Monique willed her fingers to stop shaking as she lifted the glass of tequila to her lips. She had foregone the niceties of salt and lime this time. She welcomed the burn of the fiery liquid. It affirmed the fact that she was alive. Something that until that afternoon she had never truly appreciated, taken for granted even. She emptied the glass in a single gulp and picked up the bottle to pour more when her phone rang.
It was Carlie. She had, of course, come all this way to see the woman, but not yet. Had the woman found out somehow that she was in town?
She hesitated. Coming here had not been easy. Not after the last time she had seen the woman, three years ago. The chemistry they created between the sheets was as unstable as the collision of low and high pressure on a hot Texas afternoon.
Tornados were less damaging than this sexy, tanned, and slightly aging Southern California weather girl. No, Carlie Carlisle was anything but the air-headed, blond bimbo image that she had perfected. An image that had made her famous, not just in Los Angeles, but nationally.
Monique quickly brought the bottle to her lips and sucked down another big swig of courage. She had known she had to face Carlie, eventually. So it might as well be now?
“Hey, Carlie, what can I do you for?” She faked cheerfulness at the woman, who had broken her heart.
The second time. But always the same reason. Some people would rather spend their whole lives living in the closet than admit the truth to themselves.
Monique had never been one of them. She had known she was lesbian since her early teens. So, why was it she only seemed to fall in love with uptight bitches, unable to ever genuinely commit because they needed to keep up appearances?
Travis Jacobs blinked back pain that threatened to turn his stomach inside out. His head throbbed worse than any hangover he had ever experienced. Even during his brief stint at college, when he had pledged not one, not two, but three fraternities. It had been the wildest and drunkest month of his life.
But this time, there were no pleasant memories to accompany the pain. He struggled to make sense of it. He tried to put the pieces together.
He had been surfing. The waves were hellacious off of Rosarita. He had barely managed to thread the eye on a fifteen-footer that left his heart racing. When he came out of the surf with his board, he had noticed the kid. He could not have been more than five or six, at the most. But he was racing from the blanket on the sand with what looked like Travis’s wallet and cell phone.
He should have been smart. He should have just let the little urchin go. It wasn’t like he could not replace the damned things. One simple call to his father’s secretary and a courier would have delivered another phone and as much money as he needed. But it would have come at a price, another lecture from the old man.
And probably another call from the ‘perfect’ big brother too. He had already spent the better part of the past two days avoiding calls and texts from Brent.
He reached up and massaged the lump on his head, “Oww.” Travis moaned as pain shot through this head like a lightning bolt.
“Don’t move,” he looked up at the angel with the head of wavy dark curls. Her golden skin glistened in the low light. Was it dawn or dusk? He could not tell.
He tried once more to put the rest of the pieces of the puzzle together. He knew he had seen her before. But he could not think where. He tried to roll over and lift himself. But she towered over him. That was when he noticed the baseball bat in her hand.
It came flooding back then. He had followed the kid through dark streets and alleyways. He had gotten lost in an unfamiliar section of town: a barrio, ghetto. The houses were little more here than pieces of tin and a few sticks clumsily thrown together.
He had grabbed the kid by his dirty shirt collar just as he slipped inside of one. He had shaken the boy, or at least he thought it was a boy he could not tell beneath all the dirt and grime.
“Let my brother go, señor,” had come a voice from behind.
He had held tighter to the kid as he turned to face one of the most beautiful women he had ever seen. She could not have been more than twenty, and she was almost painfully thin, except for the most stunning set of tits that Travis had ever seen straining against the almost sheer white cotton of the t-shirt that said, “Made in America.”
“No, I’m taking him straight to the police,” he had bluffed. He did not want the often corrupt authorities involved any more than these people did. The story was almost sure to get back to his father and Brent then. But he figured he could use the leverage to get his property back. Who knew, maybe even get the beauty queen to show a bit of gratitude?
But before he could suggest a compromise, she had swung the bat. That was the last thing he remembered.
Now she was standing over him with that same bat as the whole world began to tilt and whirl. Trav thought it was just his head playing more tricks upon him. Until suddenly, the girl was splayed across his chest, clutching at him helplessly as the ground beneath them buckled and churned.
Fuck, it was an earthquake…
DJ paced the stifling, hot tin tomb that passed as a hangar in this godforsaken place. Each moment that Darren delayed cost them precious time. “Fuck it, baby brother. Will the god damned plane make it or not?”
He wanted to punch something, and any of the three shits that his mother and asshole father had saddled him with as little brothers would do at the moment. The one he really wanted to get his hands on, though, was the stupid fuckhead SEAL that his mother had replaced the old man with after his father got his sorry ass blown up.
If this was Daniel’s idea of a plane, it showed just how much his ‘stepfather’ thought of them. He wanted to laugh, step-father indeed. The man was barely a decade older than he was. He loved his Mum to bits, he always had, but the woman had shitty taste in men. One that had almost cost her her life. And might yet cost him his, considering the state of this plane.
“Barely, I think,” pronounced his youngest brother.
