Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Mid-Month Novel Excerpt: Anniversary Day

Written By: Kristine Kathryn Rusch - Dec• 16•11

Once per month, I’ll publish an excerpt of one of my novels, and I hope you’ll be intrigued enough to buy the rest of the book.  I began this practice in February. Unlike the free fiction I put up every Monday, the novel excerpts will remain on the site.  If you want to read the opening to the previous ten novels, click here.

This month, I’ve excerpted Anniversary Day, which is a Retrieval Artist novel. You don’t have to have read any of the other novels in the series to enjoy this one.

You’ll find ordering information at the end of this post.

Here’s the back cover copy, followed by the excerpt and the ordering information:

Four years ago, a bomb destroyed part of the dome protecting Armstrong, the largest city on the Moon. Now, as the city celebrates its survival with an event it calls Anniversary Day, a larger threat looms—one that begins with the murder of the mayor, and spreads across the Moon itself.

Even with every new technological device at her disposal, Moon Security Chief Noelle DeRicci can’t stay ahead of the unfolding disaster. As the situation gets worse, Retrieval Artist Miles Flint hurries to his daughter’s school to protect her. And Detective Bartholomew Nyquist finds himself in the middle of everything, from that first bombing to the Anniversary Day crisis itself.

A thriller with several mysteries at its core, Anniversary Day is Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s most exciting Retrieval Artist novel yet.

“Rusch does a superb job of making the Retrieval Artist books work as fully satisfying standalone mysteries and as installments in a gripping saga full of love, loss, grief, hope, adventure, and discovery. It is also some of the best science fiction ever written.” —New York Times bestselling author Orson Scott Card

 

 

Anniversary Day

A Retrieval Artist Novel

Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Copyright © 2011 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Published by WMG Publishing

 

The Bombing

(Four Years Ago)


 

One

Bartholomew Nyquist parked his aircar in one of the hoverlots at the end of the neighborhood. The Dome was dark this morning, even though someone should have started the Dome Daylight program. Maybe they had, deciding that Armstrong was in for a “cloudy” day—terminology he never entirely understood, given that the Moon had no clouds and most people who lived here had been born on the Moon and had never seen a cloud in their entire lives.

He grabbed his laser pistol from the passenger seat. He always kept the pistol on the passenger seat when he was traveling, just in case something happened. He tucked the pistol in his shoulder holster, hidden under his already-rumpled suit coat, and got out of the car.

The neighborhood looked even darker than it should have, sprawled below him like something out of those Dickens Christmas plays his ex-wife loved so much. All it needed was some sooty smoke coming out of chimneys above each house to be authentically dreary.

Oh, his mood was bad. And for that, he could probably only blame himself. He should “buck up”—wasn’t that what Chief of the First Detective Unit, Andrea Gumiela, had told him yesterday? Buck up, Bartholomew. Everyone gets divorced. And yours was two years ago. The attitude was understandable last year. This year, it’s becoming a problem.

That after she made him watch the entire complaint vid his now-former partner had filed. Nyquist knew the complaints already, having heard them from previous partners and in his divorce proceeding: surly, impossible to work with, superior. Conversations filled with biting sarcasm—and that was on a good day. On a bad day, he didn’t communicate at all.

And on this day, he didn’t have to. Still on the force, still a homicide detective, and still without a new partner. He would have partner tryouts all week. The brass wanted to keep Nyquist. He had the best closing rate on the force. The problem was that regulations stated he needed a partner. He stated that he didn’t. He worked better alone.

Gumiela knew that, but she followed the rules. Which was why she was his boss instead of the other way around.

Nyquist took the stairs to the sidewalk. He hated these cases in the outer districts of Armstrong. The row houses here rented for less than apartments downtown, but apartments were nicer. A lot of these houses had landlords who only owned one or two properties, and couldn’t afford the upkeep. It showed in dingy walls that hadn’t been upgraded in decades. Moon dust stains still clung to some of the siding, even though Moon dust had been cleared out of this area since the Dome improvements two decades ago.

