This book has been a long time in coming, and I’m still working hard. My speculative books always take longer than my romances because of the world-building that’s involved. Here is an as yet UNEDITED (rough!) sneak peek of Visions, Colony Six Book 2. I’ll update it with the edited version as soon as possible, which unfortunately may not be for a few months. Unfortunately, I won’t be making my April release. I’m so sad about that, but getting the five Imprints books out and the prequel novella took a lot more of my time than I expected. However, it should be clearer sailing from here are out (or faster writing). Hopefully betas will see the book in April so it can be out in May (crossing my fingers).
I appreciate your support and your patience! Here’s the sneak peek!
Colony Six, Book 2
by Teyla Branton
Welcome to the CORE:
Commonwealth Objective for Reform and Efficiency
Enforcer Jaxon Tennant and his former Colony 6 crew are the last hope for a post-Breakdown society, where CORE Elite experiment on and enslave those they profess to aid. Jaxon’s gift of premonitions, his visions of what will be, are growing stronger and more frequent—and equally more terrifying. All his visions have come true so far, and if he doesn’t find a way to change that, there may not be a future for him or his crew.
When they learn of a potential ally, they must attempt to save him. But the man is more than what he seems, and the crew must make a hard choice. Either way, people will die. When their plan goes sideways, they start down a path they can never alter, one that will eventually lead all two million CORE citizens to devastation or salvation. What more they uncover about their past and their parentage might be the worst of all.
Location: Amarillo City, Dallastar
Year: 2278, 80 years after Breakdown
The man’s larger than life face on the holo screen was ordinary, typical of most of the two million CORE residents, whose features had blended together over hundreds of years. Brown hair, brown eyes, medium brown skin, and average weight. Only the position of his eyes was notable, the gaze rolled upward as if searching the ceiling for answers.
“This is Dr. Sam Kentley,” said Vic Brogan, captain of the Amarillo City Enforcer Division or the AED. “He is your next assignment.” Brogan’s eyes scanned those gathered in the Underground conference room where they’d met instead of at division where their conversation might be monitored.
Enforcer Jaxon Tennant was still uncomfortable being part of the Underground. He’d trained for so many years to serve and protect the CORE he’d once believed in—and now knew to be a lie. How deep the lie, he didn’t yet know, but like Captain Brogan and the others, he was determined to find out.
And not only because someone had murdered his mother.
“You are to travel to Santoni,” Brogan continued, “and accompany him back here.”
“I’m assuming he’s like us?” Across the table Reese Parker, Jaxon’s partner in the Violent Crimes Unit and also the division’s sketch artist looked up from her drawing pad, her pencil poised in the air.
“Like us” meant from Colony 6. People who had developed unusual abilities after generations of imprisonment and experimentation by the people who had pretended to save them—and who now wanted them dead.
Jaxon and Reese had grown up in the colony with the others in the room: Eagle Jensen, Dani Balak, and the twins, Lyssa and Lyra Sloan. As children they had fought to survive in the harsh environment and had been among the miraculous few who had been released from its confines. They had been a crew as children at Colony 6, and now on the outside, each had been found and hired by Captain Brogan to work at AED. Reuniting them as a team was an action meant both to protect and to use them.
Jaxon could never let himself forget that last part. They were here willingly, but if they chose not to be, they would conveniently disappear. They as individuals didn’t matter in the long run. not when many thousands of lives weighed in the balance. They mattered only by how they could help free the citizens of the CORE.
“Yes,” Brogan said. “He’s like the six of you. If my intelligence is correct, Dr. Kentley is a healer like the CORE has never seen. He has a near perfect record with his patients that can’t be explained by any of our advanced medicines. None of his patience die while in his care, even those with severe radiation damage caused by exposure in the Desolation Zones.”
“Unless he somehow has access to an alias, he’s not one of the two people we already identified as being from Colony 6,” Jaxon said.
