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.
SHADOWS ACROSS THE MOON by SF English
The soldier’s upper body crashed through the makeshift barricade, tipping the bookshelf over the things stacked in front of it. One large arm with metal fingers emerged, holding a gun, taking aim.
Dane’s shot hit the soldier in the wrist knocking the gun from its hand. It began speaking, an eerie metallic echo, into its modified headgear.
“0 — 7 — 13 Alpha Omega Alpha region,” its voice frightened her. Its message frightened her. “Weapons …” It scanned the area to report what it was seeing. Blood rushed from the injured wrist, but it did not withdraw its arm.
Dane holstered the gun, picked up his backpack, and grabbed Grace’s arm. The fire escape was through the window in the bedroom. Dane threw open the window and led the way to the streets below.
There were people running now, frightened, dropping their loot, hoping to escape with their lives. AIM soldiers with silencers on their guns were taking them out. Fish in a barrel.
The fog hit Grace at her knees. Dane pulled her down inside the fog.
“We have to get to the Hyatt apartments. That was we were to meet earlier. I think Stephanie and Robert will be waiting there with back-up.” Dane squinted through the fog. His gaze swept the area. “There’s no way we’ll make it back to my car. We’re going to have to make a run for it.”
Bile climbed up in her throat. Her gaze followed his, seeing the zombie soldiers, seeing the death. She’d seen dead people, but not dying people. As her mind registered what was happening around her, numbness settled in. Dead people make you reflect on immortality. Dying people make you reflect on humanity. One you accept and get over. The other haunts you all the days of your life.
A soft whimper escaped her. Dane spoke, but the words were muffled and indistinguishable. Something inside her turned off. A switch that said, “I am human” shorted out. The light dimmed behind her eyes, deep inside her soul. Drunk on terror.
Warm hands steadied her, then shook her and steadied her again.
“Grace! The soldiers are looking for us now. We need to get out of the area. Grace! Look at me.”
Her dark blue eyes settled on him, trying to focus. She blinked. Again.
His face swam in front of her, handsome, with his chocolate-colored eyes and strong jaw. Those dark eyes looked into her soul as she drowned in terror and disbelief. Locked to his gaze, her heart stirred. There was panic there, but she couldn’t recall the reason for it. Why was she afraid? Her heart beat faster as she searched her memory.
“I’m going to die,” she said in a whisper. Six months. “I’m going to die and no one will care.”
“You are not going to die!” Dane took her hand and began walking backward. She moved with him, stiff and unseeing. “I won’t let you die. I promise.” He lied. A promise you know you can’t keep is a lie. He could try to save her, try to keep her alive, but he really couldn’t promise. But he had. A man’s word, a man’s honor, a man’s promise. They kept moving away from the apartment building. Away from soldiers killing the unwary, the slow, the terrified.
“I have no one to mourn me,” she continued, “No family left. No lover.” She could see him more clearly now. His face came into focus, still holding those penetrating eyes full of pity. Warmth stole over her as she realized that someone cared. Even if only for a brief moment, her feelings, her life, made someone feel something for her. Some part of her wanted to reach out and hold him to her as though it would personify the memory of his sadness for her. “I have no one.”
“You have me,” Dane said. He stopped, his gaze darting in the shadows, looking for danger that was, most likely, following them.
His concern was etched along his jaw as it clenched and unclenched over and over. It was in his eyes. They were willing her to not to give up. She felt his desire for her to try to hold on. When he could easily save himself, he waited for her, and it shook the cold from her soul. She looked at him and assigned his caring to something deep within her heart.
Her hand reached out, bold and brazen for one of her class. Her fingertip caressed his clenched jaw. It unclenched. He would never understand. She wouldn’t know him long enough for him to understand that in that moment, he made her want to live for reasons she’d never considered before. To hold on and fight for one more chance to feel cared for, by anyone.
The briefest memory of her cold, sterile upbringing tried to cut away at her new feelings. Her mind flashed on the thought of a lonely room, filled with only a headset, a bed, and a table with only one chair. Her parents hadn’t had a mating license and the state had taken her away. She was loved by no one; she mattered to no one.
