include_once("common_lab_header.php");
Excerpt for Chosen by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

Chosen

By Brey Willow

Smashwords Edition

Copyright 2018 Brey Willow

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.

Chosen

Climate change moved faster than anyone anticipated and the Earth, along with many of its inhabitants, is dying. When a military convoy arrives to pick up Devin Rossi and Karissa Decker, along with dozens of other bewildered people, the two have no idea they are part of a group selected by the government to be transported to a space station preparing for the colonization of another planet. They are members of the Chosen.

 

On their way to the military base, their convoy is attacked and Devin and Karissa learn the real reason behind their selection. Their attraction grows as they struggle to survive and wrestle with the decision to continue on to the base as part of the Chosen, which means leaving millions of others behind to die.

What Reviewers Say About Brey Willow’s Work

Fury’s Bridge

 

“[Fury’s Bridge] is a paranormal read that’s not like any other. The premise is unique with some intriguing ideas. The main character is witty, strong and interesting.”—Melina Bickard, Librarian (Waterloo Library, London)

 

 

Fury’s Choice

 

“As with the first in the series, this book is part romance, part paranormal adventure, with a lot of humor and thought-provoking words on religion, belief, and self-determination thrown in.

 

Tis is a wonderful character, at a significant crossroads in her existence. Kera has no doubts about herself…the connection she forms with Tis is sizzling and very believable. And when they team up for some of the more action-orientated scenes, it is real page-turning stuff.”—Rainbow Reading Room

 

 

Fury’s Death

 

“This series has been getting steadily better as it’s progressed.”—The Good, the Bad, and the Unread

 

 

The Afterlife, Inc. Trilogy

 

“The whole is an intriguing concept, light and playfully done but well researched and constructed, with enough ancient and mythological detail to make it work without ever becoming a theology lesson. …Brey Willows has created an amusing cast from Fates and Furies to the gods of old. The gods are extremely well done, literally personifying the characteristics we associate with them, drawn with wit and humour, they are exactly who we would expect them to be.”—Lesbian Reading Room

Chosen

© 2018 By Brey Willows. All Rights Reserved.

 

ISBN 13:978-1-63555-111-2

 

This Electronic Book is published by

Bold Strokes Books, Inc.

P.O. Box 249

Valley Falls, NY 12185

 

First Edition: September 2018

 

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 Tammy Seidick

By the Author

Afterlife, Inc Trilogy:

Fury’s Bridge

 

Fury’s Choice

 

Fury’s Death

 

 

Chosen

Acknowledgments

My thank yous must always begin with Rad and Sandy, without whom I wouldn’t have a book to put acknowledgments in. Sandy, thanks for trusting in my voice and not scoffing too loudly when I say a book came to me in a dream. Thanks to my editor, Cindy, for making the book better and for telling me to just keep doing what I’m doing, a high compliment indeed.

And to my wife, thanks for cheering me on, being my creative counterpart, and for every suggestion. You keep the stories flowing.

Dedication

To Robyn, my partner in words and my inspiration.

Prologue

April 20, 2050 CE

CDN News, Final Report

 

Today, the President of the United Federation of Nations confirmed that we are in a global climate crisis. Though anyone inhabiting the planet could have said as much twenty years ago, the UFN has only now put forth a new set of legislative items for each country to follow in an attempt to mitigate our effect on the environment. These are the primary directives that affect daily life:

Travel by car is restricted to military, government, and emergency vehicles. All others must use public transport or make their own way. All solar powered vehicles are to be turned in for emergency services use. Air travel is likewise restricted. Should you need to go to another country, you will have to book onto one of the few commercial flights allowed each year. Due to the increase of communicable diseases, if you do go to another country, you must stay in the quarantine sector for two weeks beforehand. Electricity not provided by solar panels or wind turbines will be available for only a few hours each day. If you haven’t already moved to green energy, now is the time. Otherwise, invest in candles.

Top scientists have officially confirmed that global warming has increased by four degrees Celsius instead of the projected two degrees. As you can see behind me, Las Vegas, like all deserts the world over, is a ghost town. Temperatures here now stay above one hundred degrees year-round. In the Arabian deserts, that temperature stays nearer to one hundred and forty degrees. The extreme heat makes places like Las Vegas, once a thriving den of excess, uninhabitable in every way.

Similarly, all coastlines below sea level that have not already succumbed to the ocean’s rise will be subjected to storm floods and yet higher waters as the ice caps continue to melt. Those in low-lying coastal areas are encouraged to head to higher ground, taking only what you absolutely need. Should you need assistance, go to your nearest relocation center, and they’ll give you guidance.

NASA and NORAD have long been discussing the possibility of colonizing another planet. Sadly, for those of us living here today, this has yet to be seen in practice. We must learn to endure the vagaries of all the weather patterns, from the extreme droughts to the heavy monsoons, to the constant Category 6 hurricanes to the frequent earthquakes and fires.

This will be CDN’s final broadcast. For further news, please turn to your radio or go to your nearest information center.

With our final farewell, we send out this message of hope: We will adapt. We will not die. Take care of one another. God help us all.

Chapter One

March 21, 2100 CE

 

Devin Rossi looked out over the sepia mud bowl that had once been Lake Ontario. Her grandparents had bought this house back when the lake was so big you couldn’t see all the way across it. The little dock her parents had played on, dived off, and anchored their motorboat to when they were teenagers, was now a few planks of rotted wood on shaky, weather-worn legs. If she hadn’t seen photos of it in the early twenty-first century, she never would have believed how stunning and lush the area was. Now, dense rain fell in sheets too fast for the hard ground to soak in, and the lake water slowly rose once more, though it would vanish with the late spring heat.

