Darkness Blooming (The Dems Trilogy #2) is being released on August 11th (only 2 more weeks!), so here's a bit of the rough draft.
She raised her head from the book in her lap.
“He’s ready for you.”
Rissa nodded and slipped the half-finished book into her bag. The other applicants watched her with bored stares, as she crossed the room and slipped past the woman to the office beyond. Mr. Jakory Thames sat behind his desk, looking exactly as he had been described to her. He was a squat man with a beard that over took the bottom half of his face. He eyed her appreciatively as she approached him.
“Ms. D’ar, Rissa, have a seat. Can I get you anything? A drink after this, perhaps.”
She faked a smile. Smarmy little man. “I don’t need anything, but thank you.”
His smile did not fade. “Let’s get on with it then, hm? Now,” he said, flipping through the pages of her fake school and work history, “You’ve just come from Brigitham, is that right?”
Rissa nodded. “Yes, I studied human interaction for three years there.”
“And your parents? They are Brigitham graduates and serving as professors.”
“So, tell me. What brought you here? By all accounts, you are overqualified for this position. I would think your parents would expect you to follow in their footsteps.” He gave her an expectant look.
She smiled shyly. “I am taking a short break from education.”
He clearly believed her. “Well, I do like to expand horizons.” She did not miss the way his eyes moved over her petite body. “I see no reason you can’t start immediately. Unless, you have other plans?”
She shook her head, dropping her eyes demurely. “No, sir. I am eager to begin.” She had to hide her smirk when his eyes turned interested. “Who will be training me?”
She could tell from his face, he wanted the job, but he said, “Sadly, I am needed here, but I will make sure my best shows you around the facility.”
Rissa nodded and allowed her lips to downturn into a disappointed frown. “That’s unfortunate.” She looked up at him from beneath her eyelashes. “I’m sure we will have a chance to visit some time.”
He grinned eagerly. Too easy.
She followed him from the large office, passing the annoyed faces of the other applicants, and slipped to the distribution center. She was not sure what to expect, her information had been vague, but the bustling room full of burly men and shouting was not it. As the only messenger service in the city, she expected something a little more organized, but everywhere she looked there were piles of packages and trash.
Jakory Thames waddled along ahead of her, glancing over his shoulder at her often. She mostly ignored him, more focused on taking in the layout of the room. The beams of the high ceiling were covered in several inches of dust and it floated down in clumps every time the wide garage door opened. The familiar red of the delivery scooters drew her gaze. Over a hundred lined one wall, more coming into the garage every few minutes as others went out.
She turned her attention back to Jakory Thames when he stopped at one of the waist high tables scattered around the outer edge of the room. A man, nearly three times her width, turned at the sound of his voice. His watery, brown eyes looked first at Jakory and then her. He scanned her quickly, his eyebrows drawing together as took in her small stature and delicate features.
“What’s this then? A clerk?” His voice was as rough as he looked.
Jakory sent her a small smile. “Timin, this is Rissa D’ar. She will be taking over the palace route.”
Timin gave her another unimpressed look. “If you say so.”
“I say so,” Jakory shot back, a bit of bluster in his tone.
The larger man nodded, holding up his hands in surrender. “You’re the boss.” He turned his attention back to her. “So, you want to deal with the big nasties, huh?”
She gave him a shy smile. “I suppose someone must.”
The two men nodded.
“Well, I will leave you in Timin’s capable hands. He can teach you all there is to know about this route.”
She nodded, careful to keep her expression mildly apprehensive. “Thank you, sir.”
“Jakory, please,” he said.
“Jakory,” she dutifully parroted.
He beamed. “Until tomorrow.”
She nodded and watched him walk away. Precisely as her report had said. She mentally shook her head.
“I’ll show you the locker room and then we’ll deliver the days packages.”
“When will I see the facility?” she asked quietly, as she followed him to the door along the wall.
She scowled to herself. No time to check her copy of the plans, then.
“This is it,” the large man said. He gestured to the dingy grey locker room.
The floor and walls might have been white at some point, but that time had long since passed. It was just a moderately large room with dented, red lockers around the perimeter. One of the two benches was snapped in half. No one had bothered to fix or replace it. She turned to face Timin and gave him what she hoped was a bright smile.
“Which one is mine?”
He pointed to a nearby locker. “Kesk died yesterday, so you can have that one.”
She fought the urge to raise one eyebrow. “Thank you.”
He just grunted in response.
She yanked on the locker handle three times before the dented door swung open with a loud groan. A faded red uniform hung on one hook, a utility belt on the other.
“It’s not the one he died in. That one’s beyond any form of salvage,” Timin said.
She glanced at him. How charming. She gave him a small smile. “Thank you. Where can I change?”
He gestured around the room. “This is it. I’ll just turn around.”
She expected as much. She waited until he turned around to slip out of the dress suit. Her civilian clothes hid her body armor. The uniform being far too large was a convenience she had hoped for, but not expected. She quickly slipped it on and fastened the front clasps. The sleeves completely covered her hands and she had to roll them back half a dozen times, before she turned her attention to folding up her pant legs.
