I was tasked to write a short romance story with the prompt “As she stood there, she felt it. That weird burning coursing through her veins. Except this time it was stronger.”
What came out was a sci-fi story with a heroine trying to capture a man she believes to be a threat to her world. Things are never as they seem.
The order from Central clanged through every cell in her body, but June Hill didn’t pause. Interceptors ripped back through the cityscape, obeying without question. Their requisite swing-lines caught to the eaves and gutters of skyscrapers, tugging the rest in her squad back to headquarters. June stood perched upon the ledge of an insurance company sign.
One step and a thousand-foot fall awaited her, but that didn’t concern June. Staring at the other Interceptors wafting through the breeze like spiders on their webs, a strange burning sensation prickled through her.
Return as ordered.
Cease chasing your prey.
She sneered at the idea and fired her launcher into the air. It caught on the railing of a passing blimp, Interceptor Hill kicking off into the red-gray sky.
“What are you doing?” It wasn’t the ever-present voice that whispered in her brain and not her ear, but her Second LT and closest friend Allie.
“I am catching this traitor and presenting him to the council,” June said. For two years she’d chased the man behind the Harvest Day massacre. She knew his habits, his favorite foods, his hair part. She even knew how he preferred to sleep, on his side with a pillow between his legs. Gavin Wyle haunted her every waking thought…and her dreaming ones as well.
“Damn it,” June cursed, missing the apex of her swing. She retracted her launcher too slowly, cutting down her speed. The necessary fall before another securing cord could be spent wasn’t terrifying. Hanging in mid-air, gazing upon the spectacle of the gleaming city on the hill, June felt only calm. It was the fear of losing him again that snapped her to rage.
“You’ve been ordered back,” Allie pressed.
“I can see him,” June responded, sighting the target attempting to dart through the crowds. He’d covered his head in a man’s scarf, the triangular colors blending to create the illusion of speed as he ran. The disguise didn’t matter. She knew those wide shoulders, the trim cut of his waist always in the worker-class slacks instead of the silk robes he was born into.
Wide hands shoved the market place denizens to the side. They’d visited her last night. His right hand had cracked open her bedroom window. She’d sat immobilized in bed, glaring in fear at the strong fingers gliding up her blanket. A dirty ring of gold had caught on the ripped seams, but he couldn’t stop. The hand had caressed over her knee, up her trembling thigh, and dug into her shoulder to pull her closer.
She’d woken in a start, flinging the files they had on Wyle to the floor. The single image of his right hand wrapped around a lever until the veins bulged had wound up on top.
“I get that you’re obsessed with him,” Allie said in her ear.
“I am not obsessed!” June thundered. “My concern is with justice and peace. We can have neither as long as that monster walks the streets.”
“Mm-hm,” Allie petulantly answered. “Still, you should obey the leaders, Hill. You don’t want to repeat last winter. Even if he does have a face worth obsessing over.”
Last winter was… There! Wyle ducked into a back road with no exit. She had him. “I’m going in,” June said.
She killed the feed in her ear. The burning shifted from her brain down her spine, but she ignored it. Hurling herself high into the air above the house Wyle ducked into, she unbuckled her harness and plummeted for the roof. Wind whistled in her ear, the rising velocity trying to tug her cheeks back, but she hardened her face and extended her arms.
Pushing a button, a silver ball landed in her palm. June wrenched her hands back for leverage and threw. The ball broke apart, its nodes falling in a perfect circle below her. They lit up a second before exploding all at once. In a rain of plaster and cement, June twisted her body around and landed on her feet.
“You’re under arrest!” she shouted, her weapon pointed at the man in the scarf.
He tugged off the fabric revealing mesmerizing diamond eyes. People whispered how he used them to hypnotize perfectly staid citizens to do his bidding. But June knew it was his money that did the real talking.