She thought about the photos of the area covered in snow. What she wouldn’t give to have experienced that. And to have seen the old cities known for their music and party atmospheres, like New Orleans and Miami. But like so many other areas, they were just a good place for divers now. Devin had enjoyed her scuba lessons over old New Orleans, an eerie underwater city with signs still intact on buildings that only housed ghosts and fish. There was no more music.

She turned away from her view and scanned the interior of the house. She’d covered the furniture in sheeting, stripped the walls, and put most everything in the attic. She was only taking a massive duffel bag with her for the journey into the Northern Territories. Anything non-essential would be left behind. Maybe one day she’d come back for it, but there was no water left in the area, and drought was forcing everyone to the north, where the Gateway Cities had been established. At least up there they still got fairly normal rain. Granted, sometimes it was monsoonal rain, accompanied by floods, but they’d adapted and worked around it. In the Gateways, you could still find some semblance of regular food, and life overall was almost normal except for the heavy security presence, but people living outside the Gateways were reduced to whatever they could manage to grow themselves, which they often traded at little pop-up markets. MREs were widely available in stores, and they weren’t too awful.

Devin allowed herself another moment of nostalgia. She’d had so many good times in this house, surrounded by family and friends. Her grandmother’s birthday had been around Easter, and the last one they’d celebrated ten years ago had been full of laughter, music, and whiskey.

Not today. She listened to the deserted stillness around her. Easter Sunday 2100 was all about change. It was time to seek a new life somewhere else, and the part of her not sad about leaving her family home was excited to see what the future held. She hefted her duffel bag onto her shoulders and grabbed the white envelope off the table. The outline of the drab gray metal disc inside showed clearly through the thin paper. She folded it and shoved it in her back pocket.

A year ago, a military vehicle had pulled up outside, and terribly clichéd men in ill-fitting, sweat-soaked suits had come to the door with the envelope bearing her name. They’d placed her thumb over the disc and it had lit up, scanned her thumbprint, and pricked her finger for a blood sample. They’d told her to guard it with her life, and they’d be back on the date marked on the expensive stationary imprinted with the government seal.

Today’s the day. So where are they? She shook her head at the thought of planning to come get a random person a year later. Still, they’d been the super-serious types, so she took her super-serious mystery disc with her. She’d decided she’d only give them until five, and that time had come and gone. She hated waiting around, and there was no guarantee they’d come back at all.

She closed her eyes and thought of her long gone family. I’ll miss you guys. Watch over me, huh? She smiled and turned to the door. Time to go.

She’d barely made it to the street before the two-truck military convoy turned the corner and stopped in front of her. When a man in uniform jumped down and saluted her, she saluted back and grinned. “How’s that for timing? I was just headed to the store.”

He smiled back at her. “Yeah, our timing is impeccable that way. Lieutenant Rossi?”

She raised her eyebrow. “Haven’t been called that in a while. This an official visit?”

He looked back at the trucks and then at her. “Afraid so. Do you have your PID on you? I need to check it before we go.”

“My PID? What the hell is that?” She reached into her back pocket and pulled out the creased envelope with its distinctive circle. “This thing?”

“Yes, ma’am, your Personal Identification Disc. Do you mind?”

She handed it to him and he slid the innocuous little disc from its home. When he motioned for her hand, she held it out and he pressed it to her thumb. When it intoned confirmation of her name, date of birth, and blood type once the damn thing had pricked her thumb again, he nodded and handed it back to her.

“Thank you. If you’ll jump in back, we’ll head out.”

“Name, Sergeant?”

“Sorry, ma’am. Walker, Air Force, First Northern, Division Seven.”

Devin nodded. She’d recognized the First Northern insignia on his arm patch. She’d worn the same one for a long time. “Well, Walker, before I jump in with you, want to tell me what that little disc is and where we’re going?”

He swallowed and shrugged slightly. “I’m sorry, ma’am. We’re solely on pickup duty, and we’ve been instructed not to tell anyone where we’re headed, as it’s classified information. I only know the discs are necessary identifiers, and anyone who has one comes with us.”

The information made the hairs on Devin’s neck stand up. “And what if someone has their disc but doesn’t want to come?”

“Orders are that those with discs come with us. Force will be used if absolutely necessary but as a last resort.” He winced. “I assume you won’t be one of the ones who fight, Lieutenant? You’re a legend in the Force, and it’s an honor to escort you. I’d hate to ruin that.”

She laughed and clapped him on the back. She’d been in the military for a long time, and although this was somewhere beyond weird city, life was often like that if you were open to opportunity. “Hell no, Sergeant. I’ve always been one for taking my chances when they come up, and this sounds more interesting than the Montreal Gateway anyway. Let’s do it.” His relief was clear, and she wondered just how many people had put up a fight. She hadn’t missed the stunbar in his belt.

“Damn glad to hear it. I could use some higher ranking support. Jump into my rig. Still plenty of room.”

Devin nodded to the sergeant holding up the rear door of the truck and got a sharp nod in return. Two other pairs of travelers were already seated inside. One couple looked calm, if curious, but the other couple looked frightened. Two charred holes in the man’s shirt told her the stunbar had been used to get them into the truck, and she felt for them. Nothing like being kidnapped by the military to scare the shit out of you. She slid onto the bench opposite the frightened couple, and the sergeant lowered the back door with a thud and click, so the only light came from the few small windows at the top of each paneled wall.

The man with the charred holes in his shirt leaned forward. “Do you know where they’re taking us? Or why?” His eyes were wide and his hand stayed protectively on the leg of the woman next to him.

