Redaction: Dark Hope, chapter 5, unedited

UPDATE: Redaction: Dark Hope is at the editors and should be back mid-December. I hope to go live with the book around the 20th and, like before, I’ll have it priced at 99cents for a week. My Christmas present to you:-)

Chapter Five

With his tongue caught between his teeth, Manny Saldana cut off one perfect

round of tomato. One-quarter inch thick, not a sliver more or less. He whistled softly. It

was good to be cooking again. Red juice oozed across the metal prep table before being

absorbed by a towel. The overhead LED bulbs dimmed for a moment then brightened.

The council meeting sprang to life on the TV monitor above the buffet area.

“I wish someone competent would take charge of the electrical grid.” Chef Bonnie

Jardin glared at the Christmas lights strung across the silver-lined ceiling. Strands of

black hair escaped her bun and fluttered in the purring table fan. “Now that we’re starting

to receive fresh produce, I really must have reliable ovens.”

“We haven’t had an outage that lasted more than a few minutes in nearly a month.”

Using the side of his knife as a spatula, Manny scooped up the slices and added them to

the colander. A white ramekin caught the juice and the seeds. Precious seeds. One white

oval lay on the table. He poked it with his index finger until it stuck then scraped it into

Folding her arms over her bright-white chef’s jacket, Bonnie harrumphed. “We

shouldn’t be having any at this point. Aren’t these people receiving training?”

“I’m sure they are.” He dusted his fingers on the damp washcloth. One thousand

twenty-two slices of tomatoes. Everyone got one at dinner tonight. It was a good start,

especially when coupled with the potatoes that would soon arrive. He licked his lips.

Bonnie’s rubber soled shoes squeaked on the damp stone floor. She paused by his

side and inspected the silver prep tray holding the remaining slices. “I suppose I can’t

expect everyone to learn the basics as quickly as you, Emmanuel.”

Manny flinched at his proper name. He wished she stopped calling him that. It

reminded him too much of his mother, too much of all he’d lost. He sniffed back his tears.

Time to begin putting that behind him. Life was good in the caves. His parents, brothers,

sisters and friends wouldn’t want him to dwell on the fact that he brought home the

Redaction that had killed them. They’d want him to be happy.

And maybe… He cleaned the seeds out of the slices in the colander and added

them to the prep bin. Maybe he deserved a little happiness. After all, he had saved his

younger brother and sister and several neighbors.

That had to count for something.

Reaching to the metal shelves above his prep area, he retrieved the salt and pepper.

Measuring out only a quarter-sized amount in his palm, he sprinkled it on the vegetables,

making sure to get every grain off his hands.

“Nicely done. And not a bit wasted.”

No, nothing wasted. They couldn’t afford it. Not until the greenhouses started

producing more. And speaking of gardens… “My basil is finally growing. I could harvest

some and give the tomatoes a little extra flavor.”

Bonnie’s pink lips nearly disappeared as they thinned.

Fear lodged in his throat. He swallowed hard. What rule had he broken now?

“Now, Emmanuel, I know you mean well but these people have very simple

tastes.” She waved her hand at the rows of brown Meals-Ready-to-Eat pouches waiting to

be served for dinner. “We can’t start introducing complex flavors to a palate accustomed

He shifted his weight from foot to foot. He’d deliberately grown the herb garden to

add flavor to everyone’s meals. “I just thought–”

“Of course, your intentions are good.” She patted his arm. “And I’m envious of the

green thumb most of your people seem to have.”

He stiffened. His people? He eyed his tan skin. Really? At the end of the world,

some folks still saw him as a dumb Mexican?

“Oh, dear.” She raised her hand to her lips. “I didn’t mean to insult your heritage.

I guess the little green-eyed monster got the better of me.” Leaning in close to him, she

lowered her voice. “I can’t grow anything. In fact, I’ve been known to kill plastic plants.”

The tension knotting his shoulders eased but he still felt a twinge in his gut. Maybe

he’d been a tad too sensitive about his heritage. Bonnie was always talking about those

people and that kind. Maybe it was because English wasn’t her first language. He used the

“You’re such a good boy, Emmanuel.” Bonnie patted his arm.

Boy? Sure he might only be seventeen, but he was a man. He scratched a stuck-on

leaf off the stainless-steel countertop. Hell, he didn’t think there were any children in the

whole mine network. Not after everything they’d seen, heard, and lived through.

“If I had a son, I’d want him to be just like you.” After a quick squeeze, she

released him and straightened her chef’s coat.

Okay, maybe he was being Mr. Sensitive. No one would insult a person in one

breath then liken him to her own child in the next, would she?

“Why don’t I clean up here while you go check on those potatoes.” When she

looked down at the countertop, she wrinkled her nose. “The farmers should have been at

Manny glanced at the surface. Not a smear of juice or a stray seed in sight. “Okay.

