Shadows Across the Moon by SF English
Chapters will be released daily until the novel is complete.
Moderate sex and violence.
This is a work of fiction. All characters, events, and places are of the author’s imagination and not to be confused with fact. Any resemblance to living persons or events is merely a coincidence.
Copyright 2013 SF English
Looking down on the casket Grace Sullivan imagined herself inside. Not that she wanted to be dead, but the woman inside had been loved by many, celebrated for her skill with a violin. That woman had touched people’s hearts, filled their souls with solace and peace through her music and those people stood around the casket crying, some sobbing, all of them remembering someone that mattered.
Grace loved music. She loved this woman’s music even though it was often melancholy. Over the last few weeks Grace had listened to the sad music of the violin often. First, she listened for peace, to calm her nerves after the blow she’d received recently regarding her own future. Then, she listened because the music and her own soul became kindred spirits, dancing through her mind, her heart, a desperate waltz.
So, she came to the funeral, part out of curiosity, part out of respect and part because funerals had become an addiction for her and this one was going to be huge. No one would notice her, no strange stares from the family, no frowns from the funeral director. Most funerals were very small of course, but she knew this one would be well attended, and she’d worked extra hours in order to get this time off to attend.
The people gathered around the coffin were mostly high society and she wondered if they would notice her cast off dress from three seasons ago, or the cheap shoes. In her experience, those people always noticed. It was cold out, the breeze coming in from the ocean, salting the air and cooling as it moved like a liquid blanket over the mourners. Grace adjusted her satchel and then hunkered deeper inside her long jacket, the only garment she had that was name brand and could pass for more than her servant’s second hand wardrobe. It had been a gift from her employer just recently. He knew her situation and though he’d never shown a great deal of caring for her, he’d gone out and got her this gift. Pity gift maybe? That was the only explanation she could come up with. She tried not to be bitter, tried to remain respectful, continue going about her day as though she would live to see another year even though that wasn’t going to happen.
“Maybe she was a servant for her?” Someone whispered and it carried the words across the casket, to the other side where Grace stood in the second row of people.
Looking up she saw the two women eyeing her like she was some anomaly. And, in a way she was. She knew that. She’d become hyper-attuned to any conversations that might have to do with her presence at a funeral. She had to. She didn’t really belong here. She’d been asked to leave a funeral just last week because the family didn’t know her, and because, apparently, the gentleman who had died had a wife who suspected any young woman was a mistress of her dead husband’s. Mistresses had been prohibited from attending, but funerals were addictive to a lot of people, so funeral directors were like detectives, and bouncers all rolled into one.
Grace could see fog rolling in and slowly started to back away from the crowd. Getting caught in the fog, especially so close to sundown was enough to move her away from such an amazing event. She’d heard enough. Enough sobbing, enough crying, enough final words and remembrances, enough snide remarks hidden behind covered mouths to friends who probably went just to show off their travel skills and new clothes.
She walked toward the BART station, San Francisco’s infamous transport system, with only one last glance back at the crowd. When her time came there would be no crowd. Indentured servants were cremated or their bodies donated to science. She already knew which would be her fate. They’d told her.
She sighed, drawing in the salt air, and drew her jacket tighter around her. She realized the first pangs of a headache and hoped it would pass. She’d lived to be well into her twenties. Her life was better than some. She’d be damned if she would spend her remaining time feeling sorry for herself. That wasn’t why she attended funerals. Not just to imagine what her own death might be like. No, she’d been attending funerals since she was trained to use the BART system. She was more curious about other people’s lives. It was like looking at a picture of someone you don’t know and wondering what they were like, what their life was like, when the picture was taken. It had less to do with death and more to do with who someone affected the life and lives around them that Grace was interested in. There was more to it, she knew, but her addiction wasn’t as macabre as some people might think.
