Excerpt for Escape in Time by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

Escape In Time

By Robyn Nyx

Smashwords Edition

Copyright 2017 Robyn Nyx

This eBook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This eBook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to Smashwords.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

Escape in Time

An extractor is elite in every way, and Landry Donovan is no exception. Pulsus, an organization working to build a better future by saving people from the past, sends Landry’s team back to Nazi Germany to save a Jewish doctor working on a cure for cancer. For the first time on a mission, she’s distracted by thoughts of a woman—the enticing basketball player, Jade Carter.

Jacqulyn Delaney, a Pulsus Operative, waits in a concentration camp for Landry’s arrival. Her job is slowly messing with her mind, as is her desire to be more to Landry than just a friend with benefits. When an unexpected relationship blooms in Germany, it puts a new perspective on the future.

Can they save the doctor? Or will their personal demons leave them stuck in the past?

Escape in Time

© 2017 By Robyn Nyx. All Rights Reserved.


ISBN 13: 978-1-62639-856-6


This Electronic book is published by

Bold Strokes Books, Inc.

P.O. Box 249

Valley Falls, NY 12185


First Edition: April 2017


This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.


This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.


Credits

Editor: Cindy Cresap

Production Design: Susan Ramundo

Cover Design By Sheri (graphicartist2020@hotmail.com)

By the Author

Never Enough


Escape in Time

Acknowledgments

Thank you to all the background staff at Bold Strokes Books who create these little paperback treasures. To Cindy, who patiently exorcises my Anglicisms, fine-tunes my efforts, and teaches me something new with each manuscript. Thank you to Gemma with a G, who inexplicably chooses to voluntarily read my manuscripts back to front like some Satantic ritual and always manages to find something I’ve missed (and to Larny, for letting her!). To my mum and dad, whose support and love is, and always has been, unwavering and constant. And most importantly, my eternal gratitude to Victoria, whose knowledge, encouragement, and love keep my fingers tapping and the creative juices flowing.

I’d like to give a special thank you to the team at Ravensbrück concentration camp in Germany. My visit was made all the more visceral and potent by the museum, the solitary confinement cells of each nation whose women were murdered there, and the video diaries of the camp survivors. They combined to create a painful but poignant reminder of how easily women (and humans generally) are able to persecute each other, and how quickly we can perpetrate such atrocities against the different and the unfamiliar. What lies in these pages may be fictionalized, but they have a solid base in the actions and events of real people at Ravensbrück, some acting on orders, others acting for “sadistic pleasure.” Such scenes don’t make for pleasant reading, but nor should they. They are our history. And they should remind us, constantly, that compassion for others is our most powerful characteristic, and apathy is our most dangerous.

Dedication

For my lady, Victoria

Your presence in my life reminds me daily how lucky I am to have found you. I’ve never known peace like this before, and I cherish every moment we’re together. I promise never to let go.


For all the Jewish and LGBT people, and all the other communities who suffered throughout the reign of Hitler. Your loss should always be felt and never forgotten.


For my secondary school English teachers, Jack Crawford and Ingrid Farrell, whose time, dedication, and care to their profession stoked my literary fire as a youngster.

Mr. Crawford, I finally accede to your greater knowledge—you were absolutely right: you have to sit your ass in the chair and carve out the words even when writing is the last thing you want to do.

Prologue

2049—Cartagena, Colombia


Landry Donovan had to prepare for her team of operatives to join her. As the extractor and team leader, Landry had coordinated the final stages of their mission, and all they had left to do was get out of their deep cover posts in the military base without raising suspicion. She kicked open the jeep door, climbed out, and jogged across the desert road to the tree where she’d hidden the people retrieval unit high in a deserted bird nest of some kind. She was already looking forward to getting back to her sanctuary in San Francisco. Off the Pulsus Island and temporarily into a normal life, away from rescuing the future by saving the past one person at a time.

She climbed the big tree easily, grasped the PRU, and dropped the five feet to the ground. As she straightened up, someone grabbed the back of her jacket and threw her hard and fast against the gnarly tree trunk. She was unprepared for the attack. The air rushed violently from her lungs, and her nose cracked audibly as her unguarded face smashed against the hard bark. The PRU fell from her hand and skittled away in the dirt. Fuck. Damage to that could mean never returning home.

Disoriented and breathless, she began to turn to face her assailant but was tossed to the ground like a discarded toy by an angry child. She reached out to break her fall and felt another crack in her wrist as her hand caught awkwardly between some rocks. A powerful kick struck her in the pit of her stomach before she could recover. The force lifted her from the ground, and she slammed into the tree once more. Another three kicks to her ribs and chest and pain ripped through her body like an explosion tearing apart a building. Her head was pulled up painfully by a handful of her hair, and she finally glimpsed the guy putting a beating on her before his balled fist smashed into her face too many times to count. It was the same guy she’d just allowed to escape because his wife had begged for his life.

His steel-toed boot connected with her ribs for a fifth time. She felt and heard the bones crack. The sixth kick sent the splintered ends into her lung and pierced it. Being beaten to death by this asshole was unexpected. Landry knew the dangers of time travel and the risks of missions like these. At least no one was home waiting on her return, depending on her to come home.

The guy fell to the ground beside her, and even through the intense fog of agony that cocooned her whole body, she managed to smile at his dead eyes…and the serrated tip of a hunting knife that protruded between them.

“What the fuck, Landry?”

She could just make out her colleague and operative Delaney through her rapidly swelling eyes. She spat out some blood and grinned. “I had him on the ropes.”

“Sure you did.” Delaney pulled open Landry’s shirt and leaned in to listen to her labored breathing. “You’ve got a punctured lung. I’m going to have to deal with it.”

Landry nodded as Delaney retrieved a health kit from her pack and pulled out a hefty syringe.

“This might sting a little.”

