Sunday, July 15, 2012


Hi, folks. This is a chapter from MASTER OF DARKNESS I cut because flashbacks this long can be problematic. So I thought I'd share the full thing here to show you how my hero, Justice, became a werewolf.

It also shows why Miranda doesn't trust Alpha werewolves, and why both Justice and Miranda don't care much for the werewolf aristocracy called the Chosen. Enjoy!
Three years ago
Justice parked his unmarked navy blue Impala in the circular driveway, stomped the big Chevy’s emergency brake, and scooped up the radio handset. It felt cool and heavy in his hand as he triggered the transmit button with a punch of his thumb. “I-28, Greendale. I’m 10-8 at 425 Magnolia Avenue.” He released the button to let Greendale County Dispatch reply on the frequency.
“10-4, I-28,” the dispatcher said, her drawl as sweet and Southern as a pecan pie. “If you need backup, just holler. I can send somebody when the wreck on Oakland clears.”
An oil tanker had slammed head-on into a mini-van carrying two women and four kids under the age of six. The impact had spun the van into the path of a jeep driven by a seventeen-year-old boy. It had overturned, ejecting the teen. Two more cars had daisy-chained into the jeep, unable to stop in time.
And all of this had occurred right at the height of rush hour. Because really, when else would you get a total goat-fuck?
Every available patrol unit was tied up rescuing the injured, warding off rubberneckers, and dealing with the media who were already circling the carnage like vultures. Meanwhile firefighters sprayed the flaming tanker with foam and prayed it wouldn’t explode.
So when dispatch announced neighbors had reported screams coming from 425 Magnolia Avenue, Justice decided to swing by and take care of the call himself. Yeah, he’d been on his way home after spending the past sixteen hours working a homicide. Yeah, all he really wanted was a beer and a burger. But screams were screams, and the burger could wait.
Justice thumbed the handset. “Hopefully I won’t need help, Greendale, but you never know.”
“Yeah. Watch yourself, I-28. Be advised the neighbors say there’s a history of CDV.”
Oh, perfect. Justice hated Criminal Domestic Violence cases with a pure and holy passion.
Hell, the homicide he’d just worked had been the climax of five years of repeated domestic abuse. The vic had finally gotten sick of trips to the ER covered in bruises, so she’d taken their five-year-old daughter and fled to her mother’s.
Her husband had hunted her down and slit her throat with a box cutter while she tried to shield their child. Happy psychic scars, kid. Daddy loves you.
The killer had confessed to Justice while wearing an expression of self-righteous satisfaction. “Bitch had it coming.”
Too bad Sheriff Jones frowned on taking assholes out behind the department and shooting them in the head. Fucker had it coming might be true, but made for really bad press.
Christ, he wasn’t in the mood for another go-round with an abusive prick.
Justice got out of the car, flicking his gaze warily over the three-story brick Colonial surrounded by neat holly hedges. He couldn’t help comparing it to the blood-splattered double-wide where Amy Miller had died the night before. Funny how the same nasty shit happens at both ends of the money spectrum.
He headed up the flagstone walk, one hand riding the weapon on his hip. Hesitating a moment, Justice listened hard, scanning the house’s peaceful facade. No shouts, no masculine bellows, no feminine screams. Maybe this’ll turn out to be nothing.
God, he hoped so.
He climbed the brick steps and strode to the front door, a thick hunk of blond oak that probably cost what he made in six months. In the door’s center, a cut-glass oval depicted a stylized wolf head.
Justice would later learn the aristocrats of the Chosen always marked their front doors with the image of a wolf. But he hadn’t known about the Direkind then.
Just as he reached for the doorbell, a woman screamed. “Christian, no! I’m sorry, I can get the stain out, just give me the shirt and I’ll put baking…”
“You clumsy little cow, that was my favorite shirt!” A hand rang on flesh, and the woman yelped.
And there’s my probable cause. “Police!” He tried the knob. It didn’t turn.
The man’s voice dropped into a vibrating growl. “And you’d better not even think about shifting.”
“Dad, don’t!” This voice was younger, lighter, probably late teens. “You’re not going to hurt her again. Not like last time. I won’t let you.”
“Police!” Justice roared through the door. He was seriously tempted to kick it in, but he figured all that pretty incised glass would shatter into knife-blade shards that would slice a certain cop into barbecue hash. So instead he thumped the door frame with the side of his fist. Bang, bang, BANG. “Open up! Now!
“Shit, it’s the cops!” the teenager cried. “Dad, calm the fuck down! It was an accident. You can get the fucking shirt dry-cleaned, for God’s sake. Do you want to go to jail?”
Something growled, sounding like a cross between a Rottweiler and a grizzly bear.
Holy shit, what was that? “Sheriff’s office! Open up!” Justice shouted, ignoring the mental voice that told him to call for backup now. There isn’t any fucking backup. They’re all prying bodies out of mangled cars on Oakland Boulevard.
He’d be lucky to get Bell City’s single on-duty patrolman – and it would take the officer twenty minutes to make it here from the other end of the county, even going full out lights-and-sirens.
And while Justice waited, another wife could bleed to death at her husband’s hands. Fuck that.
The woman screamed, her voice high with agony.
“Open up or I’m breaking it down!” Justice jerked off his suit jacket. He’d wrap it around his arm and use his elbow to break the glass, then reach in and unlock the damned door.
“Oh, fuck! I’m coming!” The teen’s voice dropped to a hiss. “Dad, let her go!” A misty form hurried behind the glass, and the door jerked wide, revealing a gangling kid, maybe seventeen or eighteen.
“Hello, officer.” The boy gave Justice a wide, nervous smile as he ran a smoothing hand over his short blond hair. His bony, good-natured face might have been handsome, if not for the fear in his eyes. Eyes an odd shade of blue so pale, it made Justice think of arctic wolves.