As she stepped up onto the concrete just outside the station she was jarred out of inner musings by a jolt to her shoulder. The man, dressed in a dark suit, stumbled as he tried to jostle several items in his arms and rammed into Grace’s shoulder. He didn’t look at her, didn’t apologize and continued to move as though the devil himself were behind him. Grace frowned, unsurprised at the man’s behavior. Regardless of what they taught you in school, when you were live with people out in the open it was difficult to recall all of the rules of etiquette you were taught through school lessons. She shook her head, happy not to have been knocked down, and glanced around to ensure no one else was coming up behind her.
Her heart had skipped a beat when she’d first realized someone was that close to her, but she calmed herself, as she was trained to do under these circumstances, and chanted quietly in her head, “It doesn’t matter now. It doesn’t matter now.” Words that gave her courage to deal with the unexpected actions of people. Courage was a little easier to come by when there was little to lose.
Grace stepped inside, away from death, just to plug in and meet it once again.
Chaos reigned. Over a million people were dead. Detroit, as the world once knew it, was gone.
Footage played on a television screen, which was located in Grace’s head, behind her eyes. A slight glitch in the picture caused Grace to pull the 4-inch rod from a hole near the inside of her ear. Frowning at the new headset, she blew on the end of the metal rod, an old trick a teacher once showed her.
Being unplugged from her headset was uncomfortable. She’d noticed that some of the people at the funeral were plugged in the entire time, which was a breach of etiquette for such events, but no one really said anything. She had been craving it too, the headset, like most of America, but because she had ventured out into the city, into the unfamiliar, she kept herself unplugged until she was sure she didn’t need to interact.
Though most people in San Francisco worked inside their homes, there was still life on the streets. People moved without acknowledging each other because they didn’t know how to interact socially anymore. Sure, she was nervous to be out, but the thrill of it was an adventure. One not often extended to an indentured servant.
Grace looked around the BART station. What was once a huge train station that carried thousands of commuters each day was nearly empty. The trains had been replaced by 2-person commuter pods. The need to commute replaced by a 4-inch rod that you could insert into your head to watch television, listen to radio, go to school, order online, whatever you wanted.
As she waited for the next pod to come, she inserted the rod and was plugged in.
It had been ten years since the fall of Detroit. Ten years to the day. And every station she watched only wanted to highlight those horrific scenes of dead bodies and fear.
A pod, across the platform, pulled up. Grace concentrated on the screen behind her eyes. She could see someone get out, but she preferred to concentrate on the television.
The fall of Detroit to a bioterrorist weapon, a weapon that was still unidentified by American scientists, seemed so far away from San Francisco. Once, Detroit had been one of the grossly overpopulated cities, but not anymore. The bio-weapon had killed all living things; flora, fauna, wildlife… People. The death toll was quickly forgotten by the nation’s leaders. Or so it seemed, by the quick government take over of the land, and the re-population of New Detroit. But the people, the American people themselves, didn’t forget.
It was too frightening to watch, so she skipped around to a channel that wasn’t showing those terrible scenes.
“Be in love … be in lust … be happy; Emotions in Motion can give you all you need.” The voice filled her head. “Plug in to 1-800-Emotionchip or www.emotionchip.com and you can feel your way to the top.” The voice was replaced by another, softer voice. “You must present your mating license to purchase love or lust chips.”
The Emotion Chip was the hottest selling thing on the market. For those who could afford such luxury. In the year 2095, they couldn’t stop over-population, but using a chip to fall in love became serious business.
Thomas Dane, one of the worlds most wealthy, most influential, and most talented men had designed the Emotion Chip. In Grace’s opinion that chip only caused a great rift between people and emotions, between socialization and hierarchy. If it weren’t for the fact that the man could sing so beautifully, and that he had the most beautiful brown eyes, she wouldn’t buy any of his inventions, records, or DVDs.
A blast of air, cold and unmerciful, ran up her coat and she shivered. It was a sign that the pod was coming. As the wind died down, she heard footsteps coming her way. She had hoped not to have to share the pod.
“Hold on!” His voice was sharp, but deep.
