On January 2, I posted the prologue of my upcoming book, Sketches. The finished book ended up being much longer than I’d planned, but at this writing is almost up for pre-order. It’s been a lot of fun exploring and inventing this new world. Here is a peek at the first (unedited) chapter. Enjoy!
Sketches (Colony Six, Book 1)
Location: Amarillo City, Dallastar
Year: 2278, 80 years after Breakdown
Reese Parker walked into the Amarillo Enforcement Division in Amarillo City, Dallastar, hoping her hurried step didn’t betray her nervousness. When she’d originally left Dallastar for the enforcer academy, she believed the move would be permanent, but here she was back in the territory where she’d grown up. The minute she’d stepped from the sky train, the memories had returned. Not the happy memories from the second half of her childhood, but the sad and terrifying ones she wanted to forget from her time in the Coop.
I can do this, she thought, hefting the bag that carried her standard-issue Enforce weapons, remnants from pre-Breakdown days, programmed to function only with her fingerprints. The rest of her belongings, she’d sent on ahead to her new apartment.
It wasn’t as if she’d accepted this job with any real desire; there hadn’t been any other choice, and no way to remain in New York, capital city of the Estlantic territory. The Kordell Corp, or the KC, hadn’t taken kindly to her linking one of their partners to a drug ring, or the medical enhancing that he was forced to undergo to make him more submissive. They’d taken action in the form of a physical attack one night as she parked her scrambler. She’d survived—barely—and when she was finally recovered enough to return to work, her supervisor had informed her of this transfer that was for her “protection.” Apparently, no one at the New York Enforcer Division wanted to worry about her being ambushed again, or about being with her when it happened.
At least here in Amarillo City, she’d be drawing, which was unusual. New surveillance feeds meant there weren’t many divisions needing a full-time sketch artist. When identifications or a postmortem reconstruction were needed, most divisions simply called in the CORE Identification Unit, or CIU, that served all of Estlantic.
Reese had never wanted to work for CIU, despite continuous pressure to do so, which was why she had trained to become an enforcer after finishing her art certificate. She’d wanted to be closer to the action while using her drawing ability. But if forced to admit the truth, her job in Estlantic had so many rules and mundane arrests, she’d felt the life leaking out of her a little more each day, making her question her career path altogether.
Before the KC attack and this sudden offer in Amarillo City, she’d been ready to call it quits. Returning to the border they shared with the fringers was considered a step down in enforcement, but she was trying to look at it positively. This was where the real action was these days, and it could be one last chance to do what she’d been trained to do. CORE authorities had long suspected that fringers, who were unable to expand their domain into the Desolation Zones because of lingering radiation, wanted to overrun Dallastar and were causing trouble in the area. Here, she had a chance to do some good, to help push the CORE’s borders and reclaim territory lost during the decades after the total economic collapse and ensuing nuclear war that they now called Breakdown.
But being back here, so close to the Coop and those early memories . . . already she wasn’t handling it very well.
Inside Amarillo Division, Reese gave her name to the receptionist at the desk, and a few minutes later, the door behind the woman opened. Reese hadn’t expected Captain Vic Brogan, the man directly over all the enforcers in this division, to come himself to escort her inside, but here he was striding toward her with his hand extended.
Brogan looked like a boxer—compact frame, broad shoulders, dark hair almost a tad too long for regulations, and brown eyes that were deep enough to lose several ex-wives in. He moved with a gait that wasted no movement. She bet he was good in a fight.
Though she’d talked to him through the Teev, the warmth in his smile was unexpected. “Thank you so much for coming,” he said, grasping her hand in his. The muscles under his shirt rippled with the effort. He wasn’t wearing a ring, and she told herself that noticing only meant she was a good cop.
“I’m glad to be here,” she responded, somewhat automatically. “Though I was a little surprised you requested me. I’m sure there are many talented people who would have been excited to come.”
Belatedly, she realized that maybe he had asked other enforcers—and had been turned down.
Brogan shook his head. “None so good that they have a ninety-nine percent identification rate from their drawings. That’s unheard of, even with our technology.”