Landry’s laugh turned into a painful cough. “Do it.”

Delaney thrust the syringe through Landry’s chest wall and released the pressure. Landry struggled to suppress a scream. Delaney waved the PRU at her. “Now let’s get the fuck out of Dodge.”

With Delaney’s help, Landry held the PRU at arm’s length and traced a large circle in the air. The inside of the circle became blurred until it looked like a half-shredded photo, its pieces still clinging together. She held the PRU to its center, and three thick luminescent blue light threads reached out and hovered mid-air. Delaney took hold of a thread and wrapped it around Landry’s wrist, pressed the end into her fist, and folded her fingers over it.

“Hold tight.”

Landry watched as Delaney and Joyce did the same. They’d enter in body mass order—Joyce first, Landry second, and then Delaney. Landry pressed the retrieve key. She glanced back at the dead man at the base of the tree and gripped her ribs to ease the pain. As they were pulled into the time circle to travel back to their future, Landry was glad her mom would be able to fix the damage to her body. Her mind was another matter entirely.

Chapter One

December 19, 2075—Pulsus Island


Landry leaned back in her armchair and let the soft leather comfort her freshly repaired body. The patch-up team had their work cut out when she returned. The pre-jump altercation had resulted in some pretty serious damage: three cracked ribs, a broken nose, and a punctured lung. She was thankful for the quick and efficient intervention of Jacqulyn Delaney, an operator she worked with fairly frequently. And often played with.

She briefly thought about the man they’d left behind. His death hadn’t been part of the mission, but it turned out to be necessary. Brutal and vicious, but necessary. That was their duty. That part of the job wasn’t so different from the work she used to do for the government before she joined the philanthropic organization Pulsus Vita.

She lifted the burning cigar but didn’t raise it to her lips. Seeing how much ash she could get before it fell into the ashtray was a game she played. Watching the smoke rise and curl toward the extractor fan on the wall was almost hypnotic. It was a similar habit with the shot of bourbon she’d poured over ice, enjoying watching the cracks appear in the frozen cubes as the two temperatures battled for supremacy, before cold always succumbed to warmth. She thumbed the droplets of condensation and swirled the viscous liquid around the glass with zero intention of it passing her lips.

Tradition. Routine. Things she needed to ground her whenever she returned from a mission. To return her to her reality, short-lived though it was. Tomorrow, she’d pack up and head to her mainland home for two weeks. Immerse herself in real life, far away from this community bubble, in an effort to enjoy time in the present and attempt to really live rather than exist.

She replaced the cigar and switched on the laser machine beside the armchair. The slide in the cartridge was the same each time she returned from a mission, but she pulled it out and checked anyway. No one had been in her apartment since she left it two months ago. Two months here, eight months in the past. Nothing compared to the seven years the operatives had given up for their part in the mission, but still, it took its toll. She had a limited window to affect the change, to find and rescue the target, to alter the course of history. Past history. For the future she lived in. Her job was high risk and specialist. An extractor had to be an extraordinary human being with off-the-scale intelligence, unlimited resilience, and exceptional strength. Tactical, intuitive, charming…every good thing a human could be. And every bad thing: isolated, detached, void of emotion, and remorseless. Every time she jumped, she became someone else. It would be so easy to lose touch with her real self, and she’d seen it happen with another extractor. She wasn’t sure she’d ever discovered who she really was. Life, loss, these things had happened to her before Pulsus, and now she was making things happen. But it was other people’s lives, not her own. The greater good was a greater sacrifice.

She held the slide to the light, and as she inspected the drawing, she smiled slightly. Preparation time for missions varied greatly, but the removal of her tattoo was the last thing she did before the jump. She couldn’t have any unusual marks or features during missions, nothing to draw attention to her, or arouse suspicion. But as soon as she returned, it was one of the things she had to do before she rested. One of the ways she pulled herself back to the present.

Landry replaced the slide and positioned her right wrist in the clamp beneath the laser pen. The tattoo used to be all she had to remember her mother by, her last drawing before she was raped and murdered, leaving Landry alone at seventeen. Until Pulsus came knocking.

“Begin.” She watched the machine re-create the delicate lines, the twisting, gnarled branches of the tree, and imagined her mother’s hand tracing a pen on her forearm. The clamp repositioned Landry’s arm as needed, and within minutes, the outline was complete. She recognized herself again. No matter which angle she caught a glimpse of her forearm, she could see some part of the design—a wisp of a branch, the veins of a leaf, all hints of her mother’s brilliance. She stretched out her fingers and took a deep breath as the machine worked in hues of red to occupy the space around the top tree, shades of blue in the tree below. Color was the most painful part of this operation since it had to go deeper into the tissue to settle properly. It was an old machine she’d restored, because newer models didn’t use color as it was considered too risky. Landry didn’t care for the new rules—no one was draining the color from her life.

By the time the tattoo was once again realized, Landry was jonesing for her own bed. That was another habit she’d adopted soon after joining Pulsus to combat a life in the military, moving from one war-torn place to another, never really knowing where you might be bunking down next.

Now she could dream of the possibilities of tomorrow and its delightful uncertainty. It was the start of her one-month down time, to live as if she didn’t affect the future, and interact with people she knew as if just four months had passed. Everyone else from Pulsus stayed on the island during their vacation time, saying it was less complicated and that it was too problematic to navigate the “natives,” as they’d taken to calling the rest of the world, without tripping up. But for Landry, this time among regular people leading regular lives was invaluable to her sanity. Spending so much time saving other peoples’ lives left her little time to actually occupy her own, so as always, she’d make the most of the next two weeks. It occurred to her that she’d get to celebrate Christmas and New Year’s while she was off the island. Merry fucking Christmas.

