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Authors: Connie Suttle

Cloud Dust: RD-1

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CLOUD DUST

RD-1

A Novel by

Connie Suttle

 

For Walter, Joe, Sarah H., Lee D., Dianne J. and Larry O.
Thank you.

And for Clare and Dave B. for invaluable assistance and
information.

* * *

The Author's information may be found at the end of this
book.

 

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters and
incidents portrayed within its pages are a product of the author's imagination.
Any resemblance to actual persons (or vampires, werewolves, High Demons,
Greater Demons, Lesser Demons, Larentii, shapeshifters, Ra'Ak, wizards,
warlocks, witches, Avii, Saa Thalarr or gods) living or dead, is purely
coincidental.

 

Cloud Dust, © 2014 by Connie Suttle

All rights reserved

This book, whole or in part, MAY NOT be copied or reproduced
by mechanical means (including photocopying or the implementation of any type
of storage or retrieval system), without the express written permission of the
author, except where permitted by law.

 

The author wishes to thank you for purchasing this e-book.
Purchasing this book through legitimate channels supports the author and makes
it possible for her to keep writing. If you did not purchase this book through
legitimate channels, or have downloaded it from a website that pirates authors'
works, the author kindly asks that you purchase a copy for yourself, as sales
of her books are her only source of income.

* * *

ISBN-10: 1939759293

ISBN-13: 978-1-939759-29-0

 

Other books by Connie Suttle:

Blood Destiny Series

Blood Wager

Blood Passage

Blood Sense

Blood Domination

Blood Royal

Blood Queen

Blood Rebellion

Blood War

Blood Redemption

Blood Reunion

* * *

Legend of the Ir'Indicti Series

Bumble

Shadowed

Target

Vendetta

Destroyer

* * *

High Demon Series

Demon Lost

Demon Revealed

Demon's King

Demon's Quest

Demon's Revenge

Demon's Dream

* * *

The God Wars Series

Blood Double

Blood Trouble

Blood Revolution

Blood Love

Blood Finale

* * *

The Saa Thalarr Series

Hope and Vengeance

Wyvern and Company*

* * *

The Finder series

Finder

Keeper*

* * *

The R-D series

Cloud Dust

 

*Forthcoming

 

 

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 1
 

I got out five years ago.

Untalented, they said.

In other words, they didn't know what to do with me, and
murder usually leaves a mess.

I understood messes. Saw too many of them in my dreams. That's
why I live where I do, still in their shadow but outside their walls. The
conditions, of course, are that I have to move every five years, check in now
and then, and never, ever, talk about
them
to anyone.

It was time to move.

"I don't want you to go." Eric, my next-door
neighbor looked like a sad puppy as the movers loaded my caramel-colored sofa
onto their truck and wrapped it in heavy plastic.

"Honey, I'll send postcards, I promise." He peered
over our shared side fence, watching as five years of my life were loaded into
a moving van.

I didn't want to go, either. Eric and his partner, Max, were
the only friends I had, and even they knew little about me. I knew all about
them, though, and fed their cat when they went on vacation or out of town for
weekends with Eric's family.

"You'll send me the next book?"

"Yes. It's such a burden and all, but I'll send it,"
I teased.

That's what I do—I write books. Mysteries. Under a pen name.
There wasn't any way I wanted to give up an entire catalog of work again, just
because I used my current name.

To Eric, Max and the rest of the world, I'm twenty-seven. It
says so, right on my driver's license—Corinne Watson, born May 29, twenty-seven
years ago. I look younger than my listed age—by at least four years. People
would be shocked to learn that I'm actually seventy-three, but that would be
giving away secrets. Unless I wanted
them
on my doorstep the next day,
that secret would remain a secret.

"Will you call us?"

"Absolutely."
Lie
.

"How long will you live in France?"

"Until I finish the book. I'll be back after that."
Another
lie
.

Eric and Max thought I was renting a house in a small village
in France, so I could soak up local culture and write a mystery. They thought
my furniture was going into storage until my return, and that I was renting my
house out in the interim.
Big lie
.

The house was never mine—they'd purchased it for me. They
couldn't help themselves—control was their thing. Who knows what would happen
to the house—perhaps someone else they were content to watch from a distance
might have it for five years.