“We have to keep moving, Grace,” he lowered his voice and it vibrated like a caress down her spine. “You’re going to be okay.”
Sounds came in loud and sharp as her mind swam to the surface of consciousness.
She would never be ‘okay’. Not ever again. Perhaps she never had been ‘okay’ in her lifetime. She shoved the memories of the dying men, the AIM soldiers, and the bio-weapons deep into the recesses of her mind. Those things didn’t matter now. Neither did sterile rooms and lonely beds. She was dying, and what mattered was making a difference in a world that felt little. What mattered was holding on long enough, fighting long enough, to make someone see that she cared even if no one cared for her. And she didn’t need a chip to make her feel that way. For every life that she could help save would be one life that would care for her. One life that would go on when she could not, and she would be remembered for it.
Those people who died had no idea that today was their day. She knew. No matter what she did, she was dead. There was strength in that knowledge, if she allowed it. Acceptance of her fate slipped into her soul and found a woman there it did not recognize. This woman was a fighter. She couldn’t beat death for herself, but, perhaps, she could deny him the deaths of millions in the city.
She pulled her hand from the warmth of Dane’s. His curious stare looked for some sign of what was going on inside of her. No one would ever know. She nodded at his questioning gaze and he turned to run, ducking down as best he could in the growing fog.
She kept up with him. Her body would fail soon, but not now. Now, it was running as fast as he was and in a very uncomfortable position. They headed toward the sea, toward Lombard St., Van Ness, and Broadway. Dane seemed to know exactly where he was going and how he would get there. She only had to follow.
Two miles without any confrontations and her side began to ache. Cold lived inside the creeping fog. Dane’s glow sticks and the occasional light of the full moon as the shadows moved across it had gotten them this far, but the noises out in the white mist warned of others coming near. Maybe AIM soldiers. Maybe looters. Maybe she was losing her mind.
They neared the Broadway tunnel. After the tunnel, it would be right on Embarcadero and left to the Hyatt. So close. Only the long, black, gaping mouth of the tunnel stood between them and safety.
Dane slowed as he took in the dangers of the darkened tunnel. Standing at the black opening, he couldn’t see inside. The tunnel was a mile long. And no, there’s no light at the end of it.
Grace didn’t want to go inside. Something was in there, waiting for them. She could feel it. It was watching them. The hair on the back of her neck stood at attention.
“Something’s in there, Dane,” she whispered. His gaze remained on the darkness inside.
“I feel it, too,” he said as he turned his attention to her. “It could be looters. It could be people hiding.”
“It could be one of those zombies.” She took an involuntary step back. The thought of going inside was too much to bear. Her legs hurt. If she needed to run, she might not make it. Her hearing wasn’t as good as Dane’s; her sight not as sharp. As a thousand reasons ran through her brain as to why this was a bad idea, she knew she would follow him in if he went.
“Tired?” he asked.
“Very. My legs are killing me.” As though to make her point, she reached down and rubbed them vigorously.
“We passed a few stores along the way. We can take a break for a few minutes, but let’s get inside.” Dane searched the area quickly, walking in the opposite direction of the tunnel.
That was good enough for Grace. Opposite the tunnel was a great direction to go, as far as she was concerned.
They entered a store only a block away from the tunnel. The place specialized in repairing headsets. No electricity made it easy to get inside.
Dane took out some candles from his pack. “Light these while I cover the front window.” He handed her the candles and some matches as he set out to cover the window, hiding the light from passersby.
Dane scrambled to patch together a makeshift blind, so no one could see them inside. The store lit up by softly glowing candlelight, showed Dane’s great duct tape job with the store’s finer poster boards. Dane’s head was tipped to the side as he read a homemade sign that advertised an Emotion Chip better than his own.
“Can you believe that?” He stood straight and motioned toward the sign as though Grace should be incensed. “They’re ripping me off!”
“What do you expect?” Grace found it hard to be sympathetic. “Are you complaining because they stole your idea … or your money?”
