Authors: Kaitlyn O'Connor
Tags: #Romance, #Fiction, #Erotica, #Fantasy, #Cultural Heritage
© copyright February 2006,
Cover art by Eliza Black, © copyright February 2006
New Concepts Publishing
Lake Park, GA 31636
This is a work of fiction. All characters, events, and places are of the author’s imagination and not to be confused with fact. Any resemblance to living persons or events is merely coincidence.
“Give us the names of the others.”
Lena Silverstone managed to pry her eyelids up a fraction of an inch. It didn’t help much. The room she found herself in was dim and completely unfamiliar. Shadows moved about it, but she wasn’t certain whether the shadows were people or just shadows.
Frowning in concentration as she tried to focus her blurring vision, she turned the demand over in her mind, trying to figure out what he was talking about, where she was, and why she was in this unfamiliar place.
Someone grabbed her by her hair, jerking her head back until the base of her skull cracked against something hard and metallic--the back of the seat she was strapped to, her mind supplied. She winced as the blow and the tugging at her scalp sent pain through her nerve endings.
“Names! Give us some names!” the command came again.
Her thoughts were disjointed but finally a fact emerged. She’d been drugged. It wasn’t just her vision that was out of focus. Her mind wandered drunkenly from one thing to another. Her tongue and lips felt swollen and numb. “Uders?” she finally managed to emit the sounds though they were slurred, as if she’d had one shot too many of hard liquor.
The words were terse, almost violent. Despite the drug, her heart gave a little leap of fear. “Doan know,” she muttered after several aborted attempts, too confused to figure out what they were talking about.
The man holding her hair slammed her head into the chair back again and released his grip abruptly. The pain that hadn’t even subsided exploded into harder, pulsating waves. When the man released her, Lena’s head fell forward. It felt too heavy for her neck to support it.
“What do you think?”
“I think we gave her too much,” responded another voice.
The new voice penetrated Lena’s half stupor. She rolled her head to one side and struggled to focus her vision and her attention, knowing instinctively that the conversation was of utmost importance to her.
“Or maybe not enough? She’s a stubborn bitch.”
“Don’t be stupid. If we kill her now we won’t get anything out of her. Look at her. She hardly knows where she is.”
“Maybe she really doesn’t know anything?” the first man said slowly.
“Get your mind off your dick.”
There was a mixture of amusement and anger in the single word question that captured Lena’s attention. Dimly, she realized there was an underlying threat in the direction the conversation had taken. She just wasn’t entirely sure of what that was.
“We’ve only just started questioning her. Until we get what we can from her, or
know for sure that she doesn’t have anything to give us, they won’t be handing her over to you.”
“I could break her,” the first man offered.
A shiver traveled through Lena then and she suddenly knew what he was talking about with crystal clarity, partly because she’d finally managed to get a good enough look at the man to see his expression. He had the look of a thug--close set eyes, a hardness about his features that said he knew all about cruelty and he enjoyed it. He was dark, hairy, and built like a gorilla. The other man was lean, more of an academic type.
She figured he must be there to make sure the interrogation didn’t go too far.
There was a light in the ceiling above the chair she was strapped to. It acted like a spotlight, throwing a ring of light around her and leaving the perimeter of the room in dimness, but she could see that the room was little more than a cubicle and the walls, floor and ceiling were made of materials to deaden sound.
That realization sent another shiver through her.
“Just take her back to her cell for now. Next time I’ll give her a smaller dose.”
The gorilla man was angry when he unstrapped her restraints. He slapped her hard enough it rattled her teeth. “Wake up, little bird. Time to go back to your cage.”
Lena struggled to get up before he slapped her again. He didn’t wait for her to manage it, however. Grabbing one arm, he dragged her out of the chair. Her legs felt like limp noodles. She couldn’t seem to lock her knees or manage even a wobbling step.
Ignoring her difficulties, he dragged her when she sprawled on the floor. The icy cold steel tiles sent a jolt through her, reviving her slightly. When he paused at the door, she struggled to get to her feet. The man shifted his grip, wrapping one hard arm around her chest, just beneath her breasts. She managed a half a dozen steps before he began dragging her again down an impossibly long, wavering corridor than seemed to undulate like rolling breakers.