“Where are your parents?” Justice demanded, shrugging back into his jacket -- and making sure the kid noticed both his badge and his gun.
“Uhhhhh…” The boy licked his lips. A stud flashed on the tip of his tongue. Tiny black rings pierced his lower lip and right eyebrow, and two round steel gauges stretched quarter-inch holes in his earlobes. He wore a ripped Green Day T-shirt, tight jeans on skinny legs, and black Converse All Star sneakers that made his big feet look even bigger. Wolf tracks, tattooed in blue, ringed the stringy biceps of his right arm, and he wore a studded dog collar in black leather. “My mother’s fine.”
“That’s not what I asked you. I asked you were she is. I heard a woman scream. She sounded hurt.” He took a step forward, crowding the boy without quite stepping over the threshold. Yet. “May I come in?”
The kid shot a panicky glance over his shoulder. “Uh, yeah. Sure. She’s fine, though.” He gave Justice an unconvincing smile. “You probably heard the television. Mom loves Law and Order.”
“Kid, I’ve been a cop for eight years. I know real screams when I hear them.” He shouldered past the teenager, who trailed him, radiating worry.
Justice scanned his surroundings, checking for signs of potential attackers, blood, guns…whatever the hell just growled...
The two-story foyer featured a curving oak staircase and a hardwood floor gleaming with so much polish, he could see his reflection in it. Watercolor landscapes hung on the white walls, depicting Victorian houses surrounded by mounds of azaleas and oaks dripping Spanish moss.
Somebody's working really, really hard at looking normal.
Justice shot a hard look at the kid. “You the kind of guy who’d let somebody hurt his mother?”
The boy flinched. “No, I…”
“Who the hell are you,” a male voice interrupted, “and what are you doing in my house?”
Justice pivoted, his hand going to his gun. He didn’t draw it – quite. “Who are you?”
“Christian Andrew Price.” The man tilted head so he could look down his nose at Justice -- quite a trick, considering he was three inches shorter. “I know you aren’t getting ready to draw a weapon on me in my own home.”
We’ll see, asshole. “Where’s your wife, sir?”
“Who are you again?”
Justice tapped the gold badge on his belt. “Lieutenant William Justice, Greendale Sheriff’s Office.”
Price smiled thinly. “Oh, yes. I donated to the sheriff’s campaign.”
“So did I.” He took a single menacing step closer. “Where’s your wife, Mr. Price? She screamed.”
Price curled a contemptuous lip. “Carol screams quite frequently.” He was a pale aristocrat of a man – blond, thin, and elegant in chinos and a sky-blue silk shirt open to reveal a wisp of chest hair. “She’s a bit high-strung.”
“Funny how people get high-strung when other people hit them.” Justice smiled, letting the curve of his mouth imply how much he’d enjoy making Price “high strung.” “If I don’t see your wife by the count of three,” he added in a conversational tone, “I’m going to assume something’s happened to her. In which case I’m going to handcuff your ass, throw you in my patrol car, and go looking for her myself. One…”
“My wife is none of your damned business!”
“This badge says otherwise. Two. Thr…”
“Carol, get out here, you clumsy cow!”
The woman who stepped around the corner was delicately pretty – if you ignored the set of five vicious cuts that raked the side of her face. The top slice ran from her temple to the corner of one green eye, while three others slashed her cheek right to her nose and the corner of her mouth. The bottom cut laid the length of her jaw open all the way to her chin. Blood streamed from the wounds to mat her shoulder-length chestnut hair, soaking her pink knit shirt. Her neat white pants were splattered with crimson flecks.
Shit, Justice thought in horror, that’s going to scar like a bitch. What the hell did he attack her with – a box cutter?
She smiled at Justice through the gore. One side of her lip sagged oddly, as if the cuts had damaged nerves. “Hello, Lieutenant. I’m afraid you’ve caught us at a bad time.” There was a curious light in her eyes, an odd blend of triumph and revenge. Something that said I’m going to show him for what he is.
“Mom!” The boy stared at her in shocked horror. “Why in the hell didn’t you shift first?”
“Dammit, Carol!” Price spat, taking a threatening step forward. “I’m going to…”
“That’s enough, sir!” Grabbing the man by one wrist, Justice swept behind him, jerking his arm back and around to pin it painfully high against one shoulder blade. Teeth bared, Justice used the leverage to slam Price face-first into the wall. The watercolors shook with the impact, their elegant silver frames rattling.
The blond yelped. “That hurts! Let go, you…”
“No.” Maintaining the arm bar with practiced skill, Justice used his free hand to pull his handcuffs from the leather case on his belt. “I’m charging you with Criminal Domestic Violence, High and Aggravated. Which means you’re going to jail, and your wife is going to the emergency room. If you’re lucky, a plastic surgeon will be able to save her face.”
“Don’t be absurd -- she’s fine!” Price snapped, and rammed back against Justice’s grip with impossible strength, breaking the hold and sending him stumbling in surprise. Whipping around, Price glared at his wife with his lips peeled off his teeth. “All she has to do is shape-shift, and she’ll heal – at least until I slice her open again for bringing a human into Chosen business!
Oh, great, the bastard’s psychotic, Justice thought, and drew his gun again. Swinging the weapon up into a two-handed Weaver stance, he aimed it right between Price’s eyes. “You’re not doing a damn thing except going to jail. Turn around and brace your hands against the wall, feet apart.”
The blond rocked back in offended astonishment. “I’ll do no such thing! You have no authority to…”
“I’ve got a badge and a gun, asshole. That gives me all the authority I need.” Justice took three steps forward until the nine-mil almost touched Price’s thick blond eyebrows. “Lean both hands on that wall and brace your feet apart. I will not tell you again.”
“This is really not necessary.” From the corner of one eye, Justice saw the woman wring her hands in distress. “This isn’t what I had in mind. I don’t want you to arrest him – just make him leave me alone!”