He’d done his research, and that was to be expected, but something in the way one of his eyes quirked upward made her feel uneasy. Probably, he’d also heard rumors of her strangeness, rumors she’d have to work hard to squelch.
“Well, it helps to have such a comprehensive database of our residents,” she said. “Makes finding matches easy once I finish the sketch. But sometimes technology is the problem, so I should warn you now that I do all my initial drawings by hand.”
“So I heard.” He grinned again. “I know paper is at a premium these days, but we have the budget, so it doesn’t make a difference to me. You can draw in mud with your toes if it gets us what we need. Can’t wait to see you in action. I suppose you’ve heard about the six scientists and Teev engineers who’ve gone missing in the past six months? We can use any help we can get to solve those cases.”
Her unease dissipated. She was here to get results and she would do so. Brogan or anyone else didn’t have to know how she did it.
“Come on. Let’s go meet everyone.”
He led her into the bowels of the division. Everywhere she looked, she saw the same white walls with silver trim that they had back in New York. There would be private offices with holo emitters embedded in the walls, more pre-Breakdown tech, that connected people so they wouldn’t need to leave their offices for meetings if they didn’t want to. Some things never changed.
Sure enough, Brogan directed her into a large meeting room where the walls shimmered with Teev holo feeds. At least the large table showed they did meet physically at times. He made a few signs in the air, and the Teev feeds came alive, making it look as if a dozen slices of rooms had appeared all around them.
“Listen up, folks,” Brogan said. “I’d like to introduce you to our newest enforcer. Meet Detective Reese Parker. She’s our new sketch artist, and she’s the best in all of CORE Territories. We’re lucky to have her.”
Reese pasted on a smile and looked around at the people she’d be working with, nodding and making eye contact, burning their faces into memory. She’d know them all soon, once these first awkward days were behind them. And while her co-workers in Estlantic hadn’t exactly been like family, she’d enjoyed working with them. Or at least some of them.
“She’s assigned to the Violent Crimes Investigation Unit, but her artistic skills will be available to all departments. Please make her feel welcome. That’ll be all.” Brogan looked at her as the feeds vanished, leaving shimmering white walls behind. “Ready to meet your new partners?”
“Partners?” Reese felt momentarily off balance. “I understood that I was being hired for identifications only.”
Brogan’s smile was comforting. “Yes, that’s true, but those don’t always take place at the station, so you’ll need a partner. Two detectives, in fact, so that they can continue working while you’re occupied with identification. Plus, it’ll be more interesting for you to see hands-on what we do here.”
Reese nodded. “I see.” In New York, she’d had one partner, and their primary job had been to track down juke users—mostly unsatisfied kids who were studying for their required certificates—who ranted about the CORE, held protests in the empty zones, and threatened to overthrow the government. A week in psychological reconditioning or a tour of a welfare colony, and they usually repented of their ways. She’d made detective last year, but in large part those skills had moldered. Brogan was right that partnering with two detectives in Violent Crimes should be a lot more interesting than arresting young dissidents. And more dangerous.
Maybe dangerous was exactly what she needed to feel alive. Because as hard as the KC attack had been, she had felt more alive during that investigation than she had since leaving the Coop.
Brogan gestured behind her. “Here they are now. Or at least one of them. This is Senior Detective Garrett Cosgrove.”
Cosgrove had dark hair and eyes, and he stood a few inches taller than she did. His skin was slightly darker than the usual, and though he didn’t otherwise look Asian, his eyes had a slightly mysterious slant. “Call me Garrett,” he said, shaking her hand. His grip threatened to crush her. He was strong then, and despite his large stomach, he moved like a martial artist she’d once drawn. To be a senior detective meant he was at least forty, but he looked older, closer to fifty, so it probably wasn’t a new appointment for him.
“Reese,” she returned, firming her hand and squeezing tightly.
Garrett’s eyes danced as he released her. “Nice to meet you, Reese.”
“Where’s Tennant?” Brogan asked, a crease appearing on his forehead between his eyes.
Garrett’s expression sobered. “We got a report of a dead body outside the Fountain, so he’s gone on ahead.”
