IS LOVE (VOLUME 1) will be available later today. (I have a few formatting things to fix before I'm able to upload it, that's the only reason it isn't up right now.) Since February is fast approaching, I figured I'd post a sneak peek at SUBMERGED.
PROLOGUELEXTONI sat down in a metal chair across from his desk, unsure of what to say, or how to act. I’d never been called into his private quarters alone before.Uneasy, I lowered my rifle, resting it against the massive desk before me. My hands immediately searched for my pockets, a nervous habit of mine.His eyes darted back between the tablet in his hands and me.I could tell by the look in his eye – the slight hint of anger – that I’d been called in for a special task. Something which was worrisome enough, until I caught a glimpse of what he’d had pulled up on the tablet.The fiery red locks, the piercing green eyes. The face of someone who’d once meant the world to me. Taylen.“Might I ask why I am here, sir?” The words barely escaped my lips as fear overtook every inch of my body.He lowered the tablet and leaned back in his chair. His white hair shone beneath the copper light that hung above him. “Lexton, as a guard, you are expected to protect your fellow residents. You understand that, don’t you?”“Yes, sir,” I answered, keeping my hands in my pockets. I wasn’t sure where this conversation was headed, but I was sure that I wasn’t going to like it. “Of course.”He leaned forward, resting his arm against the rim of the desk, and slid the tablet towards me. I stared down at the image of the girl I’d once thought I’d spend the rest of my life with; at the girl that helped me to become the person that I was today – someone who believed that love still existed in a world as bleak as our own.“And I can assume that you know the rules?” He continued, “That as a guard, you are expected to do as I say, even if you weren’t to agree with the orders given to you. Correct?”I nodded, unable to speak.There’d been rumors flying around among the guard that he’d kept a keen eye on Taylen as of late. The thing with Taylen was that, unlike the others in the Sectors, she wasn’t afraid to push the boundaries.Of course, there’d been others to test Troum’s authority, but none quite like her.There was this power about Taylen. She drew people in. She was a force of nature, and everyone knew it. Even as a child, I could see the fire that sparked within her eyes.She was always one to want more, to dream the impossible possible.She was everything that Troum feared, and I knew that, sooner or later, her determination would only result in trouble for her.“You know this girl, don’t you, Lexton?” He tapped the screen, his pointer finger lingering over her head. When I didn’t speak, he tried again. “This girl - Taylen Fincher, is it? You grew up with her?”“That is correct, sir.” I swallowed down the spit that had gathered in my throat.He drummed his fingers along the tablet screen before leaning back in his oversized chair. “She’s a problem for our people,” he finally said after what felt like hours.I’d thought that my heart had been broken when I was forced to leave her behind; to erase her from my life. I had thought wrong.It felt as though someone had taken a knife to my chest and plunged it deep inside of my heart. Surely he was joking, I thought, he had to be.But he wasn’t.He reached for the tablet and tabbed on a small icon beneath her photo. There, on the tiny screen, was a record of everything she’d done over the past six months, including every time she’d escaped to the beach across the way of the Family Sector.So the rumors were true.“As you can see,” he said, laying the tablet back down, “Taylen has not only managed to slip past the guard daily for the past six months, but she has also questioned everything I stand for as a leader, and as you know, that is unacceptable behavior, Lexton.”“Yes,” I struggled to speak. “I understand, sir.”Troum nodded his head and leaned back, bringing his finger to his chin. “What would you be willing to do in order to protect your family, Lexton?’I looked back at the tablet and mused over his words. There wasn’t a thing I wouldn’t do in order to protect my family. We both knew that, and I knew that he would use my love for them against me.No matter how much I missed her, no matter how much she’d once meant to me, I knew that my loyalty belonged to Troum. He was the one who kept my family safe. He was the one that would see to it that we remained safe.I had to trust him.