Rebel Heart, p.1Lizzy Ford
By Lizzy Ford
Edited by Christine LePorte
Cover art and design by Dafeenah
Rebel Heart copyright 2012 by Lizzy Ford
Cover art and design copyright 2012 by Dafeenah
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the author. The only exception is by a reviewer, who may quote short excerpts in a review.
This 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.
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United States, 2135 AD
LANA CRACKED AN EYE open wide enough to see it was too early for her alarm to sound. The buzzing continued, and she pushed herself up on one elbow. She focused on the dim light of her microcomputer acting as a page marker in the antique book on her nightstand. She touched the subcutaneous communications implant behind her right ear, which activated the communications net, and rolled onto her back.
“Hello?” she murmured.
“Mornin’, sunshine. I need you to get up now.”
“Mr. Tim?” At the familiar voice and stiff order, she struggled into a sitting position.
“Didn’t think I had it in me, did you?” he asked.
“You’re always saying I’d never survive without you to feed me people’s contact information.”
“This would be the first time you remembered by net number,” she said.
“I remember when it’s important enough.”
Amused, Lana tossed off her coverlet. She padded towards her desk, where the Undersecretary of Domestic Security’s electronic records were maintained within a secured, portable vault the size of her hand.
“Who do you need to contact?” she asked.
“No one yet, but bring my vault with you.”
Lana suppressed a sigh.
“You know what to do in emergencies?” Mr. Tim’s voice was low and quiet.
“Then do it. I’m already here and will await you. I’ve asked someone to call you and provide you instructions on how to get here using a few unconventional routes. Avoid the main roads and any monitored road. Please follow his directions.”
The massive shepherd mix dog sleeping on her couch rose and trotted across the small apartment to her. Its nails clicked on the hard flooring. Lana’s gaze lingered in its direction, her heart quickening. Something about Mr. Tim’s urgent tone told her this wasn’t an exercise.
“Sir, how long should I plan on staying?” she asked. “The kennels don’t open until—”
“You have a dog?”
“You bought him for me,” she reminded him. “Three years ago for my birthday.”
“Right,” he said with an uneasy chuckle. “Leave him with the neighbor. Bring uniforms, as many as you have clean.”
“Yes, sir,” she said. “You need me to contact any of your companions or anyone else from the office?”
“You’re an angel, Lana. No, thanks. They’ll figure it out as soon as they see the news.”
“Hurry, kid. Oh, and Lana?”
“Don’t contact anyone once we’re done talking. I’m pretty sure this network is monitored. The man who will call you next will do so on a secure net. He’s an army-type and has strict instructions, so don’t be offended if he’s less than conversational. Got it?”
“See you soon.”
Her hand lingered above the keypad of her wardrobe. Adrenaline hit her as she realized this was not a drill. Something was wrong.
She dressed in a comfortable uniform marking her as a civilian member of the government service before hesitating to choose what uniforms to bring: the summer- or winter-weight uniforms. She snapped the markers indicating her rank—Special Assistant to the Undersecretary of the Domestic Security Service.
She chose three summer-weight uniforms, three winter-weight uniforms, and enough undergarments for two weeks. She tossed in her exercise clothing before swiping a photo-generator from her wardrobe and tucking it into the pockets of her suitcase. Nerves made her movements clumsy while her mind sought some forgotten information about a threat great enough to rouse the Undersecretary and his staff in the middle of the night. She almost forgot her microcomputer and snagged it as she strode to the door.
She stepped into the night blanketing the neighborhood, struck by the quiet. At two in the morning, she was the only one to stir in the crowded condo community. Moonlight spilled over large buildings with triangular roofs into community squares abutting stacked parking lots. Darkness settled into corners and crevices beyond the moon’s touch. She took in the scene, unable to explain the sense of doom settling in her stomach. If an incident occurred, why was no one else in the government service housing community awake?
Even the beggars outside the thick, bulletproof glass of the main gate were quiet, their small fires dark.
Jack, the shepherd mix, nudged her, and she trotted down the stairs and up the steps to her elderly neighbor’s condo. Mrs. Watson answered the door with a shotgun over her shoulder, her wrinkled face peering up at Lana.
“Boss call you out again?” she asked.
“Yes. I’m not sure how long it’ll be.”
“Jack’s half mine anyway. He’s here more than my grandkids.”
Lana smiled and stepped aside. Accustomed to late-night jaunts to the neighbor’s, Jack walked into the condo and took up his spot on the couch.
“Thanks, Mrs. Watson,” she said.
Lana nodded and stepped away. Her personal net buzzed, and she touched the area behind her ear again.
“I’m calling on behalf of Tim.” The masculine voice was low and calm, his speech marked by a Southern drawl.
“I believe you have directions for me?” she asked. She hurried to her greencar, trailed by the self-propelled suitcase.
“I’m going to take you the scenic route,” the man said. “If we’re cut off, I’ll call back immediately. If the network doesn’t work, there’s a radio in your greencar.”
She reached the greencar. Her gaze dropped to the driver’s seat, where a small black military radio sat where none had been when she left the car. She looked around her, puzzled. Thus far, Mr. Tim was not following typical protocol for emergencies. He hadn’t issued an emergency order over the nets of those who worked for him, and he’d asked someone in the regular military to contact her rather than calling out his special security forces.
“You there?” the soldier prompted impatiently.
“Yes,” she replied. “How bad is it?”
“Be assured that you’re in no danger,” he said in a clipped tone. “Your call sign for the radio is Angel. Mine is Guardian. The correct channel has been programmed into it. Place your thumb on the pad, and it’ll signal me. Follow my instructions no matter what. Understood?”
