Blackout Chapter 1 (Sneak Preview)
He scanned the darkened bar, his gaze passing quickly over worn tables and chairs, couples whispering in darkened booths, drunks playing virtual pool with neon balls projected on an old-style wooden table, and the ever present football game covering the back wall with brightly colored violence but no sound. Life had changed dramatically over the many years since his Reanimation, but a bar was still a bar and people were still people. Under normal circumstances neither interested him.
Few things did.
Blind date. Never should have let them talk me into it.
He spotted her sitting at the bar – right where Jose had promised she’d be – and froze. That hair, strawberry blonde, reached in waves past her shoulders, and her slender silhouette seemed as familiar to him as his own breath. Emily? In his mind, he was sitting at a different bar, and her blue eyes sparkled at a joke of his, something about politics though he didn’t remember what exactly. They had been happy then. Before. No. If Emily were still alive, she’d have to be over a hundred years old; this wasn’t Emily. She had moved on. Probably remarried with children and grandchildren by now.
He shook his head, banishing the unwanted memories, and slid onto an empty bar stool next to the girl who could not possibly be his former wife. How old could this new girl be, anyway? Early twenties? Twenty-five, tops. It didn’t matter. With the potential for surgery and Reanimation, apparent age wasn’t an accurate guide anymore.
She wore a Parisian-Oriental fusion dress which hugged her just enough to be alluring yet showed no more than a small taste of ivory skin and knee-high black leather boots. She was attractive, he was forced to admit. Especially with those green eyes. Green, not blue, he reminded himself. Emily’s eyes had been blue.
“Mikal, I presume,” she took a delicate sip of her pink cocktail then pressed a series of buttons on the touch screen built into the surface of the bar. The noise level faded to a hum as the environmental sensors kicked in, shielding them from their surroundings. He rubbed his sweaty palms on his jeans. He could have changed it back, but explaining why might be awkward. “I expected you to be…older.”
He grunted and leaned away. Even with six inches of space separating them, the heat of her body warmed the chill that never left his skin. “I am older.”
A pink flush spread across her cheeks to the tips of her ears as she looked away.
The gesture seemed quaintly sweet. Almost antiquated. Maybe the date hadn’t been such a bad idea after all.
He sat up a little straighter and tapped the touchscreen twice. “Scotch on the rocks,” he said when the bartender appeared inside the controlled environment. Mikal pricked his finger on the scanner set into the bar and opened his tab. As the drink was prepared, the computer system scanned his manufactured genetic code and registered the purchase to his company account. A yellow light flashed on the scanner, completing the transaction.
“Fucking zombie freaks,” the balding bartender muttered but he still set the scotch down before he disappeared into the hazy background.
“I’m…I’m Rose,” she extended her hand, which he took, her fingers like feathers, steel feathers, against his clammy grip “It’s such a pleasure to meet you, you have no idea.”
“Same here.” He tried to smile, curling his lips up and baring his teeth. Rose didn’t run, so it probably worked.
He took a long pull of the scotch, savoring the line of fire that trailed down his throat and settled in his stomach. A wave of lightheadedness moved through him, relaxing his muscles and bringing a small sigh to his lips as he settled onto the stool. The sensation faded quickly, however, as the tension returned in a rush. Stuck sober just when I need help the most. Not bothering to lower the controls this time, Mikal gestured for another round and waited for it to appear.
She arched one eyebrow.
Shit. I need to say something.
“Have you been waiting long?” Mikal asked, his stomach knotting as soon as the words passed his throat. What a stupid question to ask. He ran his hand awkwardly through his hair.
“No, not long.” She lifted her glass slightly: “This is my first.” The silken material of her dress parted briefly when she uncrossed and then re-crossed her legs.
He swallowed, hard. The movement had bared her smooth, defined legs along the line of the slit, exposing a tantalizing expanse of thigh for the briefest of moments. He ran his hand though his hair again. “Can I get you another?”