Not every part of the city was Moon-dust free, particularly Old Armstrong, which had stupid historic regulations that prevented certain kinds of upkeep. But Nyquist knew this neighborhood didn’t have that kind of regulation, and so the lack of upkeep was either a financial or a business decision.

Not that he cared about the upkeep of houses as it pertained to regulations. He cared about it as it pertained to the kind of people living inside—people on the edge of hopelessness, people whose economic future wasn’t quite bleak but could be with just one disaster, one horrible thing gone wrong.

When he reached the street, he peered around the corner, saw two squads, white-and-blue lights turning, crime scene lasers already up. He should’ve parked down here, but he’d needed the walk. Besides, on days like this, he didn’t want to be part of the squad. He liked being on his own, and parking his car away from the scene let him keep his autonomy.

He knew he would need it.

He sighed. He was supposed to contact Dispatch the moment he arrived in the neighborhood and he’d been putting it off. He knew what they would say. A tryout partner would be waiting for him at the scene. Gumiela had already done this to him once. A tryout partner on scene showed the brass whether or not Nyquist and the newbie worked well together.

It also prevented Nyquist from rejecting the new partner outright, based on clothes, appearance, or general lack of verbal defensive ability.

The question was which of those people loitering outside the crime scene was the one he’d be stuck with all day long.

Couldn’t put it off any longer. He sent a ping to Dispatch through his links, hoping they’d only look at his location and not try to contact him.

Instead, a tiny image of this morning’s dispatch—a woman with dark hair and matching dark circles under her eyes—appeared in the lower left corner of his vision. He hated that most of all. Couldn’t they just use audio like everyone else on the Force?

“Detective Nyquist.” It looked like she was speaking aloud as well as sending through the links. For the record? Probably. No one wanted to get in trouble because he got in trouble. “You’ll be meeting your new partner at the scene. Her name is Ursula Palmette—”

Newly Minted Detective. I got it, he sent, deliberately not speaking out loud for any record.

“No, detective, not that newly minted at all. She has worked as a detective for five months.”

What happened to her training partner? he sent. He stopped only a few meters from the house that seemed to be the center of attention. He didn’t want to go any further while having this conversation.

“Early retirement,” the dispatch said.

For some bad conduct? Nyquist sent.

“No, sir. Family troubles. His wife is dying and he didn’t want to spend the last year of her life working.”

That surprised him. He felt color touch his cheeks, something that didn’t happen to him often. He was glad it happened before he met Palmette. He didn’t want to step in it at the very beginning of their relationship.

All right, he sent, not acknowledging his discomfort or the slight reprimand the dispatch had given him. Anything else I need to know?

“Just that the officers on site say that they’re ready for you, sir.”

He was beginning to seriously dislike this dispatch. Who was she to subtly reprimand him like that?

Instead of challenging her, he just severed the link and walked the remaining few meters to the crime scene. Police line lasers gave the fake grass a reddish tint. An ambulance was parked sideways behind one of the squad cars, lights off.

He found that a curious detail. Either the ambulance wasn’t needed and it could go off elsewhere, or it was needed and it had to stay, in which case its warning lights would be on low.

Two officers stood in front of the crime scene lasers. A tiny woman with a cap of brown hair leaned against one of the squads, holding a steaming cup of something—probably coffee—in her right hand.

As Nyquist approached, she stood.

“Detective Nyquist,” she said. “I’m—”

“Ursula Palmette,” he said, resisting the urge to add “newly minted detective.” “I suppose you have documentation for me?”

She extended her hand. He hated chip-to-chip information transfer, but it was department policy these days. He grabbed her hand in a relatively loose grip, and felt the chip in the center of his palm warm, which was a signal that the information exchange was not only complete but accepted.

In the past, he’d go through a speech—I’m the lead on this case. You shouldn’t question my authority. I’ll do all the talking—but she already had had a training officer and she should know this crap. Besides, he’d been told by his previous two partners that his little opening speech was off-putting. He decided not to put Detective Ursula Palmette off. He simply did not have the energy for it.

“What do we know?” he asked.

“Well, sir,” she said, then paused. “It is sir, right? Or do you prefer Detective? Or Bartholomew?”

