I’m including the intro here since my kindle opens everything on Chapter one
One hundred years ago, a series of disasters called the Redaction spread radioactive particles around the globe and nearly wiped out life on Earth.
A lucky few were led to safety by the last remnants of the government and military. Thanks to the careful planning of their leaders, these survivors kept much of the technology of the old world and have been able to build upon it. At the heart of this confederation of mines and caves are the citizens of Dark Hope. Serendipity Tahoma and Joseph Dawson were born in this city and defend its ideals.
Others were not so fortunate.
Stranded in the Outlands during the worst of the Redaction, many survivors banded together to forge new societies. Some kept to the ideals of the old world in isolated, agrarian villages. A few individuals saw opportunity and subjugated many survivors under their authority. In Abaddon, the warlords regulate everything from social status to who is allowed to breed.
In Born in Blood, these warlords where overthrown by Raider Harlan Westminster and his followers. The citizens of Abaddon and other cities have now united to form TriCity with Harlan heading up their Security Forces. And those deposed from power are not happy.
Stranded in the toxic wastelands, the last band of survivors watched the land sour and all animal life die off. Pushed to the edge of extinction, they were left with one food source to provide for their families—human. Now these ‘Viders are hunting for their next meal. The Head Provider, Reign Czekalski, will use everything at his disposal to ensure their survival.
Three distinct cultures on a collision course.
Not all of them can survive.
In this post-Redaction world, humanity’s next chapter will be written in blood.
“Are you growling?”
“I don’t growl, Thackery.” Harlan Westminster gripped the railing of the second-story landing and surveyed the floor below.
Men and women threw punches, lunged, and flipped each other onto blue mats. Grunts and thuds provided a soundtrack to the training of the Tricity Security Forces. Rain drummed on the arched metal rooftop and smeared the view out of the big windows at the end of the building. The stench of dirty socks quickly subsumed the new smell of the facility.
“You just growled.” On Harlan’s right, Security Officer Thackery glanced up from his handheld. The blue and white glow of the screen illuminated his lean features despite the liquid silver sunlight pouring through the overhead skylights. “You always do when Ohmson is near.”
Harlan’s attention shifted to the mat in the center of the room. Lanky Makepeace ‘Mike’ Ohmson circled. His dirty blond ponytail wiggled down his back and his safety glasses clung tightly to his head. He sparred with a brawny new recruit, Bert Charming. Despite the differences in their size, the two men had been fighting for more than fifteen minutes without either landing on the mat.
Harlan’s eyes narrowed. As the more experienced officer, Ohmson should have face-planted the recruit several times by now. So why hadn’t he? Ohmson had been quite eager to show off his fighting skills six months ago when he’d joined the Tricity Security Forces. Ninety percent of the people below had been defeated by Ohmson. What was different about this recruit?
Thackery scraped his fingers through his short, red hair. “Why not just challenge Ohmson to a match? Kick his ass. Prove once and for all that the better man has won Sera.”
“I am the better man.” Harlan ripped his attention from Ohmson and pinned Thackery with a glare. “I don’t have to prove it.”
Serendipity Tahoma, the favorite child and descendent of all the prominent founders of Dark Hope, wore Harlan’s gold around her neck, slept in his bed, and made him eat breakfast every morning. They were a matched set. And if anyone believed differently, Sera would set them straight long before Harlan got wind of it.
She was nice like that.
Harlan cracked his knuckles, but he made sure no one forgot they were a couple.
Sighing, Thackery studied the handheld. “It’s a shame.”
“You don’t like Tricity civilization?” At times, Harlan found the rules irritating. Outlander justice was far more satisfying, especially since Sera was around to patch him up.
Thackery shrugged. “It’s not that. The citizens need to understand the law protects them and their rights. It’s not an extension of personal grudges and egos like the former mayor of Abaddon taught them.”
Eventually, the man would get to the point. Thackery always thought things through multiple times before speaking.
Harlan appreciated the man speaking only when he had something to say. He leaned his forearms on the railing.
Below, stocky Charming exploited an opening and punched Ohmson in the chest. The latter’s face blazed red. Ohmson’s arms moved in a blur hitting the man in the solar plexus and neck, bringing Charming to his knees. Ohmson finished by slamming his elbow on his opponent’s head.