Chapter Two

December 19, 2075—Pulsus Island


Delaney threw herself onto the overstuffed couch in her living room and pushed her face into a soft cushion until her lungs overrode her brain, and she came back up for air. She squeezed her eyes tightly shut and pressed her hands over her ears. Landry’s pain had been too much to witness. The sound of her bones crunching as that bastard’s boots connected with her ribs, her wounded grunts as he smashed his fist into her face, and her pained wheezing as Delaney performed the emergency intervention—Landry would never have survived the jump with the untreated punctured lung.

Delaney’s patch-up had been relatively easy in comparison to Landry’s. No physical damage, just seven years of living to reverse. The PU team could repair cells, but they couldn’t undo the effects of the job on the brain. She couldn’t unsee the look in Landry’s eyes as he pounded on her, nor could she blot out the many days of torture she’d personally had to mete out to innocents. Restoring the body was easy, but mending the mind was proving impossible.

Which is where you come in. Delaney pulled the glass from the table and took a long drink. It coursed down her throat, burning as it went. It would take every drop in the adjacent bottle to haul her into unconsciousness. Years of seeking mental obliteration this way meant it took more and more to have the desired effect. While the rest of the island, the world even, barely touched alcohol any more, it was Delaney’s savior, and the only way she could live with the circular story her life had become since joining Pulsus.

She eased herself back into the couch. “Music. Playlist one.” Something the world had once known as rock, filled her ears. “One hundred and twenty decibels.”

“Volume not recommended.” The electronic female voice chastised her from the speakers all around her, but the level increased regardless. Landry had reprogrammed the machine and overrode that particular command before she installed the system—no one had told her to turn her music down since she was a kid learning to play the drums, and she wasn’t about to let some software start now. With noise above eighty decibels subject to legal recriminations, the world was simply too quiet for her. Without her music this loud, she’d have to listen to the records playing in her head, the ones with crying voices from the years she’d lived in the past. She’d worked for Pulsus for just three years, but already completed twelve missions and lived ninety years more than her biological age of thirty-six. It was hard on the mind, living in a past and existing in the future. The time between missions was becoming increasingly difficult to navigate, and with no one to share it with, Delaney was beginning to wonder how much longer she could last.

Landry had joined at the same time in 2072, in the more senior position of extractor, and Delaney wanted her immediately. She was a thrilling combination of muscle and brains, with tanned skin, dark hair, and hazel eyes that blazed like a forest fire. Landry Donovan was a five feet ten inch package of the very best nature had to offer in a woman, and Delaney wanted it all.

But Landry would only give her body. They’d return from a mission, and in the one-month down time, Landry would disappear to the mainland, and Delaney wouldn’t see her. Landry never fraternized with the island community until she returned for the pre-mission training. And in that time, they’d hook up relatively frequently. Always at Delaney’s place, and she’d always be gone before Delaney woke. No matter how hard Delaney tried to stay awake after they’d had sex, she failed, and would wake to an empty bed, the soft impression of Landry’s hard body still fresh and warm on her mattress.

Delaney emptied and refilled her glass. She didn’t bother with ice; the liquor wasn’t in there long enough for it to make a difference. She lay back and closed her eyes, trying to visualize the last time she and Landry made love. Made love? Did she even know how? Their sex was violent and frantic, like Landry was trying to fuck away her feelings. Just once, Delaney had tried to slow things down, and she’d felt Landry shut down instantly. Sure, she made the right noises, but she was barely in the room, and on that night, she didn’t even wait for Delaney to fall asleep before leaving with a lame excuse about the following day’s training.

As she drained and refreshed her glass once again, her mind began to drift to the last mission, to drug taking, and to the rape and torture she’d been party to. She recalled the jumping in she’d endured to gain access to the gang. Pulsus was a humanitarian organization with a big-picture view, but the geeks had no idea what they really sent operatives to do. And when the PU team had fixed their bodies, and the psych squad had evaluated their minds, they alone were left to deal with the years they’d just experienced. Sometimes just one, other times, ten. Though the operatives had been individually handpicked by the founder of Pulsus, Jenkin, or JJ as she liked to be called, even a woman of her immense intelligence couldn’t possibly fathom the accumulative effects of a life lived five times over. All in a good cause, Delaney. That’s what Landry always told her, but the longest she had to live in the past was months, not years. And yes, she had to do awful things too, but hers were usually directly for the change they were there to affect. If Landry had to kill someone, it was invariably someone who deserved it. Delaney had been chosen because her military record reflected her unswerving ability to follow orders, despite their questionable morality. The problem was, the more decades she lived in the past, the more she found herself questioning that ability in the future.

Chapter Three

December 20, 2075—Pulsus Island


Landry didn’t have to check caller ID to know who was calling at eight a.m. on the first of her vacation days. Her mom was more reliable than any alarm.

“Landry?”

“Mom.”

“Are you going to the mainland again?”

She asked the same question after every mission, obviously hoping for a different answer. Landry never said the words she knew her mom wanted to hear.

“I am.” Landry was still getting used to having her around after being alone for eighteen years. But then, she remembered she hadn’t actually been alone all that time after all. “We’ll spend some time together while I’m training.”

The chance to save her mom in 2058 was her first mission. It was the carrot Pulsus dangled to get her to say good-bye to the military, which had been her home for over a decade. Landry had felt completely helpless when she lived through 2058 the first time. Helpless and fueled by an anger that inexplicably lived with her still. Being given the opportunity to go back and take revenge on the men who’d killed her mother sounded almost too good to be true. Except, when she did jump back, there was no revenge to be taken because her mom was still alive. Military training kicked in beyond the emotional rationale that beseeched her not to kill in cold blood, and she coolly dispatched the would-be murderers, and left her mom safe and sound on the beginnings of this island with her university companion and Pulsus founder, Jay Jenkin.

Still, when she jumped back to 2072, it was quite the mindfuck to find both her mom and JJ waiting for her in the PU room looking two decades older.

