PROPHET (Book #8)
“In through the out door. Further down. Below...”
Allie and Revik race against the clock, looking for the remaining names on a mysterious list of humans and seers meant to rebuild the world after the apocalypse––hopefully before Shadow kills them all. Meanwhile, a mysterious new player starts buying up List seers and humans on the black market faster than Revik and Allie can save them.
Whoever they are, they seem to have their own copy of the Lists, and while they don’t appear to be killing them, more and more Listers disappear into Dubai, the most heavily guarded of Shadow’s quarantine cities. Before Allie can decide her next move, another group appears, claiming to be loyal to her.
As Allie finds out more about this new group, however, everything in her world starts to unravel. Worse, the people closest to her seem to be turning against her, including––maybe especially––her own husband.
*Warning: this book contains graphic language, sex, and violence. Mature readers only. Not intended for young readers.*
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I WAS AFRAID.
I don’t think I realized it until that precise moment––when it was more or less too late.
I stepped off the edge of the small ferry to have my hand grasped, my body steadied by a strong grip. I placed my high-heel clad foot on a wooden platform leading to a private dock covered in white, fairy-like lights.
Without looking directly at the people to either side of me, I forced a smile.
My eyes traveled up and past my seer escorts, who wore white jackets and gloves.
I focused instead on the sharp colors of the city skyline shimmering out of the dark behind them, as if made of tightly clustered stars. I hadn’t seen anything like it in months––maybe over a year by now.
Definitely not since the C2-77 plague wiped out most of human civilization.
The last time I remembered seeing this many lights was back when I truly lived in New York, before we went to South America to face Shadow for the first time.
As I stared, images flashed on long flat-screens, most of them bordered by Chinese script.
Directly in front of me, holograms crawled up the twin buildings of a massive hotel and casino, trailing light like three-dimensional ghosts. I watched one of those holograms leap between the two towers, a winged monkey wearing red trousers. He threw balls of purple and green light at a hologram of a woman with a fish’s tail, who basked on the top of the opposite tower. The purple balls enveloped her in a colorful aura, making her smile with white teeth.
Just then, a scarlet bird with flaming tail feathers screeched, swooping up over the top of both L-shaped buildings. Its sudden appearance made me flinch, staring up with wide eyes.
I must have hesitated too long.
Before I could make my way over to the next railing and the pier beyond, I found myself guided by the waist by a white-gloved attendant. He led me to the edge of that platform, only to have yet another set of hands––warmer and much more familiar hands––encircle my waist and bring me the rest of the way over the rail.
Before I could catch my breath, the man attached to that second set of hands stood between me and the platform, but more to the point, between me and the other seer.
I felt the protectiveness of that stance––and a good chunk of possessiveness there, too, if I were being honest––but neither thing really bothered me.
My mind was still grinding over the details of what we were doing here.
My eyes drifted higher, taking in the white, city-like complex on the other side of the pier. I knew from holographic blueprints we’d obtained that those massive towers were separated by multiple pools, a shopping mall, a five-story casino, a palm forest, simulated beaches, deck chairs, walking paths, restaurants, massage parlors, saunas and bars.
I knew all that, before we got here.
Yet, to see it in real life was… different.
Even apart from the holograms, the cascade of lights created a strangely underwater appearance. The impression was only reinforced by the beaches below, the forest of palm trees, and the mermaid swimming through the sky above the east tower.
I watched her dive down the side of the tower next, her green-scaled tail undulating behind oversized breasts, black hair streaming past her shoulders. She dove into the sand at the base of the east tower and disappeared, even as the monkey on the west tower took to the air, battling with the phoenix by throwing flaming balls of light at its plumed tail.
My eyes returned to the east tower, stopping on the higher floors.
Palm trees and swimming pools covered staggered terraces up one end of the white building, lit by colored lights and fire pits, like sprawling oases between layers of glass and steel. At the very top, what must have been the ninetieth floor, an even bigger terrace spread over half the roof, lit by colored gels filled with spray from fountains. Fires blazed from massive bowl torches and more elevated fire pits. Reflections of lit water wavered on visible parts of the overhang, implying at least one pool lived up there, too.
Revik squeezed my hand.
I glanced away from the tower, flushing a bit. My eyes took in the length of him, maybe in part to get my mind off the lions’ den we were about to enter––literally.
Looking at him didn’t exactly help my focus.
“Damn, you look good in a suit, husband,” I murmured. Clicking at him softly, I gave him a small smile, shaking my head. “There should be a law. There really should.”
He turned slightly, quirking an eyebrow.
He’d been looking out over the same view as me, but significantly more subtly––versus the open gawking I’d likely been doing. He gave me a small smile, but I felt a whisper of that harder military sharpness in his light.
Neither thing helped my baser reactions to him, unfortunately.
When he shifted his weight in the leather dress shoes, I glimpsed even more of his chest under the dark gray lines of the suit. His jacket lay open in front, contrasting an open-collared white shirt. He was tan from time spent on the boat deck, muscular from working out and mulei. The jacket and pants accentuated his long form, reminding me he’d been running again, and fighting enough to be in his lean and mean body type.