“Lady, the only way to make an abuser leave you alone is to leave his ass and make sure he doesn’t know where you’re going,” Justice snapped. “Which is what I strongly advise you to do. Get your kid to pack your shit while you’re in the hospital and the creep is in jail. Then hop a flight to anywhere else, and don’t come back. Have your lawyer serve the divorce papers, and stay the fuck away from this lunatic.”
She stared. “I can’t divorce Christian! The Chosen don’t do that.”
Great, she was as crazy as Price. This is why I hate domestics. “Then I give it a month before I’ll be working your murder.” He glared into Price’s furious eyes. They actually seemed to glow with sparks of insanity. “It won’t exactly be a whodunit.”
Carol lifted her chin. “Christian won’t hurt me.”
Justice kept his gun aimed directly at Price’s skull. “Check the mirror, sweetheart. He already has.”
“Carol, you stupid slut, look what you’ve gotten us into!” Price exploded. “You’ve exposed us, you fool! When this human makes his report and the media gets involved…”
Green eyes narrowed. “He won’t be making a report. I’ll fix this, Christian. You’ll see.”
And then, just like that, she became a monster.
Light sparked around her as if she’d detonated hidden fireworks, and her body began to contort, twisting, growing, as her skin went dark in a rolling wave.
Sheer reflex made Justice jerk his weapon toward her. In the instant it took to switch his aim from Price to the woman, she’d grown from barely five-six to well over seven feet tall. Her delicate female features contorted, swelling, shifting, into a wolf’s long tapered muzzle and pointed ears, and her manicured hands grew huge, tipped with gleaming curved claws that had to be three inches long. She balanced on powerful lupine legs, clawed toes curling against the hardwood floor. Her fur was the same rich chestnut as her hair, short and fine over most of her body, thickening into a long mane that surrounded her head and formed a ruff over her round breasts.
He wondered numbly where her clothes had gone.
“You…what did you…?” Justice heard himself stammer. He felt as if someone had hit him hard, right in the side of the head, disconnecting his dazed thoughts like a derailed toy train. “How did you do that?”
“I’m sorry about this,” the monster told him gently in a deep, rumbling voice. “But you really shouldn’t have tried to arrest him. The Chosen don’t go to jail.”
She lunged at him. He fired, but she kept coming with impossible speed, ducking around the gun in his extended arms, opening her jaws…
Her teeth engulfed both his forearms, and she bit down. At the same time, one huge clawed hand wrenched the gun out of his hands as if she were taking a rattle away from a toddler.
Justice screamed as knife-blade fangs sliced into his skin. Blue sparks flashed around her jaws.
Hallucinating. He had to be hallucinating. What the fuck did they drug me with? Gas? I didn’t drink anything…
Fire shot up his arms in blazing agony. Yelling, he jerked away just as her jaws released his wrists. She caught his elbow, steadying him with solicitous care. Straightening, she towered over him, her gaze oddly regretful. “I’m sorry, Lieutenant. I really am.”
“Carol!” Price screamed. “What the fuck?”
“Mom! You don’t bite cops!” The kid grabbed Justice with surprisingly strong hands and pulled him away from his mother, supporting all two hundred pounds of dazed detective as if he weighed nothing at all. Glaring fearlessly up into her furry wolf face, the boy snapped, “Have you lost your mind?”
"Apparently." Price’s eyes narrowed. “You’re going to pay for this, bitch.”
Justice watched numbly as sparks raced over the little prick and turned him into a monster even bigger than his wife. In seconds, he was covered in shaggy gold fur, his body muscular as a boxer’s. He flexed clawed hands and snarled like something out of a horror movie.
“I’m sorry!” Carol yelped, recoiling in fear. “I had to!”
“You’re not as sorry as you’re going to be, you stupid bitch!” Price lunged at his wife, who yipped and fled, bounding off into the house. Justice’s gun tumbled from her hand to hit the floor and skid across the slick wood. Neither werewolf stopped to grab it.
Thank God it didn’t go off, Justice thought numbly.
Price raced after his wife, bellowing threats in a voice as deep as God’s.
“Well,” the kid sighed as he lowered Justice to the floor until he could lean back against the wall. “This is a completely fucked situation. Why in the hell did she bite you? That was crazy.”
Justice’s hands burned furiously, but he gritted his teeth and fumbled for his belt. Somehow he forced his fingers to close around his cell phone and pull it from its plastic clip. He lifted it clumsily to his mouth and thumbed the SEND button. “Call dispatch,” he rasped.
Obeying the verbal command, the phone started dialing 911.
The kid’s long fingers closed over the phone and hit the END button. “You don’t want to do that, sir.”
Something was wrong with the tendons in Justice’s hand; he couldn’t make his stiff fingers overcome the kid’s grip. The boy tugged the phone away from him with no effort at all and slid it into his back pocket.
“Hospital,” Justice protested, fighting to find the words and get them out of his mouth. “Gotta go to the hospital.” No way in hell could he drive. “Losing…I’m losing too much blood.”
“Look, dude, you’ll be okay.” The boy hesitated, frowning. “Probably. But the last thing you need is an ambulance crew. You’ll end up shifting in front of them, and then we’ll all be fucked.”
Shivering in waves, Justice blinked at him. He felt so damned cold. Shock, something whispered from the back of his brain. I'm going into shock. “What the…hell are you talking about?”
Glass shattered somewhere upstairs. Price bellowed a curse. More glass broke.
“Fuck.” The boy sighed. “Sounds like Mom just went out a window. Dad’ll chase her through the woods for the next hour or so, and then they’ll have sex.” His tone was utterly matter-of-fact. “Swear to God, they do this once a month. First time they’ve ever involved a cop, though. This totally blows.”
“Did your father drug me...with something?” Panting, Justice gave the boy the best cop stare he could manage, considering that he was barely conscious. “Some kind of...gas?”
