BY NIGHT AND BLOOD: Sneak Peek
This is my newest work in progress, an Adult Sci-Fi pitched as Total Recall meets Underworld. I like to warn that this book is more mature than my other books and does include some language...just as an FYI. Also, this is a sneak peek, meaning it is an early version and you may find typos or grammar errors...please just ignore. Please let me know what you think!
Three am felt the same as midday in the eternal darkness I lived in, but the wicked of Vena Ellis never slept anyway. Neither did those who hunted them. A new name—my next bounty—was all I required. Then the hunt would begin.
A green light flashed across a screen sitting idle on the concrete table across from me. I tapped it. Priority One: Kazeron Melaney. Finally, someone worth my time.
Dressed entirely in black, skin-tight pants and a hooded jacket covering down to my fingertips, I looked ordinary—normal almost. I was neither. I strapped the gun belt around my waist, checking the two NP9’s, before holstering my guns and moving to slide on my boots.
My job was simple. Hunt. Kill. Bring back proof. I became a bounty hunter out of necessity, for the money after my father was killed in a raid. I still did it for the money, but ridding Vena Ellis of scum was an added bonus. Plus, the more money I had the easier it was to get answers. I still didn’t know what truly happened to my father, only what they told me. The Cyphers were responsible, that much I knew, but what I wanted was a name—the one who pulled the trigger.
I pushed the thought away, moving to gather my things. My apartment was tiny, and I nearly knocked over the tablet trying to navigate the space. The bed was small enough my feet hung off the end. My toes sometimes hit the low table I’d been sitting at while I restlessly slept, and more than once I’d banged into kitchen cabinets in the middle of the night when searching for the toilet, the only thing behind a door and left to the imagination. Everything else was on full display, even the shower situated in one corner. There were no windows only vents for airflow. No light outside of the dim florescent beam overhead, apparently meant to simulate the sun but all it achieved was giving me a headache. I wouldn’t know if it was working—I’d never seen the sun before.
Buildings near the upper dome of Vena Ellis were all built the same, thick cement protecting us from the elements the forcefield surrounding the city couldn’t. Small and compact, hardly enough room for one person let alone an entire family. It was a shit hole, the cheapest rent I could find while maintaining a place of my own, but it was mine and that was what mattered.
I placed my hand on the wall panel and my door slid open. I stepped out into the busy hallway, throwing the hood over my head as I slipped through the crowd unnoticed. Most people didn’t care who or what you were up here, they only cared you didn’t cause them any trouble. But there were a few who knew me—and they made my life miserable when given the chance.
A heavy moisture hung in the air, telling me it was snowing outside the dome. Drops of water sometimes snaked through, sending shivers down my skin. Ice cold at all time of year. The pressure of the air pushing down on my lungs made it harder to move quickly through the city, but I’d grown used to it after twenty-one years of living in it.
I stepped down a set of stairs to the main level of my apartment, pausing only long enough to make sure no one was following. I’d been taught, at a young age, to trust no one. While my father was no longer here to remind me, his lessons would always be there, telling me to keep my head down, scan the crowd before moving, and to never visit the Base.
It was too dark to see the Base of Vena Ellis from where I lived, too far down to possibly reach it easily. I’d been there, only once, and it was not a place I’d like to visit again any time soon. The memories still haunted my nightmares—sharp teeth, blood, inhuman eyes watching me. It had to be bad if even I was terrified of what lived beneath our city. They didn’t pay me enough to venture there ever again. The people I hunted, my bounties, were scum, thieves, and all-around shitty people. The things that lived at the Base…they were much worse than that. Far worse.
Bright, obnoxious neon lights shone through metal slats as I reached the end of the hall and took the next set of stairs down to a main road. Every building was the same in this part of Vena Ellis. Cement monstrosities. Neon lights for the various shops and clubs packed at all hours. And people, tons of people. The streets were never empty, far too full for one city and growing, but where else would we go? Survival outside of the dome was impossible and the only other place humans could still live was Terra Laro, which was not an option. The city on the other side of the world, on the light side of earth, wasn’t for people like me—people like any of us.
I wasted no time moving down the streets. Pushing my way through the crowd while keeping my head down. The smell of fried meats mixed with alcohol brought a churning to my stomach.
People talked around here, even if they didn’t care what you did, they knew who—what—I was. That made me a target.
“Yeah, you better keep your head down, Alt bitch,” a man sneered as I brushed past, his breath reeked of alcohol.