“That was quite the entrance, Interceptor,” Gavin Wyle said. In defiance of the law, he wore a thick beard. The sight of his jaw covered in such abundant black hair made her stomach turn. And palms shake.
“You’re worth it, Wyle,” June tried to command with a biting quip, but he wasn’t bending to his knees. He wasn’t quaking in terror at what awaited him in the tower. What was she missing?
Wyle brushed back his unruly hair, the waves catching between his strong fingers. “Really? I didn’t realize we were on such intimate terms, Interceptor.”
“That isn’t what I… Ugh! How has no one shot you yet?”
He curled his thumb and forefinger over his chin, emphasizing the forbidden beard. With the edge of his tongue, Wyle drew attention to his bottom lip practically glistening above the black forest. “I haven’t a clue,” he said, laughing at her. “You’ve studied me, Hill. Watched me. Filmed me from afar. And any late-night pleasure you may have taken from that is your own sin to cast.”
A snarl rose through June. Sick of the games, she moved to take a step forward to bind him properly, and her body locked in place. What?
“Are you just noticing the entrapment field?”
“What have you and your band of delinquents done?” she shouted, her heartbeat pounding in her ears. All the calm they’d trained in her, the hours spent standing guard to steady her body washed away. If she couldn’t move, he could do anything he wanted.
Wyle snickered, his hand extending for her. Just like in the dream. She tried to flinch inward, to see if she could rip herself free from this field.
You want him to touch you. To brush those fingers you’ve stared at for days across the nape of your neck. To pull your obstinate lips to his deadly ones, and kiss you.
The tip of his finger landed on the barrel of her blaster, and he pushed it down. Wyle gave no more hint he would move closer, his silver diamond eyes homing on her. “I have done nothing. You’re trapped in this hellish limbo at the mercy of your overlords.”
“No.” She tried to shake her head, but only her jaw could slide to the side.
“The entire district is lined with them, traps to keep any Interceptors from prying into the elite’s dirty business. Last thing an overlord wants is the police force they created and honed to a deadly edge to turn on them.”
“That’s a lie!”
Wyle chuckled at her distress, his shaggy hair wafting in the dank air. This was an anarchist trap. Only they would find perverse pleasure in stripping a person of their basic motor functions. She’d never hated him and his haunting eyes more.
They flitted across her body, showing no concern for the badges of the Interceptor. Instead they took measure of her bust and curve of her thighs. That should increase the rage boiling inside, but a deeper throb she couldn’t explain began.
June winced, a headache crawling across her cerebellum. It felt like the teeth of a needle-nose plier pinched into the top of her brain and tugged on a section. Wyle’s curiosity shifted.
“Tell me, Interceptor, what do you know of the massacre you blame me for?”
“The facts blame you, not I!”
Wyle narrowed his steel eyes, his wide chin tipping to the side. “Are you certain?”
She was there. She watched, helpless in the stampeding crowd as Wyle stood upon the action block and opened fire into the fleeing innocents.
Her mind glitched. The truth she’d clung to like a ratty safety blanket for two years shifted and the memory of Wyle’s body—swathed in the robes of the anarchists—twitched. Black filled the void, a faceless helmet, a flying harness, an armament only requisitioned to the Interceptors fired into the crowd.
As she stood there, she felt it. That weird burning coursing through her veins. Except this time it was stronger. It ripped apart her body, the pain fighting against the paralyzing ray until she tipped her head back to scream.
The agony only lasted a second, maybe two, but it felt a lifetime. A volcano erupted inside her skull, the lava burning away the edges of the memory she dredged up. If she tried to touch the idea of the man in black, of anyone but Wyle murdering civilians, it seared her.
It shook her to find, instead of a leering joy from her pain, concern in those diamond eyes. Wyle reached for her. June tried to jerk away, but whatever momentary break she caused inside the field didn’t happen again.
“You’re not like them, are you?” Wyle said. He shifted his hand, a tiny screwdriver falling out of his sleeve and into his palm. What was he doing?