The nervous pounding of Reese’s heart took on a different note. A dead body on her first day, and at Freedom Fountain, no less. Maybe coming home wouldn’t be all bad. The Fountain, built outside local CORE city offices to celebrate their victory against the fringers during the battle for Amarillo City, was famous everywhere, and almost revered in Dallastar itself. No wonder her second partner had hurried to the scene.
Who would dare commit murder so close to Dallastar CORE city offices? Had to be fringers. There would be cameras, of course, but she might be needed to draw something if the camera didn’t have a good angle. Even if she wasn’t needed, it was still much more interesting than chasing jukeheads or being attacked by a vengeful corporation who considered themselves above the law.
“You want to ride along,” Garrett asked, “or settle in here first?”
“Oh, I’m coming,” she said.
Garrett grinned. “I thought you might be. I’ve let shuttle bay know we’re coming. Let’s get you your blues.”
Brogan turned his smile back on. “I’ll leave you to it then.”
The dispensing machine in outfitting had already been alerted to her arrival, and two sets of enforcer blues emerged promptly on Reese’s request. She then selected the ankle-length synthetic boots and the larger of the regulation bags for her sketchbooks and pencils. Arms full, she made her way to her assigned dressing cubical where she would store her civilian clothing and the extra uniform she was required to take home with her in case she was called to work during off hours. Unlocking the cubical by placing her hand on the pad by the door, she stepped inside and began undressing.
All Enforcer “blues” were black, not the color implied by the name, and this uniform was only slightly different from the one she’d worn in Estlantic—primarily because of the Dallastar patch on the shoulder, which sported a solid letter D. The material was bulletproof, and surprisingly light and cool, though there was a short-sleeve version for summer. Shiny strips of vinyl ran up the sides on both the pants and the jacket, and there was a small, built-in connector for her iTeev on her left sleeve.
Reese pulled on the uniform, pushing the sides shut with impatience and holding it until a solid click told her it was secure. Then she tucked all her weapons into the appropriate pockets and built-in holsters: an Enforce nine mil, a backup .380, a temper laser, a stunner, and extra cartridges. Only her assault rifle would remain here for the moment. She also carried a knife—not standard issue or approved—but authorities tended to look the other way with things like that, and Reese had learned in the Coop that sometimes a knife could turn a fight quicker than a gun.
On her way out of the locker room, she passed two enforcers who’d obviously been on patrol because she didn’t recognize them from the meeting—and in the past ten years she’d developed a memory for faces. They nodded as she passed, and she returned the greeting, feeling their stares as she left.
She wouldn’t have minded doing a little staring herself. Maybe here she could start over, perhaps have a relationship. She’d learned a lot about control over the past year, and most of the time when she didn’t have a sketchbook in hand, she didn’t glimpse her colleagues’ secrets.
Garrett was waiting in the hallway outside, and his pleased glance made her happy she’d hurried, though one of the snug legs on her uniform was twisted uncomfortably. She followed him to the shuttle bay and slipped into the passenger seat of their waiting silver shuttle, tugging on the material covering her leg as she settled.
Her partner’s hands ran over the controls, bypassing the autopilot. “You ever drive one of these?”
An enforcer shuttle was little more than a large, tetrahedron-shaped car with a hyped-up engine and automatic controls, so driving one wasn’t too different from a regular car, except for the speed capability. “I’ve driven them enough. But we’re more used to scramblers in New York.” She would miss the aerodynamic motorcycle more than just about anything else, and she’d been hoping for the option of using one here.
“Lot of traffic there, I guess.”
“More than here, but most civilians use the sky trains. Much faster. And cheaper.”
He laughed. “Yeah, but squeezed in the middle of all those people.” He shuddered. “Guess I’ve been spoiled working for enforcement.”
Reese didn’t share his reservation about sky trains, but he was right about the crush of humanity. Two million people crammed into the CORE’s two territories, Estlantic and Dallastar, with most of them on the East Coast. When it came right down to it, she’d chosen to drive her enforcer scrambler to her apartment on all but the coldest of days, and even then she’d only resorted to the sky train if all the enforcer shuttles were in use or were needed for upcoming shifts.
