It's officially three weeks until the release of Into The Fire!!!
We'll be releasing the first chapter, which is from Zoe's perspective, closer to the release date (Nov. 22).
Alighty, Endingers...scroll down to read the entire prologue of Into The Fire!
***content warning: some profanity beyond this point***
JANUARY 5, 1AE
“I’m just sayin’ the General freaks me the fuck out, Mase, and…” Carter stopped talking—for once—as he shifted the beam of his flashlight to shine down the next aisle. “D’you hear that?”
Carter could be dense, but if he thought he heard something, there was something to be heard. Thanks to the Virus, the guy had the ears of a dog.
Mase lifted his left arm and made a fist, and the other two members of his fireteam froze behind him. Ahead, Carter stood, head cocked to the side. As one, they listened. Mase barely caught it—whimpering. After giving Carter a curt nod, he signaled for all three men to follow him, raised his M4, and crept closer to the noise.
Patrolling the supply warehouses had been their duty for over a month, ever since the Virus had wiped out almost everyone, and they’d yet to find an intruder. General Herodson’s standing order was that only select personnel could enter the warehouses to guard, inspect, and distribute food and other supplies. Unless Mase was grossly mistaken, they were the only patrol on duty at Warehouse F until the shift change at midnight, which was still hours away.
It looked like they’d found their first intruder.
As they crept down the aisle between two towering metal shelving units stuffed with pallets of shrink-wrapped supplies—paper towels, toilet paper, plastic cups—they swept each side with the lights attached to their rifles. Halfway down the aisle, huddled on the cold cement floor, was the intruder. The girl was hugging her knees and hiding her face like she was trying to disappear. Mase scowled.
Slowly, the girl raised her head, and when Mase saw her dirt-smudged face, his breath hitched. It couldn’t be her…not in the Colony. Her long, dark hair was ratted and clumped, tear tracks trailed down her cheeks, and confusion filled her eyes. Mase knew they were hazel from memory, even if he couldn’t see their color in the darkness.
“Stand down,” Mase said to the other soldiers before turning his attention to the young woman. “Camille? What are you doing here? Are you hurt?” His voice was always deep, gravelly, but concern or maybe fear made it even harsher. Hesitantly, he took a step closer to her.
Camille flinched, becoming an even tighter ball of folded limbs and tangled hair on the dirty cement floor.
For the first time in his two years as a Ranger, Mase regretted spending so much time lifting weights. She was afraid of him. But he knew her. He had to help her.
Clearing his throat, he put on what he hoped was a comforting smile and took another step closer.
“We won’t hurt you,” he told the teenage girl as he knelt down in front of her. “I promise.” When he touched Camille’s arm, she flinched again. “I promise we won’t hurt you,” he repeated. Intruders were to be taken straight to headquarters—to General Herodson—but he couldn’t do that. They tended to disappear after that. Of course, if the bastard found out Mase had disobeyed his orders, Mase would disappear himself . . . but it was Camille.
When she finally peered up at him, Mase did his best to look less intimidating by hunching his shoulders, hanging his head, not scowling. She watched him carefully, blank curiosity filling her face.
“What are you doing here, Camille?”
She opened her mouth to speak, but no sound came out. She tried again. “Who—who is Camille?”
Surprised, Mase sat back on his heels and studied her. It is her, isn’t it? She was older—more a woman than a child, unlike the last time he’d seen her. Camille was a few years younger than him, so now she had to be at least seventeen. She still looked like a perfect little doll, though. There was no question in Mase’s mind that he was staring at the young woman he’d lived next door to nearly his entire life.
“You,” he said. “You’re Camille. And I’m Mase.” He remembered the day her parents brought her home from the hospital…the afternoon she fell off her bike and chipped her tooth on the sidewalk…the Valentine’s Day she gave him a card made out of pink and purple construction paper…the day he taught her how to coast on his skateboard without falling…the night she ran away crying after meeting one of his girlfriends. But if Camille could remember any of that, she was hiding it well. She just stared, not responding, and began to shiver.
Mase heard his men whispering and shuffling around behind him. He ignored them. “It’s okay, Camille,” he said, doing his best to soften his voice. “We’re friends. We were neighbors, remember? Back in Minneapolis? I used to look after you when your parents—”
The other men chuckled, Carter bursting into open laughter. Mase flipped them the bird over his shoulder. They only laughed harder.
“You…” Carter couldn’t stop laughing. “You…you used to babysit?”
Rising, Mase spun and pointed threateningly at Carter. “Shut the fuck up.” He glared at each of the men, warning clear in his eyes, until they quieted. “Nobody touches her. Nobody says a fucking word about this. Forget you ever saw her.”
Their amusement vanished, and they stared back at him with identical expressions—fear mixed with pity and regret. They knew what had to be done.
“Mase,” the nearest said. “We have to turn her in. The General’s standing orders are to—”
“I know the orders,” Mase snapped. “Fuck them. She’s not going anywhere near Herodson. Forget. You. Ever. Saw. Her.”
After a brief hesitation, all three men nodded.
Letting out a relieved breath, Mase turned back to Camille. She was watching him with eyes widened in interest, not fear. He knelt in front of her and explained, “It’s not safe for you here. You’re going to have to hide until I can get you registered as a Colonist.”
Surprising him, Camille reached out and touched the side of his face with her fingertips, frowning when he flinched. “Where am I?” she whispered.