“Did they check your little disc thingies, too?” Devin asked, leaning back against the cool metal wall. Thankfully, the truck had aircon, a luxury afforded hardly any vehicle or home in the last fifty years.

“They did.” He leaned back to put his arm around the woman beside him, who began to cry. “But our thirteen-year-old daughter didn’t have one, and we refused to leave without her.” He motioned to his shirt with his free hand. “But they put me down and dragged me into the truck, and my wife came with me.”

Devin frowned. Maybe she should have put up a fight after all, if they were taking parents from their kids. “And your daughter?”

He shrugged and shook his head. “We’re hoping she’ll make her way to my mother’s place, about ten miles away. Probably go to her friend’s house first, but most everyone around us had already joined the migration north. We were headed that way ourselves, next month.”

“They made us leave our baby.” His wife sobbed against him. “Where are they taking us?”

Devin looked at the other couple, who were sitting close together but not actually touching. “You came quietly?”

The woman, wearing clean slacks, a polo shirt, and her hair in a tight bun, tilted her head when she answered, looking almost puzzled. “It didn’t seem wise to fight, and we were in the flood zone beyond the Hudson. We were getting ready to leave anyway. We’d rather have done it on our own terms, but we’re hoping they’re taking us somewhere better.”

Devin noticed that although the woman spoke matter-of-factly, the man’s eyes were tight and his lips pressed into a white line. He’s not so blasé about it. She looked at the canvas drape at the back and moved to look behind it, holding on to the ceiling straps to keep her balance on the bumpy road. The tower of supplies told her it wasn’t going to be a quick ride. She stepped up onto the bench to look out the window and watched until she couldn’t see the dry lake beds any longer.

Home was behind her. The question was, what was in front of her?

Chapter Two

“Goddamn water. Gets in goddamn everything.” Karissa Decker piled a few more sandbags around the three-foot-high stack at the back door. They’d hold for a little while. But if the storm kept up, and she knew it would, sandbags would be nothing more than a few pebbles in an angry river.

“Baby, you’ve done all you can. C’mon in here and have a drink.”

Karissa smiled and went to join her mom at the worn kitchen table she’d spent so many years at. “There’s already four inches out there.”

“Yeah, well, thanks to you pretty much all the furniture is upstairs. We’ll get some new watermarks down here, that’s all. Don’t worry so much.”

Karissa’s mom patted her hand, and she couldn’t help but notice how paper thin her skin had become. Her hair, once thick and glossy brown, was now lank and dull. But it was her eyes that scared Karissa most. The small red dots in the whites of her eyes were an indication of prion nocoma, more commonly called the melting fever, or just fever, thanks to the way the brain, once infected, began to melt inside the skull. And that was after it infected all the other organs in the body. All that destruction, caused by a malignant mosquito brought over on a ship carrying rotten tomatoes. Ludicrous.

She took her mom’s hand in her own. “We should get you to a hospital,” she said quietly, unable to look directly at her.

“Darlin’, you and I both know there’s no point. Once someone’s got the fever, that’s all there is to it. Your dad has promised he’ll dose me up on morphine before the pain gets too bad. What we need to talk about is what you’re going to do next.”

Karissa sighed and pulled her hand away. She hated having this conversation, which had certainly become more frequent of late. “I’ll figure it out when the time comes.”

Her mom pushed the white envelope across the table. “Your bags packed?”

Karissa pushed the envelope back at her. “I’ve got my emergency bag, like always. But I’m not going with some clandestine government group just because they said they’d be back to get me. It’s not like they can force me to go.” She got up and moved around the kitchen, drying dishes and putting them away, more for something to take her mind off things than because it needed doing. They could all be under water tomorrow anyway.

Life was so fucking complicated. She’d given up her job at the CDC a year ago in order to move in with her parents. Columbus had been hard hit by the storms over the last few years, and when the crops failed and the water supply became contaminated, most people had left for non-contaminated pastures. But her parents had moved into the house forty years ago, and they weren’t about to leave. It wasn’t a mansion, but it was theirs. And that’s why Mom is going to die of the fever. Because they refused to go even when we heard the mosquitoes had made it this far inland. Karissa knew it was useless to be angry with her mom, but she couldn’t help it. If they’d only let her move them up north to one of the Gateway cities, maybe they would have been okay.

The sound of a truck engine could be heard over the lashing storm outside and Karissa’s heart raced. No way. No damn way. Her mom gripped the table and stood unsteadily, just as Karissa’s dad came pounding down the stairs with Karissa’s emergency bag in hand.

“You can put that back. I’m not going.”

Her parents followed her to the front door, which she yanked open to the obvious surprise of the young military man standing there with his hand raised.

“Dr. Decker?”

Karissa crossed her arms, trying to look less frightened than she was. “Yes. But I’m not coming with you.”

“I’m sorry, ma’am. But orders are to pick up everyone with a PID. I assume you still have yours?”

Karissa thought quickly. “Nope. Threw it out the day I got it. Guess I can’t go after all.”

He looked disappointed as well as unsure what to do next. He looked out at the two trucks parked in a growing river of water on the street and shook his head at someone she couldn’t see.

Just as she felt a victory lap coming on, her mom ducked around her and handed the soldier the white envelope with the disc in it before Karissa could stop her.

“Here you go, young man. She really did throw it out, but I thought she might need it one day.” She smiled at him sweetly and shoved away Karissa’s hand on her arm.

“Mom, why would you do that?” Karissa glanced at her mom, stunned, before she turned to the soldier. “And it doesn’t matter if you have it. You can’t force me to go with you.”

He sighed and looked genuinely apologetic, even as he reached for the stunbar at his waist. “I’m sorry, Dr. Decker, I really am, but I’m afraid we will force you to come with us, if that’s necessary. It would be much better if you came willingly.”

