Just got here? Start at the beginning.
By eight in the morning, Char had heard nothing from Erwell, so she called her on the comm.
“Any word from the higher ups?” Char said into the device. She sat on the edge of Seth’s bed with his pillow clutched in one arm. She was glad Erwell couldn’t see her. Better she think they were still on the other side of a messy divorce.
Erwell didn’t answer for almost a minute.
“Nothing definite.” The director’s voice sounded strained.
“How are the Na’odani?” Char fingered the seam of the pillowcase.
“I have them talking to some of my scientists,” Erwell answered. “That will keep them quiet for now.”
“Keep me posted,” Char said.
“Okay,” Erwell replied, slightly crackled by the comm.
Char sighed and clipped the comm to her belt. She slipped out into the hall, grabbed some thermals from her room, and went outside.
She found Linc in a corner tower, pacing to keep warm.
“Hey, Boss,” Linc said as she climbed onto the platform. “How’s it going?”
“I’m jet-lagged,” she answered dryly. “Listen, Linc. Did you do what I asked?”
“Yeah.” Linc stood closer to her. “I went to go see the Na’odani.”
“They asked me some strange questions.” Linc’s eyes narrowed. “Like about my range of hearing, and the material the compound is made of.” He grinned. “Concrete was hard to explain.”
“Huh,” she mused. “Go peek in on them at noon, will you?”
Linc gave her a sloppy salute. “I’ll report when I do.”
Char climbed down, but paused at the base of the ladder. “Hearing? Materials?” she muttered. She rubbed her gloved hand over the back of her neck and blew out her breath.
She broke into a jog toward the compound, drawing up short by the door.
There was a fifty-fifty chance Erwell would have the Na’odani killed for their kemzog. If so, she would never see Leander, Seth and the others again. But if it came to that, it would mean powering the fading American cities—probably save millions of lives.
Char was shivering as she entered the hall, blinking in the dim light. “Shit,” she whispered. “If only Seth and Leander were here.”
Leander would say to let her go and save more lives.
Her throat thickened. “Yes, but everyone who cares about me is on the other side of that fucking portal.”
Char squared her shoulders and marched down the hall toward Erwell’s offices.
Erwell didn’t answer the door on her first knock. Char’s hand froze mid-air before she could knock again. Her drew a deep breath.
I won’t let them kill the Na’odani.
Her breath shuddered out. The door opened.
“Oh.” Erwell’s face was pale. “Char. Good.”
“What’s the plan?” Char asked in a low voice.
“We’re going to take the kemzog.” Erwell pushed past her into the hall.
Char followed. “You’ll kill them?”
“Yes,” the director said without looking back. “They don’t want news about this spreading.”
Char blinked. “But the—”
“I’m sorry, Char.” The woman didn’t look at her.
Char’s outburst caught in her throat.
Erwell trotted down the stairs into the lower level where the Na’odani were held. Char followed. She’d think of something.
Several soldiers—army, not security—were already there. Char saw Leader Taig’s face at the window of their holding room. They met eyes.
Char widened her eyes and made a little slashing motion across her throat.
The alien’s face froze. She nodded.
Erwell opened the door. “Leader Taig, our leadership has come to a decision.”
“Indeed.” Taig’s pale eyebrows rose.
“We won’t enter into a trade agreement,” Erwell said. “We will remove your kemzog stones, save one. After that, you will go back through the portal.”
Taig’s eyes darkened to jet black. “Indeed,” she said again. “That will not be acceptable.”
“If you don’t cooperate, we’ll kill you,” Erwell said flatly.
Taig’s gaze went over the director’s shoulder to Char. Her eyes darted to the stairs.
Taig’s eyes went to the stairs again. Char took a step back and edged in that direction.
The room was eerily quiet behind her for a moment. As Char drew abreast with the door at the top of the stairs, she rather felt than heard a high-pitched sound. Char threw herself through the entry and to the floor and covered her head with her arms.
The floor bulged in a wave beneath her. A deep groan went through the building. Dust and pebbles of concrete fell on her arms and back. A moment later, a pair of long hands gripped her arms.
“Leader Char, are you all right?” Venn asked.
“Yeah,” Char slurred.
Venn heaved her to her feet and spurred her forward. “How do we get out of here?”
She wiped the dust from her eyes. Her ears rang. “Follow me,” she gasped.
She got the Na’odani from that pod into the hall that led up and out before two soldiers burst into the hall ahead of them, guns drawn.
Char, still off balance from the sound wave, threw herself to the side. She felt the high-pitched sound pierce her. A moment later the soldiers flew backward. Venn propelled her forward, up the ramp.
She saw Venn talking, but all she heard was garbled noise. They lunged into bright sunshine. Char trained her swirling eyes on the gate, noting the soldiers that stood between them and escape.
“Fire the thing again!” she thought she said the words aloud, but she could barely hear her own voice. Nevertheless, she felt the shockwave bowl over her again, knocking the soldiers to the ground. Char and the group ran unobstructed up to the gate.
She saw Linc half-running, half-staggering toward them. “Open the gate!” she yelled at him. She saw Venn motion to the Na’odani not to attack Linc.
Linc slammed open the panel at the metal gates and punched in the code.
A moment later, the first shot cracked overhead. Char, Linc and the Na’odani were already running down the slope toward the portal.
Char felt the zing of a bullet past her face, and then another. They were almost to the red flags marking the portal.
