Before the fight even began, I knew I’d take down the Meta before me easily. Hell, I wouldn’t even work up a sweat. How disappointing.
Adjusting my stance, I beckoned him with my fingers. “Come on. Too scared to hit a girl?” I taunted.
His eyes narrowed, gleaming red, and his fingers flexed as he shifted his weight from foot to foot. I remained still and silent. Waiting. Then he struck out, his fist rocketing toward my head, moving so fast I could hardly see it. I stepped to the left and he missed, sending him staggering. The small crowd surrounding us cheered. They all had money on me; those who had seen me fight before knew the odds were in their favor. High odds, too. Who would ever believe a human girl could take on a Meta, of either sex, and come out the victor?
That was where they underestimated me. The rich human girl. Soft. Playing at being tough.
Only I wasn’t playing. I’d mastered the Lakoor school of martial arts years ago. Had trained with Metas to expand my knowledge of Gilan Cae martial arts, much to my father’s annoyance. It was his disapproval that drove me on. I trained twice daily, honing my body into an elite weapon. My father had tried everything to get me to stop, claiming the war was over and we didn’t need to protect ourselves anymore. He’d even resorted to blackmail, bribery, and pleading.
But I refused to be swayed, and the distance between us grew. Plus, it gave me something to do with my time. He refused to allow me to work; after all, we were a rich, influential family. My role was to attend social events and represent the family name. My younger brother worked by my father’s side and had always been the apple of his eye. I’d lost count of the number of times my father had shaken his head at me and told me what a disappointment I was. No matter what I did, I couldn’t please him. So I’d stopped trying.
Now here I was, shipped off to the Complex, a social experiment where humans and Metas were expected to co-exist in peace. Fat chance, after the brutal war that had decimated both sides. Emotions still ran hot, and being trapped together in a domed community was a recipe for disaster. At least in my opinion. Not that anyone had asked, or even cared what I thought.
Dearest father had struck a deal with President Clifton to keep my brother’s name out of the latest fiasco he’d involved himself in. Arrested for possession of the illegal drug, Acx. The deal? An influential family member had to take up residence in the Complex. But not my brother, who’d committed the crime, oh no! My father had chosen to sacrifice me instead. The memory of waking up aboard a jetter, having been sedated and bundled on board against my will, burned through my veins. I used that pain and betrayal to my advantage, allowed it to fester in me, letting it out to snatch victory in the illegal fights taking place in the tunnels beneath the dome.
I’d discovered them when I was sneaking around, bored out of my skull after being here for a month. No one went into the tunnels, not unless they had to. It was where the waste was processed. Where criminals and undesirables hid in the shadows, waiting for the next fight, throwing away their hard-earned Seldova coins on a gamble.
The red-eyed Meta I was currently fighting righted himself and swung, missing again as I bent and stepped back at the same time. The crowd laughed, and I saw the fury in him, the loss of control. I sighed. It was almost too easy. Metas were violent. They lacked control, and it made them predictable. I could anticipate his next move before he’d even thought of it. He was going to aim a kick at my belly. Guaranteed.
Sure enough, his booted foot came flying at me. This time I turned, grabbed his leg, and twisted, flipping him face-first onto the ground. With one hand, I held him down by the back of the neck, while with the other, I grabbed an arm and twisted it up between his shoulder blades. He yelled in agony.
“Won!” Tomb stepped forward, arms raised above his head.
Tomb worked in the tunnels. Small and wiry, he stank to high heaven, but he was also my biggest fan. He’d seen me in the tunnel that day, watching the fight between two Metas, and had dared me to take a turn. He’d paired me with a human, who I felled within seconds. He knew skill when he saw it, and from that point on, he was my manager, finding me fights and earning a shit-ton of money for his troubles.
He smiled, his crooked grin proud. “Good one, girl.”
“Get me someone better next time.” I nodded at him, acknowledging the bundle of S-Co that had been transferred to me. I didn’t need the money and never spent a cent of it; instead, I let it accumulate in my account, along with the fifty thousand S-Co I’d received on entering the Complex. I’d get another fifty thousand when I left, after the experiment was over in 6AS. Two years. Two years of glorified imprisonment.
