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Watch the Wreckage, Book 2 - The Graceless

Watch the Wreckage, Book 2 - The Graceless

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"I stand here, watching the flames engulf the Company building, I can't believe what just happened. Three hundred people dead, all because of my drone? I can't wrap my head around it. I was so focused on completing the contract, on taking out the target, that I didn't question the motives behind the mission. But now, as I look at the devastation in front of me, I can't help but wonder who orchestrated this attack."

Sample: The Graceless

Years. That’s how long she’d planned, schemed, and put the pieces into place, fighting to ensure her survival in a world hellbent on giving her nothing but grief and death. For years, she’d stuck to the script so meticulously crafted in her own head, ensuring that not a single line had misdelivered. Down to the finest details, she’d played her part, and she’d played it well. And she’d come so bloody close to getting everything she’d wanted, and then he’d thrown it all away. Years of her work, of her suffering. Years she’d positioned herself as closely as possible to someone as mind-numbingly boring, terrifyingly mundane, and incredibly unremarkable as Steve Glenning. She’d earned his trust—not a hard task to achieve. And then, in the space of a few hours, everything had gone to absolute hell. It infuriated her beyond measure that someone like him would thwart someone like her.

Though, some of the blame had to fall on her. Once she’d learned the police were going after Steve, she’d panicked and lost much of the coolness that got her this far. She’d tried to get to him before they could. She tried to get the information she needed to save her life from a world not far from extinction. And Steve, who had nothing to lose or gain from all of this, had elected to make things harder for her. He could have given her what she wanted and brought all of this to a close, but he’d just thrown away whatever chance he’d had of a painless death. Because Anabelle Shrewt was going to make things painful for him. Very painful indeed. He needed to feel as much pain as she had. Only then would he appropriately understand everything.

“The Drone Keeper,” she scoffed and rolled her eyes as she sat behind the controls of her aircraft, which moved through the air bold defiance of the laws of gravity. She’d tied her straight dark black hair in a ponytail, and it was so oily that it reflected both the starlight from the night above and the glowing red of the chopper’s interface below. Her glasses slid down a little, and she nudged the bridge back into place with her fingertip, peering out the windshield at the desert landscape beneath. She couldn’t do to Steve Glenning what needed to be done from behind a screen with frustrating-to-pilot drones. No. This needed a personal touch. Very personal. This needed hands-on experience.

A few minutes of cruising through the air later, Steve Glenning’s home came into view and her eyes widened when she saw the number of drones strategically hovering around, scanning every inch of the property. Police drones, she thought to herself. But even more surprising were the moving outlines. The outlines of people who appeared to be carrying things out of the residence. Both her heart and mind raced then, and she brought her aircraft down to the ground and walk the rest of the distance. It would be a lot easier to cleverly conceal herself on foot and avoid drawing any attention that might further jeopardize her mission. It took her a while to find the best spot to land, but once she’d powered down and hid the craft from plain view, she made her way through the sandy, dusty, desiccated cacti-filled land.

Stealthily moving around in the dead of night made it a lot easier to conceal her approach. Not to mention, if she’d attempted this during the day, she’d have dealt with the frustrating heat overhead. Wandering through the desert had, not so long ago, been plush with life, but was now essentially a graveyard. The night meant it was cooler and, considering the day, she appreciated what little blessings that came her way. She continued across the desert, plotting her movement cleverly, determined to conceal herself as best as she could. Once she was close enough to the property, she found cover behind a boulder, and peered beyond to see exactly what was going on. Now that she was closer, she realized, and with a bit of a start, that the drones weren’t police-issue models at all, and the crafts around certainly weren’t standard. It wasn’t the authorities who were searching Steve Glenning’s home.

Her heart sank a little as suspicion formed in her mind. She raised a hand to the right hinge of her glasses and pressed down on a small button that produced a satisfying click. Her vision changed immediately with a blueish HUD popping up as she activated the smart glasses, digital wheels whirring as the software started up properly. Once the glasses fully activated, she squinted and they responded by zooming in, albeit a tad too much, since all she saw was a pixelated close-up of a wall.

“Zoom out.”

