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Read an Excerpt from Vanquished:
LOWER BC PLAINS, THE YEAR 2275
Dust devils whirled viciously around the broken remains of civilization. Buildings that once stood proud and strong were now only jagged cement shards protruding from infertile dirt and rock. The sun was a big glaring ball of light in the sky. Where it had once produced growth and warmth, it now scorched what was left of the Earth with its brutal rays.
Kat looked up into the blistering sun and wondered for the second time today what in the hell she was doing out on the Outer Rim. The fierce, arid wind whipped at her cloak and tried to tear it from her body. Sand peppered her face like a tiny barrage of bullets. Pulling her hood forward, she adjusted her tinted goggles over her eyes and continued to search the rubble for her treasure. No small feat, considering her right eye was covered by a black leather eye-patch.
She kicked at the dirt and crumbled concrete with her steel-toed jackboots. Nothing. They’d been searching for nearly two hours now. She glanced over at her partner.
“Damian! See anything?”
Damian stood from where he squatted, raising his head toward Kat, his blue eyes glinting in the sun. He held up his hand, something encased in his glove.
“Just this cute little dolly.” He waved it at her, grinning mischievously.
The doll, headless and encrusted in filth, rattled in his hand.
“Quit fucking around. And put on your goggles.” Kat shook her head. The kid knew better. An hour under the unprotected sun produced cataracts. Cataracts usually led to blindness. She’d seen it happen more and more. Her sister had succumbed to blindness before she had died from the flu. Damian was lucky he had his hood pulled over his head.
“Yes, momsie.” Damian reached around to his pack and unzipped a compartment. He came away with his tinted goggles.
“Better?” He flashed a grin.
She shook her head but smiled. He always managed to make her smile. That was one of the reasons she had bartered for his life two years ago.
He had been an employee of a local junk dealer named Jones. Whipping boy, more like. He did errands for Jones, cleaned up the shop and, once-in-a-while, loaned out to friends. Loaned, as in pimped out for sexual favors. Men or women, it didn’t matter to Jones. He was an equal opportunist. If the price was high enough, Damian could be bought.
When Kat first saw Damian, he was hanging from the ceiling by his hands, his wrists shackled in metal claps. Naked, except for a thin strip of cloth hanging over his crotch, Kat couldn’t help but notice his long, lean body. Muscles rippled as he twisted side to side, struggling against his restraint. When he managed to turn all the way around, Kat could see the long red welts on his back. She looked down at his dangling feet and saw the instrument of choice lying on the dirt floor: a horsewhip.
Two days later, she returned with more electronics and bartered for Damian’s release. Jones didn’t even question her. It was just another transaction to him. They had made a deal, sealed it with a handshake, and she had left the store with Damian in tow.
“I think Russell gave us a bum lead.” Damian’s voice broke into her thoughts.
She looked over at him as he kicked an old metal can her way. It landed at the toe of her boot.
Eyeing the dirt and debris on the ground, Kat went over what she knew about the area. It had once been home to a school of some sort. The exact nature of it eluded her, but she knew that young children had attended. She also knew that children of old were taught by electronic means. They had access to all sorts of gadgets. It wasn’t clear even if they had a teacher. Maybe they had all been plugged into some electronic thingy by wires coming out of their heads.
School. Kat had no concept of what that would have been like. The word and idea were as foreign to her as clean air and fresh water. The little bit of reading and writing she had learned was from her mother before she had died. Everything else she needed to know, she learned by doing it out on the streets. Not a pleasant education for a young svelte girl with midnight black hair and big green eyes.
Russell, another junk dealer, had told her that she could find those old learning devices out here. At least a couple of steps above the shit ladder than what Jones had been, Kat didn’t mind doing business with him. So far, he had been honest with her in their dealings. He never tried to skimp on her payment. In fact, he had been feeding her tips as to where certain treasures were located. A win-win situation for them both, she got her money and he got his prize. As far as Kat knew, she was the only hunter that he tolerated.
Something glinted in the sun just under a rock-pile a few feet away. Moving to it, she bent down and pushed over one of the stones to brush away the earth. A small circle of metal, the size of a coin, lay imbedded in the dirt.
Damian rushed over to where she knelt, placing the bag down at her side. She opened it up and took out a large, long-handled tool, somewhat like a paintbrush. With care, she swept at the area around the shiny metal. More metal appeared under the dirt. She took out a small chisel and hammer and chipped around the earth that imprisoned the artifact. She did it gently and expertly, careful not to damage her treasure.
“Is that it?” Damian’s velvety voice broke into her concentration.
“Shut up, will you?” But Kat wasn’t asking.
She dug around the metal and under it and then set aside the tools and lifted the treasure out of the ground. A flat silver disc with tiny buttons on one side lay encrusted in the earth. She rubbed at the metal, clearing away the stubborn clinging sand. The word play was etched under one button. Kat grinned.
“Is it the music maker?”
“Money maker you mean.”
Laughing, Damian wrapped his arms around Kat. He picked her up and swung her around.
“I can just taste the thick juicy steak I’m going to have. I can almost see the blood on my plate.”
“Put me down, or you’ll see the blood on your face.”
Damian did as she said but didn’t stop grinning. He eyed her as she put the artifact carefully into the pack.
“I’ll be a lot happier after the coins are in my pocket and a bottle of vodka is in my hand.”
“You’re a lot more than happy after a bottle of vodka.” His eye twinkled mischievously.