She laughed, a sound like the ringing of small bells, and tossed back the rest of her drink. “I’d like that.”
Mikal signaled for the bartender again, and the conversation stalled while they waited for the drinks to appear. He tried to find something appropriate or suave or at least inoffensive to say, but the words just wouldn’t form in his head much less make their way past his lips. What do girls in this decade like? The only ones he saw were usually naked and dancing on a table at the club where he worked. Do I talk about the weather? Politics? Shopping? Please not shopping.
The empty glasses disappeared and a moment later there were two fresh drinks on the bar next to them. Rose picked up the glass, wrapping her slender fingers around the stem, and sipped. “So, Mikal, my friend tells me that you work at NightWatch. How’s that?”
So it was work then. He shrugged, relieved to be on safe ground. “It’s a job. Had worse – not many people want to employ some like me.”
“You mean a zombie?”
“I used to hate that word but anymore…I guess I’m getting more tolerant as I age.”
Her eyes lit up. “You don’t look a day over thirty-two.”
“Pretty spry for the oldest man alive, huh. Maybe next time I’ll bring a cane.”
She laid a hand gently on his wrist. “Next time?”
Warmth flooded through his hand. Life. She hummed with it, vibrated joy and youth and everything he’d missed by hiding himself away the past few decades. Mikal didn’t move away from her touch. “I’m boring and old. Tell me about yourself. Do you have a job?”
Small lines tightened around the corners of her eyes, only to vanish a moment later. The change was so brief he almost missed it.
“Not right now. The economy, you know. I studied cellular bionics at the university before I had to drop out. Now, without a degree, there aren’t many options for a girl like me.”
“A girl like you?” What was he missing? He couldn’t imagine her having trouble finding work. Problem was, the more desperate people became the more depraved their tastes. He studied the angles of her face again. Had he seen her at NightWatch? He clenched and unclenched his fist. She deserved better than that.
She sipped her cocktail and shrugged delicately.
Can I tell her she’s too beautiful to have trouble finding work? Would she think it flattering or creepy this early in the evening? Girls liked compliments. That couldn’t have changed. Mikal opened his mouth to speak.
That’s when he heard it.
A sound, nothing more than a slight ringing, something that shouldn’t have been able to get through the environmental sensors, pulled his attention. First one and then another shadow flitted across the blurred edges of his vision.
“What’s wrong?” she asked, but he gestured for her to be quiet.
The time for civility had ended. No one should have been that close besides the bartender, and they had already received their drinks.
Mikal tapped the touchpad twice; the environmental controls lowered in response. What he saw didn’t make sense. Half of the bar’s hundred-odd patrons drank contentedly, oblivious to their surroundings.
The other half ran for their lives.
One woman tripped in the mad rush for the front doors, knocking over a chair on her way down as a younger man stepped on her back, using her to vault himself up and over her. Three guys in football jerseys each grabbed one of the antique wooden cue sticks off the wall and used it to shove an older man aside, sending pale ale flying up into the air and startling a couple out of their environmental sensors.
A girl screamed.
A lone man with sunken, bloodshot eyes, loomed in the center of the bar, his balding head glistening from sweat. The jacket of his camo-green duster parted momentarily as he raised his arm, revealing a series of clear tubes filled with a greenish liquid strapped to his chest. Thin wires connected the tops of the tubes.
His left hand rested on what had to be a trigger.
“…deserve to die. You are abominations of existence, a blight on the sight of the God who had given you breath and life. Death is sacred and pure, feared only by those certain of their own damnation. Prepare to face His judgment, monsters, and know the wrath of God!”
Instinct took over. Mikal stood, hooked Rose around the waist, and pulled her over the bar with him.
I’m going to die. His shoulders slammed into the hard concrete floor as shattered glass fell around him like rain. He covered her with his body. Maybe this death will be the last.
The world exploded around them.