The Peak was abuzz with activity when Lana arrived several hours later. During exercises, the government’s premier contingency operations compound in the Appalachian Mountains of Tennessee was populated only by maintenance crews and a few relaxed guards. She parked in her assigned spot and emerged from the car, startled by the scores of personnel already present. The gate guards were doubled, armed and wearing tactical gear, the perimeter lit by intense floodlights. Helicopters thumped in the distance while military patrols roared overhead.
The air was charged by the activated electromagnetic field surrounding the compound. Lana snapped her identification chip to her uniform before proceeding to the operations control center with Mr. Tim’s portable vault. Alerted to her passage through the perimeter by the microchip implant in her brain, Mr. Tim intercepted her before she reached the command and control hub.
“Good to see you, kid,” he said with warmth, drawing her off the sidewalk as two soldiers hurried by. “Guardian do you good?” His accent appeared when he was too stressed to be concerned about emulating the flat, cultured accent of the political elite.
“Yes, sir,” she answered. “What’s going on?”
The thump of a helicopter drew nearer. Roving searchlights splashed the Undersecretary with brilliant white light. Despite his urgency, Mr. Tim was immaculately dressed, his silvered hair clashing with features rendered youthful by multiple advanced cosmetic surgeries. Blue eyes were sharp and his handsome façade calm. He shielded his eyes.
“Worst-case scenario,” he said with a contagious half-smile. “That’s my helo coming. You’re staying here. I’m evacuating with the President and others to the West Coast site.”
“Evacuating?” she echoed, fear sliding through her.
“They’re leaving a fool named Arnie in charge here. His second-in-command is General Greene, a war hero worth his pay. You’re officially now detailed to the VP’s staff; however, you’ll remain a permanent member of my staff. I’ve already warned him that you’re still mine, and I have no intention of doing anything more than lending you to him. You’re the future of this ill-run—”
“Sir,” she interrupted. “What’s happening?”
“We’ve been attacked,” he replied. “Most of the eastern seaboard is in shambles. Nukes in New York and Miami and most of the other major cities. Reminiscent of the Civil War fifty years ago, only the PMF is being blamed. We’ve issued warning orders for the populace to avoid the cities, and we’re stopping and quarantining everyone at the Mississippi. We’ve gotta treat as many people as we can who are suffering from radiation poisoning.”
She was silent, shocked.
“Shame,” he whispered, an odd note in his voice. “There will be no peace talks between the PMF and the government now.”
“My god!” she managed at last. “Why would there be after this?”
“They aren’t responsible!” he snapped sharply enough to make her jump. “You’re too smart to assume anything. This isn’t their MO. You know they believe in national unity and rights for the poor. If anything, the strikes look like something that would’ve occurred during the East-West Civil War.”
Startled by his response, she mumbled an apology.
“Tim, helo!” a dark figure shouted from the awaiting shuttle.
“Got it, James. Hold the shuttle!” he called before addressing her again. “Listen, Lana. The country is in chaos right now. The government is crippled. We’ve pulled in some of our deployed forces from the wars to assist, but they will take some time to arrive. We must maintain East Coast operations from here. Assess what damage you can and rebuild the critical infrastructure systems. I know you, and you’re one of the few here I can trust. I wouldn’t have spent years grooming you for this type of event if I didn’t believe in you. Understand?”
“Don’t trust anyone here. I’ll send help for you when I can. I’ve asked the Guardian to remain in contact with you. I fought side by side with his older brother years ago at the end of the war; I know the type of honor that runs in his family. He specializes in discreet, highly contained domestic counter insurgency and counterterrorism operations. He’ll advise you and help you in ways I can’t. You can trust him. I do.”
She listened, unable to fathom the magnitude of chaos he spoke of.
“Protect those below. Some of the private industry’s greatest minds are with the VP in the cliff. The VP you can let rot,” he added.
She smiled faintly despite her concern.
“General Greene has spent too long at war overseas to know where Ohio is. I’ve told him you’ll help him.”
“Of course, sir, but I—”
“Take care, Lana. I hope to see you again.”
His ominous farewell silenced her. She watched him as he walked with confident, quick strides to the awaiting shuttle. The shuttle disappeared behind buildings as it headed towards one of the seven helipads on the compound. Heart pounding hard, she turned to face her destination: the command hub, where all emergency operations and critical infrastructure back-up networks and systems for the East Coast were routed in a time of crisis.
“You there, Angel?” Guardian’s voice penetrated her spinning thoughts.
“You all right?”
“I don’t know,” she admitted.
He was quiet for a moment before he spoke in a softer tone. “I won’t let anything happen to you, Angel.”
She bit her lip, wondering why the gentle words of a stranger affected her as they did. A gust of pine and jet fuel scented wind whipped by her. She stared at a helicopter as it lifted nimbly into the air, imagining Mr. Tim and other politicians aboard it. Two more helicopters landed at different helipads while the searchlights continued to rove the compound. Members of the elite federal government and military personnel darted between greencars and buildings, the buzz of radios and shouts adding to the compound’s chaos.
“I’m not ready for the end of the world,” she whispered.
“I’m glad I thought to create an emergency chocolate stash.”
“I’ve got extra,” he said. “If our paths cross, it will probably signal the end of the world, but if they do, I’ll consider sharing. Guardian out.”
Lana shook her head, wondering what kind of man thought of chocolate at such a time.
Rebel Heart by Lizzy Ford / Actions & Adventure / Romance & Love have rating 3.5 out of 5 / Based on35 votes