“Look, you’re not hallucinating.” The kid stared back at him, his gaze utterly level and completely serious. “My parents really did turn into werewolves, and my mother really did bite you. And you really are going to turn into a werewolf.” He paused and sighed. “Well, probably. That, or you’ll die.”
“Call 911." He started shivering in waves. The pain was so bad he could barely form words. "Whatever... they used to... drug us...Need treatment.”
“My name is Pete, not ‘kid,’” the kid said with enormous dignity. “And nobody drugged either of us. I’m a werewolf, and if the humans find out about us, they’ll hunt us down like dogs. You want to be responsible for all the people they’re going to kill – including the folks who aren’t really werewolves at all?”
Shit. He means it. Crazy!
But what if he's right?
“The...moon's not...full.” God, his arms hurt. Felt like he'd dipped his wrists in battery acid.
“The moon thing is bullshit,” Pete said patiently. “So’s the bit about silver and wolfs-bane and all the rest of that superstitious crap. And no, I didn’t get cursed by a gypsy. I was born like this.” He folded his arms and propped them on his raised knees, settling more comfortably against the wall. “We don’t run around killing and eating people either. All of that is pure Hollywood horror movie made-up bullshit.”
Justice licked his dry lips and studied the boy sitting next to him. He felt numb everywhere he wasn’t burning. “Werewolves exist?”
“Yep. So do vampires and witches. Merlin made us all.”
“Merlin?” Must have misheard. “Wizard? King Arthur...knights?”
“That’s him.”
Justice let his head fall back against the wall. “Full of shit.”
“No, really. He created the vampires to protect mankind, and he created us to keep an eye on the vampires. That’s why he gave us the magic bite, so we could recruit people like you.”
“Magic bite.” Justice clenched his teeth and rubbed his calf with one wounded hand. A muscle there had drawn into a knot the size of a tennis ball. It hurt like a motherfucker. “Horse...shit.”
Pete snorted. “Tell me that when you’re seven feet tall and furry. The spell’s already changing you. It’s only a matter of time.”
A wave of fire shot up his arms, so sudden and vicious Justice threw his head back, rapping it hard against the wall. He gritted his teeth and banged his head again, deliberately this time, and then again. He’d half-hoped the raps would reboot his brain, but no such luck. “Fuck me!”
“I know, man.” The boy’s pale gaze was sympathetic. “I went through my first Shift a few months ago. Figured I’d die.” His pale eyes darkened with an ugly memory. “One of my friends did. He burned right up in a blaze of blue light. One minute he was there, the next he was ashes on the ground. We’d been friends since fucking kindergarten, and he just died. He was only sixteen, dammit. He wanted to be a lawyer, wanted to be able to defend us when we finally come out of the kennel to the humans. Instead he died, and I’m alone.” His voice turned bitter. “Except for parents who keep trying to kill each other.”
Justice sucked in a breath through his teeth, fighting another wave of pain. “Did.." For a moment he couldn't remember what he was saying, then found the thought again. "Call...cops?”
“And tell them what? ‘A spell ate my best friend? And oh, by the way, I’m a werewolf.’” He shook his head. “Dude, I don’t think so.”
“Teachers? Classmates?" Someone should have noticed.
“His folks have money. They’re Chosen – werewolf aristocracy, just like my parents. They told everybody they sent David off to boarding school in fucking Sweden, and then they just never mention him again. People forget.” The ring shifted in the boy’s eyebrow as he ground his teeth. “Everybody but me. I can’t forget. And I’ve tried.” He glanced at Justice. “Fuck, I hope I don’t have to watch you die like that. What the hell was Mom thinking?”
“Didn't want him...jail.” The blood dripping from his wrists was turning into a pool between his feet. He felt dizzy, his thoughts dull, plodding.
“Yeah, I get that. I’m talking about when Dad clawed her to begin with. All she had to do was turn into a wolf, then turn human again. The cuts on her face would have healed. She could have come out and talked to you, and you’d have never known anything happened. Instead, she freaking showed you what he did. On purpose. She had to know you’d arrest him.”
“Vics...always batshit.” Justice closed his eyes and leaned back against the wall, trying to rest. The pain had abated, at least for the moment, but he knew it would be back. And the blood loss still sucked. “Wave your.. magic badge...make bad man stop." Then they realized you were going to arrest him, and when he got out of jail, he'd be really pissed. Next thing you knew, the vic was slamming a frying pan upside your head. But the idea was too complicated to get out of his mouth, and he gave up.
The boy blinked at him. “So this is like, typical behavior?”
Pete grimaced. “That sucks.”
“Hate working...murders."
Pete went pale. “You meant that? About him killing my Mom?”
“I’ll get her to leave.” The boy squared his thin shoulders. “I can convince her.”
“Careful ...may pick...father”
If anything, the boy went paler. “She loves me. She wouldn’t do that.
“No.” A flat denial, delivered with all the stubborn conviction in the boy’s soul. “She’s not like that.”
Justice nodded, studying him, taking in the blend of guilt and grief that haunted those pale eyes. “Maybe ... right.”
Pete rested his chin on his knees and hugged them tight in his skinny arms. “Man, you’re cynical.”
“I'm a cop.” Justice sucked in a breath as pain stormed up his nerves in a wave so searing, it was all he could do not to scream.
This was more than just the pain of a set of puncture wounds. The kid was right. Something was happening to him. He knew it in his gut, which was why he hadn’t already tried to wrestle his cell away from Pete and call 911.
He really didn’t want to turn into a werewolf in front of an ambulance crew. Or maybe he’d just go up in flames instead. Either way, it wouldn’t be good.
Better to sit here with the kid and do whatever he was going to do. Die or go furry.
Jesus, what a choice.
“Change with me.” Pete said the words suddenly, his tone hard and fierce.
“What?” Justice looked up.
