Authors: S. A. Hoag
Prequel to The Wildblood series
S. A. Hoag
Copyright © 2015 by S. A. Hoag
All rights reserved.
No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the author.
All characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Cover art by
Cover Your Dreams
Interior book design by
To KA, JG, EA, WB & LS -
You know why.
Sept 06, mid-afternoon, Montana
“So what's really out there?” Shannon asked, looking east, towards the derelict city. They'd be losing the light soon. Normally, a Scout stayed on the road two or three days, depending on the weather. They were the first line of defense, the eyes that watched for potential trouble near The Vista. This time of year, cities were particularly tenuous. They both wore forest camos and body armor for that reason.
“Honestly,” Ballentyne told her, still leaning on the car, finishing a thermos of twelve hour old coffee. “You probably have a better idea about that than I do.” He'd learned to pace himself. She would too, after about a dozen times of dragging home exhausted from chasing things that weren't there. He'd made it pretty clear he wouldn't get caught out overnight with a rookie and especially not Vista Security's first female rookie.
She snorted sarcastically. “Because of my Team? That's not likely. They want me to learn everything on my own. Security and otherwise.” The 'otherwise' being psychic abilities she shared with her Guardian Team, Wade and MacKenzie. They called it Gen En, genetically enhanced, a term they'd learned from pre-war media. If it was true or not, they didn't have a clue. It wasn't a widely known thing, either, but there was certainly something different at work in them. Wade had created his own security corps to cover their tracks, so to speak, and Mick was one of his trusted few.
“What do you think?” he wondered.
“I think there's more to the world than just us. I think our parents have forgotten that.” Barely seventeen, she had a lot of opinions. Being very smart as well, Shannon was aware not all of those opinions would pan out to be correct. “Someday,” she said, throwing her pack in the back seat and taking the opportunity to stretch. “Some of us should go find out. Unofficially, if we have to.” Tall for a girl, she was lithe and more than pretty; dark hair, fair-skinned with eyes that looked green and occasionally gray. Any day she was on-duty, she carried a pair of Sig Sauer 9mms, left hip and right shoulder.
“Are you going to bring that up to Security Command?” Ballentyne wondered, amused. He towered better than a half foot taller than her. Mahogany skin, black hair and green eyes, he'd been a Scout four years. By next spring he planned to be on a Guardian Team, internal Security for The Vista, rather than driving circles in the mountains. At thirty, he figured he was too old to be doing the hard footwork of a Scout.
“I'm not in Security Command,” she pointed out.
“Wade is, and since you're their Scout, you will be soon enough. So will Mac.”
“You mean because I'm Gen En.”
“That's why you're their Scout, Shan. If Command knows about the Gen En or not, you'd have to ask them.”
She had to agree on that point. They were a secretive bunch.
“I'd be surprised if Wade hasn't already drawn up plans for something unofficial like that,” Ballentyne figured. Wade was moving up fast in Security, hell, rumor had it the Council had offered him a future position. At this point in time, it was just a rumor. “You're driving through Butte,” he told her, back to the business at hand.
Shan groaned. “Really?”
“Absolutely. Concentrate on what you see. There are plenty of places for migrating Nomads to congregate and this time of year the Scavengers are moving. That's why we have specific routes for the cities. Stay sharp and we'll be fine. The only movement we've seen recently is south of here. In a couple weeks, we'll be settling in for the season and it'll be months before you have to go back.”
She'd driven the city with him several times over the summer and figured if she went there a thousand times she'd still never get used to it. Cities were dead, dangerous places and had been since before she was born. World War Last had nearly emptied planet Earth of human inhabitants. Those that were left were often contentious. “We'll be in The Vista by dinner,” she repeated what he said nearly every morning he picked her up from dispatch.
“I-90 in to Butte, I-90 out of Butte and we'll stay at Station One tonight unless plans change in the next two or three hours.”
“You're a brave man,” she said, resigning herself to the trek.
“That's what I keep hearing since I volunteered to teach you to drive.”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
“It's cold enough now,” Mac called out, stomping his feet like he'd been walking in snow. Team Three came in from the underground garage, making their way to the main floor. The lodge had been a ski resort, before the war. Now it was Station One, Vista Security's home away from home and a favorite escape for younger officers seeking independence and a bit of privacy.
“If you ordered this weather, I'm kicking your ass,” Denny Lambert yelled from the radio room. The temperature was already below freezing, but there was no snow.
Everyone in earshot had a good chuckle. Unless they went three or four-on-one, there would be no kicking of Capt. MacKenzie's ass. Despite the lanky, laid-back cowboy appearance, Mac could be deadly. With nearly four years of Security experience, he was quick on his feet and quick into a fight. He'd be twenty-one at the end of the year, a couple months older than Capt. Wade.
Wade was the quiet one of the team. He merely smirked.
“Not me,” Mac said, shedding gear. “What's the plan for this evening?” Ten to twenty Security personal occupied the station at any given time, plus up to a dozen civilians in support positions. No alert would mean time to relax for a few hours. Sex, drugs and rock n' roll. Or at least beer and loud music.
“You can finish my shift,” Lambert offered.