"What if the cookie recipe doesn't turn out right?"
Eric frowned. He'd been eating my oatmeal cookies for five years. I'd sent him
the recipe the night before in an e-mail.

"It will, if you follow the directions. Stop worrying,
all right?"

"That's the last of it, ma'am," one of the movers
came to me with a clipboard in his hand. "Sign here." He tapped the
bottom of a paper filled with legal garbage that nobody in their right mind
would ever want to read.

I signed and handed the clipboard back, my hand shaking.
That's another thing that Eric and Max don't know.

I have PTSD. And GAD. I take medication for it, and hide it
quite well on most days. Why do I have those things?

That's the stuff nightmares are made of.

* * *

"Corinne, you're welcome to redecorate. Major changes
have to be approved."

"So a sunroom to grow marijuana is out of the
question?" I blinked at Colonel August Hunter as he led me through my new
home. He was my contact. Handler. Whatever.

Can a seventy-three-year-old say whatever and get away with
it?

If you look twenty-three, with long, black hair, fair skin and
gray eyes, you can get away with a lot. August grimaced at my joke. Of all the
people belonging to the hive-mind-collective of
them
, he was one of the
least offensive.

August was tall, straight-spined, black, late-forties and a
former Marine. Handsome, too, but I didn't want to point that out. He'd
officially given up his job with the armed forces to join the collective of
them
.
Shortly after that, he'd been assigned to me.

I was a problem for him, but he accepted the job with
long-suffering patience if not good humor. The best course of action for me, therefore,
is to fly under the radar and make his job as easy as possible. My warped sense
of humor gets the best of me at times, but that's all.

Everything else ends up in my books.

"You can stay at a hotel tonight; your belongings won't
arrive until tomorrow," August pointed out.

I didn't make any observations on how I was only moving from
Arlington, Virginia to Silver Spring, Maryland, roughly a distance of fifteen
miles. It took me barely half an hour to drive to my new address.

I also didn't add that taking that long to replace the bugs
they'd installed on my furniture and appliances was amateurish.

August probably knew that I knew about the bugs. I knew that
he knew that I knew. We never discussed it; that would place implication and
blame. Paperwork would ensue. Probably another move.

I—and the bugs—would stay in Silver Spring. "Do you know
the neighbors?" I asked.

"A file will be delivered tomorrow, with your
things."

"Those poor people." I lifted a slat in wood blinds
to stare at the house next door. It, like mine, was a narrow townhouse with
three floors. I hate stairs. Yes, I look and feel young, but carrying laundry
from the top to the bottom floor and then back again is still a chore, and
getting from the top floor to the bottom floor to answer the door and explain
to the salesperson there what
No Soliciting
actually means is downright
annoying.

"Corinne, it's standard procedure. We wouldn't have
chosen this location if your neighbors weren't safe."

In
them
speak, safe meant oblivious.

"Have you considered the self-defense course I
suggested?"

"Yes." My shoulders sagged. I'm five-four and weigh
one-hundred-three pounds. I might be able to wrestle a nine-year-old to the
ground. Maybe.

"Corinne, Krav Maga is good exercise. I saw that pathetic
treadmill you own."

"Hey, I can run three miles on that thing," I
huffed.

"But that doesn't improve your arm strength."

"I can type five thousand words in one sitting."

"Cori."

When August calls me Cori, he's flabbergasted. Disgusted.
Probably several other words that end in –ed, too.

"When are the classes?" My shoulders sagged another
notch.

"Tuesday and Thursday evenings," he said, a smile
touching the corner of his mouth. "I set it up already. The gym is five
minutes away, and I know the instructor."

"Right. Mincemeat, here I come."

"Cori."

"Auggie."

He frowned deeply at the corruption of his name. "I've
disciplined soldiers for less than that," he said.

"You know, I get that about you." I let the slat in
my fingers fall—I was done staring at my unfortunate neighbor's house. I'd have
to go to a window on the opposite side to see my other neighbor's home, but
that could wait.

"Any nearby hotels on the list of approved vendors?"
I asked. "I'll pay my own way, unless you can't restrain yourself."

"I'll allow it."

"Wow. Thanks. Can we go for ice cream, now?"

"You know I can't."

"I know. Your wife and your department won't approve. I'm
not trying to steal you or embarrass you, you know. I realize I can't cut it
compared to the others. That's embarrassing enough."