I could have ended him. I could have said something or simply just removed his throat. But it wouldn’t matter. There would always be more to take his place and it wasn’t worth my time, not now. So, I kept my head down and continued moving through the street.
Alt. That was what they called us, those who lived in Vena Ellis and hunted our own kind. We were rare, most bounty hunters resided in Terra Laro, but it was decent pay, and it was a job. One I was good at. One I’d been trained for since I was a child. I didn’t care who I killed; I was well aware ‘my people’ were scum just like everyone else. I went where the money was and tonight, I had a Priority One, which meant the money would be damn good.
Another green light flashed in my right eye and I blinked twice to pull up the message. Last seen at Casa Pardona’s. Do not bring him in alive. Four hours. Keep this one clean, Sydney. An image popped up, skewing half my view as I continued through the mass of people. Kazeron Melaney was one ugly bastard. He’d had his nose broken a few times it’d seem, it sat in the middle of his face like a zig zag. His eyes were the color of shit and his toothy grin told me his breath likely smelled like it too. Beneath his picture were details. Apparently, he was the leader of the Vultures, a large gang in Vena Ellis hell bent on owning the place one day. For now, they settled for the slums near The Base, while creating chaos everywhere else. The Vultures were responsible for the Li’May bombing a few weeks ago, killing twenty-seven people inside a building near the center of Vena Ellis.
Now I understood why he was a Priority One.
Blinking again I removed the message. Retinal eye pieces were hard to come by, and nearly impossible to afford in Vena Ellis, but I’d managed to save up enough to buy one. It had become a necessity after the accident. Instinctively, my fingers flexed, my right hand moving smooth and effortless. Another part of me that wasn’t real but had been my reality for nearly all my life—the cybernetic arm. I couldn’t remember how it happened, the accident when I lost my arm and right eye, leaving burn marks down my side. I’d suppressed the memories so far down they were just gone, no longer a memory but something completely forgotten, like my mother’s name. The arm did little more than a regular one, it was a basic metal prosthetic, but the fact I could break bones when I used it to punch made it rather useful. Still, I always kept a sleeve covering from my fingertips to my elbow. It was bad enough I was an Alt, I didn’t need to be a Mecha on top of it. They were judged worse than I was.
Casa Pardona wasn’t far from where I lived, but still I had to hurry. I’d been given a four-hour window to get the job done myself before a city-wide notice went out to every Bounty Hunter in the area. I wasn’t about to let this pay out slip by. Kaz was mine.
I slipped through an alley between two buildings until I reached another set of stairs. They were narrow and only a small railing stopped me from falling over the edge down to who knows what. It was too dark to see, but there would be more walkways, bridges spanning between buildings making up the streets of Vena Ellis. Everything overlapped, and in the eternal darkness it didn’t really matter if you were walking under five hundred thousand tons of concrete that could crush you in seconds, or if you were at the top of the city under the night sky—you’d never know the difference.
Casa Pardona’s flashing pink and yellow sign came into view just as the sound of music took over the noise of the crowd. Shouts sounded the closer I got to the front door. A fight was breaking out, which meant my time window was closing even faster. If anyone called the authorities, or worse, the Cyphers, I’d never find Kazeron Melaney. Local enforcers, the Vena Ellis Guards, would quell the crowd, but the government owned Cyphers from Terra Laro would have the club scattering. I’d seen how swiftly they worked, raids could happen at any time for any reason, and I didn’t want to be nearby if they showed up. It’d take too long to track Kazeron down again if that happened.
Swearing under my breath, I pushed through the group gathering outside and stepped into Casa Pardona. The place reeked. Sweat mixed with liquor which mixed with vomit. It was so packed I didn’t know how anyone could move, let alone dance, but people found a way to grind and sway to the pounding music. Kazeron was a Priority One, the leader of the Vultures, which meant he was important. He’d be in the VIP section of the club, not this shit hole.
I pushed my way to the back, avoiding whatever liquid was laying on the ground, and reached a glass door. A bouncer I recognized, Orion, stood before it, his large arms crossed over his chest and a scowl on his face.
“Ten lence to let me by?” I asked.
Orion quirked a bushy eyebrow. “Don’t insult me, Sydney.”
I rolled my eyes. “Twenty.”
His jaw flexed as he considered, but I knew Orion’s price, and I’d already topped it. For a Priority One, it’d be worth it. His gaze flickered around to the crowd, then to the bar where a pretty redhead was serving drinks as fast as her hands could move. She hardly paid him any attention, but we were both aware she was watching. Subtly, Orion turned his hand up, exposing the tattoo at the base of his wrist. I slid my ID card over it quickly.