Karissa’s dad tapped her on the shoulder and gently turned her to face him. “Honey, I heard you say just a minute ago you’d figure out what to do next when the time came. That time is now, and this is what’s next.”

She stared at him, confused, before turning to her mom. “I don’t understand. Mom—”

“No, baby. Listen.” Her mom took Karissa’s face in her hands, which were covered in thin white gloves to keep her sores from infecting anyone else. “I’m on my way out. And when I’m gone, your dad is going to go up to your auntie’s place, and they’re going to head north with the rest of the family.” She smiled even as tears ran down her face. “Sometimes you don’t have a choice when your fate comes knocking. You just have to follow that yellow brick road to the end. Something inside tells me that your destiny is part of this mystery.”

“Ma’am, I’m sorry, but I really have to insist we head out. The storm is getting worse, and we have several more stops to make before we get to where we’re going.”

Karissa threw him a dirty look over her shoulder. “You know what? You can wait. I don’t care about your damn schedule or the other people you’re kidnapping. In fact, if you’re in a hurry, feel free to go without me. I won’t keep you.” She turned back to her parents. “I’m not going—”

She felt a big hand on her shoulder, pulling her backward. She wrenched away from the soldier, but he grabbed her arm again, this time pulling her off the porch step and into the rain. It soaked her through instantly, making it hard to see, but easier to slide from his grip. Her pulse raced and blood rushed to her head, making everything seem like it was happening in slow motion. She kicked the soldier in the shin and elbowed the other who’d come to his rescue in the chin. When the stunbar came up, the blue lights zapping between the small, pointed prongs, she felt her knees weaken, but she still pushed them away. When the bar was close enough it made the raindrops glow like evil neon darts as they hit her shirt, she heard a woman’s voice.

“Wait. Stand down for a sec, guys. Let me try.”

The woman, also soaked to the skin, her short dark hair plastered down and dripping, stepped in front of the soldiers, close enough that Karissa could hear her over the rain, but the others likely couldn’t.

“Look, I know this is scary. Downright terrifying, really. But these guys are going to take you, no matter what. Instead of making this even harder on your family, give them a proper good-bye, and go with them. Don’t leave them with the final memory of you being dragged away unconscious.”

Karissa swallowed hard and looked back at her parents. Her mom stood next to her dad, pale, trembling, her hands clutched in front of her chest. She looked so fragile, so scared. Her emergency bag hung from her dad’s hand, his other arm around her mom. She turned back to the woman in front of her. “How can I leave them? I don’t even know where we’re going, or when I’ll be back.”

“Leave with your head high. With dignity. We’ll get answers, eventually. But damn, don’t leave them wondering if you woke up.”

The woman’s expression was empathetic, and Karissa knew she was right. Her pulse slowed, but the feeling of dread grew. She nodded and turned to her parents, noticing when the woman held up her hand to stop the soldiers from grabbing her once more. Is she one of them? She gathered her parents in a tight hug. “I love you both so much. I’ll call and let you know where I am as soon as they let me.”

Her parents hugged her back, their love fierce and strong as it had always been. “We love you too, baby. They’ve come for you because you’re special, just like we always said you are. So go do special things.” Her mom pulled back and smiled sadly. “And never forget how proud we are of you.”

Karissa sobbed as she hugged them closer, the storm waters rising rapidly around their legs. When she felt the woman’s hand gently tap her shoulder, she took her bag from her dad and backed away.

“I love you,” she whispered, and though it was whipped away in the wind, she knew they heard her.

She turned and followed the woman to the back of one of the military trucks and climbed in after her. She stopped and waved at her parents one last time, memorizing everything about the moment—the driving rain, the water nearly to their knees, the way the gray light of the storm coated the whole scene in a sense of imminent nostalgia…and then the soldier pulled down the truck door and the sounds of the storm were muted, her parents gone. She barely noticed when he pressed her thumb to the disc to verify her identity; the needle prick was nothing compared to the way her heart was breaking.

She slid onto the seat beside the woman who had come out into the rain with her and absently accepted the towel she pressed into her hand. The truck engine rumbled to life, jerked forward, and Karissa began to softly cry as she left her world behind.

Chapter Three

“Fuck. Shut the storm doors and open all the venting systems. Keep an eye on the CO and O2 levels.” Van Stein jogged from one long corridor to the next, shouting orders. Before long, she couldn’t smell smoke anymore.

“It’s the second big fire this year. We’ll need to make sure we give the vents a good clear out when this one passes.” Liz Como, Van’s second in command, joined her in her jog through the halls.

Van stopped and threw one of the steel doors shut. It was an internal fire door, but it would help keep the heat out too. “Fortunately, there’s not a lot left to burn thanks to the last fire. It should burn itself out on what’s left of the spring flora pretty quickly. If you’ve got a few people to spare, have them check for spot fires around the property.”

“Will do.” Liz tugged on Van’s shirtsleeve. “Can I talk to you in the office for a minute?”

Liz rarely asked to speak to Van privately, which meant it was serious. There weren’t a lot of secrets, something Van felt was important. When things became opaque, people got nervous. And nervous people led to stupid actions. But there were a couple areas Van had decided to keep quiet. “Yeah.” She didn’t ask anything more. If it was something important, it was best done in the part of the building that acted as their combined office. When they went in and Liz closed the door behind them, Van opened the solar powered cold box. “Drink?”

“Yeah, thanks.” Liz sat on the edge of Van’s desk and pressed the bottle to her forehead.

“Another headache?” Van had watched Liz suffer for years with severe tension headaches, made far worse by stress.