The Emotion Chip was a sore subject with her and his expression told her he was considering his words.
“What do you have against the chip?” Dane demanded. His slow gait toward her put her on alert. His scowl of disapproval caused her heart to race as he neared her.
Grace knew this wasn’t a good idea. Fighting was never a good idea. She had been taught never to argue with her betters. But, that was before the world turned upside down. That was before there was nothing to lose.
“That chip is the final fall of humanity,” she said calmly, her chin upturned so she could look into his eyes.
“That chip is all that holds humanity in place,” Dane argued.
“We take children and surgically insert a hook up so four inches of steel can tell them what to think and how to vote. Now,” she crossed her arms over her chest in defiance, “it can tell them how to feel, as well. And for people who do fall in love, we punish them if they procreate without a license instead of celebrate the miracle of creation. It’s all about control. The government thinks they know what’s best, but they have no compassion; no mercy.” Her thoughts flashed to the last time she saw her mother. The begging her mother did to keep her and the cold merciless gaze of the agent who took her away was burned into her memory.
“Men and women stay in their homes,” Dane’s voice called her back to the present, “afraid to talk to one another. Needing lessons before they earn the right to make love, because it doesn’t come naturally anymore. Most people spend less than two years of their life outside their home. Did you know that?” Dane’s gaze became heated, impassioned. “They seldom touch or are touched. How can we expect them to feel?”
“So you create synthetic feelings to match synthetic lives?” She asked. “You have no idea how wrong you are about people. People do find love naturally, and then people like the government step in and try to regulate it. Or, people like you try to distort it.”
“No, Grace, you’re wrong. There are people who go their entire lives without feeling love. Who wants to live like that?”
“Who wants to know what love is, just to unhook and find out it isn’t real at all? That it can’t actually be attained?” Grace felt the heat rising in her cheeks, her blood pounding in her veins. “I’d rather not know what it feels like, if I can’t have it all the time.”
“But, Grace, that’s the beauty of it. You can have it all the time if you can hook into it. For some people there is no other way.” Dane’s tone grew softer.
“People learn to love. Look at Stephanie and Robert. Do they need that damned chip?” She felt triumphant, but it was short lived. His face had fallen, turned dark and brooding.
“No. Stephanie and Robert don’t need the chip. Stephanie is younger than I am. Our parents had learned their lesson with me. They let the government experiment on me. I was genetically engineered to take the plug in. But it didn’t quite work the way they planned. There were … ” he searched for the right words, “complications.”
The heat of her anger held in check as she processed his words and their meaning.
“Complications?” she managed.
“I can’t have children,” he shared. His eyes told her more than his words did. He wanted children. “And, I can’t feel love.”
He stepped away. He walked slowly toward the door, stopped, reconsidered and walked slowly back, almost as though he were confused as to what to do next.
“I’m … ” Grace didn’t know what to say.
“Don’t be.” His words were daggers. “I’m not the only one out there who can’t feel love, Grace.” His gaze raked over her body. “Have you felt love? You don’t even have a mating license. What do you know about love?”
“Not much, I admit,” she said, “But I know what it’s like to care about someone. To appreciate something. I know that I want to love someone. I want to be loved by someone.”
“Did you know your parents? Did they love you?” His question was like a slap in the face. Someone loved her once, but that had been taken away. That love had resulted in punishment.
“Yes. For a short time. But,” she struggled with how much she should say, “I was an illegal-procreate. I was taken from my parents when I was young and sold as a servant to pay the fines.” She rushed on so that he’d not her pain at the memory. “But my employers are kind. I appreciate my job. I’ve met interesting people.” Many of her class were given specifically for service to the government or associated corporations. There were no orphanages anymore, not for over a hundred years. You were educated, trained, and put into service like the indentured slaves of the 19th century. The pay was little, but eventually, you would repay the government fines and strike out on your own. Not that people ventured far, if they left their employer at all.
She watched him study her. Compassion, perhaps even mercy lived in that look. His tone softened more.
“So you appreciate things. You find people interesting. What does that do for you, Grace?”
