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FREE READ: Ch. 29-32 of Michael

I have the FINAL 4 chapters of MICHAEL!! I’d love if you’d take the time to comment on this post with your favorite quote so far!

ABOUT THE MICHAEL

HE IS A LETHAL WEAPON…
One of an army of soldiers created by a government experiment, Michael is different from the others involved, dangerous in ways no one quite understands. Even Michael himself, believes darkness lives within him, evil fights to control him. And only one woman, the woman he loves, can bring him back from the darkness and into the light. But she has become his enemy.

Cassandra is the daughter of the man who created Michael, who unknowing to her, tricked him into taking drugs he believed to be immunizations. She is torn between her love for Michael, and her love for her father. She’s also the woman Michael left behind, breaking her heart, seeming to shut her out without looking back. But now Michael is back, fully intending to show his enemies, Cassandra’s father included, his wrath. And he’s not leaving without Cassandra.


Want more from Michael? Continue reading for the first four chapters OR get it on Amazon! It’s just $2.99 or FREE in the KindleUnlimited program! Check it out HERE.

Want more from the Zodius series? Sterling, Kel, and Damion all have their own stories available NOW! All are standalones, and $2.99 or FREE in KindleUnlimited! Find them HERE.

READ CH.1-4 HERE

READ CH. 5-8 HERE

READ CH. 9-12 HERE

READ CH. 13-16 HERE

READ CH. 17-20 HERE

READ CH. 21-24 HERE

READ CH. 25-28 HERE

Chapter 29

Dressed in a black skirt and crème silk blouse, Cassandra sat in her office near lunchtime, a nervous wreck over both her father’s and Brock’s absence. Neither was answering calls, and she had a general feeling of unease—a feeling that turned into outright shock when two military officers appeared at her door.

“You need to come with us, Ms. Powell,” one of them said.

Heart hammering in her chest, Cassandra thanked God she had her phone in her hand, punching Michael’s number and tucking it in her blazer pocket, praying he could hear what was going on. “What’s going on? Is my father okay?”

“Your father is fine,” the same officer said. “You need to come with us now.”

She reached for her purse.

“We’ll take your personal items for you,” one of the soldiers said.

She froze. “Am I under arrest?”

“Yes ma’am, you are,” he confirmed. They advanced on her and confiscated her purse.

Cassandra gently slipped the phone into her trash can and pushed to her feet noisily to hide any sound it might make. “At whose orders?”

“General Powell, ma’am,” the lead officer stated.

She was shaking. She knew she was shaking. “On what charge?”

“Conspiracy against the United States of America.”

He reached for her arm, and Cassandra yanked out of reach. “I walk of my own free will.”

He nodded. “Yes, ma’am.”

“And stop calling me ma’am!” She drew in a breath and straightened her spine with a regal snap as she composed herself. Her father would not hurt her. She was not in danger. If she went to jail, she’d get an attorney and fight. And she was wired. The Renegades would find her.

She walked down the long corridor and stepped onto an elevator, but the two officers did not get on. Instead they punched a code on the door, and the doors closed, trapping her inside.

Above the door, the numbers displaying the floors disappeared at ground level, but the elevator kept moving, downward, into an underground area that she hadn’t known existed.

Suddenly, a smoky substance floated into the car from the ceiling. Cassandra covered her mouth and tried to block out the fumes, but the effect was almost instantaneous. Her head floated with confusion a moment before her legs buckled.

***

Cassandra blinked awake with no concept of time, her chin touching her chest, her neck aching. Presence of mind came with a jolt, and she jerked her head up and yanked at her arms only to find she was sitting in a chair, her arms tied behind her back.

Her father stood in front of her. To his right stood a dark-haired woman she did not know, and Dr. Chin, whom she remembered from Groom Lake. Behind them was a giant cage. She had a horrible feeling she didn’t want to know what that cage was for.

Suddenly, she realized her jacket was gone, her shirt disheveled. She could no longer feel the wire taped between her breasts. She was on her own with a man she barely recognized as her own father.

“Hi angel,” her father said, his words jerking her gaze back to him. “How’s that migraine?”

“Why are you doing this?” she hissed, hardly able to believe this was happening, but she had the presence of mind to scan for a door—one to the far left—and a phone, none to be found. Her purse was sitting on the lab table by her father; it was open, as if it had been grabbed and searched.

“I, my dearest, am trying to secure our great nation,” he said dryly. “It saddens me in ways you cannot comprehend that you, my little girl, have chosen to aid our enemies.”

“You mean the Renegades?” she asked. “Is it true, Father? Are you planning to use Red Dart against the Renegades? The men who have been risking their lives to protect us from Adam?”

“They are all GTECHs, Cassandra,” he said. “All lethal to humanity. I am doing what you wanted me to do. I am fixing what I created. I am limiting our damage.”