The white pod stopped, the door opened automatically to let her inside. She really didn’t want to share the small space with a stranger. Her finger hovered over the HOLD button. Should she acknowledge the man or not?
She had been taught by her teachers to say little and understand her position in life. The government trained her to be subservient, but she had always found subtle ways to rebel. She had been fighting it since she was a child. The government took her at the tender age of four from parents who were guilty of having a child without a mating license. They installed a hook-up and she started school–sitting in a lonely, sterile room. She was to be forced into servitude until she could pay the fines of her illegal birth. Sins of the father…
She would not be ruled by a social handicap. Her finger depressed the button. It turned red. Her heart beat harder, faster, as she waited. She sought solace by concentrating on the television program.
The pod shuddered and dipped as its new occupant climbed in. Her finger moved from the button as she stared out the front of the vehicle.
Interest. Curiosity. She fought both inclinations as etiquette dictated. A dark figure in her peripheral vision. Even from the corner of her eye, she could see the man was large, muscular, tall. She chanced a quick flick of her eyes in his direction, trying not to move her head and give herself away. Something about him was familiar. She looked forward again and her heart sped up. He was older than her, but not by a lot. She could see his hands, large with long fingers, well-manicured, not rough, not worker’s hands. Whether it was his confidence in moving about, being around someone else, or his masculine aura that sped her heart she was uncertain. Her awareness of him heightened and she wondered if she hadn’t just made a huge mistake.
It was too late to lock the plastic door that separated them, without seeming rude. Etiquette or safety?
The pod began moving forward. In moments they would be in the tunnels, in the darkness. She closed her eyes and reached up to adjust her headset.
Television might be more distracting. Nine people, placed in a tic-tac-toe box, faced the talk show host as she sat in a chair, seemingly alone in the studio.
“Do we genetically engineer our children so they are born with hook ups?” The talk show host waved a slim arm toward the upper right box.
“How can you not?” an elderly scientific-type answered. “Technology demands it! If you want to be informed, or entertained, the only way to get that is through a headset. It just makes sense to genetically engineer a hook-up that you know will be needed, as opposed to putting a child through surgery!”
“That’s taking away someone’s right to choose,” The young blonde at the bottom left corner interrupted. Grace recognized her. Stephanie Rose, leader of the Freedom Society Movement. She was fantastic! “Parents should determine if and when a child has a hook-up installed. Right now, because the government has programs that can only be delivered through a plug-in, it’s practically mandatory, and it’s taking away basic rights. That’s my problem with it.”
Grace read everything Ms. Rose wrote, from “Killing Society Through Technology” to “Genetic Altering–Technological Marvel or Ethical Debacle?” She’d even heard her speak once. It was a private talk, and you could go there physically if you knew how to travel. Grace wanted to go. She knew how to travel, but it was so far away. Courage had failed her then and she settled for the headset and a private channel. Things were different. She had so little to lose now. Misusing her travel skills and pass for personal use wasn’t the scariest thing that she faced these days.
A thump against the plastic door startled her. Opening her eyes, she could still see the figures in the tic-tac-toe boxes, but she saw through them, to the man in the next compartment. His back was to her and there was little light in the pod. Who knew what he was doing? He wasn’t paying attention to her, so she ignored him.
The meeting with his sister was a disaster, because the meeting never happened. The moment he got into the city he’d lost reception on his headset. Driving up to the meeting place would be tricky because, if the car got noticed, it would tip off the paparazzi. That was the last thing they needed. So, he’d taken a few essentials with him, dumped the car in a lot at Embarcadero and hopped the train. He made it to the rendezvous spot without getting noticed, but his sister never showed. She had called him to come here. She sounded panicked, but refused to say anything over the headset, even giving clues to where to meet as opposed to giving away that position. He knew he had the right place. But, what the hell had happened to his sister?
She’d never have called him to come if things weren’t dire. The only thing left to do was to try the place she was staying at. Without any form of communication available he’d have to go there in person.