“Oof!” Char was knocked off her feet. She felt nothing, but she knew she’d been shot. The first Na’odani disappeared through the portal, and then the next. Linc went through, gripped by leader Taig. Venn ran past her.
“Venn!” she screamed, struggling to get up. Her legs weren’t working.
He turned back, eyes huge in his pale face. He grabbed her under the arms and dragged her to the portal.
She felt the sucking sensation, and Alaska disappeared as her world faded to black.
Char woke up in an aircraft over the Kaa valley. Her head lay in Linc’s lap.
“You’re going to be okay, boss.” Linc’s usually bronze face was grey-tinged. “Hold on.”
“I don’t feel anything,” Char wheezed. She could hear him again, but faintly. “Where am I hit?”
“In the lower back,” Linc said. “Taig stabilized you herself. You’ll be okay.”
“Seth,” she groaned.
“We’ll see him soon.” Linc smoothed her hair back roughly. “Just lie still.”
Char woke again in Healer Kaz’s infirmary, laid out on one of the table-beds. Seth curled up beside her. His arm warmed her belly. She felt heat and tingling from the waist down.
“Seth,” she whispered.
His head lifted. “Char,” he breathed. He kissed her face, her mouth.
“How bad am I hurt?” Char tried to lift her head, but it felt lead-like.
Seth propped himself up on his elbow and ran his fingers over her cheek. “The bullet severed your spinal cord.” He swallowed. “But Healer Kaz is working on it, and it may heal.”
“So I’m—?” Char’s throat clamped. “Crippled?”
“We don’t know that,” Seth soothed. His dark eyes held her fast. “They can mend broken bones. Leader Taig suspects Kaz’s treatment will repair it.”
Her breath shuddered. “And we are what now?”
Seth settled back down beside her and pulled her close. “The Na’odani have staked out the portal. One of their own was killed, so Erwell has six kemzog stones now. They’re waiting on the counsel to decide if they’ll retrieve them or not.” He sighed. “Leader Taig assures us that since you and Linc helped them escape, we will not be harmed.”
“So we just…” Char took a deep breath. “We wait.”
Seth nodded and pressed his face into her neck. “But this is all I care about right now,” he murmured.
Char clutched his hand against her cheek and shut her eyes.
Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed Bridger, you may also enjoy this excerpt from Sons of Earth, a dystopian novel about a clone whose fight to take down an evil corporation leads him to question his humanity.
He was watching her. Though he never made eye contact, from under his long, dark lashes, he watched. His perfect lips curled, almost too minute to perceive. It made a full body exam decidedly awkward.
But she was done. Khalia pointed to his clothes, folded neatly on the table, and with the same obedience she expected, he picked them up and began pull them on. Even with her eyes on her clipboard, she could still feel his gaze. She glanced up. The bluish fluorescent light sent glints off his eyes as he dropped them.
MFP25A12 was her third and last examination of the morning. The other two had been in perfect condition. She’d recorded every parameter, all within limits, almost exactly on target. Not A12. Vitals, in limits. Height, 183 cm—in limits. Weight, 80.73 kg—drastically out of limits. At his age, he should be not less than 90kg. Khalia scanned the parameter sheets of the last two months. His weight gain had leveled off two weeks ago, even after adjustments to his diet.
Thud. Khalia glanced up. The MFP was, for once, not looking at her. He’d dropped his shoe onto the concrete floor. She shook her head, and flipped through his records.
He was reject—garbage.
Khalia sighed and took one last glance across the pages. As she flipped back to the first page, her eyes lit on a section titled “Intelligence Quotient. Limits 100-120,” and below it, the number 183.
Her head snapped up. A12, now dressed in his black garments, didn't bother to lower his gaze. He stared at her, full on.
"Hey." She pointed with two fingers toward the floor. His chin tilted downward in obedience but his lip curled again.
Khalia shivered. What rogue gene had slipped through, gracing this specimen with genius IQ?
She should test him. Maybe it was a mistake, a transcription error. Who had tested him? The signature was Adam’s. She needed to ask, even if by all physical signs MFP25A12 was destined to be rejected. Barjinder would want to know how this happened.
Khalia grabbed a blue tag from one of the many hooks beside the light switches. It read “Further Testing Required”, the one right beside the red “Reject” tag, stark crimson against the snow-white wall. She stuck it to the Velcro patch on A12’s sleeve.
She opened the door and led him into the wide, fluorescent lit hall, past the rows of exam-room doors, and into the airlock. She shed her shoe covers and lab coat and pushed him ahead of her into the warm yellow light of the corridor. "I'm taking this one for further testing,” she said to the forms clerk. She signed the sheet that was handed to her, and then led her charge two doors over to the genetics lab.
Barjinder’s desk was empty. She’d get the MFP situated, then go find him.
Khalia opened the door of the holding room, an eight by eight room with a cot and a toilet, and let her charge pass by her. She turned and set the clipboard in the folder by the door and grabbed the log book to fill it out. Her pen had just formed the letters “M F P” when she heard a slight rustle.
Her head turned, and she was nose to nose with the MFP. She squeaked, and then his hands were on her throat. She thrashed, he pushed her against the wall, pinning her. Her lungs burned empty, her head swam. She made one last effort to jerk free. He was a brick wall.
Black spots grew larger and larger.
The last thing Khalia saw before she lost consciousness was his dark eyes, gazing deep into hers. His lip was still curled.