“My God,” she said. “Do you not see you are creating another nightmare? Adam has men inside the government. If he can’t get to Red Dart   before   you unveil it, they will take it when you do. You are handing him the ability to destroy the Renegades, and they are all that stands between us and the Zodius.”

“Adam will get nothing from me, Cassandra,” he growled, showing a rare moment of anger, his face reddening. “When have I ever been foolish enough to show my hand?” He glared at her, his face distorted, before he drew back and straightened. He dumped her purse and searched through her things. “Where is your phone?”

“I left it at home,” she said and added sarcastically, “The ringer made my headache worse.”

“Where is your phone, Cassandra?” he shouted.

She knew what he wanted—a way to contact Michael. “At home,” she sniped back, her gaze slicing to the woman who’d remained silent to this point, her dark hair and facial structure reminding her of Michael. “I know who you are. Jocelyn Taylor. I know you’re his mother.” The woman’s lips thinned, while her eyes flickered with a mixture of guilt and anger. “How could you betray Michael like this?”

“Michael has never been loyal to anyone but himself,” she said, her voice lacking the conviction Cassandra would have expected, considering her actions.

“Do you even know your own son?” Cassandra asked. “Michael chooses everyone over himself. Time and time again, he risks his life to save others.”

“Have you forgotten the blade he held to my neck?” her father demanded.

Cassandra glared at him. “If he had wanted you dead, you would be dead,” she said. “He saved you from Adam, and I think you know that. You just don’t want to be the one who needs to be saved. You are out of control, Father. You’re going to crash and burn, and take us all with you.”

“Enough,” Powell bit out. “What is the number to reach Michael, Cassandra?”

“I don’t know how to reach Michael,” she said. “And even if I did, why in the world would I tell you?”

He motioned to Chin. “Hook her up to the electrical pads, and shock her.”

Cassandra and Jocelyn gasped in unison. “You wouldn’t,” Cassandra declared.

“Tell me the number,” her father demanded.

Cassandra was terrified, but she was not giving up Michael. Her chin lifted defiantly. “I don’t know how to reach Michael.”

Her father glared at her and then motioned to Chin. “Do it.”

“She’s your daughter,” Jocelyn said, grabbing his arm.

He shook her off. “And Michael is your son,” he said. “We make sacrifices for the greater good, Jocelyn.” He walked to the monitors on the wall and yanked out a drawer, removing a walkie-talkie. “Get an electronic trace on Cassandra’s phone, or get me her phone records. I need one or the other   now  .”

Chin began sticking electronic pads on her arm. He reached under her hair to attach a device to her neck, and it was all she could do not to jump for fear he would see her mark. The mark.

Suddenly, she thought about her lifebond connection to Michael. Could she be shocked? Would they know when they tried that she was GTECH. Was she stronger now? Could she break that rope?

“We’re ready to go,” Dr. Chin announced.

The walkie-talkie went off. “Phone records coming to your email now.”

***

Michael paced the computer room inside Neonopolis as Sterling worked the keyboard, Caleb leaning over his shoulder. “I never should have let her do this,” Michael said. “What the hell was I thinking letting her go to the base alone?”

He stopped, eyed Sterling impatiently. “Anything?” The wire signal had disappeared fifteen minutes before. “Either you find her exact location, or I’m going in after her without it.”

“I’ve triangulated her cell phone ping.” He leaned back in his chair. “It’s still in her office. She must have taken the wire off, afraid she’d be discovered. She knows you can get a basic read on her from your bond.”

Michael shook his head. “She wouldn’t leave her phone and the wire.”

Caleb straightened. “She’s still in the building. If she’s with her father, she’s safe.”

“You weren’t on that phone with her like I was,” Michael said, “I could tell from her tone, she was distressed.” He paced some more, stared at the ceiling, and ran his hand over his face. “I should never have agreed to this. I’m going after her.”

His cell phone rang, and Michael grabbed it from his belt, answering quickly.

“Hello, Michael.” Michael went cold inside. It was Powell. He glanced at Caleb and Sterling and mouthed Powell’s name. “Cassandra is here with me. You and I need to have a conversation—alone. You should know that not only do I have the ability to use Red Dart, but Red Dart has the ability to create excruciating pain in the infected GTECH. Anyone who comes with you will find out firsthand.”

Michael turned away from Caleb and Sterling, aware that Powell had won. “Put Cassandra on the phone.”

A second passed. “Stay away, Michael!” she yelled into the phone. Michael leaned against the wall, pressed his arm over his head, and shut his eyes. What had he done by allowing her involvement?

Powell came back on the line. “I have a little extra incentive,” Powell said. “Every fifteen minutes that you are not here, Cassandra will receive an electric jolt.” He spoke in the background. “Shock her.”