A message popped up on my retinal eye piece.
Orion nodded, and when the redheaded bartender looked away, I slipped through the glass door before she turned back around.
She would notice I was missing soon, and I was sure she was smart enough to guess what I was, why I was there. A club could be ruined if it was found out they let an Alt inside, especially for one of their VIPs. But Orion would do his job if he wanted to get paid next time—which he did—and I’d be gone before she knew for certain who it was. Speculations and rumors could easily be covered up.
The music changed the closer I got to the end of the empty hallway. A slow, almost seductive beat pounded, luring me in. An arched entrance opened to a two-story room, clad with black wood panels and thick velvet across the walls. Chains hung from the ceiling where half naked men and women were suspended around hoops and bars, twirling and riding across the metal while the patrons below watched.
The room wasn’t nearly as packed as the last one, but it was still busy enough it took a few moments to find Kazeron Melaney. His gaze was fixed on a purple haired beauty suspended over his table at the back of the room. A disgusting smile filled his face as he sipped from his glass with greedy eyes fixed on the girl. To her credit, the girl made it seem like she enjoyed the attention, like his stare didn’t bring bile to her throat.
I released a breath and moved to the back of the room, my hands resting over the smooth metal of my guns, twitching with eagerness.
I paused before Kazeron’s table. “Leave,” I told the purple haired girl. She glanced down at me, noticing the hood covering my face first, the guns in my hands second. “Now.”
She didn’t wait to be told a third time as she hopped down onto the table and disappeared to the back quickly. The other dancers, sensing something was wrong, did the same. Kazeron hadn’t moved, and his hideous smile turned on me.
“I’ve heard about you…Alt Bounty Hunter,” Kazeron said, his eyes narrowing as he assessed me. “The ghost. The girl blessed by the dark gods. I was told you were smart, but that can’t be the case if you’ve come here tonight.”
“Flattering me will get you nowhere, Kaz.”
“You’ve come for my head, Alt?”
“I’ve come for something, but it sure as hell isn’t that ugly face of yours.”
He placed his glass on the table, slowly tilting his head to the side as he looked me up and down. Blessed by the dark gods. That was one of the rumor's I rather enjoyed being spread about me, even if there was little truth to it. I didn’t pray to the gods—not even the ones who might have answered.
The rest of the crowd within the VIP section had quickly made themselves scarce, but the five men seated at Kazeron’s table hadn’t moved. They at least had the good sense to look slightly worried, but if they played nice, they would leave alive. I didn’t get paid extra for any collateral, even those who might be on someone’s list. If I could avoid it, I would. Save their names for another day when I’d get paid to kill them. I didn’t work for free.
“Do you know who I am, girl?” Kazeron asked.
“I know you killed twenty-seven people in that bombing last month. Outside of that, I don’t give a shit who you are.” I shrugged. “I don’t get paid to hear stories. I get paid to take to collect bounties.”
“This one, you might want to hear…” His tone and the smug look on his face had me pausing, briefly. “You’ve likely been given my name because of what I know—who I know—but trust me, that information is worth far more than my head.”
“And you’re just going to give me this information if I spare your life?”
“No.” He chuckled. “But I will offer you a chance to redeem your soul. A chance to save your life.”
“Redemption? That’s what you think I need?”
“I would think you, of all people, are in desperate need of redemption…Alt.” His eyes roamed over me in a familiar way, as if I’d seen him before, met him before. “What would your father say?”
I froze, only for a second, but enough he noticed. My jaw clenched. “Nothing. He’s dead. Just like those innocent people you killed when you bombed that building.”
Again, I flinched, surprised by his words. My fingers curled around my guns.
“They left that part out, didn’t they?” His smug smile grew. “Or maybe you just didn’t ask all the right questions.”
“You tell a good story, Kaz, but I don’t trust men like you.”
“Yet you trust the ones who sent you here without even telling you who I was? Not so smart after all…” He shook his head. “Is what I do so different from you? Do we both not want to protect our people?”
I hesitated, my finger slightly tensing. My retinal eye piece scanned his face as he spoke, detecting any lies he might be spewing—only I found none. Everything he was saying was the truth. It didn’t matter. He could be telling the truth and still be wrong. In the end, what mattered was that I got paid, not that I decided who was worthy of death.