Liz nodded. “We’ve had news from our source at the Ohio Gateway. There’s a convoy headed our way with a new batch. And the Subtrop could really use supplies before tornado season starts.”

That explained the need for a private conversation. The people who dealt with the supply raids were a select few. It was an ethical issue Van wasn’t open to having a democratic conversation about. These days, moral high ground wasn’t a place many folks could inhabit, and she sure as hell wasn’t going to let people starve over a few idealistic convictions. While the Gateway cities in the north were able to produce crops and even still had real dairy products, they were heavily guarded and surrounded by walls. Van opened her own drink and sat behind her desk. “The spring storms are bad.”

“I know.” She shrugged and sipped her beer. “But that might make it easier to surprise them. And we don’t know how many others are coming through. We might not have a lot more chances.”

The last time they’d made a supply raid they’d managed to free a truckload of people who’d been forcibly taken from their homes, and most had been grateful. A few had been pissed off, since they had nowhere to go and no way to get to where they were being taken. So they’d come back to the Mesa Verde settlement with Van’s group, and the few who wanted to continue on had been given supplies and sent on their way. But supply raids were dangerous, something she never took for granted. “How long?”

“Two days, probably. A new weather system just moved in, and they’re probably going to have to wait it out somewhere. A group followed them and said they were headed down Cincinnati way. The subgroup there is on the lookout and will let us know.”

Van considered her own team. “Okay. Get a few of the old-timers and see if they’re willing. With the storm floods I don’t want to take any new blood out there and have to keep our own people from drowning.” She pointed at Liz. “Ask, don’t tell. I want people going of their own accord, got it?” She loved Liz like a bratty little sister, but she knew she could be too demanding.

“Psh. Whatever. You’d make a shit dictator.” Liz finished off her drink and tossed it in the recycler. “Set off time?”

“Four a.m. tomorrow. We’ll take shifts driving and we’ll keep in comms with the regional teams to get updates on locations.”

“Will do. I’ll let them know and then I’m going to lie down.” Liz opened the door but turned back. “Oh, and speaking of lying down, Kelly is looking for you.” She laughed and ducked the file Van threw at her as she stepped out and closed the door behind her.

Van stared at the massive road map of the USA on the wall. Egghead convoys, as they were often called, were hard to catch. They zigzagged along old roads, picking up people in various cities and towns all over the place. There was no telling where they were headed, so her teams had to be ready and in constant communication when one was spotted. Too often they missed them altogether thanks to not knowing what side roads they’d taken. Hopefully, they’d be able to grab this one, get the supplies they needed, and get out without any major problems.

Like it’s ever that easy. She traced possible routes with her fingertip, trying to anticipate the various options. “Come in,” she said when someone knocked on the door, but she stayed focused on the map, memorizing the different roads and possible terrain.

“It’s like you’re hiding from me.” Kelly’s wiry thin arms encircled her waist from behind.

Van groaned inwardly. This is what I get for not keeping my hands to myself. She’d slept with her once after a night of hard drinking on the upper decks. Hell, she barely remembered much more than the theatrical thrashing and screaming that had eventually made her head hurt more than the impending hangover. Ever since, she’d been dodging Kelly’s advances. Liz probably told her I was here. It made her think about playing a bongo outside Liz’s door for an hour or two. She gently disengaged Kelly’s arms and tried to step back, but bumped into her chair and tripped. She managed to get her chair between them and leaned on it casually. “Hey, you. What’s up?”

Kelly’s bottom lip came out in a way Van had thought was cute while in a drunken haze, and now just found incredibly infantile.

“I’ve stopped by your room and tried to catch you at meals, but you’re always gone. Didn’t you have a good time?” She unbuttoned the top button of her blouse, and then moved to do the next one.

Van wondered if she could make it to the door before Kelly leapt on her like an underfed coyote. She held up her hand to stop her from undressing. “I did, I really did. Thank you. It was nice.” Nice. She’ll love that. The frown darkening Kelly’s pouty face said she was right. “The thing is, I’m insanely busy. I really don’t have time for more than some fun here and there. I’m sorry, I just can’t give you anything more.” And now for the screaming…

Kelly glared at her but re-buttoned her shirt. “What, the rest of us aren’t busy? You weren’t too busy to fuck. You can’t just use people like that, no matter how important you are around here. And it’s not like the place is crawling with lesbians. You’re going to want me back.”

Nope. Not true. She wasn’t about to say that women’s sexual identity didn’t seem to hold much stock around there. Plenty of supposedly straight women had enjoyed her bed over the years. And she probably shouldn’t explain that a lack of something didn’t mean you took what was on offer…

Fortunately, Kelly slammed out of her office before she could say something stupid and dig a bottomless hole. Van had told her the truth, after all. She really didn’t have time for anything serious. The world above them was literally going up in flames, and when it wasn’t burning right outside their door, they had plenty of other catastrophes to deal with in the meantime.

She turned back to the map. Where are we going to find you, little eggheads?

Chapter Four

Daylight filtered through the windows at the top of the truck walls. Devin watched the shadows flit over the other occupants in the truck, highlighting the tight lines around their eyes, the pinched lips, the pale skin. They’d made two more stops after hers, but only the fighter had gotten into her truck. The others had joined the second van. The sergeant had told her they still had several more stops to make, and she wondered just how crowded it would get by the time they reached their destination. Wherever that is. No matter how she’d cajoled, hinted at, and even outright asked, the guys weren’t giving up their destination. Beyond that, she believed they didn’t know why they were picking up their human cargo. Orders were orders, and that’s all they knew.