Garrett was an enthusiastic driver, ignoring the warning beeps of the onboard Teev as he peeled out of the shuttle bay and into the streets. There was enough traffic that he felt the need to turn on the siren, though she probably wouldn’t have. The victim was already dead, after all, and their partner would have secured the scene and any main witnesses by now. They couldn’t change anything by hurrying.
“Mind if I put down the top?” Garrett asked.
“Not at all.” She’d pulled her thick, dark hair back into a tight braid for her first day. Something about impressions. She believed her hair was her one great beauty, and securing it made sure people were paying attention to her as an enforcer and not her as a woman.
The top slid back and folded into a narrow opening on the rear of the shuttle. The wind whipped her face, and she was glad for the long sleeves of her blues.
The Fountain was less than two city blocks away, maybe fifteen minutes on foot but mere minutes with Garrett driving. When he pulled to a sudden stop, Reese jumped out of the shuttle. A crowd was gathered near the Fountain. That was new. In New York, people tended to split fast if they knew enforcers were coming because of their tendency to scoop up everyone for questioning. She was glad to see the difference in attitude here because witnesses who weren’t worried about being detained overly long by irritated enforcers were better witnesses.
The crowd opened up for them with ease, as if no one wanted to touch their uniforms, which made Reese reassess her initial conclusion. Maybe the people here weren’t as at ease with enforcers as she’d first thought. Reese studied their faces, watching for signs of guilt: mocking stare, averted eyes, flushed face, or open hostility. But she saw nothing out of the ordinary.
They passed yellow enforcer tape and three enforcers holding back the crowd. Two figures bent over the body. Both arose as they approached, the man with light brown hair stepping toward them purposefully, his hand outstretched. “You must be the new girl,” he said with a welcoming smile. “I’m Alex Andres, the medical examiner.”
“Reese Parker.” She returned his smile and shook his hand, but her eyes quickly skidded past him to the man at his side.
It was Jaxon. Her Jaxon.
He had dark hair, a tanned face with a couple days’ worth of beard growth, and blue eyes that were as intense as when they were children. He was taller and his shoulders much broader than she’d imagined he’d be whenever she’d thought of him over the years, and the sharp angles of his body had filled out with muscle that did wonders for his enforcer blues.
All at once, her movements felt sluggish, as if she were stuck in a bad Teev feed. The captain had called him Tennant, but never in a million years would she have connected the name to Jaxon, whose last name had been Crawley when she’d known him. How could he possibly be here?
“Reese?” he said so softly she almost had to read his lips.
In that instant, the years peeled away, and the gangly boy stood again before her. Her best friend, the person she’d gone to with her fears, the one who’d encouraged her in school, the one who’d understood about her mother. She saw him as he’d been then: appearing in her doorway, roaming the narrow paths of the Coop, swimming at the transfer station. Most of all, she remembered his face the day he’d left her. The day his mother had been murdered.
Because of her.
“Jaxon? I can’t believe you’re here.” She took a tentative step toward him, unsure how this should play out. He was Jaxon, and yet too many years had passed for anything to be the same between them. He was a stranger now—a very attractive stranger—and she didn’t know him. The obvious stares of Garrett and the medical examiner, whose name she’d already forgotten, made the situation even more awkward.
Jaxon seemed to feel no such reserve. He stepped forward, whisking her up into a full-body hug as though she still weighed as much as the ten-year-old she’d been. He felt warm and solid and safe. He smelled like a spring rain, like new ideas and determination. Definitely her Jaxon. She clung to him for a long minute, her toes barely touching the ground, words of apology threatening to spill from her lips.
“You’re really here,” he said. “I mean, when the captain said your name was Reese, for a moment I thought . . . but the last name wasn’t the same, and your Teev image didn’t look like you, so I wasn’t sure.”
“I take it you two already know each other,” Garrett deadpanned.
Jaxon ignored him, giving her another breath-stealing squeeze before releasing her. “You look amazing—all grown up. You’re so different, but your smile, the way you looked at me just now. It’s like twenty years fell away.”
“I know. You too.” She blinked back threatening tears. “How long have you worked at this division?”
“Two years. Before that I was down the coast, closer to our old stomping grounds.”
