Post-apocalyptic Fantasy/90,925 words

An Ice Era Chronicle (Book 1)

In a dystopian future, an assassin must either choose to fulfill a final contract, or keep the love of her life alive.

Yearning for a normal life, assassin Karmen-Marie has had enough. Enough of surviving contracted hits, and enough of the post-apocalyptic world. Forced to take one last job, Karma sets out across the frozen landscape of Earth.

Rea MacBain's job is to ensure the safety of Earth's precious few water purification plants. He believes his abusive past must stay buried under the snow that encases his domain.

A single bullet will send Karma and Rea in a direction they’d never expected. Ice cold assassin's blood drives the woman sent to kill him, yet it ignites the fire which thaws Rea's heart.


Other Books by C.M.



Excerpt

Place: Old United States of America, New York City

Time: 1:05 a.m. Ice Year 1

 

Blood splattered on his ice-coated pack of playing cards.

Freeing the ace of hearts, Keith glared at his blindfolded captive while he wiped off the card. When the deck was clean, he set the pack down between the neat row of different-sized knives and his old clock receiver. The time blinked at him: 1:05 a.m. He leaned his hip against the stainless-steel table as he eyed the man who was tied to the chair in the middle of the stark room.

The prisoner flexed in his seat in fear and pain. Sweat trickled down the side of his face. Keith considered the blindfold. The eyes never lied. He might remove the cloth once they got started again. Not really interested in torture today, he flipped on his radio.

While listening to the only radio station available, he picked up his favorite knife—the one with the jagged hook on the end.

“Welcome to CNN-Fox News United, Full Spectrum. This is Ethan Robinson, and this is your Eye on Ice. It is currently five minutes past one,” the radio announcer began in a monotone voice. “The United Nations announced today all government officials would like to celebrate Ice Year One or I.Y.1.”

“What a…” Keith paused. “What is the word… stupider?” Keith muttered to the man, who was gagged.

He didn’t expect an answer. His prisoner was choking on the cloth shoved into his mouth. Keith reached for a whetstone and focused on sharpening his knife to a razor-fine edge.

“Scientists have announced the beginning of a new era. They are urging all citizens who have not found safe underground homes to continue to move south. The weather along the Equator continues to be a stable fifty degrees. In other news today, the Canadian Prime Minister announced this day to be a holiday for all former United States citizens. Our new leader has high hopes for smoothly joining the U.S.A., Canada, and Mexico during these hardships. After much political debate, the United Nations has agreed on naming our new joint government The Confederate Territories of North America or C.T.O.N.A. Spirits remain high as a celebration of the holiday begins with…”

Keith got up. He switched off the radio in a huff. While shaking his head in disgust, he returned to circling the large man tied to the chair. The failed assassin flexed his muscles, testing the strength of the rope. Keith huffed at the stranger much like he’d done at the radio. The announcement of a new holiday annoyed him. He had too much work to do today to let any of his men off to celebrate this joke of an event. There were no celebrations anymore as far as he was concerned. People should just start accepting that. They should be concerned with making food and basic survival. Not drinking, clinking glasses, and saying “Thank God, I didn’t freeze to death when that meteor hit.”

Irritated, he sank his knife into the arm of his victim, who was now struggling. The blade sliced cleanly through the skin. To his credit, the prisoner didn’t make a sound.

Keith pulled the knife out roughly and smiled. His prisoner hadn’t made a sound yet, he corrected. By the time he was done, Keith would know everything he wanted to know. That’s how it always went.

The white metal door from the hall was thrown open and squealed on its hinges. The worn knob clattered against the wall with a loud bang. As his eyes grew wide at the interruption, Keith spun around to see who’d dare bother him. Fletcher, the young man he planned to train as his second in command, stepped past the threshold.

“Kazimir, I need to speak to you. It’s urgent.”

Furious, Keith shot Fletcher a look that caused the boy to wince as if he’d yelled. All of Fletcher’s tall, sinewy frame flowed with catlike grace into the room. His black skin, hair, and eyes looked like a shadow against the stark walls. When Fletcher saw the hard expression on Keith’s face, he took a step back.

The bloody knife he was holding sailed toward the table when Keith threw it. His face showed a menacing scowl at the unwanted intrusion.

“I told you not to call me that.” He pinned his second-in-command with a look sharper than any knife he owned and he spoke with a perfect American accent. “We changed our names to fit in. It’s Keith Davis. If you call me Kazimir Denisov again, I’ll ship you to Russia in pieces. I did not have to save you when we met at that mass of confusion on the Equator. You would do well to remember that.”

Keith went over to the table and shoved the radio back into the corner. He looked for the knife he’d thrown. When he couldn’t find his blade, his fingers grasped his machete instead.

“I’m sorry, Keith. I’ll remember in the future. Keith Davis.” Fletcher nodded. He repeated the name a second time, but an uncomfortable silence finally won out and settled between the two men.