Dec was still bent over the fucking laptop. His fingers were flying on the keys, “We’ll have to take the Southern route across the Atlantic. And even that is risky. Vesuvius just blew, so there is even more volcanic ash in the upper atmosphere.”
Darren shook his dark blond head in response, “Won’t matter, we won’t be flying that high anyway. This thing could not handle it.”
“It’s happening then? It’s really happening?” Damien shook his head.
“We better fucking hope it is, little brother. Otherwise, we’ll be spending the rest of our lives in the brig,” replied DJ. “How soon can we get the fuck out of here, kid?” He addressed Darren with the childhood nickname that he knew his youngest sibling hated.
“Now is as good a time as any.”
“That damned thing have parachutes?” DJ asked.
“Yeah, lot of good they will do us over open ocean with no flight plan and no way to signal for help, though,” Dec had to add his logistical analysis.
“That’s not what I am talking about. I’m bailing over Isla Mujeres. So, get me in low and tight, baby brother.”
They all stared at him. One word hung unspoken in the air. The same one that had for close to a decade – Sarah. The one woman besides their mother that they all loved. And the one that none of them could ever have.
“I’m going after her. And none of you will stop me,” DJ challenged.
Katia Alexandroff clutched the portfolio tighter. Daniel had given it to her before she boarded the plane for Washington. Besides, the maps that showed over two dozen safe houses across the eastern half of the country, it had included this. A photograph of Zane Rogers. Commander Zane Rogers. Of course, he had only been a Lieutenant then.
She fingered the other photographs as tears began to stain them once more. They were grainy and unfocused. She was sure that was intentional, though. Her handler might be required to provide her with them once a year, a small price for her continued silence. But she was confident that they did all they could to conceal any details that might give her the slightest clue to their locations.
Her children. Her babies. Though they were not babies anymore, they were in pre-school now. All except for Zander. He was where she would begin. The only one of the three whose location she knew. The only one she had ever really held.
They had all been too tiny, still hooked up to machines that breathed for them and fed them. The day that she had been released from the hospital, they had done their best to dissuade her from seeing them at all. But she had insisted. She had to. Just once. Even if she could not hold them, she had touched each one through the thick plastic incubators that kept their tiny bodies warm. She had cried as she said her good-byes.
Zander was the oldest and only boy but the tiniest at barely two pounds. Zoya was slightly bigger at two pounds and six ounces. She was the only one able to breathe on her own, at least for short periods. Yana, though the largest at almost three pounds, had had more problems in her brief life. They still were not sure if she would make it after a bleed in her brain.
She had spent over an hour in the NICU saying her farewells to them. To the children that she had carried inside her for seven and a half months. The only children that she would ever have. Could ever have.
She was still a bit surprised that she was alive. It would have been so easy for them to let her die when she hemorrhaged after the C-section. She knew it was only because they feared the files she had entrusted to her old mentor and professor.
The man did not know what was on the computer disk but had been told that he was to take it to the American embassy in London if anything ever happened to her. Those files had kept her alive then and had ensured that she kept getting these photographs every year on their birthday.
She searched each tiny face as her gaze shifted back to the other picture. Their father. Though he did not know. Could never know that.
She inhaled as she stuffed all the documents back into the manila envelope. Now she was just moments away from coming face-to-face with the man, who had been her only lover. Ever would be. That was another vow she had made that day.
She had nothing to offer a man, any man. She had never been anything other than mousy little Katia. Brain but no beauty. Now she was damaged goods. Unable to do the one thing that a woman’s body was created for…give life.
She fought back the tears. They would do her no good now. Any more than they had all those years ago as she walked from that hospital, reborn as Katie Alexander.
She might never be able to have more babies. She had not even been allowed to care for the only ones she did have. But one thing she would not do was lose them now. She would find them. All of them. If she could, she would bring their families with her back to Regenesis, Dr. Jacobs’s new world.
But if she could not, if these people, whom she knew had been handpicked by her government to groom her babies, could not be convinced to listen to reason, then she would do what she must. Whatever she had to…to keep them safe.
It was the least that a mother could do for her children.
And him? What of him? Asked her heart. But she had built a wall so high around it that nothing could get through — not even the one man who had been her lover.
She stared at her reflection in the glass. At least, she did not have to worry about him recognizing her. She would never be a raving beauty, but she had lost thirty pounds during her battle for life and never managed to put any back on, oddly enough thanks to the depression that she knew would never lift, never abate.
The transformation was complete between her new more svelte figure and the blond highlights and blue contact lenses. Katia Alexandroff, promising bio-chemist and Russian spy, had become plain old Katie Alexander, average to slightly above education student and carer.
But she had to admit; she was thankful that Fate had given her this one last glimpse of the only man ever to hold her body…or her heart.
Zane Rogers blinked. He could not believe his own eyes. At first, he thought it was merely worry and exhaustion. He had been up all of last night doing his own research into this Dr. Brent Jacobs. He respected and owed Commander Daniel Monroe a lot, but he was not putting his career and professional reputation on the line for that.
Yes, he had been uneasy with the catastrophic events that had occurred in such rapid succession this past week. He might not have specialized in geology, but he knew enough to understand this was unprecedented. At least in recorded history. But an uneasy feeling was not worth risking a lifetime of hard work for.
