This week’s sneak peek is from an as-yet-unsold WIP.
And that’s all I can tell you.
They made their way to the bunker in an unmarked SUV. Another agent drove wordlessly, a unidentifiable tattoo peeking out from under his sleeve, while Audrey sat in the back next to the agent who’d come to retrieve her.
She thought about texting Lucas to let him know she might not make her shift tomorrow. But what could she say? There were too many things he didn’t know.
Too many things he could never know.
She turned her attention to the window instead, watching pieces of her life pass by — the bakery on the corner where she went for croissants on Sunday morning, the diner where she and Lucas sometimes had coffee after work, Lenny’s. She tried to let go of the feeling that it was all moving away from her, that she was being sucked back into the world that cost her so much and would still cost her more.
She tried to soothe herself. Her return to the bunker was temporary. A necessary part of her role as architect, of the Shepherds commitment — her commitment — to keeping mankind on plan. They would fix the problem with the map, and a few hours from now, she would be back in her bed, the moonlight streaming in through the old factory windows. Tomorrow, she would go to Lenny’s and work her shift with Lucas. She would look into his blue eyes and laugh when he was silly. Maybe she would even say thank you for the friend he’d been when being her friend was no easy task.
The continued through Manhattan toward the Henry Hudson Parkway. Things were rougher than she remembered in this part of the city. A couple of buildings close to the water were charred, victims of a recent fire. The FDNY was already cleaning it up, despite the smoke still rising from its ruins. A bunch of people were protesting noisily near 11th Street, the police out in riot gear, herding the group toward the water, away from the center of the city. It all made the city feel ominous, as if a storm cloud were moving overhead, blocking out the light and vibrancy Audrey loved about Manhattan.
She shouldn’t have been surprised by the changes. It’s not like she bothered to look around very often. She liked her little corner of the city, took comfort in frequenting the same places in and around the loft apartment rather than venturing out into other neighborhoods.
It didn’t take a rocket scientist to know what she was doing.
All the Shepherds were trained in the psychology of their genetic disorder. The psychology of living forever. They were taught to accept the death of people they grew to love, to seek out new experiences to avoid becoming bored, to rely on the extended family of Shepherds for lasting companionship. And yes, to avoid clinging too desperately to people and places in a misguided attempt to create what would only be a false sense of permanence.
They were also taught that all of those things were completely counter to human nature, which is why she’d been immersing herself in the funky little vibe of her loft apartment and her job at Lenny’s, enjoying her attachment to Lucas even as she feared it, trying to pretend she was just like everybody else.
She pushed the thought away. She didn’t want to think about Lucas while she was on her way to the bunker. One had nothing to do with the other.
And that’s how she wanted it to stay.
They drove for about ten more minutes before the driver pulled the car to the side of the road. Audrey knew what was next, and she turned her face to the agent next to her.
“Sorry,” he said as he wrapped a length of black cloth around her eyes.
Everything went dark. His hands were gentle as he knotted the fabric at the back of her head.
She wasn’t offended. She hadn’t been privy to the location of the map since she’d moved out of the bunker. It was standard operating procedure, a security precaution in the event she was taken by the Apostles and interrogated for information about the bunker’s whereabouts.
All of the Shepherds who lived outside the bunker were subject to the same rules, though Audrey was forced to adhere to them more rigorously than most. If the breach was as serious as it sounded, they would eventually have to clue her in to the bunker’s location so she could come and go more freely. But for now, the blindfold brought with it a sense of relief. Proof that she would soon return to her normal life.
She took deep breaths as the car hurtled forward, the darkness behind her closed eyes disorienting. They seemed to be going fast, probably still on the Parkway, though she had no way of knowing for sure. There were several turns, a swift acceleration that might mean they were getting on the highway, and then a deceleration that probably meant they were leaving it.
Some time later the car stopped. She heard one of the windows roll down, followed by an electronic hum that could have been a gate or garage door opening.
“I’m going to remove the blindfold now.” The agent’s voice was very near her face as he untied the knot. The scent of mint hit her nostrils.
Weak blue light assaulted Audrey’s eyes. “Thank you.”
She looked out the window. They were in some kind of parking garage, the kind that could have served any mall or office building in any of the city’s surrounding suburbs. The car pulled into a small room. Doors closed behind them, and Audrey felt a jolt as they were lowered — vehicle and all — on some kind of elevator mechanism.
They continued their descent for almost five minutes. Wherever they were, it was a long way down.
Finally, the doors opened. The driver put the car into gear and pulled into another garage. He parked the SUV next to one just like it and got out, opening the door for Audrey. They made their way to a pair of massive steel doors set into a concrete wall.
There were several layers of security. It wasn’t unexpected, though the protocols changed as new technology became available. To hear her father tell it, there had once been threatening guards, passwords, and cryptic puzzles where now there were palm and iris scans, voice recognition, signature matching. And Audrey wasn’t fooled by the lack of physical security, either.
Someone, somewhere, was watching their every move via hidden camera.
With every step, Audrey grew more nervous. She told herself it was stupid. These were her people. The ones who had trained her and protected her. The ones who looked out for her from afar and who would continue doing so in the decades ahead.
They were the only family she had.
Still, it had been a year since she’d seen them, and that somehow made it seem like starting all over again.
“Step inside.” The agent who had come to her apartment indicated a large cylinder in front of them.
She walked into it. A red light came on above her head, and she stood still while the machine scanned her body. When the light turned green, she stepped out of it.
The agent hadn’t followed her through.
“Aren’t you coming?”
He shook his head. “This is the end of the line for me.”
“Security clearance?” she asked.
“Level 4,” he said.
She nodded her understanding.
“They’re waiting for you in the last conference room.” He gestured to a marble hallway to her right.
“Thank you,” she said, lifting her hand in a gesture of goodbye.
She swallowed her nervousness as she made her way down the hall. There were doors on either side, but she had no idea where she was or what took place in this part of the compound. Even as she put a hand on the door knob and pulled, she couldn’t hear a sound from within. The bunkers were always designed to be soundproof.
She stepped inside, coming to a stop when she spotted the two men at the back of the room. The large, imposing one turned, revealing a shaved head and goatee, his flinty eyes meeting hers as the smaller man stood with his arms crossed over his chest.
“Well, well, well,” the big man said said. “Look what the cat dragged in.”
Audrey let out a squeal and flew into the big man’s arms. “Danny? Sam? Is it really you?”