Kat grinned. “I know.” She handed him the pack. “Let’s go before it gets dark. We don’t want to be out here much longer. Raiders will come soon.” She eyed the surrounding burnt-out buildings looking for any sign of scavengers.
They moved quickly toward the motorcycle propped up against a ruined building. Kat glanced up at the first two stories that still stood erect. The rest lay buried under two hundred years of dirt and rock. Often, Kat wondered how any of these structures managed to sustain the damage of the nuclear blasts.
The windows were long gone, blown to pieces and melted from the explosive heat. Then the whole place had burned. The fires had raged for over a year. With no water or rain to extinguish the flames, the fires ate up what was left of the civilized world. If it had been this bad out here, she wondered what remained at ground zero. If anything still stood in the Vanquished City, she’d be surprised.
A shrill call shattered the silence around them as Kat swung her leg over the machine. It was no cry of an animal. At least not the ones running on four legs.
As Damian mounted the bike behind her, she glanced over his shoulder. Swift dark movement near a large cement slab confirmed her suspicions.
“We’ve got company.” She kicked the motorcycle over. Thankfully, if roared to life in seconds. Sometimes it was not so reliable.
Damian peered over his shoulder. “Fuck.”
“Yup. Load my shotgun.”
Damian fumbled for the gun strapped to the saddlebags on the bike. “We’ve only got two shells,” he confessed while popping them into the chamber.
“Then pray there are only two of them.”
“Done,” Damian said as she handed her the gun.
“Grab the handlebars.” Kat turned around on the seat as if to hug Damian, so she could see their attackers, the shotgun tucked into her side. “Let’s rock.”
Squeezing the gas, Damian shot the bike forward. It wobbled dangerously to the left, but he soon gained control. Two Raiders dressed in ragged cloaks and dark goggles rushed out at them. Kat kept the gun pointed, but she didn’t think she’d need it. The bike’s speed was no match for the strength of the Raider’s legs. No human could outrun a machine from the past.
“Kat! We have a problem.”
Trying to turn her head, Kat couldn’t see the danger Damian’s wavering voice indicated. “How many?”
“Can you go around?”
“No. There’s a lot of rock and debris. It’s a straight path right to them. If we run into one, the impact might kill him, but we’ll go down for sure.”
“Are they together, or on each side?”
“One on each side.”
Kat slid the shotgun into the harness on the bike. Reaching under her cloak, she grabbed two star-shaped steel discs from her belt. They were four inches wide and the blades fit perfectly between her fingers.
“Should we slow down?” Damian asked.
“No, speed up.”
Damian turned his head and stared at her. “What? Are you fucking crazy?”
“Are there any concrete slabs near them?”
“Find a good one, and take us up.”
“You want to jump over them?”
Chuckling, Damian shook his head. “I’m going to get eaten alive by a cannibal.”
“No you won’t. I’ll shoot you before they get to you.” Smiling, Kat raised her arms, tucking her elbows into her body, the throwing stars gripped tightly in her hands.
“That’s what I love about you, Kat. You’re always looking out for me.”
Damian gripped the handle pulling the gas tight. The back wheel spat up gravel and rocks as he gunned it forward.
“Okay, hang on!”
As the bike rumbled under her, Kat closed her eyes and muttered an oath under her breath. She would not die out here. There were many adventures she had yet to experience. She hadn’t even faced her greatest rival…Hades. She couldn’t die without first meeting him. How would it look to Hades, if she died out here like an amateur on their first hunt? It would give him too much gloating power. She’d never allow that.
Feeling Damian tense, she opened her eyes just as the bike hit a concrete incline. Within seconds, they were airborne.
“Now!” Damian yelled.
Whipping her arms down and back, Kat released the metal stars. Squeals of pain confirmed her lethal aim. As the bike soared overhead, Kat could see the two scavengers, with the steel discs imbedded into their foreheads. They slumped to the ground, dead.
The impact of the bike hitting the cement jarred Kat and she knocked heads with Damian. Pain exploded in her ear where she hit. Rocking violently, Damian struggled to keep the bike upright. Clamping her eyes shut, Kat wrapped her arms around him knowing they were going down.
The front wheel hit a rock just as Damian put on the brakes and turned the handlebar. Instead of flipping over, they skidded to a halt on the side, Damian’s right leg pinned under the machine. Finally, they came to a rest against another wedge of cement.
Kat peeked one eye open and turned her head to look at Damian. He had his eyes squeezed shut, but he was grinning.
“Are you hurt?”
He nodded his head. “My leg.”
“Then why are you smiling?”
“Because we’re still alive.”
Kat pushed out from him, and rolled onto the ground. “Not for long, if you don’t get up. There are two more Raiders running this way.” Bending down, she pulled on the bike so Damian could slide his leg from under the twisted steel.
Pain evident on his face, Damian managed to stand. Kat glanced down at his thigh. There was a rip in the leather of his pants, and a slow trickle of blood.
“Don’t be a baby, it’s just a scratch.” After righting the bike, she swung her leg over it. “Get on before your blood attracts more of them.”
Damian got on behind her, and wrapped his arms around her waist. “Okay, but I get hazard pay this time. I need a new pair of leathers.”
“You can have a pair of leather underwear for all I care. Let’s just go.”
Laughing, Damian pressed his lips to Kat’s cheek in a smacking kiss. “You’re my kind of woman, Hell Kat.”