My newest book, Travel (Colony Six Book 3), is nearly ready! Here is a sneak peek of the cover and the first chapter. I’ll be doing one more read-thru myself before I pass it along to editors, but it’ll be ready soon. We hope to have it out by the end of June. Please note that this chapter is unedited, but I’ll replace it with a clean version when I get it back from editors. We hope to have it out by the end of June. You can read a book summary here.
It’s time for sixers to fight back
Location: Amarillo City, Dallastar
Year: 2278, 80 years after Breakdown
Lyssa Sloan peeked into the alleyway next to the sauce bar that was already doing a steady business, even this early in the day. The December air was mild compared to past years, but she felt cold inside. Dead. Following Ty Bissett was not something she’d planned to do on this day off, but here she was trailing him.
And hoping today wasn’t the day he was destined to die.
She’d met Ty for lunch, as they sometimes did during her days away from division. He’d been complaining about not seeing her enough, and she’d put him off because as much as she was beginning to like him, she couldn’t tell him the truth. Not about her ability, her underground activities, and certainly not about the illegal existence of her daughter. She understood that her secrets required her to draw the line, and if they couldn’t have truth between them, she didn’t have much hope that they could overcome something as important as his impending death.
Still, she’d followed him, because she did care about him. Enough to regret that she couldn’t move in with him away from her twin and her brother-in-law, Kansas, the only father her child would ever know. Lyssa wished she’d never have to see Kansas again, but even if she could admit to being Tamsin’s mother, she wouldn’t take her from her beloved father.
Instead of returning to the enforcer division where they both worked, her in dispatch and him in personnel, Ty had hopped a sky train and come to this northwest part of town. Not exactly a rundown part of Amarillo City but definitely not the nicest. Not a place they’d ever gone together.
Teev surveillance was apparent in the cameras mounted on the building next to her, but none faced the alleyway where Ty had disappeared. Which meant whatever he was doing, he didn’t want a record of it. This wasn’t just handing a few cash credits to a sauced man outside a bar, as she’d witnessed him doing on other times she’d followed him. Ty had to know this alley didn’t connect to the feed that watched everyone in the CORE, and she’d worked in the darkness far too long to believe the choice in locations was an accident.
Fear shot through her, tingling to her toes and making it hard to breathe. What if this was it? What if this was the moment Jaxon had seen in his visions, the moment Ty died? Those visions were the reason she’d started following Ty in the first place, worrying that her work with the underground had put him in danger. But her secrets weren’t why he was here today.
Another emotion crowded in on the first. Anger that he hadn’t shared his own secrets with her. He had no right to want more from her when he wasn’t willing to tell her why he had been skulking all around town.
Squelching her reaction, Lyssa moved closer to the tall building where she wouldn’t be as visible to the camera. There, she removed her iTeev from her bag, unfolded the screen, and pretended to study the display, which was currently off. Her back was against the wall now, and the solid feel of it was comforting. She wished shed taken a camera disrupter from the underground conference room, but she would have needed permission, and she hadn’t told any of the others about Ty’s mysterious movements, or how he’d sometimes vanish when she was following him.
Almost as if he knew he was being followed.
Glancing up and down the street, she saw nothing out of the ordinary. Several groups of people headed toward the sky train station at the end of the block, a pair of men were getting into two different public shuttles, and a woman came from the bar and went into the readymeal store next door. It appeared to be an ordinary Tuesday afternoon in Amarillo City.
Lyssa peeked casually around the corner of the building, every muscle tensed as she anticipated having to draw back quickly. Instead, a huge recycling bin blocked most of the space in the alleyway. If Ty was there, it hid him completely.
Grimacing, Lyssa slipped her iTeev into her bag, made a show of fastening her long coat against a nonexistent breeze, and turned into the alleyway. Once there, she sprinted to the end of the bin. A rotten smell wafted out at her, and her stomach clenched. Their pre-Breakdown ancestors hadn’t been able to get rid of the need for trash bins, and in the sixty years since its formation, the CORE hadn’t either.
Taking a shallow breath through her nose, she touched the bin and peered around the side. She was rewarded by a side view of Ty’s narrow face, his black hair reaching halfway down his neck, grown longer just for her. He was talking animatedly to someone out of Lyssa’s view behind the metal bin. His excitement alone was unusual, as he was generally more reserved.