She looked down at the fighter, who had curled into the fetal position and fallen asleep a few hours into the drive. She hadn’t said a word the whole time, and Devin wondered how pissed off she’d be once she was up and about. Now, with her head pillowed on her arm and wisps of chestnut brown hair over her cheek, she looked fairly peaceful, except for the light frown line between her eyebrows.

“It’s rude to stare,” she murmured, her eyes still closed.

“Sorry.” Devin grinned. “I’ve been watching that bit of drool to see if it would actually slide off and hit the floor.”

“Gross. I don’t drool.” She wiped her hand across her mouth and grimaced.

She stretched and Devin couldn’t help but notice the way her T-shirt pulled tight over her full breasts. She was on the short side, but built exactly the way Devin liked her women—curvy and solid. Heroin chic was never a style Devin could get into. It always seemed like those women would break with even minimal passion thrown their way. But women built like this one were made for long weekends in bed.

She grinned again when the woman cleared her throat and gave her a disbelieving look.

“Are you seriously ogling me when I’ve just been kidnapped?”

Devin shrugged. “I see it as an adventure, and when destiny throws a beautiful woman on your path during said adventure, I’m all for it. It’s like a fantastically fucked up fairytale.” Devin held out her hand. “Devin Rossi.”

She shook it and pulled on it so that Devin helped her off the floor and onto the bench seat. “Karissa Decker.”

The man who had been on the truck before Devin, the one with the stunbar holes in his shirt, leaned forward. “Dr. Karissa Decker?”

She nodded, looking surprised. “Have we met?”

“Not exactly. I was at a lecture you gave at KSU last year, on dynamic environmental epidemiology. It was fantastic.” He motioned at himself. “Edward Canto. This is my wife, Sheila.”

Devin watched the exchange with interest. They hadn’t done any talking on the way to Ohio. She knew that because of her discussions with the soldiers the others didn’t trust her, and she didn’t blame them. Outgoing by nature, she was a little bummed at the lack of company, but figured it would settle out eventually. Listening to them now, she started to put the pieces together.

“You’re the atmospheric physicists who figured out how to contain some of the carbon dioxide leakage from the ice caps.” The woman who had initially looked like something out of a J. Crew catalogue now looked like a rumpled, tired housewife who’d found an interesting documentary to watch. “It’s because of you two that people had time to evacuate from the coastal regions.”

Edward smiled at his wife and nodded at the woman. “We got lucky. Hit on the right formula. You know how it works. Are you scientists too?”

“I’m a plasma physicist. Natasha Kalkova. This is John Berman. He’s an engineer.”

“Not just an engineer.” Devin smiled at him. He still looked on edge and had hardly eaten or had anything to drink since they’d been on the road. “John is one of the most sought after satellite engineers in the world. He figured out how to use gravitational pull and the topography of the planet to create better signals in space. Groundbreaking stuff.”

He finally cracked a smile and the tension around his eyes eased a little. “Thanks. Like Edward said, I got lucky.” He shifted so he could sit upright and looked at Devin. “That leaves you.”

“Chemical geologist. I play with rocks and see what they can turn into. I’m just a big kid with a cool job.”

Karissa looked around the group and then back to Devin. “They’re kidnapping scientists? That seems pretty ominous.” Her eyes narrowed slightly. “Back at my place, they deferred to you. Are you military?”

Devin inclined her head slightly. Bummer. It was just starting to warm up. “Kind of. Retired air force lieutenant. But I’ve been in science for a long time.”

Everyone was quiet and Devin sighed internally. The military hadn’t been popular for decades. While it was acknowledged they kept people safe, particularly when mobs attacked villages and towns, it was also universally acknowledged the military had played a massive part in the destruction of the planet during WWIII. It had only lasted a year and a half, but the damage had been devastating. Had it gone on any longer, there wouldn’t have been a world left to defend.

“Thank you.”

Karissa had said it so softly Devin almost missed it. “For?”

“For calming me down. For getting involved when you didn’t have to. For making it so I didn’t get stunned and dragged onto the truck like a sack of potatoes.” She took in a shuddering breath and gave Edward a small smile. “For helping me to give my parents a proper good-bye.”

Devin wasn’t sure how to respond. She’d known she needed to help, so she had. “You’re welcome.”

The simple exchange was all that was needed to ease the atmosphere once more. The truck slowed, gears grinding and thudding, and soon stopped. They all waited expectantly, and when the door opened, hazy sunshine lifted the chill and shadows from the truck.

Devin breathed in the fresh air and stood. A day into the journey, the aircon had failed, which meant it was stuffy and warm in the back. She jumped down and gave Karissa and the others a hand as they all filed out. Edward was last, and she stopped him before he moved to join the others. “Hey. I know you’re probably thinking about nothing but your daughter. But don’t do anything stupid, okay?”

He looked at her searchingly. “How did you know?”

“Because if it were me, I’d be looking for a way out of this and back to her. But these guys are serious, and it’s going to be a bitch of a ride if they have to restrain you the rest of the way to wherever we’re going.”

His shoulders slumped and his eyes filled. “I just wish I knew she was okay.”

Devin squeezed his arm and turned him toward the group. “And at some point, we’ll find out. I’ll help in any way I can. But be cool, okay?”

He gave her a small nod before taking his wife and walking a little way away with her. The group from the other truck got out as well, and everyone stretched and chatted while the soldiers put food and drinks out on the picnic tables.

Devin watched as Karissa helped unpack the food and handed out plates to everyone else. It had been heartbreaking to watch her fight the soldiers to stay with her parents in a house that looked like it could tumble down under the next gust of wind, but even from a distance Devin could see the ravages of the fever taking her mother. Combined with the storm waters rising around the house, it was clear why Karissa’s parents were practically pushing her into the truck themselves. It made Devin glad she hadn’t had anyone to leave behind. Emotions weren’t practical or fun. They were hard work and unreliable.

