On the planet Arsu, Bella Glass steps into a rose garden and is thrown 140 years into the future. As Bella faces a world she doesn’t recognize and tries to find a way home, she finds herself falling for Kai Craig—a man fighting against the effects of a bomb that turns him into a rage-filled beast. When they discover that someone has traveled into the past intent on changing the outcome of the war that nearly killed Kai, Bella must choose between preventing a devastating alteration of the timeline and a love she was never meant to have.
Kai Craig cranked the wheel of his cruiser and pushed the accelerator, slamming through the corner at more than three times the recommended speed. The torque pulled his head to the left as he let the cruiser drift, sliding sideways through the hair-pin turn before launching into the straight away. The backroad to the estate was winding and narrow – one of the first roads to be created when the planet had been settled four-hundred and fifty years ago. There was a newer aero-lane off the coast, but Kai hated the feeling of being cooped up in a tiny pod with no escape except a long dive downward hundreds of yards into the sea. He liked being in control of the machine himself. He’d had to rip out the majority of the safety protocols and half the computer to be able to drive it like he wanted and the cruiser was now definitely outside of warranty. Any damages or injuries he incurred would be solely paid for by himself.
Kai knew people thought he was being selfish and willfully dangerous for driving—he was putting himself and other people at risk by getting behind the wheel instead of letting the AI drive. He wasn’t sure why they cared. He had no future. There wasn’t a great destiny waiting for him. The only thing he was fated for was death. No one said it to his face of course. Most people didn’t talk to him at all. No one wanted to trigger his condition. He watched people avoid him on a daily basis. Taking the long way around the office. Pretending not to see him in restaurants. Dashing away from conversations at cocktail parties. Although, these days he had stopped going almost anywhere unless his mother absolutely insisted. And after the last time, even she, stubborn as she was, had stopped asking.
Kai drifted through the next turn, riding up the curved barrier wall that was meant to prevent vehicles from tumbling down into the gorge below. He grinned as slid off the wall and back onto the road at five times the recommended speed.
He thought that the mechanic’s shop had reported him for the most recent safety protocol mods because someone from the government had been around to see his doctor in an attempt to get Kai’s driving license removed. Fortunately, Sam had stood by him—attesting to Kai’s safety and control. Kai didn’t want to know what kind of paperwork had been forced on Sam for doing that. Sam had told him not to worry about it. Which probably meant that if Kai screwed up they’d take Sam’s license to practice medicine away. That was the kind of friend Sam was.
The road was slick with rain and the water was distorting the cruiser’s magnetic field generation, making the ride a little bumpier than usual. Kai checked the display as it showed another traction adjustment. The drops lashed the windshield, as outside the moonlight flashed in slivers between wind tossed tree branches like a strobe light. It was going to be a higher tide than normal—the two moons had synchronized their orbits and were both full. If it hadn’t been for the storm Kai knew he would be able to see them hanging fat and heavy in the cut made by the road between the tall palm-like trees. Slightly egg-shaped Daedalus and the smaller, faster Icarus usually chased each other across the sky, making navigating the tides of Arsu difficult, but in the periodic occasions when they completely synchronized the tides were usually at record levels and storms were more likely.
A few small, fist-sized rocks bounced onto the road in front of him, slipping free of the steep embankment to the left of the road in a shower of mud that mostly stayed off the pavement. He identified them as non-threats before the computer and ignored both the rocks and the flashing warning light on the dash. On the bluff above the road, the elegant two-hundred-year-old Catalan Resort was shuttered for storm season. The Catalan was beautiful in any weather, but tourists tromping about the grounds in the mud and rain caused more damage than staying open was worth.
Kai wished they were closed all the time. The Craig estate was close enough to the resort that the wardens had to chase tourists away during the high season. Kai hated the high season, but then, Kai hated people these days.
He rounded a bend, enjoying the G-forces as he twisted the wheel. He mashed down on the accelerator harder and was preparing to speed into the next turn when the proximity alarm went off. He saw the display registered life signs from whatever was in the road and hit the brakes. The forward acceleration stopped, but momentum carried the cruiser forward. Kai hit the anti-thrust, fighting the cruiser to keep it from rolling. He swung the wheel and threw out a force net, trying to latch onto a solid rock to slow him down, but instead a bolder came free of the muddy slope and showered the cruiser in blinding grime. Kai reached down and manually yanked the hover-grav unit into the off position. The cruiser bottomed out, scraping on the pavement, bringing the once pristine white vehicle to a shuddering stop inches from the thing in the roadway.
Kai forced his fingers to release the steering wheel. He could feel a caustic surge of anger as his body chemistry reacted to the adrenaline and fear. The computer ran diagnostics on vehicle as he turned the hover unit back on. The cruiser was still functioning—no thanks to whatever was in the road. He thrust the cruiser door open, pushing it to move faster than the automated speed. It pivoted upward like an insect wing and he ducked underneath it, exiting the vehicle with movements that were hitched and jerky with rage.
Whatever had dared to stop him would be removed. He would fling it from the road. He would…
It was a girl.
He could turn off the last of the safety protocols and run her over. The scoop would slice her to ribbons and the hover unit would apply enough force to make her bleed out in less than two seconds. It would be easy.