Cold bit into her fingers and she pulled them back from the metal and tucked them under her arms without moving her head. Ty had turned a bit, and now she could partially see his companion. The stranger was a good head taller than the average-sized Ty, and his dark brown hair was longer. He didn’t look like one of the punks Ty usually passed cash credits to, and the longer hair meant he wasn’t Special Forces.
Lyssa didn’t know whether to be relieved or worried at this knowledge. Special Forces were enforcers under the direct order of the Controller, and he was after the sixers—those born in Colony 6 with unusual abilities—so it was good Ty wasn’t meeting with them. But an unknown could be just as dangerous.
Maybe Ty was helping people who had refused to be implanted with the new CivIDs. The underground had seen a lot of those people in the six weeks since the implants became mandatory in Dallastar as they had been in Estlantic for years. Most of those people hadn’t been ready to drop their lives, however, and go into hiding, so El Cerebro, leader of the underground had turned them away. It was just as well. As Special Forces cleaned out the empty zones in Estlantic and refugees fled to Dallastar, they were experiencing a severe overcrowding in the pre-Breakdown subway tunnels.
This vein of thought was getting her nowhere. She couldn’t hear what they were saying and unless she exposed herself, she couldn’t save Ty if the man turned violent. If was possible at all that anyone could save him from his destiny. She and the rest of her Colony 6 crew had theorized that millions of choices could affect the outcome in any situation and that what Jaxon experienced in each of his visions was only the most likely occurrence. The most likely average of every outcome. But so far, his visions always came true, or with a slight variation, and no one marked with such certain death had ever been saved.
Despair threatened to fill Lyssa’s chest, but she pushed it back with the skill of long practice. Tamsin, her daughter, was the most important thing in her life. Everything else could—and would—be endured.
Lyssa considered her options. Short of sneaking down to side of the bin, or climbing on top of it, which wasn’t possible without equipment, she couldn’t hear the conversation. Her ability of projecting her conscious thoughts to another location allowed her to travel incorporeally, but so far she’d been able to go only to where her twin sister Lyra was physically. Lyra could do the same with Lyssa. That meant one of them already had to be actually present, and if the situation was dangerous, as it could be today, that wasn’t a good thing.
The underground doctor they worked with couldn’t find any reason for the limit, or even why they could only visit each other. He thought it would be possible to eventually “travel” to anyone they were close to—and that should include Ty. Clenching her jaw, Lyssa concentrated on the side of his face. She remembered his kisses and the way his warm hands felt on her skin. How for those moments he made her forget the other man she wished she didn’t love.
The air around Lyssa seemed to convulse. She felt a surge of triumph. She could feel herself starting to travel. She crouched down to make sure she wouldn’t become disoriented and fall.
The next minute, Lyssa was standing in school next to her daughter. The ten-year-old Tamsin sat at a table with three other children in her technology class, examining a holographic representation of a building the children were putting together like a puzzle. Tamsin’s small face was eager, her forehead wrinkling in concentration, as she dragged each of the pieces across the holo screen with a finger.
Lyssa gasped at the impossibility. She’d never been able to visit her daughter unless Lyra was with her—and not for lack of trying. She craned her neck, scanning the room, but Lyra was nowhere in sight.
Tamsin’s gaze on the holograph faltered as she glanced in the direction where Lyssa stood. Her eyes squinted as if trying to focus on something just beyond her sight. Lyssa swallowed, wavering in indecision. This was a huge breakthrough in her ability, and she longed to speak to her daughter, to see if she could hear her as Lyra could, but even being there put Tamsin in danger. She wasn’t from Colony 6, but if anyone learned she had a sixer ability, she’d be a target just as Lyssa was.
The girl shook her head and went back to her schoolwork, removing a piece that a classmate had placed during her distraction. “No,” she said firmly. “We tried that last time and it fell in the earthquake. Remember?”
Lyssa came back to her body with a start, her hand automatically going to the Enforce .380 she carried in a waistband holster. Working for division, she had clearance for it, even if she wasn’t an enforcer like most of her crew. But Ty hadn’t moved and she anticipated that her trip had taken mere seconds.