Cassandra screamed in pain.

“No!” Michael yelled, feeling the electrical charge down his spine, a dull, shared pain with his Lifebond that confirmed her torture. “Damn you, Powell!”

Powell came back on the line. “You have fourteen minutes until the next jolt.” He recited an address that Michael recognized as near his mother’s house. The line went dead.

Michael turned to the other two men, already attaching his phone to his belt and preparing to leave.

“What just happened, Michael?” Caleb demanded.

“He has Cassandra,” he said. “I have to go.”

“Let’s go kick that sorry bastard’s ass,” Sterling said, pushing to his feet.

“I’m going alone,” Michael said. “At best, he wants me. At worst, this is a trap to use Red Dart on all of us. We can’t risk that.”

“You’re not going alone,” Caleb said.

“He’s shocking Cassandra every fifteen minutes until I get there,” he said. “I don’t have a choice.”

Caleb cursed. “Let’s think about this—”

“I have about twelve minutes until he shocks her again,” Michael said. “I’m leaving. You stay here and lead the Renegades. Just make sure that if Cassandra and I don’t make it through this, you make it worthwhile.” Vehemently, he added, “You make Powell and Adam pay, Caleb.”

“Is she still on base? Or is he moving her?” Caleb asked.

“I’m not telling you that,” Michael said. “I won’t allow you to risk your safety.”

“If he moved her, it can’t be far,” Sterling said. “We’ll use the satellite and find her. You might as well just tell us.”

Michael’s attention snapped to Sterling. “Caleb needs someone to do the dirty work if I’m gone. To cover his back. You be that someone if I’m gone.” He took off out the door before they could stop him.

 

Chapter 30

Appearing at the coordinates given to him by Powell with seven minutes to spare before Cassandra’s next shock treatment, Michael found himself at the back of a vacant house. Two soldiers stood in his path. One pointed him forward.

As directed, Michael walked toward the basement entrance, but they bypassed the door. Instead the soldier opened a trapdoor covered by grass and exposed a stairwell leading underground before motioning Michael forward. He walked down several feet before entering a narrow tunnel, the soldiers on his heels. It didn’t take him long to surmise that it connected at some junction to his mother’s basement. He tested his boundaries, reached for the wind. If there was the tiniest of cracks in the surface above them, he could call on it for aid. But he found nothing.

The tunnel was long, a good mile underground between the vacant house and what he assumed to be a lab beneath his mother’s place. He’d barely made it in the door when he saw Cassandra. “Damn you, Michael, I told you not to come!”

Michael would have laughed at Cassandra’s ability to challenge him even under duress, if she wasn’t inside a cage, and he wasn’t so damn pissed. Powell had proven he would do anything to control the GTECHs, and who knew how much more from there, even to hurting his own daughter.

“You know I had to come for you, baby,” he said softly, checking the lab for possible exits and finding only the one he had come through. “Are you okay?”

Anguish lanced her voice, tears pouring down her cheeks. “No. No, I am not okay. I would rather be tortured than have you come here.” She was sitting with her arms tied behind her, electronic wires attached to various parts of her body. No one else was in sight.

“Step into the cage,” came Powell’s voice over an intercom. Michael inhaled sharply. Once he was in that cage, he couldn’t do squat to get them out of here. “She’s on remote control,” Powell added. “One punch of a button, and those wires will jolt her. Would you like a demonstration?”

“You sonofabitch!” Michael growled. “She’s your daughter!”

Cassandra was crying harder now. “Don’t, Michael. Don’t come into this cage.”

He was going in all right, but he wasn’t staying. Michael charged at the cage, crossed the room with the agility of a GTECH on speed, his extra chromosome giving him an added jolt. He picked Cassandra up, chair and all, and then froze. Cassandra gasped and buried her head in Michael’s shoulder. Brock stood in the cage doorway holding a gun, his eyes as black as coal. He was a GTECH, which was impossible. That took months of injections.

“Green Hornets,” Brock said. “Compliments of your mother.”

Michael noted the shake of Brock’s hand. Whatever Powell had done to him wasn’t going over so well, and judging from the crazed look on his face, the man wasn’t stable. “Easy man,” he said. “I’m backing up.” Slowly, Michael moved back into the cage and set Cassandra down. He reached for the wires attached to her, not about to let her get tortured again.

“Step away from her, Michael,” Powell ordered through the intercom.

Brock cocked the gun. “You heard the man.”

Reluctantly, Michael did as commanded, holding Brock’s stare. “So this is your plan?” Michael said to Brock. “To be some souped-up GTECH doing Powell’s bidding? He’s using you, man. This isn’t going any place good for you.”

“Shut up!” he yelled. “Shut up!”