"Corinne, the others had a choice in the matter. You
didn't."

"But it messes with your tough-guy mojo."

"I have a tough-guy mojo? I'll add that to my job
description."

"Holy cow, is that sarcasm? There's hope for you,
yet," I said.

"Cori."

"Yeah."

* * *

Maybe it would have made a difference if I'd bothered to watch
the news in my hotel room.

I didn't.

Instead, I unpacked my laptop and brushed aside the events of
the day to lose myself in writing. That's what writing is for me—an escape. I
didn't bother to turn on the news until three days later, after my cable was
hooked up and turned on in the new house.

There he was, standing behind Vice President Al Flint, looking
as smugly innocent as a cat that had just swallowed the pet goldfish.

Chapter 2
 

"I promise that General Edwards' killer will be brought
to justice," the VP announced at the White House press conference. After a
while, I tuned him out and focused on the man standing behind him.

Hugh Lawrence.
Secretary of Defense
Hugh Lawrence. I
shuddered as I studied him. Of all people—well, too bad, I guess. "So
sorry you're going to die unexpectedly, dude," I whispered, before turning
off the television and tossing the remote onto the coffee table with a sigh.

* * *

"It has just been announced that Hugh Lawrence, Secretary
of Defense and trusted adviser to President Sanders, was found dead this
morning of an apparent heart attack," the newscaster announced while I
peeled a banana for breakfast. "An autopsy will be performed to confirm
the cause of death, but doctors are unanimous in their preliminary findings.
Mr. Lawrence appeared in good health, and leaves behind two sons and his
ex-wife, Stacia. Hugh Lawrence, dead at fifty-six."

"Hugh Lawrence, dead at fifty-six," I mimicked
before tossing my banana peel into the wastebasket.
Murdering, filthy
bastard
, I added mentally.

* * *

Notes—Colonel Hunter

There are six of them in the Program. Actually five, since one
of them isn't talented. Everybody else who got the drug is dead—all ninety-five
of them. Nobody has figured out why some live and most die. Time and resources
have been allocated to that problem, with the best scientists working on it.
Nothing has been determined as yet.

Of the six living, I was assigned to the untalented one,
because Hugh Lawrence and the Joint Chiefs disliked me.

It takes a very high clearance to know about the Program.
Cloud Dust, they call it. Who knows where the name came from? There are many
things about it that even I don't know.

I like Corinne. Funny, beautiful, can write mysteries that
show up regularly on the bestseller lists. She's also the best judge of
character I've ever met, and can read situations accurately in seconds. I
figure she's been studying people all her life and has developed the talent
over time. That talent consistently comes through in her books.

She self-publishes—it's the only way the bigwigs will allow
her to do it, and she has to write under a pen name. People who read Sarah
Fox's books have no idea who Corinne Watson is. The bigwigs—and the big
publishing houses—despise her.

It's better that way.

"Colonel?" Maye stepped gracefully into my office.
She is deadly at several martial arts. I'd hesitate to take her on, and I'm
seldom taken down, even by the best.

Maye is one of the talented ones. She hears thoughts. That
talent has saved many lives.

"Maye?" I blinked at her in surprise. Her handler,
Jeff Chambers, wasn't with her.

"I got a transfer," she began, her green eyes filled
with concern while unruly red hair clouded about her face. Maye was an alias.
Her old name no longer fits her appearance, but that's how Cloud Dust works.
She'd been Asian, before. Still spoke fluent Japanese. Strange?
Yes
.

Transfer meant she'd picked something up. If she knew the
person, she'd recognized the mental voice as well. "What's that? Has
Captain Chambers been notified?"

"I wanted to talk to you first," Maye said.
"The transfer came from Corinne."

* * *

"We have to be sure before we take this to anybody
else," I snapped.

"Of course, Colonel," Corporal James Draper replied.
James is my assistant. He knows about the Program. Enough, actually, that he
has quarters at the Mansion, where the Five are housed.

The recordings from the past two days had to be played
back—nobody bothered to listen to Corinne's recordings unless requested. I
hadn't asked; Corinne deserved some privacy. Three hours later, James handed a
flash drive to me. "Images and sound, Colonel," he said. "She
said,
so sorry you're going to die unexpectedly, dude
, before she turned
off the television."