Nor had she been prepared for the flashbacks and the instant development of memories from a life she felt like she hadn’t really experienced. The successful mission meant Landry didn’t become a full orphan at seventeen. Her mom had still encouraged her to join the military, so she still ended up with the very special skill set Pulsus needed, but the edge had been taken off her anger at the world. Her brain held tight to the old orphan memories that shouldn’t rightly exist, and they viciously competed with the new ones. It was strange, like she’d experienced two lives in parallel. Once the brain developed a memory, it simply didn’t let it go.

“That’s not real time. You know you’re always too busy then. Can’t you delay your trip and spend one day with me?”

As she gave in for the very first time, Landry shook her head. “Why don’t you come over for breakfast? I’ll catch a later train, but I have to get in by this afternoon to see the game.” She’d considered pro basketball instead of the military after her mom had not died, but talked herself out of it. Now she just loved to be courtside, imagining a different life along a path unchosen.

“I’d like that. And I want to make sure your lungs are fully healed. You were in a bad state yesterday.”

She was still getting to know her mom through experience, rather than recollected memory, but her worried voice was easy to spot. “Questioning your own workmanship? I spent the necessary hours in the curatio tank just like you told me. Your machines are flawless, Mom, you know that.”

“You’re my daughter. I can’t help wanting to make sure you’re okay.”

Her words made Landry smile. The military had been her family for a long time, but she was beginning to believe there was nothing like the real thing. “So, stop chatting on the phone, and get yourself over here then.”

*

Her mom had come straight in, medical kit bag in hand, her homage to the traveling doctors of old, and proceeded to give Landry a full medical in her lounge. When Landry got back from a mission, she found it mortifying to receive a physical examination from her mother, and Landry was sure her team members found it highly amusing. It was like being twelve again and examined for head lice in front of the whole class. She would’ve much preferred to be checked over by one of the hot female patchers. Hell, even a male one was preferable to her mom. But given that her mother was the inventor of regenerative technology, no one was about to argue with her insistence on being present for every one of Landry’s return jumps. At least no one was watching this humiliation.

“See? I told you I was okay. Your fancy machines haven’t failed me yet.” Landry pulled her tank top back on, expecting it to smart just a little, but there was no pain. She thought she might not survive at all while the guy was mashing her into the ground. After Delaney had intervened—Landry wasn’t comfortable with the term rescued—she’d presumed there would be pain for a while when they made it home. Going on her vacation in top shape was a pleasant bonus.

Her mom tenderly traced the branches of Landry’s tattoo. “I love that this is the first thing you do when you get home.”

Landry smiled. “It’s been my reminder of you for a long time. I guess I don’t need it anymore for that reason, but I still love it. ‘As above, so below,’ but sometimes I struggle to understand myself—the universe has no chance. And I need stability when I get back. This tattoo gives me that.” Landry checked herself. She was being maudlin, and she didn’t like it. Almost being killed before she was even born had obviously affected her more than she wanted to admit. A change of subject is in order. “Anyway, you fixed me up and I’m good to go.”

“What happened, baby? You’ve never come back like that before.”

“There are always risks, Mom. I’d just been lucky until yesterday…sixty years ago.” Landry laughed, trying to make light of the situation and disguise the truth. In the debrief, she’d been too disgusted with herself to admit it, but getting attacked was her own fault. She’d allowed a moment of weakness to stop her from finishing the perp when she had the chance. His expression had begged silently to spare him, and his wife had loudly pleaded for her clemency and compassion. His death wasn’t part of the mission and would have been incidental, collateral damage. There was no real need for it, so she made the decision to let him live. Before Pulsus unmade her orphan status, that decision would’ve been different. It’s a mistake I won’t be making again.

“Luck’s had nothing to do with it. Your training and your preparation keep you safe.” She clearly wasn’t convinced.

It riled Landry that her mom could know her so well when she felt she’d only really known her for three years. Regardless of the science, her memories still didn’t feel like she’d lived them. “Sometimes the prep isn’t enough. You can’t predict human behavior.”

“That’s where you’re wrong, baby girl. Only one time in a million do human beings do something random or unexpected.”

“I disagree. We’re capable of infinite arbitrary and spontaneous actions.”

“You sound like your father. He was a romantic too.”

Landry thought she picked up a hint of derision in her mother’s words. She scoffed. “I’m no romantic.” She thought of the many dalliances she’d had to cultivate during her missions. An extractor had no time for love, and that suited her just fine. “But I would’ve liked to have had the chance to discover my dad’s romantic side.” There was anger in her voice and she regretted letting it free. Pulsus wouldn’t authorize a mission to save her father from death on active duty. Quite apart from the ethical and financial considerations, her mother had remarried and given birth to her half brother, Michael, who by some absurdity had rescued an influential politician from certain death. It had saved Pulsus a job, so they had no interest in changing that element of the past.

As if knowing what was going through her mind, her mom took Landry’s face in her hands. “We can’t change the past for the sake of our own future. That’s never what this was all about.”

Landry closed her eyes and let her head rest against her mom’s firm caress. “I know. But I miss him.” She kept her eyes shut tight, lest the threatening tears saw their opportunity to escape.

“I know you do, baby girl.”

Chapter Four

December 20, 2075—Pulsus Island


Delaney woke to the sounds of playlist one on repeat, and the throbbing in her head reminded her that she alone had emptied the bottle of bourbon that rested in her hand. She placed it on the table, got up, and headed to the kitchen to see what hangover cure the fridge might be harboring.

“Music. Playlist six. Sixty decibels.” The soft sounds of Sade began to sooth her troubled mind. It wasn’t just her dehydrated brain that hurt. All this effort to fix the past when the present could benefit from a little attention too. She pulled a bottle of protein and spinach elixir from the fridge door, took a dirty glass from the sink, and filled it with green gunk.

