From the author: His mission: arrest the beautiful superhero who saved his life and not fall in love.
"Are you ready to die?" one of the Left Fists yelled over the whoop-whoop of the helicopter's blades.
Officer Scott Grey took aim as best he could and spat his broken tooth square into the gang member's face. Not a bad shot, considering he was on his knees with a chunk of his hair gripped in the meaty hand of the asshole standing over him. The overpowering stench of half-chewed food and liquor battled with the blood already pouring down Scott's throat to force his gag reflex.
"Just shove 'im out," the Fist's partner said. "No 'chute. Watch 'im go splat on a sidewalk."
Bastards, Scott thought. I shouldn't complain. I've been living on borrowed time for the past decade anyway. If I'm going to die, I might as well go out in a blaze of glory. At least it's me and not a bunch of kids caught up in tonight's wilding. Scott glanced at the third Fist, who ignored the threats in favor of examining Scott's Glock. No help from the peanut gallery. Number three appeared much older than the other two Fists with a vicious scar across his cheek. He didn't have a blitz-head's full-body twitch.
"Open it," number two yelled.
Small relief as the nearest Fist let go of Scott's hair and yanked open the helicopter's door.
Wind whipped through the cabin, pulling in funnels of black smoke from burning garbage. Even through his swollen eyes, Scott could see flames snaking their way from the mouth of the Fairfax River to the flooded streets surrounding the civic center. The copter followed Star Haven's cross-city expressway. Outbound traffic from the Swamp — the Southern Point district — was at a standstill, with desperate residents trying to outrun the fires and the Left Fists. Emergency vehicles raced in the opposite direction, lights flashing, back-up from the other districts called to assist the already overwhelmed police and fire departments.
Up ahead, aircraft warning lights on the hospital roof pulsed red. Just a few more seconds and maybe he'd have a chance. Scott scooted back onto his feet, his sore knees grateful for the shift in weight.
"And there ain't any goody two-shoe Alts left in this city to rescue you neither." Number two slammed Scott's face with his elbow, rocking Scott back. Scott rolled with the punch, but kept his balance. "So don't be expecting one of them costumed fucktards to swoop out the skies and catch you at the last second. Captain Spectacular ain't your bitch today."
Scott tried to laugh through his split lips, but choked again on his own blood. Figures, even at the end of his life he couldn't escape his past. "Would you believe I hate Alts even more than I hate you?"
The Fist staggered, either at the idea that Scott could hate alternative humans more than his self-appointed murderers, or from the blitz in his system. Whatever the reason, the Fist lost his footing. Scott took advantage of the distraction and launched from his squat to slam his head into the underside of the Fist's chin. With Fist number one howling curses, Scott swung at Fist number two with all his pent-up fury.
As badly as they had beaten him, Scott still had a fighting chance against three Norms, normal humans like himself, though the third Fist still sat there looking bored. The pilot, paying more attention to the fight than his flying, lost altitude and Scott's stomach plunged with the copter, but he didn't stop fighting.
"Shake him out! Shake him out!" one of the Fists — Scott had lost track of which was which — hollered. The pilot tilted the copter at a crazy angle, squishing Scott between the Fists and the closed side of the cabin.
"The other way!" More shouting from the Fists.
Scott shoved against the wall of muscle, ducked the next blow, and tried an uppercut in the cramped space. The copter tilted again and this time he fell toward the open door. In a desperate move, he grabbed for anything and caught the edge of a denim vest. The larger man stumbled into Scott as they fell out the door. At the last second, the other Fist grabbed his partner's legs to keep him inside while Scott dangled below the door with a death grip on the larger man's vest.
"Shoot him!" the vest's owner yelled as he pounded on Scott's arm, twisted his wrist, but Scott held on. The third gang member with Scott's gun still didn't join the fight. The helicopter spun three-sixty. Scott slammed back and forth between the door frame.
"Cut it! Cut the vest!" the Fist who held him shouted into the wind.
The vest ripped, lowered an inch. Scott could see the hospital's warning lights reflected in the knife's blade as it sliced through the denim. He made one last grab before the vest tore free.
Hannah Quinn scrambled away from her hidden rooftop shelter seconds before the falling body obliterated it. Just her luck, the Left Fists had decided to drop their latest kill right onto her hideout. Now she was going to have to run for it before the police showed up.
She managed three steps towards the stairs before she looked back, her heart in her throat. Damn it. Damn it. Damn it. There was no reason to assume the victim had survived the fall, but she couldn’t leave without checking. She just couldn't. What kind of person abandoned a mortally wounded person to die alone?
Your mother would. You know she would. You should listen to your mother. Like you always do.
Hannah groaned at her own stupidity, but her desire to not emulate her mother turned her away from her escape route. She picked her way through the collapsed lean-to that she had constructed out of filched hospital sheets and plywood.
The man's body lay splayed in an unnatural angle. The sun hadn't quite set, so she could see the blood pooling around his head where his skull had cracked. The armor he wore looked like the kind police wore, dark blue with thick fabric, but the badge and nameplate had been sliced away. Had the equipment been enough to protect him? Maybe.
She examined the swollen, bloody face before she reached over to brush away black hair from his right temple. No ear lobe. It could only be Scott Grey. An Alt-killer. Hero to the Norms of Star Haven.
I might be an idiot, and if I heal Grey I'll be a traitor to the Alts, but I'm not a murderer. I can fix this. I know I can.
First things first. Search for a pulse. There. Faint, but it tapped against her fingers. Now for the hard part. Inside. Yikes! She'd entered through the carotid artery, which sent her surfing in the wrong direction, up instead of down. Her panic rose, but not enough to keep her from locating the jugular so she could surf down to the heart. Damn, damn, damn. The aorta had split and blood was spurting into Grey's chest cavity.