“I prefer to know why the hell I’m here.” He hated all the protocol with names. He certainly wasn’t going to let her call him Bartholomew, which seemed to be what she was angling for. He didn’t like casual relationships between partners. He preferred formality. She’d figure it out.

She nodded. She couldn’t have been more than thirty, with that fresh-faced, straight-out-of-the-academy look. He preferred his partners to have worked their way to the detective squad, not get fast-tracked through so-called police education.

He didn’t say that, which he would have had he met her in the precinct. Instead, he watched her peel the lid off her drink, which made it steam all the more, sending a smell of cinnamon and milk into the air, turning his stomach. She took a sip before saying anything else, as if the drink fortified her somehow.

“Um,” she said, pressing the lid back on the cup. “We have a body—”

He resisted the urge to roll his eyes. Of course they had a body. They were homicide detectives. Someone had to die for the street cops to call him in.

“—in the front room of the house. The woman inside called it in. The responding officers say something is a little off in the entire thing.”

“A little off?” Nyquist said.

Palmette shrugged. “Their words. You can talk to them. I was instructed not to do any investigating until you arrived.”

Because he had the high closure rate, and one of his complaints about partners was that they made his job harder, not easier. They asked the wrong questions, contaminated crime scenes all by their little lonesome, and compromised witnesses.

“And yet you know about the body, and the scene being a little off,” he said.

“Because Officer Saxe—,” and she nodded at a young cop with curly red hair and copper skin standing near one of the squads, “—told me the minute I arrived. I told him we had to wait for you, and so he stopped. You want to talk to him now, sir?”

So she was going to stick with “sir.” Fine.

“No,” Nyquist said. “I want to see the interior. Got a suit?”

By that, he meant protective covering for her skin and clothes. Most rookie detectives had to make do with the full-body suits that the cops gave to civilians at crime scenes, but she tapped her arm.

“Already on, sir,” she said.

That was when he noticed that her clothes were just a bit shiny. He took one of his protective suits out of the pocket of his coat. The suit was the size of his thumbnail, until he attached it to the button on his sleeve and tapped it.

Then the damn thing enveloped him. He hated that moment—it felt like walking into a gigantic spider web, which he had done once as a kid on vacation with his parents on Earth—and then the feeling went away.

“Okay,” he said as he blocked the crime scene laser with his palm. Another chip on his palm made sure that none of the warning sirens went off. He stepped onto the fake grass and waited for Palmette to join him. “Let’s see what we’ve got.”

 

Two

 

The front door was open, just like it was supposed to be, with one more officer stationed outside. He nodded at Nyquist as Nyquist went inside.

The interior was very dark, even though the lights were on. They didn’t seem to have enough power to penetrate the house’s gloom. The place smelled funky too—not just the smell of death, which, while Nyquist wasn’t used to it, was at least something he expected at a crime scene.

No, this place smelled of greasy cooked food, coffee, and garbage. The front room was square and somewhat useless, standard in a row house like this one, where it seemed like the architect couldn’t decide whether this room was an entry or a living area, so he decided to turn it into both.

Usually tenants turned the front room into one or the other. As Nyquist’s eyes adjusted, he realized that the people who lived here had gone with the original architect’s vision and kept it as both. Two faux-leather chairs leaned against the wall separating this room from the next (probably a kitchen). A table covered with dirty dishes, clothes, and some decorative rocks squeezed between the two chairs.

On the left side of the door was a mat for shoes, which were scattered haphazardly. Some kind of plastic runner made a trail between the door and the kitchen, leading him to a supposition.

Whoever lived here had lived on Earth. Or somewhere Earthlike, somewhere with weather that changed daily, got on the shoes, and had to be accommodated when a person came inside.

Soft voices murmured farther into the house. Palmette brushed up against him. He could feel her impatience. She wanted to get inside and look at the body.

She didn’t realize that the body was the king of the chessboard—the reason for the investigation, but not the center of the investigation. Everything else was much more important, and if Nyquist didn’t look at the details now, he would run the risk of missing even more in the future.