A clicking sound sent Michael whirling around to face the weapon extending from a hole in the ceiling. Cassandra! His mind reached for hers, trying to shield her from whatever was about to happen as he could shield her from the Trackers now that they were lifebonded. Seconds passed as he reached for her mind, used their new bond, and connected, mentally forming a protective barrier around her. And just in time. A red light flashed on his chest. Powell’s laughter radiated through the room a minute before Michael’s body began to shake. Michael fell to the ground, blackness threatening to consume him. He focused on one thing and one thing only—keeping that barrier around Cassandra. Yet… somewhere in the distance he heard her scream.   I’m going to kill you, Powell,   he shouted in his mind before the shadows consumed him.

***

“Michael!” Tears rolled down Cassandra’s cheeks as she watched Michael lying face down in that cage, shaking from head to toe—her fierce, wonderful warrior taken down by her own father. Yet she could feel him in her mind, somehow protecting her through it all. Brock was down too, floundering around on the ground just like Michael. Whatever Red Dart was, it didn’t distinguish between one GTECH and another. If it impacted one—it impacted all.

Another soldier stomped into the room and picked up Cassandra, chair and all, and carried her out of the cage, the doors shutting behind her.

“He’s going to do that to you, too,” she said as he set her down a few feet away. “Do you want that?”

The soldier ignored her, walking away as if she hadn’t even spoken. Of course. Her father owned him in some way. Her father, the manipulator.

The sound of a voice had Cassandra looking to the door. Powell, Jocelyn, and Chin all entered the room. Jocelyn rushed to the computer panel and punched some buttons on the computer, speaking to Powell as she did. “You cannot leave him like this without damage.” She turned to Powell. “General!”

Her father grimaced. “I left West like this far longer than Michael,” he said. “Are you going soft because he’s your son?”

“Look at what Brock’s become!” She pointed at Brock, her hand shaking. She quickly folded her arms in front of her, as if trying to hide her reaction. “If you want him to lead us to victory,” she said, “he needs to be of sound mind to do it.”

“Father,” Cassandra said. “Stop! Stop hurting him!” She knew it was a mistake, but she was scared for Michael. “He’s my Lifebond. If you kill him, you will kill me, too.”

Everyone turned around and looked at her, stunned silence overtaking the room. Powell motioned Chin forward. He checked her neck and then nodded. “She has the mark.”

Powell arched a brow and then smiled. A laugh followed. His lifted his hands to his sides in celebration. “This is perfect.” He grabbed Jocelyn and kissed her. “Don’t you see? Michael will do whatever we wish in order to protect her.”

Cassandra’s stomach rolled. Her father was sick. Insane. She squeezed her eyes shut against the nightmare this had become, wondering where the Renegades were, knowing they weren’t coming. Her father had made sure of that.

The general set Jocelyn back from him, and Cassandra’s eyes met the other woman’s. To Cassandra’s surprise, she saw real regret. Both Brock and Jocelyn were having doubts. That had to equal hope. But then again, Michael was already marked with Red Dart. Hope didn’t matter. There was no escape.

Rubbing his hands together, Powell looked at Chin. “We have some time before we move them. Let’s test the new creation against the old creation, shall we?” Chin smiled his approval.

“What are you doing, Father?” Cassandra asked desperately.

“Relax,” the general said. “Michael heals quickly.” He arched a brow. “I imagine you do as well.” It was a subtle threat that had her recoiling and trying to work the rope at her hands. Either she wasn’t one bit stronger than before her lifebonding, or those ropes were enforced.

Cassandra watched her father turn the dial attached to his neck, her eyes going to Jocelyn’s. “What is that thing? What is he doing?”

Jocelyn, to her surprise, answered by motioning to the cage where Michael and Brock were now alert and starting to get up.

“Michael!” Cassandra cried out in relief. He turned to her, awareness washing over his face.

Powell hit a button on the computer and spoke through an intercom. “Lieutenant Colonel West. You will attack and defeat your enemy.”

Suddenly, Brock lunged at Michael, throwing punches, kicking, growling like some sort of animal. Michael dodged and maneuvered. “I don’t want to fight you, West!” He shoved West against the bars and yelled to the room. “I will not fight him like some kind of animal.” Then to West again, “Don’t let him turn you into this.”

“Help them, Jocelyn,” Cassandra pleaded. Jocelyn cast her a helpless look, and Cassandra tried to get through to her. “Don’t force Michael to hurt him. Please. Before my father shocks them again.”

“I…” Jocelyn whispered. “I can’t believe Michael isn’t fighting him. I can’t believe any of this. It’s not what I thought…”

“You will fight!” Powell screamed, stomping closer to the cage.

Cassandra focused on Jocelyn and tried not to think about her father using that remote control again. “Michael is a good man, Jocelyn. He’s a   good   man. My father is not. Don’t help him.”

