Read Under His Guard Online

Authors: Rie Warren

Under His Guard (3 page)

BOOK: Under His Guard
3.57Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

fter a mere two hours of lying on top of my bed, I stomped into the town hall the next morning. My demand that Leon go to my place last night had apparently failed to convince him, since he'd never showed up. Maybe being a domineering prick wasn't the way to play things with him, but damned if I could remember how to woo someone.

Cannon and Nate sat side by side at the long table that had been returned to its proper place, along with the chairs I'd kicked out of my way last night.

I overheard the tail end of Hills—our commune elder—saying, “Wrecked the place a little bit.”

I settled in an empty seat next to Liz and grabbed a cup of coffee to hide behind. “Sorry 'bout that.”

The air around me was cloying with pity, thick as the mud I needed to knock off my boots after my walkabout last night. I kept my head in my cup and held up a hand to ward off everyone's sympathetic glances. “Aw, shit. Don't start pussyfooting around me now. Whatever the CEO dishes out, I can take, so long as Leon doesn't have to.”

There were coughs and mumbles and more looks I chose to ignore. Linc, Eden—who was Nate and Linc's mom as well as the Chitamauga healer—and Hatch, the tech guru, took their seats.

Liz turned to me. “How was Leon last night?”

I blew across the steam rising from my coffee.

“You pissed him off, didn't you?” Her tone turned icy.

“He's got a hairpin trigger; you know that.” I took a scalding sip from my cup, not even wincing as it burned my tongue.

“And?” she pressed.

“I was a dick.”

“Well, there's a surprise.”

The door opened and I shot to my feet, expecting Leon.

In swanned Farrow, who looked ready to reign over a tea party in her swishy dress, only the dark circles under her eyes giving away her fatigue. She'd been our go-to girl in Beta, the real mole as far as I was concerned. “Ah'm sorry to be late, y'all. It was a rough night after Ah told Sebastian about Leon.”

Her brother, Sebastian, and Leon had become friends in Beta while Leon worked to infiltrate the
Posse Omnis Juvenis
, the hard-core crew of militants Cutler had under his thumb.

Farrow swept behind me, running a hand along my back. “Ah'm purely distraught for you, Darke.”

I grumbled a response and returned to watching the door. Two minutes of chatter later, Leon still hadn't showed. “Where the hell is Leon, anyway?” I asked.

Guess I wasn't so good at playing it cool after all.

Hills hooked a white strand of hair behind his long pink earlobe. More of the crushing weight of sympathy rolled from him. “We thought it best he didn't sit in on this meetin'. If you find you can't contain yourself, perhaps you'd be better off trackin' him down.”

Like hell.
“I can control myself.”

“Good man.” Hills nodded at me. Easing back, he asked, “What do we know?”

Hatch launched into a detailed description of the Pneumonic Plague, the disease that had been spun as the Gay Plague back in fifty-nine to sixty in order to wipe more homosexuals off the map. When she was being tortured by CEO Cutler, Liz had found out the virus wasn't originated to kill gays—it'd been created to infect rebel masses. Created by Liz's father, Robie Grant, and his InterNations counterpart, Dr. Val. It was this Dr. Val who'd not only wiped Leon's frontal lobe but had also made him a human incubator. She was on Liz's hit list, too, for perfecting her mind-scrub techniques years before on Robie Grant.

“It'll be total genocide of the rebel faction if Cutler has his way,” Hatch said. “He wants complete control of the government, total adherence to the Company, and death to all who stand in his way. A handful of those infected with the sleeper virus are our fellow rebel leaders. Cutler's savagery is very well planned.” Hatch's keen eyes landed on me.

Cannon joined in. “From the records Liz gave us from her father's lab, we know this new manifestation will spread faster than ever once it goes live.” He kicked his chair back, his hands scrubbing down his face. “Jesus fucking Christ. I remember what happened to my folks, my sister when they got sick. This thing's gonna rip through all of us until our guts are bleeding out on the floor.”

The thought of Leon becoming sick from this disease, dying from it, was not a reality I was willing to face. “It's exactly what the Colonial Americans did when they sought to lay claim to Native American land. He's using Old History against us. They delivered diseased blankets to the indigenous, killing them quietly.”

“We won't go quietly.” Liz gripped my hand.