Doors opened off the vein sporadically, but all of them were closed and Lena was in no condition in any case to figure out what the rooms might be for. They paused again at a set of double doors when they reached the end of the corridor. Seconds later, the doors slid silently open, revealing another cubicle very little smaller than the one they’d just left. Dragging her inside, the man released her, allowing her to slump to the floor, and punched a glowing button. The doors slid shut and the sensation of rapid movement that followed made Lena’s head swim even worse.
Settling with a sharp jolt, the doors opened again. This time the man hauled her to her feet and slung her over his shoulder. She thought for several moments she might be ill as her head swam sickeningly. She fought the nausea, partly because she wasn’t certain she could stop if she got started and partly because she figured he would react violently to having her puke down his back.
She gave up on trying to see anything, squeezing her eyes closed to help battle the dizziness. Around her, she heard whispers--the voices of both men and women--but she could only catch a word here and there and the whispers told her nothing more than the fact that there were other people nearby. She opened her eyes when the man halted at last and managed to get a quick glimpse of the area around her as she was set on her feet.
The next moment, she was shoved through a narrow door. The door slammed closed and she found herself in yet another tiny cubicle. This one contained two bunks stacked one on top of the other. The woman sprawled on the bottom bunk eyed her with hostility.
Her attitude was plainly territorial, and Lena looked up at the top bunk a little hopelessly.
It took some maneuvering but she finally managed to hoist herself up onto the bunk and collapsed. Her head was still swimming. She closed her eyes, gripping the hard mattress on either side of her. After a while, the nausea eased off. The disorientation from the drug didn’t abate appreciably. She found herself struggling to make sense of her disjointed thoughts, going back over and over to the questions that had been bellowed at her and the argument between the two men.
The men had been wearing uniforms of some sort, she finally realized.
She was in an institution of some kind. Mental hospital? Prison?
The drugs seemed to indicate a mental hospital, but everything else that she could recall seemed to contradict that. Why would they interrogate a mental patient?
For that matter, why would they interrogate a prisoner? Presumably, one did not end up in prison until one had been tried and convicted for a crime.
The word crime prompted a sickening flood of memories.
She’d been sentenced to life--for killing herself.
* * * *
Three months earlier
The tube shuttle jolted to a halt and doors all along its length slid open. Every passenger in the car Lena occupied tensed, as if fearful that someone would leap on, or that they might be grabbed and shoved out. Lena was the only passenger in the car who got to her feet and moved to the door, stepping through moments before the doors slid shut once more and the shuttle shot from the platform towards its next destination.
She ignored the stares of the other passengers who looked her over speculatively as she got off. She knew what sorts of things were running through their minds. Station 157 opened to the worst part of Grand City, an area devastated by the hundred years storms and inhabited by the poorest of the poor; derelicts, druggies, thieves, and murderers. Ground zero for the worst of the famine riots thirty years earlier, this part of Grand City looked like what it was, a war zone, and although she was always careful to dress in her most worn clothing when she went to visit Morris, she knew from the way the denizens of the area studied her that she still stuck out like a cotton bowl in a mound of pig shit.
The commuters were wondering what business she could possibly have that would take her into such an area.
It wasn’t business that had brought her though.
Focusing her attention on the cracked pavement as much because she wanted to avoid tripping over any of the debris that littered the ground as because she knew it was best not to see anything going on around her, Lena headed toward the stone stairs that led up from the tube system to ground level.
She’d tried for years to convince Morris to leave this area of the city, but he was a stubborn old coot. No amount of reasoning, begging, or threatening would move him so much as a hair.
He’d been born here, in the days, so he claimed, when it was a respectable part of the city. She found it hard to believe the area had ever been reputable, and yet she couldn’t deny that there were some signs to support Morris’ claim. The shuttle tube had
been built to run through here, and the area had its own terminal. There were also signs that the broken shells of buildings that still stood had once been handsome structures.
Care and craftsmanship had gone in to their construction and she supposed that wouldn’t have been the case if the area had always been mean.
A knot of young caucs were loitering across the street from the tube entrance when she emerged. In her own area of the city she wouldn’t even have noticed. Here, things were very different and it went well beyond the poverty and crime of the area.
It was a cauc enclave and rumor had it that the place was as rife with rebels as it was other lawbreakers.
She tried not to think about that. In a way, it was actually kind of sad to see them huddled in miserable knots of humanity, trying to find common ground for some sort of unity. They were a lot like the gangs that had formed in the way back, she supposed, desperate to find a place where they felt like they fit in--desperate enough they were willing to do pretty much anything to get that particular kind of high--rob, deal, kill.