“Sir, might I ask what is going on?” I sat straight in my chair and lay my hands on my knees.He smirked. “Well, you see, Lexton, I need you to take care of a little problem for me.” He glanced down at the tablet before continuing, “If you do as I ask then your family will remain safe within the Family Sector, however, if you do not do as I ask…”They’d end up in the Widowed Sector, I thought.I hadn’t traveled outside of the Family Sector, but I had heard enough to know that I couldn’t allow that to happen.Maybe our lives now weren’t as great as they’d once been, but at least we were safe. At least we’d survived the Outbreak. Sometimes I only wished that Taylen could see it that way. She was so concerned with what we’d lost that she hadn’t stopped to think of what we had gained under Troum’s control.The Family Sector was set up to take care of those with children – Troum’s way of ensuring that the population increased steadily over time. I knew that the others, those who were forced to live within the Widowed Sector and the Homeless Sector hadn’t had it nearly as nice as we had. Troum had made it a point to stress that we were his priority, not them.I took one last glance at Taylen’s face. I knew what I had to do, no matter how much I disagreed with it. “What is it that you want me to do, sir?”Troum rose to his feet and motioned for me to follow.He led me to a small filing cabinet near the back of his office and kneeled down in front of a drawer labeled “F”. He slid the drawer open and scanned through the folders until he came upon the one that he’d been looking for. “Ah, here it is.”“We’ve been keeping a close eye on her for some time now,” he said, handing me the manila folder. “Up until recently, I hadn’t thought her to be a threat, but her actions as of late are proving otherwise.”I slid my finger under the opening and stared in surprise at the stack of logs that been stored inside. “What is all of this?”He wagged his finger at me. “I can’t disclose too much information,” he grabbed the folder out of my hands and held it firmly at his waist. “What I can tell you is that Taylen Fincher has shown distrust in our government, so much so that we fear she is plotting a way to contact others outside of the state.”“How do you know this?” I knew that he’d been aware of her daily beach trips, but that was hardly any way to prove that she was up to something.“We’re always watching.” Troum grinned. “Just remember that. We are always watching.”
CHAPTER ONETAYLENThe sun rose above the bright blue ocean water, its rays glistened on the waves below. The cold water crashed against my bare feet. I dug my toes into the wet sand and threw my arms out, like the wings of a bird. This was my freedom. This was how I took flight, how I managed to forget the vile world Troum and his men felt the need to showcase daily. For now, this was my reality – the world as I knew it no longer existed.Why can’t life always be like this? I thought.But I knew this was only temporary. I needed to leave soon before they found me. I knew that I wasn’t supposed to be out here. I knew what the consequences were, but the risk as well worth it. Even for just a bit of sanity, it was worth it.I listened as the sirens wailed from within the Sector walls. I could see the blue lights flashing along the street in my peripheral vision. Which could mean only one thing: daily inspections would be starting soon. It was officially time for me to get going.I grabbed my flip flops, which I’d tossed in the sand behind me earlier, and darted towards the underground tunnel. The tunnel was located up ahead, hidden between two rotted trees. It was built back when people actually visited the beach. When the street parking spots were full, visitors would park behind restaurants or in apartment complexes and then use the tunnel to cross the street. Back when we were free to come and go as we pleased. Back when we were allowed to live our lives.But now the tunnel remained locked. No one was supposed to be here. We were supposed to stay within the Sectors, keeping close to home. But that didn’t work for me. I needed to get away. I needed to feel alive. I needed to feel as though I still had a life worth living.This place, this beach was my getaway. It was the only place that still remained from my past.I ran towards the rotted trees, throwing my body in-between them. The wind on the beach began to pick up, forcing bits of sand to fly towards my face. Two helicopters flew up above, completing their daily scan of the beach, their spotlights scanning the ground below. If I stayed in this spot, the lights from the helicopters would fall upon my long red hair. A dead giveaway against the white sand.I took a deep breath, and I lunged forward, pulling on the lock on the entrance way to the tunnel. The cold metal bars sent goose bumps throughout my body. The helicopter moved in closer. I could hear the wind picking up more steam as their blades cut through the air. I fiddled with the lock. I slipped a bobby pin from my hair, and slid it inside – jerking the pin until the lock opened.Carefully, I pulled the metal gate open and slid inside, making sure to close the gate behind me. I reached my hands back through the bars, clicking the lock closed, and leaned