Even as she watched, Ty’s body language changed. He edged away from his companion in clear indication their meeting was concluding. Lyssa pulled her head back behind the bin, jumped to her feet, and hurried to the street. There wasn’t time to call the private shuttle her brother-in-law’s job at the transportation department allowed her, or to get far enough down the road that Ty wouldn’t recognize her, so she ducked inside the bar.
Seconds later through the glass top part of the door, she saw Ty pass, his head bent as he hurried down the street in the direction of the sky train. He’d be on his way back to division now, already late. It wasn’t likely that he’d be in danger on the sky train, not with all the cameras and people around. She could relax. Maybe she’d give him a call and tell him she’d changed her mind about not seeing him tonight.
She was about to leave the bar when the door swung open and a man filled the doorway, not big, but definitely strong. He reminded Lyssa of El Cerebro’s underground guards. It took only a heartbeat to recognize the man Ty had been with moments before. She started toward the counter, barely flicking a glance at him.
“Chotks,” she told the bartender, slipping onto one of the transparent seats that instantly molded her backside.
The heavyset man behind the bar gave her a real smile. Chotks was a lot more expensive compared to the synthesized sauce that most would come here to drink in this part of town, and asking for it made her stand out, but not enough to endure the sauce.
He poured her a glass as she pulled out her iTeev to transfer the credits with a couple taps of her finger on the screen. She pretended to focus on her glass as the strange man sat on another stool.
“Double chotks,” he said, not glancing at her of any of the other customer and barely acknowledging the bartender. His voice held a hint of a New York accent.
She let her eyes wander in his direction. He wore a long black coat that covered all of his clothing except his black boots, which glistened as if they’d been shined recently. They looked like rare leather rather than synthetic, and the way he down his chotks told her he was accustomed to the good stuff. He was tall, with a powerful neck and a broad face. His hands were big, useful. His eyes held intelligence, but he was definitely not a man who called the shots. Rather, he was a trusted underling. She’d worked at the Amarillo Enforcer Division long and with the underground long enough to recognize the type. Whatever information this man had received or given to Ty Bissett, it hadn’t been initiated by him.
Did that mean he worked for Ty? Lyssa was unable to wrap her mind around that. Ty was intelligent, to be sure, and shyly witty, and doggedly determined. If he was capable of owning a man like this, what was he doing in a relatively low-level job like personnel?
Before Lyssa had time to consider, the man had finished his drink and headed for the door. Lyssa drank the rest of her chotks, welcoming the pleasant buzz that gave her courage, and followed him to the door. He didn’t go toward the sky train station, and she hesitated only a minute before falling in after him. If she couldn’t get answers from Ty, she’d get answers from him.
She’d gone only a block when the man turned a corner and disappeared. The only place he could have gone into was a restaurant, but when she went inside, he was nowhere to be seen. Obviously, he suspected something, or maybe he routinely practiced ditching people behind him. She was nearly back to the door when an arm snaked around her neck and she was dragged into a large dark alcove off the entryway. She tried to scream, but the arm around her neck was too tight. Her toes barely skimmed the floor as he pulled her along.
“What do you want?” her attacker growled in her ear. “Who are you?”
“Let me go,” she managed to gasp. Black dots began to pepper her vision. Her lungs screamed for oxygen. She had to do something—and fast. There was no way to reach the gun in her back holster or even the iTeev in her bag.
She willed herself to her sister. It was as easy as a step, as if the thirty kilometers between them didn’t exist. Lyssa appeared in dispatch, near Lyra, whose fingers played with menus on the TAD-Alert’s holoscreen that made up the entire walls of dispatch. The Teev Aided Dispatch Alert System was a super Teev that aided them in sending the right enforcers for each emergency call. The system was also linked to other TADs in various dispatch offices across the CORE. Lyra looked up and saw her, a smile beginning on her face.
“Activate my iTeev with the TAD,” Lyssa ordered, surprised that her mental voice showed none of the strain that she’d felt when her physical body tried to talk. She wondered fleetingly what would happen if she died while out of her body. “Hurry! There’s a guy. He’s choking me.”
“What!” Lyra blurted, drawing the attention of the other employee who was working dispatch.
“Activate my iTeev!” Lyssa shouted, but her sister was already pulling up the correct menu.
Despite community belief that CORE authorities could only monitor personal iTeevs or Teevs that were connected to the feed, the TAD could also activate any device unless it was disconnected from the feed completely. How often citizens were monitored without their knowledge, Lyssa could only guess, but given what she’d learned in the past few months, her iTeev spent more and more time off the feed.