Pete caught him under his upper arm and rose, lifting him effortlessly to his feet. “It’s time for us to Shift. When it’s your first time, it’s easier if another werewolf shifts with you. His magic pulls you along, helps you transform.”
Justice braced his feet and fought not to fall on his face. “What if...burn?”
“Then you’ll die.” The kid’s gaze held steadily on his. “But dude, you don’t have a choice. Your body is going to do this one way or another. Change or die.”
And then Peter Price began to transform, energy burning around him. It seemed his power reached out to Justice’s, caught him, surged into a blue raging blaze…
And Justice Changed.
Look for Master of Darkness on August 7, 2012. Thank you SO much for dropping by to read this story, and I hope you enjoyed it.

Angela Knight

Monday, June 25, 2012

Chapter 1 of Enforcer, Take 2

Based on the feedback you folks were kind enough to give me on the original version of ENFORCER'S chapter one, I did a major rewrite. I was told the chapter was too slow, and had a lot of info dumps. And when I read it here, I couldn't help but agree. So I spent the last few days completely retooling the chapter. Would you nice people take a look at it for me? Let me know what you think!

Dona Astryr paused on the dark, hot stairs that were scarcely wider than her shoulders, and listened for killers. A fist-sized evidence bot zipped past her shoulder, riding the glowing blue cushion of an antigrav field as it searched for murder victims.
In a blur of cyborg speed, Dona snatched the ‘bot out of the air. If there was a killer on the second floor, she didn’t want the device to give her away. The ‘bot started to beep a protest, but she thumbed a button to mute it. Drawing her shard pistol, she cocked her head, sensor implants scanning.
In the town square just outside the two-story house, a crier read the American Declaration of Independence in a fine, rolling baritone. The Philadelphia crowd hooted and stomped for the more inflammatory lines, bellowing support for the Continental Congress. If there were any Tories among them, they had the good sense to keep their snarls to themselves.
Dona, a time-travel veteran, barely even registered the words. She was a lot more interested in the soft female voice whimpering, a hopeless sound of agony coming from somewhere upstairs.
Fuck, somebody was still alive.
Victim’s condition? She started up the stairs in a soundless rush.
Extremely serious, her computer implant told her. Sensors detect multiple stab wounds and extensive blood loss. She must have medical attention in the next 3.2 minutes, or she will die.
Which wouldn’t necessarily end the victim’s existence. If Dona could get her into Regen within seven minutes of the time her heart stopped beating, she could be brought back. After that, brain death would be too extensive, and she would be dead in truth.
Where is the victim? Reaching the top step, Dona paused.
First bedroom on the left.
Any sign of attackers?
Which meant nothing. He could be sensor shielded; invisible to Dona’s eyes and implants.
The evidence bot jerked in her hand, trying to escape. She stuffed it into one of the pouches on her armor belt and headed for the bedroom door.
Damn, I wish I had backup, Dona thought. Unfortunately, every Enforcer on her team was busy searching the house’s first floor, while dealing with the thirteen victims they’d found. Two of them were still alive, including one fourteen-year-old with multiple stab wounds.
Dona braced in front of the closed door, pointed her shard pistol, and kicked the door down with her armored boot. Propelled by cyborg muscle, the door crashed open and banged against the wall. “Enforcer!” She entered low and fast.
Oh, fuck.
An arch of bright scarlet blood splatter marked the wall on her right. A small round rug squelched under her boots.
The source of all that blood lay on the canopied bed in front of her. The woman was naked, wrists and ankles bound to the bed’s tall posts. Blood rolled sluggishly from the dozens of wounds marking her breasts, her belly, her thighs – even her face.
One eye opened, rolled with terror until it fixed on Dona. The other appeared glued shut by dried blood. A tear spilled, and her crusted lips moved soundlessly.
“I’m Temporal Enforcement agent Dona Astryr,” Dona told her, giving the room a quick scan. Bed, armoire, wash stand with a china pitcher and a bowl. No attacker, at least none visibl. “I’m here to help you.”
Send a message to Doctor Chogan, Dona told her implant. We’ve got another survivor, condition critical.
The woman’s lips moved again, but the only sound she made was a low wheeze.
Where the fuck is Chogan? Dona wondered, moving closer to the bed. Maybe I should just pick her up and Jump back to the Outpost. Would she survive a temporal warp in her current condition?
Negative. Given her wounds, an unprotected Jump would probably cause systemic organ failure and brain death. It would be better to wait for Dr. Chogan and a Regeneration Tube.
Dona frowned, watching the woman’s bloody lips move. Her one eye looked desperate. What the hell was she trying to say? Dona leaned closer and told her comp to amplify audio. “What did you say?”
The words emerged as if with superhuman effort, in a painful, wheezing hiss. “He’s…still…here!”
Dona spun, bringing her shard pistol up just as a towering figure in red and black temporal armor appeared out of thin air, having evidently dropped his sensor shield. She fired, sending a spray of need-sharp tritium shards hissing toward him. The shards hit the Xeran’s armor and bounced in a series of musical pings.
Damn, Dona thought. The fucking Xerans have upgraded their armor.
The Xeran hit her in a furious bull rush that rolled them both across the victim’s body. Dona’s sensors picked up her moan of pain as they crashed to the floor.
“Bastard!” Dona snarled into the Xeran’s black faceplate as they rolled across the blood-soaked rug. He grabbed her gun hand with crushing force. She ignored the pain, fighting to twist the weapon around and aim it at his faceplate. Backup! Goddammit, I need backup!
Requesting backup…No response. It appears the agents downstairs are also under attack.
Her comp was right. Dona could hear the hiss of shard pistols downstairs, the thump of armored fists hitting armored bodies, the snarled curses in Xeran and Galactic Standard.
Her opponent’s polarized faceplate turned gray, went transparent.
