Shadows Across the Moon is a scifi romance serial novel with chapters being released daily. If you missed the first two chapters you can read them here-
Moderate violence and sex.
Chapters 3 and 4
“I’m afraid we’re about to find out about what really happened in Detroit.” Despite the calm of his voice, Grace felt cold with fear. “We need to get to my car. It’s in the parking lot at the back of the terminal.”
Her gaze was caught by fog creeping in toward them. The back of the terminal meant going around the block. They would have to follow that creature.
“No.” She couldn’t do it. It was too much. Nothing had prepared her for this.
His finger lifted her chin. Searching eyes debated, but she wasn’t certain what he was looking for.
“You can do this.” His confidence made her want to believe him.
“How?” The trembling that seized her body found release in her voice.
“There is no other way.”
She couldn’t hide. She couldn’t remain where she was. She nodded, numb and frightened. He took her hand and led her into the fog.
The air carried the cold and her breath was lost amid the white, billowy flow of the fog. If she got any lower to the ground she’d be crawling. She pulled the strap of her satchel up to keep it from dragging on the sidewalk.
Running errands every day at home helped her stay fit but didn’t keep her muscles from aching now. As they turned the first corner and headed down Mission Street, her calves burned in protest to the awkward angle and strain. When Thomas stopped in front of her, all thought of aching muscles and cold air fled to be replaced by swelling fear.
Her legs shook until one knee hit the cement. Her weight shifted and the cement grated into her skin through slacks and jacket. She put both hands out to steady herself. Her heart froze in her chest as her satchel shifted and fell from her shoulder with a soft thud.
Thomas didn’t look back at her, but his body stiffened at the sound.
A few short moments and he began to move. Instinctively, she followed. Placing the errant satchel over her shoulder and moving it behind her she ignored the protest of her legs, allowing the fear to diminish the pain.
Wandering AIM soldiers on American soil, holding weapons in the darkness, looking for something, someone, caused her mind to race. These were a special type of soldier, with a purpose. What that purpose could be in San Francisco she couldn’t guess.
The fog grew thicker as they turned the last corner. The tall building and moving clouds cast everything into shadow.
Movement across the street showed not one, but two AIM soldiers. She strained to hear, but they didn’t speak. They disappeared in the shadows for a moment, but the echo of footsteps grew louder.
She thought Thomas would wait and let them pass, but he released her hand and moved on. She couldn’t move. The fear filled her heart as the cold air filled her lungs. He was gone. The sea of fog and darkness encompassed him and he was lost to her.
Despite the cold air, sweat broke out on her forehead. Her lungs protested as she breathed, quick and shallow. Thomas Dane left her there to save himself. She remained frozen and quiet as the minutes ticked on.
A loud noise, like metal falling on metal, caught the soldier’s attention. They moved in the direction of the noise, leaving Grace shaking from cold and fear. She heard a rumbling to the left, but it was too cold to move, to look in that direction. Her muscles refused to cooperate. Trembling, cold, and confused, Grace fought it. She was supposed to die of a brain tumor. Six months they had said. She wanted her six months.
Lights, like a pair of yellow eyes, low to the street, moved toward her. A dull roar of an engine, tires on asphalt. She tried to stand, to move away from those lights. Six months. Not like this.
The yellow lights washed over her, blinding her for a moment before Thomas Dane opened his car door and motioned her toward him.
She gave a final glance in the direction the soldiers had gone and forced her trembling legs to do her bidding. She moved around the front of the car and nearly fell into the passenger’s side as her legs gave way.
The door shut, the car lurched forward, speeding toward Mission, then Main, then she lost track. She locked the door as if that could protect her.
Being inside the small vehicle made her feel safe, but it was an illusion. Just like the safety in the headset is an illusion.
Grace couldn’t stop shaking. The heater came on and it drew her attention back to Thomas Dane. His sidelong glance turned into a shaking of his head.
“What will I do with you?”
She leaned into the heating vent, her icy fingers itching as they warmed.
“What’s going on?” She found the courage to speak. Her eyes focused on the heating vent, never straying to look at him. Remembering proper etiquette even at a time such as this; her teachers would have been so proud.