She sped faster around his heart, sealing the ragged edge of the hole until it stopped leaking. She waited three beats to make sure he wouldn't arrest in the middle of her operation. Three of his ribs had shattered and two had punctured his lungs. What a mess. She could make a circuit of the major arteries and veins without difficulty, but the millions of tiny capillaries seemed endless. She finished with his lungs and surfed down to the liver, fractured but still functional. Time distorted when she healed. A minute felt like an hour. An hour felt like a day. A day like a week.
Okay, liver fixed. Next she needed to look inside his head, so she hopped into the inferior vena cava and rode up to his heart before transferring back to the carotid artery. From there she jumped into the vertebral artery.
No good. His brain had swollen too fast, keeping her out of his skull. She shoved harder, but the swelling pushed her back. She'd never tried to travel outside the blood vessels before, but she didn't have a choice. If she ended the operation and let Grey die like he deserved, an autopsy would show his half-healed body. Whether she healed him or not, the police would know an Alt still roamed their city, but if they thought she'd killed him, they'd redouble their efforts to find her.
She could feel his heartbeat slow and his blood pressure increase despite her repairs. She'd never lost a patient yet and Grey was not going to be her first. She pushed out of the artery. With no blood to guide her, she free floated. Where the hell am I? She grabbed onto the nearest bone and looked around. Everything looks different in 3D. I'll have to guess which way is up.
Luck stayed with her and she squeezed inside Grey's skull. A few jokes about Grey's swelled head crossed her mind. Instead of laughing, she skimmed along the brain's surface, maximizing oxygen flow while reducing water intake until the swelling receded. His heart rate increased as she surfed, so she kept at it until his blood pressure returned to normal. She'd make one last dash through the brain to repair any internal damage. If only she could change his thought patterns so he wouldn't hate Alts like everyone else in Star Haven. Unfortunately, her power to heal couldn't fix a hateful personality.
She stopped when she spotted the black thread. The odd, atrophied-looking tangle protruded from the interthalamic adhesion. How strange. A quick search showed a corresponding strand across the midline. She brought the two ends together. The ends fused into one and a spark of energy kicked her backwards. Whatever the thread was, it worked again. She had no more time to waste. She surfed down to take care of his broken legs, followed by his arms, then his shoulders.
One last repair, though he didn't deserve it. She pushed herself back into the bloodstream and surfed up to Grey's right ear. She'd never done something like this before, not with such an old wound. Too much stimulation to the cells could result in too much skin. She wouldn't do Grey any favors if she gave him mismatched ears. That would only make him hate Alts more than he already did.
Done, and not a minute too soon. Her own body was failing fast. She floated over to Grey's neck and drifted back into herself.
Her stomach roiled and every muscle seized at the same time as the migraine hit. She flattened her palms against the craggy cement on either side of Grey's head. RUN! RUN! RUN! her mind screamed, but her body refused to obey.
Grey's smoky eyes opened wide.
She managed a soft sigh before her body gave out and she fainted on top of him.
Scott rolled out from under Hannah. He was alive, which meant someone had rescued him. He glanced around the roof, looking for Left Fists, but saw only torn sheets fluttering in the cool breeze, a first aid kit, and a garbage bag filled with dirty paper plates. So this was where Mayor Dane's daughter had hidden herself all these months. Smart thinking, to hide on the roof of a hospital. He ran his hands along the light blue scrubs she wore to check her for injuries. The ID hanging around her neck read "Karen Smith", but even with her red hair dyed mouse-brown he knew this was Hannah. Her face had stared at him from a dozen runaway posters distributed throughout Star Haven's police precincts.
Finding no broken bones or bleeding wounds, he scooped her limp body into his arms, stood up...and almost fell flat on his back. On top of the beating he'd taken, he hadn't eaten anything since before he reported for duty yesterday — no, the day before, judging by the sunrise. He'd figure out the details once he got Hannah to the emergency department.
As he raced across the helipad to the elevators, he considered the broader implication of his current situation. A mid-air rescue meant there was an illegal Alt in the city. The Alt-ban should have forced every Star Haven Alt out of the city six months ago. If the Alt who caught him had knocked them both out, he or she had only made a bad situation worse — first by assaulting a police officer, then by assaulting Mayor Dane's daughter. Defying the Alt-ban would only have resulted in the Alt's transfer across Mystic Bay to Thunder City. Assaulting a police officer guaranteed jail-time, and hurting the mayor's daughter was like begging for the death sentence. He pulled Hannah closer to his chest.
The elevator descended too slowly but with his energy sapped he couldn't risk the stairs. He leaned against the back wall, thankful that Hannah remained unconscious. She'd lived alone on a rooftop for months. What had happened to her? Why had she chosen such a desperate, lonely existence?
When the elevator doors opened onto the emergency department, he stepped into a tsunami of humanity — doctors, nurses, and orderlies raced about, their arms filled with equipment, charts, or worse yet, small children. He stepped into the path of the nearest empty-handed nurse. "I found her knocked out on the hospital roof."
The nurse shook off her confusion at Scott's sudden appearance and laid her fingers on Hannah's neck. Pulse taken, she jerked her head toward the nearest empty gurney and Scott followed. He laid Hannah down and the nurse repeated his check for injuries while shouting orders for blood tests.
An orderly shoved past him with a needle already in hand.
"Get out of here," the nurse said to Scott, not taking her eyes off Hannah. "We'll handle this."