“It tells me that I have the ability to love. I can feel. If you’re kind, and can appreciate people, you can love.” She felt desperate at his words.
Dane’s gaze dropped. His shoulders drooped and he stepped away. “Then you’re lucky. If you’re right. And, one day, you’ll find someone to love and, if that person loves you back, if he appreciates you, if he likes you, if the stars are all in alignment with the universe,” he had become sarcastic again, “you’ll find love. Good for you.” He turned, straightened his shoulders and pinned her with his dark gaze. “You’ll be in the minority. And while you’re enjoying the fact that you can feel love, millions of other people won’t be. Would you deny them such a treasure, such an incredible feeling, because they aren’t physically able to feel love on their own?”
Was he talking about himself? Were there so many others out there who couldn’t feel love? Would the Emotion Chip be their only solace if they were emotionally handicapped? Something wasn’t quite right with what he was saying. Something didn’t fit.
“You love your sister!” Her eyes lit up at her realization.
“It isn’t the same. You know that.”
The problem was, she didn’t know. She didn’t have a sister. If you can love in one way, can’t you love in all ways?
“But, surely you have the capacity to love, if you can love one person.”
“Romantic love is different, Grace.” He should’ve known she wouldn’t understand. “It’s different than loving a friend or family member. It’s different from lust.”
“If you can’t feel it how do you know it feels differently?” Logic and reason were always her strong suit.
“I see Stephanie and Robert together. I hear them making love sometimes. I hear what they say to one another. I can’t feel that. Not without the chip.” The discussion needed to end. He didn’t need to win her over to his side. He didn’t have a side. He did what he needed to do and he answered to no one.
“How is it different than lust?” Grace was intrigued.
“Why don’t you get a mating license and find out?”
“I don’t have time. It takes six months to get a mating license. I don’t have six months.”
“Six months is nothing. You’re young; it just feels like a long time. In six months, you’ll find someone on the mating list and, in no time, you’ll know the difference between lust and love.” He shrugged as though the outcome was already a given.
“I’ll never know. I’ll be dead in six months.” Her tone was as flat as his. She’d never spoke the words out loud. Not even to the doctors. She’d been told. She’d been released to die. There was little pain, occasional headaches, numbness sometimes, but little pain.
“Dead?” He didn’t know what to say. There were so few things that killed people anymore, other than old age. His life expectancy was well over 110, hers would be more. “How?”
“Brain tumor. Too deep to remove. No therapy will work.” She imagined, sometimes, telling her employer this; letting her employer know they would need to replace her soon. She’d need to start training someone right away to take over. In her imagination, her employer would be sad to have her gone. They’d throw her a going away party, perhaps. They would all come to her funeral together and say wonderful things about her work.
“I don’t know what to say.” His problem could be fixed with modern technology, but hers was permanent. A pain started in the center of his chest and radiated out to his fingertips. Was he ill? Was this a byproduct of pity? It was painful and he rubbed absently at his chest.
“There’s nothing to say.” She changed her mind. “Will you go to my funeral?”
“Funeral?” This wasn’t setting well. He wasn’t going to accept this.
“That’s where I was coming from when we met on the conveyance. A funeral. I go to listen to what they say about those who have passed on. Sometimes people cry. Sometimes they say beautiful things about the person they loved.
I want someone to say that about me. When I die. Something wonderful about my work…about me.”
That slow pain grew in urgency. Dane rubbed his hands together, as though he could dispel it that way. It didn’t work. He looked at that beautiful face, so full of innocence and passion for life. He waited for the bitterness to numb him. Blessing or curse life had given him that bitterness. That shield. But instead, warmth behind his eyes caught him by surprise. Tears? He’d never cried before. Not in happiness. Not in sadness. Not in frustration.
“What else do you want?” Dane needed to change the subject away from funerals. He’d never even attended a funeral in his life. Funerals were morbid, not beautiful.
“Love.” Simple. Honest. Sad.