Brogan shook his head. “He’s not from your same district in Colony 6, but he did grow up there. He is one of twenty people we’ve identified all together. Of all the people allow to leave the colony, we’re nearly certain they’re the only ones left alive. At least those still living in the CORE Territories.”
“That’s more than I hoped for,” Reese said. She hadn’t gone back to drawing, and her face looked haunted. Jaxon understood why. His mother wasn’t the only victim. There had been at least fifteen hundred children who’d leveled out of school over the ten years of limited integration with society, and Brogan had found only these twenty besides the six of them. Still, that was a miniscule number compared with the ten thousand people who had remained in Welfare Colony 6 and who were now registered as dead or had suddenly disappeared from the population database.
“There may be more living under assumed identities, but these who are still out in the open need to be our priority.” Brogan waved two fingers in the air and the holo image of the man was replace by the front of a short building. “This is where he works in Santoni. We are still tracing a home address. I’m not sure how much time we have left or why the Special Forces haven’t detained him yet, but we’ve picked up increased Special Forces activity in the area, which indicates impending action.”
“No!” Dani Balak slapped her hand on the table, speaking for the first time at the meeting. “Saving him was not our agreement.” Controlled anger threatened behind the measured words. Her unusual black skin masked any telltale emotion and her wiry blond hair jutted from her head at all angles as it normally did, but her splayed hand on the table trembled. Dani wasn’t beautiful by any standard, but her features were well-formed, and the way she carried herself, exuding strength and confidence, made her a person who demanded attention.
Unlike the rest of the crew, Dani hadn’t left Colony 6 for Estlantic or Dallaster, the two main territories of the CORE. Instead, she’d become a fringer, those who lived outside the CORE’s influence and protection. Common belief taught that fringers were radiation-crazed killers, but like so many things, Jaxon had learned it wasn’t true. While with the fringers, Dani had saved people targeted by extermination from Special Forces, and her entire life’s goal was to free all the colonies. She’d only recently agreed to take an undercover job at the division as Brogan’s assistant in exchange for a promise, a promise Brogan hadn’t yet fulfilled.
“You said you’d help me rescue my brother,” she said, her words sharp and staccato. “That’s the only reason I’m here.”
Brogan let her words hang into the air for a moment without responding. Did he hear the threat? Jaxon wondered.
“I know this isn’t what you hoped for,” Brogan said finally, “but Sam Kentley is in immediate danger of being killed or taken by Special Forces. We can’t stand by and allow that to happen. We need a healer in the Underground, especially if what you tell us—and what others have confirmed—is true about those having abilities going insane. You are all at risk until we figure out why that’s happening. The last thing we want is to be putting down our own people. Special Forces has done quite enough of that.”
“Just so you remember that my priority and the only reason I’m here is to free my brother.” Dani’s hand was no longer trembling. Had Jaxon imagined it?
Brogan’s eyes narrowed. “I am very aware of your priorities. But you also agreed to help us in our joint mission to save the colonies, starting with the gifted who were permitted to leave. You know we’ve pinpointed your brother’s general whereabouts, and we’re well into preparations to free him. But we’re not ready yet, and I won’t risk the team going in early. You are all too valuable. The minute I think we can be successful, we’ll go for him.” He held Dani’s stare, the tension in the room thick enough that no one dared speak.
Finally, Dani gave a curt nod, and lowered her gaze. Jaxon knew her well enough—from growing up together in Colony 6 and these past six weeks after the crew’s reunion—that she wasn’t beaten. Dani was never beaten. She’d push them to Breakdown and back to get her brother out of Estlantic and the hands of Special Forces. If they didn’t do it soon, they’d all better watch their backs. He rubbed the side of his temples to ease the building pressure there.
“And if Sam Kentley won’t come with us?” Reese asked. She was drawing again, but with her right hand now instead of her left.
Brogan’s heavy stare transferred in her direction. “Then you don’t give him a choice.”
“Of course,” Reese said.