Scott backed up and let the pros do their job. Star Haven Memorial was no one's first choice for health care, but beggars couldn't be choosers. The hospital was already overfilled with wounded created by the Left Fists's shooting spree, so Scott backed away. He'd check on Hannah in a few minutes.
At least something useful had come out of this fiasco. Miranda Dane was desperate to get her daughter back. There'd been no ransom demand after she'd disappeared, so the police had no choice but to classify her as a runaway. The mayor had offered a reward to anyone who found her daughter. Scott had already earned the mayor's favor and he intended to keep it.
Behind him another set of doors led to a hallway for the first floor ward. Maybe he'd find another first aid kit somewhere to bandage his own bruises. Oddly, he didn't feel sore, but he was also bursting with adrenaline. He'd feel the beating tomorrow for sure.
Thanks to the Fists, he also had no phone, no radio, and no weapons. What he wouldn't give to at least have his phone back. He shoved his hands into his pockets, and his left hand curled around something solid and rectangular. Confused, he pulled out his phone. He was sure the Left Fists had snagged it when they disarmed him. Everything had happened so fast though, maybe they'd missed it?
He'd solve the mystery later, after he speed dialed his partner.
"Juan, it's Scott."
"Fucking hell, man. We've been looking for you all night. Are you okay?"
He heard the underlying question. Are you still a hostage? Who's listening to this call? "I'm fine. I escaped. I'm at Star Haven Memorial right now."
"Hang on one sec."
Scott wandered over to a vending machine while Juan shouted across the din of the precinct that Scott was alive. The return cheer made Scott smile.
"Hey, do you want me to come get you?" Juan asked.
He was tempted to say yes and ask his partner to bring him something to eat. The vending machine only offered two bags of chips and a packet of peanuts. Not that he had any money to pay for it. "No, not right now. You're needed there and I need to get patched up. Any leads on how the Left Fists managed to get their hands on a helicopter?"
Juan's sigh spoke of long hours and volumes of unanswered questions. "Nothing, but the detectives are working that angle. I'm just trying to find my partner while the higher ups keep the riot under control."
Scott couldn't have asked for a better friend. "Thanks, man. I'll catch you later."
"Sure thing," Juan said. "Watch yourself, though. Left Fist activity has calmed down, but there have been reports of Alts in the area."
Scott's stomach tightened around nothing. Of course he'd guessed right. "Which ones?"
"We don't have confirmation on anything, but a guy called nine-one-one claiming he saw Captain Spec fly over the marina. Another woman swears she saw Ghost walk right through her front door without opening it," Juan said.
Alts knew better than to operate this side of the Bay, especially those two. "I'll keep an eye out."
"I know you will. If anyone can bag themselves an Alt, it's you."
Scott winced. Not even a month out of the Police Academy, when he was only nineteen, he'd shot and killed an Alt, earning himself a reputation as an Alt-killer. In Star Haven, he'd received a commendation and the public's adulation. Mayor Dane had used him as a poster child, proof that her decision to lower the Police Academy's minimum age to eighteen had been the right call.
If he showed his face in Thunder City, he'd get a very different, far more ugly reception. It'd been four years since he'd crossed the Bay. He had no reason to go back now.
Instead of dwelling on what he couldn't change, he disconnected from Juan and started to punch in the Mayor's number. Then he stopped. He'd been unconscious all night. That would make today Wednesday. Hannah's eighteenth birthday had been Monday. He'd kept track of that sort of information in case...well, you never knew when it would come in handy. Legally, she was an adult now, not a runaway. If she didn't want to go home, if she didn't want her mother to find her, Hannah had the right to make that decision. Even Mayor Dane couldn't force her daughter to return, no matter how much Dane wanted the reunion.
Against his better judgment, he put the phone back into his pocket. Hannah wasn't going anywhere for a while, and even starved as he was, he first needed to satisfy a different urge. Waiting a few minutes wouldn't hurt anything.
Inside the nearest men's room, the fluorescent light flickered in an unsteady rhythm, but at least he was alone. Blood covered his uniform and face, which wasn't as swollen as he'd expected. He opened his mouth to check which tooth he'd lost, but all his teeth appeared to be intact. Maybe he'd only chipped one? A quick swirl of his tongue over his molars didn't reveal any rough spots. He'd call his dentist anyway.
Scott lathered up his hands to wash away as much of the blood as he could. He had to have been rescued by an Alt, but which one? It would be easier to get an arrest warrant if he could identify the Alt first. God help him if it was Captain Spec or Ghost. He didn't need those two complicating things.
Hannah might have seen a face or a uniform before the Alt knocked her out.
Scott grabbed a handful of paper towels to blot away the water. As he did, his fingers brushed past his right ear. What the hell? He dropped the wad of towels and yanked his hair back. He'd been so focused on the blood and his tooth, he never noticed his ear, now complete with a lobe. A hallucination, it had to be. He'd had no food, no water in over twenty-four hours. A solid dose of protein would force him to see sense again. He'd beg a couple of dollars off someone and grab the bag of peanuts from the vending machine.
Exasperated, he rubbed his eyes, but the sharp scratch of plastic jabbed at his left eyelid. He pulled his hand away and found a packet of peanuts clutched in his palm. It was the same brand he'd seen in the vending machine.
Cold horror replaced his exhaustion. What the hell had happened to him?
"Well?" Miranda Dane snapped into her cell phone, while simultaneously checking her location on its GPS. Traffic leaving the Southern Point district still clogged the cross-city expressway, but she was scheduled for a press conference in front of the burned out civic center. Her driver would have no difficulties getting her there early.
"We have a possible sighting of your daughter."
