BOOK TWO IN THE E SERIES:

Outpost Three is still standing… barely. But the deadliest threat it has ever faced is on its way– a violent force that will annihilate every man, woman, and child.

With the Sentries under his control and Grey’s army defeated, Matt is more powerful than ever. Eden is little more than his prisoner, but that line is blurring as her affection for him grows. Now, as the Outpost faces total destruction, Matt must sacrifice the possibility of attaining Eden’s love in the vague hope that her past might hold the key to saving them all.

Eden’s journey will begin to unravel the mysteries of her previous life, reveal dangerous new questions, and change not only the future of Outpost Three, but shape the course of history.

This eagerly anticipated sequel to Kate Wrath’s E begins an epic quest into the dark, dystopian landscape of Eden’s world.

Chapter 1:  Jane

The skeleton is washed white, purified by the sun.  She lies exactly as she fell, fleeing their bullets.  It took me a long time to find her.  Now I sit by her bones, amongst the tall golden blades of frosted grass, and strain to remember his voice—the tone and inflection of it.  The sincerity.  The wonder.  All I hear is the rush of wind through trees too tall—through a forest dense and dark enough to be a passageway to the underworld.

Behind me, the rustle of footsteps in the leaves signals Jacob’s impatience.  I ignore him for a moment.  For as long as I can.  Until he says, “I don’t get it, Eden.  It’s a dead deer.  Can’t we go yet?”

I close my eyes and take a deep breath, in and out, fighting down my anger.  It’s not his fault.  He never asked for the privilege of following me around.  If I hadn’t freaked out about the Sentry….  I glance back toward the wall, where his brother, Taylor, has taken up a post.  He looks just as bored.  Just as cold.

Seeing them reminds me how chilled the earth is.  Frozen hard, but warmed beneath me just enough to be damp.  It sucks the heat from my legs, leaving my flesh frigid despite its coverings.  I’ve hardly noticed it until now, though.  Maybe it’s because I’m already so cold inside.

I stagger to standing and brush off my pants.  Looking at the remains again, I feel like I should say something, or do something.  But there is no farewell here.  No acceptance in parting.  No way to ever say goodbye.

I walk away toward Taylor.  Jacob follows me, just like he’s supposed to.  My explanation is beyond awkward, but it’s all I have.  “She was a white deer, you know,” I say.  “There are stories about them.  They’re special or something.  Holy.”

Jacob glances at me sidelong as we trudge through the grass.  “Sounds religious.”

I wave him off.  “So?” I say.  “There’s no Law in the Outpost anymore.”  To make my point, I glance back the way we have come, past the barrier that once confined us.

He just frowns, and I can read it on his face.  There’s law.  Just different law.

Against my will, I think of Matt.

Taylor falls in with us, and we walk along the wall, which, in many places, is nothing but rubble.  Here and there, men are rebuilding it, patching in the holes.  It doesn’t matter so much, because Sentries are stationed along the breaches, casting their blocky, inhuman shadows across the heaps of broken concrete.  There are two of them standing watch at the gates.  Their mirrored faces turn toward us as we approach, making my insides squirm.  Conquering them has brought no relief to the feeling of menace.  Besides, I am not their master.  Matt is.

We pass by the machines, and slowly, my heart rate returns to normal.  Inside the gates, the Outpost is still in disarray with everyone working hard to put things back in order.  A group of men are putting a new roof on a small outbuilding that collapsed in on itself.  A middle-aged woman is nailing boards over a broken window.  A father and son are loading bodies onto a cart, to haul to the bonfires that have been set up in the shantytown.  But no one is scraping the blood out of the mud.  No one is going to erase all the signs of our disaster.

A chill wind whips down the street and across us, emphasizing the fact that it would be better to be indoors.  I’m not ready to go home yet, which doesn’t leave a lot of options.  I stuff my hands in my pockets, duck my head, and stride toward the Rustler.  People get out of my way, and it’s not because of the two big guys trailing in my wake.  They see me, and move.  Some of them offer greetings in the form of uncertain mumbles.  I don’t reply.  I just keep going, thinking about the warm whiskey, and a barstool where I can turn my back on the world.  Ponder my troubles.

I still haven’t figured out exactly how I’m going to drop this news on Matt.  I should have brought it up already, but the first day after the executions kept him busy.  Not that I was ready yet.  Now, I’m running out of time.  I’ll need to choose my words carefully, so sitting and nursing a drink for a while will give me a chance to internally rehearse them.

We intersect the main street, and I cross to the far side immediately, walking along the raised curb and its broken concrete.  I don’t want to have to cross farther down, where pools of black blood are still frozen in the middle of the road.  I don’t want to have to look at it, or think of it.  I keep my head down, and walk.  We cross an adjoining street, and pass under Sarah’s skeleton, dangling from the post above Canson Morganson’s store.  But at least I am used to that, now.  It’s not fresh, like the other.