He adjusted his position in the pod. These things weren’t made for someone over 6 feet tall and there was little space to move around. He glanced at the woman in the pod next to him to make sure she hadn’t identified him. She wasn’t even looking at him, probably watching something on her headset. Good.
She looked like maybe middle class with the jacket, but no jewelry. He prided himself on sizing people up in a hurry, but she was a bit of a quandary for him. Perhaps because he didn’t get a really good look at her, or because his mind was preoccupied, but beyond being beautiful, he couldn’t get a read on what kind of person she might be. Intelligent by nature or trained to travel he couldn’t tell in just a glance, but the fact that she could use the BART, a system more complicated than it had to be in his opinion, told him that she could figure things out on her own. She wasn’t afraid of her own shadow like so many people raised-by-rod these days.
She’d held the door for him, so she got kudos for courage. Most women traveling alone would have locked the doors. If he had to wait another ten minutes for a pod that could have been bad. Someone might have noticed him. It was best that no one know he was in the city. He owed her one, whether she knew it or not.
“Anything that will kill en masse requires covert operations. You’d have to be well-skilled in travel techniques to pull off something that big. Anyone with travel skills will be stopped and questioned. It isn’t going to be easy.” The man on the screen wore a general’s uniform.
“The threat of nuclear bombs, artificial intelligence maneuvering, or bioterrorism is going to be stopped by limiting travel skills?” The reporter wasn’t convinced. He wouldn’t be. It was Stephanie’s husband, Robert Rose. He was as daunting and unrelenting as she was.
There was a glitch in her headset, or in her brain, she wasn’t sure, but the light magnified, blurred, and came back. The headache that had only threatened now bloomed in full force. If the pain in her head and the glitch in her headset were related to her illness, would the last stop be her last stop anywhere? The tumor wasn’t supposed to kill her right away. The doctors told her six months. Centuries of modern medicine and the doctors were still “practicing.”
She lowered the volume on her headset and turned it to music. She recognized the soft melodic tone, bass, and sensuality. Boycotting his emotion chip didn’t keep her from appreciating his voice. The man made wonderful music, and its notes helped to relieve her aching head. The rhythm made her warm and she could imagine him singing.
She concentrated on the music. Slow rhythm, a caress to the senses–something to make love to. Wrapped in the music, soothing her aching head, the influx of volume, static, then nothing, brought her eyes open in shock. There was darkness. Had she really opened her eyes? Had the tumor caused her to go blind?
Her lungs pulled in air for comfort, greeting the stale smell of the pod like a friend. A friend that said, you’re still alive. Her eyelids squeezed shut, opened, and blinked rapidly. Still there was only darkness. Her heart beat frantically.
Confusion. Fear. She pulled off her headset, as though its removal could give her back her sight. It didn’t help. The headset swayed in her hand. She swallowed hard.
Movement in the compartment next to her made her realize that the pod had stopped. Were they at the Embarcadero Street terminal? Would the man beside her think she had gone mad if she began to yell for his help? Her headset wasn’t working–she would have to ask him for help.
Rapping on the plastic partition startled her. Adrenalin flooded her body. Her heart beat hard. A short, strangled, high-pitched noise filled the pod. Her own voice. This was why her teachers told her not to travel if she didn’t have a need. She lacked skills. She knew enough to travel locally, but she didn’t have enough social skills to travel far. Interaction with live people was rare. You had to fear live people. They could touch you. Harm you.
“Can you hear me?” He tapped gently on the plastic and his voice was calm.
“Is your headset working?”
“Why?” She didn’t want to say too much.
“Why do you think?” Sarcasm vibrated from bass tones. “Well, my headset isn’t working and there doesn’t seem to be any electricity.”
She wasn’t blind. There was that to be grateful for.
“My headset isn’t working.”
The pod swayed as he moved about. A grunt in the darkness was followed by a soft green illumination. The limited light of his glow stick showed nothing of his features, but she could see him wave it across the window, trying to assess where they were in the tunnels.
“It’s a five foot drop, nothing we can’t manage,” he said with his back to her.