After the excitement of the first missions and the novelty had worn off some, she began to comprehend the horror of her new job. Delaney’s vacation time now started with a drink. It was a few shots at first, to calm and resituate her mind in the present. But the things she’d done in the past began to revisit her often, and it failed to quiet their voices or dampen the vivid images. A few shots quickly turned into the full bottle. A bottle on the first night turned into a bottle every night…unless Landry was coming over, and then she’d just settle her nerves with the one shot. Sex with Landry was better than any alcohol, and her pussy was the one body part she didn’t want to numb.

Delaney picked up her phone and her thumb hovered over the speed dial to Landry. She looked at the time and figured she’d already be heading for the mainland. Just hearing her voice provided some comfort though, so she pressed it anyway and waited for Landry’s perfunctory message.

“Hey, Delaney, what’s up?”

Landry’s voice startled her. She shouldn’t be home. “You shouldn’t be home.” She snapped her fingers to mute the music.

“Yeah, well, I somehow managed to invite Mom over for breakfast. She wanted to check on me after the state I got back in yesterday. It would’ve been a lot worse if you hadn’t stepped in.”

Delaney knew that saying “thank you” didn’t come easy to Landry, but she teased her anyway. “Stepped in—that’s an understated way of saying ‘saved my ass,’ don’t you think?”

“What do you want, a medal for doing your job, hotshot?”

“You’re the extractor. You’re supposed to be the hotshot, not me.”

“I’m no island, Delaney. You know I appreciate your backup, and I wouldn’t want anyone else by my side.”

Landry’s voice had softened. No one else would’ve spotted it but her. Delaney smiled ruefully and was glad Landry was only on voice and not full facial hookup. She didn’t just want to be by her side on missions. But they were soldiers, and soldiers didn’t admit that kind of thing to each other. “Are you heading to the mainland soon, or do you have time for coffee?”

The lengthy silence from Landry told Delaney more than any words she could’ve spoken. “I’m already late. There’s a game I’ve got to see. The Warriors are playing the Clippers in their first game since Coach Durant got fired. I want to see how the team reacts.”

“What’s so fascinating about watching ten women run from one end of a court to the other and back again for forty-eight minutes?” Delaney knew her ridiculous question would defuse the awkward quiet that had settled on their conversation.

“You can’t be serious? Quite apart from the fact that they tend to be pretty fucking sexy women AND they get all sweated up and glistening within minutes, there’s the fine matter of the beauty of the game.”

“Fuck that. There’s hardly any skill to it. Bounce, bounce, score. Give the ball to the other team. Bounce, bounce, score. Let’s talk about football if you want to talk about a beautiful game.”

“I’ll grant you, football has its merits, but a basketball game is more intimate, more intense. There’s nowhere to hide on that court—as opposed to football, where you substitute an entire team to play a different part of the game.”

Delaney smiled, knowing that Landry would be emphasizing her point with her hands, even though nobody could see her. Chop my hands off and I’d be mute. She’d heard Landry say it a hundred times. Chopping your hands off would be a travesty to lesbians everywhere, was Delaney’s stock response.

“So speaks someone who could never make the football team.” Delaney’s teasing deflected her own longing for an entirely different conversation.

“I never tried out for the football team. I decided early on I wanted my brain intact, and I’ve always been too fond of speech to play a game where I’m all but guaranteed a concussion every few weeks.”

“Not if you’re so fast that they can’t catch you.”

“Are you calling me slow? That guy came out of nowhere. I’d left him way behind, begging for his life. How could I know he’d come after me?”

Delaney could tell from Landry’s tone she hadn’t yet reconciled the reason behind her run-in with the meaty guy on their last mission. Delaney hadn’t even brought it up, and she wasn’t going to. Things like that didn’t make it into the debrief. It was an unspoken soldier’s oath. “You didn’t. Forget about it. You didn’t say anything, did you? ’Cause I didn’t, Landry. That shit stayed there as far as I’m concerned.”

There was a different reason for this new silence, and Delaney wanted to fill it with words of affection and tender comfort. But she held back. Landry wouldn’t entertain that on a regular day, let alone one where Delaney felt she was actually getting a glimpse of her vulnerability.

“What if Elena hadn’t invented regenerative tech, Dee? I’d be dead.”

Vicious images of Landry’s broken body assaulted her. She swallowed hard, trying to head off the bile she felt rising to the back of her throat. Landry dead. It was a thought she couldn’t…wouldn’t entertain. “What’s the point in torturing yourself? She did invent it, and the world has you to thank for that. You jumped back and saved your mom, and now she gets to save us. You had an error in judgment, that’s all. It happens, apparently even to the best of us. I’m pretty fucking sure you won’t make the same mistake again.” Delaney was beginning to wonder if Landry was having the same doubts she was about their work. Did she want out? She’d been close to death when they jumped. Had nearly dying made her reconsider how she was living?

“You’re right. I was being stupid. It’s time for a hard-earned break.”

Delaney detected her change in attitude. The woman shut down faster than an Olympic sprinter could outrun a zombie. Stopping a zombie apocalypse, I wonder when we get that mission. “So I guess we’ll see you in two weeks.”

“Count on it. Have a great vacation, hotshot.”

The line went dead before Delaney could respond, and she tossed the phone across the kitchen counter.

“What exactly does a great vacation even look like, Landry? A never-ending line of baller fans desperate for you to fuck them?” She drained the glass of its now warm liquid and threw the glass at the wall. It bounced off and landed at her feet, frustratingly still in one piece. Some clever fuck had invented non-breakable glass. Not all technological advances were welcome. Sometimes there was nothing that satisfied anger more than the sight and sound of smashing glass.