“Lysander's just waitin' to wipe us all out.” Miss Eden twined her fingers together, looking down.

She'd know better than anyone what the CEO was capable of. She'd been married to the monster, forced to abandon her two sons when they were young because her husband, the rising CO star, had beaten her mercilessly. She'd been reunited with both Nathaniel and Linc only recently.

Lysander Cutler might've been defeated in the Territories of the former North Americas, but he was blazing a new trail across the Pan-Atlantic pond. Worldwide, he'd either assassinated leaders or simply slick-talked his way into the director's seat in places like Zeta—home of the Siberian citizens—Delta and Kappa in the Europa continents, and Omega Territory. We might be free, but our brethren overseas were not.

I barged to my feet, unable to contain my rage any longer. “You were right last night,” I said, glaring at Linc. “You should've killed your motherfucking dad when you had the chance.”

Liz tried to placate me while Cannon was ready to restrain me, rising from his seat.

Linc merely nodded. “I know.”

Nate spoke in a calm drawl. “It wouldn't have mattered. Leon was already infected by that point.”

I wrenched free of Liz's hands.

“If we can track down Father, we can find the cure. When we finally take him out, it will be with the antidote in hand and total InterNations victory on our side.” Linc drew Liz close to his side.

“Sorry. Sorry, man. I'm just really screwed up about this,” I apologized.

“No shit.” Liz huffed a little laugh.

“You have every right to be upset, Darke, which is why I asked if you needed to step away from our meeting.” Hills frowned at me.

“I'm not going anywhere.” Taking my seat, I laid my palms flat on the table. I thought for a moment. “What about this Denver? You trust him? Because he seems like a sketchy dude.” Both Linc and Farrow considered him a double agent, but I wasn't convinced he was working for the good of the people. His only saving grace so far was he hadn't killed Liz when he'd had the chance back in Beta.

“Got no choice,” was Linc's not-so-comforting reply.

Liz leaned onto her forearms. “I say we send out our feelers for Dr. Val. She created this thing. She infected Leon. She'll have the cure. And as soon as we get it, I've got first dibs on slitting her throat. A little bit of justice for my dad.”

I listened to them go around for another hour before I snapped. “All this yammering is getting us nowhere. What's the strategy?” I was used to formulating a plan, not sitting on my ass while people flapped their gums.

“We can't just go off half-cocked—” Cannon started.

“The hell we can't. Maybe you want to twiddle your damn D-Ps until Cutler destroys every last rebel and Freelander Outpost, but I don't. I'll go it alone if I have to.”

Linc shook his head. “We don't even know Dr. Val's true whereabouts. We don't have any solid leads yet.”

“Or contacts.” Cannon rapped his knuckles on the arms of his chair.

“Ah reckon Ah might know one or two people here and there…” Farrow interjected.

“Is there any Territory you haven't plundered, Farrow?” Liz snaked a grin at the other woman.

Farrow pinned a loose curl back into her hairdo. “What's that old sayin'? Every port in a storm.”

Linc chuckled. “I think it's
port in a storm.”

I growled in frustration.

Suddenly Hatch jumped up from his seat. He'd had his ears on the conversation and his eyes locked on his D-P, constantly scanning the channels. “Holy hell. I think y'all are gonna wanna see this.”

Our D-Ps bleeped as he sent the link. I dug mine out of my pocket, tuning in to a black screen that showed only the word
in bold red letters.

“Where's this coming from?” I asked.

“There's no origination signal. It's being broadcast from one hundred and fifty different locations, and my guess is they're all false leads.” Hatch pushed his glasses farther up his nose.

A voice came across the wire. Distorted and deep, it echoed around the town hall:

“The Revolution is one step away from being defeated by the Company. Activism, equality, freedom will be dictated by a newly unilateral militarized government controlled by one man only: CEO Cutler.”

“Who the hell is this?” Cannon curled over the D-P he shared with Nathaniel.

Shivers raced up my spine. “Who's this going out to?”

Hatch threw his smudged glasses onto the table. “Everyone. Everywhere.”

“Holy shit,” Nate whispered.