“Don’t you think we should wait for help? The electricity could come back.”
He turned, but the light threw shadows on his face.
“When was the last time we lost power?” Logical tone, still calm.
She wasn’t blind and her tumor wasn’t killing her at the moment, but fear still crowded her mind. Power outages didn’t happen anymore. The fall of Detroit? Had war been declared? Were they under attack?
“What’s your name?” He leaned toward the plastic door and his voice was louder. Could he see her? She still couldn’t see his face. “You have travel skills.”
“My name is Grace Sullivan. And yes, I have travel skills.”
“At least you’re not crying.” It was said under his breath, not meant for her to hear.
“What will happen now?” She couldn’t stop the panic in her voice. Be silent. Don’t let him know you fear him.
“I’m going to get out and find my way to Embarcadero Street. It can’t be far. You can do whatever you want.”
The pod teetered as he pushed on the outer door. She didn’t want to be left in the dark. Like most people, she rarely ventured far from her assigned region. And she never ventured out in the darkness. Everyone knew there was much to fear in the dark. She didn’t believe everything she heard on the news, but she did believe that. She felt the vehicle sway as he collected his things and prepared to leave.
He stopped. She slid the door between them open.
“Good girl,” he rewarded her with his rich, approving tone. “Take my hand.”
She couldn’t see his hand.
“Wait.” She moved her satchel from over her shoulder and placed her headset inside.
He moved the light, exposing little, but enough. His hand looked green, foreign, alien. She took it. It was warm, his skin soft, and his grip strong. She gasped at the strength she felt there. She seldom touched anyone. She had no mating license. No sex license. Did all men have such strength in a touch?
“Are you alright?” he asked. He had heard her gasp.
“I’m fine,” she whispered as she recovered her composure. “Just a little frightened.”
What did he expect? His earlier comment about crying, led her to believe that he thought her simple.
“Don’t be frightened.” He pulled on her hand and let it go. “I’ll help you down,” he said as he let go of her hand, and slid his up the outside of her long jacket. Large, slow hands, so warm she could feel them through the cloth caused her to shudder. She let out another gasp as his hands stopped at her waist. He pulled on her and she stepped away from the pod, landing in front of him, in his arms.
Her hands grabbed naturally at his shoulders. Though there wasn’t enough light to make out his features, she could feel the strength of his body, its warmth. She could smell his cologne, musky, soft, divine.
He was rich, or famous, or powerful. You wear cologne when you are around people. If you are social. If you could afford to be social.
He stepped away and the cold rushed in to surround her. He picked up his things and the light. As he waved it in the direction they were to take, she caught sight of his profile. That feeling that she’d seen him before, that he was familiar somehow, echoed in her mind, but the light moved and cast him back into shadow.
The large hand took hers again and they walked cautiously toward Embarcadero Street, and uncertainty.
“It should be less than a mile.” His fingers threaded through hers and he pulled her along to speed their pace.
A sewer was nearby. The smell of dirt and stale air hid in pockets they passed through, but the faint smell of the sewer was steady.
He stopped suddenly and she crashed into the back of him.
“Quiet,” he said.
She strained to hear what had caught his attention, but heard nothing. A byproduct of advanced technology was the loss of some senses. Her hearing was not good and it took some seconds before she recognized the scuffling of footsteps coming in their direction.
He pulled her to the side of the tunnel and pressed her against the wall. It was cold and wet and soaked through her jacket immediately. She wanted to protest, but he put his finger over her lips and his body covered hers. The light was between them and when he pressed into her the light went out: shrouding them in darkness.
The scuffling became louder, and then there were voices. They echoed from a distance, but they were coming near.
“Light another match, Barley.” The voice was gruff and slurred.
Grace felt her heart beat faster. It was rumored that there were people who lived in the tunnels. People who had no hook-ups, no plug-ins. People who were savage. She’d thought it was all a myth told to keep people from wanting to use the transit system. To keep fearful and easy to manage.
“Don’t waste them matches. They’s worth a lot on the market.” Another voice, another man.
