XX: Phoenix Book 1
A futuristic romance set in 2178 A.D. - One hundred and fifty years after genetically enhanced crops and livestock decimate the Earth with a lethal bacterial strain of Salmonella only twenty percent of the world’s population remains. Small pockets of civilization flourish, supported by computerized technologies and vaccinations against the bacteria, the new cities built over the ruins of the previous age. Regents, the owners of the technology, govern the interests of their individual cities—shining examples of progress and advancement.
CODE NAME: PIPER - Analena Maresco’s cyber-enhanced arm gives her an edge, a weapon to rescue children held as organ replacements for the governing Regent’s personal use. Supported by the renegade network and augmented by her unique skills, Analena straddles the line between rebellion and anarchy. To save the children, she risks both. With an extraction too difficult to handle, Piper needs more than remote assistance. She needs the presence of the shadow entity at her back.
CODE NAME: ONYX - Trace Boden, a former Regent surgeon, hides in the city ruins beneath the New Delphi Capital super structure. Providing medical advice, instruction and supplies via the Down Below renegade cyber network, he operates in anonymity, slowly paying back the debt for his part in the Regent’s atrocities. Despite his life as a hermit, Piper’s call is one Trace can’t refuse. Exposed to save a child, he risks everything in a confrontation with Analena Maresco, the woman who can destroy his life forever.
Book Excerpt from XX: Phoenix Book 1:
Phoenix Book 1
Analena shrank against the wall and tried not to breathe. Right on schedule for their hourly check, the sentries passed the hallway intersection, twenty short feet away. Ion-charged Taser in hand, she read the signals on the inside of her vid mask and prayed she wouldn’t need to activate her weapons. It would only take one minute of the weapon’s energy signature to broadcast her presence.
If the men changed course, she was fucked.
She blew out a breath as the two sentries registered on her screen and moved to the next sector. Treading quietly, she reached the corner and rechecked her sensors. Two additional sentries occupied the desk around the corner. Her target, just beyond them down the hall.
The first detonation device would activate at the lock-gate at the far end of this floor. Four more would activate at three-minute intervals down each subsequent floor, with a final one at the west gate. None were her intended escape route, merely distractions to draw her enemies further away from her current location. Loud and visible wasn’t her style. However, she’d modified her standard maneuvers based on Radar’s warning that tonight’s extraction would be difficult. He’d sent her the floor plans and sentry schedule, but he couldn’t help her if she got caught. She needed every edge.
A total of twelve minutes constituted her time limit to eradicate the remaining guard, find the boy, and hack through the security gates at the opposite end of the detention facility.
One quick check of her hand communicator confirmed Onyx was on standby for medical information or a quick drop of supplies. Unfortunately, she’d never performed an extraction where she hadn’t needed one, or both, of these options.
Moving two steps back to a locked lab door, she lifted her hand and laid her bare palm over the electronic access module connected to the building’s main systems. Her flesh tone mutated into silver striations; liquid drops of metallic gleam seeped from the pores of her right hand, replacing skin with a fabric mesh of pulsing circuits and signals. She blinked back the initial sizzle over her shoulder joint, where technology interfaced with her physical body, as the intelligent interactive nanites in the artificial flesh integrated with the door’s module. In a heartbeat, they’d masked her presence and extracted the information on the boy’s location.
That she could understand the transmissions from the artificial technology without words or signals had long since ceased to disturb her. Her body’s abilities now only left her cold and eerily confident.
The first explosion rocked the floor beneath her pressure-sensitive boots. The gray woven pants, thick utility belt, and zip top absorbed the remaining vibrations with their energy reactive fibers as effectively as they allowed her to blend as a transparent ripple against any backdrop.
On the balls of her feet, she launched around the corner. Picking up speed, she leapt, legs raised, knees tucked high and angled toward the remaining sentry. He took the punch of her feet to his head, the impact twisting him face first into the wall. Boneless, he slid to the floor.
To be safe, she punched a tranq injection into his neck and squeezed, buying her a solid twenty minutes.
She wouldn’t need that long.
Her target door was two yards down and wide open, the security over-ride programmed from her access to the panel minutes before. She paused in the threshold of the open doorway. No matter how many times she did this, she was unprepared for the barbaric treatment hidden in these facilities.
Three-foot by three-foot cages lined the room, housing lab rats and live donors. She remembered the feeling of confinement all too well. She had never been subjected to this kind of degradation. Then again, she’d been targeted to live. Most of these subjects couldn’t stand upright after surgery. Nearly all would be transported on wheeled gurneys as the need for movement was pointless.
