded into her fingers.
Damn it, why corner me like this? The thoughts slipped into whispers resting on her lips.
‘Because you’re a criminal,’ he responded, surprising her. How did he hear her?
She straightened her expression. ‘You don’t understand, officer’ she stated. The blade was ready. She looked up into her own reflection across his visor. There wasn’t a choice.
‘Hands to the front,’ he ordered.
There really wasn’t a choice, she told herself and did as he asked, but with a punch that pushed him onto his back.
‘I told you,’ she snapped as she ran the blade across his thigh.
The drone reacted without thought, drying up his scream—the direct hit burned through his neck as she ducked behind his body.
‘I freaking warned you,’ she said as the hand clutching his bloodied thigh dropped, unable to contain the thick streams still pumping.
Central Command watched the events unfold through the drone’s lens, aiming its laser again, burning her shoulder and sending bricks through the dust as she mounted her bike and fumbled for her keys.
The drone released another blast above her head as it struggled with gravity, spinning angrily against the second officer aiming his own weapon.
Julianna turned the ignition as it fired again, obliterating a wall over him. Every movement hurt as she sped along the laneway with the drone regaining control, its lasers then dimming as it faltered mid-flight. She pulled out to the side pavement to watch it flounder above broken power lines; the laser flashed during its struggle to keep course, dropping into the gutters with a metallic thud.
And she breathed.
Saved by Isis again. She eyed the corner cameras as she started her slow ride back, the one piece of technology bridging the old world with the new. The government brother watched its citizens closely now, and so did Isis. He would follow her movements until she was safe at Club Star, have her back, keep her safe, and then he’d have her head when she returned to the safe house instead of leaving with Caden.
The comms—she fumbled in her jacket pocket; the glass screens still intact; the time on the monitors said she was late for work again.
‘Another opening performance missed,’ she muttered and revved her bike. It wouldn’t go well two nights running and now she was turning up with an injured shoulder. Boss-man wouldn’t be happy.
No, being late wasn’t an option, for a reason she kept to herself. Caden Madison’s rumored appearance did more than intrigue her.
The sun settled into the pink horizon, scattering the gray clouds into watercolors. She pushed the knife into her deepest pocket before joining the last of the oncoming traffic. The wind eased the burn with each caress, but she wondered if there was a nearby Watcher, one friendly enough to heal her. The chances were slim; the handful she knew either hunted her, were at the safe house or were dead.
Is Isis one of them? she wondered as the monitors flickered between images of melting ice caps and climate change statistics. She sped up with the thought of her unidentified mentor watching over her, on her way to Club Star to perform.
Get your copy of The Watchers now.