Here’s a sneak peek at Domino Theory…
Bella Pink put it best: “The rising temperatures will be the death of fashion.”
The famous Icelandic designer might not have been thinking specifically about this unbearable Southern California heat, but her words come back to me now as I flee for my life, sweating all over my adorable, multi-layered top.
Bursting out through Special Rejects’ front doors, I come within inches of taking out the bouncer. Only a split-second instinct on my part avoids a collision that would have halted my escape before it began. As I tear down the wooden pier, my sprint draws gaping looks from the line of people waiting in line to enter the club.
I hear my name shouted and see my friend Becker’s vivid crimson eyes grow comically large as I fly past.
I’ve never been so relieved to smell stinky, mosquito-ridden Venice Beach as I am now. The hot, muggy night air plasters my hair to my sweaty forehead. I hear a commotion behind me and look over my shoulder to see Thing One and Thing Two in hot pursuit. I’m frightened out of my wits, but I still laugh for a second when I wonder what the Retrievers would think about the nicknames I’ve assigned them. The moment of mirth passes, and I remember why I’m running at break-neck speed in purple boots with stiletto heels.
I can’t let those behemoths catch me.
Lucky for me, Retrievers aren’t known for being fleet of foot. With as much bulk as they carry on their huge frames, that’s understandable. As I round the corner at the end of the club, flying down a small alley, I glance back again to see they’re gaining on me.
These damn boots are not made for walking, let alone running.
I’d love to stop for a second and take them off, but scampering barefoot around Venice Beach presents a whole new set of perils. If I don’t shed the boots, though, the Retrievers will catch up.
The footwear problem is partially resolved when I reach the end of the alley and my heel catches in a gap between planks. I pitch forward, my ankle bending at an awful angle. The pain is so intense it takes my breath away, and my first thought is that I’ve broken something.
My second thought is that even if I have, I still need to hide. A broken ankle is one thing but being taken in by Retrievers for a felony against Central Protectorate is much, much worse.
I hastily look around and see the top of a ladder poking over the edge of the pier fifteen feet away. Ignoring the pain, I jerk my leg out of the stuck boot and scramble across the wood, awkwardly climbing one-legged down the wonky rungs toward the toxic brew below. Although Venice Beach has been overrun by the Pacific, there are pockets in the resulting bay that are filled with chemicals.
There’s only two feet of distance between the top and bottom of the ladder, though. And I’m five feet tall when I stretch in the morning.
I do my best to position myself on the ladder so that my legs are above the water and my head below the pier, but it’s impossible. Knowing that a date with the Retrievers is the less palatable choice, I grimace and sink down into the water. With my waist submerged, my eyes are still above the pier—and I spot my bright purple boot right there in the middle of the path, with no time for me to even consider retrieving it.
Thing One and Thing Two come huffing and puffing around the corner into the small alley. I hurry to duck down, the water now at my shoulders. It smells putrid and I feel bile rise in my throat. It takes some effort to keep it down, but the sound of heavy boots coming closer gives me the strength.
The footsteps stop abruptly not far from me. I fear the worst. It was too much to hope for them to miss my boot lying there.
“She probably ditched the other one, too. She’s faster now.”
“Until a nail comes through her foot.”
They begin running again, then one stops a mere five feet from me. I’ve circled the ladder and am under the pier, water up to my chin. I hear his heavy steps above me and imagine him looking over to check the ladder. Momentarily removing my hands, I cling to the wood by virtue of my one good foot a safe distance under the murky liquid. Otherwise, I’d have to tread water and he’d hear that.
Holding my breath, I wait him out.
At a moment like this, I should be totally focused on the danger at hand, right? So of course this is when the Burn Plunge pops into my mind. The Venice Beach dare has been trending in social hypermedia for the last month, a combination of absinthe-fueled bravery and pure idiocy. Someone supposedly figured out that roughly sixty seconds is the most one can remain in this toxic bay without suffering burning skin—hence the name. And of course, young drunk idiots have been daring each other to push the limits.