“The memories they want gone don’t vanish. They sit in your gut, waiting for an opportunity, perhaps in your sleep to tell you the truth. Their lies, and there are so many, don’t cling to you.”
“I don’t…” she gulped, fear buzzing in her brain. How did he know that? She never told anyone, not even Allie.
“Let me help you,” Wyle said.
He cuffed her ear and before June could process what was happening, he plunged the tiny screwdriver into her head. Ice burst apart her brain, frozen shards lightning through her gray matter to fight off the fires in her memories.
“By freeing you,” he said.
Pain plunged down her spine, setting every nerve on fire. But the ice collapsed it, soothed it away. For the first time in her life, June could think without fearing the fire would wipe it away.
Cold dripped from her ear and she reached up to catch it. Liquid silver glittered on her finger when she realized she’d moved her hand. Without any mental input, her training kicked in. June slammed her palm around Wyle’s throat and dashed forward until his back slammed into the wall. Dust rained from her blast in the ceiling, the flecks catching the light in a golden sheen as she held him.
But she didn’t clamp down. She didn’t tell him his life was over, and cuff him. Memories she’d had cemented in stone began to crumble to ash. The massacre wasn’t the rebels, they didn’t even exist then. A scuffle broke out and an Interceptor solved it by murdering a hundred people. Then the rebels came into being, Interceptors sent by the thousands to flush out these ghosts invented to hide the truth.
Silver eyes flashing at her from across the room. She was trained to stand for days without so much as shifting. But every time that handsome noble stared, her cheeks turned red.
“You…” June stuttered, the breath kicked from her body.
Gavin brushed the back of his hand against her cheek. “Do you remember the garden?”
It was beyond unseemly. He was a man of the elite and she a faceless guard amongst hundreds. But he slipped a note into her glove, invited her for a midnight rendezvous. She thought it a trap, certain they were testing her resolve. But she went anyway.
“You gave me a flower. A red one with…ruffles?”
He tugged on her hair, releasing the shorter locks from the bun. As the ends skimmed against her jaw, she remembered that night under the waterfall.
Gavin hurrying her away from the city. A secret place he swore no one would see them. Where they could be more. June couldn’t settle her nerves to save her life. She’d fly through the air a thousand feet from death without question. But standing upon the rose petal ground watching the most handsome man she’d ever known beckon her to his side, her resolve melted.
He drew a single finger against her palm, swerving it over her lifelines. Their first touch and a certain death sentence if caught. June ceased fearing the future in that moment and only wanted to live for the present.
“Gavin?” she gasped. Taking his right hand, she flipped it over and swept her finger over his palm. The same as he had their first night together. A night and two more they burned from her mind.
Tears rose in his diamond eyes. “I never gave up hope that one day you’d return. You’d fight it.”
“Why did you leave me for them to purge you away? Why didn’t you come for me?”
“Because if I did, and I missed, they’d have killed you without question. Every day I’ve been more terrified of seeing your head over the gate than my own decorating it.”
Cupping his palms to the nape of her neck, Gavin’s wide hands reached until he could sweep his thumbs over June’s cheeks. Suddenly, he tugged her to him. His kiss burst through her like the scent of cherry blossoms traveling in a hurricane. Sweet promises with the power of a god. June clung to him, holding his waist in her hands. A new burn arced through her. One that ignited an ache she almost forgot except for in the dark of the night when she craved that wide hand caressing the whole of her body.
Gavin tugged her closer, resting his forehead against hers. “Later, I will welcome you into the anarchists. No more burning. No more answering to the unseen voice.”
There was no going back to what she’d been. Even if she had any wish to abandon him again, they’d kill her on the spot for breaking free.
June smiled at the idea. “And now?”
“Now…” He ripped off the buckles on her shirt, casting the badges to the dirt, and freeing her until her body was pure and naked. Taking her in his arms, Gavin said, “We remember why we’re alive.”