“Those soldiers are very specialized. If I had to venture a guess I’d say they are planting bio-weapons to wipe out every living thing in the city.” His cold statement sent chills up her spine.
“The government blamed the terrorists for Detroit and claimed they saved the rest of us from bio-weapons. In the end they got the land and there were no people. They repurposed the buildings, leased much of what was there and eased some political tension regarding the over-population. With so many people in this country and so little space, it was not only necessary to make room, but it was economically advantageous.”
“Are you saying that our own government was involved with what happened in Detroit?” She wanted him to be wrong.
“Do you really think a country other than ours could come up with a bio-weapon that only killed living beings but left the land usable and air safe after less than 48 hours? If terrorists wanted to hurt us they would harm our resources, not help our over-population problem.”
“How can you know that?”
Silence drew her gaze to him, but his stare was reflective and thoughtful.
“My sister suspected they were planning to kill her here in San Francisco. I don’t think she imagined it would be like this.”
She recalled they were related, but they seemed so vastly different from each other. Stephanie was more like a freedom fighter and Thomas Dane was more an opportunist. But what did she really know about this man? Other than what the tabloids told her? Some even said he was a spy because finding any information on Thomas Dane’s past was next to impossible. His mystery was part of what made him sexy. She’d always thought it was just a gimmick.
The car picked up speed as they spoke. Her head ached again. Her mind wanted to reject what he said, but she believed in what Stephanie said. She said that AIM soldiers were dangerous government tools.
The fog began to lift as they passed a sign along the road.
“Where are you going? We have to do something.” She couldn’t believe he would leave his sister in the city, knowing those AIM soldiers were going to murder everyone.
Despite the heat of the car, she was still shaking. She hadn’t the skills to travel far. They taught her just enough in school to know how to use the train. She couldn’t drive, or fly. Access to maps was forbidden for indentured servants and the like. She only knew the train sites, and those buildings nearest the stops.
Glancing at him, she wasn’t sure what else to say. She had never had much social training for personal interaction, only for serving. She was a domestic servant for the owner of a computer company. She could fetch and carry, but she’d never been taught how to initiate a conversation with people of higher rank. She only knew enough etiquette as was dictated by her position in life.
She was startled by the chirping of a phone. Thomas seemed just as surprised and reached down between them to pull a phone out from a hidden console. She’d never seen a phone like this anywhere but on television. And then, according to the movies she’d watched, only the government, and the very wealthy owned them. Most people just used their normal headset. If the phone worked, then perhaps her headset worked as well? But, the cold kept her still and the fear kept her quiet.
Thomas pulled the four-inch metal rod from the phone and inserted it into the small hole just inside his ear. She wasn’t sure if he could see images using that thing.
Back when phones were still widely used, they hadn’t fully integrated the visual aspect of the new technology. But the doctors, scientists and government put their collective heads together and soon anything audio and visual was delivered through a headset. The phone became obsolete, much like televisions, radios, and computer screens. The government gave contracts to the doctors to install the receivers, and to the scientists to keep upgrading the technology. Soon, all government programs, including schools and training were done through a headset. A lonely, sterile, yet cost-efficient way to interact.
The mouthpiece fell naturally into place once he had plugged in.
She could hear a frantic female voice on the other end, but to her it was whispered panic and she had to strain to hear the words.
“We can’t leave the city. We can’t leave all of these people behind.” Stephanie sounded frantic.
“I’d hoped you and Robert were already out of the city when you didn’t show for the meet.” He said and slowed the vehicle as he spoke. “I’m coming back for you.”
“If you can get out of the city, do it!” Stephanie told him. “We’ve tried every known exit and it’s blocked. Our only chance now is to stop them. Find their base of operations and halt the delivery of the bio-weapon.”
“Do you have weapons?” He asked.
“Listen!” Stephanie sounded distracted, even more panicked. “We killed an AIM solider. He had a device on him with a biohazard emblem on it. Robert recognized it from something one of his sources in DC told him. But, that’s not all. There’s a timer on it. We have a little less than twelve hours.”
“Not sure how they’ll explain shutting down a city this large for that long.” He said.
“We’ve already heard some of their transmissions.” She explained. “The entire city is blacked out. They’re evacuating nearby cities and blaming it on terrorists, just like Detroit. No one in their right mind will come near here. Wait!” Stephanie yelled, but the rest was nothing but background noise; gun shots and screaming.