Tomb’s communication device activated and he pressed his palm to accept the call. I couldn’t see or hear who he was speaking to, but his face looked grim. Lowering his hand from where it had been pressed to his ear, he disconnected the call.
“Climintra patrol on the way!” he shouted.
Everyone scattered, including me. I didn’t relish being apprehended by the Climintra—or Intra, as we called them—even though my family name would most likely get me off any charges. I didn’t need the hassle. And I didn’t want to alert them to our activities. I liked the fights, and if the Climintra caught us, there would be no more of them. Back to complete and utter boredom.
I ran through the tunnels, pulling my tunic over my head as I went. I always fought in a black cropped shirt and shorts—easy to hide beneath my day clothes. It was contraband in the Complex, but I didn’t care. The skin tight black crop top and shorts molded my body to perfection, moving with me as if a second skin. Which was what I needed when I fought.
At the bottom of the ladder, I paused long enough to pull on my trousers and shoes, then climbed the rungs. At the top was a hatch that opened into the forest dome, one of the Complex’s four environments that mimicked different weather conditions. There was also an aquatic dome, an alpine dome, and a desert dome, but my favorite by far was the forest. I hefted the hatch open and peered around, checking that no one was about before climbing up and securing the hatch behind me.
Darting through the trees, I debated heading back to my apartment in the housing dome above. Father’s money had secured me a large apartment on the outer ring of the dome with a magnificent view…of a dried, arid planet. The Complex had been constructed on the planet Lorn, an old mining planet with hot, dry conditions and unpredictable lightning storms. The various domes within the Complex gave us the illusion that we weren’t trapped in an inhospitable world.
As I hopped across rocks that spanned a small creek, the crisp air swirled and clung to me. I breathed it in, feeling my lips turn up in a small smile. This was what I craved. I walked for a few minutes to a clearing I’d discovered on earlier trips, where the creek ran along one side and a fallen log made a convenient seat. I settled in, thoughts on the boring life I’d led on my home planet Raxu, which had been replicated in the Complex. My father had forbidden me to look for work. Each time I’d visited Administration, I’d been denied. My records had been flagged, and since my father had a close relationship with President Clifton, what he wanted, he got.
I must’ve dozed, because the next thing I knew, a pair of stunning blue eyes were boring into mine. With a gasp, I leapt to my feet, out of reach. The man those eyes belonged to backed away, hands up. Along with his ever so blue eyes, he had a strong, stubbled jaw, dark hair, broad shoulders, and a body that he obviously took care of. By his stance, I guessed he had training. Military?
“Sorry. I didn’t mean to startle you.” His voice rumbled through me and I put a hand to my chest.
“Who are you?” I demanded, not liking that he’d gotten so close without my detection.
“My name is Maddax Boyer. And you are?”
One dark brow arched as I continued to study him suspiciously. I let the silence drag out before answering.
He nodded his head in greeting, his eyes darting to my feet and back up again, taking a thorough inventory.
“You sleep in the forest often?” He cocked his head to one side, a foot shuffling in the dirt.
I didn’t know this man and had no intentions of revealing why I was, or wasn’t, taking a nap in the forest. “Sometimes.”
“Your eyes are very unusual.”
“Pfft. Like I’ve never heard that before,” I scoffed. It was true. My eyes were unusual. One was blue, the other brown. I’d endured teasing as a child because of it. My eyes, along with my platinum blonde hair, were at total odds with the rest of my family, who all had dark hair and brown eyes. I was the odd one out. I often wondered if that was why my father didn’t love me—because I was different.
Exhausted by my train of thought, I snapped my attention back to this man, Maddax.
“What are you doing here?” I demanded, annoyed that someone had intruded in the space I considered my own.
“I was missing my old life, and like you, I guess, I was looking for a little peace and quiet. Missing the trees, the woods, open spaces. Even though the Complex is massive, it could never really take the place of Pinao.”
I continued to study him. He seemed to be telling the truth, but there was something about him, something that put me on edge. He moved a few feet away and settled cross-legged on the ground. His movements were slow and deliberate, as if he was taking great care not to startle me.
“What are you?” I asked.
“Human,” he replied.
I blew out a breath. I’d been sure he was Meta. There was an energy about him that didn’t seem human.