Six goddamned months and all Police Commissioner Becksom could offer her was a possible sighting. She should have fired him after the first three weeks of failure. He was lucky to still be alive after six months. "Where?"
"Star Haven Memorial."
"Which one of your men thinks he saw her?" She'd be sure to have the badge of the son-of-a-bitch who didn't have enough sense to get confirmation before making the call.
"One of my undercover detectives attached to the Left Fists," Becksom said. "He broke a leg during the operation last night. They were stabilizing him in the ER when he saw a patrol officer come in carrying a girl who could have been Hannah."
"Identify that officer. Have him cuff my daughter and lock her up somewhere. If she disappears again, it's your head on the chopping block." Miranda disconnected the call and pinged her driver. "Head for Star Haven Memorial. Jump the lights if necessary."
The driver signaled his understanding.
Miranda dropped the phone back into its dock, then pressed her forefinger on the biometric lock to the hidden safe. The door popped open and she pulled out a padded envelope. She slid a manicured fingernail along the edge and let the contents spill onto her lap, careful to protect her custom tweed suit: three pre-filled syringes and their corresponding needles. Two syringes went back into the envelope.
Her nursing days at Memorial were long behind her, but she still remembered how to administer injections, both to save her patients and to kill them as ordered. She couldn’t kill Hannah, but the girl was becoming more of a problem than she’d anticipated. Without her stepfather to protect her, Hannah was alone. This time Miranda would employ stronger methods to see that the girl stayed where Miranda had put her.
The security video showed the cracked plaster of SHM as her driver slowed to swing the vehicle through the crowded parking lot, forcing other, smaller cars out of the way. With no place to park, her driver cut off an ambulance and maneuvered the limo into the last space in front of the emergency department's main entrance. A minute later, he opened the door and Miranda stepped out onto the pockmarked pavement amidst a cacophony of sirens and shouting, all of which she ignored.
"Wait here. This shouldn't take long."
He bowed, but didn't respond.
A siren blared as Hannah woke. Months of paranoia kept her eyes closed to the barest slit. Cool air scented with antiseptic could only mean she was inside the hospital. That buzzing noise...no, not the helicopter...voices. Loud...angry...desperate.... Oh, God, Grey? Was he in pain?
Her eyes snapped open as a gurney sped past her surrounded by colorful scrubs. She tried to sit up, but her pounding headache knocked her right back onto the flat pillow. Wait, think...Grey fell, she healed him and...crap, she must have fainted after. Maybe right on top of him, because the last thing she remembered was his eyes, wide and confused. He'd seen her, identified her. She couldn’t stay here.
He must have checked her into the emergency department, which would explain the honking and shouting and the IV needle pinching her elbow. Someone had parked her gurney at the end of the corridor instead of inside an exam room. So far, so good, though — no guards stood nearby. The lanyard from her fake ID still scratched her neck. Why hadn't Grey alerted hospital security?
Don't jinx your luck. Be glad he dumped you without a second thought. You can get away.
Still, he had dumped her, just like so many others before him. It stung, even though it shouldn't have. He hated Alts, had even killed one. He'd kill her too if he knew the truth.
The pain behind her eyes spiked as she turned her head. Making a run for it was out of the question, but all she needed was a head start and enough time to put distance between herself and the hospital. She had to assume Grey, dutiful Alt-killing cop that he was, had called her mother as soon as he dropped her here.
Keeping her movements slow so as not to attract attention, she slid her free arm out from under the scratchy blanket. With a pinch and a squeeze, she pulled the IV needle out of her vein and pressed her thumb to her elbow to stanch the blood. She curled onto her side so she could see the rest of the hallway and breathed past the headache. No one paid any attention to Karen Smith, hospital volunteer.
The crisis outside built to a crescendo. Someone shouted, "Get the hell out of the way"; someone else shouted back. Mayhem erupted. The crowd surged as a fight broke out.
Time to leave.
The second her bare toes touched the cold floor, her legs buckled. Arms flailing, she caught hold of a nearby water fountain, her fingers white as they slipped on the shiny surface. Bile burned her stomach, then her throat, while she retched. Her weak hands pushed the button to release lukewarm water into her mouth.
Relax, breathe deep, count to three, get control of yourself, your body. You're stronger than this.
Three breaths later, she lurched toward the double doors leading to the first ward outside the emergency room. The racket behind her increased. A fight at the entrance gained traction and the noise rolled closer as she threw herself against the latch bar. Her feet slid across the polished linoleum. C'mon, this shouldn't be so hard.
The door inched open. Behind her, a voice rose above all the others. "Mayor Dane, if you would please wait and let us find..."
Fear shoved her through the doors. Please-don't-let-her find-me, please-don't-let-her-find-me, please-don't-let-her-find-me.
"You stay with the girl." Becksom's voice rattled Scott's already raw nerves. "Cuff her to the bed and don’t let her out of your sight."
Scott tossed the last bite of his soggy sandwich into the trash, heading for the cafeteria's exit. "Isn't that a little extreme, sir? She's eighteen now. If she doesn't want to return home, we can't legally force her."
Becksom ignored his question. "The mayor is coming to pick her up. Whatever you do, don't interfere."
Don't interfere. Not since he left Thunder City had he ever considered disobeying an order. Obeying orders, trusting authority...he'd channeled all his anger into becoming a better man when he entered the Police Academy, a different person. It looked like he hadn't overcome his inner rebel after all. The only reason why he didn't tell Becksom to shove it was because he was still numb after discovering his ear had grown back.