And revealed Ivar Terje’s face smirking into her own. “Hello, baby. Miss me?”
Dona stared at him for one suspended instant of disbelief. Which quickly morphed into howling rage. “You botfucking traitor!” She rammed her left fist into his throat, aiming for the larynx, meaning to crush it right through his armor. It would have been a killing blow, especially propelled by genetically engineered strength amplified even more by her nano-implants.
She had the pleasure of hearing him gag. His hand lost its vicious grip on her gun hand, and she wrenched free, rolling on top of him. And promptly slammed the pistol into his faceplate so hard it cracked. “You almost killed me, you son of a bitch,” Dona snarled. “You ruined my life, my reputation!” She rammed the gun into his faceplate again, sending more cracks radiating across the reinforced plastium. “They thought I was a traitor because of you!” Her third blow had every last erg of her cyborg strength behind it.
His faceplate shattered, jagged fragments flying. Ivar snarled, knocking her weapon away from his face. “You’re worse than a traitor. You’re a fucking fool.”
Bracing his booted feet against her gut, he kicked her off him with brutal power. She sailed over the bed and crashed into the wash stand, pottery shattering, wood splintering around her body as she hit the floor.
Ivar rolled to his feet with astonishing grace for a man so massively built. “Every lie I told you, you believed. Love you?” He laughed, a hoarse, ugly bark. “Why in the fuck would I love you?”
Short horns glinted on his forehead among red hair cropped short and tight against his skull. A priest’s horns.
He’s a Xeran priest now? Dona thought in sickened horror as she rose from the wreckage of the wash stand. Her back ached in protest as she sank into a combat crouch and drew a knife from her boot. The blade chimed, the sound low and menacing.
The techs of Temporal Enforcement had improved the quantum axes they’d invented six months ago. The new weapons were smaller, lighter, but just as capable of cutting through temporal armor.
A deep voice roared from somewhere downstairs in a familiar male bellow. Something crashed. For a split second, Dona felt comforted.
Chief Alerio Dyami was in the fight.
Dona’s quantum dagger hummed a higher note as she circled with Ivar, their boots crunching through broken crockery.
She studied her foe with grim attention. Blood flowed sluggishly from a cut under Ivar’s eye as he glared at her from the ruins of his helmet.
“You still fucking Dyami?” Misinterpreting her shocked expression for surprise, he sneered. “Did you think I didn’t know you were betraying me with that sanctimonious Warlord prick?” He lunged, crossing the distance between them in a blur of battleborg speed, an enormous fist flying at her face. “I always knew what a whore you are!”
Dona jerked aside, avoiding the blow by millimeters, and slashed the blade at his belly. He knocked her arm aside before the blade could rip into his guts. She danced back and spat, “I never betrayed you, Ivar. You were the one who betrayed everything you ever claimed to believe in. Me. Chief Dyami. Your Enforcer’s oath.”
“My oath?” Nobody but an idiot would buy that beefershit." He curled a lip. “Unlike you, I’m not that stupid.”
He’s so busy sneering, he’s forgetting to keep his guard up. Dona’s eyes narrowed, focusing on the left hand he’d dropped.
Ivar was a hell of a lot stronger than Dona – easily a foot taller and twenty kilos heavier.
But Dona was faster.
She struck in a blur, driving the quantum dagger at her foe’s massive chest.
He hit her wrist so fast, she didn’t even see the blow. Her arm went numb to the elbow, and the blade cartwheeled from her hand. Ivar twisted, slamming a backhanded punch into the side of her face. The blow knocked her off her feet, sending her skidding into a corner.
He was on her before she could scramble away. Dona threw up one arm in a block and counterpunched, trying to force him back so she could make it to her feet. He only snarled and began to pound at her, driving punch after punch, sending her reeling against the wall. Starburst of pain thundered through her skull, but she kept fighting, throwing punches and kicks into his big body. He didn’t even react to the blows at all, as though he didn’t even feel them.
Then his fist arched into her face, and her skull seemed to detonate.
The next thing she knew, she was flat on her back with no memory of how she’d gotten there. Ivar loomed over her, a savage grin on his face.
Frantic, desperate, Dona drove kicks against his armored ribs. He snarled into her face, his eyes glittering with a rage that was not quite sane.
He’s going to kill me, she thought through the spinning confusion of her battered brain.
Warning! Her comp blared. You have sustained a severe concussion. You cannot continue to take blows to the head without severe brain injury.
She could only snarl.
Ivar shot to his feet, hauling Dona upright with a hand clamped around her throat. He rammed her into the wall, sending plaster raining around her shoulders. Dona cried out as pain bust through her abused back. Blood ran hot down her chin as she watched him draw back his fist for a blow that would likely shatter her skull.
Gods curse him, I am not going to let this bastard butcher me. I will fight him to my last breath.
Drawing on the last of her strength, she drove a fist toward Ivar’s hated smirk. He swatted her fist aside. “Is that the best you can do, you little cunt?” He laughed, eyes glittering hot. “Then I guess you’ll die.”
And he cocked his fist for that final blow.
Then Ivar simply…disappeared.
Deprived of his support, Dona felt her knees give way, dumping her into a heap on the floor. Dazed, barely conscious, she lifted her aching head to look around.
And saw Alerio Dyami’s broad, powerful back, arms swinging in pistoning punches as he drove Ivar against the wall.
Safe, she thought in dazed relief. I’m safe. Alerio won’t let him kill me.
Darkness rolled over her in a black flood, and her head thumped to the floor.
“You’re a dead man,” Alerio snarled through set teeth as she stalked Ivar Terje around the scene of his latest crime.
A nude woman lay bound to the bed, blood smearing her body from multiple stab wounds. Even worse, Alerio’s sensors told him Ivar’s sperm slicked the poor woman’s thighs.
But even as that crime filled him with a cold, righteous fury, what really made him burn was the sight of Dona Astryr lying in a bloody heap.