I’m now one of those idiots, but sadly, I’m completely sober. My friend Luke would be aghast at my plight.
The sound of the Retriever’s labored breathing and the dull bass of the gothstep music from the nearby club mute my own breaths, which I’m making as shallow and silent as possible. I’m distracted by a sound in the woodwork near me, under the pier. I glance up to see a giant rat, his glowing eyes looking down at me. At a moment like this, only pure instinct can differentiate between two terrible fates. I close my eyes tightly, as if that will remove the rodent from the equation—something about a box and a cat.
The Retriever apparently heard the noise as well, because it sounds like he’s dropping to his knees for a look. Meanwhile, the cramp in my good foot is starting to match the ache in my bad one, and I have no clue how many seconds I’ve been in this chemical gumbo. I hear the rat moving again, scrambling toward the top of the ladder. All I can do is close my eyes tighter and hope that helps.
Then a loud shriek pierces the night.
“Get away!” shouts a voice almost too high-pitched to be a Retriever’s. I hear a tremendous bang that chills me to the bone. It echoes around the surrounding buildings and is followed by a low mumble. “Goddamn beast.”
That’s the first gunshot I’ve ever heard in real life. Retrievers carry guns? They’ve been outlawed in the bubble for a while now, and I’ve only seen cops openly carrying them. It makes sense that Protectorate agents would have them, too, so I don’t know why I’m surprised.
The heavy boots stomp way down the pier. I grab the ladder with both hands and lift myself out of the soup, careful to keep my head from the underside of the walkway. When the footsteps fade into the distance, I circle the ladder to rise and take a cautious look around.
Nobody. Just a quiet, stinky night in Venice Beach, and a huge rat lying on his side on the pier, his head blown to bits. If guns can do that kind of damage, I definitely never want to find myself on the business end of one.
Now what? I can’t go back to Special Rejects. The club is where the Retrievers found me, so they might go back to look again. I don’t even know how they could possibly know where I was tonight. I look at the one-inch scar on my left wrist and wonder for the umpteenth time if Central Protectorate has started tracking everyone 24/7.
I gently explore my ankles with my fingers, pressing and prodding to see which parts hurt. I don’t think anything is broken, though I’m not a damn nurse so I can’t know for sure. It’s already a little swollen, which can’t be good, and even hurts when I simply touch it.
No more sprinting for me tonight. That means I need to find a place to hide.
Just walking will be a struggle now. I inspect the boot culpable of sabotaging my escape and find a cracked heel. Since I can’t wear it, I remove the other boot and carry them both, scared to death I’ll step on something sharp in the darkness—or worse yet, something soft and alive.
Everything in Venice Beach was long ago abandoned, and most of the buildings are in various stages of falling apart. I begin to walk, choosing to stay behind the buildings lining what once was a boulevard before the oceans rose. The pier was constructed in a vain attempt to salvage the area, but decades later, it’s just a creepy spot for rebellious youth like me and my friends, slumming for the thrill of an unsanctioned night outside of the bubble.
Just a block from where I tripped, I’m surprised to spot an open door on a small shack haphazardly attached to the back of a building. I approach and try to look in, but it’s dark as hell. Once I engage my palmar and the skin of my palm starts glowing, I can see enough to know it was likely a storage room, ransacked over the years. But the door still works, and I can close it behind me. Best of all, there’s a metal table near the middle of the room for me to sit on, so the only rats I have to worry about would be any above me.
Entering tentatively, I double-check the door to make sure it opens from both sides, then close it and climb onto the table, gingerly stretching my bad leg out in front of me. Once I’m settled in, I touch the glowing circles on my palm to input Luke’s comm code. Of course the call goes straight to his audiobank.
“Hey, it’s Luke, but you already knew that. I can’t talk now, but you probably knew that as well. And surely you’ll know to leave a message.”
In the darkness, I don’t even bother holding my palm in front of me. It’s not like he could see me anyway. “It’s me.” Two words uttered and my voice is already trembling. “I know you’re on your big date, but I’m in even bigger trouble and need you. I’m being chased by Retrievers—yes, real Retrievers—and can’t run because I hurt my ankle. I’m hiding in a little room on the Venice Beach Pier near Special Rejects. Call me as soon as you can, because I’m scared and hurt and don’t know what to do.”