At least he could think on a half-full stomach. He'd wanted to escape the hospital ever since he'd dropped the peanuts on the men's room floor. Thank God the cafeteria cashier took one look at his bloody uniform and waved him through the line as he stuttered some bullshit explanation as to why he had no money.
The cell phone he could explain. And the peanuts, if he could convince himself the Left Fists had slipped those into his pocket as well. The regrowth of his right earlobe defied explanation. No one in Star Haven knew more about Alts than he did, and he knew of no Alt who could regrow body parts. It was easier to pretend the regrown lobe didn't exist. To make matters worse, someone had recognized Hannah and called the police commissioner.
He picked up speed and prayed Hannah hadn't disappeared. If he was lucky, he would have a few minutes to talk to her before her mother showed up.
An ambulance siren welcomed him back to the emergency department. A knot of hospital security surrounded a group of irate civilians, all pushing and shoving against the guards and each other. He couldn't see from this angle who they were trying to attack. Any other circumstance and he would have lent a hand, but he couldn't afford to lose Hannah. Again, he stepped directly into the path of a nurse.
"I'm looking for a patient. Karen Smith, brown hair, unconscious, transferred from the helipad?"
The nurse pointed down the hallway. "Gurney at the end. We're waiting on her test results."
Scott quick-stepped around the nurse before she finished and headed down the hallway. The gurney he found was empty, the sheets bunched up with the IV tube tangled around its stand. Becksom's gonna have me assigned to desk duty for the rest of my career if I don't find her. There was a long line at the restroom door. Doubtful she'd gone in there. Above his head, the CCTV monitor recorded his actions.
He backtracked out of the department, but this time he headed for the staff elevators. The ancient box cut off the sounds of chaos as its doors creaked closed and rose oh-so-slowly to the third floor. He should have taken the stairs. Scott squeezed passed the doors before they opened all the way, and took a left toward the south wing. Another left brought him to the security suite. He knocked and hoped that his uniform would be enough to get him inside.
"I have a security situation." He pushed past the uniformed woman who answered. A bank of computer monitors lined the wall. Two other guards swung around from their stations, their hands on their weapons.
Scott stopped, hands raised slightly, and addressed the guard seated at the nearest terminal, an older black man with salt and pepper hair. "I need to see the ER corridor leading to the first floor ward from ten minutes ago. Can you show me the footage?"
The guard's eyes swept Scott's uniform from head to foot. "I can, Officer..."
"Grey. Scott Grey. Call Lieutenant Pearson, Havenside Precinct. He’ll confirm my identity."
"I know Lieutenant Pearson," the guard said, his hands easing away from his weapon. "Trained him when he was a rookie. I also know he's looking for a rookie of his own, named Scott Grey. He asked me to call him if your carcass wound up in our morgue."
Scott noticed a print of his academy graduation picture, the most recent picture anyone would have of him, taped to the guard's display. "The reports of my death..."
"...are greatly exaggerated." The guard finished the quote. "Who are you looking for, Officer Grey?" He typed a command into his keyboard and one of the monitors flickered. Scott checked the time stamp. Ten minutes ago, main doors at the end of the hallway off the emergency department.
"Girl. Blue scrubs, long brown hair. She's a volunteer. Karen Smith."
"I know her." The guard typed another command and fast-forwarded at a speed they could both follow. "From Mainland High School, a couple of blocks down. Found her a couple of times in the boiler room. She was studying for exams — anatomy and physiology. Wanted to find someplace quiet while she was on break. What sort of trouble is she in?"
"I don't know yet," Scott said, appreciating that the guard sounded genuinely concerned, and that someone had been keeping an eye on her. A second later Hannah appeared on the screen. "There she is."
The guard stopped the tape. Hannah stood frozen against the doors. She looked over her shoulder at something. The grainy monitor image focused on Hannah's face. Fear. No, not fear. Terror. Someone in the ER had put that look on Hannah's face. Scott clamped his hands into fists, grinding his fingernails into the meat of his palms. He understood her fear, if not the cause. No one should ever have to experience that sort of terror.
"Can you track her?"
"Sure can." The guard set the video running, then clicked a few more keys. The camera recorded her turning right, then lost her. "Looks like she headed toward the cafeteria."
"I would have seen her." Which made no sense. "What else is between the ER and cafeteria? Any place with its own exit?"
The guard scratched his chin. "There's the old billing office. It didn't have a separate entrance until two weeks ago when a drunk and disorderly overshot the parking lot and slammed his SUV into the wall. Admin is still looking at the budget to see if they can repair the hole. In the meantime, it's only covered in plastic."
"We're supposed to have someone stationed there," the second guard said. He pulled a clipboard off the wall. "Jackson, in fact."
Scott didn't even have to ask. His guard pulled up that station on his monitor. No Jackson.
"Son-of-a-bitch, he knows he's not supposed to..."
"He probably got called to the entrance," Scott interrupted. "Some sort of ruckus broke out."
"Not your usual ruckus," the third guard said, rehooking her walkie-talkie to her belt. "Mayor Dane parked her limo in the emergency lane and her chauffeur refuses to move."
The look on Hannah’s face. Was she scared of her mother? Why? What could Hannah have possibly done?
Guilt for the blame-the-victim assumption rode him hard. Maybe she hadn't done anything wrong. He wouldn't know unless he asked.
Scott clapped his hand on his guard's shoulder. "Thanks for the assist. I have what I need."
The guard nodded. "No problem, Grey. Tell Pearson when you see him, he owes me a drink."
"Will do," Scott said over his shoulder as he pushed open the door. He ran back to the elevators, but this time took the stairs back to the first floor.