“Stephanie?! Steph! Where are you?”
He slammed on the brakes and they idled there in the middle of highway 101.
A flash of light, the first Grace had seen since they started out of the city, caught her eye. It was there and gone. Something up ahead was waiting. Whether it was to help them or stop them, she wasn’t sure.
She could see the water. Were they on the Golden Gate? She’d never been up close. She looked out at the lights beyond it to the bay. There were lights in the city, flickering candles, but no electricity.
“That’s not help up there,” he said, looking in the direction of the light Grace had seen. He put the car in reverse, turning them back to the dangerous city. “If I find the central command center for AIM, I can shut down the devices.”
She could only nod. Not long ago she faced her death sentence. She’d been afraid. She’d cried. She did her best to make peace with what she could not change. She was still afraid, but now she feared not knowing exactly how she was going to die. But, in the end, she was still dead.
“I need to get my sister and some weapons. Is there somewhere I can take you?” He asked.
“No.” In twelve hours home could be her tomb and that was not how she planned on leaving this world. She was afforded few choices in this world, but this one belonged entirely to her.
He didn’t seem surprised.
She was a worker, a servant, her home no more a home than his car. She had enough travel skills to shop, to run errands, no more. Going back there now would be madness. The people back there would send her into the night to do their bidding, into the fog. They would never venture out themselves. Then she would be alone. At least now, she had help.
Grace wondered why a man like Thomas Dane would be willing to help her. She had thought he would be more self-centered.
When she looked at him, she found beautiful brown eyes studying her as he kept glancing her way. She couldn’t will herself to look away. His gaze, intense and thoughtful, softened and then looked quickly back to the road.
The fog was building, but it didn’t look like normal bay fog. Something about this fog was frightening. Within it were zombies, dressed as soldiers; the marching dead who took insane orders from uncaring gods. They were hiding there, waiting.
“The fog …” Too much cluttered her mind. She was overwhelmed.
* * * *
Thomas Dane looked out over the bay to the city. Flickering lights marked the homes of the well-prepared. Or the paranoid. How many people were huddled in the corner of their room trying to make their plug-in work? Some of them unable to function without the technology plugged into their brain, and someone speaking to them through a 4-inch rod. How many would die because they had no travel skills? Because they didn’t know how to interact live? There was a lot more to worry about than the fog. But not for long. The fog would grow until it hid the soldiers, making them hard to see, and even harder to kill.
He looked at the woman in his car. She knew how to move about outside. She even knew how to hold the BART pod for him. She was able to speak to him, although she continually looked away, as those of her class were taught to do.
“I know,” he said at last, looking out at the fog. He was as interested in her as he was the growing fog. What would he do with her? Would Stephanie keep her? He felt responsible for her. Why? Because she had fought the conditioned impulse to let the pod go without him? In a world so devoid of courage amongst the sheep, this little lamb had surprised him.
“Are you warm enough?” He watched her small figure tremble. Fear or cold?
“I’ll never be warm again.”
Her unguarded words tugged at something inside him and he wanted to reassure her.
“You’re going to be alright. I promise.” Why had he said that? Not that he’d meant to lie, but it was an empty promise.
The look he gave her, those large blue eyes, told him she knew it was an empty promise too.
“I hope you’re right, Mr. Dane. For all of our sakes.”
She knew him. Or of him. Who didn’t? If you owned a headset you knew of Thomas Dane. You either loved him or despise him. There seemed to be no in-between.
“Dane–just Dane. And your name?”
She looked at him without speaking and he turned his attention to the highway. They were back in the city. He’d have to be very careful to avoid any of the main roads.
A large ball of fire rose up in the distance accompanied by a resounding crash of an explosion. The woman jumped, but she didn’t scream. Dane mused that most women of her station would be in hysterics by now. Very little surprised him anymore. Bitterness had jaded him and surprises were an anomaly.
Most people knew what they saw in their headsets, but very few really knew who, or what, he was.
It was taught to all grade school children that you never spoke to strangers, not live. You never spoke to them and you most certainly did not give out your name. But she was no longer a child. And she certainly no longer believed in what her teachers told her. Still, years of social etiquette were branded on her character.