She jumped back to her body as her iTeev, still in her bag, squawked a warning sound. “This is the TAD-Alert,” boomed an authoritative voice that had been patterned from the CORE’s first Controller, what is the nature of your emergency?”
Lyssa felt the man’s grip relax slightly, and she sucked in desperately needed air. As she did, a Teev built into the alcove where they were standing activated a holoscreen in the middle of the space, depicting Lyra’s face framed by long ebony hair. Which meant her sister had not only tracked her down but also searched for onsite Teevs to get eyes on the situation.
“What is the nature of your emergency?” Lyssa echoed the original question from the iTeev. Her voice was calm, but her face radiated fury.
“Saca!” cursed the man. He reached for something in his pocket and the image of Lyra vanished, the holoscreen showing only a brilliant light that made Lyssa squint.
“Don’t follow me,” the man snarled. Then Lyssa was falling to the hard floor, made of some kind of pre-Breakdown rock substitute. She hit hard, rolling to mitigate the impact. By the time she was recovered, the holoscreen was working again and Lyra’s face hovered over her.
“You okay?” Lyra asked, the corners of her slanted eyes creased with worry.
“What happened?” This came from their co-worker Drici, whose dark, square face appeared in the holo behind Lyra.
Lyssa shook her head, knowing Lyra would understand that she couldn’t explain, not over the feed and not in front of Drici. “Must have wanted my credits,” she said. “Or my iTeev. Can you track him?”
Lyra consulted a display Lyssa couldn’t see. “The TAD’s lost him,” Lyra said. “I’ll track his CivID. We got a glimpse of that. It’s probably counterfeit, though.
Drici nodded, her kinky brown hair falling over her shoulder. “Maybe he’s one of those fringers like the ones they’ve been catching in Estlantic.” She shivered. “In my opinion, Special Forces can’t get here fast enough to clear out our empty zones as well. They’re getting too bold.”
Lyra exchanged a meaningful glance with Lyssa. The sisters were fighting to protect fringers and to free the three hundred thousand people imprisoned in the six welfare colonies, but admitting to that over the feed was as good as asking for medical enhancement.
“Thanks for your help,” Lyra said pointedly to Drici. “I can take it from here. The other woman smiled and backed away until she vanished from the holo. When she was gone, Lyra asked, “Are you sure you’re all right?” Worry remained apparent in her brown eyes. Lyssa knew because it was the same expression she saw in her own every morning when she looked in the mirror.
“Yeah. I’m good.” Lyssa climbed to her feet. She’d expected that the restaurant personnel would have heard the commotion, but so far no one had ventured in.
“I’m sending Eagle to your location,” Lyra continued. “Meanwhile, you’d better check your messages. He’s been trying to reach you. I was just about ready to go find you myself.” Lyssa nodded.
“Good.” Lyssa hesitated before adding, “When we get home, remind me to tell you something about Tamsin.” Lyra needed to know what happened today and the rest Lyssa hadn’t yet told her about Tamsin. Lyra was Tamsin’s registered mother, just as Kansas, her husband, was Tamsin’s registered father, a fact that indebted Lyssa to them forever. They were the only reason Tamsin had legal status and Lyssa hadn’t been condemned to a colony for having an illegal birth, but even more than that, they’d helped raise Tamsin, and were her parents in fact every bit as Lyssa herself, and they deserved to know.
Lyra studied her, obviously alert to the subtle implications of her casual comment, but she didn’t press for more information. “Tonight then. Eagle’s almost there. Look for the enforcer shuttle.”
Lyssa left the alcove as a restaurant employee approached. She wore her dark hair in an impossibly high bun, covered with a net of rainbow lights that matched the lights on her very short white dress.
“Only one for lunch?” she trilled.
“I’ve changed my mind.”
The woman shrugged. “Very well. Have a nice day.” She removed her iTeev from her pocket, unfolding it to fit over her eyes. The plastic molded comfortably onto her face. “Resume program,” she said, unlatching the built-in earbuds and pushing them into her ears.
No wonder the woman had heard nothing. Shaking her head, Lyssa went into the street, grateful that the man who’d attacked her was nowhere to be seen. Would he report the incident to Ty—or to whoever else might employ him?