Keith scratched at his beard as he regarded his would-be second. The boy looked and acted nothing like him. Maybe he was wasting his time trying to mold him into someone useful.

He took a deep breath and decided to let the boy be for now. Even though Fletcher was in his early twenties, until the kid started behaving like an adult, Keith was going to consider him a child. He wouldn’t explain again why they had to have new names since leaving the pandemonium on the Equator. If Fletcher still didn’t understand that they’d lose everything they’d built because they weren’t American, Canadian, or Mexican, then he’d never get it. Russia didn’t have the building resources the old U.S. did, and he wasn’t going to go back there to start all over. It would be terrible luck to be sent back.

Keith waited for Fletcher to tell him what was so urgent, but the boy’s eyes were riveted on the blood pooling on the floor. He also waited to see if Feliks would remember he was supposed to go by Fletcher now. Feliks was close enough to Fletcher, so he couldn’t understand why the kid couldn’t remember it.

“Fletcher!” he snapped out when his patience ran out. “What the hell do you want?”

“Right, your daughter’s here.”

The silence which followed that statement was larger than the room itself.

Finally, Keith found his voice.

“That is not possible.” Keith was so flabbergasted his fake American accent faltered. “You are mistaken.” He stopped himself from swearing in Russian and regarded Fletcher.

The boy was back to looking at the blood seeping from the cut in his detainee’s arm. His eyes were drinking in the sight like a thirsty traveler. Fletcher might one day be more than he could handle, but for now, Keith was happy Fletcher could embrace the shadier side of his business.

“Should I tell her to go? I didn’t know you had a kid.” Fletcher finally lifted his eyes to Keith’s face. Across his features was a clear question of what to do. Keith reminded himself that Fletcher was young. For now, if he could control his temper, then maybe he wouldn’t shoot him.

Keith smoothed his graying beard and flattened out his unruly hair. He didn’t know why he was bothering to adjust his looks like a teenage boy insecure about his appearance. He gave up trying to tame the curly locks. This young woman probably wasn’t his daughter anyway. He hadn’t seen her in over a decade, and he doubted she could track him. A nagging thought clung to his brain. What if this kid was her? What would he do then? He was much too old for surprises.

“Send her to the adjoining office. Then leave us. And remember your name is Fletcher Davis. You are an underground builder. Try and be… what’s the word… professional.”

“My name is Fletcher Davis. I’m a builder,” Fletcher repeated. “I can do professional.” His hand went up to the design he’d shaved into the side of his head. His fingers ran over his scalp like he had thick hair. Keith was trying to take the kid seriously, but when dealing with his nonsense, it was close to impossible. Fletcher would never be able to run the legitimate side of the business, but he might one day become an excellent assassin. That’s why he kept him around, at least for now.

As his would-be protégé vanished out the door, Keith took a moment to remember his first love, Marie. He’d only stayed married to her for a short time, but because of her, he’d moved to the United States right after the meteor hit. His life would probably be fairly different if they’d never met. That’s what he called the luck of the draw.

Keith closed his eyes and considered their ridiculous whirlwind romance. Marie was a silly, optimistic woman. She never believed the planet would turn so cold so fast. During all of that was when his baby Klaudia was born.

“Do you think it is really her?” Keith looked at the man bleeding in the chair. The prisoner flinched when he heard Keith’s voice. He shook his head as if answering.

Keith recalled the child vaguely. It was because of his little girl that he got roped into going to the United States. Marie wanted them to create an underground home for the kid. Everyone was constructing underground homes like some kind of fad. So many men headed to the heart of C.T.O.N.A. thinking they could survive the cold. Building underground homes back then wasn’t as easy as now. When the construction started, most of the equipment was still above ground. They were all fools, Keith included.

“Keith?” Fletcher interrupted his thoughts when he ducked his head back in the door.

“What now?”

“She won’t go to the offices. She says she wants to see you now. She used your real name.” Fletcher looked like he was confessing a grave sin.

Keith turned his head toward the metal door that connected to his outer office. He tipped his head to the side as he considered whether this girl was really his child. Keith could interrogate her. That was normally how he obtained information. Well, he could torture her, but he wasn’t going to. His eyes went to the forgotten assassin in the chair. He might need his fillet knife. He looked around for his sharp weapon while he tried to decide how best to handle his current situation.

“How old is she?”

Fletcher paused. “I don’t know. Younger than me, I guess.”

If Keith was doing the math right, his child should be about seventeen. Marie had left him for some banker who had a spoiled little boy, Tad or Tom, he couldn’t remember. Keith did recall that was about the time when Marie changed Klaudia to Karmen-Marie. His ex-wife had perverted her name so Klaudia would never be tainted by the kind of life he’d chosen to lead. Marie always believed he didn’t have what it took to raise a baby girl. He agreed.