Halfway between the emergency department and the cafeteria, he found the billing office. He tested the door and found it open. Plastic crackled and flexed over the gaping hole in the opposite wall, where sunlight sneaked past the loosened duct tape. The room was empty except for a few filing cabinets and a wooden desk. Scott checked under the desk to make sure Hannah hadn't decided to hide there, but no, she had to have gone outside.
Since he couldn't possibly cause more damage to the wall, he ripped away the plastic cover and squeezed through. Smoke from last night's fires still lingered despite the salty breeze from the Bay. At this angle he could also see the pile of cars and ambulances jam-packed into the parking lot. The Left Fists had succeeded in bringing more misery to a district already steeped in it. Mayor Dane’s presence didn't help.
A flash of blue scrubs and long hair caught his attention. Hannah crouched behind an industrial-sized garbage bin. No one could see her from the lot and there was no security at this end of the hospital. He ducked down and scurried over to where she knelt.
She spun, her back pressed against the bin. Her chalky white skin emphasized her green eyes, glassy and bright.
"Hannah," he repeated, his voice low as he moved half an inch closer. "I've been trying to find you.”
She shook her head in slow motion. "You better leave before we get caught, Officer Grey."
She knew his name, who he was. He never talked to anyone about what he did three years ago, and the media mostly left him alone now, but some people never forgot. Others would never forgive, but they were Alts. He didn't give a damn if they forgave him or not. Hannah had joined her mother on the stage the day he'd received the commendation from the city. Of course she would remember him.
"Hey, you can call me Scott, okay? Just Scott. I can't leave you like this." He dropped one knee to the pavement, prepared to run if she did, though the feverish look on her face made her more likely to pass out again than run off. "You can trust me."
A smiled ghosted over her lips. "No, I can't. You want me to go home with my mother. I won't."
Tough nut to crack. Six months on the street would turn even the softest woman hard. For now, he'd stick to what they had in common. "Let's not talk about your mother. Let's talk about what happened on the roof."
Her face scrunched a bit as she thought over his words. "What do you want to know?"
"I need to know what you saw."
She shrugged. "What makes you think I saw anything?"
Classic evasion tactic. "I don't know if you saw anything. That's why I'm asking the question."
She glanced back at the parking lot. Her mother's limo was still parked in plain view, sunlight bright against the tinted windows. "If I answer your question, will you help me?"
"Help you with what?" Two could play at the evasion game.
She turned back to him and took a deep breath. "Help me leave Star Haven. Get me across Mystic Bay to Thunder City."
"Why would you want to go to Thunder City?" She was eighteen now. If she wanted to cross the Bay, there was nothing to stop her unless she had no cash or credit cards. Contrary to what the guard thought, Hannah attended Milldale, one of the hoity-toity academies in the Northern Star district. The cost of a ferry ticket was little more than spare change to the kids at her school. Any one of her friends could have given her the money.
"My mother has the port authority on alert." Her voice rose, brittle as ice. "And security demands a biometric scan before anyone can get on or off a boat. I can’t cross without her finding me."
The biometric scans had been put in place to keep Thunder City Alts from using the ferry to enter Star Haven. Scott could see Dane bending a few rules to find her daughter, but why was Hannah so scared? He had to figure there would be tension between the two after Roger Dane, her stepfather, had died, but this fear...it was too extreme.
Helping her would have career consequences. At twenty-two, he hadn't scored enough cred to blunt a backlash if Dane revoked the favors he'd gained when he shot the Alt. And yet, despite what the Commissioner had said, he couldn't legally force Hannah to return home if she didn't want to.
"I can't cross the Bay to Thunder City," he said. Nothing would make him go back. Not ever. "But I'll see what I can do to help. Tell me what happened on the roof last night."
She blinked, her eyelids thick and slow. "I didn't see much because my shelter was behind the vent. A couple of helicopters had already landed to deliver patients. No one ever looks beyond the actual landing pad. I only noticed your helicopter because it flew around like a pissed off hornet, circling, like it was looking for a target. I was afraid the crew would see me."
Scott couldn't help his grin. "Yeah, I kinda picked a fight up there. The pilot was trying to shake me out the door. It worked, because I remember falling. Did you see the Alt who caught me?"
She shook her head, but her eyes looked down and away.
"C'mon," he said, settling back further on his haunches. "We both know there is no way I could have survived that fall. Who did you see? If you don't know their name or their moniker, just give me a description."
She licked her lips but didn't answer.
Scott sighed. As much as he hated to talk about the shooting, he had to say something to gain Hannah's trust, to convince her he really was the good guy. "Hannah, contrary to what the rest of Star Haven might think, I'm not some trigger-happy Alt-killer. What happened three years ago is a lot more complicated than what you've heard on the news. I can't change the law or make an exception. If there's an Alt defying the ban, I'm obligated to arrest them. I won't hurt them, I promise."
The muscles around her mouth relaxed — not enough to give him a smile, but enough to ease the harsh lines of tension. "Me," she whispered.
"What about you?" A pinprick of fear poked him in the stomach.
"I'm the Alt, but I didn't catch you."
Fucking hell! Even though Alts didn't necessarily look any different from Norms, he should have figured her out before now.
"What's your power?" He placed both hands on opposite sides of her head, flat against the bin, caging her, but careful not to touch her. An Alt. Hannah Quinn — Mayor Dane's daughter — is a damned Alt.
This time her eyes locked with his as her breath quickened. He was so close to her, a free strand of her hair, plucked by the wind, caressed his face. He understood her fear, the cold paralysis of having run yourself ragged in a maze only to discover there's no way out. He'd been in that maze, his escape a miracle. Now he found himself trapped between his loyalty to the law and his growing sympathy for Hannah. He dared to feel sympathy for her, but he couldn't let it show.