“I’m ready,” she said when she had straightened.
The uniform hung off of her, the shoulders near her elbows, but it perfectly concealed her armor and the blades tucked away for emergencies.
Timin turned around and looked her over. “Fits fine.”
She smiled. “Yes.”
“Let’s go. We have a lot to do.” He walked toward the door, clearly expecting her to follow.
She was not accustomed to following, but she fell into step behind him. Her eyes moved over the other workers as she passed them. All were men, most rough looking with multiple scars and questionable bathing habits. She was careful not to make eye contact. It was best if none of them took an interest in her. Timin stopped next to a rundown scooter and waved her forward.
“Do you know how to ride one of these?” She could tell from his face that he doubted her abilities.
She forced her face to stay calm and pleasant, as she nodded. “Yes. I have a bit of experience.”
He huffed. “Follow me.” He climbed on the scooter next to hers and it came to life with a dark cloud of smoke.
She swung her leg over her bike in one smooth move and the scooter started after a couple tries, belching its own smoke. Timin did not wait to see if she could ride, before he roared out of the garage. She glanced around to see the other workers watching her with looks of varying interest. She rode out of the garage before one of them could summon the courage to approach her.
Timin rode straight for the palace, not stopping to look back at her once. She was sure it had nothing to do with him having confidence in her abilities. He appeared mildly surprised when he stopped at the back entrance of the palace and she pulled up next to him. She barely fought the urge to send him a smug smirk.
He got over it quickly, turning off the scooter’s ignition and stalking toward the crate to the right of the palace door. She followed him at a more sedate pace, taking the time to scan the entrance. The back of the palace was broken by only three doors. One, she knew was used for when members of foreign governments visited. The second was for the royal family. The third, the door nearest to the crate, was for the delivery of packages.
She picked up her pace when she heard the hiss of the crate decompressing. By the time she reached it, Timin had folded the four sides down to lay flat on the ground and he was organizing several dozen packages of varying sizes into piles based on their location in the palace. She noticed the majority were going to medical section on the second floor.
“Start from the top and work your way down,” Timin said, grabbing an armload of packages and turning to face her.
Before she could blink, he was dumping them into her arms. When she could hold no more, he grabbed as many as he could carry and walked toward the door of the palace. It opened when they were still several feet away, Dems in full armor spilling out to bracket the doorway. She scanned their armor with an appreciative eye.
It was far different from what they had used even a century ago. The large, metal plates had been replaced by a metal alloy. It was a combination of Sinmer steel and a precious metal from Democlaste. The result was a midnight black suit of what looked like scales. It was said to be impenetrable and the Dems rarely left the palace without both suit and helmet.
As she passed the guards, their helmets turned to watch her progress. She had only seen a handful of Dems in her life, but from what she remembered, all of them were of the same basic body type. Tall, broad shouldered, and athletic. It was debatable whether it was the result of their constant warfare or genetic engineering.
The moment she was inside, the doors slammed shut behind her. It was only her self-control that prevented her from jumping at the loud bang. Timin continued walking as if nothing had happened. She quickly followed him, glancing in the rooms as they passed. The hallway was wide enough for at least a dozen Dems to walk through at once and lined with intricate marble carvings inlaid with gold.
Near the end of the hallway, the opening to a large staircase broke up the wall. Timin immediately began to climb. Rissa glanced around. She had yet to see a sign of life inside the palace. All of the rooms were beautiful but empty. According to her plans, the throne room was on the second floor with the medical facilities. Maybe, they were there.
Timin turned right at the top of the stairs, the opposite direction of the throne room. She only paused for a moment, before following him. The plans were vague on the placement of the medical section in the palace. As they walked, she counted her steps to gauge the distance from the stairs to the massive doors that blocked the entrance to the ward. Four Dems stood just inside the doors and they watched them pass, their helmets giving away none of their thoughts.
The front of the medical facility was a surprisingly plush seating area. The large space was full of soft pillows and cushioned chairs. In the corner of the room, a dozen humans sat together chatting comfortably. They smiled and laughed, as they played a game of some kind. From her position she could not tell what it was, but the console they used looked Demmade.
“Disgusting,” Timin muttered under his breath.
She forced herself not to glare at him. She pasted a sweetly confused look on her face. “What is?”
“That,” he said, nodding his head in the direction of the humans. “It’s disgusting what they do. Helping these monsters.”
“You mean donating blood?”
He nodded and glanced at her. “Don’t you think it’s unnatural how they are? Look at them. Not a brown eye among them. Bunch of pale freaks if you ask me.”
She had to clench her teeth together to bite back her reply to his venomous words. After a moment, she formed her expression into a look of indecision.
“I suppose, but they are born recessive. It’s a collection of recessive genes that makes them pale with blonde hair and light eyes.” She gave him what she hoped was an innocently confused face. “They cannot control it, can they?”