“Grace Sullivan,” she whispered.
An audible click sounded as she swallowed hard and spoke again, with more authority. “My name is Grace.”
Her voice ceased to tremble, but her hands remained near the heating vent.
“Grace.” He let the name roll off his tongue as though experimenting with a foreign language. “You’re going to have to stay with me until we get to Stephanie. Once we’re there, I’m sure Stephanie will have a plan. We’ll send you with them.”
She didn’t speak. She didn’t need to.
Dane drove the narrow streets through the uncommon darkness toward his first destination. She saw a sign for The Presidio Apartments.
“Stephanie and Robert’s safe house,” Dane said. “It should be safer there.”
“Any place is safer than out on these streets.” She said quietly, her eyes taking in every shadow, seeing movement in the darkness, real or imagined.
“It’s not safe because we’ll be inside,” Dane corrected her. “Being inside won’t keep anyone alive tonight. It’s safer at the apartment because we’ll have access to the arsenal there.”
“Physical laborers,” Dane pointed to the looters going in and out of the Presidio apartments. Grace watched as the familiarly dressed workers pushed on unlocked electronic doors to get inside. Some were coming out, arms filled with stolen goods.
“What will we do?” She watched the workers ram into each other in their rush to run away. They didn’t speak to one another, but she didn’t think they would. They could travel, but they had little social skills. Less than she did. She worked for a large company and waited on important people. These were typical construction workers, street cleaners, and road workers.
“They won’t stop us,” Dane slowed the car. Parking right in front wasn’t an option. He drove slowly around to the side of the building and parked among a bunch of cars that had already been vandalized. “Stay close to me.”
“What if someone takes the car?” Her eyes were large as she stepped out of the vehicle and looked across to him.
“What options do you see?” His tone made her flinch.
She shook her head and looked away. Did she expect him to be any different?
“Grace?” His tone had changed. Unfamiliar. Soft. “I’m sorry. I know you’re frightened. Let’s just do this one step at a time. Let’s get in that apartment and hope no one has taken all of the weapons yet. Stephanie and Robert may be there.”
She moved around the back of the car to stand next to him. He was tall, authoritative, and masculine. Caution was all she had ever felt when around a man. Gaining comfort from his nearness was something unexpected.
She followed him as he made his way to the front doors of the building. No one looked at them. No one spoke to them. Dane walked in like he owned the place and she followed him up a multitude of stairs.
Some light from the full moon filtered in through windows. Someone had lit candles and placed them intermittently along the stair steps. Grace immediately thought of the explosion they’d seen and wondered how many fires would start because people were unused to candles.
The door to the apartment was ajar, but no one appeared to be inside. Someone had come in and turned the place upside down, but only in the living room. Someone would be back to gather more loot. A sense of urgency to complete their task filled her.
“We need to barricade the door. The locks are all electronic.” Dane scooted a heavy bookshelf across the floor. He put it securely in front of the door and began moving other heavy items in front of it.
Grace looked around the room. There was little she could move. She was too small. But she wanted desperately to help. She wanted to be useful, worthy. She picked up dining room chairs and began putting them in front of the barricade Dane had created. Dane said nothing. All of the large furniture was in place in front of the door. She could feel his gaze moving over her, it was like nothing she’d ever felt before, intense, as though it had its own energy.
“We need light.” Dane disappeared into another room. The strange energy ebbed and was gone.
“My sister loves candles. She and Robert have them everywhere.” Dane stopped as he realized that he had shared private information about his sister. He admired Robert and loved him like a brother. And Stephanie was all the family he had left. Nothing would stop him from getting to her.
“They smell nice,” Grace offered in response. Her employer had scented candles and Grace knew how rare they were.
He sat them on the dining room table that he had dragged in to help barricade the front door. She watched his every move. She needed him. And, she hated that. For once she wanted to be able to take care of herself.
“You don’t smell so nice.” Dane offered a slight smile, “You’ve got some sludge from the tunnels on your jacket. And some of those AIM soldiers have heightened senses. They’ll be able to smell you.” He looked at her from head to toe. “Let’s get you into some clean, dry clothes. Don’t use anything with a strong scent.” His gaze moved back up and he looked into her eyes. “I’d guess you’re about my sister’s size.”