"Will you take me to Thunder City like you promised?" she asked.
He would throttle her if she continued to evade his questions. "Don't play games. What is your power?"
"Will you...will you help me?" she stuttered, delivering a stalemate.
"Damn you. Alt powers are dangerous if you don't know how to control them. I won't help you until you tell me what you can do."
Wrong threat. He knew he'd screwed up as Hannah straightened her posture and raised her chin, her slow trust replaced by defiant steel. "I assure you, I know how to control my powers. I've had them under control since I was five. I don't need a lecture from some Norm."
Yeah. That’s what he thought. She saw him as just some Norm. Not even his uniform, covered with his own blood, would change her view. Alts might pretend to be superheroes, but at the end of the day, they protected themselves and their own. To hell with everyone else. A harsh lesson, that he'd learned the hard way. "Fine. No lectures. You were on the roof last night and saw me get pushed out of the copter. I fell. How did you break my fall?"
She shrank back. "She killed my stepfather. Miranda murdered Roger Dane. She murdered all of her husbands. I have to get away from her."
To think that Dane had painted Hannah as a sweet, confused young woman without a manipulative bone in her body. Scott looked over at Dane's limo, still idling. Nothing in the news reports had indicated Roger Dane died of anything other than a heart attack. He’d been driving along Bay Avenue when his Cadillac careened off the road, crashed through the barrier, and ended up in the Bay. "Can you prove it?"
She shook her head and sagged against the bin, rubbing her eyes with the heel of her hand. "If you're not going to help me, you'd better leave. It always takes me a couple of days to recover."
"Recover from what?"
Again, she didn't respond.
"Hannah, I need to know." He slammed his fist into the bin, making her jump. "Recover from what?"
"Why should I trust you?" Hannah looked him in the eyes, no flinching, all challenge.
Screw her attitude. "Because I'm all you have. If what you say is true, and your mother did kill your stepfather, and you really are an Alt, then you'd better start trusting me, because in this city, not even the daughter of Mayor Dane is safe."
She knew he was right. Her emerald eyes splintered into facets with unshed tears. "I don't know what other people call it,” she said, her voice low, hoarse. “I don't know if anyone else can do what I do. I call it bloodsurfing because that's what it feels like. I'm a bloodsurfer."
"What does a bloodsurfer do?" His hands squeaked against metal as he slid them off the bin, giving her room, giving her a modicum of his trust. He knew of Alts who could fly, crush concrete bare handed, outrun a jet, turn invisible; who possessed empathy, telepathy, and telekinesis. He didn't know of any Alt power that involved blood, unless Hannah meant it metaphorically.
"It’s how I healed you, after you fell out of the helicopter."
Blood roared in his ears as Hannah's voice faded into the background. He hadn't been rescued. He’d fallen out of the helicopter and died, or damn close to. "My body?" Did he really want to know the details? "The damage from hitting the roof..."
"Most of your bones had shattered. You had a tear in your aorta, your liver was fractured, and your brain had swollen almost beyond what your skull could contain," she answered, as if listing groceries. "Two of your ribs had punctured your lungs. There was so much damage...."
"Stop!" He hadn't meant to shout, and they both ducked further behind the bin, his body covering hers, blocking any chance she would be spotted. The move was pure instinct, because he was a cop trained to protect, not because he cared about her. He couldn't afford to care. He wouldn't allow himself to care. She was an Alt and he was a Norm...wasn't he?
Doubts about his past rose like demons. His parents, his upbringing. More recent events: the appearance of his phone, the package of peanuts. He knew what Alts could do.
"Everything. You healed everything?" This was insane. He was a Norm and proud of it. He'd left his home to prove he could be a hero, to show that you didn't need special abilities to save and to protect. He'd accomplished so much these past four years.
She nodded. "Once I start, it's hard to stop. If it looks wrong, I fix it."
"What else? What else did you fix?" Damn his crumbling pride. Was his life nothing but a lie built on an accident? A defect?
"What do you mean?" she asked, but he looked away, so he could focus. How could he explain to her the damage she'd caused, the life she’d destroyed with a mere wave of her hand — if she even needed to wave her hand.
His hate warred with his training, but he'd been trained to protect Norms, not Alts. Only a few hours ago, he'd traded his life to save those innocent kids from the Left Fists. Yet, Hannah looked at him just like those kids had — wide-eyed and helpless.
"What other powers do you have? What else can you do?" One final desperate plea, hoping he was wrong.
"None. I can heal people. Other people. I can't heal myself. That's all I do."
The bitterness of her laugh sounded familiar, too much like his own. Stop it. Stop empathizing with her. If Hannah healed his bones, his heart, his lungs, and his brain, she must have also healed something else. The Left Fists didn't miss his phone and they sure as hell didn't give him a bag of peanuts. Hannah fixed something and turned him into an Alt.
Fate had once again kicked his ass. Any hope he had of making his own choices, controlling his own life, and establishing his future on his own terms was shot to hell. All because Hannah Quinn had decided his life was worth saving.
If he accomplished nothing else, he had to get both of them out of Star Haven today. Star Haven was a city built on the hatred of Alts, where laws were passed specifically to keep Star Haven Alt-free. If he stayed here and accidentally exposed his power, he'd be targeted for arrest, and worse, by the same cops he called his friends.
Hannah sat there studying him, judging him. She’d saved his life even though she didn't have to. Like it or not, he owed her. He could save her, but could he save himself?
Instinct forced Hannah to reach out to Scott as she watched the blood drain from his face. Had she missed a crucial repair?
