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Authors: Natalie French,Scot Bayless

The Wraith's Story (BRIGAND Book 1)

BOOK: The Wraith's Story (BRIGAND Book 1)
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Book One

The Wraith's Story

 

by

Natalie K. French

and

Scot Bayless

 

 

 

 

 

Copyright © 2015 by Natalie K. French and Scot Bayless

 

All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.

 

ISBN 978-1511474894

 

Scry Media LLC

www.scrymedia.com

www.nataliekfrench.com

www.scotbayless.com

 

Cover illustration by Ravven. Other illustrations used by permission and are the exclusive property of their originators or copyright holders.

FOREWORD

 

In 2003, I had a meeting with Christopher Nolan on the set of Batman Begins and, at some point during our conversation, I asked him, "Chris, there's all this canon and existing lore out there, what's the vision for
your
version of Batman?"

Nolan laughed and said, "That's easy. If Batman was a real guy, what would that be like?"

The inspiration for the world of Brigand is a concatenation of that brilliantly simple answer with another question, "What will it be like when we finally figure out how to live outside the womb we call Earth?" or, perhaps more to the point, "What will
we
be like?"

Brigand is meant to be a blend of those two ideas wrapped in a sincere belief that, no matter how much the future changes us, we'll still be just as craven  and self-absorbed and visionary and heroic as we've ever been. It's a world I wish for and fear in pretty much equal parts, a place that's filled with things that my inner 11 yr old thinks are just so damned cool, and my grown up self knows will be just as messy and screwed up as where we live now.

But then that's kind of the point.

  –
Scot Bayless, March 2015

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

 

I want to say a huge thank you to all of my beta readers: Tony D'Andrea, Yvette Wagner, Melissa Leschuck and especially my cousin, Jesse Curtis. Jesse also put up with a bunch of my ramblings at odd hours of the night over Facebook. Jesse, thank you for being in a different time zone, and for always being awake.

The character in this novella is one of my favorites and she wouldn't be a reality without the original concept from Scot Bayless. Thank you, Scot, for creating the world for her to come alive in.

  –
NKF

CHAPTER ONE

I've been strangled three times in my life. Not to death.

Not yet.

The first was an accident I'm sure — my earliest out of utero memory. Warm hands grabbed my head and shoulders and tugged as I was uncomfortably pushed through a tight, sinewy opening. With blurred eyes, I saw the Bishop. Of course I didn't know his name yet, but it was him. He wore a gray gown then, with a matching skull cap. His eyebrows pulled together over light green eyes that held concern.

A sensation of constriction pulled at the soft folds of my neck. I couldn't move my head. The room became hazy and I wanted to tell someone to help me, but my lips and vocal cords were too immature to form the words. Still, I knew. I formed the thought. My brain was already functioning well above that of a mundane adult. I opened my mouth and a shrill gasp escaped.

The Bishop quickly pulled at the fleshy rope that twined around my neck, and sighed when, at last, a bellowing scream escaped my throat.

He wrapped me in a white blanket, held me up high and turned me to face the figure on the table.

"Here she is," he whispered to the woman on the table.

The Woman.

For years after, she defined what beauty meant to the blank palette of my mind. Her blue eyes gleamed with tears, and her white hair, so fine, like wisps of spider silk, sparkled under the harsh light that hung overhead. She sobbed, but beneath the tears she wore a smile and it was then I learned what joy looked like — an emotion I would not see, or experience, for a long time.

The noise and bustle of nurses around me receded as I gazed with my eyes that were already learning to focus with automatic precision — at The Woman — at the only person who mattered.

Then a man in a matte black helmet and what I would know later as a light combat exo walked into the room. The sweat and blood streaked nurses stood aside, deferentially framing his approach to the bed. The blue-eyed woman glanced at him, then looked directly at me and whispered, "Be free."

Then she closed her eyes and dropped her chin to her chest.

The man in the military suit aimed a blunt-muzzled instrument at her chest and vaporized her, with only a small electric
pop
to mark her extermination.

A team of five in clean uniforms, with white helmets shielding their faces, entered and filled the small room. They quickly removed the mess of blood and fluid left on the table and sanitized the area.

"You should not know who they are," The Bishop explained.

I blinked.

The Bishop wiped my face and handed me to a nurse. He told me not to think of the woman. So I did not — when I was awake. When I slept, she engulfed my dreams, swaddling my soul. I would not be strangled again until my ninth year.

I am a Wraith. My name is Subject 11.