Dane picked up a candle and motioned for her to follow him into the bedroom. Etiquette said it was wrong, but etiquette never mentioned what to do in case AIM soldiers were out to kill everyone in San Francisco. She’d have to wing it on this one.
She moved, quiet and slow, into the bedroom where Dane was going through his sister’s closet. He pulled out a thick sweater and threw it on the bed.
“Wear that. I’m sure it’ll fit. You may be just a little smaller than Stephanie, but that sweater will keep you warm.” He pulled out a pair of jeans and threw them next to the sweater. “If you need a belt I’m sure I can find one.”
As he rifled through a drawer Grace picked up the sweater. It was woolen and thick with a turtleneck. A small woman’s t-shirt followed, then jeans.
“I’ll need socks and underwear. I’ll wear my own bra,” she told him. As she said it his eyes moved over her chest, not lustful, but thoughtful. Still, she felt heat prick her cheeks.
He nodded. “There are washcloths in the bathroom. Make it quick.”
Grace looked toward the bathroom where a candle light flickered. He must have left it when he first collected the candles. She walked in, pushing the door closed behind her. She quickly removed her clothes and wet the washcloth she found hanging on a rack.
“There won’t be any hot water …” Dane stopped before he’d come all the way into the room. She hadn’t locked the door, hadn’t even closed it all the way.
Grabbing a towel to cover herself, she didn’t know what to say. Embarrassment burned in her. She was too afraid to look directly at him. But, when he didn’t speak and didn’t leave, she was forced to look up.
She watched the rapid rise and fall of his chest as he breathed. Her gaze moved slowly up to his face. His jaw muscles moved as he clenched his teeth.
“I’m sorry,” he finally said. His voice seemed lower, with bass tones meant for seductive music. “I thought you were waiting on these.” He handed her socks and underwear. As she took them, their fingers slid across each other, sending a jolt of energy down her spine.
He immediately snatched his hand back as though that jolt she felt had burned him. His eyes almost seemed to accuse her of something she couldn’t fathom. The expression was fleeting and she wondered if she had imagined it.
“You’ve got to hurry it up,” he snapped, and took a step back. “I have enough to worry about. I don’t need you holding us back.”
Grace looked at him, confused now. She was doing exactly what he told her to do. With such a lack of social skills and the incredible circumstances, she thought it best to follow his every order. Now, he was mad. She did what she was told and he was mad. If she was unable to follow simple instructions correctly, he would leave her. She would be of no use to him.
“I’m going to get the weapons.” And he was gone.
Grace ran the washcloth across her body along the same path as Dane’s gaze had made. No one had ever looked at her like that. Why did it have to be Thomas Dane? Why did he have to be the one to save her? Why did he have to be the one man who sent hot waves of electric energy down her spine? Energy that nestled warm between her legs and left her confused.
She forced her thoughts away from Dane. Away from his strong, warm hands and his full mouth.
Survival was what was important. The process of accepting death had already started running its course. Every minute was precious, but to what end if you did nothing with those moments? Knowing you would die somehow made you more aware of life and of what you did, or didn’t, do.
A sound, like moving furniture, came from somewhere within the apartment. Dane’s voice called out, “I’ve got the weapons. We can get out of … ” and then his voice stopped.
She opened the door from the bathroom to the bedroom, but he was nowhere to be seen. She tried to listen, but heard nothing, not even footsteps. She quietly got dressed and searched Stephanie’s closet until she found a short, white leather jacket and put it on. Black could hide you in the night, but white hid you in the fog.
Walking out into the living room, Grace saw Dane standing there, head cocked toward the door, and that’s when she heard it. The sound of metal jostling as the doorknob was turned, the sound of someone pushing on the door with their body. Grace moved closer to Dane.
“I can use a gun,” she whispered to him.
“A real gun?”
“I’ve been trained with a simulation program.” Resentment gave her courage. How was she going to get out and use a real gun? Her employers had insisted she learn how because she helped take care of important people, and important papers. They hadn’t given her a real gun yet, but she was almost through with the program and she would have had access to a real gun.