She accepted her plate from Karissa with a wink, and when everyone was settled and eating, Karissa came over with her own plate of food and sat beside Devin under the oak tree. “This seat taken?”

“Well, old Joe over there said he’d give me a foot rub after lunch, so you can only stay until he’s ready to get to work.” Devin moved her heavy boots from side to side and nodded sagely.

“Far be it from me to keep old Joe from those big feet of yours.” Karissa ate slowly, looking around the group. “Any thoughts on where we’re headed?”

“Now that I know there’s a whole lot of smart people around? No idea. But I’m guessing it will be some kind of B movie facility filled with guys in uniforms and suits.”

Karissa sighed and set her bowl of rice down, only half-eaten. “That sounds about right.” She rolled a bottle of water over her forehead with her eyes closed. “I recognized your name, too, you know. You were too cool for school in there, but I know the truth.”

Devin swallowed the last of her soda and set it aside. “Oh yeah?” She doubted anyone knew the real truth about her, but then, no one needed to.

“You created new terrestrial environments that could withstand hurricane-force winds and avoid flooding. Thanks to you, a lot of serious research could continue in places that would otherwise be uninhabitable now.”

She held up her finger to stop Karissa. “Nope. I didn’t create them. I posited them as theories and let other people do the grunt work. Totally different.”

“The humble hero. A cliché, but I like it nonetheless.” She stood and took Devin’s plate from her. “I’m glad you’re around.”

She walked away, and Devin appreciated how her jeans hugged her ass just right, the T-shirt lifting just enough to show a bit of her back when she went to throw their stuff in the recycle unit. Hot and smart. Always a dangerous combination. The soldiers rang a bell and everyone gathered their stuff and headed back into the trucks. Although no one made a run for it, Devin had been around enough people in dire situations to know that eventually, someone would. She hoped like hell it wouldn’t end in body bags.

For now, she’d climb back into the truck and get to know her travel companions a bit more. Hell, maybe she’d even offer her lap as a pillow for Karissa tonight. She climbed in and grinned when Karissa looked at her and rolled her eyes. Busted. I must be wearing my lust on my sleeve. But then, why not? They’d been taken from their homes and were being bussed to who the hell knew where, for some mysterious reason. It wasn’t like it was the kind of place for a relationship to bloom, so she didn’t need to worry about that. But that didn’t mean other, more pleasurable options, wouldn’t be available. No reason not to have some fun while I can.

Chapter Five

Karissa yawned and pulled the sweaty shirt away from her back. Everyone was asleep, including Devin. She lay on the bench, her arm over her eyes, her other hand resting on her duffel bag. She was sexy in that rogue, devil-may-care kind of way. Back when Karissa had worked at the CDC in Georgia, Devin would have been just her type. For a night, anyway. She’d been focused on getting through college and then leapfrogging up the ladder of her career, and relationships hadn’t been an option. And then when one of the diseases encapsulated in the ice caps for thousands of years managed to not only thaw, but find a host, the world of infectious diseases had started to spin off its axis. She’d worked twelve-hour days, seven days a week. When she’d gotten the call from her parents saying they didn’t know what to do about the flooding, the drought, and the fever, she’d been almost grateful for the reason to walk away from the job she’d worked so hard for.

And now I’m on a train to nowhere. John, the quietest of the group, settled onto the floor beside her.

“Doing okay?” he said quietly.

“I think so. As okay as possible in this insane situation.” She looked at him, but his face was shadowed and he picked at a thread on his jeans. “How about you?”

He shrugged and was silent. Karissa had a feeling he needed time to sort an answer, but the fact that he had moved to sit with her suggested he had something to say, so she waited.

“I had a partner. Have, I mean.” He sighed heavily. “Tasha and I were working in the home office, playing with a new project idea. We’ve been friends for years, since we went to school together in Sweden. My partner, James, was baking in the kitchen.”

Karissa could feel what was coming and took his hand. “And when they came for you?”

“He’s a baker. You wouldn’t believe how amazing his lemon cake is, even though we hardly ever get real lemons anymore…”

He was silent for some time, and Karissa wondered if he’d just needed some company. And then he started talking again.

“He’d packed my bag, and Tasha kept hers in her car. That letter and disc we got, you know? We all took it seriously, but I didn’t think…I guess I didn’t believe it, not really. James had a bag packed too. We figured if they were going to take you, they’d have to take your family.” He looked at Karissa and tears streamed down his face, falling from his chin onto his crumpled shirt. “He tried to push past them. Tried to shove them aside and climb into the truck with me. They held me back in the truck when they used the stunbar on him.”

He broke into silent sobs and Karissa put her arms around him and held him close, her heart breaking for him.

“The last time I saw him, they’d thrown him into our yard. He was unconscious, lying in the grass like a discarded mannequin.”

Karissa let him cry, holding him tightly until he fell asleep against her. Thank God Devin stepped in, or my parents would have a memory like that. Who the hell do these people think they are?

She looked around and settled on Devin, who was looking right at her. She glanced at John and shook her head slightly, her frown clearly one of empathy, before she put her arm back over her eyes.

John’s silence and pain were echoed in most of the people around them, including herself. She could see, in that brief moment, that Devin saw it too, and wondered if she was leaving anyone or anything behind. Karissa closed her eyes and rested her head on John’s. For whatever reason, they were all in this together. Maybe, if they worked as a team, they would make it through. Maybe, one day, they could even get back to their families. As she fell asleep, that thread of hope seemed anorexically thin.

 

* * *

 

“The road is wiped out. We’re going to try some of the old back roads.”