Mase glanced back at his men, silently warning them to keep their mouths shut. If Camille didn’t have any memory of the Virus—of nearly everyone dying—he didn’t want to be the one to tell her. At least not yet. “You’re in the Colony. It used to be a military base. You’ll be safe here as soon as I get you registered.” He hesitated for a moment. “You have no idea how you got here?”
Quietly, Camille said, “No. I have no idea.” She studied him with eerily calm eyes.
A metallic bang stole Mase’s attention, and then the overhead lights flared to life. Someone else was in the warehouse. While the others stood nearby, rifles raised, Mase helped Camille hide between two pallets of paper towels. She was barely out of sight when the newcomers rounded the far end of the aisle. Mase’s stomach dropped when he saw him.
“Atwell! How is your patrol going this evening?” asked the man leading a dozen soldiers. Dressed in his usual officer finery, General Herodson strolled down the aisle toward Mase…toward Camille.
“Nothing unusual, Sir,” Mase reported, stepping away from Camille’s hiding place before the General was close enough to see her in the shadows.
General Herodson inspected Mase and his fireteam closely. “So it seems,” he said, giving Mase an instant feeling of holy-fucking-shit. Casually, the General glanced around, his gaze lingering near Camille’s hiding spot.
“How are the Ability transfers going?” Mase asked, hoping to distract him.
The General looked at him with cold, gray eyes.
Mase returned the man’s stare, refusing to look away. “Have there been any new developments? I know some of the men would like to get outfitted with regeneration or telekinesis.”
General Herodson bared his teeth in a smile. “Not yet, no. However, we have had an interesting breakthrough on another project. We’re calling them ‘Re-gens’—they’re reanimated corpses, more or less. They even retain their Abilities, though they’re altered somewhat from what they were during their first lives.” He paused, glancing up at the lights thoughtfully. “But the process wipes their minds completely clean, making them very easy to influence.” He rubbed his hands together briskly. “No need to deal with pesky memories or morals.”
Reanimated corpses. It took effort for Mase to keep his expression blank.
Abruptly, General Herodson said, “As you were,” and turned to leave.
Mase watched him walk away, reluctant to move. Why had the General told him about the Re-gens? Why had he come into the warehouse in the first place? Something wasn’t right.
As they neared the end of the aisle, General Herodson and his guards halted. “CL-one,” the General called out as he turned to face Mase again. “Come here, CL-one.”
Shocking the shit out of Mase, Camille wriggled out from her hiding spot and hurried to General Herodson’s side.
Mase clenched his jaw, realizing he’d just signed his own death warrant.
“CL-one is a particularly amazing Re-gen, don’t you agree, Atwell? We just finished her the other day.” General Herodson watched Mase like he was gauging every minute change in his expression. Mase kept his face hard and cold, like the General’s. “Take their weapons, my dear,” Herodson said to Camille.
Even at a distance, Mase could see the confusion on Camille’s face. “Why, Father?” she asked softly.
The General stiffened. “Because I told you to, my dear,” he said with strained affection. “These men must be arrested and put on trial. They broke the law. My law.”
“Oh,” Camille said, sounding sad, or maybe confused. “What will happen to them after the trial?”
It seemed to take a conscious effort for General Herodson to suppress his simmering anger. The man hated being questioned. “The other three will be banished from the Colony,” he said through gritted teeth. “Atwell will be executed and turned into a Re-gen.”
“Okay,” she said, smiling contentedly. She took a deep breath, then shut her eyes. Her mouth thinned to a flat line.
As Mase looked from her to General Herodson, hatred flooded his veins, quickly followed by adrenaline. His muscles vibrated with the unnatural strength that had increased steadily over the past two years. He was the strongest, fastest person he’d ever heard of—not that it would help him now. The General knew about his Ability. Mase figured that was probably the only reason he wanted to bring him back as a Re-gen: to be used…owned. Mase ground his teeth together and tried to think of a way out of this clusterfuck.
Suddenly, his M4 tugged out of his hands and floated upward. He tried to yank it back down, but it continued to float higher. Moving quickly, he untangled his arm from the rifle’s strap before it forced him up onto his toes. From the sounds of his men cursing behind him, he knew they were being remotely disarmed as well. Mase watched as their weapons glided into the hands of the General’s guards. His attention was drawn to Camille, who was still concentrating. She was doing it.
She opened her eyes and left the General’s side, a coy smile curving her mouth. Mase watched her approach him, frozen in remorse at what he’d caused. His men wouldn’t be “tossed out of the Colony”—they would be executed, regardless of what the General had claimed.
It felt like minutes, but finally Camille reached Mase. She caught his gaze, a spark of sharp intelligence lighting eyes that had once been hazel but were now gray. Almost inaudibly, she whispered, “Do not be afraid, Mase. I will take care of you, just like you used to take care of me. And with my friends, we will take care of Father.”
Mase barely registered her robotic intonation. He couldn’t believe what was about to happen. Soon, he would die, only to be brought back as something else. As someone else.
The reanimated young woman stood on tiptoes and lightly touched her lips to Mase’s cheek. “My friends really do not like Father.”
Alright folks...that's it for the Prologue. You don't hear from Mase again until Chapter 13 of Into The Fire, and, wow, has a lot happened to Dani and Zoe by then! :)
Stay tuned for chapter one!