The walls were unadorned except for a series of coat hooks above the shoes, and a public access terminal on the wall beside the chairs. The terminal’s screen was dark and covered with some kind of slime—probably that grease he was smelling—indicating that it hadn’t been used in years.

Which meant that the people who lived in this house had their own way of connecting to the nets. They were probably linked, and unless there was a public viewing screen in another room, they seemed to prefer to entertain themselves rather than share entertainment.

Palmette stepped beside him, apparently trying to go in, but he blocked her with his arm.

“What are we doing?” she asked.

“Working,” he said. If she couldn’t figure it out, that was her problem. Hopefully, it wouldn’t become his.

The body lay in a little nook beside the door, on the opposite side of the room from the shoes, and just in front of the chairs. That small section of wall had a window, which Nyquist knew from being outside, but the window wasn’t just blocked off. It was covered with some kind of blackout material, so that no one could see in or out. So that it seemed like a part of the wall, instead of something that looked out upon the street.

Strange. He wondered if the other windows were blocked off. It would explain the smell. The house had its own air circulation system—all houses in Armstrong did—but they were enhanced by the circulation system in the Dome. Open windows allowed an air exchange that kept everything fresher. Besides, the Dome had stronger filters, so the air coming in was cleaner than the air going out.

He went a little farther in, staying on the runner. “Stand beside me,” he said to Palmette. “Don’t get on the carpet yet.”

“Did we put this mat down?” she asked, revealing just how new she was.

“No,” he said and crouched.

The body belonged to a man, folded in a near-fetal position. Blood pooled beneath the torso and the face—aside from spatter—was undamaged. Hands and arms cradled around the abdomen. Impossible to tell how tall he was, but Nyquist got a sense of athletic solidity. The muscles in the legs, visible through the tailored pants, seemed pronounced. The hands had a muscularity to them as well, one that extended up the wrist. That, combined with broad shoulders, made Nyquist think that this man was probably tall as well.

Nyquist couldn’t tell if the athletic ability was real or enhanced, and it probably didn’t matter. What mattered was that this man appeared strong, and somehow someone had brought him down.

The man’s hair was short with tight, black curls against his well-shaped skull. His eyes and mouth were open. He looked to be mid-thirties.

The corpse had a smell all its own. Loosened muscles usually meant loose bowels, but this stench was greater than that. Nyquist extended a hand, silently warning Palmette to stay back, then he stood and took two steps forward.

The carpet squished beneath his feet. More blood lost than what was obvious. Nyquist nodded to himself.

He went a little farther and crouched again. Hands clasped around the belly, not to cover a single laser wound, but to keep the insides from escaping. Something had gutted him—some kind of blade, probably—and had pierced his intestines in more than one place.

That explained the smell.

The man’s hands were covered in black fluids. If this was his only wound, it had taken him some time to die. And he had been in agony.

Nyquist stood.

“Can I see now?” Palmette asked.

“If you want,” he said, and squelched across the carpet to the front door. He scraped the lower part of his protective gear off, handed it to the officer to bag for a crime scene tech, and got out another suit for a second lower layer of protective gear.

Then he went back inside, ignoring Palmette, who crouched near the body, her feet exactly where his had been. He raised his eyebrows in surprise. At least she followed some rules. If she followed most, she might actually be a possible for a long-term partner.

He forgot all about her, though, as he stepped into the next room. It was a kitchen. The walls were legitimately grease-stained, like he expected from the smell. He had no idea how much work—or grease—it took to cover walls like that. Someone had to shut off the walls’ self-cleaning feature or completely overwhelm it.

At the moment, he voted for overwhelm. Dishes stacked everywhere and all of them filthy. He had no idea how anyone could even live here, let alone cook here.

No one stood in the kitchen, not that there was a lot of room. It was more of a galley kitchen than a full kitchen. Someone—long ago—had changed this row house’s standard design and cut the kitchen in half; an odd choice, he thought.

He stepped through the next door and found out why. A full formal dining room stood here and surprisingly, this room was clean. Stairs curved up the side of the room and disappeared into bedrooms above.