She had to get a grip and stop chasing Landry. She wasn’t running, and it wasn’t her fault she was emotionally unavailable. God, she hated therapist jargon, but she knew that kind of disconnect made their job easier. And that’s how Delaney had been too, for the most part thanks to her family history. So why couldn’t she have just stayed that way? Pulsus needed detached and unaffected operatives. They didn’t need unpredictable and overly sensitive assholes. Why can’t I move on?

Chapter Five

December 20, 2075—Mainland, San Francisco


Other than the service staff, the high-speed water train had been empty as usual. Pulsus had spent billions installing their under-ocean connection to the mainland, but it ended up serving mostly as its secondary usage, a freight train. As the program developed, Pulsus employees became increasingly nervous about interaction outside the island, and trips to the mainland for anything other than supplies decreased considerably. Landry was now the only one who consistently vacationed here.

She disembarked at the cargo platform where the other Pulsus staff began to load supplies from their dedicated container. They were working toward full self-sufficiency on the island, and they’d created electronic and communication devices and systems better than Apple or Google could even dream up, but there were some things they simply couldn’t beat, like Twizzlers and M&M’s. Those things had to be sourced externally.

“So we’ll see you in two weeks, cowboy?”

Landry gave a wry laugh and nodded to the guy throwing cartons of Twinkies into the boxcar. “You got it, hoss.”

“And you’ll have some tales for me on the return journey?”

“Garrett, you are way too fascinated with my sex life. What’d your boy think if he knew?”

He grinned and winked. “My boy does know, and he asks me for the gory details. Everyone knows you fuck like a man and leave ’em wanting more. When I retell your stories, all we have to do is put a few extra body parts in the picture and it’s a good night for everybody. You’d make a handsome man.”

“I don’t know what century you’re living in,” said Landry, shaking her head. “Where I come from, there have always been women that fuck like me. We’re not all hearts and flowers, hoss. You may be from the South, but you should know better. And what do you mean everyone?” Landry impatiently pulled her bag onto her shoulder, slightly irritated. This was why she left the island on her down time. Everyone knew everyone else’s business. It was like some never-ending TV drama that they all took part in so they’d have something to discuss by the water cooler, but it was news to her that everyone was enthralled with her sex life.

“Don’t get testy, Donovan. You’re a hero to a lot of people. Them being interested in you comes with the territory.”

He had a point. Extractors were the island’s version of movie stars. In a community mostly of soldiers and scientists, even they needed a champion. “I’ll do my best not to let anyone down, then.”

“That’s more like it. You’re one of the very few who still visit the mainland for anything other than supplies, cowboy. Everyone else leads a boring fucking life, seeing the same people day in, day out. Variety is the spice and all that.”

She smiled. “Clichés and stereotypes. You’re on form today, hoss. See you in two weeks.”

Landry turned away and headed along the platform to the surface.

*

Her first view of San Francisco after a mission always comforted her. It was home in a way nowhere else had been since the death of her father. And though the landscape had changed irrevocably since the ’60 earthquake had leveled the whole city, it still managed to remind her of a simpler time. This was the place her father had taken her to see the decommissioned naval ship, USS Independence. It was where she’d fallen in love with the idea of following her father’s footsteps by serving her country. She’d chosen the army, before joining the Navy Seals, accepted as one of only a few annual interservice transfers. Working with Pulsus was rewarding, there was no doubt about that. Knowing you were an integral part of changing the world for the better, saving people who would go on to save millions, was good for the soul. And the remuneration was generous, necessarily so to make up for the fact that any hope of a “normal” life was extinguished the moment you signed up.

She’d wanted to live in the Fisherman’s Wharf area, the once thriving pseudo-center of San Francisco, but it had fallen into the bay with the quake. With the introduction of the Handbook of the San Francisco Building Laws, the rest of the city and the newly carved coastline had been repopulated with three-story buildings. The Neoteric Wharf was mostly restaurants, boutique shops, and coffee houses. It was the new place to be, and it was the place Landry had chosen as her home away from the island, away from Pulsus. Somewhere busy enough with tourists for her coming and going not to be noticed. Somewhere busy enough with tourists to keep her amused on lonely evenings.

The family was sitting at the table by the window, as she knew they would be at this time of day, sitting down to eat together after the usual lunchtime rush. As soon as they recognized her, they were out of their chairs and into the street, pulling her into a group hug. It hadn’t been her plan to get this close to the people she was living above, but events on one of her early Pulsus vacations ended with the family’s informal adoption of her. They gave her no choice.

“We’ve missed you, Lan Lan. You were gone long time.”

Landry smiled at Priscilla, the small girl who’d wrapped her arms tightly around her right thigh, seemingly in no hurry to let go. The last mission had taken her back to 2015. The time travel technology was advanced, but they hadn’t yet figured out how to stop it entirely. Jumping forward sixty years resulted in re-entering 2075 sixty days from the initial jump for the mission. Add that to the mission training time, and she’d been away from home for four months.

“Aw, my little sweet P, I’ve only been gone four months.” Landry accompanied her words with a ruffle of her short blond hair. Priscilla scrunched her eyes up and smiled a beautifully innocent smile.

“That’s a long time when you’re three.”

Priscilla’s mom, Lizbeth, raised her eyebrows. “You’re late today.”

“Just a little delay, but back in time for the big game.” Landry avoided the implied question. Lizbeth often tried to not so subtly mine for information, and Landry had grown skilled at gently eluding her.

“One day you’re going to have to tell her what you do on these long business trips of yours.” Lizbeth’s wife, Caitlin, punched Landry lightly in the shoulder. “Take it from someone who knows—the woman never gives up.”

“And you’re damn glad I don’t.” Lizbeth released Landry, slipped her arm around Caitlin’s waist, and kissed her softly.