He quirked an eyebrow at me, pretending to adjust a nonexistent tie.
Then his eyes drifted down me.
He stared unapologetically for a few seconds, his pupils visibly dilating. Tugging me closer with an insistent pull of his hand, he continued to stare, pain leaking around the edges of his light as he looked me over in the dress.
I watched his gaze linger on the short hem at the upper part of my thighs, then the above-the-knee boots I wore with heels a good two inches steeper than I’d worn even in my clubbiest and most fashion-victim-y phases in San Francisco. His eyes continued to travel up, pausing on where I wore my long hair down in ringlets that cascaded down my bare back. He paused on the low neckline of the same short, black dress.
Reaching up with one hand, he finger-adjusted the emerald necklace that decorated my throat and collarbone.
“Trust me,” he murmured, leaning down to kiss my cheek. “They’re not even going to notice me with you in that outfit, wife.”
Pain bled off his skin in the kiss.
Blushing, I clicked at him softly as he raised his head, opening his eyes.
I was about to say more, when a faint ping vibrated our Barrier construct, by someone who likely didn’t much care how either of us looked in our shiny new clothes.
Get going, Tarsi whispered in my head. Clock’s running, Bridge.
Glancing up at Revik, I saw him frown.
He’d heard her, too.
I suppose it should have reassured me, really, that our back-up team was still with us––despite the high-grade security construct strangling this island paradise. Watching Revik glance around, I noted he didn’t look remotely reassured, either.
I could almost feel him looking for snipers that time.
It wasn’t his own skin he was worried about, I knew.
Sending him a reassuring pulse, I indicated down the wooden pier with one hand, gesturing politely for him to lead the way.
He obligingly began to walk, still gripping my hand.
He kept me close––behind him, really––and shielded from the approaching buildings. He also tugged on my arm so that we walked tightly together.
Doing my best to manage the intense frequency of his light, I slid into more of a military mode myself, lightly scanning our surroundings as I kept my facial expression casual. Within seconds, I felt the edges of the next layer of the construct.
Not surprisingly, it lived at the end of the dock.
I fought to once more adjust to the pre-apocalyptic condition of the city before us.
Most of our shore excursions of late involved burnt-out husks of cities, or suburban or rural damaged by earthquakes, fire or storms. Some human survivors in those places were better organized than others. Some were better fortified, better equipped, better fed, and better armed. Some had warlord-type governments with semi-permanent garrisons covering huge swaths of land, where they controlled pretty much everyone and everything inside their territory.
All lived more or less at the level of animals, though.
The bigger the city, the more true that seemed to be.
Not a single one had anywhere near the infrastructural or technological capacity to pull off something like this.
We air-dropped into those places heavily armed and wearing full combat gear.
We spent most of our time on the ground tracking people already ID’d via our tech and infiltration teams as being on one of the Displacement Lists. The goal in every case was live extraction. The general rule was: get in and get out, as quickly as possible.
For a while, that strategy seemed to work well. We found List seers and humans, or “Listers” as we’d started to call them, and brought them back to the ship. Rescuing seers and humans whose names appeared on those Lists had become more or less our full-time job.
Then, all of a sudden, those excursions started coming up empty.
It took us months to determine why.
Four weeks ago, we finally got intelligence that someone was buying up List seers, and possibly List humans. That same intelligence suggested it wasn’t Shadow doing the buying, although a fair-few on our team suspected he might still be behind it in some way.
The only good news was, whoever was buying them didn’t appear to be killing them.
Our infiltration team found evidence indicating the seers, at least, were definitely still alive, and likely the humans, too. Since Shadow generally just killed any Listers he found, human or seer, that lent credence to the theory it wasn’t him.
Of course, it was equally possible he’d simply changed strategies.
More worrisome, if this person was targeting List seers and humans specifically, that meant someone besides us had a copy of the Displacement Lists… a possibility I didn’t even want to contemplate, frankly.
Whoever was behind it, they appeared to be ordering most of their purchases, seer and human, through established trafficking channels like the Rynak, a black market feed that, perhaps unsurprisingly, survived the apocalypse intact.
We traced the last big shipment of seers from Taiwan to here, meaning Macau.
A few days later, Revik wrangled an invite to the facility here, using his own name, on the pretext of being a competing buyer.
That last part hadn’t been easy.
It also required Revik to promise these jerk-offs a number of things he was still, interestingly, pissed off at me about.
Even before Revik worked his way through those preliminary negotiations, we were under no illusions that these people were our friends. The pirates of Macau may not be Shadow’s people, but that definitely didn’t make them ours.
Coming here, regardless of pretext, was deeply dangerous.
On the other hand, we couldn’t afford to lose any more List seers or humans. We’d lost far too many to Shadow and his death-squads already, and the numbers being purchased by this new player were frankly too big to ignore.
Looking up at the L-shaped towers, I frowned.
Colored spotlights aimed up the white walls. The monkey and phoenix holograms continued to do battle and fly and swim through the skies overhead. I saw a new one up there now, an orange and black tiger stalking across the sky, its eyes bright gold.
By now, I could feel us being checked out by seers working this end of the construct.