A wrinkle creased his brow and she could only wonder at his thoughts. At this point, he would need her to be able to take care of herself. What if something happened to him? Simulation or not, she could most likely use a real gun. He gave her a quick nod and pulled out a 9mm pistol. He checked it, made sure the safety was on and handed it to her.
She took it, checked it again, and put it down the front of her pants. His gaze remained on her for a few more moments, but when the noise stopped, it drew his attention back to the door.
“If we shoot, the AIM soldiers will come to investigate.” Shooting would be a last option. They didn’t need attention from the military.
“I’m going to check the kitchen and see if there’s any bottled water, maybe some food.” She was determined to be useful. If she died here, fighting some great evil, at least it would matter. Her life would matter. She’d be more than just an indentured servant. People might even care when she died. But the tight feeling in her stomach told her that her determination wasn’t as concrete as she would’ve liked to believe.
Whoever was trying to get in had moved on. They needed to finish up, find Stephanie, and get the hell out of here. Live to die another day.
Grace found the kitchen untouched. She set a candle down and started putting food in her satchel. This was something she could do, something important. This didn’t require social skills.
She gathered food they could take with them. Twelve hours could feel like a long time and they would need their energy. She wondered about Dane. How could someone so bent on de-socialization by promoting the headsets, so bent on faking emotions, be so kind and caring? Grace’s hands stopped in mid-motion. What was she thinking? She did not want anything to do with Thomas Dane other than what was necessary to survive this crisis.
The whoosh of the kitchen door brought her around to face the object of her confusion.
“You look more at home with this.” he said, motioning at the food she was packing. “Guns aren’t you, Grace.”
“What do you know about me?” He had no right to judge her. No right to stereotype her kind to nothing more than servants. She was more than that!
“We all have our strengths. It’s nothing to be ashamed of,” he said. He studied her, nodded. “You’re beautiful, you know.” His gaze held hers.
She wasn’t stupid. He was trying to calm her with his charm. She didn’t want him to be charming. She wanted him to get her out of this.
“My headset doesn’t take the emotion chip.” She struggled for the appropriate words. There were none. At least, none she could think of. Rejection was her only weapon. “I think your technology is the cause of all of this. No one cares unless they are told to care. No one questions because it might upset the delicate balance of things. All of these people are going to die because they’ve been told that they need to be rich or famous or special to have need of travel skills. You’re standing there judging me, wondering if I’m of any use to you, but you should be judging yourself,” her voice hitched just a little when she drew in a deep breath, “You don’t know me.”
She felt the warmth of his body before she even realized he’d moved. Standing so close, she was forced to look up into his face. She didn’t back away. She’d spent so much of her wasted life backing away when challenged, but not this time. What was there to lose now?
“Regardless of what you think of me,” his voice was soft, but firm, “I’m not going to leave you alone. Gun or no gun, you’re no match for what’s out there.”
“And you are?”
“More than you know,” he offered.
“I appreciate that you’re helping me, “she said, “But, I’m not going to fall apart. I’m going to pull my own weight. I don’t like what you’ve done with your inventions, I don’t care much for the way you live your life as though people don’t matter. But, I’m willing to take a chance that you’re more than just the hype. Now why don’t you take the chance that I’m more than just my station in life? ” She took in large gulps of air as though she might drown in the emotions he stirred in her.
He grew still and thoughtful. Something passed over his face so quickly she could hardly say what it was. But, that one moment, that one look, caused her to reflect. She couldn’t hurt him. She didn’t have that kind of power. And in the end, she realized she didn’t want to. She’d spent a lot of time blaming him for things because of his inventions and the way it affected society, but perhaps she’d misjudged him just as she had accused him of doing to her.
“I’m sorry, Dane.”
The hard line from his pursed lips conflicted with the emotion that now lived in his eyes. She didn’t think it was her words that put that look of pain and sadness in his eyes, but it made her want to comfort him.
Neither her anger nor her pity would get her anywhere. What was she thinking? She needed him, whether she liked it or not. For the first time she realized that without him she might die before her six months were up. A touch of fear reached into her heart.
“You won’t leave me, will you?”
“Grace–” A loud crash at the door stopped him. “Damn!”
Grace picked up the satchel and followed Dane. The looters hadn’t found them, but an AIM soldier had, and shots rang out in the quiet of the cold apartment.