Authors: Elle Thorne
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, coming of age, science fiction romance serial in an apocalyptic dystopian Texas. Each book will feature a happy ending with a different couple.
Houston, Texas is a concrete wasteland full of rebels, rubble, and scared denizens.
A group of five elite soldiers--half man, half machine--has been sent in to secure a package.
The obstacle? A beautiful, curvy woman.
No problem, right?
Until the soldiers that shouldn't have feelings, do.
his book is
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© 2015 by Elle Thorne
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
Cover by Cover Your Dreams
Editing by Carol Davis
he former United States
of America is no more. The area once known as the USA is now the League of States. Decades ago, a divide between two predominant political groups led to civil war. Texas leaned toward neither side completely and sought to secede.
The Texans’ actions, combined with Texas’ strategic locations and resources, made their state a prime target. Oil refineries were bombed, factories dismantled, communications in ground and above ground were seized, controlled, or destroyed.
When the war ended, the winning faction renamed the country the League of States.
Texas, as punishment for its traitorous ways, was placed under martial law. Texans were segregated from other states. Cities were barricaded. All traffic in and out of cities was controlled by the Leaguers—the military of the League of States.
Curfews were imposed, no citizens allowed out after dark. Many citizens didn’t trust their neighbors, knowing full well they could turn them into the Leaguers, or even the privateers. No state-provided power after dark of any kind, not electric, wind, or solar. There was no schooling, under penalty of death to the ones teaching. No transportation. No fuel or luxury items, unless they was purchased on the black market, which was run by privateers.
To sum it up:
Texans were fucked.
, soldier,” Control ordered when he caught Torrent scratching at the spot at the base of his neck where it met his spine.
Torrent knew the cut wasn’t obvious to the naked eye, unless the eye belonged to a member of Cosmic Forces Team Eight, with their enhanced vision. But he could still feel it, whatever they’d put in there—some new component to make him even better.
“Don’t displace it before it’s fused to the bone.”
Torrent dropped his hand with a snap, as quickly as he would have snapped a salute. Cosmic Forces Team Eight didn’t salute. They didn’t wear uniforms. Their job was to blend in, whatever the environment, whatever the demographics. Torrent shoved his gear into his webbed bag. He was the small arms weapons expert with the team.
The Cosmic Forces Team Eight members were preparing for their mission. They’d just come out of a series of procedures, setting the team up with new interfaces, hence the itching at the back of Torrent’s neck. This mission would test some of their upgraded systems.
Torrent’s best friend, Vector, navigator of Cosmic Forces Team Eight, was whistling under his breath. Torrent knew that Vector loved going on out missions. The hyper type, he thrived on the adrenaline.
Across from them, Control, the unit leader, was shuffling files, a frown on his face as he rifled through the papers. The most intense one of the bunch, Control was well placed as their leader.
Torch, an expert in demolitions and flamethrowers, was still in his bunk, hands on his chest, slumbering. Torch could sleep anytime, anywhere, through anything. The former soldier was unshakable. In the bunk next to his was Throttle the wheelman. Even when their transports had no wheels, he could drive or fly the team though anything.
This elite team was one of the teams created by CRBE—Cosmic Biotechnologies, Resources & Exploration. CRBE’s security forces were amongst the best in the world, and available for hire. What made them the best was their practice of using men who had been enhanced with artificial components.
He’d been with this team since before he’d become part machine, since before he’d died. They were his family. They were all one another’s families.
Each of the Cosmic Forces team had signed a contract to join the team.
During the war that ended America, CRBE had approached the federal government and made them an offer they couldn’t refuse. CRBE contracted for any casualties that were unclaimed by family members. They drew up airtight contracts that allowed CRBE to pay the families an ongoing stipend in exchange for the bodies of fallen soldiers.
The soldiers, young men, all feeling immortal and untouchable, thought there was nothing to lose. If they died, their families would get money for the rest of the time they deemed that soldier would have lived, the difference between the soldier’s age and seventy-five. So for about fifty years after the soldier’s death, his family would be compensated.
In exchange for this sum, CRBE gained exclusive and unquestioned use of the soldier’s body.
Hence they could create and own the finest of soldiers, for as long as these cyborgs could be kept alive, or in their case, functioning.
Torrent picked up the grappling hook. “Really? What do we need this for?” He bounced it from one hand to the other, careful of the ends. “Are we mountain climbing?”