back against the wall. I could feel my heart racing, the fear of being caught mixing with the thrill of being free. I needed to keep moving. I needed to get home before they noticed I was gone.I ran my hand across my forehead, wiping away the sweat that gathered while I stood along the beach. Slowly, I moved along the tunnel, careful to keep my footsteps quiet.My house was a few blocks away, located in the Family Sector. Part of Troum’s genius plan was to split the remaining residents into different Sectors. There were three Sectors: Family, Widowed, and Homeless.The Family Sector was the largest of the three Sectors, but that didn’t mean much of anything. Over the years, our population had slowly dwindled. There weren't any babies being born anymore, which wasn’t helping to increase our numbers. And to make matters worse, as spouses died, those families were being sent off to the Widowed Sector.I wasn’t sure of the conditions outside of my Sector, but Troum made it clear that the Family Sector would be given priority over the others. Which I guessed was to be expected. After all, we were their only hope for rebuilding the state at this point.Florida used to be my home. I used to go to school. I used to have friends. I used to have a life. But that was all gone now. This wasn’t home anymore. This was the end of the world. This, I imagined, is what hell would look like.“We want you to be prepared for when the water comes,” Troum told us. “In order to save the state and its people, we must change our way of living.”At the time, people thought it made sense. No one questioned anything. At the snap of a finger, they allowed their lives to be taken away. Naivety at its best. I didn’t understand it. If the water came to wash us away, there was no way that we could stop it. None of us stood a chance against the wrath of the ocean. Why act as though there was a possibility of surviving the flood?I stopped as I neared the end of the tunnel, panting as I peeked through the gate. There was no lock on this side. The Guards never checked the tunnel, at least as far as I knew, so I never bothered to fix the lock for this side of the tunnel. I figured, if anything, they’d check the side near the beach, not near the Sectors. There were already enough Guards surrounding the Sectors. They took pride in their jobs, enough to believe none of the residents would be able to sneak past them. This, of course, wasn’t true. I managed to slip out daily without a problem. So far, at least.I opened the gate slowly, only allowing enough room for me to exit. I slipped through the crack, pressing against the brick wall next to the tunnel entrance. In front of me, there was a low white, curvy wall that wrapped around the Family Sector. On the other-side of the wall are the Guards. I crouched down, moving slowly against the wall. I knew that if I get caught it will be fatal. They didn’t take well to escapees.My heart raced with excitement and fear. My life was on the line, but it was the closest I’d come to feeling alive, free since Troum and his men arrived.“Lex, have your men prepare for inspections.” I could hear Sergeant Eli Mathis speaking to the head guard. Lex and I used to be friends. We were neighbors my entire life – both before the Sectors and after. Now we didn’t speak. It wasn’t that he didn't want to, at least, I liked to assume that was it, but I knew that the Guards were not to mingle with residents. “It could complicate things,” Sergeant Eli proclaimed. Yes, because gosh forbid you care about what happens to someone.I peered over the wall, hoping to catch a glimpse of him. I watched as Sergeant Eli walked away, his arms folded behind his back. Lex’s eyes met my gaze for a brief second; I could see the anger building in his eyes. Lex was around six foot one. His skin was tanned from spending so much time beneath the sun. His dirty blond hair hung to his chin. He was dressed in the standard uniform: black jeans with a belt, a snug black t-shirt, black lace up boots, and a black baseball cap. All I could think was that he must be sweating out here. I wasn’t thinking that he was attractive, even though I supposed that he was. I just never saw him that way, at least when we were younger.I missed him, more than I cared to admit, but he was one of them now. He could kill me right this second if he wanted to and there would be nothing I could do to stop him. The friendship we had? It was lost with the news of the looming flood. I sighed, continuing to make my way along the wall. The Sector entrance was ten feet ahead. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the Guards had already left their posts, to head towards the inspections, I presumed. “They really do make this too easy,” I smirked.Moving faster, practically running, I managed to make it to the entrance before the gate slammed shut. The Sector was crawling with people. Everyone was hurrying to return home before the Guards came for inspection. Inside the Sector, there are tons of makeshift homes. All you saw are walls of concrete wherever you looked. In the middle of the Sector, there were small stands where you could purchase clothing or food. We were supposed to wear clothes according to our Sectors. Residents of the Family Sector were expected to dress in shades of blues. Residents of the Widowed Sector were expected to dress in black and shades of gray. And residents of the Homeless Sector were expected to dress in white. Me? I had managed to hold onto my old clothes, refusing to give up the last bit of myself that I still owned.I dropped my flip flops on the floor, sliding my feet into them. I glanced around, hoping no one had noticed the sand that was caked on my feet. I rolled up the sleeves of my shirt and headed towards my family’s new home. Our house sat a few rows back from the Sector entrance, house no. 12.As I slid inside the front door, I met my Mother’s gaze. “Where have you been? Do you realize how much trouble you could have caused us?” She was clearly angry with me, but she managed to keep her voice low as to avoid any unwanted attention. “Get into your proper clothing before the Guards come. I don’t want any trouble, do you hear me?”“You act as though no one has seen me yet. I’m sure the Guards have already noticed my lack of proper attire, Mother.”She raised her finger, ready to protest, when a knock at the door interrupted her. “Daily inspection, open up!” the voice beckoned behind the closed door.“Go and change. Now!”I hated seeing her like this. She used to be happy, carefree. Now, she was anxious and always on edge. She followed the rules obediently, something she wished that I’d learn to do myself. I understood her anger, but I didn’t agree with this lifestyle. I didn’t agree with the Government.Reluctantly, I ran towards my bedroom, slamming the door shut behind me. On my bed were my Sector clothes: a dark-blue cotton dress, with two deep pockets at the hip, which had been folded by my Mother, and a pair of blue flats. I unbuttoned my shorts, letting them fall to the floor, and lifted my t-shirt above my head, flinging it into the corner of my room. I kicked off my flip flops off and reached to grab the dark-blue cotton dress from my bed. I raised the dress over my head, slipping it onto my body.A loud bang on my bedroom door reminds me that I need to hurry. “Miss, you must report to the living room immediately.”I recognized the voice as Lexton Michaels’. Great. He knew that I slipped outside of the Sector gate earlier. “Coming,” I replied, tying the fabric belt around my waist, before combing my fingers through my red locks. I lifted my blue flats from my bed and slipped them onto my feet in a hurry. I darted towards my bedroom door, noticing I that I’d forgotten to wipe the sand from off my feet. “You’ve got to be kidding me.” I leaned down, brushing the sand from my skin, and an impatient fist pounded against the door once more.“If you do not exit within thirty seconds, I will be forced to knock down the door.”I reached for the door knob, and flung the door open. Standing in front of me was Lex. It took everything in me not to explode on him, to tell him just how much I hated him. But his right hand was holding his pistol, and his left hand was extended out for me to grab a hold of. Probably not the best time to go off on him. Lex with a pistol? Me with a bullet? Yeah, no thanks.“I’m perfectly capable of walking to the living room myself,” I muttered.“If I were you, I’d be a bit friendlier. After all, I haven’t reported your little escape yet.”Lex gripped my hand tightly, and a smug smile plastered itself wide across his face. As he pulled me into the living room, I found myself curious as to how this became our lives. He released my grip, smirking as he assumed his position. I wanted to hate him. I wanted to blame him for this. Heck, I wanted to blame him for everything. But I knew that it was unjust.When Lex turned seventeen, he was forced to join the guard. If he didn’t, he would have been imprisoned, and his Mother would have been sent to live in the Widowed Sector with his two younger sisters. He made his choice in order to protect his family, and I had to accept that. No matter how much it may have hurt.“Esla Fincher,” the guard recited as he made his way down the line. “Garret Fincher… Taylen Fincher.” The guard stopped in front of me. My Mother peered over at me in alarm. Over the guard’s shoulder, I could see the panic in Lex’s eyes. Panic that felt out of place. “Your seventeenth birthday is approaching. Have you decided whether you’ll join the Guard yet?”I shrugged. “I have other choices,” I replied. “The rewards of being a girl.”“So then, you’ll be joining the clinic I presume?”