“Are you letting her out to play?” Landry asked Lizbeth. She always had fun teasing them. When Landry met them three years ago, she’d quickly figured out who made most of the decisions. Caitlin was easygoing, and for the most part, would go along with anything Lizbeth wanted. It was a state of being in which Landry could never see herself, the thought of being tied down with a family of her own held no appeal. Her post-Pulsus plans didn’t include restrictions or other people’s wishes. Suiting herself had worked so far, and she saw no reason to change that approach as she grew older.

“Are you asking nicely?” Lizbeth looked at Landry the way she imagined she looked at Caitlin to capture her heart eleven years ago. If she didn’t have strict rules about messing with a friend’s wife, Landry would’ve happily spent a few days intimately discovering every dark contour of her shapely body.

“I always ask nicely.” Landry’s voice dropped to a husky whisper.

Caitlin cleared her throat loudly. “They’ve got a new point guard as well as a new coach—did you see the Sports Illustrated spread on her?”

Conscious of Priscilla’s presence, Landry resisted responding with a sexually loaded retort. That, and Lizbeth had tilted her head in silent warning. “I’ve been away on business, not to the moon. And I have two courtside seats for precisely that reason. Block twenty-seven, right behind the team bench.”

Caitlin’s eyes widened, barely containing her excitement. “Beth? Can you and the boys handle tonight? We can call Josiah in. I know he’s after extra shifts—”

“If you want to watch sweaty people running around all night, you should just work tonight. It’s the Friday before Christmas. How quiet do you think we’ll be?”

Landry was pretty sure Lizbeth was teasing and would acquiesce to her lover’s pathetic plea when she’d groveled hard enough. “If you promise to do it in a tank and shorts, I might even forego the game.”

Caitlin shoved Landry away. She stumbled back, holding her chest as if Caitlin had done damage. She scooped Priscilla up in her arms and lofted her high above her head. The little girl giggled.

It obviously gave Caitlin an idea. “Landry and I will decorate Priscilla’s room ready for Christmas.”

“Lan Lan make my room all pretty?”

She stretched her arms and pushed Priscilla higher, making her squeal in delight. “Sure.” As she let her down, Priscilla latched onto her neck and squeezed as tightly as her small arms would allow.

“She suits you.”

Landry shook her head at Lizbeth’s attempted teasing and her glaring delay of a decision on the game. “I’ll leave populating the world to more responsible adults like you two, thank you very much.” Finding a long-term partner wasn’t on Landry’s to-do list. Having a baby wasn’t even in the same stratosphere as her to-do list.

“Seriously, Beth. Can I go?”

“Of course you can, baby. I let Josiah know he was needed tonight the moment I saw Landry coming around the corner.”

Landry laughed. “The games you girls play.”

“Our games have got nothing on you, Landry.”

Lizbeth gave Landry that look again. Time for a cold shower.

Chapter Six

December 20, 2075—Mainland, San Francisco


Sitting in traffic on game night was part of the fun, but Landry’s mind was on other things. She’d let Caitlin drive, partly because Caitlin had begged to get behind the wheel of Landry’s Mustang, but mostly so she could concentrate on what was niggling at her. When she answered her phone this morning, Delaney had said “You shouldn’t be home.” It seemed a strange thing to say, but she’d dismissed it at the time, and taken it as her calling on the slim chance Landry might be available for coffee. But she knows better. She knows I leave the island by nine a.m. after every mission. Maybe Delaney had thought Landry would sleep in because of her massive patch-up. Maybe she was just checking up on her, given that she’d almost died pre-jump. There were too many maybes for it to be comfortable. It seemed like Delaney was drinking more and engaging less. Other colleagues told Landry they barely saw her while she was on vacation, and Landry knew it was because she was holed up in her apartment working her way through a crate of Widow Jane. Alcohol wasn’t illegal, but most people had simply outgrown it. They’d found other, less damaging ways of dealing with their lives, like transposition booths where people exchanged their realities with movie stars, surgeons, or sex workers, where one person’s life was another’s escape.

They’d started having some rough release sex before the end of Landry’s first year with Pulsus. It was like buddies working out, easing some of the boredom of the pre-mission training but with the added bonus of an orgasm. There was no emotion to it, for either of them, and that’s why Landry never slept there. Their sex served a purpose, and it was easy. The last time they’d fucked though, Delaney experimented with some tenderness, and Landry made it clear she didn’t appreciate it. That’s not what they were supposed to be about, and maybe that’s why Delaney wanted coffee, to clear the air and get back on track. At least that’s what Landry was hoping.

Then there was the mistake with the big guy. That felt dangerously like weakness. Too much compassion—her mom being around had taken the edge from her anger. But do I have to be angry to do my job properly?

“Hey, are you okay?”

Caitlin’s voice pulled her from her thoughts. “Sure, why?”

“Seems like you’re not really here yet—still working in your head?”

Caitlin never pushed about Landry’s work. After she’d intervened with the trouble Caitlin was having one night, it was like Caitlin had decided that whatever it was Landry did do, it was probably best that they didn’t know. Could be that she liked the mystery of the woman living above their restaurant, so they could speculate about all the possibilities. CIA agent. Bank robber. Assassin. She knew that Caitlin was glad she’d been around that night and that her particular set of skills had probably saved her life.

“I guess I must be.” Landry pushed back in her plush leather seat, stretched out her arms to the dashboard, and cracked her knuckles. Let it go. I’m on vacation. “Get me in the here and now. Tell me how the business is going. What magnificent recipes has your beautiful wife created since I’ve been gone?”

“She’s working on a special dessert for Christmas. I’ve not been allowed to taste it yet, and she says she’s on her fifth iteration. I’m kinda glad I don’t have to try them all, or I’d end up the size of a house.” Caitlin kept her eyes fixed on the road as she spoke. “We’ve been busy too. We’ve had to hire more than the usual temp Christmas staff. Seems like the neighborhood is getting more chic by the day. I keep expecting our landlord to raise the rent any minute. He should be asking for far more than we pay—the art gallery in the building next door pays four times what we pay for half the space. We haven’t had a rent increase in two years.”