In two strides, she was beside the last cage. A tiny pick from her belt plucked open one of the few non-electronic locks in the facility. Hearing a whimper from the corner, she issued a low, soothing ‘hush.’
Until they’d actually cleared the facility, telling the boy everything was okay would be false hope.
She pulled open the gate and crouched closer to the slight form huddled against the bars.
“I’m not here to hurt you.”
A visible shudder shook the boy, as he turned his face away from her.
“We only have a few minutes before they figure out I’m here. We’ll need to be gone by then. If you want to help, grab my shoulders. I’m taking you with me, either way.”
She looped one arm beneath his thin legs, her other around his back. With a mental wince, she acknowledged the prominent ridges of his ribs against her arm. The boy wrapped his arms around her neck and burrowed into her chest. She stood and moved to the doorway.
A second charge shook the floor. One quick look each way and she ran.
Feet barely contacting the floor, she made it through the first corridor, then the second, and angled her shoulder for impact with the first gate. The door to the stairwell swung open, and then the lights flickered. Darkness rolled over them.
No problem. That had been programmed as well.
She mentally counted the stairs as her feet pistoned down each step. Spinning on the landing, she hit the next set with the same vigor.
Four floors, eight flights of stairs. The third explosion detonated as she reached the ground floor. She leaned against the wall to adjust the weight in her arms for a longer, harder run.
A whimper, more like a groan, accompanied a higher frequency of shiver.
“Hang in there, honey. Just a little further.” Sliding the last door open a fraction, she blinked at the sweep of security lights that dazzled like sunbeams. A narrow band of dark edged the perimeter to the far gate.
Piece of cake.
Analena squatted, bracing the boy against her thigh. Upset by her change of position, he clutched tighter and angled his head up like the wounded animal he was, scenting for escape.
She bit hard into her lower lip to quell her curse and her body’s response to the view of his face. The copper tang of her blood assaulted her senses, an acceptable trade-off to maintain her composure.
“I have one more run, and we’re blowing this joint. Let me cover your head so the people Down Below can’t identify you. Okay?”
He didn’t answer, but his face swiveled toward hers.
Whipping a long black scarf from her belt, she wound the fabric with a lose knot behind his head. The improvised hood covered some of his head and eyes, leaving his nose, mouth and ears free.
No one would notice him in Down Below, if she could make it there. Too many people there had hiding their own secrets, trying to survive beneath the structural grid of New Delphi’s glowing re-civilization success. What a joke.
“Hold on and wrap your legs around my waist. It’s going to be a long run.”
He strained, fighting to bring closer the soft silk of feminine thigh cradling his hips, enough for the moist heat to cover him and stop the burn in his groin, to provide him the release just out of reach.
Breasts, small but firm, loomed before him, feeding the desire prickling so sharp and tight in his belly that he groaned in pain. Trace struggled to lift his head, to see the face of the body taunting him, but a white wash of light hid her features, the deprivation a final cap to his torment.
His movements almost enabled the lean, svelte figure to brush against his sweat-soaked body, just short of relief. If he focused on the quiver of her flesh, the slight movement of her breast, and on her frenzied gasps, he could will himself to explode.
The pounding beat of his blood matched the rhythm of his need. Throb. Beat. Pulse.
“What the fuck?” Half-awake as the sound tore through his dream, Trace sprung up in bed. Sweat coated his body, his hard-on prominent and angry with frustration. He rubbed his hands over his face. Damn, he could even taste the sweet flavor of her on his tongue. Cruel.
He stalked to the far side of his room and glanced for reassurance at the series of virtual screens projected against the wall. Each illuminated data and confirmed security protocols. He tapped a receipt code on the small communicator.
Onboard. He tapped back the response. Bending over his desk, he stretched his neck until the blood rushed back, and he was certain he was awake. The Pied Piper was bringing out another one, the second kid in the same amount of months. The numbers were rising this year. So was Piper’s risk if they kept up this pace. Then again, the detention camps were hardly slowing down their business, a hideous contrast of devaluing life under the bright umbrella of a flourishing new civilization.
He turned away, raking a hand through his hair. The signal gave him a few hours. He’d need the time to get ready for whatever problem Piper had found. Given the surgeries and mutilations performed in the center, he needed to make sure all his supplies were stocked.