Control glanced up again. “Not we. You. You’ve been selected to be the one who goes in. Your profile indicates that you’re the ideal candidate for this.”
Control snorted. “As if they’d tell me.”
The Cosmic Forces were there to do as they were told, not to question. Orders came from up above, and the soldiers followed them. That was the price they paid to have their families compensated for several decades after they’d died.
“We roll out at zero four hundred,” Control said. “No late night tonight. Got it?”
“Got it,” came from Torrent, Throttle, and Vector.
“Torch.” Control’s voice was a loud bark.
“Got it,” Torch grunted.
Throttle threw a pillow at Torch. As soon as the weight hit his face, Torch flew out of his bunk, ready for action.
Vector and Torrent laughed.
“Dickhead.” Torch glanced from face to face, looking for the culprit. He pointed at Throttle, accurately pegging the guilty one. “You pay.”
Throttle held his hand out, made his fingers tremble. “I’m shaking.”
Torch threw himself back onto his bunk with gusto, and lay on his stomach, head on his hands.
Throttle turned to Control. “Any chance we could have a visit from Delta Lambda?”
Delta Lambda Four was the unit that housed the female counterparts to Cosmic Forces developed for pleasure. CRBE had managed to contain some of the emotions that their soldiers had, but the need for sex had not been overcome. So unit Delta Lambda Four was put into place.
Control looked at his watch. “I’ll call it in. If the answer is yes, and they’re available…”
Torch hooted, “I get the redhead,” silencing when Control dialed out.
A few moments later, after a muted conversation, Control shook his head. “It’s a no-go. The ladies are unavailable tonight.”
Throttle put one hand on his crotch, while his other one made very definite, suggestive motions. “You’re on your own, lover boy,” he told Torch.
Torch threw the pillow at him.
lyssa Cantu pulled
her unruly hair into a ponytail, pulled a black hoodie over her head, and shoved her feet into a pair of black shoes that were in a desperate state—the rubber soles were coming loose. She didn’t have enough for a new pair. Not if she was going to buy Gillie a present for his third birthday. Thirty tokens for shoes wouldn’t leave enough for Gillie’s present. She’d be damned if she was going to let him go without.
“He’s asleep,” Alyssa told her cousin Belinda. Belinda was going to babysit Gillie while Alyssa went to ‘work.’
Alyssa glanced back at the sleeping Gillie. He was on a ‘mattress’ made of clothing, blankets, and two old sofa cushions a neighbor was getting rid of. His thumb was still prune-skinned from being sucked on.
She shook her head. She should break him of the habit, but the little one had lost so much already. She couldn’t take this away from him. Losing his mother granted him special dispensations as far as Alyssa was concerned. It made sucking his thumb seem like not such a big deal, even if Belinda’s brother Omar argued to the contrary. What did Omar know about child raising? Nothing. At nineteen, he was a brash know-it-all.
Alyssa wondered if she’d been the same way at nineteen. That was only five years ago, she reminded herself.
I probably haven’t changed that much,
she thought. Or maybe she had. She’d been raising Gillie since he was a baby. That meant growing up fast. That and the damned war. Alyssa felt like she was eighty. And keeping him a secret—that was one of the factors aging her.
If the Leaguers found out they had an unregistered person in the house, they’d—
Alyssa cut herself off. She didn’t want to think of what they’d do. They’d take Gillie away. That would kill her.
She leaned over and kissed his soft cheek, inhaling his little boy sweatiness. She’d bathe him tomorrow. First thing in the morning. She went into the kitchen. Her brother Jesse, a year younger, was sitting at the table, fiddling with some computer parts. Or maybe they were radio parts. They weren’t Alyssa’s thing, and she couldn’t tell the difference. One thing she did know, these were contraband items. If they were caught with them, the Leaguers would take them all into custody.
“Is it wise to be doing that here in the open?” She ruffled Jesse’s curly hair.
He jerked his head away, as he always had since they were little, his way of protesting her treating him like a little kid. If he only knew how much younger it made him appear.
“I’ve got a few minutes before they kill the power. And I don’t have enough candles left over to use for this.”
The government killed the power as soon as darkness hit, and the curfew went into place. No one could be out on the streets. No one had any lights unless they bought or made their own candles.