Charming hit the mat.
Sucking cold air between his teeth, Harlan shoved away from the rail. Ohmson hadn’t learned that move in Dark Hope, nor was it taught by the Security Forces. So where had he picked it up? Harlan’s boots whispered down the metal stairs. He slapped the stun-gun strapped to his thigh.
Charming mule-kicked Ohmson’s knee.
Recruits and trainees stopped their sparring to watch the fight.
Ohmson shifted but not in time. The joint popped when impacted by Charming’s foot. Ohmson flung himself on top of Charming.
Pounding on the stairs beside Harlan, Thackery chuckled. “I think I like this new recruit.”
“Perhaps it is you growling at Ohmson.” Harlan slid his finger alongside the trigger of the stun-gun. His touch quickly heated the cold metal.
Thackery grinned. “It’s nice to see him get his comeuppance.”
Harlan nodded. Ohmson had a way of offending people and making enemies. More than one security officer had refused to work with the man.
The crowd parted before Harlan. Most wore smiles. None returned to their training.
Ohmson and Charming locked onto each other’s shoulders and rolled in circles on the mat. Burn marks scarred the stocky man’s right forearm. Welts marked the areas were cancer had been cut away during treatment by Outlander medicine.
Harlan stopped near their feet and thumbed off the gun’s safety. “That is enough.”
Ohmson’s green eyes widened behind his safety glasses. He froze.
Charming took the opportunity to climb on top. He raised his fist.
Drawing his stun-gun, Harlan fired.
“No!” Ohmson raised his hand.
A staple-on-steroids slammed into Charming. His back arched. Blue light danced across his grimace, then he collapsed in a quivering heap on top of Ohmson.
The lanky security officer wiggled out from under Charming. Ohmson’s glasses hung askew on his lean face and blond hair escaped his ponytail. “You didn’t have to stun him. I—”
“I’m not blaming the recruit.” Harlan’s finger twitched. Ohmson really did deserve to be stunned, not the other man. “You used unauthorized techniques on him.”
Ohmson’s nostrils flared and white ringed his mouth. “The ‘Viders don’t fight with authorized techniques.”
At the mention of the cannibal ‘Viders, a few recruits snickered.
Harlan stiffened. Six months since the ‘Vider clan had been killed at Sanctuary, and the murderers were quickly becoming a myth, like the boogeyman. Fools believed the lot in Sanctuary was the whole of the horde, or the rest had been killed due to the radiation exposure.
Harlan didn’t like it, but until the mighty Dark Hope technology delivered proof that more were out there and coming their way… “This is a security force, not an army. We’re coercing Outlanders into behaving, not killing ‘em by example.”
Much as some of them, particularly the elite, deserved to be killed.
Much as they needed a defense against the main ‘Vider horde, out there. Somewhere.
Scott, the mayor of Tricity, hadn’t been able to authorize the building of an army. The all-powerful Dark Hope believed in reason and common sense, not violence to solve their problems. They’d also booted out their entire ruling council after a few had been found to be corrupt and remained without any real leaders.
Of course, Harlan had friends in the advanced city, friends who believed the ‘Vider horde hadn’t died out so easily.
Charming groaned and squeezed his eyes closed.
Ohmson shoved to his feet. Swiping at the blood on his cheek, he glared at Harlan. “I left Dark Hope to escape the cowardice, to fight by the great raider’s side. Now, I find Harlan Westminster is nothing but the big city’s bitch, heeling at her command.”
Silence blanketed the room. Even the rain ceased. Fabric rustled as trainees stepped back, clearing a space around Harlan and Ohmson.
Harlan blanked his features and holstered his weapon. He’d been insulted better by a four-year old ‘Vider. Still, he couldn’t let it pass. Those around him expected a reaction. A violent one.
Outlanders understood violence.
Ohmson’s upper lip curled. “I wonder if Sera—”
Harlan pounced. His hand wrapped around the other man’s scrawny neck and squeezed. Ohmson had hurt Sera in a way no man should ever hurt a woman. When Sera’s cancer had left her sterile, the cretin had deserted her to find a woman who could give him off-spring. He didn’t have the right to speak her name.
Ohmson clawed at the hold and kicked out.
