Afterburn, p.1Karen L. Abrahamson
Karen L. Abrahamson
Includes a sneak preview of Aftershock
Table of Contents
About the Author,
Also by the Author,
Electronic edition published by Twisted Root Publishing April 2010. Afterburn Copyright © 2010 by Karen L. Abrahamson.
All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction, in whole or in part in any form. This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Cover design by Twisted Root Publishing
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Includes a sneak preview of Aftershock
Man is a singular creature. He has a set of gifts which make him unique among the animals; so that, unlike them, he is not a figure in the landscape—he is a shaper of the landscape.
Jacob Bronowski, The Ascent of Man (1973)
Chapter 1—A Laser Diffused By Mist
Vallon Drake climbed out of the black Subaru WRX 265 and slouched against its swept-back side on the rain-slicked street. She chewed her lip as she considered the space at 1525 Broadway where the heritage-blue house used to stand—not the place she had put it. The last of the change tremors still quivered through the soles of her Doc Martins, and mist haloed the streetlights—the kind of mist that made any proper survey reading nigh on impossible.
But then, it wasn’t a matter of her having taken a wrong turn and needing to triangulate on an unknown point. She knew the metes and bounds of the Seattle city lot probably better than anyone, given she’d had to replace the damned house a couple of times. She didn’t need to refer to the street sign or a map.
Satellite photos said the house was here at 3 p.m. this afternoon. Now it had disappeared, and in its place stood a decrepit, three-story parking garage with a neon sign that pulsed ‘vacancy’ and ‘Parking $10 a day’ like a taunt, spelled in vitriolic orange meant to increase her mad. More so with the alarming scent of ozone and ether still thick in the air. All the little hairs rose on the back of her neck.
Not a good sign. She tasted blood and stopped chewing.
“Where the hell are you, Simon?” she growled, her voice too loud and throaty in the night. The silence ached as it must have when the world was new-made.
She’d sent him out to check on the house when she’d had the first inkling something was wrong–again. The darned house seemed to be a focal point for change. A tingle in her hands, a dead zone forming on the city-wide survey map as she used the old fashioned stereoscope she still preferred to do readings.
But the fact he’d broken protocol and hadn’t reported in after he’d called in his arrival had forced her out of the strictures of the observation desk and into the damnable rain. Which was worse remained to be seen.
Another tremor underfoot and images of the house burned like an afterimage on the back of her eyes. And behind the blue house image lay others—back to the house she’d lost all those years before.
Old grief and remembrance stabbed her breath away…. That was why she kept the blue house in place. A token of what was lost. Stupid.
She kicked the heel of her Doc Martins with her other foot and crossed the street. No traffic at this time of night, though in the distance she could hear the hiss and whine of traffic on I-5 down the hill. A chill wind sheeted the misty rain and she hiked the collar of her leather jacket up under her hair. Didn’t help—much.
No sound. No movement as she stepped up on the curb, but she didn’t need to triangulate for every sense to tell her something was wrong. Not even a parking attendant in sight in the evil, orange light.
She -reached- sent her mind out, and turned her gaze inward.
[Dim glimmer of rats creeping into the rear of the newly-made structure.]
No candles of human life.
[The familiar sheeting flame that was Gifted.] Simon, damn him.
She turned her vision outward and found herself turned slightly—toward the side of the parking structure. Simon, checking out the place, probably. The fact that he hadn’t checked in or responded to her calls just another example of the irresponsibility that had ended the most recent of her string of relationships.
“How the heck you got to be an agent is beyond me.” But then there were those who would say the same about her.
She hauled out her cell again and punched in redial as she followed the flame of Simon’s presence around the corner.
The cell buzzed. Buzzed again and a muffled answering ring came from beyond a browning cedar hedge planted to screen a staircase from the used bookstore next door. From down the street came the annoying rattle of an approaching shopping cart, probably the night staff from the local Safeway reclaiming the carts that always walked away with the locals.
What the hell was Simon doing? Rousting derelicts on stairs?
But there shouldn’t be any derelicts in a parking lot that shouldn’t even exist. The homeless liked the tourist haunts of Pikes Place Market or Pioneer Square.
Unless whoever made this place actually knew what he was doing and wanted to add in the bits of realia that gave a new place a sense of history. Like she’d given the blue house cedar hedging last time she remade it.
That sent a chill up her back. She hunched into her jacket and stepped into the ill-lit stairwell. “Simon?”
No answer, but the incessant buzzing of her phone and the matching muffled buzzing that came from somewhere above set all the hairs on her body on end, because no matter what had happened between her and Simon, this wasn’t like him.
Not like him at all.
She climbed the stairs, wishing her job as an agent of the American Geological Survey came with a gun instead of a theodolite, sextant, pen, and ink. Sometimes guarding the landscape against illicit change—and undoing those changes—brought its own kinds of danger just because of the part of town it brought you to.
But the area around Broadway wasn’t that kind of place. A nice neighborhood stood beyond the stores. Seattle University waited down the block.
The rundown parking garage so didn’t fit.
The first landing stank of urine, so whoever had made this place had a feel for detail, not like when the bookstore owner had changed the house to another store that held shelf after shelf of a single volume of an idiot’s guide to how to run a successful business. That had been the latest change she’d undone.
She thought she heard a sound above and took the second set of stairs faster. She came up onto the first layer of empty parking stalls. The buzzing was close now
“Give it up, Simon. The game’s old.” She was angry now, because dammit, this job wasn’t something to play at.
Something moved—low, down next to the concrete wall at the edge of one of the dark spaces. She -reached- and Simon’s flame greeted her. He was damned well playing games.