Like the spokes of a wheel, this entire area of the city was sectioned off in territories. The caucs held the hub. The tino enclave lay several blocks to the east, the indy to the west and the negs to the south. They were bloods. Anybody that could claim, and prove, to be at least 45 percent pure racial lineage could belong to the elite. Between the spokes were the breeds, those who belonged to two or more of the groups through breeding, but actually belonged to none since no one else would accept them.
There were only three things they all had in common: poverty, misery, and rebellion.
Morris was a rebel--not in the sense that he was active in opposing the government and breaking the law, but in his views. She was fairly certain, though, that in the way back, when he had been young, strong, and virile, he had been a force to be reckoned with.
She didn’t know why she loved the ornery old coot! He was the most argumentative person she knew.
He was also a blood and a purist and very outspoken about it. She couldn’t count the number of times he’d lectured her about the beauty and sanctity of the purity of the races, how important it was to hold on to the things they had left that set them apart, those special traits that made them unique from one another.
He was going to give her hell when he noticed what she’d done with her hair.
Lena sighed, flicking a nervous glance around her to make certain no one was paying her too much attention as she turned from the tube entrance and began to walk briskly along the broken, uneven sidewalk toward Morris’ place.
a chicken! She hadn’t been to see Morris in months, not since she’d decided to go to the lab and have her hair done.
It wasn’t like the decision was pure impulse. She’d thought it over long and hard before she’d finally decided that it was ridiculous to cling to hair that was giving her pure hell
because it was a unique racial trait when she could have it genetically altered to something more manageable. It was all very well to stick to nature if nature had provided well for one, but she’d hated the way her hair broke so badly every time she tried to grow it long and she’d hated the way it crimped up every time she washed it.
Besides, anybody could tell just from looking at her that there’d been more than one cauc in her family woodpile! She’d been born with blue eyes, for god’s sake! She
hadn’t had those done at the lab. For that matter, her brother Nigel had blue eyes, which meant a thick cauc genetic link and made her doubt Morris knew what he was talking about when he insisted she and Nigel were bloods. No one but Morris seemed to think they were pure negs anyway!
It occurred to her as she reached the corner that she was thinking up arguments to try to pacify Morris and she knew that just wasn’t going to happen.
Maybe he wouldn’t notice, she thought hopefully? She hadn’t changed the color, just slightly altered the texture and strand strength.
She discovered that she’d been so deep in thought that she’d reached the building where Morris lived with no memory of even walking the two blocks from the station. A jolt of uneasiness went through her.
This was not the sort of place to walk around in a distracted fog!
When she glanced around, she discovered that the cauc youths she’d noticed when she’d left the terminal had followed her. A knot of fear formed in her throat.
They saw it--or smelled her fear like animals of prey smelled it in their victims.
One, a tall, painfully skinny boy with stringy blond hair, stepped from the sidewalk.
Giving up her pretense of unconcern, Lena shot through the door of the building and raced across the lobby to the rickety stairs. She could hear shouts behind her as she reached the stairs and headed up them at an incautious clip. By the time she reached the second landing, she heard the pounding of a half a dozen feet against the hard floor of the lobby, racing toward the stairs.
Thankfully, Morris was only three levels up. Reaching the door to the stairwell, she yanked it open and dashed down the hall, praying she wouldn’t discover that Morris was out.
Her heart was pounding in her ears and her breath rushing in and out of her chest painfully when she began to hammer frantically at Morris’ door. Just as the door to the stairwell opened, Morris’ door was yanked open, a hand fisted around her forearm and she was jerked inside. Gasping for breath, frightened witless, Lena had already thrown herself into the man’s arms before she realized the hard chest beneath her cheek didn’t belong to Morris.
Heady sensations washed over her. His scent was clean and as appealingly manly as the hardness of the chest she burrowed against and the strength of the arms that tightened around her. To her surprise, the arms tightened more when she realized her mistake and struggled to push herself away from him.
The face she looked up into was as purely cauc as Morris’ own, but far younger and a great deal more handsome.
His expression, however, was grim, his blue eyes stormy with both desire and something else she couldn’t quite interpret.
Dragging her gaze from his, she spotted Morris, who’d pushed himself from his easy chair and was standing tensely in the center of his living room.
“Lena! What in the world are you doing here, baby girl?”