“Fight!” her father shouted again, and Brock went down with a bloodcurdling scream that ripped through Cassandra’s nerve endings and drew her attention to the cage. Brock was shaking, lying face down. Again Michael was not.

“What is going on, Jocelyn?” Powell demanded, still messing with the controller around his neck. At that point, Brock was shaking to near convulsions. Michael didn’t so much as flinch. Her father stormed toward the lab table, his face red, fury turning his features to a harsh grimace. “I said… what the   hell   is happening?”

Jocelyn was standing with her hand over her mouth, and her father shook her. “Jocelyn!” her father yelled.

“I don’t know,” Jocelyn said, jerking into action and racing to the computer, keying some strokes. “I don’t know.” She pressed her hand to her forehead, and looked at Powell. “It’s like Red Dart disappeared from his system.”

“How is that possible?” he demanded.

“I’m trying to figure that out,” Jocelyn said, rushing to the computers that covered the wall to the right. “I need to look at my research. I need—”

“Where is Chin?” her father yelled, cutting her off. “Chin!”

Nothing. The doctor had disappeared.

“Oh my God,” Jocelyn murmured.

Cassandra twisted around to bring the pale features of the other woman into focus. “What?” Her gut twisted in premonition. “What is it? What’s wrong?”

“Chin left his email up,” she said. “The Zodius soldiers are coming.”

***

“We have a green light on trouble,” Sterling said, leaning back from his computer. “We have action. Lots of it. Four miles from Jocelyn Taylor’s house. At least twenty soldiers who appeared out of nowhere.” Which meant Wind-walkers. “Bold bastards. It’s broad daylight.”

Caleb and Damion appeared over Sterling’s shoulder, both mumbling curses before Caleb hit his earpiece to contact the standby team they had prepared to rock ‘n’ roll into action.

Sterling was already on his feet ready to join them, his attention on Caleb. “You realize this could be a trap,” he said. “We could all get tagged with Red Dart.”

“I don’t plan to worry about a Red Dart trap every time we leave Sunrise City for the rest of our lives,” Caleb said. “We came here to end this. Let’s end it.”

“I love how you think,” Sterling approved.

“If we aren’t too late,” Damion said grimly.

Sterling cast him a hard look. “Stop talking that kind of crap. We won’t be too late.” He pointed a finger at his head even as the three of them headed to the launch pad of Neonopolis, the area they used to run missions. “You have to think positive, man. We are Renegades.” And they were going to bring their men home. Or die trying.

 

Chapter 31

The Zodius soldiers are coming.   Jocelyn’s words had barely left her lips when Cassandra’s father darted toward the door, leaving Cassandra to gape after him. Jocelyn was racing around in a panic. “I don’t know what to do.”

“Release Michael!” Cassandra shouted. “He’s our only chance to survive. Let him go.”

Survival instincts kicked in, adrenaline firing Cassandra’s blood. She jerked on the ropes. Felt them give this time. She jerked again, and she was free. Thank God! She grabbed Jocelyn. “How do I open the cage?” Shouts and footsteps sounded from the hallway.

“Damn it, Mother!” Michael yelled. “Let me out!”

Cassandra grabbed Jocelyn’s arms. “He’s the only chance we have to survive this. Let him out.”

Wide-eyed, Jocelyn stared at Cassandra and nodded. “The blue key above the number pad on the computer.”

Cassandra was at that computer punching the key in two seconds, and Michael was out in one. Cassandra’s heart about exploded out of her chest as a Zodius soldier appeared in the doorway, his weapon drawn. Michael charged after him, moving so fast he was a blur before he collided with the enemy.

Jocelyn shoved Cassandra away from the computer and started keying. “I have to destroy Red Dart. I have to kill the program. I have an auto-destruct set up on the lab, and everything inside.”

Cassandra heard her, but her attention was on that battle in the doorway. Michael forcefully took the other soldier’s weapon, planting a bullet between his eyes. Cassandra let out a sigh of relief that it was the enemy, not Michael, who crumpled to the ground.

Michael yanked the soldier inside the lab and went to work removing his weapons. He shoved the door shut as he armed himself. Bullets blasted against the steel door, followed by hard pounding. “We need another way out. It will only take them a minute to blast open the door.”

“Hidden panel behind the cage,” Jocelyn said, still focused on the computer.

Michael was already moving toward them. “Let’s go.”

“Wait,” Jocelyn said, doing something to the device beside the computer before hitting several more keys. “I need another minute.”

“We don’t have a minute,” Michael ground out, grabbing Cassandra’s hand. Voices sounded outside the lab, an argument about how to bring down the door and not the entire lab.