“Then why not use my headset? Use my Emotion Chip. I have it with me. You can take it with you.” This was something he could offer her. The pain in his chest began to give way to feelings of hope and strength. He walked to his pack and began digging around inside.
“No.” One word. It floated to him on cold air and penetrated his heart.
“Not like that. Not something…synthetic.” Would she change her mind in five months? Four?
“It’s an answer.”
“It’s your answer, Dane. It works for you, and I can see that it has its uses. Besides, if I felt love, what would I do then?” She smiled and rolled her eyes, as though to say they should have thought of that.
“We’d think of something.” He wasn’t grinning. He had already formulated a plan.
“No. No headset.”
She cast her eyes to the floor. An opportunity, like so many others in her life, would slip by and be lost to her inability to perform, to understand, to learn. Embarrassment was overshadowed by the heat of unbidden visions in her mind. He was handsome. Muscular. Hard. As she forced the thoughts away, the quiet of the room brought her notice back to him.
She felt his gaze from across the room. Quiet. Thinking. Deciding. He stalked toward her, slowly, muscles taut.
Her body went on full alert. No one had ever looked at her like that. Her pulse quickened. As he stood before her, she felt the heat radiating from his body.
“Are you asking me to make love to you?” The low bass tone reminded her of his music. Something to make love to.
Her mind went into fast rewind as she tried to recall the words she used that might have implied that. Did she want this? Yes. No. Confusion. Frustration. Fear. She didn’t know him. Not really. She needed him. She had already accepted that. She trusted him with her life, why not her body?
But, her life was forfeit no matter what happened with Thomas Dane. She had nothing to lose that wasn’t already lost. Why not have sex with him? The answer floated through her mind with uneasy realization. She didn’t know how to have sex.
He didn’t seem to hear. His gaze fell to her lips and she wet them. Her eyes widened as his large hand cupped her chin.
“You can,” he assured her as he lowered his lips until they hovered just above her own.
“I don’t know what to do.”
“I’ll teach you.” Peppermint. Coffee. Longing. His breath teased her lips. Heat. Soft. Electric. His lips touched feather-soft to hers. “Say yes.” His words were heated bass notes, playing music across sensitive skin. “Say it.” The demand brought warmth to her lips and a shiver through her body.
“I can’t…” It was lost. The words were captured in his mouth as he slid lips across hers, devouring her words, her breath, her soul.
No one had ever wanted her. Not for anything other than work. Certainly, not like this. She felt consumed, on fire, needy, but, for what, she couldn’t determine. Every cell of her body came alive. Every sense heightened. Aware. Alive. Screaming. She closed her eyes.
The warmth of his hands running along her spine caused her to shiver again. He held the back of her head to deepen his kiss. To teach her. To taste her. To master her.
Large, warm hands caressed her, held her in place, and caressed her again. Her lungs burned with the need to breathe, but she couldn’t remember how. She pulled in the smell of his cologne, musky, on masculine skin.
His soft lips made demands and she responded. His tongue was tentative at first as it penetrated the recesses of her mouth. Incredibly soft, warm, caressing.
“Dane,” she whispered his name as his lips burned a path along her jaw. “I want you.” This could be her only chance, her only opportunity, to know what it was like to have sex. The fact that she was going to have sex with Thomas Dane without the use of his Emotion Chip left her feeling as though she had won an incredible battle. She wasn’t changing the world through technology, she was gaining something miraculous by discarding it.
He moved his lips along the column of her throat. She heard him sigh, “I wish our headsets worked. This could be so much more.”
“What?!” She pulled back.
“I need it.” His tone asked her to understand.
The room stopped spinning. The world came back into view. Grace let her gaze rake over his hardened body.
“You most certainly do not need it.”
“Physically, maybe not,” he wouldn’t deny the obvious. “But I thought all women wanted their men to love them? Don’t you want me to love you? Don’t you want me to feel love for you?” A change of tactics.
Dane put the headset aside, putting his empty hands out in front of him as though that could give her peace and make her trust him.
“We have little time, Grace.” His voice had taken on that familiar bass tone.
