“Sir. Mr. Lee.”
A strong hand shook Brantlee Neville’s shoulder. He blinked awake and swiped at the drool crusting his chin. Pain shot up his neck from sleeping sitting up. “Eh? What?”
The train engines hummed in Lee’s ears like a lullaby.
He’d fallen asleep. Again. Shaking the fatigue from his head, Lee glanced up.
A man in a black tunic stared at the shiny book in his hand. Piercing blue eyes pinned Lee to his seat. “Do you know where your caregiver is, Mr. Lee?”
Sweat blossomed under Lee’s armpits. No point in denying he’d been in the Dark Hope hospital. The damn white shirt and trousers gave him away. If he’d known, he would have stolen another color. He scraped a hand down his face and winced at the tenderness.
“Mr. Lee?” Blue eyes narrowed. “Do you know where your caregiver is?”
Lee groped inside his head for a believable lie. His toes curled inside his slippers. “I—I just woke up.”
The man didn’t go away.
Bastard. Why did these Dark Hopians have to be so clever? Why did they get blessed with so much plenty while he, a descendant of the righteous Gavin Neville, lived little better than an animal? Why? Why? Why? His fingernails dug into the arm rests. Pain throbbed in his muscles from the movement and he sucked in air.
Blue eyes aimed his book at the band on Lee’s wrist. A red bar of light swept over the symbols on the white band. Blue eyes’ thick brows met in a vee over his nose. “That band is for Sam Lee. Samantha Lee.”
“My granddaughter.” Lee slapped his hand over the ID bracelet. His heart slammed against his chest, desperate to escape and hide under a chair. What else did that fancy book say? Did they know he was a descendant of Gavin Neville? The most hated man in Dark Hope.
Would they kill Lee if they found out?
Blue Eyes tapped a few of the glowing buttons on his book. His features softened. “Leukemia, and so young. Five years old.”
“Nearly six.” The words scratched Lee’s throat raw. His grandbaby, the last of his family line, the last of his family. So desperately sick, he’d defied his status, his traditions and forsook his legacy to take a chance to save her.
And, in so doing, he’d placed her almost in as much danger as her corpse belly sickness. ‘Death to the Nevilles’ still rung in his ear.
If the folks in Dark Hope ever found out, they might take their wrath out on his innocent granddaughter.
Lee’s attention snapped to the man in black. “Is she well?”
The man smiled. “She’s responding to treatment and should be operated on either tomorrow or the day after.”
Nodding, Lee glanced at the black book. The screen fell dark. Damn it. Why couldn’t something go his way? Why couldn’t the words stay visible for a little longer, until he could read them. “Is she asking for me?”
Speaking? Telling the family’s secrets? Innocently placing herself in danger?
“No, she’s still in the induced coma.”
“Thank God.” He sagged in his chair, clutched his head between his palms. “Thank God.”
He still had time. Time to retrieve his gold and find safe place for them to live.
“And what about you, Mr. Lee?”
“Just Lee.” He spread out his hands, a gesture he’d learned from his stage time in his hometown of Sanctuary. “I’m a simple man, no fancy titles for me.”
Blue Eyes’ fingers danced over the book and the screen flickered to life. “You’ve been pretty beat up yourself. Do you want me to call and nurse to check your injuries?”
“Nah, I’ll be fine.” Leave me alone.
The man didn’t budge. “Abaddon welcoming committee?”
“Yeah.” Bastards had cold-cocked Lee outside the clinic, then tortured him for gold. He’d get his gold back and maybe a measure of revenge. Maybe not. He needed the money to start a new life far, far away from Dark Hope.
Sammy deserved a chance at life.
Reaching in his pocket, Blue Eyes pulled out a white card. “If you need help relocating, these folks might be able to help.”
Lee’s fingers closed around the stiff paper. Fancy script scrolled across the surface. He mouthed the words, tested them before speaking. “Divergent Society?”
“You can read?” The man stepped back.
“Yep.” He was a damn fine actor and had been a Director of his people before he’d left. He’d been someone important. Once. A lifetime ago.
“Then you’ll definitely get help from the DS, maybe even write your own terms for relocation. What other skills do you have?”
“The usual I expect.” Nosy people. His business was his business. Lee pushed to his feet. Heat flared in his groin as his pants tugged on the burns on his privates. He seived cold air through his teeth.
“Perhaps you should remain seated.”
Shaking his head, Lee shuffled forward. “I’ve just got to…”
His hand hovered over his crotch, in what he hoped was plain language.
Blue Eyes stepped back. “End of the car. Right hand door.”
“Much obliged.” Lee crept down the aisle.
In the middle of the car, a mother and father in coarse clothing clustered around a pale girl.