If Alerio hadn’t been forced to fight his way through all those Xeran priests downstairs, he could have spared Dona the beating she’d just suffered.
Instead he’d found her backed into a corner, bruised and bloody. Beaten by the man who’d once called himself her lover.
Knowing he faced a fight, Alerio had gone to riaat on his way up the stairs. His computer implant had pumped biochemical into his bloodstream, throwing him into the berserker state that increased his considerable strength by a factor of ten.
More than enough to pound a traitor who richly deserved it.
“You’re not fighting a woman now,” Alerio growled, as his enemy scrambled away from his advance.
One of Terje’s eyes was already swollen closed from the impact of Alerio’s fists. “You’re such a fucking hero, aren’t you?” His bloody lip curled in a sneer. “But you didn’t save the bitch on the bed, did you? Or the ones downstairs, including the kid. We butchered them all, and there’s not a fucking thing you can do about it. You can’t change history. No matter what you do, no matter when you Jump, they’ll die because we killed them. You failed, Chief.” He laughed. “Some hero. Some Enforcer.”
For a moment, rage choked Alerio, but he dragged that violent emotion under control. Ivar wanted him to lose control, get sloppy. Make mistakes.
“You’re right,” Alerio said in a low, deadly voice. “I failed to save the fourteen people you raped and murdered.”
Ivar’s gaze flickered.
Alerio whipped into a spinning kick. Ivar ducked, tried to block, but neither effort was enough to keep the Chief’s boot from slamming into his jaw.
Ivar crashed into the wall behind him and almost went down. Alerio, still balanced on one leg, reversed the kick and snapped the toe of his boot into Ivar’s jaw.
The battleborg staggered, crashed into the wall with one shoulder, then managed to keep his feet.
Alerio, both feet now planted, punched him squarely in the face in a left right combination that rocked Ivar’s head on his shoulders.
“I’m going to make you pay for every stab wound, every punch, every kick.” Alerio bared his teeth. “I’m going to pound you into a red smear. And you’ll never rape another woman again.”
Ivar staggered, then braced himself, glaring into Alerio’s face. “It’s not going to be that easy.”
The punch came out of nowhere, a blur of knuckles and bone. Ivar’s fist hit him squarely in the mouth, rocking his head hard. Ivar bulled past him, almost knocking him on his ass.
Shit, Alerio thought. He’s a hell of a lot stronger than he used to be. He’s upgraded his tech. Shaking off the moment’s disorientation, Alerio went after Ivar.
The battleborg retreated, his lip curling. “You talk big, Chief,” Terje snarled. “But we’ve got T-suits. That makes the whole fucking time stream our playground. We can screw and kill every tourist who falls into our hands. And we will. Unless you turn yourself in to the Victor’s…justice. You. Your little whore Dona. Those abominations, Nick Wyatt, his Warfem bitch Rianne, and Jessica and Galar Arvid. All of them.” His one eye narrowed. “And most of all, we want the T’Lir. So be a hero, Chief. Or watch me kill.”
Alerio bellowed and lunged toward Ivar, but he was too late. A deafening sonic boom and a blinding flash of light staggered him. When he could see again, Ivar was gone. He’d Jumped.
Alerio swore viciously, then spun and headed for Dona. He dropped to his knees by her side as boom after boom sounded from downstairs. The priests following Ivar’s lead, Jumping for home.
Her face was battered, both eyes blackened, her pretty lips cut and swollen. Bruises distorted the clean lines of her chiseled cheekbones and delicate jaw.
Com Dr. Chogan, Alerio told his comp.
The doctor responded a heartbeat later. “What is it, Chief? I’ve got my hands full with Rianne. She took a gut wound.”
“Enforcer Astryr got the worst of it in a fight with Ivar Terje,” Alerio told her shortly. “She has a pretty serious concussion.”
“Okay. Let me get Rianne into a regen tube, and I’ll head up there.”
Dona moaned, a breathy sound of pain that made Alerio’s chest clench. It was more than the ache he’d normally feel over an injured agent.
“Terje,” she gasped. “He’s…here!”
“I took care of him,” Alerio told her roughly. “Send him Jumping back to the Crystal Fortress with the rest of the fucking priests.”
"The woman….” Dona lifted a wavering hand, gesturing weakly toward the bed and its bloody contents. “She was aive when I…came in. Is she…?”
Alerio cursed himself silently. It had not even occurred to him that Harden could have survived those wounds. He ordered his comp to scan the woman.
No life signs, the implant reported. Based on the cellular decay she has been dead too long for successful revival.
Alerio’s shoulders slumped. “She’s gone, Dona.”
“Dammit.” A tear slipped down her bruised cheek. “I was hoping I could save her. But Ivar… He wouldn’t let me Jump her out.” Her scraped lower lip trembled. “They all died, didn’t they? Ivar and the priests killed every tourist here.”
“Yeah,” Alerio said roughly. “But they’re going to pay for it, Dona.” He picked up her chilly hand, wrapping his fingers around it. “I’m going to make the bastard’s pay.”
She gave him an unsteady smile. “I know. You always get justice for the…victims.” Her voice weakened, and her bruised eyes closed.
“Dona!” Alerrio ordered his comp to scan her with his full array of biological sensors. If she was too badly injured, he’d just pick her up and Jump with her to the Outpost Infirmary. But if her injuries weren’t that severe, it would be better to wait for Dr. Chogan and one of her field regeneration units.
She has a concussion, the comp reported, and there is swelling that must be addressed before it becomes serious. Fortunately, her computer implant is compensating. But her other injuries are minor. She would be best served if you don’t move her and let Dr. Chogan treat her here.