Minutes later, a silver, tetrahedron-shaped enforcer shuttle raced down the street, the black and red stripes on the side flashing emergency. For once Lyssa didn’t mind the resentful stares that followed her as the panel doors slid opened and she dived into the passenger seat.
“There you are,” Eagle, officially known as Randal Jensen, said from the other front seat, his mouth twisting into a hint of a grin on his narrow face. As usual he wore his special dark glasses that contained iTeev tech, but also so much more. Without them he was nearly blind. With them, he saw more than she could ever dream to see, as they enhanced his special sixer ability. Instead of enforcer blues, the division weapons expert sported black linen pants and a thick matching jacket without a collar.
“When you didn’t answer your iTeev, we started worrying,” he added.
“Sorry. It was silenced.”
“What happened?” The shuttle started forward on automatic drive as he spoke, and Lyssa knew he’d used eye movements to communicate with the onboard Teev.
Lyssa didn’t answer, debating how much she should say. “We’ll need to track him down,” she said finally. “Did my sister get a good visual?”
“No. He must have been wearing an identity blocker, though it was apparently programmed to let his fake Civ-ID be recorded by cameras so that the warning program wasn’t alerted.”
“Of course he did. I’ll have to ask Reese to draw him.”
“Why don’t you tell me what happened,” Eagle prompted. “He didn’t just attack you out of the blue. And tell me the truth. He leaned his lanky form back in the driver’s seat. “You’re better than most at lying, but not even you can hide changes in body temperature from me.”
She sighed. “I was following him, and he got the jump on me.”
“And why were you following him?” Eagle cupped a hand between them, wiggling his fingers in encouragement to spill more details.
“I was following Ty first, and they had a meeting in an alleyway. It was the first meeting I’ve witnessed that I can’t write off to helping derelicts and punks.”
Eagle frowned. “That doesn’t sound good. Maybe we should put him under official surveillance.”
Lyssa felt happier at that. “You think Captain Brogan would go for it?”
“The man attacked you, so that endangers everyone.” Eagle paused for a moment, raising his hands and swiping invisible screens in a way that told her he’d activated the iTeev holo features built into his glasses and was searching for something. He didn’t need to use his hands, as initiating the shuttle had proven, but it was easier as well as polite to give her warning that his attention was elsewhere. It was impossible to tell what he was doing under those dark glasses.
“Well, Ty’s back at division now, safe and sound,” he said after a moment.
“Yes, but for how long?” Lyssa couldn’t help the bitter words. “I shouldn’t have gotten involved with him. Jaxon warned me.” She’d just been so lonely, living with Kansas and Lyra. Lonely in knowing that even if Kansas had wanted her, Lyssa would never cross that line with him. He was her sister’s husband and the best father a child could have. That is where it started and ended. Period. Unfortunately, her heart hadn’t seemed to get the message.
Eagle’s hands dropped to his lap. “Even if you weren’t involved, he’d still die. So from his point-of-view, it’s good you got involved. You’ve made him happy, and maybe finding out who that man is will help.” But they both knew it was a long shot. Ty Bissett would die of a broken neck, and given the usual timeline of Jaxon’s visions, Ty was already on borrowed time.
“Speaking of Brogan,” Eagle said. “He’s called a meeting. That’s why I’ve been trying to contact you. He sounds worried.”
A meeting meant the underground conference room, where there was no chance of being overheard by someone who could report to the Elite. Lyssa pulled out her iTeev, turned on the screen, and disconnected her link from the feed. There were signal blockers in the ancient subway tunnels that were home to the underground, and those were always activated during their meetings, but all of them were extra careful when approaching or while in the tunnels. Especially these days when so many fringers were fleeing Special Forces in the western empty zones. Eagle would even take the shuttle off feed before they arrived at their destination.
Like the others in her crew, Lyssa had fought to survive her youth in Colony 6 and had grown into a responsible citizen—but the Elite who ruled the CORE still wanted her dead. Like other sixers, she’d developed a special ability from the experimental viribus drug placed in their water. Now only Captain Brogan’s rewriting of her past prevented her capture by Special Forces. If they knew she was working with the underground, she’d be doubly wanted. It paid to be careful—and to suspect everyone.
“It’s got to be about Nova,” she said. “Maybe she’s back from Newcali.”