Epithets ready, she headed for him. -Reached- not understanding what she saw and, “Oh shit!”
She went to her knees.
“Oh shit, no! Simon! No!”
And the two socked-feet spasmed and jerked, ankles windmilling where they grew out of the concrete wall.
“Oh shit. Oh shit. Oh shit. Oh shit.” All the anger washed away. Vallon fumbled in her jacket for the equipment her job required. Black leather case. Mont Blanc fountain pen. A scrap of blank paper no one would remark.
She spread the oily-finished paper—vellum, really—on the concrete and, holding the paper down with both palms, fought to steady her breathing. -Reached-.
Not to Simon this time, but down through the parking lot’s smothering concrete. Down through the living soil. Down as deep as she dared go, to the glittering capillaries that spread up from the ley lines that ran through the earth like deep veins.
Carefully now. Gingerly -reached-.
Gold power surged over her skin. Dangerous gold fire merged with her and burned. Her skin singed as she spun a thin tendril of power into her dark core. Light filled her as she snapped back to her body. Holding the heady power inside like potent, destructive cordite.
Focus on the vellum.
Pen and ink. She hung above the blank page.
No time to replace the Broadway house. No time to do this smooth and right. She slammed her awareness into the concrete wall, and to Simon. Still his living flame, but weaker. Much weaker. Sketched lines—the concrete gone in a doorway. Another set of stairs. There. Right there. Held it in her mind.
The acrid scent of anachronistic ink helped her focus. The force of her power turned on the wall. Concrete shimmered.
Shimmered again, like a light bulb surging and dying under too little power. Like a laser diffused by mist. Almost as though something blocked her efforts. The concrete structure shimmied as if someone tried to shake her loose.
“No, damn it.”
Simon’s bright flame blackened at the edges. She released more power and the wall began to fade, concrete smoking up to join the night mist. This had to work, and work fast.
A flash of power that almost blasted her backwards. Something—someone— blocked her, and from the earth came the sound of rumbling.
Surprise almost snapped her link. No one blocked change except agents of the AGS. Hell, no one blocked her.
She dove deep to the soil and linked more fully to the power than her training ever advised.
Pain stabbed her gut. It raced down her arms like open flame as she poured an invisible golden stream from her hands into the wall. The block shattered like the concrete as her power flooded into the wall.
Concrete softened and flowed. Parted like a sea. Ran down into a deep well that was stairs that went—she didn’t care where. Brimstone and ether burned her nose, and then suddenly Simon was there. Released from his prison, he tumbled to the floor, blonde-grey hair caked with concrete, face desperately pale.
The pen fell from her fingers as she released her focus and scrambled to his side. Pulled him to safety as the wall did an old movie fade-in. Pulse? She -reached- for his flame.
She swore and slammed her fists into his chest, praying she could start his heart.
“Jeezus, man.” She glanced up to see a kid in a red Safeway vest and she realized she didn’t hear the carts anymore. He must have heard her. Come to help. But now he backed away. Backed away and then spun and dove for the stairs.
“Wait!” she called and then couldn’t waste time to go after him. “Call the paramedics!”
She bent to help Simon breathe. Come back. Come back. Come back.
A litany of images through her head. Simon in her bed. Simon joking in the staff room. Simon and her grabbing a burger at the Broadway Beef, which he swore was the best place to eat in town.
Chest compressions: one, two, three. Tilt head back to free the airway. Hold nose and breathe for him.
Come on Simon, I’m breathing for you. I’m breathing with you.
But the flame wasn’t there. It had to be there. She -reached- stopped the CPR and grabbed the earth power and desperately flooded it into him until his body danced macabre on the cold concrete and the air reeked of brimstone and power.
“What the hell are you doing?”
The voice of authority brought her attention back from her hands, flat on Simon’s convulsing chest. Two uniformed Seattle cops stood with their hands on their holstered guns.
“What the hell does it look like I’m doing,” she snapped and turned back to Simon to resume CPR. “Trying to save this man’s life.”
“You a doctor?”
“No, I’m not a doctor.” Dammit, the flame still wasn’t there. Still wasn’t there. Dammit, Simon come back. I know it wasn’t good between us, but listen to me on this. Just this once.
“Step away, Miss.”
She ignored them. “One. Two. Three.” Throwing herself into compressions. Bent to breathe.
Strong hands grabbed her shoulders.
“No, dammit. If I stop, he’s dead. He can’t die this way. Doesn’t deserve to die.” She struggled in their grasp. Slammed her heel down on one cop’s foot. Twisted and aimed the heel of her hand at the other cop’s solar plexus.
The wrong decision. The cop slammed her arm aside, slammed her into the newly-reformed concrete wall and had her hands behind her and cuffed so fast she could barely think.
The concrete had the uncomfortable feel of newly-healed skin. But when she -reached- for Simon he wasn’t there. Gone.
One of them gone and the Gifted were so few, like scattered stars in the sky of humanity.
“You don’t understand. I was trying to help.”
“Save it, lady.”
The other cop checked Simon’s pulse and shook his head.
“Dispatch, we’re gonna need the meat wagon. Better get someone from homicide down here.” He spoke into the mike on his shoulder.
“Homicide!” She tried to turn, but the cop’s broad hand slammed her back into the concrete and suddenly the word and the cold, moist air seemed to fill her bones and block her air. No way to triangulate. No wonder they were treating her like this. All the power’s heat drained away.
As always, it left her shivering, weak, and, like a junky, in desperate need to be filled. Afterburn.
Her knees gave way.
Afterburn by Karen L. Abrahamson / Fantasy / Romance & Love have rating 3.8 out of 5 / Based on38 votes