"Don’t touch me." He knocked her hand away. "Whatever happens, you keep your hands off me. Understand? No skin-to-skin contact."
With his finger pointed at her nose, how could she not understand? Why would she want to touch him anyway? He’d gotten the best she had to give, and for her efforts, he'd turn her in. She had risked everything for him and now she had to pay the price.
She leaned forward to stand up, but before she could make a run for it, muscular arms curled around her shoulders and legs as Scott swept her off the ground. The mid-morning sun forced her to close her eyes. She could still hear the sirens in the background. Her head pounded in rhythm with Scott's stride. The smell of blood mixed with sweat didn't help her nausea when Scott hitched her tighter in his grip, pulling her closer to his chest. Next to his heart, which beat clear and strong thanks to her. As the saying goes, no good deed goes unpunished.
The rhythm paused. Why had Scott stopped walking? To flag down her mother? Or maybe to get the attention of Victor, the nasty chauffeur who dogged her mother's every step? A shiver rippled up Hannah's spine. If her mother had given the order to have Roger killed, then Hannah would bet her dirty scrubs that the chauffeur was the one who had killed him.
More walking, but at no point did Scott bounce her in a way that made her think he would drop her. She wasn't a tiny girl, but she'd lost a lot of weight while on the run. It wasn't hard when your diet consisted of discarded vegetables and leftover doughnuts.
She cracked open one eye, but the sun's glare put her surroundings into shadow. She closed them again and focused on what she heard. The ambulance siren dimmed, almost as if Scott was walking away from the hospital’s entrance.
A sharp whistle pierced the grind of traffic. "Yo, Grey. Y'need help, man?"
Scott stopped and a minute later he slid her into the welcome coolness of a car. Without the sun in her eyes, she could see the interior. A taxi. Scott must have known the driver because he called the man "Mac" and gave him an address as he slid into the back seat next to her.
If Scott hated Alts like the rest of the city, why had he carried her away from the hospital? Her mother no doubt had one of the hospital administrators in a headlock over her daughter's disappearance, so it wouldn’t have been any hardship for Scott to drag her back inside and get her off his hands. He’d already won her mother's admiration by shooting an Alt. Why would he pass up the chance to impress the mayor again? Heck, her mother would probably give him another medal.
She never should have trusted him with her secret, never should have told him about her power. When she had first seen him, standing on the podium with her mother to receive the medal of commendation, he hadn't looked particularly happy. Maybe she had imagined it, but he hadn't appeared to view his lucky shot as a victory for Norms. Rather, he had seemed sad, as if he wished he could be anywhere else but standing in front of a cheering crowd.
No one else had noticed his distress. Maybe that’s why she had trusted him. If he didn’t relish shooting an Alt, then maybe he didn’t hate Alts with the same fervor as everyone else. How wrong she'd been about him.
After what could have been a few minutes or a few hours — her head hurt too much to track time — the taxi swerved to a stop. Scott coaxed her out of the back seat, his attitude cool, detached.
Brick mid-rise buildings surrounded the entire city block. West Gate Apartments, the sign read. Scott had brought her to Havenside, the university district. She had lived around the corner in the West Gate Villas about five years ago with her mother's fourth husband, the biology professor. It wasn't quite as upper-class as the Northern Star district, where Roger had moved them, but it wasn't the heart of the Swamp either, where she’d been born.
"Can you make it up the steps or do you want me to carry you?" he asked.
Carry me where? Why? What's your game, Grey? "I can make it up the steps, thank you."
He nodded, waiting for her to make the first move. She took a couple of deep breaths. The stars in her eyes faded.
"Okay," she said. "I’m ready."
He led her into the building, its narrow lobby dark after the brightness outside. No one saw them as they made their way to the elevator.
"You live here?" she guessed.
He nodded as he pressed the call button. The doors opened and he stepped in first. She hesitated. If she timed it right, she could run just as the doors closed. "If she knows you've helped me," she said, "she'll come after you too. She has access to everything. She can track you down in minutes."
"I'm not taking you to my apartment." He raised an arm to stop the doors from closing. "I'm taking you to a different apartment, someplace safe. At least until I can figure out how to get you out of Star Haven."
What had changed? He hated Alts, that much was clear, so why help her instead of turning her in? He shoved the elevator doors open again. Hannah glanced back through the glass doors of the apartment building. Was it possible he believed her story?
She had nowhere to run and she was too sick to try, so she stepped into the elevator. Scott had gotten his chance to back out, but he chose this path.
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Other stories in the Thunder City Series:
Other stories in the Thunder City Series are now available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and iTunes :
Blood Hunter (A Thunder City Novel, Book 2)
A Secret Rose (A Thunder City Novella, Book 1)
Valley of the Blind (A Thunder City Short Story - Prequel)
Slow Burn (A Thunder City Short Story - Prequel)
Still Life (A Thunder City Short Story - Prequel)
Copyright 2015, Debra Jess, Corp.
All rights reserved.
Published by Debra Jess, Corp.
In accordance with the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, the scanning, uploading, and electronic sharing of any part of this book without the permission of the publisher is unlawful piracy and theft of the author’s intellectual property. If you would like to use material from the book (other than for review purposes), prior written permission must be obtained by contacting the publisher at P.O. Box 9241, Daytona Beach, FL 32120-9241. Thank you for your support of the author’s rights.
This novel is a work of fiction. All characters, places, and incidents described in this publication are used fictitiously, or are entirely fictional.
Cover Design by Deranged Doctor Design
Formatting by The Killion Group, Inc.
First Edition: September 7, 2015.