Alerio grunted, studying the young agent as she lay in the wreckage of the wash stand. She was tall and lean in her dark blue Temporal Enforcement armor. Like most enforcers, she was cybernetically enhanced. A network of biocrystals grew throughout her brain like a second nervous system. The computer implant that fed her brain sensor information and data, and gave her control of most bodily functions. A lacy sensor net lay beneath her skin – more biocrystal implants designed to detect everything from DNA to tachyon streams.
But those weren’t the only implants. More biocrystal was embedded in her bones and muscles, reinforcing them and making her ten times stronger than a normal human woman her size and build.
Yet even with her upgrade, she was no match for a battleborg like Ivar Terje. His implants consisted of thicker fibers that exerted three times the force Dona’s did.
“Make way,” Dr. Sakari Chogan said. She looked pale beneath the untidy topknot of her iridescent green hair, dressed in bright red medical armor as she horsed a regen tube through the doorway. Alerio rose to help the doctor guide the tube over Dona’s unconscious form until it could scoop her inside.
Once Dona was safely enclosed, Chogan ran a series of scans, watching the results appear in glowing green three-dimensional schematics of the human body.
“He banged her brain around pretty good,” Chogan grunted. I never liked that bastard.” She shot Alerio a look from the corner of one vivid green eye. “There was just something so fucking mean about him. He hurt people and liked it. Including Dona, lover or not.”
Pink mist flooded the tube and began healing her injuries.
Chogan sighed. “At least now we know what lies under that slick surface.”
“Yes – a traitor,” Alerio growled. “And he and his false god are going down for what happened here today.”
Alerio watched as Chogan, Lolai Harden’s body tube, and the regenerator containing Dona made the Jump back to the Outpost. Then he turned and headed back downstairs to check on the other members of his team.
They started Jumping from the house's great room in teams of two, accompanied by body tubes loaded with corpses.
Alerio kept watch as was his habit, covering his team's retreat. As much as he could, anyway, having gone half-blind and deaf from the temporal flares and their accompanying sonic booms. Luckily the suits' dampening field kept anyone more than ten meters away from feeling the effects. No temporal natives would wonder why there was a thunderstorm inside the house next door.
By the time it was his turn to Jump, Alerio’s ears were ringing as his comp started reciting the familiar string of coordinates back to the Outpost.
Coordinates confirmed. Engage temporal warp, he told it.
Engaging temporal warp in
It felt like being hit by lightning. His mind blinked out…
…And… he was back again.
Temporal warp to the Outpost successful, his comp announced.
Alerio made no answer, half-blind, stomach knotting in violent rebellion, his muscles jerking from the temporal warp. Bracing his knees, he stayed upright by will alone until his comp could compensate. My team?
All members of the investigation team present and accounted for.
Alerio breathed a silent prayer of thanks to whatever Vardonese goddess happened to be listening.
He'd lost a Jumper once. Riane Arvid's sabotaged T-suit had bounced her back and forth across Terran temporal space before finally dumping her in the twentieth century. Her suit was dead as a stone by then, unable to Jump at all. Unfortunately, a team of Xeran assassins appeared minutes later. She’d have died then and there if not for a timely rescue by Nick Wyatt, half-breed Xeran and superhuman guardian of an alien race called the Sela.
Nick and Riane had returned to the Outpost desperately in love.
Still, almost losing an Enforcer was an experience Alerio had no desire to repeat. Especially considering Ivar's threats.
We can screw and kill every tourist who falls into our hands. And we will. Unless you turn yourself in to the Victor’s…justice.
Like hell, ‘botfucker.
Blinking the spots from his eyes, Alerio glanced around the cavernous room that was Mission Staging. Heavily shielded for Jump traffic, it was lined with evidence and equipment lockers as well as regeneration tubes for treating the injured. Most temporal missions began and ended here, especially those featuring a large Jump team.
He ached to head for the Infirmary and check on Dona, but he managed to control the impulse. If they managed to bring any of those bastards to justice, he was damned if any of them would get off because one of his agents had broken the chain of evidence.
“All right, let's get the physical evidence stowed,” Alerio said in a command bark that had every Enforcer jumping. Apparently inured to his growls, Chogan’s medical techs strode out, accompanied by a pitiful parade of body tubes. He ignored them as he rapped out instructions. “The evidence bots are to be logged in and their contents transferred into evi-stasis. And make damned sure they're all our 'bots. Last thing we need is to give the Xerans another opportunity to sabotage our central computer."
Within minutes, the Enforcers were scanning and decanting each ‘bot. After sealing the biological evidence in stasis tubes to prevent further decomposition, they logged everything in with the Outpost's main computer. That done, the agents slid the tubes into wall slots that shot them into the Outpost’s evidence safe. If the Enforcers—or the Galactic Union’s Temporal Court—decided they needed any of the evidence later, it would be instantly available.
The procedure was one his people had done hundreds of times before. They didn't need Alerio hovering over them like a Soji Dragon with one egg. Especially since he was only putting off a job even more onerous than the one they were doing.
Somehow he was going to have to persuade Colonel Genoa Ceres to order a moratorium on temporal tourist visas. At least until Ivar was captured--or Alerio twisted the traitor’s head off his shoulders.
That action would not be legal under Galactic Union law, his comp informed him primly.
I do not give a stinking pile of Soji shit. Especially if he even thinks about going after my team.
Particularly Dona, who'd become Alerio's obsession over the past two years. As Ivar damned well knew. The battleborg had been violently jealous of her even when he was still pretending to be a loyal Enforcer.
It had driven Alerio into a frigid fury, watching Ivar watch Dona's every move while shooting little verbal barbs her way. There’d been times Alerio had ached to kick his subordinate's ass from one end of the Outpost to the other.
Unfortunately, being Ivar's commanding officer made that impulse impossible to carry out. Especially since Dona never reported her lover for his conduct. Alerio wasn't sure whether she just didn't notice--which strained belief, Dona being pretty damned observant--or whether she just had a very thick skin.
Even though it looked so incredibly soft...