Not bothering to activate lighting, he headed to the laser cleaner, and then with a second thought, headed to the old-fashioned shower stall at the corner of the tiled utility room. Clean water for washing was a rare commodity, like so many things in this world. The main conduits for water processing only serviced New Delphi’s corporate facilities and select homes above the surface.
Trace had found the showerhead in one of his forays through a suburban ruin beyond the perimeter. Dangerous, but rummaging for parts and lost treasures was as much a necessity as eating and sleeping. He’d rigged a barrel on the roof of his semi-demolished lodgings at the edge of Down Below.
On a good day, the barrel collected the daily thunderstorm’s water. On a bad day, it flooded the first level of what had served before the cataclysm, some hundred-and-fifty years ago, as an outskirts police station. He liked to consider the extra water his own personal moat.
He skimmed antibacterial gel over his body and worked it into his skin with rough, brutal strokes, refusing to be distracted by his earlier nightmare.
Shoving back the images of feminine heat, he pulled the chain to release the slow drizzle of water from above. The vision of flesh and feminine scent surged back. He could fool himself, pretend it was his wife that he missed and longed for. The painful fact was that her face had fled from his memories more than seven years ago, too soon after her death.
The woman of his dreams didn’t resemble the voluptuous, fragile creature he’d married, though she claimed his soul in a way no real woman ever had.
Trace released the chain and walked naked, already drying, to the lab table in the next room. Grabbing his duffel bag, he swept a space clean with his arm. He extracted every item, and with a cold, clinical detachment, assessed each tool of his trade: updates implemented, upgrades applied and additional needs all cataloged. Prepared, all of his supplies were methodically stored, one by one, back in the duffel.
The work offered a brief balm.
When Piper signaled again, which he, she, or it always did, Trace needed to be ready. This was his penance, and he refused to fuck it up.
With a curse, she crouched behind a pile of rubble that bordered one of the steel pilings and girder structures composing the base level for the five-mile diameter of New Delphi. She looked up at the solid ceiling to gauge whether the structure built on top of the ruins was interfering with her signal.
Analena cradled the boy closer, waiting for the response on her communicator.
One minute, two, then a blip of letters flashed on the device covering the back of her left hand.
2m2h. No shit, too much to handle, she thought, repeating her own message in her mind as she murmured a soft comfort against the boy’s head. His fingers dug into her arm, feeding back his fear.
How exactly did she gauge health for a missing eye and blindness? The boy was alive, so that put him at better than 50/50.
6 / Nd Frsh Pr Iz
8?/M/? Eight, sex = male, but ‘stuck out in the cold’ didn’t translate well for location.
No bleeding. No
?? Damn it. She couldn’t even articulate what to request. The only thing she knew for certain was that she couldn’t handle the boy’s problem alone. She drew the line at handling head wounds; though, this extraction had been cleaner than some. Swallowing back frustration, she made a quick decision.
Nothing. Only dead air space followed. For the last three years, she’d dealt with Onyx at a distance, not once asking for his presence. He was notorious for his reticence and shadowed lifestyle. Help he’d give, procedural advice he’d deliver. He’d been known to talk people through surgery via text, but he came out of hiding for no one. She’d doomed the boy and screwed up a perfectly good contact with her request.
A contact she’d come to rely on.
Onyx: PU Zone
Thank you. Analena bent her head and released a strong gust of relief against the boy’s head. “Hang in there, buddy. Help is coming.”
The boy’s head twitched against her midriff. His hands were fisted, yet his breathing had calmed.
Bbw at Ltl Dppr10
Onyx: PU Confrm
The astrological overlay of the city worked for her security measures. BBW, the oldest of her crew, operated in the thin layer between the Down Below and New Delphi’s acceptable society above the grid. He’d made the original contact with Onyx, albeit by IM as well. The first contact cemented a dive coffee shop on the middle level of the city’s framework as the central coordinate
for the constellations, in case face-to-face contact was ever required. Based on the season, the map shifted, constantly moving the pickup zone with a secure option, known only to the Onyx, BBW and herself.
Onyx: Thnx Ltr
Yeah, this was going to be one expensive house-call. Fortunately, she still had enough monetary creds, but Onyx never took money.
“Hold on, buddy. I’m taking you home.”
About the Author:
KH LeMoyne writes romance: fantasy, futuristic and paranormal. She lives in Maryland with her wonderful husband and a pair of corgis. Much to her dismay, she rarely encounters supernatural beings other than on paper.
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