Jocelyn glanced up. “Actually,” she said and hit a decisive key, “you have exactly five minutes before everything to do with Red Dart that isn’t in my head goes up in smoke along with this lab and anyone still inside.” They started toward the back of the lab. A blast sounded in the hallway. The door jerked but didn’t come down.

“We can’t leave Brock!” Jocelyn insisted.

Michael half growled. “He’s a walking tracking device.”

“I can use him to make an antidote in case Red Dart ever surfaces again. Please. We need him.”

With a conflicted grimace, Michael released Cassandra’s hand and was in that cage and out in a second. “He’s dead,” he announced after checking his pulse. He was already motioning them forward, his gun in his hand as a blast finished off the lab door. “Go! Go! Go!” Michael yelled, firing off a round of bullets.

Jocelyn shackled Cassandra’s arm and pulled her forward, punching a code into a panel. Steel doors slid open, and they were inside a stairwell.

Gunfire sounded behind them and above. A semblance of hope found Cassandra. Someone was shooting at the Zodius soldiers other than Michael. Please Lord, she prayed, let it be the Renegades, not her father’s men.

Jocelyn was already moving forward, but Cassandra wasn’t going anywhere without Michael. She heard him fire another round of bullets and let out a breath of relief as he appeared in the corridor.

Cassandra punched the marked button to close the doors. Cassandra and Michael started running up the steps, Michael yanking his cell phone from his belt as they climbed, checking for a signal. He found one near the exit about the time they heard the door behind them blast open.

“We’re in the house,” he said into the phone.

Jocelyn called over her shoulder. “Kitchen.”

“Kitchen,” Michael repeated. Almost instantly more shots rang out from directly above, and the door opened to display Sterling and Caleb. “It’s gonna blow,” Michael shouted as he pushed the women forward. Sterling grabbed Jocelyn and started running with Caleb behind him. Michael reached for Cassandra to do the same, but bullets sprayed through the tunnel from behind.

Michael kicked the door shut to the tunnel. “Go! Get out of here!” he shouted at Cassandra. “I’ll hold them off so you can get out.”

“Not without you!” she yelled.

Suddenly, the swinging door off the kitchen leading to the living area burst open, and a Zodius soldier grabbed Cassandra, yanking her into the other room. Michael’s heart jackknifed, and he dove for her, but the door slammed shut, bullets coming at him from all sides. He replied with shots of his own and shoved open the door, seeking Cassandra, but it was too late. The Zodius soldier who’d captured her had yanked her out the front door onto the porch. He wind-walked out of the house, intending to cut off Cassandra’s capture. He appeared on the lawn right as the house went up in a blast that sent him and everyone within ten feet sprawling to the ground. Michael recovered, flat on his belly, with one thing on his mind—Cassandra. Staying low, he scanned for her, relieved in one instant to find her alive, but—damn it to hell—she and Sterling were in the hands of the Zodius Soldiers, blades at their throats. Caleb stood across from them with Powell as his captive and holding a blade at his throat. On either side of this standoff, Zodius and Renegade soldiers stood toe-to-toe, ready for battle.

Michael stood his ground as the Zodius soldier who he knew to be a cold-blooded killer, Tad Bensen, made his demand. “The general, for his daughter,” Tad bargained with Caleb.

Caleb was now put in a position of choosing. If he handed over Powell, then Powell could give the Zodius the Red Dart crystal. If he did not, Tad   would   kill Cassandra and Sterling. Michael had no doubt about that, and neither did Caleb.

Michael’s mother crawled to his side. “Powell can’t give them Red Dart, if that’s what you’re worried about,” she whispered. She reached inside her pocket and then handed him the crystal. “I destroyed the data, but I have the crystal. It’s yours now.”

Michael inhaled sharply, unable to consider the magnitude of his mother’s actions now. She hadn’t destroyed everything. She’d simply made everyone believe she had. But instead of using the crystal for personal gain, she’d given it to him, and now he was free to end this battle without recourse, with no fear that Powell still held the power of Red Dart.

Michael unleashed his power. Hurricane-style winds whipped around them, wrecking havoc on everyone but Michael. He was on his feet, charging toward Cassandra, well aware that the intensity of this wind was something he could hold for only a minute at most. He ripped the blade from Tad’s hand, freeing Cassandra, and then turned to where Sterling was being held. In a quick twist of his wrist, he snagged the soldier’s gun and shot him between the eyes. He turned to do the same to Tad, but the wind faded, and Tad instantly wind-walked away.

The soldier he’d killed fell beside Cassandra, and she jumped, a terror-laced scream following, a prelude to the all-out war that followed, Renegades against Zodius soldiers.

Michael spotted Powell and saw the moment he broke away from the group when Caleb had been forced to release him to defend himself. Powell was in a full-out run. He was getting away, and Michael had to choose between him and Cassandra. Which was no choice at all.