Blocking the kick with his knee, Harlan grabbed the man’s oily ponytail and jerked his head back.
Ohmson stumbled backward.
Harlan slammed his boot against Ohmson’s left foot, ramming it into his right.
Red faced, Ohmson dropped. A vein throbbed at his temple. Spit foamed on his lips.
Following him down, Harlan drilled his knee into the other man’s chest. Most people could last three minutes without oxygen. How long would Ohmson survive?
Charming scuttled backward to get away.
Ohmson’s eyes bulged. His clawing weakened.
He was dying. He deserved to die for hurting Sera.
Harlan nodded then shook his head. No, Ohmson deserved to live a long life, seeing how happy Harlan made Sera.
Unfortunately, Sera would not be happy if Harlan killed Ohmson.
“Um, Harlan?” Thackery cleared his throat.
Harlan’s grip sprang open, and he rose to his feet. “This is a beginner’s class. The tactics you are learning will protect you most of the time.”
Ohmson rolled onto his side and coughed. Spittle streamed in gossamer webs from his mouth as he gasped for air.
“But Ohmson is correct. You’ll come up against others whose abilities won’t be bested by these techniques.” Harlan held out his hand. “That’s why once you’ve gotten these things down, you’ll be moving onto advanced training.”
Holding his palm against his throat, Ohmson glared at Harlan’s hand. The crimson wash to his skin slowly faded.
“Ohmson will be one of the teachers of those advanced courses.” Harlan planned to watch him. What other fighting techniques was the officer holding back? And where had he learned them? According to Sera, he had left the Outlands when he was seven.
“I will?” Ohmson croaked. He slid his calloused palm across Harlan’s offered hand.
“You will.” Harlan braced his feet apart and tugged.
“I will.” Grinning, Ohmson swayed on his feet. “Made that little tussle almost worth it.” He glanced over his shoulder at Charming.
The stocky man stared at the ground. His fists clenched at his sides.
“About Charming.” Ohmson sounded almost contrite. “It was my fault—”
“It was.” Harlan cut him off. God help him, if Ohmson started thinking they were gonna be best pals. Then Harlan really would have to kill him. He still knew places to stash a body where no one would find it.
Ohmson flushed. His mouth opened and closed. His teeth clicked together.
“You’re the trainer. And being a trainer is a lot like being a Security Officer.” Harlan scanned the crowd, making eye contact with as many of the men and women as he could. “You explain the rules, then you enforce ‘em, using only as much force as necessary, but no more. Think about where you failed with Charming before you begin again.”
Each person in the crowd wore a grin as they inched closer.
Ohmson was not well-liked, but they coveted his skills.
Much like they did Harlan’s. But he’d only agreed to train a small, elite strike force to partner with Dark Hope Security against the ‘Viders. Not everyone should have to kill. Not everyone could take another’s life and live with themselves afterwards.
Harlan never thought much of living afterwards until now.
She had changed everything.
A woman recruit in a blue tunic and green shorts stepped forward. “How will we know if we’re eligible for the advanced class?”
How? Harlan was making this stuff up as he went along. Of course, if he recruited a few more of the elite, then everyone would win. Everyone except Ohmson. He wasn’t one of the elite. Sera didn’t need to look at the man every day. Harlan switched his focus back to the room. They wanted an answer and he wanted Ohmson busy. “Your trainers will recommend you.”
More hands went up.
Harlan inwardly groaned. Now was not chat time with the Raider. He had things to do. Somewhere. Anywhere but here. “Lists will be posted at the end of the week. And Ohmson, get a haircut. That ponytail is a weak point.”
Ohmson stroked his bound hair. “One day, I’ll cut it and you still won’t be happy.”
Turning on his heel, Harlan strode toward the staircase.
Murmurs followed him.
He set his hand on the bannister. “Get back to it or none of you will be picked.”
The chatter didn’t diminish but the pounding of feet nearly drowned it out.
Thackery jogged over and thumped up the stairs. “I wish you’d told me what you were going to do. I would have loved to record it.”
“If I’d said something, it would’ve taken me three seconds longer to bring him down.” Too much bad could happen in three seconds. Harlan wiped his palm on his black pants. Damn, it felt good to take Ohmson down. Maybe too good? Nah, that was just the civilizing talking.