He glanced at them. “It’s still an abomination. We should drown them at birth.”
Her fists clenched, but she gave him a small smile. “I suppose.”
He clearly assumed the topic was closed, as he continued down the hallway. She looked toward the recessives happily playing their game and smiled. A woman looked up and smiled back. Everything she did was for them. She nodded to herself and followed Timin to the next door.
The doors opened silently, revealing a vast laboratory behind a wall of glass. Dems in white one-piece suits filled the space, some working at tables full of equipment and others hurrying from place to place. She noticed many carried data pads, those at the tables scribbling what she assumed were notes into the devices. Timin huffed from his place beside her.
He did not dare to make even a quiet comment with a group of Dem guards just a few yards away. She glanced at the silent Dems and noticed every helmet was facing them, the guards completely focused on the two humans. Timin nudged her hard and stomped toward the entrance to the lab. He pressed his hand to a scanner and a moment later the doors slid open.
She noticed the main door to the lab stayed tightly sealed, leaving them in a square room ten feet long and half as wide. Timin ignored the guards watching them and roughly stacked the packages in his arms. He turned to her and gestured for her to hand over her own, pulling them from her arms when she was not fast enough. Rissa barely held back a scowl.
“There are about ten more in the crate. I’ll wait here.”
She dropped her gaze to hide the spark of irritation in her gaze. “Very well.”
“Hurry up. I don’t want to be here any longer than I have to.”
“Of course,” she said pleasantly, internally seething.
She turned away and traced her steps back to the ground floor. Down the hall from the door she had entered through, the entrance reserved for the royal family swung open, over a dozen guards spilling into the empty hallway. They were not dressed the same as the others. Their armor was the same style, but the scales were silver instead of black. It had the effect of the making the guards look like liquid mercury as they moved.
She watched the soldiers form a protective wall around the royals, those in the center of the Dem barrier hidden from her view. As the group hustled down the hallway toward her, she moved to the side respectfully. The Dems slowed as they approached her, as if waiting to see if she posed a threat. They seemed to decide she was harmless, continuing past her at a faster pace. The wall they formed was not completely impenetrable and she caught a flash of bright red hair, before they were past her and ascending the stairs.
She stared after them for several seconds, frowning thoughtfully. It was only a glimpse, but the small, red-haired figure had to be a recessive. But the recessives were blond, a redhead had not been born on the planet in nearly eight decades. Still pondering the conundrum, Rissa strolled down the hallway and out the delivery door. The crate was where they had left it, still mostly full.
She quickly scanned the labels until she found the ten packages for the medical lab. She gathered them into her arms, muttering when they obscured her view. Bending her neck at an uncomfortable angle, she managed to peek around the tower of boxes and make her way back to the staircase.
At the top, she started to turn right when someone bumped into her. She stumbled to the side, the packages falling from her arms to thud on the stone floor. She whirled around to face the culprit, an angry rant already forming, when she caught sight of the guilty party. A petite, red-haired woman, the same height as her, stared at her with wide green eyes.
“I’m so sorry! Are you okay? Did I hurt you?” She moved toward her with her hands outstretched, her gaze moving between Rissa’s face and the dropped packages. “I hope nothing’s broken…”
Rissa blinked. “I am unhurt,” she said in the educated tone she had practiced.
The redhead still appeared worried. “Are you sure? I could get someone…?”
Rissa shook her head. She started to look away, when the way the woman’s cloak hung drew her gaze. She frowned in confusion. A pregnant recessive. Her eyes returned to the woman’s face.
“I wasn’t paying attention to where I was going, at all. I was looking for my brother, John, but I guess he’s still downstairs.” The woman continued to chat pleasantly, her hands resting over her swollen belly as if it were the most natural thing in the world.
“You-you seem to be-are you pregnant?” Rissa finally blurted.
The woman looked at her oddly. “Yes…”
The woman’s lips quirked up into a small smile. “The usual way.” Her smile vanished when Rissa frowned.
“You are a recessive,” she said bluntly. The recessives did not have children. Ever.
“Oh.” The woman appeared disturbed by her comment. “I forgot.” She glanced back over her shoulder, as the door to the throne room slammed open.
A blond Dem stalked toward them, his gaze fastened on Rissa with blatant hostility. Rissa tore her eyes off of his furious face to see the redhead smiling serenely. She sent Rissa a pleasant smile, seemingly unafraid of the Dem bearing down on them. Rissa did not fear them usually, but she was wise enough to know to avoid them when angry. She started to back away from the redhead.
“You!” the Dem boomed. “Who are you? What is your business here? Why are you accosting—”
“Farran,” the redhead said quietly.
The Dem immediately fell silent, but he continued to glower at Rissa. After a moment, he dismissed her and turned to face the small woman. She watched the two of them in confusion as he fussed over the redhead, gently taking her hand and brushing her hair back from her face. There was something very odd going on. Then, like a bolt of lightning, the Dems name struck her.