With a low curse, Michael let Powell escape, pulling Cassandra to her feet and wind-walking her to his mother’s side. “Run!” he yelled.

***

Powell ran across the wooded terrain, charging toward a tunnel opening a mile away. The sound of wolves howling nearby pierced the air and spiked his adrenaline. Faster. He had to run faster. Suddenly, the wind ripped, and Lucian appeared before him, drawing Powell to an abrupt halt.

“Been a long time, General,” Lucian said, referring to his time serving Powell at Groom Lake.

“Not long enough,” Powell said, aiming the Glock he’d grabbed from the lab before departing at Lucian. “Careful now, traitor. I’d enjoy planting one of these Green Hornets between your eyes.”

“This ‘traitor,’ as you call me, is your only chance to escape,” Lucian said. “Both the Renegades and the Zodius want your blood, General.”

“I don’t know what game you’re playing, but save it for someone who’s stupid,” the general said. “I know you are with Adam, Lucian.”

“I’m a free agent now,” Lucian said. “You get the first opportunity at recruitment.”

General Powell arched a brow. “And why would I want to do that?”

“Because you don’t have a choice,” he said. “You will die if Adam gets his hands on you. Or rot in a cell if Caleb does. Agree to work with me, and I will wind-walk you out of here, and we will begin planning a way to show both Adam and Caleb who is really in control.”

“Wind-walking might kill me,” he said.

“And so will Adam.”

“How do I know you won’t take me to Adam?”

“Because you are still alive, General,” he said. “I could have easily wind-walked behind you and slit your throat. But you have resources I want.” Footsteps sounded in the air. A scurry of movement. “Now or never, General.”

The general considered only a moment more before lowering his gun. Lucian might think he had control now, but Powell had no doubt—he would easily remedy that. He’d lost the Red Dart crystal in that explosion, but he still had serum and twelve soldiers who were GTECH-ready. Now that he knew what the serum was capable of turning a man into—he wouldn’t be a fool this time. He’d take precautions. He’d implant kill switches in their brains before giving them their freedom and come up with a plan suited for limited manpower and resources that involved covert action. This was not over. All he had to do was survive the wind-walking.

“Do it,” Powell ordered. Lucian stepped forward and grabbed him. The wind carried them away.

***

Michael called forth another hurricane-style wind. Zodius and Renegade alike stumbled and struggled, but Tad screamed through the wind. “Retreat!” The instant the wind died, the Zodius soldiers faded into their own gusts, escaping by wind-walking while they still could.

Fire engines screeched into the driveway, men rushing off the trucks to fight the fire behind them. Renegades faded into the wind before they were spotted, some on a search mission for Powell. Caleb would have to make government contact to explain the fire, and then try and re-create the relationships that Powell had destroyed. A tough task when they had no idea who they could trust.

Cassandra ran to Michael and flung her arms around him. “Thank God, you’re okay.”

His arms wrapped around her, the warmth of that moment was like none he had ever felt. She’d watched him kill today, and still she accepted him without question. “It kills me to know I did not stop you from being tortured.”

“Those two years apart from you were torture,” she said.

His mother approached, hugging herself and looking uncomfortable. She glanced at Cassandra. “I’m so glad you are okay. I… well… I don’t know how to say I am sorry. I misjudged you. I… misjudged your father.”

Cassandra snuggled closer to Michael, as if she knew he needed that warmth right now. “We’re alive, and it’s over. That’s what counts right now.”

Jocelyn nodded and cut a tentative look at Michael. “I promise you, I didn’t know what I was getting involved with. I thought… well, a lot of things that would appear skewed right about now. Seems I have a bad way of choosing the wrong men.”

Michael didn’t know what to say to that. He’d spent years believing his mother was as evil as his father, and he wasn’t sure he was ready to see her otherwise. Those feelings had defined much of his life and how he saw himself. But she’d come through for him and the Renegades today.

Ultimately, she’d saved Cassandra’s life by telling him about the crystal, rather than concealing it. Probably Sterling’s life as well. A silent agreement passed between them, and a bit of mutual, if not limited, respect had been earned on both sides. Which was a good thing, considering she was the only living person who knew how to make Red Dart work. She was going to be coming to Sunrise City for protection. Caleb would decide the fate of the crystal. Michael motioned to Damion and gave that order.

His mother accepted it freely. “I can help the Renegades,” she said. “I want to.”

The sounds of wolves howling in unison shot a warning through Michael. He scanned for Caleb and made eye contact. Adam was here. They both felt it a moment before he emerged from the woods, several wolves surrounding him.

Michael lifted his hand to Damion, who stepped to his side. “Go with Damion, Cassandra,” he ordered.

“Michael—”

“I said, go with Damion,” he said. “I need to know you’re safe.”