Anything to get away. Leaving the rag on the counter, he fumbled with the knot

securing his apron. Sometimes her cleaning OCD set his teeth on edge. He resisted the

urge to touch the stoves and ovens, smearing them with his fingerprints as he passed.

Folding the fabric into a neat square, he set it on the table near the buffet separating the

He had to remember that. Besides, he had been a bit of a clean freak after his folks

had died. Especially after learning the Redaction virus had lived on surfaces for over a

week. Of course, the niños had cured him of that pretty quick. He couldn’t keep a clean

house with four young children underfoot.

Shaking off his thoughts, Manny followed the wall of ovens to the end. He

rounded the serving line and stepped into the dining area. Metal folding chairs and tables

filled the fifty-foot cavern. In the front, airplane wings had been welded together to form

a stage. Behind it hung a sheet of white canvas that acted as a screen for the projector

caged in a repurposed pet carrier hanging from the ceiling.

After he cleaned up tonight’s meal, he’d have to get rid of the tables for movie

time. He hoped the feature was something other than giant radioactive bugs. He could

do without the nightmares. Of course, only a few had thought to pack movies during the

evacuation and anything was better than cutesy cartoons.

Threading a path between the tables, he made his way to the shed tucked in the

back corner. Hammer indentations and soot marked where the soldiers had torn the plane

apart to be repurposed in the mines. He shivered in a draft. They were dead now. Many

dying on the job, leaving him to find them in the morning.

Sometimes, he could swear he heard them coughing. His arms twitched. He shook

them out. That was over and done now. The last one had died ten days ago. So why could

he see one propped in the corner or another sprawled across the threshold of the storage

Stop it! He liked his job. Liked cooking. Ghosts didn’t exist. He reached for the

lock on the airplane door and paused. The hasp wasn’t fully seated in the padlock. Holy

shit. Had he forgotten to lock it? Sweat bubbled on his upper lip. He glanced toward the

Bonnie couldn’t see him from the kitchen. But that didn’t mean she hadn’t checked

After the thefts of tomatoes and two cases of MREs, they’d been extra careful. He

twisted his wrist then lifted the lock free. Guess she hadn’t checked it this morning or she

would have reamed him a new one. She was more paranoid about the lock than he was.

Manny opened the door and reached around the metal wall. With a flick of a

switch, light flooded the ten-by-twenty-foot storage room. He scanned the nearly empty

room. Sitting by the door, tomatoes filled two fabric grocery bags. A stray leaf lay beside

them. Empty MRE boxes were stacked in neat towers by a galvanized conveyor table.

The rollers waited for potatoes and other goodies to come up the conveyor belt that

He grabbed the Geiger counter off its hook and switched it on. It blipped once then

remained silent. The lights flickered again. Bonnie really shouldn’t complain so much.

Everyone was doing his best. Sure, some did better than others, but most at least tried.

They all knew the stakes: Life or death.

The readout ticked up to seven as he walked deeper into the room. His heart leapt

with every beep. Still okay. It was in milli-something or other. And it took lots of milli-

He took another step, heading for the triple-paned windows separating the

storeroom from the lead-lined conveyor belt. The readout jumped a hundred.

What the fuck? He thumped it against the heel of his hand. It leapt another two

hundred. The hair on the back of his neck rose. Grit crunched under his heel. Had the

Manny glanced down, lowering the Geiger counter. The readout purred until it

reached one thousand seventy-two. His mouth dried.

Jesus! That would make him sick. He back-pedaled toward the door. His left foot

shot out from under him. His right knee buckled. He dropped to the floor in a half split.

Pain zipped up his thigh. His teeth clicked together, the impact traveled up his spine until

he felt sure his brain hit the top of his skull.

The Geiger counter slipped from his hand. The numbers continued to climb. Two

He had to get out of here. Now! His nails dug into stone, bent under his weight

and ripped. He ignored the burn and scrambled backward. The conveyor must have been

breached. Radiation was getting inside.

Flipping over, he sprang to his feet and jumped the two feet to the door. He swung

for the doorknob. Missed. The counter continued to spiral higher, deleting days of his life

with each tick. He tried for the handle again.

Over the panic drumming in his ear, he heard the window to the conveyor slide open. He turned.

His fingers closed around the knob just as a hand reached through the opening.

About Linda Andrews

Linda Andrews lives with her husband and three children in Phoenix, Arizona. When she announced to her family that her paranormal romance was to be published, her sister pronounce: "What else would she write? She’s never been normal." All kidding aside, writing has become a surprising passion. So just how did a scientist start to write paranormal romances? What other option is there when you’re married to romantic man and live in a haunted house? If you’ve enjoyed her stories or want to share your own paranormal experience feel free to email the author at She’d love to hear from you.
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