Jaxon felt her scrutiny, and when he looked at her, a thousand words gazed back at him. She knew every bit as much as he did that they skirted the law now, and there was no going back, not if they didn’t want to end up dead. They probably would anyway.
“We’ll need to communicate,” Brogan continued. “Off Teev feed, of course. Any communication there will be monitored. We’ll have to use the hardware Dani provided from her people.”
Jaxon wanted to protest his wording. He and Reese and the others were supposed to be Dani’s people, her crew, but Brogan was right that the fringers came first with Dani now. And her brother.
The CORE controlled access to the Teev and monitored all its feeds continuously, but the fringers had created their own version, called the T-link, which also contained back doors into the CORE Teev system. Their mobile version was nearly indistinguishable from the CORE’s iTeev, except the companion earbud was unconnected and wireless. Dani had intended her contribution for rescuing her brother, but the tech would be useful to extract Kentley.
Brogan glanced at Eagle Jensen. “That means you’re sitting this one out unless you’ve been able to refit your alternate pair of glasses with the fringer tech.”
Eagle looked up from a piece of tech he was examining, his face as impassive as the dark glasses covering his eyes. Without them he was blind, or nearly so. “Needs more tweaks to be perfect, but it’ll work well enough for this.” He unfolded his tall frame and arose, taking the device in his hands to the tech-filled table that sat against the far wall of the conference room. “We leave in the morning?”
“Tonight.” Brogan killed the holo screen with a downward sweep of a hand. “Santoni’s not quite three hundred and fifty miles away, so the sky train will have you there in about three hours. Santoni’s not much of a town, though, and you’ll be noticed if you aren’t careful. That means I want you to take civilian clothing and go incognito. By the time you arrive, Hammer will have sent Jaxon and Reese an encrypted file with everything you’ll need, including the location where you’ll be staying. He suggests you leave by seven.”
Eagle began packing items from the table into his bag.
“What about Lyra and me?” Lyssa asked. She glanced at her sister as she spoke. Twin births were not permitted, at least outside the colonies, and the likeness in their thin faces was unsettling for most people. The women’s familial features had blended over generations in the CORE melting pot, leaving only a slight tilt to their eyes and their ebony hair to firmly mark their Asian heritage.
“If this will involve our ability, we’ll have to go,” Lyssa added.
Brogan considered a moment. “How far is your projecting range?”
“Not three hundred and fifty miles,” Lyra answered.
“Then I think the others can handle this one.”
Lyssa looked disappointed. “Just when I finally learned to hit something when I shoot.” She patted the gun on her hip. Working in dispatch, neither she nor Lyra wore enforcer blues, but she still worked for the AED and the enforcement was the only CORE profession that allowed weapon privileges.
“You’ll need these.” Brogan open a metal box and withdrew a short stack of thin cards. “With the Teev codes Dani has provided from the fringers, we’ve managed to hack into the CORE citizen database and omit the fact that any of you came from Colony 6, though it won’t stand up to more than a cursory search, especially if, as we assume, they have a real database that lists everyone including those they’ve made disappear altogether. Someone was responsible for sending that pus bag Bensell Summers after you six weeks ago, and that someone knows he failed. So you may need to use these identities. They look like cash credits, but when activated, they’ll override your implanted CivID’s and broadcast another identity. You each have three to begin with. Make sure you take the stack meant for you and read the information we’ve programmed into them. Activate by placing your fingerprint on the back. Deactivate in the same way. Jaxon, I have included an alternate identity for Dr. Kentley with your cards. We’ve also included real cash credits for each of you, in case you need to make a purchase we don’t want the CORE to track.”
He pushed the box to Jaxon, who removed a short bundle with his name written on the band holding the cards together. He passed the box to Dani, who took her stack without comment. She’d had her CivID removed years ago by the fringers, of course, and the fake ID she used now was on a similar card that Brogan had also provided. For all the CORE knew, she was dead. Unless that secret database did exist.