Landry lowered the window to breathe in some brisk winter air. Caitlin had no idea she was the owner of their building. “What’re you complaining about? Higher profits? You need all the money you can get your hands on so Priscilla can go to college. And it wouldn’t hurt for you to go on a family vacation a little more often than you do. You have to enjoy your family while they’re around.”

Caitlin’s puzzled look told Landry she’d said too much. She wasn’t used to her dropping personal information so readily, and Landry heard the regret in her own voice. Caitlin would’ve been stupid to miss it. She was far from stupid. Landry’s dad was heavily in her thoughts today.

“Jesus, Lan, you’re making me want to turn the car around and go home to them right now.”

Landry laughed. “Sorry, Cait, just reminding you life can be all too short.”

“Don’t I know that? Fuck, if you hadn’t been around that night…” Caitlin’s voice trailed off into silence.

“But I was.” Landry noticed the tears forming in the corner of Caitlin’s right eye and nudged her in the ribs. A change of tone was needed. “It all ended well. I hooked up with that hot SFPD officer—she was filthy.”

Landry raised her eyebrows suggestively, and Caitlin grinned.

“You never did tell me what happened with her.”

“You never asked. Besides, you’ve got enough excitement in your life with Lizbeth. You don’t need to hear about my sex life.”

“I don’t need to, I just want to. I’ve always wanted to have sex with a cop. Did she use her handcuffs? Did she stay in her uniform? How was she filthy?”

Landry closed her eyes to recall the night they’d spent together. Her memories were movies in her head that she could recollect at will. With all that she had to do in her job, her sense of self and her vacation memories were vitally important.

“She was out of her uniform before we got past the hall. There’s something incredibly arousing about a woman who’s as comfortable naked as she was. Made me weak.” Landry smiled as she pictured Officer Sanchez: five feet four inches, perfect hourglass figure with a nice full ass. “She took her time undressing me.” Landry stopped abruptly. “Is this weird? This is weird. I feel like I’m telling you a dirty bedtime story to help you sleep.”

“Damn right this’ll help me sleep.” Caitlin swung the car into a space, switched off the Mustang’s throbbing engine, and turned to face Landry. “Go on, I’m living vicariously.”

Landry released her seat belt and got out of the car. Caitlin was quickly beside her and handed Landry the key card.

“I don’t trust myself not to lose it.”

Landry slipped the small metal card into the breast pocket of her leather jacket. “Sure.”

“So, you were saying…”

“She asked me to leave my boots and jeans on while I fucked her. She was wild, wanted it harder than I thought her delicate frame would take. And she was a screamer.” Landry paused as they entered the arena and joined the line to go through security.

“You can’t leave it there!”

Landry pointed to the young family in front of them. Mom, dad, and a boy who looked about eight.

“Kid’s gotta learn. Who better than from you?”

“Really? So I’ll be the one teaching Priscilla how to treat the ladies, will I?” Landry knew she was no role model. She was always up-front and honest about her lack of availability beyond the one night, but it wasn’t the life she imagined they wanted for Priscilla.

“You might be the one she comes to if she’s having trouble getting hold of one.”

Landry laughed. It was nice that Caitlin saw her being involved with their little family in the decades to come. She was as settled as she’d ever been and had no plans to leave Pulsus or San Francisco. Coupled with her job security and exceptional health benefits, barring any more close calls like yesterday, it was an easy promise. Not that she’d ever say it out loud, of course. On the one occasion she made her father promise to return safely and always be there, he’d stepped on an IED and never returned. Just in case it might happen again, Landry didn’t make promises to stick around. She knew it was fallacious logic, but other than this cute trio she’d been adopted by, she didn’t really need to apply it.

After security, they picked up game snacks and drinks before taking up their spots courtside just in time for the pre-game dap. The Warriors came onto the floor in a flurry, with their new player, Jade Carter, nestled inside the group for the big reveal. Landry enjoyed this almost as much as the game itself. It was something the players did before the cameras went on so you could only see it live at the game, and it was all about the chemistry in the team. They parted for a flawless execution of kick-ass Brazilian martial arts, which ended with Carter running toward one of her teammates, being propelled into the air, and performing a double backward somersault. The home crowd rose to their feet and erupted into ecstatic applause.

“That’s what I call an introduction!” Landry was on her feet with the rest of the appreciative fans.

The team hit their warm-up drills hard, and Carter was quick to show her skills, swishing three-pointers and sinking shots in the paint with ease. The Warriors had got themselves one hell of a point guard. There was also the added bonus of her being extremely hot. Her dark, shoulder-length hair was pulled back in a tight ponytail, allowing Landry to fully appreciate her olive skin, slender jawline, and model-like cheekbones. She was five feet eight, and with her sleek, lightly muscled physique, Landry estimated she was around 140 pounds. Carter was built for speed and agility, and she danced around the other players like their feet were cemented to the court. The way she finessed the ball, either to other players or to shoot, had Landry imagining those hands on her body.

“I don’t remember if that article mentioned which team Carter played for, do you?”

“I’m pretty sure she came from the Knicks. I hear she wasn’t impressed with the new megabucks owner wanting to make the coach’s decisions,” Caitlin replied, looking so serious that Landry shook her head and laughed.

“Not which basketball team, goofball! As in, who she likes to share a bed with?”

“See what happens when you’re not around for two months? No one else I know talks like that. All I get is polite conversation about food and babies. It’s not my fault it takes me a moment to readjust to adult conversation.”


Continue reading this ebook at Smashwords.
Purchase this book or download sample versions for your ebook reader.
(Pages 1-26 show above.)