Kai stood, breathing heavily, fighting that thought, rain hitting him in the face. People he cared about would not want him to do that. He forced himself to take a step toward the girl and not get back into the car. Sam would not want him to run the girl over. There would be consequences. For one thing, Kai would not be allowed to drive anymore. And Sam would get in trouble. He clung to the idea of Sam, forcing himself to visualize Sam’s cheerful, open face, and his short spiky dreads that were always trying to escape from his surgical hat. Sam would get in trouble. Kai could not do that to Sam. Kai clenched and unclenched his fists, digging his fingernails into his palms, and then realized the other problem with running the girl over.
The girl would be dead.
But a lot of girls were dead. What was one more?
Kai tried to figure out if that was his illness talking or if he really thought that. It was hard to tell. It wasn’t like she would be the first person he’d killed. It would just be the first time he’d done it without government permission. Did that make a difference?
He took another step and remembered to inhale and exhale for the count of ten each way. It would trigger the Vagus nerve and start the process of moving his body out of a flight or fight syndrome. When he had first started using it, the trick had worked like a charm. Now he needed about twenty minutes of meditative breathing to make a dent.
Get back in the car, run her over and go home. He could always claim he hadn’t seen her.
Stubbornly, Kai took another step toward the girl and another deep breath. Lightning lit up the sky, illuminating her body in stark contrast to the dark blue pavement. The way her body was limp and twisted on the road brought up an acidic backwash in his throat. The sound of long guns echoed in the thunder and he opened his mouth to call for a medic.
There were no medics. There were no guns. The war was done. They had won.
Strange how he didn’t feel like a winner.
Kai took another step forward and knelt down, feeling for a pulse. Her skin was cool, and he pressed one hand against her neck feeling the continuous murmur of her heart. The glare of the headlights created a stark, blinding contrast that made him practically blind. Squinting against the glare, he felt along her body, seeking out injuries, trying not to move her too much. His fingertips registered a strange vibration as he touched the soft skin of her neck, but he dismissed that as the echo of the rain drops. She was young, but probably of age. Late twenties, maybe. Nothing seemed to be broken. Her dress was torn and she was scraped and bleeding in multiple places, but the largest injury was at her head. He put his hand into the dark sea of her hair and felt the warm, thick wetness of blood, which he could distinguish even in the downpour. For a moment he smelled the scent of the hot metal cartridges as they discharged from the long guns. But then it was gone, replaced by the smell of rain soaked loam and woods and the weird scentless odor of the oxygen exhaust produced by the cruiser.
Kai tapped his com bracelet and heard the sad hollow donk sound that indicated he was no longer connected to the planetary network. He connected to the cruiser computer and pulled up a rudimentary scan from the vehicle sensors on his com bracelet. There weren’t any broken bones, but the girl needed help. The town and medical center were a good thirty minutes away—if the bridge wasn’t closed due to the weather. His house was twelve minutes away when he let the computer drive.
He grabbed the girl by the wrist and pulled her upright—rolling her into a fire patrol carry over his shoulder. She didn’t weigh very much. She wasn’t that big. The passenger door opened as he approached and, as gently as possible, he slung her down into the seat. He moved to the other side and settled himself behind the wheel, noticing that the pristine pearlescent dairsa fabric of the seats and the pristine white carpeting was soaking wet and muddy. The cruiser would need to be detailed as well as repaired. It wasn’t until he was already on the road that he realized that he wasn’t mad about that.
Kai pushed the car through the twists and turns, still driving fast, but this time trying to be smooth as well, so as not to jostle his passenger. He knew this section of road like he knew the bumps and grooves of a Carbine 12 rifle. In ten minutes and forty-five seconds, Kai pulled the car up to the estate’s front door, instead of the garage like he usually did, and went around to the other side to get the girl out.
The manor house was shaped like a horseshoe with the wings curling away from the drive. Even in the rain-drenched dark, the pale towers of the house glimmered, glossed by the storm and lit by the fleeting moonlight reflecting from the pale stone. The enormous main doors in copper turned verdigris green were designed to be awe-inspiring and Kai usually wondered just who his ancestor had been trying to impress with those doors, but tonight he was simply grateful that he wouldn’t need to negotiate an obstacle course to get the girl into the house.
He was lifting her out when the doors swung open, spilling warm yellow light across the white paving stones of the drive. Lynnwood walked out to meet him, an umbrella hovering over his head, shielding him from the worst of the rain.
“Is everything all right, sir?” Lynnwood was being cautious with him, just like everyone was cautious. For once that didn’t bother Kai.
“No,” said Kai honestly. “I need a med-kit for her.”
“Of course, sir,” said Lynnwood, blinking in the rapid way that meant he was accessing the house processors. “Who is she?”
“No clue. Found her in the road. She’s wet and bloody. Which couch can I put her on?”
For a moment, Lynnwood’s face registered shock before being smoothed away by his usual stoic expression. Kai had long ago forgotten that Lynnwood wasn’t human and that all his little tells of emotion were for the benefit of the humans present. Or maybe they weren’t. At Lynnwood’s age who could say what emotional programming the AI had accumulated through the years.
“Perhaps the green room?” he offered.
“Good call. Big couch.”
Lynnwood hurried alongside him, shadowing them with the umbrella, and the door swung shut after them, closing with the merest whisper of sound. Kai took the girl through the foyer and hall into a sitting room with green accents and upholstery. The couch was velvet. He didn’t envy Lynnwood the cleaning later. As he set her down the girl’s eyes drifted open.
“I didn’t pick the roses,” she said, clutching at his arm.
Find out what happens next in The Beast of Arsu – coming Spring 2021!