By the time I close the comm channel, I’m bawling my eyes out.
At least that’ll give me something to do while I wait for him to call back.
The South Lake Union tube station smells like urine and despair this evening. Then again, it does most fall evenings if the outdoor temperature reaches the nineties.
At least in New Seattle the heat is bearable, unlike in the bottom half of the continent. Not that I’ve ever been there, of course. Not once in my twenty-three years have I even been out of Cascadia.
A tubecar approaches, but it’s headed north to Lynnwood; I’m waiting for the one to Ballard, where my apartment is. I’m headed home after Military Reserve duty. I would have preferred to avoid the military altogether, but this is what the magistrate assigned me as “community service”: one night a week, and one full weekend a month.
The tubecar that pulls in is one of the newer models, the ones with the Faraday induction maglev systems. It’s cutting-edge stuff, but New Seattle—and the rest of Cascadia, for that matter—still uses wires and cables to get the electricity to the induction generators. The asshole Geniuses down in GLAD mastered wireless electricity years ago, but since they’re unwilling to share their precious wisdom, we’re stuck with trying to replicate their tech from scratch.
So far, no luck.
One day we’ll have it, though, if we just find a way to hack the Geniuses’ network infrastructure. Okay, we were taught as kids not to call them that, but we all do anyway. Maybe we’re just envious. After all, they evolved, while we stayed the same.
I hear a commotion and turn just in time to see a guy cutting ahead of a woman and her child in the line for the car.
“Tweeners to the back,” he says.
The woman obviously isn’t entirely Revertus, or she wouldn’t be here. They were pushed out of the city years ago by racists like this jerk. Her brow isn’t as large as a Revertus, and her neck not quite as extended. The child looks like her. Not fully Revertus, but definitely not fully Homo Sapiens, either. Classic Tweeners.
“Hey!” she complains in vain. The guy doesn’t budge.
Racists come in all shapes and sizes. This one happens to be well-dressed and carrying a briefcase.
“That little devil should be in a zoo,” he says with a smug sneer, and I feel my blood pressure rising. Even the term De-Vol isn’t racist enough, he’s using the uglier pejorative.
When the doors open, the already packed tubecar fills quickly. The douchebag is the last person to squeeze in, leaving the woman and child standing on the platform. He turns to her as the beeping warns the doors are about to close and makes the insulting children’s “De-Vol face” taunt, half-closing his eyes and dropping his mouth open with his tongue hanging out. I’m already irritated enough, but when I see that I lose my shit.
I grab a carbon fiber trash bin and jam it between the doors just as they start to close, preventing them from shutting. The alarm sounds as I reach into the car and grab the jerk by his suit jacket and yank him out over the trash bin and onto the platform. He’s initially surprised to find himself on his ass, then he becomes angry and indignant.
Little does he know he can’t possibly match my own normal levels of anger and indignation. Nobody can.
He jumps to his feet and swings his briefcase, just missing my head. I throw a right cross the guy easily deflects, but he doesn’t realize that punch was a decoy until a second later, when the leg I hook behind him sweeps his feet out from under him. He comes crashing to the platform a second time, landing with a thud right in the middle of the station’s holographic infogram display.
Meanwhile, the tubecar’s alarm grows louder as several commuters wrestle to dislodge the trash bin so the doors can close.
I jump on the guy before he can get up, my fists flying as the infogram continues to display tubecar arrival and departure times on and around both of us. He raises his arms in a vain attempt to protect his douchebag face while blood pours from his nose. The alarm is blaring so loudly, I don’t even hear the approaching footsteps until they’re a few feet away, at which point I instantly recognize the sound of those boots.
“Police! Stand down!”
This is a drill I’m intimately familiar with. I back away from the guy I just pulverized, putting my hands together behind my head. One cop levels a pulse rifle at me while another slaps the varicuffs on my wrists. NSPD citycops are nothing if not efficient.
