Genre: Drama, Action, Romance
Note 1: This is the first chapter to the sequel for The Empire. It follows on directly from the ending of the first book.
Note 2: When I started, Adrian and Kali were the main characters, but Bryce and Sester have really come into their own and become just as popular so this new book will feature all four of them. I will continue 'borrowing' the OCs from my Avon PGP adventures for this story.
Note 3: Publishing-wise, everything is swimming along. The contract has been signed, but it's the matter of hurry up and wait for the rest. The back cover blurb is done, the short bio has been finished and work on the cover is beginning. I've been assigned an editor now but he's busy until October =P The release date is still slated for Dec/2010-Jan/2011. I'll keep you posted.
Let's get out of this hell hole!
In an instant, there was nothingness, not even darkness. No time for thoughts or regrets, only a split second flash of fear, which was really a horrible place to leave it at, if this were truly the end.
Bryce didn't have time to think if the new hybrid jump gate worked, or if his body would be scattered as a million bits across the galaxy. If he had, he might not have stepped through that swirling circle of energy. If he had time to think about it, that is. And the Security people weren't coming for them.
One second there was nothing, and the next, a thousand feathers tickled his body, which would have been great if it hadn't been for the sudden jerk forward and the wall of icy air blasting him at the end.
The sudden feel of wide open space was dizzying, making him stumble. He opened his eyes a sliver and was blinded by a vision of snow covered trees. A gust of wind rustled the leaves. Powdery white mist swirled around him.
He hugged his body, rubbing his arms. Why hadn't he grabbed something warmer before they left? His black uniform, with its thick weave, high collar and golden fist emblem over the right breast, was heavy with the authority of the Empire. It was great for inspiring fear and respect, but the weather was not impressed.
Hell, there were a lot of things he should've done before they left. Maybe he should make a list.
"Adrian!" Kali was frantic as the ashen-faced man sagged against her. Her arms wrapped around him as Bryce rushed over to help, not bothering to check if all his parts were still there after their harried escape.
"Not the back!" said Bryce. He winced when Adrian groaned as they lowered him to the snow-carpeted ground. He remembered the terrible sessions in the lab, when Fleet Admiral van Reutensberg and her merry ghouls came calling and usually left Adrian half-dead because of some imagined slight or lack in his performance. Neuron whips were nasty things.
Kali nodded, her throat constricting in anguish. "I remember." She hadn’t seen the wounds yet, but she could imagine them.
Adrian gave the Empire everything they demanded from him, the Neutron Wave weapon and the new jumpgate. For the first time, humanity could bring the fight back to the alien invaders. He gave them that chance, but he would never be anything other than a prisoner subject to their whims. They had to get him away from them.
Placing Adrian on his side, the arm angled forward to prevent him from rolling back, she performed the familiar diagnostics routine. The hazel eyes were glazed, barely responsive. The pulse was thready, the breathing shallow and ragged. His flesh was hot.
Unzipping a small, red-lined case from her field kit, she chose two clear vials, a mixture that would stabilize his weak and racing heart. "We've got to get him to shelter."
There was a dubious expression on Bryce's face. "That's going to be kind of hard. Looks like we're in the middle of nowhere."
"We're in the forest," said Kali, injecting the mixture into Adrian's neck.
"Like I said…nowhere."
"Adrian would not have transported us into the wilderness.” Of that she was certain. Far away from people perhaps, but he would not deprive himself of technology.
"I wish he’d provided a map,” grumbled Bryce.
"I'm not a scout!"
"We have to get him inside before nightfall, before it gets colder!"
"It's already cold." He jumped up and down, his heavy black military boots crunching the snow.
A leaf fluttered between them and landed gracefully on the untouched snow. A sign, perhaps? A peace offering? Or a warning to stop being fools.
The air was bracing as she took in a deep breath, trying to control her anxieties. She placed a hand on Adrian's forehead, her brow furrowing. "I'm worried about him, Bryce."
"Yeah." Bryce rubbed his burnt-orange hair, a guilty half-grimace on his face. "I'll go and take a look."
Bryce was going to lodge a formal complaint. How were you supposed to find your way without any signs?
And the movie vid people got it wrong with the sound effects. Did they know how noisy it was in the forest? At first it seemed quiet but then he heard it, the constant rustle of leaves, cracks of twigs and branches snapping or brushing against each other.
Birds chirruped, which he might have enjoyed if they weren't so cheerful. They seemed to be mocking him.
What was that up ahead? Straight lines? One thing he knew, straight lines in the forest weren't natural.
He tip-toed forward, grimacing as a tattle-tale twig snapped under his boots. Tree shadows nearly made the thing invisible and bushes covered the entrance, but it was a shack of some kind. Well, not much of one unless you liked the outdoors in your indoors. The elements had eaten through the wooden slats leaving jagged holes but the roof seemed fine, at least from this angle. And best of all, it was abandoned.
The door jiggled a bit when he pushed, but didn't open. He put his shoulder to it. The joints creaked in complaint and wood splintered, dust and debris loosened, choking him. It gave way without warning and he tumbled inside, grabbing at the door handle that broke in his hands.
Oh great. I'll have to fix that too.
Streams of light rushed inside revealing cupboards, overturned chairs, a wooden table, a cooking plate on a counter and layers of dust and leaves covering everything else. A door at the far end revealed a small bedroom with a wooden framed bed, a lumpy mattress that seemed to have most of its stuffing on one end, and some threadbare blankets. The room next to it had basic toiletry facilities.
It was a sorry excuse for a shack, but it was better than nothing.
Following his own footsteps back was easy. He marked the trail, scratching big Xs at eye level with a pocket knife. It would be embarrassing to report he'd found shelter but didn't know where it was.
Were there this many shadows before?
The umbrella of leaves made it dark and gloomy. Shafts of light poked through before, but now there were only ghosts…menacing shapes reaching towards him with icy fingers.
An insect made a sharp twittering sound, followed by a chorus of them. The birds weren’t singing anymore; maybe it was past their bed time, and his.
The rifle-crack of a twig made him stop. Something moving up ahead. He strained to see through the trees and shadows as his heart drummed a frantic beat.
If only he had super-sight like those heroes in the comic-vids he used to enjoy as a kid. They could see in the dark, which would be a really good talent to have now.
The flimsy pocket-knife was no match for hundreds of sharp teeth. Glancing down, he quickly picked up a thick twisted branch from the ground. Too bad he was a PA and not a soldier or at least he would have something decent to fight with.
Was that a growl? Heavy breathing? Big foot steps from a four-legged animal?
Red eyes blinked at him from behind a bush. His heart nearly stopped as he thrust the branch forward in both hands like a sword.
Should he run? The nature vids said differently.
He moved back slowly, his hands shaking. His pulse was racing, trying to do the sprint.
A twig snapped behind him. Hot breath on his neck…
Bryce whirled…and nearly brained Kali.
"It's…" He looked back at the creature with the red eyes but it was gone. Or had it been there in the first place? "Thought you were…never mind." He lowered the branch. "You shouldn't sneak up on a guy like that. I could've killed you."
"You were gone so long, I was worried."
Snow began falling, light flakes that stuck to their hair and stood out on their black uniforms.
"You left Adrian alone?"
"He's awake now. He told me to come find you. Did you find shelter?" She led the way back to Adrian as Bryce carved another X with his knife.
"Yeah, it's not much of one but it's better than being out here."
And the sooner they got inside it, the less chance they had of becoming something's dinner.