"And the next morning, Hugh is discovered dead of a heart
attack." I shook my head. "James, this is what I want you to do—call
the Oval Office. See if you can get an appointment for me to meet with the
President. I think we found what Corinne can do—looks like she may be able to
see a death coming. I'm not sure what to make of the transfer Maye captured, so
we'll table that for now."

"Seeing a death ahead of time—that would be pretty handy
to know," James breathed. "I'll call the Oval Office right
away."

* * *

Corinne

Wednesdays, I have a standing appointment with my
department-assigned shrink. I've been seeing him for six years. He gets pissy
every time I refuse to tell him what happened.

He knows I was held hostage for six days.

He knows all the others are dead. He's not sure how I
survived. I'm not going to tell him.

He also wants to know what happened—and how and when all the
other hostages died. He knows I almost died, too.

Well, that's not exactly true. I did die. August Hunter was
correct when he said I hadn't had a choice. I was flat-lining when they gave me
the drug, and couldn't make an informed choice. Now, they wanted names and
answers.

So far, I hadn't given them anything they could use.

I had my reasons.

"How did your first Krav Maga lesson go?" Doctor
Shaw asked. The hive-mind-collective at work again—what one knows, they all
know.

"I spent most of the night on the floor, begging for
mercy," I sighed. "I have bruises."

"Corinne, Colonel Hunter would prefer that you were able
to protect yourself. This isn't retribution for imagined wrongdoing."

"I didn't suggest otherwise."

"I'd like to see you try to make this work. Build up your
strength."

Like everybody else in the Program, Doctor Shaw was military.
Army, actually. A Lieutenant Colonel. I leaned my head against the soft leather
of the chair I sat on and closed my eyes.

I wasn't military. Everybody in the Program thought I was weak
and ineffective. In some ways, I was. "Corinne, there's no need to feel
inferior," Doctor Shaw said.

True
. There's no need to feel inferior, when everyone,
overtly or not, reminds you of the truth of it almost daily. What did they care
that I'd sold a few million books and had a truckload of money in the bank?

I couldn't spend much of it, or travel, or do anything others
with money might do—that would draw attention.

No attention. Dr. Shaw would be furious if I drew attention.
Colonel August Hunter would be furious if I drew attention. I sighed.

"What?" Dr. Shaw lifted a hopeful eyebrow.

"Nothing." I waved off his question.

"Do you like your new house?"

"It's okay."

"What's wrong with it?"

"Three stories."

"Ah."

* * *

Notes—Colonel Hunter

"Shaw?" I said.

Dr. Shaw called me as expected after a session with Corinne;
we spoke once a week, at least.

"Corinne is withdrawn."

"Are you surprised? She has PTSD. And panic
attacks," I pointed out. Shaw and I had the same conversation every two
months or so.

"She says she has bruises from Krav Maga lessons."

"Everybody gets bruises in Krav Maga. If she learns how
to put an elbow in somebody's ribs, it'll be worth it."

"Need I remind you that she's not military?"

"Nobody needs to remind me of that." I couldn't keep
the bitterness from my voice.

"I hope you don't belittle her like that when you see
her."

"I have better sense than that. I like Corinne—as a
civilian."

"But she'd never make it in the military. Is that what
you're saying?"

"It doesn't take a genius to know that. A lot of people
aren't suited for it. Corinne is one of them. Do you think I'll mistreat her
because of it?"

"I know how the others feel about her. I treat them, too,
remember?"

"Yeah. I remember. Are you telling me that the Five are
schoolyard bullies?"

"I wouldn't classify three of them as bullies—just
indifferent or superior in their attitudes. The other two are definite
bullies."

"How the hell do you pull that shit out of them? Seems to
me it would be wiser to keep their mouths shut." I was getting angry, and
that wouldn't do. I had more research to go through and Shaw was interrupting.

"They don't consider that sensitive information. These
were elite soldiers before they volunteered. Inevitably, they'd see Corinne as
the weakest one in the pecking order."

"Do they have hearts, or are they just machines,
now?" I snapped. Yeah, Corinne has been a sore spot for me for more than
six years. I'm teased regularly by the other handlers. It pisses me off. They
have Dobermans, while I have a toy poodle.

"This isn't a competition, August. I try to tell the
others that—that Corinne didn't choose to compete, as they did. It never sinks
in."