“No, I have little time,” she corrected. “If it can’t the way I want it, I don’t want it at all.”
“Why? What does it matter?”
“I want to believe that you want me, for me.” It was silly. She knew it when she said it. They had just met. She had cried, gotten lost in the fog, done everything wrong. What could endear her to him? Nothing. She was the sum of her accumulated experiences. A servant. Poor. Frightened. Dying.
Dane stood very still. That painful tingling radiated outward again. It wasn’t her words that wounded him, it was the look in her eyes. A look that said she believed he wouldn’t want her.
“I think you’re beautiful.” The words were in his head, but were released into the air on a whisper.
“ Never trust a man who says you’re beautiful.” The hurtful words of one of her employer’s guests came back to haunt her. Dane had said it twice now. Could she trust him? Should she trust him?
Juliana had been the only woman to ever offer her any advice about men. The gorgeous brunette was a frequent visitor at the company house where Grace worked. The woman was an executive, but she had other talents that made her a frequent guest. Juliana had offered a great deal of advice, but Grace wasn’t so simple to believe that any of it was meant to be helpful.
“If you don’t give them what they want, you become expendable.” Grace had believed that little bit of advice. Dane was her better. Did he have the right to insist on her compliance just because he thought it best for her?
“Will you leave me if I don’t have sex with you?” Her eyes snapped up to meet his gaze, daring him to answer.
Cold water couldn’t have worked better.
“Where the hell did that come from?” Dane demanded. He’d never had to bully anyone into sex. He’d never had to ask for it either. It was always there, laying in his bed right next to his headset.
“Will you demand me to,” she could barely say the last words aloud, “service you?”
“Oh no you don’t,” he interrupted. “You would never be required to have sex just to pacify me.” This was over. It was wasting precious time.
“I’m sorry, Dane.” She wasn’t sure what she was sorry for. Misunderstanding him. Not having sex with him. Knowing he wouldn’t care for her without a headset. “I just want to know where I stand with you before I follow you into that tunnel.”
“Let’s drop it. We’ve got to get going.” He shoved the headset back into his backpack.
All the emotional electricity was gone. A shadow in her memory.
“What next?” He was looking around the room as though he lost something.
“Let’s see if we can find something helpful here. Something we can use as a weapon.” Carefully, quietly he opened drawers and looked through cabinets.
“But we have weapons.”
“AIM soldiers aren’t human anymore. They’re part machine. A bullet may not bring one down.”
The thought was terrifying. If a bullet didn’t stop them, what would?
Dane stopped when he came across a cabinet with a lock. No electricity, but the presence of a lock made this cabinet special.
“Look at this.” He motioned for her. “Altered Emotion Chips. Fake casings. And…” he pulled out a headset that was large, with a six inch rod, “military.” Triumph.
His smile sent butterflies in flight somewhere in her stomach. She couldn’t tear her gaze from him as he sat down and began to disassemble the headset.
“What will we do with it?” Her body needed to be close to him. She sat down on a chair nearby.
“If you fix the wires just right it will send an electric jolt into your brain when you plug in.” He was putting it back together.
“Can we listen in to what they’re saying?” She stopped. “You mean it will kill them?”
Dane put the tiny screws in place and his gaze snapped to hers.
“It will kill whoever tries it out.” He shoved it in his pack. “It looks standard issue and you won’t know it isn’t until you plug in.”
Grace wasn’t sure how she felt about that. It could kill a real person.
“What if someone other than an AIM soldier tries to use it? Like a regular military soldier?”
“Right now, there are two kinds of people in the world, Grace.” Dane stood and Grace followed suit. “Us and them.” His shoulder rested on the front door as he turned to look at her.
“But, couldn’t we use it to track them, or listen in? Wouldn’t that be a better use of the thing?” A headset as a weapon was an atrocity.
“They don’t work that way. A frequency is assigned for each mission. When the mission is over, the frequency is changed. It’s like a secret code.”
Dane pushed the door open. There was nothing left to say. The headset wasn’t helpful, unless it killed someone.