“Did she say her name was Karmen?”

“She told me to tell you her name was Klaudia.” Fletcher was distracted again by the blood. Keith paid him little attention. Instead, he chuckled at his ex-wife. Marie thought changing his little girl’s name would hide her from him.

“Is she a threat?” Fletcher asked suddenly, like the thought had just entered his head. “I could kill her.”

Keith guffawed, but it was a dark sound. “I don’t find a lost little girl a threat. If she was going to kill me, I doubt she’d walk in the front door and introduce herself.”

Fletcher nodded.

“She said her parents died of radon poisoning. Maybe she’s just confused as you said, lost. I’ll just kick her out.”

Keith had heard that Marie’s banker took the first opportunity for a subterranean house. The fool led them both to their graves. Bankers knew nothing about radon poisoning underground.

As for his little girl, last he’d been informed, she was living with her uncle. He thought she was safe with Marie’s brother.

“Wait. Did she say how she found me? How she knew my name?” Keith fired the questions at Fletcher before he turned to exit. In the kind of work he did now, it was good to never have anyone know his name. Keith had changed his name so many times that it was unlikely for her to have been able to track him down. If this were really his daughter, then he’d have to find out how she got here. Keith looked down at a bloody footprint. Maybe he didn’t really care. Kill her or not kill her, that was really the only important question.

“She only said this area of underground building was underdeveloped. The ice on the surface of the planet made it hard to get here. She said she’s not leaving until she sees you.”

Keith nodded. In this area, the ice was also worsening, and housing was scarce. The wind generators on the surface weren’t even built. In this region, they still used oil hauled from Canada, and big equipment was hard to operate.

“Go back. Tell her to wait in my office. I’ll handle this myself.” Keith gave a dismissive shake of his head. Fletcher gave him a curt nod in response, and then hurried back out the door. In his haste to do as he was told, he left the door slightly ajar.

If she’d honestly found him here by herself, Keith would be impressed. She’d be his kid to have that kind of ingenuity, tenacity, and grit. He appreciated grit almost as much as luck.

Keith hadn’t even taken a single step to close the door when Fletcher’s head popped back into his line of sight.

“Sir, she won’t go to the office. She won’t listen to me and… fuck… she’s here.” Fletcher’s head disappeared for a second and then reappeared. She must be directly behind him. Keith thought for only a moment.

“At least I know she’s smart. I wouldn’t listen to you either.” Keith reached for the door.

If it were his girl, this would be a good test. If it wasn’t his kid, then he’d kill her. No loss. Afterward, Fletcher and he were going to have a talk.

“Fine, let her in.” His hand gripped the doorknob, and he opened the door all the way. Its hinges protested like the barrier was trying to stop him. Keith looked down at the blood splatter on his pants and shirt. Let’s see how much grit she has.

Before Fletcher could step aside, the boy stumbled and glared behind him. The young women who’d just stomped down the hall had used both hands to push his second-in-command to the right of the door. A pretty amazing feat as Fletcher clearly outweighed her by fifty pounds.

The expression on her face was a mixture of challenge and anger, and she had his dark brown eyes. There was no doubt in his mind. This was his child. She was a blend of familiar attributes of his ex-wife and himself, yet a stranger.

Her eyes went to the bleeding man in the chair, and she tossed her long dark ponytail over her shoulder. While staring at the blood on his clothes, she didn’t say anything. Keith crossed his arms and absorbed the fact he was staring at his very grown-up little girl.

“I guess you go by Karmen-Marie now.” He frowned. She appeared to have grit. “This looks like my luck of the draw.” He spoke more to himself, but he was sure she caught his words. She curled her hands into fists. Maybe she thought he was going to kick her out, or maybe kill her. He wasn’t sure either way. He had no idea why she’d be here. In his line of work, when people showed up surrounded by mystery, it was never a good thing.

Kicking her out was the best option. Even if she died in the snow, he didn’t care. He didn’t know how to raise a teenage girl, even one who wasn’t squeamish when she saw blood. He could kill her, but that didn’t sit well with him. What happened to her didn’t matter, as long as she was gone.

“Fletcher, get rid of her.” Keith inclined his head at the door.

Her eyes flashed. The girl’s reaction told him she didn’t like that command. Keith opened his mouth to clarify that when he said “get rid of” he didn’t mean to have her killed.

Before he could explain to Fletcher, she took a belligerent step in his direction. Her glittering brown eyes stopped him from speaking. Her eyes reminded him of his when he was mad. She tipped her chin up, and her back stiffened ramrod straight. She was here, and she was staying, unless he killed her. He wasn’t going to. Keith could read in her face that she knew she was safe too.

“I’m staying. Just try to get rid of me. You know what people say,” she said defiantly. “What goes around comes around.”