Justice was justice.
Thackery’s fingers twitched over the keyboard on his handheld. “Ohmson won’t be bragging about how he can take you. It’ll be a while before he lives this down.”
Pushing open the glass door at the top of the landing, Harlan grunted. Obviously, he hadn’t been the only one to hear Ohmson’s boasts. “The man is a sore loser.”
Given all he’d lost, Harlan could almost feel sorry for the man. Almost, but he didn’t like Ohmson. Not a bit. Nor would he forgive him for seeding doubts in Sera’s mind.
Cool air whooshed through the vents as the air conditioning unit kicked on.
Behind a wall of desks, men and women officers hunched over their work. Civilians shifted in formed plastic chairs, fiddling with the edges of their shirts or releasing their nervousness through other small motions.
Few had rights in the Outlands. Fewer still thought to stand up for themselves.
But some did.
And others would follow.
A crone shook a gnarled finger under the nose of a young woman whose neck, wrists, and fingers were roped in gold. The younger raised her hand as if to strike the older one. A female security officer caught the rich woman’s arm, twisted it behind her back, and shoved her into a seat.
The young woman huffed.
And those few who’d always had rights because of gold and position hated having their authority countermanded.
Welcome to the new Tricity.
Harlan couldn’t wait to leave. He rolled his shoulders, releasing the tension. He left behind the glass-encased offices and entered the administration section. Closed doors punctuated the solid walls. A steel door marked the end of the hallway. “Any sign of the ‘Vider horde?”
Thackery’s fingers flew over the keypad of his handheld. After he entered the password, the screen blanked. “Not in the areas that we can see.”
While Thackery provided results, Harlan didn’t like the hedging. Pausing in front of the last door, he set his hand on the metal door knob and waited. Green light flashed as hidden sensors scanned his prints. “How much can you see?”
Thackery flushed. The red color swallowed his freckles. “Ninety percent.”
The locks clicked open.
Harlan wrenched the knob and shoved the door. Maybe he was getting soft, depending too much on technology. Especially since it didn’t work very well. “Ten percent is a helluva lot a space for the ‘Viders to slip through. I thought the latest low orbit satellites were supposed to cover the area a hundred percent.”
Thackery slipped inside the airlock and then bumped the door closed with his hip. “We’re in a period of high sun spot activity, and with the magnetic poles still flipping, our satellites are vulnerable to EMP and solar radiation.”
Harlan wished the damn poles would flip already. This radiation threat was just one more distraction from the ‘Vider horde. He knew the cannibals were out there. His gut clenched at the thought of them sneaking in and devouring everyone.
“Everyone and everything is vulnerable.” Harlan crossed to the next door and stared into the optical scanner. Light burned the back of his skull but he didn’t flinch. If he didn’t pass this test, machine guns would emerge from the wall and shoot his ass. Sera liked his ass without the perforation. “Mayor Scott reports that half the crops grown outside have already failed. He wants us to prepare for food riots.”
Thackery waved his hand in dismissal. “The greenhouses are already up and running. There’ll be no shortages.”
Harlan doubted the civilians would believe it. Trust had yet to be established. The wealthy elite might bribe the right people to control the whole crop. People did stupid shit for food. “We need to find the ‘Viders.”
Give the citizens a common enemy to fear and to fight.
He stepped aside.
Thackery squinted at the biometric key. “We will. They just have to come into range.”
“You mean, they have to look up when the satellites are working, so you can see them.” Harlan set his hand on his stun-gun. “Maybe it’s time to get some boots on the ground.”
“The tech will find them.” Thackery’s jaw thrust forward. “I know it will.”
“But when?” Harlan slipped between the door and the frame as it slowly rolled opened. A spiral staircase led down three stories into the basement. “You’ve already confirmed that they have left their camp along the Mogollion Rim. Where did they go?”
His gut told him he wouldn’t like the answer. His gut should know he wasn’t the touchy-feely type. He wanted to know where the bastards were.
“Natasha Wilson says they could have died out.” Thackery’s boots clanged on the metal steps as they descended. “The reason the ‘Viders splintered into two groups was because they were starving.”