The fog had risen, hitting Grace just below her breasts. The smell of burning wood mingled with the salt air. People were cold, scared and starting to think for themselves. Few people used real fireplaces, but that wouldn’t stop the need for warmth.
They walked the streets alone. A city full of people and they walked down the center of the street like the last two people on earth. Sounds in the distance, screams, slamming doors, a few car horns. Why weren’t there more cars? Were the sheep content to wait for shepherds? In a city of millions, were there really so few who had travel skills? So many too frightened to move about the city? Or, had the AIM soldiers made their presence known? Doing their job, whatever that was, to keep the sheep fenced in.
Grace stopped beside Dane at the mouth of the Broadway tunnel. The gates of hell. It yawned and swallowed them up.
Darkness. Blind to the horrors of the tunnel. Grace panicked as she realized she could barely see. Her fright, and Dane’s silence, kept her from opening her mouth.
A green light, soft, but effective, flew in an arc about ten feet in front of them. The fog seemed to hold the light, reflect it, and make the illumination grow. Dane stopped, pulled out another, and they walked forward toward the light. Dane remained on the left side of the light as they passed it. It left little room between the wall of the tunnel and the green haze of light.
“Take my hand if you need to,” Dane whispered. “If something goes wrong, and you can’t find me, follow the lights back outside.”
She nodded into the darkness. Her head turned as they passed the second light. Behind them, the two lights glowed about twenty feet apart. She looked forward again as Dane tossed another light into the air. This one went further than the other two and she wondered how many of the sticks Dane had with him.
“Can you see anything?” She strained to see in front of her, but even with the soft green light she couldn’t see much. Dane had better eyesight. Better hearing. Not better, genetically enhanced.
“Try not to talk,” he instructed. Calm. Logic. “Give me your hand.” He blindly reached behind him and she found his outstretched hand.
There had been some light from the opening of the tunnel, but they had progressed nearly halfway and blackness encompassed them.
How far had they come? How much time was left? Would she ever get warm again? Dane’s hand was warm. And that warmth followed a path down her spine, sending chill bumps across her skin.
Dane slowed down, but she couldn’t see in front of him. She moved to the side, keeping hold of his hand. There was a car next to the green light. It was dark inside. They moved slowly toward it, setting her nerves on edge. What if someone was inside? What if they were dead? Worse yet, what if they were alive? Would whoever was inside try to stop them? Would they be required to aid them? And, would that keep them in the dark tunnel even longer?
Dane pulled his gun and let go of her hand. Alone. Empty. Cold. She filled her hand with her own gun. Safety off.
Dane threw a light inside. Nothing. No one. He moved closer. The fog had settled inside like a ghostly passenger.
“Damn.” He turned back toward her. “Electric.” His was a hybrid, and if they could find another hybrid, they could drive out and outrun any AIM soldiers on the street.
Her gaze moved from the empty car seat to Dane. Something in him had changed. Alert. Aware. She followed his gaze to the path of lights behind them. Standing, between the first two lights he had thrown, was a man. A big man. A soldier. The rifle on his back, the stance, the outline of his clothing all screamed AIM.
“Don’t run.” Dane moved slowly. “We’re nothing to him. No threat.” Dane put his gun beneath his jacket. “Put your gun away. Don’t let him see it.”
They moved away from the car. Grace put her gun inside the back of her jeans and pulled the sweater down to conceal it.
Dane’s warm hand found hers again and he pulled her forward. Grace stumbled as she tried to walk forward while looking behind her. Dane caught her and she looked at him. He was throwing the green lights again. But, this time, instead of throwing them in an arch, he threw them low to the ground directly in front of him. He was throwing them much farther away now and Grace feared that they were almost out.
“Don’t stop. No matter what, don’t stop.” Dane’s voice was still calm, but authoritative.
His longer legs took longer strides and she had to nearly run to keep up. Looking back was a bad idea. The soldier was still there, but not moving. Why wouldn’t he follow them? Were they not a threat as Dane had said? Or, would they find someone waiting for them at the other end of the tunnel? Or maybe some thing?