The glasses obeyed and instantly broadened, providing a sufficient close-up view of the property. The first thing that drew Anabelle’s attention was two people standing together outside the complex. A man and a woman were watching whatever was going on. She recognized the pair even though she’d never met either of them in person, but she’d seen them through Steve’s eyes. The man was tall and appeared somewhat blocky, wearing clothes drenched in sweat and stained with dust. His graying reddish hair moved softly as the nighttime breeze blew. Robert Kevin was his name. She remembered when they'd first met not long ago. She’d thought nothing much of Kevin—he’d been as irrelevant to her as a gnat. But now, he posed slight importance. Like Glenning, Kevin received information that she required, and that made him a person of interest to her.

The woman was a little more than a source of annoyance for Anabelle. She was a reminder of a slight failure on Anabelle’s part. She was blond with blue eyes, lighter than the noon sky’s shade, and as far as Anabelle was concerned, Wynn Adams was supposed to be dead. Anabelle felt a bit of disgust observing Wynn, who stared on at the building with sadness in her eyes. Anabelle’s attention soon moved from Wynn though since, after a few seconds passed, several people donning important-looking suits emerged from the doorway, closely followed by men in brown overalls who were wheeling out crates that bore a logo confirming Anabelle’s suspicion. Instead of EVIDENCE, the word COMPANY was printed on the crates in bold, glossy, golden ink, so glossy that it reflected the starlight above. 

At the sight of the crates, Anabelle cursed under her breath and slammed her palm against the boulder behind which she hid. “No, no, no, this can’t be happening!” She kicked at the boulder angrily and winced at the pain that immediately shot up her foot. The pain subsided after a few seconds, at which point she said, “Damn you, Steve! Do you have any idea what you’ve done?”

She watched as the men wheeled the crates into the cargo hold of an airlift. Once they were through, Kevin and Wynn walked up to a gray-haired man in a suit, one who was oddly wearing sunglasses in the dead of night. Kevin spoke, making frantic gestures with his hands, his face contorted in a way that informed Anabelle that he was in a heated temper. The man must have dissatisfactory responded since Wynn too joined Kevin, waving angrily. She needed to hear exactly what they were saying—the conversation might give her Steve’s location, since that was why she was there.

Anabelle looked at the drone that hovered closest to the trio and blinked twice. An AR screen popped up in front of her and she navigated it, remotely granting herself access to the drone’s microphones. The first sound that came through was a sharp screech that caused her to wince, but after a few seconds passed, the screeching stopped, and she heard voices. It was Robert Kevin speaking, his monstrous voice booming into Anabelle’s ears.

“You can’t just take all of this! He worked with you, he worked for you! And you’re just going to turn your back on him now and take all his intellectual property? You can’t do that. How is that even legal? You need to help him out. Steve Glenning wasn’t responsible for the attack on Winslow Way. I’m telling you. It’s his batshit crazy AI friend, or whatever she was. You gotta listen to me, man.”

“He’s right,” Wynn added. “Trust us. You can’t let Steve get charged with this. He’s innocent. The real threat is still out there and there’s no telling what she’ll do.”

The man sighed and pulled off the glasses. “Look, I understand that the two of you are passionate about Mr. Glenning, but you’re talking to the wrong person. We are not in the business of law enforcement, as I’m sure you’re aware. We’re investigating Steve Glenning’s situation. However, if there’s any information you might possess that could help with the investigation, then I suggest you take it to the police. That is all I can say.”

“That’s bullshit and you know it,” Kevin growled. “You guys are Company. You’ve got influence in all the right places. If you wanted Steve off the hook right now, all it’d take is a snap of your fingers and you’d get it done. You don’t want to, because let’s be honest, having him behind bars works for you.”

The man sighed like he was trying to avoid a sore spot. He scratched the back of his head and made smacking sounds before finally speaking. “The evidence against Steve Glenning is pretty damning, Kevin. And as much as I want to believe you might be right, you’re only one person, and it’s your word against near-indisputable evidence. It’s impossible to have all of this go away.”

“What about my word?” Wynn asked. “I’m not lying.”

“Miss Adams, until a few hours ago, you were the prime suspect in this investigation,” the man responded somewhat bluntly. “Do you truly believe that anything you have to say will make any of this easier for Steve Glenning?”

There was silence.

“A piece of advice. The only thing either of you can do for Glenning now is to say your goodbyes,” the man continued, a sad expression on his face. “But as of now and with the information to which I’m privy, I’m afraid Steve Glenning’s days as a free man are over.”