Almost reluctantly, the arms around her loosened and the stranger stepped away.
“We’ll continue our discussion later,” the stranger said, his deep voice sending shivers of awareness through Lena. She glanced up at him again even as he turned away, pulled the door open and went out, closing the door firmly behind him.
A wave of disappointment went through her at his abrupt departure. The temptation arose to jerk the door open and peer out at him, to see if he was as gorgeous as she’d imagined, but she killed the impulse forming. For one thing, she could hear the pack of cauc youths thundering along the hall.
For another--well, if he’d been even nearly as interested in her as she was him, he wouldn’t have taken off like his coat tails were on fire.
“Who was that?” she asked instead of answering Morris’ question.
He frowned, but finally shook his head. Turning, he shuffled toward his favorite chair and settled in it heavily. “Just a neighbor. Bolt the door. I expect he’ll give those ruffians what for and send them on their way, but there’s no sense in borrowing trouble.”
Since she was already in the act of doing just that, Lena finished securing the multitude of locks on his door and followed him into the living room. When she’d leaned down to kiss his weathered cheek and hugged him, she sat on the lumpy couch across from him. “I haven’t seen you in months. I missed you, you old goat,” she said as she settled, her voice chiding. “That’s not much of a greeting.”
The look in his eyes was almost vague, but at her comment he seemed to shake off whatever thoughts were distracting him. “Thought I’d finally drilled some sense into you. You’re going to get hurt if you keep traipsing down here. This is no place for you.”
Lena frowned. “It’s no place for you, either. Why won’t you move in with me? I got a bigger apartment just so I’d have an extra room.”
He smiled at that, but grimly. “Because I’ve no business on the other side, and you know that, too. The gov would be down on both of us so fast it would make your head swim, baby girl.”
“I’m not a baby anymore,” Lena muttered. She’d been so confident when she’d gotten the two bedroom apartment that she could talk Morris into coming to live with her! She’d been certain she could appeal to his intense protectiveness toward her. In this instance, unfortunately, it was his concern for her safety that had convinced him she would be better off with his absence than his presence.
Morris peered at her, his old eyes suddenly keen. “What’ve you done to your hair?”
Lena grimaced. “Come on, Morris, don’t start that again.”
“Start what?” he growled. “You’ve been down to that damned clinic, haven’t you, baby girl? Didn’t I tell you to stay away from that place? God knows what kind of experiments the gov is carrying on there, but you can be damned sure it ain’t something you want to be a part of!”
Sighing inwardly, Lena sought patience. “Nigel is a tech there. You know that.
And they keep his nose to the grind stone. About the only time I get to see my big brother is when I go. And it isn’t a gov facility. You know that, too.”
He shook his head. “Lena, child, you’re a beautiful girl, a credit to your race.
Why the hell would you let them take some of that away from you?”
Lena could feel a guilty blush climbing into her cheeks, but irritation surfaced.
She released a huff of anger. “I’m a breed, Morris. I’m not a blood. I’m not any more pure than anybody else on the other side. Anyway, it was just cosmetic. I got tired of spending half my day trying to get my damned hair to do what I wanted it to.”
He snorted, but shook his head. “Everything is too easy these days. That isn’t a good thing. Hard as the old days were, struggle gave folks strength. The whole human
race is going to go down the tubes if they let the gov take all their strength and treat them like infants.”
She ought to have known the moment he noticed her hair he was going to go off on one of his gov conspiracy rants. “If you’d come to the other side of the city with me sometime you’d see everybody works hard. We’re not being pampered to death.”
Of course she supposed she didn’t have a lot of room to talk. She
a gov employee, a historian, and it wasn’t the sort of job that made one break a sweat. She wasn’t even a field tech. All she did all day was work on restoring the artifacts that were found, analyzing them, and recording her impressions.
Oddly enough, it was Morris--a cauc and died in the wool purist--who’d inspired her choice of profession, not the parents she could barely remember. He’d raised her and Nigel, though, and taught them pride in their heritage and she’d thought the best way to demonstrate that pride was to preserve the history of their race. It helped that she was actually fascinated by her people’s roots. Theirs was a long, long history of struggle. In the end, they’d pretty much been absorbed in the melting pot like all of the other races, but their unique genetic traits were as strong as the cauc’s at the other end of the spectrum. In spite of generations of cross breeding, many of their special traits remained preserved in the gene pool.