"You got that right," I muttered.

"Colonel?" James was back.

"Hold on a minute," I said, putting a hand over the
receiver. "What is it, James?" He'd never interrupt unless it was
important.

"Word just came in. NCIS found evidence that Hugh
Lawrence murdered General Edwards. They found the gun in his belongings. He
obviously didn't have time to get rid of it."

"What the fuck?" I exploded. It wasn't any secret
that Lawrence and Edwards didn't like each other, but what the hell was
Lawrence thinking? I went cold for a moment. "Let me call you back,"
I said to Shaw before dropping the receiver in its cradle and staring at my
assistant. "This is what Corinne saw. What she meant in the transfer Maye
picked up. Maye says she heard Corinne thinking
murdering, filthy bastard
.
Get me everything you can on Hugh's death," I demanded. "Start a
file."

"Right away, sir." James left my office in a rush to
collect the required information.

* * *

There's a small restaurant on the Mansion's first floor. It's
open until eight every day and serves breakfast, lunch and dinner to those who
get tired of cafeteria food. That's where I'd asked Jeff to meet with me. The
cafeteria is on the third floor, and their fries are always soggy.

"Rumor has it that Lawrence wanted Edwards out of the way
so he could control the Program." Jeff Chambers, Maye Canton's handler,
stuffed a French fry in his mouth.

"When did that rumor start?" I asked. James hears
everything, then reports it to me. He hadn't reported this.

"It started when they found the gun that killed Edwards
in Lawrence's sock drawer. Standard investigation—the President wasn't
satisfied with the preliminary cause of death. Lawrence was a health nut."

"I know that," I said. I'd ordered coffee while Jeff
got a burger and fries. The burger disappeared in roughly four bites. The fries
looked to last only slightly longer.

I couldn't begin to say how thankful I was that Edwards had
been a hands-off Director. Well, lazy might be a better term, but I didn't want
to emphasize that. I preferred to make my own decisions, and Edwards didn't
care as long as no laws were broken.

"How's your poodle?" Jeff grinned. Maye was
considered a pit-bull. I had the pampered show dog, in his opinion.

"Corinne is fine. Just went through the move."

"Has it been that long? Damn," Jeff chewed another
French fry. "Any ideas on Edwards' replacement?"

"None. The President will weigh in, and it'll likely be her
replacement for Secretary of Defense."

"You think so?"

"Yeah. I think so."

"We could get a pool started. My money's on Cutter."

"Cutter's an asshole," I said. "Wouldn't want
to see that happen. Can you imagine what he'll say when he's briefed on the Program?"

"The work of the devil?" Jeff grinned.

"That's mild to what I was thinking," I said.

* * *

Corinne

While they scrutinize everything else I buy, examining it for
equipment, plans or information on an attempt to overthrow the government, they
barely glance at my purchases for office supplies.

I wandered down the aisles in the local office-supply
warehouse, dumping pens, binder clips, folders, staples and anything else I
wanted into a basket.

Some women buy shoes.

I buy office supplies.

Just in case a pair of boots might be considered contraband or
a cover-up.

The taxpayers foot the bills for the Five. I pay my own way
whenever possible. I wanted to hire an assistant. August put the kibosh on
that.

I had an editor and two attorneys already, with all business
handled by e-mail or phone. That was hard enough to push through, and they
don't do my filing. I do that, along with the housework, cooking and laundry.
Sometimes, I dream about a big house or condo on the beach. I don't live in one
because they don't want me to get that far away from them, and not because I
can't afford it.

When I'd lived next to Max and Eric, I had somebody to talk to
about books. Eric was a huge fan. Max didn't like to read that much but he
always read mine after Eric was finished with them.

Eric frequently asked questions and requested spoilers. I seldom
gave anything that might ruin an upcoming novel if the information got out.
Poor Eric—I'd never see him again, and that was sad.

* * *

Notes—Colonel Hunter

"This was the worst possible time for Edwards to be
killed," Brigadier General Safer said. "We have a situation."

The meeting was called in minutes, and came as a surprise to the
Five and their handlers. Safer was Edwards' Second-in-Command and knew all
about the Program. He didn't want the top spot, however; he was ready to retire
in six months.

We knew what situation meant—it meant somebody important was
dying, and the drug was being considered.

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