“Get to it.” Brogan stood, signaling the end of the meeting.
Jaxon glanced at his iTeev secured to the sleeve of his enforcer uniform. The time on it read after five already. They needed to hurry.
Eagle shouldered his bag. “We should go back to division to gather a little more firepower. Just in case.” As the weapons expert, he had access to everything, including weapons Jaxon didn’t want to know about. Eagle didn’t much like guns, but he loved explosions.
“Good idea,” Brogan said. “But first I need a private word with Detective Tennant.”
Jaxon hung back as the others left the room, where he knew they’d wait for him. He closed the space between him and the captain.
“Hammer had a problem with omitting the Colony 6 reference in your file,” Brogan said as the door shut. “Bottom line is he hasn’t been able to do it, even with the codes from the fringers. There seems to be an extra layer of protocol attached to your file.”
An eerie sense of unease teased at Jaxon’s consciousness. That was often the sense he had before one of his premonitions, but when no vision came, he asked, “Any idea what it means?”
“I can’t say, except that you’re still a target for Special Forces. As long as you’re from Colony 6, they’ll suspect you have an ability. I can protect you here in Amarillo City, but you need to watch yourself in Santoni.”
“You think it has something to do with Bensell Summers?” Summers was the man Jaxon suspected of murdering his mother, but in the end when Jaxon had killed him, he wasn’t quite sure.
“It crossed my mind. But if it was that important to someone in the CORE Elite, it might also mean that they don’t want you dead. Yet.”
Small comfort, especially if there was any substance to Summer’s odd hints about Jaxon’s parentage. All his life Jaxon had wanted to know who his father was, but not if it meant being the son of a lying whore wrangler. Even if the whore had been his mother. He didn’t blame her: she’d survived in the colony anyway she could, and that was more than many had done.
“I’ll be careful,” he said.
“Good.” Brogan picked up a skin-like substance lying in a mass on the table and pulled it over his head. In the few seconds it took for him to settle the mask, he changed from the well-respected AED captain to El Cerebro, feared leader of the Underground in Amarillo City. The thin, faintly reddish mask concealed his identity with success, but the smoothness of the fake skin made him resemble a Nuface addict. The evenness of his guise was marred only by the C-shaped tattoo on his fake cheek, easily recognizable, even by CORE residents who didn’t deal with the black market. Fake brown hair followed the mask, covering his normal black. The whole ensemble was topped by a black knit cap, pulled low over Brogan’s brow, that flattened the hair against his neck. The transformation was eerie. Only El Cerebro’s top people knew his real identity, and he had to keep it that way if they had any chance of changing what was happening in the CORE.
“Keep me in the loop,” Brogan said to Jaxon as they walked to the door together. “And keep an eye on Dani. We still need her.”
So the captain—or was it the El Cerbro part of him?—had picked up on Dani’s threat. Somehow Jaxon needed to hold it together for all their sakes.
Outside the door, two of El Cerebro’s soldiers stood guard with assault rifles at the ready. The conference room was deep in the heart of an ancient pre-Breakdown underground train system and also close to the undergrounders’ main lair. Every time Jaxon had been below, at least two guards were watching.
The guards weren’t alone. Nova, El Cerebro’s niece stood outside, her eyes eager. “I volunteer to help, whatever it is you’re doing.” The child looked dirty as usual, her dark curls matted down her back, and she was so thin she looked younger than fourteen. Jaxon knew both the dirt and the innocence were fake. This was a child who’d once used pre-Breakdown tech to break into Reese’s apartment.
“Not this time, Nova,” El Cerebro said.
“But it’s been over a month since we did anything, except that one bitty raid on that electronics warehouse.”
El Cerebro snorted. “The sales from that bitty raid are going to keep us in food down here for a year.”