I know better than to struggle, because the cuffs tighten when they sense tension. Besides, the last thing I want is to get pulsed. I know from experience how much that shit hurts.
The cops take a statement from the bloody guy while I stand calmly waiting. Every time he looks in my direction, I grin. It pisses him off, which in turn makes my grin bigger. I’ll undoubtedly regret this behavior if the douche testifies against me, but right now the temptation is too hard to resist.
There are thirty magistrates across New Seattle—meaning the odds are thirty-to-one that Nerium Mizar would’ve drawn the night shift on this particular date. Am I lucky or what?
“Mr. Kendrick, we meet again.”
I was hoping to get a different one this time. Instead, I find myself looking up into Mizar’s stern, dour countenance. He’s pale and wiry, with a long face and a head full of curly white hair.
“This makes the”—the magistrate glances at the paperwork in front of him—“fifth time you’ve stood in this room, thrice in front of me personally. Despite my best efforts, your assault on the family name continues unabated.”
“I apologize, Your Honor. Again.” What else can I say? My family is none of your damn business?
“Save your apology for someone who believes you capable of contrition. Do you know why you are appearing in my courtroom this time?”
“I do, Your Honor.”
“Let’s get to it, then. Xander Benjamin Kendrick, you have again been charged with Level 2 Assault Resulting in Bodily Harm. How do you plead?”
“Not guilty, Your Honor.”
I’ve read that before the Split, they allowed judicial advocates to do the talking for you at these proceedings. Now you don’t even get to talk to a J.A. until a week before trial.
“Upon your arrest, you admitted to two citycops that you repeatedly assaulted a man until he was battered and bleeding, and that you—and this is a direct quote—’thoroughly enjoyed it.’”
“I did, Your Honor. Those were indeed my exact words.”
“And yet you want to plead not guilty. Please enlighten me as to how this works in your fevered brain, Mr. Kendrick.”
“I assaulted that man because he was a racist prick who deserved it, Your Honor. The tube station’s security video will prove me correct.”
Mizar exhales a long, hard breath, then closes his eyes and drops his chin, slowly shaking his head. When he faces me again, he’s once more all business.
“You’ve been through this enough to know physical violence of any type is not allowed between New Seattle citizens, regardless of provocation or other rationale.”
“But Your Honor—”
“Quiet!” Mizar slams his gavel on the desk hard enough to startle the citycops flanking me. “Enough!”
He takes a moment to compose himself before continuing in a more controlled tone. “Regardless of your famous and impressive lineage, Mr. Kendrick, I have grown weary of your ongoing presence in this room. You have brought enough shame upon your father’s good name. As is my prerogative as a city magistrate of New Seattle, I am going to offer you a choice between pleading guilty and accepting a sentence of two years of immuration in the Redmond Federal Penitentiary, or trial by your peers with a minimum sentence of five years if convicted. Choose your poison, son.”
I’m stunned. “With all due respect, Your Honor, two years seems excessi—”
“At the tender young age of twenty-three, this is already your fifth recorded assault charge, and I can’t imagine how many other incidents were overlooked by NSPD officers or magistrates glassy-eyed at being in the presence of the progeny of Cascadian royalty. I, however, will not allow you to continue to assault your fellow citizens.”
I have nothing to say, but I refuse to hang my head in front of this man. Instead, I look directly at him, my insides numb.
“Your father is likely rolling in his grave at this very moment, and God knows what your poor mother thinks of you at this point. Your continued show of disrespect and disgrace ends now. You have twenty-four hours to consider my offer, and I would urge you to do so carefully.”
“Yes, Your Honor.”
“Dismissed!” The gavel comes down again and would likely have splintered if it had been made of actual wood. “Get this man out of my sight.”
The last thing I see as I’m led out of the courtroom is the famous portrait of my father that hangs in every government building in town. He’s in a dark blue collarless suit, his handsome face looking both wise and compassionate.
Below the picture is the standard inscription I’ve read a thousand times:
Crispus Napoleon Kendrick
First Prime Minister of Cascadia