With that, he climbed into his craft and one after the other the Company fleet rose higher and higher into the air until they were little more than dark specks snaking across the star-filled night sky. Once they were out of Anabelle’s view, she looked over the boulder to find that both Kevin and Wynn were making their way back toward the house. She deactivated the smart glasses with another push of a button. Then she emerged from behind the boulder and hurried after them.

Kevin and Wynn vanished into the doorway, and she waited a few seconds before slipping in after them. Marveling briefly at the space that she’d seen through a monitor for several years, she made her way up the flight of stairs that greeted her. She crept in carefully, keeping her eyes peeled for any sudden movement since it was unlikely they’d welcome her with open arms, considering she’d tried to kill them both. And she hadn’t yet decided whether she still intended to try again.

A click came from right behind Anabelle, a warning sound that caused her to freeze in her tracks. She kept her eyes peeled for movement that might come from ahead or beside her, but had expected no one creeping behind her, considering she was the creep in this scenario.

“You know the drill,” Kevin spoke. “Hands where I can see them, no quick movements.”

Anabelle complied, raising her hands above her head, and slowly turned around until she was staring at the concerned faces of Robert Kevin and Wynn Adams. Aimed at her was the barrel of a revolver. A weapon she hadn’t seen in quite some time, one she’d even believed didn’t exist anymore, but it would seem Kevin was a man who liked nostalgia.

“Who the hell are you?” Kevin demanded. “Did you think I wouldn’t be able to tell you were following us? You’re not as stealthy as you think, lady.”

“I think you know very well who I am,” Anabelle grinned, hoping she looked as frightening to the two of them as she wanted to. They were the only ones in the building who needed to be afraid.

“Anabelle.” Kevin tightened his grip on the pistol.

“Attaboy,” Anabelle cocked her head lightly to the left and gave Wynn a wink. “Hey, hybrid. Sorry about that business with me framing you for blowing up a building and destroying your career and your life. Not that it all matters, really.”

“You killed Charles,” Wynn’s voice shook. “You killed three hundred people with that explosion.”

“Inconsequential, trust me,” Anabelle’s face darkened then as she turned serious. “Now that introductions are out of the way, I’ll get right down to the order of the evening. I’m going to need one of you to tell me exactly what you and Steve learned from Charles’ message. Do that and this all ends. No one else needs to suffer.”

“I’ve got a weapon aimed at you and you think you can make demands?” Kevin looked amused. “We’re calling the cops, putting you in prison, and clearing Steve’s name. Or I can put a bullet in your head right now.”

“Call the cops then. I’m curious to see what evidence you have to pin on me,” Anabelle smiled. “I can’t imagine that any of it could backfire horribly. And if you want to shoot me, you’re more than welcome to. I imagine you and Steve would be best buds in maximum security prison.”

Kevin’s hand wavered a little and Anabelle saw the doubt in his eyes. The doubt that made her smile grow even wider.

“What do you want?” Wynn demanded. “Why are you doing all of this?”

Anabelle pointed a finger upwards. “Because I need to get there. New Earth. And my charming ex-husband’s last moments ensured that never happened. The data I need is in Steve’s possession, or perhaps he handed it over to you before he turned himself in.”

“He left nothing,” Kevin growled. “Whatever you’re looking for is on him or with the Company now. Hate to break it to you, but I’m afraid you’re just going to die on this rotting planet with the rest of us. I can only hope that you’re miserable right until the very end.”

Anabelle chuckled. “Don’t be like that. You and I could be best friends, really. All of this isn’t personal. Trust me.”

“I’ve seen what you do to your friends,” Kevin replied. “I’m going to have to pass.”

Anabelle took a step forward, to which Kevin and Wynn responded by backing up, their eyes widening in fear a little. “The two of you fear me,” she grinned. “That’s good. Fear is good. Seeing as you two don’t seem to be useful, I guess I’m going to have to get information out of Steve himself.”

“You can’t get to him,” Wynn smirked. “He made sure of that. You’re done.”

“You think he’s safe with the cops?” Anabelle snorted. “Oh, honey, you do not know just who you’re dealing with, do you? One way or the other, I’m going to find out exactly what Steve Glenning knows. Whether he suffers before I get what I want, that’s entirely up to the two of you. If either of you suddenly remembers any data Steve might have showed you, get in touch. I’m always listening.”

“So what? You continue trying to save your own skin to get off this planet. What happens to everyone else?” Wynn demanded.

“Yeah, honey,” Anabelle smiled, already making her way out of the house. “That’s kind of the plan.”

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