“Sure, we’ll go with that.”The guard stared at me for a moment before continuing towards my younger sister. “Penelope Fincher.” He froze. “I can only hope that you’ll learn from your sister’s mistakes.” Penelope’s honey brown eyes, full of terror, were locked on the guard. I watched as her lips perked up on one side, projecting a hesitant smile. Her strawberry-blond hair was been pulled back in braided pig tails to frame her innocent face.Penelope was only ten years old. I was supposed to set an example for her. I was supposed to enlist in the guard on my seventeenth birthday, a way of showing my loyalty to the Government. That, of course, wasn’t going to happen. They would be lucky if I even agreed to join the clinic. I didn’t care that they insisted that it is mandatory. I didn’t care that my life would be in danger if I didn’t make a choice. I didn’t care about much, but Penelope was something I did care about. I needed to be around to protect her, and as it was, I was clearly failing at that.Lex’s body shook with anger. I could see that he wanted to help, to say something, but he couldn't. For every other house within the Sector, Lex was the one to conduct the inspections while another guard stood by. But since he once held a relationship with our family, he was forced to let his partner take lead within our company. “No one seems to be missing. Have you completed a run through of the house?” the man asked Lex.“No, Sir. I was waiting until you were done here. Someone needs to keep an eye on the family.” The other guard nodded, gesturing with his hands for Lex to proceed. “Well then, move along boy. We don’t have all day now.”Lex nodded in response, grabbing a hold of his pistol, sweeping past the other guard. I glanced over at the old man. Pinned to his shirt right above his chest was a barely visible nametag: General Hack.“Nice name,” I joked.“What did you say, girl?”“I said nice name.”General Hack stepped in front of me, his nose pressed to mine. He curled his top lip, revealing the rotted teeth beneath. He reeked of smoke and alcohol, and his skin was leathery from sun damage. He was the most atrocious being I’d managed to come across thus far. “You will not disrespect me, do you understand?”“Sure, sure.”The General lowered his hand towards his waist, preparing to remove the pistol that hung from his holster. I should have been scared. I should have been terrified, but I wasn’t. At least death would allow me to escape this hellhole. There was a clicking noise from behind the General. Lex had his pistol pointed at General Hack. “And what do you think you’re doing?”“I’m doing the boss a favor by getting rid of this low life,” the man laughed. “What does it look like I’m doing?”“I’m going to suggest you move that hand off your gun old man.” Lex made no intention of backing down. I watched in surprise as he tightened his grip on the pistol. His eyes remained locked on General Hack with intent. One false move, one slip of the hand, and he’d be done for.As much as I would have enjoyed seeing the General in pain, I wasn’t going to allow Lex to hurt him. “Don’t.” I lunged forward, grabbing Lex’s arm, easing it down to his side. “If something were to happen to General Hack, my family would pay for it. You would pay for it Lex. We’d all be charged, even Penelope.”“She is only a child.” His voice was low, soft. “She isn’t prepared for this world, not like we are Tay.”For a split second, I felt as though my friend was back. The way he his voice cracked, the way his eyes filled with worry as my family stood in danger. For just a split second, he seemed to be Lex. Not a guard.“Inspection is complete,” Lex pulled on the General’s arm. “It’s time we head onto the next house, Sir.”The General turned to look us over once more before hobbling out the front door. Lex followed closely behind. The remnants of my friend were gone, replaced by the cold stare of a guard. I wanted to cry. I wanted to scream for him to come back. But screaming for him would show vulnerability, and I needed to remain strong.Those who were weak were killed, those who were strong fought. I intended to fight for me, for my family, for Lex, for Penelope. I wasn’t going to allow the flood take me, and I certainly wasn’t going to let them take me.
SUBMERGED will be available on February 14th, 2013. The eBook will be $2.99 and the paperback will most likely run around $9.99 (depends on the minimum set by CreateSpace). Once the paperbacks are formatted, I will begin accepting pre-orders for SUBMERGED. (Note: the pre-orders will be signed and they will come with Program 13 bookmarks.)
And just a reminder: There will be a short story prequel to SUBMERGED released in February. It'll better explain Glate, the Homeless Sector and why he insists on helping Taylen. It'll be around the same length at ALLEGIANCE (around 7k words).
Off to get IS LOVE (VOLUME 1) formatted and uploaded. :)