A woman sat at the head of the table, her eyes wide as she looked at him. He got a sense of nervous containment, as if she would jump toward him at any moment. Another woman—this one an officer—sat in a close chair, her hands wrapped around a coffee mug that was still full.

Smart woman. She hadn’t had anything to drink from the mug, even though it had clearly been offered to her.

“I’m Bartholomew Nyquist,” he said softly to the woman at the head of the table. “I’m the detective they sent over to talk to you.”

Normally, he would have introduced himself as the detective in charge of the scene or the crime or the death, but he had a sense that would be the wrong thing to say here.

The woman, whose skin had an odd blotchiness, bit her lower lip.

“This is Alvina Ingelow,” the officer said. “She lives here.”

“Thank you, Officer,” he said in his most gentle tone, not for her sake, but for the woman’s. “Give us a few minutes alone, if you don’t mind.”

The officer nodded and stood. She looked like she wanted to say more, but she didn’t.

Instead, he added, “If you don’t mind waiting outside. I’ll catch up with you in a few minutes.”

Meaning he, not Palmette, would talk to her. He hoped the officer understood that. He didn’t want her to talk to anyone other than him. She probably had some early arrival information that he couldn’t get any other way, and he wanted to be the first to hear it.

He touched a chip on each hand, recording the conversation. But he didn’t tell Alvina Ingelow he was doing that. He didn’t want to scare her. He’d let her know in a while. He’d used this technique before, and while it was dicey legally, the information he got from these interviews usually remained part of the court case.

“I know you told the officer what happened,” he said, and the woman nodded—a bit too eagerly, he thought. “But I want you to tell me. Take your time. I know this is hard.”

She shot him a grateful look. The sympathy was calming her. Good, because he thought she was wrapped just a bit too tightly, even for someone who had just discovered a body in her home.

“I was coming home,” she said. “I opened the door, and there he was.”

Nyquist nodded, but didn’t say anything. He had promised her time, so he wasn’t going to derail her with questions. Not yet.

“I sent for help through the links, and then your people came. And the ambulance. They sent an ambulance.” As if she were surprised by that. He would have to listen to the link contact. He wondered if she had said the man was injured.

Nyquist waited for a good minute, his gaze steady on hers. Her eyes were as odd as she was. The pupils seemed to vibrate ever so slightly. He wondered if that was a trick of the light, an enhancement of some kind that he wasn’t familiar with, an effect of a link, or some kind of drug interaction.

But he didn’t ask that either. He’d learned long ago to take investigations slowly, to absorb the information as it came to him, to study the people surrounding the deceased and to make suppositions, but not to assume they were facts.

When she didn’t say anything more, he realized that was her story. Remarkable in its brevity and lack of emotion.

So he would have to ask questions after all. The trick now was to ask the right questions to draw out her story, not to direct it.

“You said you were coming home.” He was careful to repeat her language. “From where?”

“Work,” she said, folding her hands in front of him. The movement caught his eye. “I got the night shift.”

Her hands were remarkably clean. They were probably the cleanest thing in this entire house, except for her dress, which was also clean, if a bit rumpled.

“Where do you work, exactly?” he asked.

She waved one of those very clean hands. “Near the Port. I’m a cocktail waitress.”

No business near the Port employed actual cocktail waitresses. All of the bars there used robotic servers, especially late at night. Some places did employ women under the job description cocktail waitress, but they didn’t wait on anyone and they certainly didn’t serve cocktails.

She was either a stripper or a sex worker. Neither profession was illegal, but neither was that socially acceptable either. He wanted to lean back and look at her body, but he didn’t. He hadn’t gotten the sense that she was enhanced the way strippers usually were. If she was a professional sex worker, her enhancements might not be visible.

He tried not to shudder in distaste.

“When does your shift end?” He didn’t ask where she was employed. He would circle back to that in a moment. He wanted her to focus on what happened here, not on her discomfort at her own job.

“Six,” she whispered.

The whisper caught him by surprise. She said it almost as if it were forbidden information.

“And you came right home?”

She bit her lower lip again.