Mac made an obscene gesture at the Scout stuck in Dispatch.
“Shan logged in a couple hours ago,” Wade told him. The two men had basically the opposite relationship with their Scout. Wade was like an older brother to her. Mac was not.
“Outstanding,” Mac answered.
“You got second shift tomorrow,” Lambert reminded them. “Dispatch has us on Alert Six.” All clear, no callouts.
“Outstanding,” Wade repeated. “Which commander is in tonight?”
“Niles is, he traded off so Duncan can do some attitude adjustments at Station Two this week.” Lambert shrugged, glad he was away from that drama. City Council was trying to nose in on Security matters. Station Two apparently had a couple ringers.
“That's what I figured,” Wade shook his head. He couldn't get away from this particular mess. His step-father was a founding member of The Vista and was on the council.
“Not your concern, forget about it,” Mac told him.
“Until there's a foot of snow sitting on the ground, everything is my concern.” Wade would be getting a promotion shortly. The next step would be commander, likely by the time he was twenty-two. He wanted to find a way to balance Security and council; he was beginning to wonder if it was even possible.
“So are you taking your Scout out tomorrow?” Ballentyne, Mick in his off-duty time, peered down from the second floor loft, in civilian clothes, jeans and a tee-shirt.
“Is she ready to drive around by herself?” Wade asked.
“She's been ready all summer.”
“We haven't been ready,” Mac said, not joking.
“Give her the keys, tell her she's on regular rotation with us,” Wade told Ballentyne.
“Are you sure?” Mac asked quietly, keeping the conversation private.
“I should've put her on the road the week she turned sixteen, but I'd have had her parents and you to deal with. How she didn't make Ballentyne crazy over the summer is beyond me,” Wade revealed. “You want to keep her at rookie status another season? She drives you around in the mountains next, starting tomorrow.”
“It's been more than a year,” Mac conceded.
“We'd both been released from training status by the time we were her age. She knows she's getting stuck in Dispatch because she's a girl.”
“Will Command release once the season is over?”
“Eventually. They'll drag their feet and call Cmdr. Duncan in for his opinion. Maybe Ballentyne or anyone else that's worked with her. Us, too. We remind them we need a Scout before spring.”
“Don't tell her I'd prefer she was bored to tears in Dispatch,” Mac said.
“In a perfect world, we could all be so bored. In this world, you and her and I have an advantage,” Wade said, wishing he knew more about what they were. “We use that advantage.”
Mac nodded, agreeing. “If she knew, would she be angry?”
Wade stopped, furrowing his eyebrows. “Shannon, angry that you worry about her? We're talking about the same person, aren't we?”
“Go tell her about her pseudo-promotion. Don't keep her out too late. You're really riding shotgun with her tomorrow.”
Mac grinned optimistically. He could think of worse duties.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
“How long has the power been down?” Shan asked, awake enough to know the safety light in the hall was off.
“Twenty-five minutes, just after you came upstairs,” Mac told her, shuffling around in the dark as quietly as he could. “It'll be daylight soon anyway. When they get the system rewired, we'll be all good.”
“Next summer,” she murmured. The solar panels would keep the heat on but she snuggled up next to him anyway as he crawled in to bed with her. He was warm, his skin damp like he'd just showered. “I thought we had a date.”
“Until Dispatch sent me out towards Divide.” He brushed her hair back from her face.
“I figured they found you a job. What happened?”
“Someone at the depot thought they heard cars driving around and since no one in Security was anywhere near there, they sent a couple of us out to have a look.”
“They sent cars out to see if there were cars out,” she said. “And?”
“Nothing we could find.”
“I'm not surprised.” She'd learned over the summer that the majority of calls led to nothing.
Better safe than sorry, the other officers told her.
“We're not having sex, are we?” he said gently. Even with thermals on, she was soft in all the right places.
“Not now,” she told him. “I've heard a rumor that I'm driving today.”
Shan kissed him anyway, moving enough to make him groan.
“I was pretty sure you just turned me down,” he whispered raggedly.
“Sorry,” she offered, untangling herself from him.
“Don't be.” They both settled in, getting comfortable.
There was the hesitation again. She understood her own dilemma about Mac and sex; when it happened it would be their first time and also her first time. What puzzled her was Mac's uncertainty. She was pretty damned sure Mac wasn't that afraid of her father, despite the jokes. Team Three had very few secrets, even when it concerned private matters. Shan wouldn't ask, knowing she might not want to hear the answer.
“Are you worried about driving?”
“Not as much as you'd think.” She was already drifting towards sleep, curling close again. “Not as much as you are.”
He stroked her hair for awhile, trying not to imagine worst-case scenarios. Wade and Shannon were both far more adept at the glimpses of emotion and insight the Gen En gave them. Mac struggled with it, and of course, wouldn't freely admit to anything.
“Shannon,” he whispered to see if she was still awake.
Hearing her say his given name rather than his nickname gave him an adrenalin rush. “I'm glad you're here. I don't just mean here at the station, I mean in Security. All rookie harassment aside.” He could feel her lips curl into a grin against his neck. “Just don't forget I'm your senior.”