“The Coop?” She’d never been back since the night she’d run away.
“Nearly. I was a detective in a similar settlement.” He grinned. “So, you became an enforcer and a sketch artist.”
“That’s right. Now I get paid to draw. But I get to shoot people too.”
He laughed as she’d intended.
Did he remember about her ability to sketch what others saw, or did he chalk it up to childhood imagination? She hoped the latter. The last thing she needed was for her new colleagues to be wary of her. Or to end up in some Estlantic lab undergoing experiments.
“What happened after that day you left the Coop?” she asked. “I never heard.” She had so many questions for him. She’d searched his name on the population database several times and come up empty. Each failure made her want to find him more. Yet at the same time she’d dreaded this day because he would have just as many questions for her. Questions she’d have to answer. Almost, it was better not knowing what had happened to him.
Yet here he was, working as a detective and not drinking himself into oblivion or strung out on juke, so something had gone right in his life. He’d made it out of Colony 6 just like she had.
Jaxon opened his mouth to answer, but instead, he glanced at the other two men and said with a smile, “We’ll have to catch up later. But I’m glad you’re here. I know that . . .” He stopped without finishing, but Reese had the feeling it was important. Probably just her imagination—she didn’t know him anymore.
As they turned back to the body, a sketch crashed across Reese’s consciousness. A woman. A pretty, petite woman with ebony hair. Reese clutched her bag tightly, trying to keep her expression blank. Who was the woman? Without a doubt the mental sketch had come from Jaxon and was of someone he knew.
A second image followed the first. Same woman, different clothes. Obviously, she was someone important to Jaxon. Wife? Lover? Girlfriend? She pushed the images away, but it was too late; they’d burned into her mind. She’d have to record both sketches on paper before the compulsion to draw them faded.
Just when she thought her “gift” was under control. Apparently, it was as unsettled as she was at seeing Jaxon again.
“Time of death is at least two hours ago, possibly three,” the medical examiner was saying. His voice was serious, but his face, with his large brown eyes and dimpled cheeks, seemed meant for laughing. Reese hoped her interested expression made up for the lackluster greeting she’d given him, but paying attention was difficult with so many emotions rocketing around inside her brain.
The dead man looked like any other resident of the CORE Territories. Brown hair and light brown skin that reflected an influx of different races, ordinary synthetic khaki pants, a casual, fitted blue shirt with buttons extending under the right arm to the hem. Even his loafers looked no different than a million others. Nothing about him stood out—except that he was dead. The angle of his body, the way one hand twisted under his back with the other arm flung up and out as if trying to catch his fall, unsettled her.
Jaxon’s hand brushed hers momentarily as they stared down at the deceased. His touch was strangely comforting, as though they were still two little kids trying to survive in the Coop.
His presence was also disturbing. How likely was it that they would both end up here in Amarillo City at the same time? And partners? With five main enforcer divisions in Dallastar, another ten in Estlantic, and numerous subdivisions, this “coincidence” might be a little too coincidental. Presumably, he’d trained in Estlantic as she had, and he would have had a similar career arc, but in all this time their paths hadn’t crossed.
Her eyes lifted to find Jaxon staring at her. She replayed their meeting in her mind, the way he’d greeted her—enthusiastically but without surprise. He knew I was coming, she realized. Not that she’d be here today, maybe, but he’d expected to see her soon. He might have even been lying about not recognizing her Teev image. But to what purpose?
All of her instincts screamed out that Jaxon was hiding something.
He gave her a slow smile that brought back that first day they’d gone swimming at the transfer station when she trusted him more than anyone in the world. When she’d worried about him leaving her. Back then the smile had made her feel safe and loved. Now it made her pulse race and her mind question his motives. Her heart ached for their lost innocence.
She filed her thoughts away for future reflection. For now, she’d take Jaxon at face value and wait for what their catching up might reveal. Sooner or later she’d learn his secrets.
And she’d have to tell him the truth about his mother’s murder—or, rather, her part in the murder. If she couldn’t make it right, it wouldn’t matter what he was hiding because any chance of a meaningful relationship between them would be lost.