The deeper they went, a musty smell competed with the odor of fresh paint. A rust stain spread underneath a brand new water pipe along the wall near the ground floor.
Lights swept over Harlan when he reached the basement. The three machine guns mounted on the wall would turn the whole area into a kill zone if he failed this last scan. “I can’t see any ‘Vider just laying down and dying. They’ll fight to find their last meal. They’re out there.”
And they had to be coming here. Or somewhere close by.
Harlan just had to find them.
The metal door in front of him parted. Bars lifted toward the ceiling, clearing the entrance.
He stepped inside. Two dozen men and women sat behind desks, each stared at the static on the big screen at the front of the rectangular room. Each stood as they noticed him and squared their shoulders. Dismissing them with a nod, he surveyed the room, looking for the one person that mattered.
Sera stood at the front. Her brown hair curled around her shoulders and her lips moved as she silently read the screen of her handheld. Her right hand zipped the dolphin charm along the gold chain at her neck.
His gold chain. His woman. For a moment, he breathed in the sight of her.
She glanced up and winked at him. Her smile didn’t reach her brown eyes. “Satellite feed is out.”
Security officer Mayfair popped his blond head over the console at the base of the screen. “I don’t understand. The satellite isn’t relaying any error messages.”
Harlan rolled his eyes. He’d had enough with error messages and technology. Walking toward the front of the room, he held out his hand to Sera. “Wanna go for a ride?”
She tossed the handheld onto the nearest desk and marched toward him. The closer she came, the more her eyes crinkled. “Will we be out of communication range for a while?”
She slid her fingers along his then tickled his palm. “Good.”
His skin tingled from the contact and his blood hummed. She was teasing him.
And she knew it. There was a price to pay for that. Harlan waited until she was close enough then tugged on their clasped arms.
She over-balanced and stumbled.
He shifted to the side, catching her in his arms then bending her backward.
Her eyes widened and she gripped his shoulder, but she didn’t protest. She must be having a very bad day.
He slanted his mouth over hers, teased her lips with his tongue. Her hand slid up his shoulder to delve into his hair. Her lips parted under his and she pressed her chest against him. It wasn’t what he wanted, but it was enough to remind both of them how easily they could forget everything else.
Someone jabbed his side.
Thackery most likely. Harlan would have to remind himself to assign the officer some crap duty later or cut off his fingers to prevent him from poking Harlan again. He finished the kiss then slowly straightened, pulling her up with him.
“I needed that.” She buried her face in his neck. Her warm breath cascaded down the black tattoos swirling along the scars across his throat and jawline. “But you still owe me three more, if you want to break even before nightfall.”
He chuckled. Give him twenty minutes alone with her and he would have her indebted to him. He liked that idea, but loved the practice. She was very, very creative at repaying her debts. Must be all the formal learning she’d had.
Thackery stopped poking Harlan to elbow him in the ribs.
A man cleared his throat. “I know it’s been all of six hours since you’ve seen each other, but I have a special mission for you two.”
Harlan’s head whipped up. Oh, no. Oh, hell, no.
The security team sat stiffly at their desks; attention glued to the white static on the screen.
Mayor Scott stood across the room. His blue tunic and trousers molded to his sturdy frame. White stubble marred his shaved black scalp. A full set of white teeth grinned from beneath his mushroom nose. Once an outcast, Scott and his followers had helped defeat the mayors of the towns he now ruled.
Harlan tightened his grip on Sera. “What do you want, Scott?”
Sera patted Harlan’s arm then straightened. She made no attempt to step away. “Did you get the invitations?”
Invitations? Plural? Harlan’s fingers spasmed. They both knew he limited his public appearances to one per week. He’d already attended one of their functions this week. He couldn’t stomach another.
“Yes, yes.” Scott waved his hand as if to dispel an awful smell. “Wedding, reception, and reception all accepted. My wife is embroidering three dresses for the occasions, but that’s not why I’m here.”
Harlan’s arms opened. Three occasions? He’d agreed to one. One Dark Hopian traditional ceremony to cement his claim to Sera. Even in the Outlands, one event never became three. He knew some math.
Sera caught his wrists and drew them around her waist. “So why are you here?”
“We’ve got a body.” Scott tugged a handheld from his breast pocket. “And it’s been partially eaten.”