“I’ve been given your name, and I trust my source, so nothing you say will change my purpose…which happens to be you, right now.” I motioned to the five men still seated around the table. “You can leave, or you can die along side your boss here…I only get paid for one name, but I do enjoy using my guns.”
One of the men pulled back his jacket, revealing a gun attached to the belt on his hip. “What makes you think we didn’t come prepared for you, sweetheart.”
I smirked, letting my eyes linger on the man a second longer than he was ready for. “If you’d been prepared for me there’d be a lot more than five men here.”
The man’s gaze flickered to Kazeron, who hadn’t bothered to reach for the gun I knew was sitting on his lap. He’d taken it out the second I arrived, though his hands remained neatly folded on top of the table.
“You don’t want to hear my story?” Kazeron asked.
“I would think an Alt would like to know who they’re really working for, the monsters up in Terra Laro, and down here in Vena Ellis, paying your bounties.” He lazily waved a hand. “But if I’m wrong, go right ahead…kill us.”
I let out a humorless laugh under my breath. “You think that wasn’t the first thing I found out?” I shook my head. “You assume I’m like the others, blindly taking orders from some stranger I don’t even know. You think I’m weak and can be paid off or convinced to spare your life. But then why haven’t you asked yourself the obvious question?”
“What question is that?”
I glanced to the five men. “Why didn’t your friends here get notice of your bounty before I arrived.” Kazeron’s face fell, the five men shifting with uncertainty. “You paid them handsomely to keep you safe, did you not? Guards from Terra Laro don’t come cheap. Yet, here I am—an Alt—and they didn’t warn you. So, either they don’t give a shit about your money…just like me. Or I was given a head start. Because I don’t work for those assholes in Terra Laro, I have my own source—and that makes your story rather useless to me, now doesn’t it.”
Out of the corner of my eye I saw a hand reach for their gun. While my focus remained on Kazeron my retinal eye piece scanned for movement and sent me warnings the instant they happened—definitely worth the price I’d paid for it.
I fired one shot, straight between his eyes, before the man had even raised his arm past the table. The sound echoed through the empty club, blood splattered across the black walls and white floors.
“One of you made their choice…what about the rest of you?” I glanced to the other four men, watching me with wide eyes.
“If you move…” Kazeron warned them, his teeth barred.
“Don’t listen to him, he’ll be dead in a few moments.”
Kazeron shifted, his arms dropping to his lap, but I was much quicker than him. My retinal eye piece picked up the dilation of his pupil, telling me exactly when he was going to act. Two bullet holes pierced through each of his shoulders. His scream bellowed through the room, nearly shook the foundation. His arms hung limp in his lap, my bullets immobilizing the limbs.
“You bitch,” he hissed.
“Go.” I nodded to the other four men still frozen in their seats. “I’ll give you five seconds before you end up like your friend here.”
They kept their glares on me as they stood, making their way out of the club, not bothering to take their dead comrade with them. I watched until they were gone, then I turned back to Kazeron.
I took the seat across from him, the chair scraping as I pulled myself closer. My foot was braced against the leg of the table, pushing it hard into his chest, the weight of it making it impossible for him to move or stand. I reached over and took his arm, pulling his hand up and onto the table, letting it thud as it landed down on the cold metal. He stifled a scream.
“You dumb bitch. They will send them after you. The monsters will hunt you down, they’ll devour you.”
A shudder ran through me. An image flashed through my mind—sharp teeth stained with blood smiling from the darkness. I shoved it back—blinked the image away as I turned back to Kazeron. Slowly, I pulled out a serrated knife from my pocket. “I could have made this easy…painless…but you had to go and be an asshole.”
The blade sliced through his skin, removing his pointer finger in a jagged torn pattern. Kazeron screamed the entire time, swore and cursed, trying to pull away or kick, but there was nothing he could do.
His lip curled, fighting against the pain rolling through him. “You think you’re immune? Even you can’t hide in the darkness forever. They’ll come for you too, and you’ll be hunted just like I was”
I stood, dropping the finger into my pocket. “Yeah, they might,” I said softly, leaning closer. “I have no delusions that I won't one day be hunted, just like I hunted you. But here’s the thing, Kaz…you’ll still be dead.”
One last bullet silenced any rebuttal he might have had. His head dropped to the side, his eyes still staring blankly ahead of him while blood dripped down his forehead.
I left without another look back, through the front doors of Casa Pardona, past the crowd still gathered, with the finger of Kazeron Melaney warm in my pocket.