A ruddy-cheeked male fiddled with a bag of clear fluids swinging from the overhead compartment. He murmured to the girl as his fingers held her bony wrist.
Had they been here when he dozed off? And what happened to the other family?
“She has leukemia too.” Directly behind Lee, Blue Eyes spoke.
Lee’s skin nearly tore off his body. Christ Almighty! would the man never leave him alone? “I can piss by myself.”
“Of course. Of course. It’s just that Outlanders don’t normally travel unescorted on the Mag-Lev and you are injured.”
Swearing under his breath, Lee steadied himself on a chair back. “Broke some rules, did I?”
“Not rules so much as precautions.”
He knew what that meant. Dark Hope wanted to keep Outlanders out. Stumbling the last few steps, he grabbed hold of the door and slid it open.
“I’ll have lunch brought round to your chair. You should have time to eat it before we reach Abaddon.”
“Great.” Staggering across the threshold, Lee sagged against the wall, slammed and locked the door. His head lolled back and he held his breath.
After a few seconds, Blue Eyes’ footsteps moved away.
Lee reached inside his pocket. His fingers closed around the warm plastic medicine bottles. Gripping the lid in his mouth, he opened the container. Five pills pinged off the white linoleum.
Dropping to his knees, he dabbed his finger on his tongue, picked up the pills, and swallowed them. Bitterness coated his mouth. Gah. For all their advances, Dark Hopians still hadn’t made medicine taste good. He held his hand under the faucet, let the tepid water flow around his fingers before cupping water into his mouth.
His haggard reflection stared at him. Bags under his eyes, stripes of dried blood on his wide cheeks, and his gray streaked hair stood up in the back. Not bad for a man who’d been tortured for days in Abaddon. Still, he looked a hell of a lot older than nearly fifty. He looked older than the oldest Dark Hopian he’d seen, and she must have been pushing seventy.
Washing his face, he avoided the scabs before smoothing back his hair. What must it be like to not have to take a final bow? To know that at fifty, your life wasn’t forfeit in a public throat cutting ceremony. You heirs need not kill you to ensure their future.
Did these Dark Hopians have any idea how lucky they were?
Finishing up, he stumbled to the clean commode clinging to the wall opposite the sink. Blood and clear liquid oozed from his burnt privates as he eased the wound away from his trousers.
The train hummed at a lower pitch.
Were they slowing? His stomach growled. He’d take his lunch with him. No way would he let it go to waste.
He reached for the ointment in his pocket when footsteps sounded outside the door.
“What’s going on? Why are we stopping?” Blue Eyes’ muffled voice drifted through the thin door. “We’re at least a hundred kilometers away from Abaddon.”
Lee searched his memory to identify the second speaker. Unknown. Just how many people were on the train? And why did it seem as if there were less than before?
“Do you think they know about the guns?” Blue Eye’s voice broke over the words.
Lee sat up straighter. Guns? He could use one or two when he retrieved his property.
“We’re you put them?”
Yes. Where? The train stopped and Lee braced one hand against the wall to keep from pitching forward.
“Usual spot.” Blue Eyes cleared his throat. “Maybe we should move them.”
“We’ll have to hurry. The old man is in such a hurry, he’s boarding while we’re moving.”
Their footsteps receded to the right.
Shit. Lee squirted the goo into his palm before slathering it on his burns. That’ll have to do. He needed those guns.
Tying his pants drawstring, he walked to the door. The ointment slicked across the door knob as he opened it. He cleaned his hands on his trousers as he hustled down the length of the railcar.
Maybe he should pick up more than two guns. The weapons were liable to be advanced and certainly worth something to someone. His store of gold would only go so far, and hopefully Sammy had a long life ahead of her. Maybe a dozen would help see her through, give her a dowry.
An air lock opened and closed in front of him. Two groups filled his car. One on each end. He nodded and grit his teeth. His granddaughter was worth the pain. He entered the next car just as his quarry left it.
Good, he hadn’t lost them.
Outlanders snoozed in the nearly empty car. A couple holding hands in the front row. A pregnant woman in the third. A family of five—Mom, Dad and three sisters in the middle.
A minder in spotless Dark Hope green stared at him as he passed.
Lee pointed to himself then forward with Blue Eyes walked.
The minder arched her perfectly tweezed eyebrow.
Who cared if she didn’t believe him? He was exiting at the next stop. And he’d do it with an edge over his enemies. He shoved through the next air lock and froze.
Ten men formed an arc in front of him. Each aimed the shiny barrel of their weapon at him.
An old man with close cropped gray hair stepped forward. “On your knees Neville, or we’ll shoot you where you stand.”