The blank screen changed to an image of what had to be Omega Territory—a red desert dust bowl to begin with—followed by more images that flashed quickly on the screen. Omega on the Aafricans continent had always been the most forward-thinking Territory. There the Company
the population of Freelanders to do the daily drudgery for them in this sunbaked land my ancestors hailed from. In exchange for their workforce, the CO let the Omega Freelanders live within the Territory walls instead of outright persecuting them.

Now the D-Ps streamed pictures of the Freelander people being hounded and harassed by the military from every corner of the vibrant city of bazaars.

“We rebels now know a certain number of the subpopulation in each Freelander stronghold has been infected with a new strain of the Plague. The CEO wants to rid the InterNations of what he calls our pestilence. This strain goes live on August sixteenth, 2071.”

“Aw, shit. That's not good.”

All eyes swung to me.

“Are you thinking riots?” Linc asked.

“More like killing sprees since word of the infected is being broadcast live.”

“There is a cure, my friends! It's in the early phases. We think it can be synthesized with the right medical instruction. Our shamans are working on it. It all begins in Omega. Remember: Love Free or Die.”

The transmission ended with that rallying cry. Omega was where Cutler was reported to be. If the cure was there, too, it was a kill-two-birds-with-one-stone scenario.

“Who the fuck was that?” Cannon cussed.

Hatch shook his head. “Unknown voice, untraceable broadcast.”

“Some bastard's out there making bold statements. He better hope to hell he can back them up once we nail his ass.” I rewound the transmission and watched it again.

Everyone pulled closer to the table and started speaking at once, their voices rising above one another.

“Omega's the point of origin.”

“Especially if Cutler's there, too.”

“I'm going. Make the arrangements pronto.” I just needed a starting place, my weapons, and transport.

“We're going,” Cannon announced. A round of fists pounding the table sent a jolt of energy through me.

We were decided then. There were two races: to find the cure or steal Doc Val's antidote, and to take Cutler down once and for all.

Time was our biggest enemy.

More talk spun around me. I listened with half an ear, more attuned to finding out where Leon was than on who was going, who was staying, and why.

“Sebastian's with us.” Farrow spit green fire from her eyes.

Hills sighed. “He hasn't been through the coming-of-age rites yet.”

“Ah don't need a communal ceremony to tell me my baby brother is a grown man. He did his time in Beta.”

“Ooh boy. Territory girl's got a temper. Maybe you need to get that itch scratched, Farrow.” Liz's lips lifted.

Linc groaned.

Liz swiveled to him with a
. “I wasn't offering, baby.”

As head of the Chitamauga militia, this was my call. “Sebastian can come.”

“Speaking of ceremonies, we want to get married first,” Linc said. He looked at Hills, making his appeal to the commune elder.

I tried to ignore the knock to my chest. He and Liz deserved to be happy for one damn day, and I deserved exactly what I got, too—the solitude I'd all but demanded. I tuned out, lifting my head only when I saw a flash of gold skin and long hair pass beyond the windows. Leaning back in my chair, I followed Leon with my gaze. He strolled down the road, his shirt hanging from his back pocket. The muscles in his back shifted and shined in the sunlight.

I shoved away from the table. On my way out the door, I heard the usual guffaws, this time tinged with an air of sadness.

“Cock on a leash, like I always said,” Liz halfheartedly joked.

Farrow drawled, “Ah'd be more inclined to say it's his heart on the leash.”

*  *  *

Outside, I jogged to catch up with Leon. The sun worshipped his body, deepening the tan on his honey-colored skin. He wore cutoff denims that hung low enough on his hips to reveal twin pelvic cuts when he turned at the sound of my approach.

I swept my hands up his sides to gently clasp his shoulders. “Where've you been?”

“Out in the fields. Micah needed some help.”

My already-stressed emotions hit the red line. “What the hell are you thinking? That can't be a good idea in your condition.”

“I'm not six feet under yet.”

I felt my stomach bottom out. “I know you're not. And you won't be. We just had some news. There's a cure in the making. We're headed to Omega.”

BOOK: Under His Guard
3.57Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Other books

A Rogue by Any Other Name by Sarah MacLean
Cursed by Jennifer L. Armentrout
Iron and Silk by Mark Salzman
Set Me Free by London Setterby
Unbearable by Sherry Gammon
Body Politic by Paul Johnston
The Butler Did It by Kasey Michaels