At first light, they’d flip the power back on so that the shift due to work that day could get ready and make their way to the buses that would take them to the factory where they worked.
“You working tomorrow?”
“Yeah. Again.” That meant he wouldn’t get to tinker with his radio or computer parts. “I heard a voice the other day. I know I did. If I could only get…”
It was always the same, if Jesse could only get another part, and another part, and another…
His quest was to make contact with others who were outside of Houston, to organize a way to free Texas from martial law. He’d had contact with some, until a few weeks ago. Alyssa didn’t ask details. She wasn’t sure she could take Jesse’s efforts seriously. She wasn’t sure she should. Not with lives at stake if they took the risk to leave Houston.
Jesse was a dreamer. Dreaming of the day they could leave. The day they could organize and free Texas.
Alyssa nodded. “I believe in you.” But she didn’t. She didn’t believe in anything. She didn’t believe they’d ever be free. She didn’t believe they’d ever be happy. The only thing she believed in was Gillie.
“I want to move to another part of Houston. Maybe a place that has a park for Gillie. Out of this neighborhood. There are too many criminal elements around. Too many privateers.”
“This is the one we were assigned to. I can reapply, but what will we do when they come to check the house before we move? They’ll see Gillie—an unregistered individual. They’ll take him. Are you willing to risk that?”
They couldn’t just up and leave. Who knew if one of the neighbors was on the privateer payroll as an informant?
Alyssa clamped her lips together. She wasn’t willing to risk Gillie. One day Gillie would be grown, but how would she keep him a secret for the next few years? She’d have to explain his presence. She’d have to give him over to the Leaguers to take to the government, and they’d put him in one of the state-run orphanages she’d heard about in Austin.
No, she’d keep him as long as she could. Then she’d find a way to smuggle him out of Houston, out of Texas, to another place, even if that place was a part of the League of States.
Darkness surrounded her.
Just like that, the power was off and they were surrounded by nothingness.
Jesse uttered a soft curse. “I’ll have to pick these things up in the dark. Dammit. I hope they don’t break.”
“Language, Jesse,” she reminded him. She almost told him to use the candle, but they tried not to light candles on the nights she went out. They didn’t want anyone to notice the flickering light and see shadows silhouetted in their windows. It was safer to make it look like they were all asleep for the night.
“Thought he was asleep.”
“Gillie could wake up any moment, and you don’t know what he’ll hear.”
“Yeah, yeah. I get it.”
She made her way to the front door by feel. It was the same way she’d make her way out the building, down the street, hoping that there was enough of a moon to give her some light so she could see her way to work. And hoping that there were no Leaguers about, and that there were no privateers lurking, looking for those breaking curfew.
One careful, stealthy, silent step at a time, Alyssa made her way to each building that had school-age children. Tonight was the night she taught the teenagers from her own block and the one two blocks north.
She stopped in front of Four West Plaza One and looked around to be sure there were no watchful eyes. None. She opened the door slowly, peeked inside.
“Billy? Jack? Emma?”
“We’re here.” Three silhouettes came out from one of the doorways.
She led the way out of the building, followed closely by the teens. The next building housed two, the following one four, the next one three, the next one two. And so it went until Alyssa had her thirty students.
She made her way quickly, followed by her students.
They rounded a corner, thankful that no government watchdog searchlights had shone their way. Yet.
Alyssa pulled a claw hammer out of her belt and used it to pry a four-by-eight plastic graffiti-covered board out of the way, revealing a dark tunnel. One at a time, the kids filed in, picking their way carefully through the rubble that blocked their entrance. They stopped several yards away and waited for Alyssa to pull the board over the hole again. Alyssa flicked a flashlight on and joined them. When she’d reached them, she uncovered another opening, and let the kids in once more, then pulled it shut also.
Once inside, she breathed a sigh of relief. Just a few more yards and they’d be in their makeshift classroom.
Alyssa earned a few tokens a night teaching children. Just because schools were illegal didn’t mean that the Texans weren’t offering schooling. It meant that they were hiding what they did. Five nights a week, Alyssa made her way through the rubble, gathering children for class. Some days were for kids eight through twelve. Others were for the teenagers.
She went around the room, lighting candles that were close to needing replacement. It looked like she would be buying candles before she bought shoes. Oh, well.
She took out the lesson plan.
“Did everyone do their homework?”