Reluctantly, she nodded, pushed to her toes, and kissed his cheek. “Be careful.”

Michael, Caleb, and Sterling walked toward Adam; there were too many civilian humans nearby to wind-walk without exposure. Michael and Sterling lingered behind as Caleb stepped forward and met Adam face-to-face. Two powerful figures, so alike, but so different. One who radiated a magical quality that inspired and motivated. And another who oozed evil and darkness, a promise of destruction.

The two of them spoke, their voices low, too low for Michael and Sterling to make out what they were saying. Long minutes passed before Adam faded into the wind, the wolves howling with his departure.

Caleb turned and walked back to them, a grim expression on his face, a hard set to his jaw. He said nothing as he joined them, stepped between them, and lifted his hand to signal their departure. The three of them faded into the wind—the Renegades’ leader and his two most trusted soldiers.

Words were not necessary. Michael and Sterling knew all they had to know. The war had not ended. In fact, it may well have only just begun.

***

Hours after his promise to Caleb that he would destroy the Renegades, one by one, until his brother joined Zodius Nation, Adam sat at his coliseum table and waited for the main event to start. Ava sat by his side. Dr. Chin and Tad sat across from them.

“I’m so excited you’re here, Dr. Chin,” Ava said, rubbing her belly. “Now I know I will deliver a healthy baby.” She smiled at Tad. “And I have you to thank for bringing him to us.”

Tad inclined his head. “I am your loyal servant as always.” Ava beamed with delight, which pleased Adam. Ava’s happiness over Chin’s arrival had made any failure on Tad’s part easily overlooked. For now. So did the extra GTECH serum that Chin had brought with him from Powell’s lab, though it was still limited. Losing the immediate implementation of Red Dart had been disappointing, but they would eventually make it work.

“Perhaps your child,” Chin said, “will hold the secret to re-creating the serum.”

His child, Adam thought. Yes. His child was the future. There was greatness in the air tonight, Adam thought, as he lifted his glass to Chin and then to everyone at the table. “To the future of Zodius Nation.”

He knew that the Renegades believed they’d achieved a victory by destroying Red Dart, but they would soon discover they were mistaken. Adam’s plans to spread his Zodius movement had only just begun.

The weak would be destroyed, and Adam would lead a world like none anyone had ever imagined. A world free of divisions. One nation under his command. One   Zodius   Nation.

 

Epilogue

Cassandra stood inside the conference room staring at the many maps pegged with colored stick-pens only moments after her group of women, the “Wardens” as they’d begun calling themselves, wrapped up a meeting. Pride filled her that in only a month the Wardens had found a definite trend to the abductions. They had worked through Caleb to set up civilian and military alert systems to act on those trends, and they were only getting started.

Michael’s mother was here too, quickly becoming a part of the scientific team. Her father… well, he was missing. The government swore they hadn’t heard from him, but none of the Renegades were convinced that was true. She tried not to think about it. And the crystal—locked away somewhere rather than destroyed. Caleb wasn’t willing to relinquish a weapon that might one day be needed to save the world.

As for the effects of lifebonding, Cassandra had yet to develop any special gift, like Ava’s ability to brainwash others, but she would welcome any skill she could use to aid this war against Adam.

“I have something I want to show you,” Michael said, appearing in the doorway, his big body shrinking the small space. She inhaled at the sight of him, always amazed at how easily he impacted her senses every time she saw him. Surprised to find him without his army fatigues, he was dressed in faded jeans and a snug blue T-shirt that hugged his broad chest.

“You aren’t dressed for work,” she said.

“I took the afternoon off,” he said, holding out his hand.

A few minutes later, they were at the peak of a magnificent mountaintop at the edge of the Grand Canyon, a blanket beneath them and a picnic lunch that Emma had packed for them ready to enjoy. Cassandra looked out at the view with wonder, thrilled at the world that wind-walking was allowing her to enjoy.

“It’s magnificent,” she said, forgetting the war raging around them and embracing this moment with the man she loved. She laughed. “Somehow I doubt anyone but me would believe you would pack a picnic lunch.”

He didn’t laugh as she’d expected him to, and she did so love making him laugh. Instead, he eased her onto the blanket and leaned over her, raw emotion glistening in his eyes. “You have changed my life in ways I cannot ever explain.”

She touched his jaw, her heart squeezing with emotion. “As you have mine,” she promised.
He kissed her then, a gentle kiss that filled her with love. Michael made her whole.


That’s the end! If you’d like to get your copy of MICHAEL it’s just $2.99 or FREE in the KindleUnlimited program! Check it out HERE.

Want more from the Zodius series? Sterling, Kel, and Damion all have their own stories available NOW! All are standalones, and $2.99 or FREE in KindleUnlimited! Find them HERE.

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