“If we find more cars we can get more to sell on the market.”
“You ought not to have hit her so hard.” The second voice sounded uncaring for all the sympathetic words he’d used.
Grace had never been in danger before. Urgency, fear, and the need to cry were overpowering. She wanted to run far away from those men. She did not want to be hit. Her breathing quickened as she fought back her fear. Tears stung her eyes, spilled over and ran toward her chin. They connected with his finger. His body pressed closer and his finger wiped the tears at her lips, where the errant wetness pooled.
“Do you smell something, Barley?” The shuffling stopped.
“The sewer’s all.”
“Must be rich men up there today. Smells nice.”
The silence gave way to a loud guffaw and both men began to laugh. The shuffling commenced and the two men walked no more than five feet away from where they stood. They passed, their echoing laughter giving their distance away.
Grace stood motionless. He had stopped wiping tears only because she had stopped making them. They stood there for some minutes, being sure, being safe.
He moved back and the light shone. It wasn’t as bright as it had been. It wouldn’t be much longer before the chemicals inside the stick no longer illuminated their way.
The light came up suddenly beneath her chin. It put everything around her into darkness. He looked at her. Studied her.
“You did well.” The light moved in front of him again and he took her hand.
They hadn’t walked far when he stopped again. She didn’t run into him this time and immediately began to listen for sounds.
He turned to their right and threw the waning light. It landed on the Embarcadero Street platform. She could hear no one. She could see no one. It was dark, but the light from outside spilled into the far corner of the terminal giving some relief to the darkness.
He released her hand and she immediately wished for it back. He put his things on the platform and lifted himself onto it. His extended hand grasped hers and pulled her to him.
The wetness of the jacket and the cold winds of the tunnel set her to shivering. The heat from his body was a welcome reprieve, but too short, as he pulled away to walk toward the stairs. There was nothing to do but follow.
The smell of the tunnel clung to her jacket. There was no escaping it. She pulled in a lungful of air as they reached the outside. It was a great deal better than the lemon antiseptic of the vehicle, or the dirt and sewer smell of the tunnels.
The moon was full and half hidden by clouds. An eerie fog laid a carpet along the bare streets.
He blocked the view directly in front of her and she moved to see around him. Swiftly he took her hand and pulled her down inside the fog.
“What … ?” He hushed her before she could say more. Something was out there. From the way he looked far beyond where she could see, she knew he sensed something. She remained where she was and concentrated on listening. There was nothing. She was sure of it. This was crazy. She needed to get back to the safety of her home.
“There’s nothing,” Grace whispered near his ear. “I don’t hear anything.”
“That’s the problem. I don’t hear anything either.”
Confusion. Cold. Fear. She couldn’t take much more.
He pulled her along, low to the ground, back toward the terminal. Back into the darkness. She couldn’t do it. She couldn’t go back down there. She stopped and it caused him to pull sharply on her hand. It was impossible to see him through the fog, even so close as they were now.
Before she could protest, a sound came out of the fog. The fog moved and grew, as though someone were kicking it about. No shuffling feet this time. Distinct, measured footsteps brought a dark figure. The man was dressed in military uniform. A zombie; a soldier. Grace had never seen anything like this before, but she knew what it was. An Artificial Intelligence Maneuvering soldier. Stephanie had accused the government of using AIM soldiers to do their dirty work. She said they did suicide missions, planting bombs and bio-weapons. No one would care about their dangerous missions, but the soldiers were made from prisoners. They were once human. Their hook-ups were altered and special plug-ins installed.
Why would an AIM soldier be walking around San Francisco? What could its purpose be? She wouldn’t get to know more because she was pulled back into the terminal. Compared to the thing she saw outside, the terminal was not so frightening.
They remained to one side until the thing moved down the street. Her rescuer stood and light from the moon streamed across his face. She did recognize him. He put out his hand to her and she stared at it.
Safety. Security. Warmth.
There was little choice. She slipped her trembling hand into the hand of Thomas Dane.