Of course, what he had discovered when looking into Brent Jacobs’s background had not been reassuring. The man was rogue at best. Walking on the edge of accepted science. But so too had other great minds like Galileo, Newton, and Einstein. Men before their time.
The question was: was Brent Jacobs, such a man, persecuted unjustly by his peers that were unwilling to have their accepted science questioned? Or was he the kook they painted him to be?
He had reluctantly agreed to at least look at the data that his old Commander was sending. And to pass it on to his contacts if he found it sound.
He watched her walk across the tarmac towards him. She was thinner, painfully thinner. Her hair was lighter too, though, in this light, he could not tell its exact shade. But every step she took closer expelled what tiny doubt that remained in his mind.
Kate Alexander. Daniel’s friend Katie was the one woman he had ever loved. The one that haunted his dreams every single night. The one that had made him swear off all women.
How many times had he dreamt of this? Planned every word he would say. Rehearsed them all in his head. Now here she was…and he had no idea what to say or do. But one thing was for sure, this time, she was not just running away, disappearing from his life forever. Not without an explanation. And it had better be a damned good one too.
The solitary figure slunk off into the cool night. “That was not my fault. Plans changed at the last minute. I had no control over him switching planes.”
Pacing faster beneath the moonlight, “I’m not comfortable with this anymore. It is one thing to feed you data now and then on the man’s work. Attempted murder is quite another matter.”
“Too late to worry about that now,” replied the voice on the other end as the line went dead.
The pattern repeated itself. Brent bent to kiss his sleeping wife as he snuck out of bed into the pre-dawn morning. Without so much as a cup of coffee, he made his way to the bunker office once more. This time he found both Samuel and Daniel bent over laptops.
“Any luck?” he asked his security team as they studied security footage from all the cameras around the compound.
Daniel nodded his head, “We might have something here.” He pointed to an image frozen on the screen of a figure on the back of an ATV.
Samuel shook his head, “We can’t get a clear enough image to know for sure. We have looked through all of the footage for the past forty-eight hours, and we never get a clear shot of the face. Head is always down, hood up. All we have is Dwayne’s approximation of size based upon known markers in the picture. Somewhere between five foot six and eight. Slight build.”
“Man? Woman? Race? Hair color?”
They shook their heads, “Not clear enough to tell, Doc,” Daniel delivered the bad news.
Brent ran his fingers through his hair, “We have a traitor in our midst. One that attempted to kill my wife. And you can’t fucking tell me who?”
He paced the room, “Upgrade the fucking cameras. Do more thorough background checks on anyone here that matches that description. Screw it – on everyone. If we have one traitor, there may be more. And until we find out who, I want my wife and daughters kept safe.”
“You have our word, Doc,” assured Daniel.
The idea that anyone of his inner circle here would not only betray him but harm Lauren was more than he could handle. He knew he was not fair to his friends, but the idea that he could have, might still, lose her when they were getting things right had kept him up all night. He would not rest, could not, not with a Benedict Arnold in their presence.
Dwayne Richmond watched the sleeping face of his best friend’s son. The boy did not have a care in the world. What did a child of eight understand of the ‘end of the world’ as we know it? Thad did not even fully comprehend his father’s death. The little boy had been through so much in his short life.
And so, had she. Chloe Johnson, his best friend’s widow. The woman he loved. Had loved from the moment he saw her. Even before Zach’s death. It was another layer of the guilt that ate at him.
He ran his hands down his useless legs. He did not have time to deal with more of that shit, now. If he had not managed to exorcise his demons in seven years of therapy, he certainly did not have the time for them now.
Doc, Daniel, and all the others were counting on him. To do his magic with computers, hack his way into secure government systems. But also to keep this place going. The first stop on Doc’s underground railroad to Regenesis. A string of almost two-dozen safe-houses that reached from West Virginia to Texas. Stationed every hundred miles or so, intended as regrouping and refueling stops along the way.
There were already over a dozen families here, mostly women and children. And he knew more would be arriving. More every day. And it was his responsibility to organize them, send them on their way, and escort the final ones to safety.
Chloe and a couple of the other women had spent the whole day inventorying and preparing the supplies. Would it be enough?
Dwayne had wished and even prayed, over the last seven years, for legs that worked. Despite the damned wheelchair, he had never considered himself genuinely disabled. But now? All he could hope was that his mind would be enough to compensate for the legs and dick that no longer worked. Because he could not fail her, not again. Or this little boy, who was as close to a son as he would ever get.
He hoped that somewhere up there, his best friend had his back. Not that he deserved it. He had failed to bring Zach back safely to them. But now, he could sure use some angelic intervention to keep the man’s family safe. In the fucking Apocalypse?
Obviously, this is not the end of the story. Trouble has just begun. The question is, what next…
Will it be earthquakes in California for Travis and Monique? Or tsunamis for Zane and Katia? Or old flames and icy futures for Sister Sarah, DJ, and his ‘little’ brothers? What of those refugees? Will they make it safely to Regenesis?
Stay tuned to find out…