Her heart pounded out a painful rhythm. The headache she’d had most of the evening came back to protest her lack of attention. The cold penetrated the jacket, her clothes, her skin, her heart. She could hear the drumming, like a tribal beat in her head and in her chest. Faster. Harder. Faster. Harder.
She strained to hear. She stopped looking back. Another light thrown and they were closer to the end. She could see it, barely lit by the night sky. The fog rolled toward them as though the tunnel were sucking it in.
To the left, a heavy footstep. Something being dragged. Thump, swoosh. Thump, swoosh. Thump, swoosh. Dane moved her to the far right with his body. He took out a light and threw it in the direction of the sound. They kept moving, slowly, steadily, forward.
The light surprised the man. He moved slowly, dazed, frightened, and confused. He was covered in blood. Lacerations covered his head and neck. His left eye was almost swollen shut. He looked toward them, unseeing. Grace looked at the man’s hand as it extended behind him. A hand, male or female she couldn’t tell, was in his. He was pulling someone. Someone unconscious. Someone dead. She didn’t want to think about the person on the ground being pulled behind him.
Her hand instinctively gripped Dane’s tighter as she considered the irony of the situation. The two people across from them held hands. One alive; one dead. One alive; one dead. The man across from them was making a mewling noise. It was sad and pathetic. She wanted him to stop. She couldn’t help him. She couldn’t bring the woman back to life. She couldn’t even save herself. That sound he made! If he didn’t stop, Grace would go insane.
The man looked at the light. He moved toward it, pulling the body behind him. Two steps and he bent to pick it up. As he stood, the light moved. It was brighter above the fog. And as he brought it near his face his shadow caused an eerie play of light and dark on the cement wall behind him. The darkness moved; not a shadow, but something else. A big man, half his face a metal cover, a headset plugged in, one eye glowed red with light.
The scream caught in her throat and she choked on it. Her heart joined it there and she thought she would vomit. Adrenaline coursed through her veins with lightning speed and made her world spin. Her lungs pulled in short, quick breaths, but nothing came out.
“No!” She tried to scream it, but it echoed in her brain over and over. Tears, warm and wet, spilled down her cheeks.
The man looked out toward them, listening to them move, as he backed toward the wall.
“Run!” Dane pulled hard and she had no time to think. There were no more lights to show the way, only the gaping end of the tunnel calling them out.
A scream echoed in the tunnel. Silence followed it. Footsteps, sure and swift, were growing louder behind them. They passed a car that had hit the tunnel wall. The front was smashed in, the driver’s side door hung open. Blood. They kept running. The footsteps behind them picked up speed. The end of the tunnel was a gaping mouth, laughing at them. There would be no safety at the end. The nightmare was following them out into the night.
Dane shoved her hard and she hit the wall at the entrance of the tunnel. He pulled his gun and looked around frantically. It was impossible to see more than ten feet inside the tunnel now. His gaze scoured the area outside. A noise came toward him. A click, so quiet she wasn’t sure she really heard it. Dane fired four shots into the darkness. The sound was amplified and hurt her ears.
Frantically, she looked around the area for more AIM soldiers. A block away she saw them coming. Three of them.
“Dane! We have company.” She looked at him, but he was still aiming inside the tunnel. She moved forward, but slipped and fell hard. As she grabbed the railing that ran along the footpath inside the tunnel, a large black box with red lights caught her eye.
The numbers were working backward. Nine hours left. She moved toward it. The casing looked familiar, but there were no markings on it.
“Grace, let’s get out of here.” Dane came up behind her. He glanced at the box, then down the street at the oncoming soldiers.
“They don’t move very fast,” she observed.
“They’re grunts. They’re big, they’re stupid, and they’re dead.” As though that really explained anything.
“Where do we go?” Grace’s voice cracked under the pressure and its high pitch hurt her own ears.
“The Hyatt Apartments are only a short distance from here, but we need to run.”
As Dane grabbed her hand, she threw one final glance into the tunnel and saw a small red light coming toward them. A shot rang out and Dane’s hand slipped away.