As we approach the Rustler, I close my eyes and trail one hand along the wall to guide myself.  I hear someone scramble to get out of my way, banging off of something and cursing.  I don’t care.  They’re not cursing at me.  No one would dare to curse at me.

I shove the door open and get ready to head for my barstool, but Fate has other plans.  The Rustler is about half full, and most of its patrons are Matt’s men.  At one table, a group of local businessmen includes Canson Morganson, Isaiah Bones, and Pete Sumter, whose daughter was executed the night before last.  Lloyd is there as well, and some faces I don’t know.  An older woman with a nose like a hawk.  Two young men with the same dark hair and golden eyes.  A grey-haired man wearing a curious top hat.  They are all listening intently to Matt.  At least, until he looks up and sees me.

A grin slinks across his face, marking him in an exceptionally good mood.  He’s animated, vivid, with light almost pouring from his hazel eyes.  It’s the Matt that pulls you in—that makes you feel privileged just to be in his presence.  Not the Matt with the gun pointed at your head.  Not the Matt with his finger on the trigger.

He kicks his chair back and rises to his feet, abruptly ending the meeting.  “As you can see, gentlemen,” he says, arms opened in a gesture like an embrace, “the world is mine.”  He then leans his hands on the table and levels his eyes at me from across the room, his smile turning smug.  One of his eyebrows goes up just a touch.  “Every king needs a queen.”

Their eyes flick to me, some of them half-turning in their chairs.  If I was smart, I would humor him.  But I’m angry.  Stupid and angry.  I wave him off with one hand and move toward the bar, where I take a seat, back turned toward them all.

Arthur Adner places a shot glass on the counter in front of me, and pours from the good bottle.  He doesn’t greet me or make eye contact.  His hands shake just a touch.  Behind me, I hear chairs scraping the floor as the group at Matt’s table gets up and heads for the door.  Footsteps move slowly toward me.  Matt leans one elbow on the bar to my left.  His smile now is half-cocked, saying he won’t be so easily discouraged.  I glance at him, then turn back to my drink, downing it in one go.

“Bad day?”  He asks, as if my disdain could not possibly be directed toward him.

I signal Arthur for another drink.  “Bad week.”

Matt laughs softly.  If you asked him, it’s the best week of our lives.  He shifts and his eyes narrow.  “You’re not still mad about the Sentry, are you?”

I give him a withering look.

“Ah,” he says.  He hops onto the stool next to me.  “I honestly didn’t think it would bother you, now that they’re… you know… ours.”

It’s not the Sentry.  Not really.  Nonetheless, I turn my eyes on him and say, “You didn’t think it would bother me that you had a giant metal robot stalk me?  One of the same giant metal robots that once—that—”  I can’t continue.  So maybe it is the Sentry.  Partly.  I grab my new drink, making Arthur abruptly finish pouring, and down it like the first.  I set it back on the counter and he tips the bottle toward it again.

Matt eyes the glass as my fingers close around it.  I narrow my eyes at him, challenging him to say something.

“Go for it,” he shrugs.  “I think I like you better when you’re drunk.”

I toss my head, grab the drink, and pour it into my mouth.  As the smooth burn moves down my chest, I realize my head is spinning.

“It was for your protection,” Matt is saying, but I’m already hoisting myself off the stool and heading for the door.

Jacob and Taylor are waiting there for me—my new Sentries.  I scowl at them and move past them, out onto the sidewalk, where I turn and look down the street.  They collect behind me, waiting to see where I will go.  I stand there, and gaze toward Canson’s store.  I’m about to get even stupider, but the whiskey has made me bold enough not to care.

I point toward the corner.  Toward Sarah’s bird-cleaned remains.  “Go take that down,” I say.

Jacob and Taylor are behind me, but I can feel their hesitation.  I can feel them exchanging glances.

“Go,” I say, my voice demanding it.  “I want her down from there.”

Their feet shuffle slowly into action, but it is as sluggish as a summer’s evening.  I’m not even sure if their movement is toward their assignment, or just movement in general.

The door behind us swings open, and they are suddenly still.  I glance back, where they’re exchanging mortified, guilty glances under Matt’s glare.

He looks down the street toward what’s left of Sarah.  “You heard her,” he says.  “Go.”

Jacob and Taylor hightail it toward the corpse.

I turn and eye Matt, and he gazes back at me.  How long will he let me get away with this kind of thing, I wonder, before it gets old?

He looks off toward the brothers, who are climbing onto Canson’s roof in an attempt to get at the body, then his eyes scan off toward the west wall, where the afternoon sun is only a foot or so from disappearing.  He moves toward me, and puts his arm around my shoulders, squeezing.  “Come on,” he says.  “Let’s go home.”

 

Text copyright 2014 Kate Wrath, All Rights Reserved

This work may not be copied or reproduced without the express written consent of the author.

 

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