“What are you?” he asked in return.
I frowned. “I’m human. Can’t you tell?”
“Come on.” He chuckled. “You had to ask me, didn’t you? Metas can look just like us. It’s sometimes impossible to tell. I didn’t mean to offend you.”
“I’m not offended.” And I wasn’t. But something still niggled at me. There was something about him that felt…different.
“Do you have any abilities? As a human?” I probed some more.
“Nope. Do you?”
“I can sometimes sense someone’s energy. Like an aura, I guess.”
He raised an eyebrow. “So you’re psychic?”
“No, not really. I get a feel for people. A sixth sense, I suppose.”
“And what is your sixth sense telling you about me?”
“That there’s more to you,” I said bluntly. “There’s something different about your energy. That’s why I thought you were Meta.”
He glanced away, then back to me. “Let me assure you, I’m one hundred percent human. Out of interest, how old are you?” He smiled, his white teeth flashing and a dimple appearing on either side of his mouth.
Dimples. They were divine, so engaging that I couldn’t help smiling in response. “Isn’t it rude to ask someone their age?” I said.
“Only true for women.”
“Double standards, then.” I sobered. “There always has and most likely always will be double standards for men and women.”
All my life, I had been treated as second best to my brother. I was the eldest child and I should have been the heir, but because I was female, I was overlooked, relegated to an inferior status, no matter my intelligence or skills. It still rankled.
“Not in my society,” he said.
I looked at him, lifting one shoulder in a shrug. “But we’re not in your society, and from what I’ve seen in the Complex, sexism is rife.”
He regarded me silently, and I returned his stare. I wasn’t easily intimidated and the intensity of his gaze didn’t faze me now.
“You’re unhappy.” It was a statement, not a question.
“Yes.” I saw no reason to lie. I hated my life here, but then again, I’d hated my life before. I’d yet to come up with a plan to escape my father’s control. He kept a tight rein on me. He gave me the illusion of freedom, but he had spies everywhere and used his influence to control my life. To say I was unhappy was an understatement.
“Why?” he asked.
“It’s of no concern of yours.” I yawned, rising to my feet, and looked down at him with a small smile. “Enjoy your time in the Complex, Maddax.”
Before he could reply, I took off sprinting across the clearing, catapulting over the rocks in the stream, barely touching the ground on the other side. As I ran, I listened for sounds of him following, but detected none.
Any sort of physical activity soothed my soul, and running was no different. I allowed myself total freedom as I tore through the forest, legs and arms pumping, I didn’t slow until I reached the gateway. Pressing my hand to the panel, the gate opened and I stepped out, breathless.
Directly in front of me was the jungle zone that climbed high into the dome. Not for the first time, I wished my father had secured me an apartment facing the jungle instead of the barren planet, but I should’ve known he didn’t know anything about me—about my love of trees, plants, and wildlife. Not that there was any wildlife in the Complex. Just Humans and Metas. All trapped together. I shivered with the sense of doom that crawled over my skin. Something told me this experiment wasn’t going to end well.
Catching my breath, I walked to the fasttran lift and punched in my floor number. I was alone in the fasttran, and it delivered me to my level in a matter of minutes. As I stepped out, I checked over my shoulder to make sure no one had followed me. I always had the sense I was being watched, and to some degree, I was right. There were cameras in every public area, all tracking us. The only time I could be sure I wasn’t being watched was in my apartment, yet I hated to spend too much time in that cold, sterile accommodation.
Don’t get me wrong. The apartment was beautiful, with its polished concrete floors, smooth white walls, and towering floor to ceiling windows that looked out onto never-ending views. My apartment was huge, and I knew many in the Complex envied me. Some of the units were tiny shoeboxes, with no separation between kitchen, living, and bedroom areas. Everything was new and fresh and pristine, and maybe that was why it grated on me.
Crossing to my well-appointed kitchen, I prepared a meal for one, my heart aching for the days when I’d helped my mother in the kitchen. Then, our family had been happy and carefree. My mother’s love was all I’d ever needed. And then she’d died, and everything had changed.
* * *
I hope you enjoyed this free chapter from Destiny’s Touch, a novella for The Complex series. Pre-order your copy today using the links below.