“Did you walk?” That was the only way to explain the time discrepancy. He had been told that uniforms arrived at eight. If she’d found the body and called, it couldn’t have been any later than six-thirty if she had come directly home.

She shook her head once.

“Car,” she said, almost as softly as that whisper.

He nodded. Something else to circle back to. “And when you came in, he was here.”

“Yes,” she said.

“And who is he?”

“He thinks he’s my boyfriend,” she said with so much venom that Nyquist resisted the urge to lean back. “But he’s not.”

Nyquist let out a small breath. So many directions to take here, and given her emotion, only one was a good direction.

He tried not to look at those really clean hands. He wanted her to stand, so that he could see the rest of her, but this wasn’t the moment to ask.

Or was it?

“Did you make some fresh coffee for the officer?” he asked. “Because I would love a cup.”

She smiled at him. The smile warmed her face, made her seem young—almost childlike—as if his request pleased her somehow.

“Sure,” she said, and stood up.

She was taller than he expected. She smoothed her dress—which was more of a long shirt—over her legs. They were covered in black tights. She wore heels so high that she tottered as she went into that galley kitchen.

He didn’t stand, but he did turn slightly in his chair so that his back wasn’t to her. He slid the chair silently sideways so that he could see her move in the kitchen.

Her figure wasn’t spectacular, the way a stripper’s would be. So she was most likely a sex worker. He would have to ask, or have Palmette do it, very delicately. This woman was on an edge, one he didn’t like.

I opened the door and there he was.

He thinks he’s my boyfriend. But he’s not.

Dishes rattled in the kitchen. Nyquist could see her moving plates around to find a mug. He allowed himself a shudder this time and hoped she wouldn’t take it as an insult when he didn’t actually drink the coffee he had asked for.

As he waited, he sent a silent message through his links to Dispatch: Need to hear the emergency call for this residence ASAP. Through private links only, please. And need a timestamp.

He got an automated acknowledgement. This kind of request was routine, although not something that usually happened while on the scene. Usually the detective got the auxiliary information back at the precinct.

“Here you go.” She came back, carrying two mugs by the handle. They steamed. She set his mug down in front of him, then put one in front of her place. She smiled at him again, which struck him as really strange, considering there was still a dead man in her front room, a dead man she claimed she knew.

“Thank you,” Nyquist said, and smiled back.

As she sat down, he looked at her shoes. Clean. He hadn’t expected that. He had expected some dried blood on the bottom. Anyone who had gone near that corpse would have blood on their shoes.

“What’s the name of the gentleman in the front room?” Nyquist asked.

“He’s not a gentleman,” she snapped.

Again the mood shift was sudden, the vehemence almost tangible.

“My mistake,” Nyquist said calmly. “What’s the name of the man you called us about?”

“Callum,” she said as if she didn’t want the word to pass through her lips.

“Callum what?”

Her eyes narrowed. “Why?”

Why? He’d never been asked that before at this stage of an investigation. “Just so that we can put the right name on the files.”

“Sheel,” she said as if it were top secret.

“And he’s been bothering you,” Nyquist said.

“You have no idea,” she said.

“You want to tell me about it?” he asked.

“Boy, do I ever,” she said, and began to talk.

 

Three

 

The woman—Alvina—had only been talking for ten minutes, but it felt like two hours. Nyquist had wrapped his hands around the coffee mug and tried not to think about its slimy exterior. She had been going through a list of grievances against this Callum Sheel, and at this point, Nyquist wasn’t sure if they were real grievances or imagined ones.

At this point, he wasn’t sure it mattered.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Palmette move into the kitchen. He cursed silently, then sent her a message through his links.

Back off. She’s talking.

I’ll just listen and record from in here, Palmette sent back.

No, you won’t, he sent. Back off. That’s an order.

The woman stopped talking. He wasn’t sure if that was because she heard Palmette in the kitchen or if his expression had changed, letting his irritation at Palmette show.

“You don’t believe me,” the woman said.

“Oh, I do,” Nyquist said. “He stalked you.”

“Yes! That’s the word.” Then she peered at the kitchen. “You hear that?”