Nova was about to say more, but a look from her uncle froze the protest on her lips. Giving Jaxon an evil stare as if her exclusion were all his doing, she started down the dark tunnel, her heavy pack swaying and looking close to toppling her over.
Reese hid a smile as they left El Cerebro with his guards and followed the others in the opposite direction. “Looks like she’s no longer pining after you.”
Jaxon snorted. “That’s a good thing. I was beginning to worry she’d lock me in some abandoned room down here until I gave into her demands.”
Reese laughed and turned on the projection light on her iTeeve. “Sounds about her style.”
The maze of tunnels was tricky, and they’d both gotten lost in them before, but Eagle could retrace his steps now even without his glasses, so they were in no danger of misdirection with him here. Jaxon could feel his suit’s heat volume kicking up to account for the colder temperature in the tunnels.
They walked for a few minutes, and then Reese said, “This doctor, how far do you think his ability goes?”
“Grow back limbs? Raise the dead? Who knows?” He laughed as she snorted. For that moment, the conversation between them was easy, like in the old days, but it wasn’t always that way now.
“Anyway, Brogan’s right that we need him.”
“You having more symptoms?”
She hesitated. “Alex gave me a neural suppressant and it did make the sketches come less frequently, but it’s a little like seeing through a cloud, so I stopped taking them.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Because it wasn’t necessary.” Her voice sounded angry, but he knew it wasn’t directed toward him. “I just want to be able to control this thing like the others can.”
On that he agreed. The rest of the crew could control their abilities far better than he or Reese, even the twins who sometimes “traveled” unintentionally in their sleep. Reese had no choice but to sketch images she saw from people’s minds, even those she didn’t want to see, and he had equally little control over the frequency or subject of his premonitions.
“It’ll come.” He hadn’t told her everything either, and he didn’t plan on it. Besides, the premonition he’d had of them together was so far off that he was beginning to wonder if it hadn’t stemmed more from his desire than from an actual vision.
The darkness in the tunnels seemed heavy and ominous. It was a dangerous business, living this secret life. If they were discovered down here, working with El Cerebro, the punishment would be psychological reconditioning at the least and more likely surgical enhancement and permanent banishment to one of the welfare colonies.
Ahead, the twins were talking with Eagle, their lights moving has they walked, but Dani fell back with them. “We can use more healers in Newcali,” she said.
Why was she so one-sighted? “You can’t have him. They need him here.”
More than one Undergrounder had died from a disease they were ineligible to obtain help for without also receiving enhancement or banishment to a colony. Others died from infection after digging out their implanted CivIDs or giving birth to a non-authorized baby.
“I know.” Dani didn’t sound convinced. “Let’s just get this done. I need to get to my brother.”
The moment “brother” came from her lips, the pressure that had been building in Jaxon’s head since talking privately with Brogan exploded in a flash of blinding light.
A brown-skinned man in enforcer blues stands over Dani who is sprawled on the ground. He smirks. “She’s from Colony 6, guys. No doubt about it. Double sedate her and toss her into the shuttle. The Controller is going to enjoy this extra little gift.”
Jaxon jerked from the vision, finding himself on the rocky ground and everyone staring at him, their lights shining in his direction. His arm went up to cover his eyes. If Reese thought her ability was out of control, his was impossible. Lately, even the mild premonition caused that pressure at his temples and sent him scrambling to the ground. Only the hunches, gut feelings really, didn’t cause that reaction, and those came less often now as the full-blown visions had taken over.
“Lights,” Reese said, lowering her beam to the ground in front of him. The others did the same.
“Was it the doctor?” Lyssa asked. “Do we get him?”
Jaxon shook his head and looked at Dani, finding her staring at him, her black face blending in with the darkness around her, the whites of her eyes that much more prominent. “You’re going to be captured by Special Forces. They’re going to take you to the controller.”
“No,” Reese said, her voice hard as she offered him a hand up. “This time you’re wrong. We’re going to make sure that doesn’t happen.”
But they all knew his visions always came true. Always.