CHAPTER TWO

I received my corneal implants in my third year. Most of the other girls didn't get theirs until their eighth or ninth, closer to their ceremony, but my visual acuity was so advanced that the Council worried that my brain would outpace the enhancements if they waited. As a result of the implants, my training accelerated and, by the time I was in my eighth year, I was sharing a corridor with girls of eleven and twelve. From a maturity perspective I was not far behind them but, physically, I was by far the smallest. A trait that sometimes served to my advantage.

We lived in the Templum, Corridor B. Four long hallways A, B, C and D all met in the middle at the Cell, where the main nurse's station and control center were located. It was impossible to go in or out of the Cell without being scanned. Every millisecond of my life was data — blips, traces and numbers on screens.

The Bishop wore black then, with a bright red skull cap. I never saw his actual hair color, but I speculated that it was dark, like mine, to match his eyebrows.

I liked the smell and stiff, scratchy feel of his robes. Sometimes, if we were alone in the garden and I'd learned my day's lesson particularly well, he would place his hand for the briefest of moments on my arm, and I relished in the roughness of his skin. It was
pleasant
.

I always wore the standard issue gray exoderms, semi-sentient fabric that molded to my small body like a second skin, only with multi-factor sensors and holographic camouflage. All of my vitals, heart rate, blood pressure, temperature, were monitored by the suit. Which meant I always had to control those vitals.

I had to remain calm. Always.

I had one friend, Subject 82. We got along well, for Wraiths. Our socialization consisted mainly of discussing the blandness of our daily protein cubes. Hers were always smaller than mine due to the two percent body mass she was constantly trying to shed. Wraiths must be fit and small. And calm.

Calm is all.

I never endured restriction of my protein cubes. If anything, I was occasionally instructed to consume an extra ration. I didn't care for that, but I complied. 82 and I whispered about food – real food. The kind we read about, that you could find outside the Templum — with the people. We said we wanted to try food, but I think we were really more curious about the people.

I learned ballet, gymnastics, fencing, linguistics, and etiquette. Being the smallest of my Cohort, even in my age group, flexibility and athleticism, came easily to me.

So did the pockets. Before we even were introduced to them in our training regimen, I had already mastered the pockets. But I chose not to tell anyone – the only one of the Templum's rules I did not follow. The Bishop had taught me early on the value of silence.

The only way to describe the pockets to someone who can't see them is little rips in the world — voids between energy and cells. Normal human eyes can't even come close to perceiving them but, with the right talent — and discipline, some Wraiths can. With training, we can learn to step into them. Those of us with exceptional talent can move between them, from pocket to pocket. To the untrained, it might look like invisibility, or teleportation. But it's not. It's just physics and biology and discipline. Our instructors said that the best of us would, in time, be able to pocket jump two at a time. By my seventh year I had already managed three in a row.

Mastery of the pockets was something only a few of us would ever achieve. The real secret of the Wraiths, I knew, was that most of us, however skilled, were primarily masters of illusion. With full-body exoderms, we could camouflage ourselves. We used tricks of perspective, psychology, light, anything that could deceive the untrained human eye, to hide in plain sight.  With deft application, our training could, for the briefest of moments, make us seem to move through time and space.

Pockets were different. The skill of a true Wraith, seeing and stepping through the pockets — the fugue — as some of the instructors called it, is a rare talent. I think only a tiny number of us can actually see the energy. Only a handful of us have the right combination of perception and instinct to delicately tug at the fibers of matter and slip through spaces so small that we cannot be detected. The energy slips are not long. Or perhaps they are and I am not brave enough to travel long within them.

But I do travel.

I never told anyone but the Bishop. We were in the garden, on one of my rare forays there. The weather screen high above simulated sun and sky so well that sometimes I could pretend it was real. The plants were real. The iridescent water molecules drifting in the air from the lush ficuses with the tiniest flecks of purple, were real. I breathed them in and pretended they had a different taste from the protein cubes.

Anything different.

I wondered about the texture of taste. I experienced the physical sensation of it during our poisons classes. We ingested simulated sweet, savory, and salty protein cubes. And gradually consumed small doses of poison — nothing quite fatal of course. The quicker you learned the subtleties of the taste, the less sick you would be when you correctly identified the toxin and could stop eating the cube. I completed those lessons after only one trip to the nurses. Most girls took longer, weeks sometimes, and several extra rations of cubes for strength.

BOOK: The Wraith's Story (BRIGAND Book 1)
10.33Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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