Get out, he sent to Palmette, but she hadn’t moved. Dammit.

“That,” the woman said in the calmest voice. Then she stood. “He’s in the kitchen.”

Crap. It was exactly what Nyquist thought. She was delusional.

She moved quicker than he expected, crossed the distance between her chair and the kitchen door in five seconds, maybe less. He stood, but not fast enough. She had already gone inside, her hand finding a knife as big as her forearm, and it looked like it was covered with something.

She wielded it like a pro, and Palmette, surprised, didn’t grab her weapon. Instead she raised her hands like a victim.

Nyquist grabbed his weapon, but kept the muzzle pointed downward. He didn’t want the woman to see it if he could at all avoid it. He wanted to keep what little trust he had built up.

“Alvina,” he said softly.

“I told you he’d be back,” she said. “I told you. He’s right there, and he’s going to call for help. House! Off!”

And suddenly everything went dark. She had a smart house, despite the state of that public wall link. A smart house set to make sure she had the advantage, not anyone else.

Get out of the damn kitchen, he sent to Palmette. Now!

“Alvina,” he said out loud. “I need just a little light here so that I can see him. I’ll help you with him.”

Faint light rose above Nyquist and the woman. The rest of the kitchen was in darkness, although even from this distance, he could see Palmette’s shadowy form.

Alvina moved forward, slashing. He heard a crash, and a grunt. It didn’t come from Alvina.

We need the ambulance team in here now, he sent, relationship with the crazy woman no longer a concern. Right now.

Door’s closed and sealed, someone sent back to him.

Great, he thought. Then he sent, Do what you must to get in here. I can’t open it at the moment.

Alvina had moved farther forward. He couldn’t tell if the form he saw belonged to Alvina or to Palmette. He couldn’t use the laser pistol. He stepped into the kitchen, his foot hitting fallen dishes, clattering them.

Someone—Alvina?—whirled. He raised his pistol—

And something banged.

But bang was too small a word for that sound. Something happened—a collision, an explosion—something so loud that he felt the concussion as if it had actually hit him.

He staggered sideways, and then staggered again, keeping a grip on his pistol. Someone screamed, and this time, the lights—all of the lights—went out.

He sent, What the hell was that? but no one answered.

Palmette? he sent.

Still no answer. His head felt different. It took a moment to realize that all of his links had been severed.

Had Alvina done that somehow? Was that the concussive feeling he’d had? If so, how the hell had she managed it? Only the highest end security systems had the ability to sever all links, including emergency links installed into emergency service personnel, like him.

“Alvina,” he said, and then the building rocked again. Thudding or pounding or something so intense that he staggered into the counter, and the pistol fell from his hand.

He grabbed the edge of the counter—more slime, and it interfered with his grip, making him lose his balance.

He slipped in the fallen cups and plates, feet sliding out from underneath him, landing on shards of pottery and something else. It kept shifting beneath him, and then something fell on him, and more somethings fell and more, and a loud, booming crack resounded throughout the building, and that was when he realized it was all coming down on top of them.

Something had destabilized the building and it was collapsing. No matter how crazy Alvina was, she had nothing to do with that.

He crawled away from the kitchen and headed toward the table, keeping his head down, hoping nothing more would fall on him.

It was a vain hope. Bits of the ceiling had landed on him, pieces of wallboard. His hand gripped a chair leg and he let out a small sigh of relief. He found the table, and miraculously, there was nothing beneath it but carpet.

He crouched under there, listening to things fall. A wail had started from the direction of the kitchen, and beneath that, a voice. He thought maybe it was saying his name, but he couldn’t tell.

His ears ached, and everything rocked, and he wondered how long it would be before he died.

Here’s how you order the rest of the book. You can find the e-book on Kindle, Nook, Smashwords, and in all the other e-bookstores. You can order a trade paper copy here or find it at your favorite bookstore. (If they don’t have it, have them order from WMG or through their favorite book distributor.) If you want a signed trade paper, you can order that through WMG Publishing.  And of course, you can still get the audio edition from Audible.com.

 

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