Eagle gave his customary uneven shrug, his right shoulder lifting slightly before the left. “I guess we’re about to find out.”
“If you ask me, using Brogan’s niece as a security deposit for use of Newcali’s hovercraft was a mistake, even if it did save Jaxon’s life. They’ve had the shuttle back for more than a month now, and we still don’t have Nova.”
The edge of Eagle’s mouth twitched as if he found her response amusing. “Hopefully, she’s just been gathering information.”
Lyssa knew what he wasn’t saying—that every day Newcali didn’t return the child was one day closer to trouble. Brogan had taken care of Nova since her father had been killed from radiation exposure sustained while retrieving tech from the desolation zones in exchange for his daughter’s release from the colony where she’d been born. Brogan wouldn’t sit idly by if he discovered Nova was in danger.
They left the shuttle in a public parking lot near the edge of town and made their way down a blind alley to a derelict apartment building in the adjoining empty zone. In the basement they found a well-hidden staircase that led into the subway.
Before she’d started working for the underground—first by coercion and then under her own will—Lyssa hadn’t known of the existence of an ancient underground train system, much less heard rumors of tunnels still existing. The solar-powered sky train had crisscrossed the territory before Breakdown, and one of the CORE’s first activities after its formation had been to restore as many main lines as possible. With the addition of the public blue shuttles, nothing else had been needed. The centuries-old tunnels were now home to hundreds of undergrounders who for whatever reason had fled CORE society.
Lyssa knew her way to the underground conference room, but she was glad to have Eagle with her. His ability to recreate a mental 3D rendition of anything he experienced or could imagine made it impossible for him to lose his way from any of the several entrances, even without his glasses that transmitted all kinds of information directly to his brain. If the tunnels had new cave-ins, he’d simply circumvent and find a new path that would get them where they needed to go.
“Here.” Eagle pressed something into her hand, and she realized it was a light. She put the strap over her head adjusting its position until it hung heavy and reassuring on her upper chest, bathing the tunnels with illumination. She knew he didn’t need the light, so he’d brought it for her.
“Thanks.” She adjusted her coat under the light, making sure the magnetic fasteners were locked tightly. Since it was December, the tunnels would be frigid until they arrived at the inhabited stations.
“We’d better hurry. Reese and Jaxon left division before I did.” Eagle grinned before adding, “And if you aren’t there, Lyra can’t fly on over, either. She’s too busy to leave division.”
“Traveling isn’t flying,” she said, but the comment had lightened her spirits. Truth be told, sometimes it was a little like flying.
They had gone only a half kilometer when Eagle raised his hand in a signal for her to stop, his head turned attentively toward a tunnel they were passing. Lyssa was about to ask if he’d detected a cave-in when he motioned her forward past the intersection. Then he stopped again, unzipped his jacket, and drew a gun from his shoulder holster.
“What is it?” she whispered.
“About a dozen people are down that tunnel, and they can’t be ours. No one sets up this side of the guards. It’s too dangerous.”
The underground had an elaborate warning system that Lyssa hadn’t bothered to research, but Eagle would know what he was talking about. “Okay,” she said. “But be careful.”
“They won’t turn on their lights for a while. I’ll get the drop on them. I’ll shout when I need you.”
He retraced their steps, quickly disappearing from view as Lyssa watched, careful to aim her light forward and not back at him. Minutes ticked by as she waited. Her body felt hot despite the cold in the tunnels. She should have gone with Eagle. She was trained to shoot and in hand-to-hand combat. Captain Brogan had insisted on it for both her and Lyra. Reese and Jaxon would never have let Eagle face a dozen people alone. If her ability had worked properly, she could have at least traveled mentally with Eagle, but here she remained useless. She didn’t know if he needed backup. He could die and she’d still be waiting here like a target with this light on her chest.
She waited a minute more. Still nothing. What if he’d run into Special Forces? Or fringers that weren’t numbered among their allies. Worse, the heat signatures he’d seen could belong to a group of radiation-crazed monsters that typically roamed the desolation zones.
Taking a deep breath, she whisked the light from her chest and put it down on the rocky floor of the tunnel. She started back the way they’d come. She’d gone only a few steps when she changed her mind and went back for the light.
Switching it off, she began to feel her way along the wall. Hold on, Eagle, she thought. I’m coming.