Devin nodded and accepted the bottle of water from the young sergeant. Only major roads were maintained, and were almost exclusively for government or military vehicles, which meant they made good time when they were able to use them. But the smaller roads they’d taken in order to make stops for other pickups were often in a bad state of disrepair; fallen trees, sinkholes, and storm debris sometimes blocked the way so they had to go around. Devin had gotten good at balancing on a crate so she could watch their journey from the windows at the tops of the truck walls. Eerie emptiness was all she saw in several of the smaller towns they went through. Vehicles with trees growing out of them, buildings missing rooftops, walls covered over with foliage, and houses with hollow, empty-eyed windows were all that was left of storm and drought ravaged areas.

“Where’s the next stop?” Devin asked, letting the cold water soothe her parched throat. The back of the truck was stifling in the late afternoon heat, and everyone was sweaty and on edge. Small talk had dwindled with the need to conserve energy, and most everyone had dozed off. Sadly, Karissa hadn’t needed the lap pillow Devin offered. She still held out hope for later.

“Cincinnati. Then on to St. Louis, and from there to our final destination. Not too long now.”

Devin considered the mileage and the roads. What once would have taken about twenty hours if they drove straight through would probably take closer to thirty or thirty-five, if they were headed where she thought they might be. Still, he was right. They wouldn’t have to endure too much more time in the back of the truck. “How’s the other truck doing?”

He grimaced and drank down his own bottle of water. “They’re not as nice a group as you guys. Lots of arguing in the back, lots of angry questions. The guys are doing their best, but…”

Devin knew. “Let me know if you need any help.” She clapped him on the shoulder and went to join her group. It was always interesting the way people bonded in extreme situations. She’d seen a lot of it in the military, and it was one of the things that made it possible to depend on each other. Her group had come together, and although they were cordial to the other group, there wasn’t any desire to mingle. She sat next to Karissa and listened to the conversation.

“I heard he was thrown out of the academy for sleeping with a student,” Sheila said with a small smile.

“I heard he was a nightmare to work with and took credit for his student’s ideas.” Natasha pushed her sandwich at John, who shook his head.

“Who are we talking about?” Devin whispered theatrically.

“Ivan Igorovich.” Karissa nodded toward the other group. “He’s an infectious disease specialist with a god complex. I’ve had run-ins with him a few times over the years. He asked me to work on a project with him once and I turned him down. I don’t think he’s ever gotten over it.”

Ivan’s voice could be heard over the rest of his group. “If we refuse to leave without an answer, they have to tell us. I demand they tell us. They can’t stun us all.”

Devin watched him try to stir up his group, but most of them were clearly trying to ignore him.

“I bet he’d change his tune if it were him they stunned.” Edward held his wife’s hand and kept running his thumb over her knuckles. “I’d like to watch that.”

Sheila shushed him with a smile.

“I just talked to the sergeant. We’re headed for Cincinnati, then to St. Louis. That’s it before our final destination. He said it won’t be much longer.” Devin smiled at John as she took the abandoned sandwich in front of him and ate with gusto. Balancing on that crate to watch their journey took a lot of energy.

There was silence as everyone took that in. Only a few more days, and they’d know why they’d been the ones picked up.

“I wonder how many other convoys are making their way to wherever we’re headed,” John said. “How many people are they taking from their lives?”

Devin had heard of other people being picked up. Rumors on the wind mostly, but now she thought of the many scientists she’d worked with over the years. Maybe some of them would be at their final destination. It would be like a really fucked up reunion.

“One is too many.” Karissa stared thoughtfully at the other group. “At least we don’t have to wait much longer to find out. Maybe then we’ll get the choice about whether to stay or go.”

Devin didn’t think there’d be any choice. They wouldn’t go through all this trouble, planned years in advance, to just let people walk away once they had them in hand. But saying so out loud wouldn’t do anyone any good. They needed hope, and she wasn’t about to take it from them. She looked around the area where they’d stopped and then jumped up. “Be right back.”

She went to the sergeant, who was listening patiently to a petite woman from the other truck berate him about civil liberties. Devin tapped his shoulder and smiled sweetly at the woman. “Sorry to interrupt. Could I talk to you for a second?”

Devin nearly laughed out loud at his relieved expression.

“Yes. Absolutely.” He walked a little way away with her and sighed. “Thanks for that. Were you just saving me, or did you really need something?”

Devin motioned toward the building across the street. “You know what makes people happy? Junk food. What say you and I do some quick shopping?”

He laughed and turned to another soldier. “Hey. We’ll be right back. Watch table two for me?”

The other guy nodded, looking utterly uninterested, and he moved toward the table, but not close enough that he wasn’t in the shade.

Devin and Sergeant Walker jogged across the street to the convenience store. This town, like most others, had been abandoned, and by the looks of it, pretty recently. They went around back and found an open window. Walker boosted Devin through, and she went around and opened the door for him. The shelves still had plenty on them, and Devin whistled happily as she and Walker filled several baskets and bags with whatever snack foods they could find. Mass production food had been gone for a long time, but local places like this one still had crackers and sweets made by local farms. The drink fridges were turned off and warm, but they grabbed bottles of root beer and lemonade anyway. Before they turned to go, Devin sent a silent thanks to whoever had owned this place. The fact that it hadn’t been looted yet meant the town hadn’t been empty that long. Homelessness and desperation had created bands of roaming groups who cleared out entire areas like locusts on a crop before they moved on. Stories of violence and theft were common when it came to travelers trying to make their way to cities that were still thriving. The way I was about to.


Continue reading this ebook at Smashwords.
Purchase this book or download sample versions for your ebook reader.
(Pages 1-27 show above.)