They’d already done a positive ID on me and Revik, looking at the different markers that lived in our aleimi, or living light. Now I could feel them trying for more, trying to get access to deeper levels of our light to glean actual intelligence. So far, their interests were about what we expected: what we were doing here, what we really wanted, who we were working with, if we had any human patrons, where our mysterious base lived.
None of it was particularly surprising.
Pulling information from other beings was what infiltrators spent most of their lives training to do. It was in their nature, part of their intrinsic wiring.
Moreover, trying to hack our light was a bit of a prestige thing, I guessed.
After all, for the first time in a very long time, we were here as ourselves.
I could only imagine that cracking our construct would win them macho points with their infiltrator pals––bragging rights for having hacked the Bridge and Sword.
Grunting a little, Revik glanced at me, a thin smile on his lips.
“You aren’t wrong,” he murmured.
His fingers tightened on mine. I heard and felt the warning behind his humor, but only smiled, squeezing his hand in return. Truthfully, I didn’t need the reminder.
Warnings were flashing all over my light by then.
On either side of the pier ahead, I could see shadowy figures carrying automatic rifles. Six humans, four seers, from my light’s darting probe.
They all dressed in identical black uniforms.
As we walked closer, I noted the red cloth bands each of the black-clad soldiers wore around their upper arms. The gold symbol they depicted looked like a flaming sun inside a lion’s mouth, almost a perversion of the sword and sun symbol, only their sun was the color of blood. The bands circled their left biceps––the same biceps where seer Rebels and ex-Rebels wore the sword and sun tattoo.
Basically, the placement of your run-of-the-mill Nazi armband.
“Be nice, wife,” Revik murmured to me.
“I’m always nice,” I muttered back.
He snorted a soft laugh.
Smoothing the front of his white shirt and dark gray suit jacket with one hand, he straightened his collar as he walked, without letting go of my fingers with his other hand, or taking his eyes off the armband guards.
I saw his clear eyes dart to metal poles to either side of the pier, marking the placement of image collection, gait and facial-rec, possibly even audio recorders. He did it casually, but I felt the barely suppressed tension flickering around his aleimi as he collected data.
We reached the twin rows of tiki torches that began at the end of the pier.
Right as we passed the first of these, I saw the virtual landscape shift.
A shield appeared out of the dark, vibrating with rose and gold lines, shot through with blue and green. It rose up into the sky, encasing the massive towers and disappearing as it encased the skyline of Macau. On the bottom end, it bisected the end of the pier, running along the water to either side, protecting the visible line of shore.
I found myself thinking it surrounded the entire island.
From the way it made the hairs on my arms and the back of my neck stand on end, I knew it wasn’t a Barrier shield only; a physical gate must be generating an organic binary electric (OBE) field, or something similar.
I was still studying that shimmering bubble of gold, rose and green when a guard stepped deliberately into our path, holding up a hand with a flat-eyed smile.
“We’re guests here, remember,” Revik murmured to me, his words a bare exhale. “Act like it.”
He exhaled even softer. “Right. Then stop looking like you’re scouting for a military patrol.”
“I will if you will,” I murmured just as quietly.
He nudged me with his shoulder, but his eyes didn’t reflect the smile that touched his lips. By then, we were too close to the black-uniformed guards to talk, even under our breaths.
We definitely couldn’t speak to one another in our minds.
A Chinese-featured human frowned when we halted, looking from one of our faces to the other, then looking over our bodies. Grunting at us in Cantonese, which I don’t speak but Revik does, he gestured for us to hand over our invitation cards.
Revik did, pulling them out of an inside pocket of his suit jacket.
We’d received them on the ferry boat, after they conducted the first scans of our light, and ID’d us, probably using something they had on file from SCARB or one of the other previous law enforcement agencies.
From what Revik told me, places like this thrived on bribes and shared intel with corrupt law enforcement long before C2-77.
I knew these invitation cards––or chips, really, since they were more like GPS trackers inside semi-organic cases––were the only way on or off the island. Whereas before this used to be a tiny, semi-autonomous corner of the People’s Republic of China, it was now an armed fortress with its own security, its own military, its own treaties and trade agreements.
Really, it was its own country––if you could call the new powers rising in this post-apocalyptic world “countries” at all anymore.
Revik squeezed my hand, warning me about my thoughts.
I could barely feel his light at all now, despite how close we stood.
I couldn’t feel the light of the human standing in front of me either, so seers on their security team must be shielding him, maybe even from behind the one-way windows of the small guard station I could see just past the protection grid.
Looking around, I felt another flicker of fear.
That time, I wasn’t even sure why.
I got all the warnings from Revik, Balidor, Wreg, Chandre, and the others. I knew many who came to this island never left. I knew the Legion of Fire were gangsters, who didn’t even pretend to follow the Seer Codes. I knew they were slave traders, criminals, murderers, opportunists, and likely already allied with Shadow in various ways.
Even so, I didn’t really believe my fear came from these Legion of Fire seers.
Well, not on their own.
The longer I stood there, staring around, the more I wondered if it was something else altogether I could feel––something that had a lot more to do with my very well-dressed mate standing next to me than it did with our current mission.