From the author: An outtake from the NETWALK SEQUENCE series. Back in 2013 I played around with some different perspectives while trying to get up the nerve to write the last two books of the current series. This one looks at the relationship between the couple who lead Melanie Fielding's Security--set between NETWALKER UPRISING and NETWALK'S CHILDREN.
Empty bed next to her. Angela Garcia flung her right hand over to Nik's side of the bed. Barely warm. He'd been gone for a while.
Damn it. She pressed the heels of her hands into her eyes, and drew in a deep, calming breath, trying to summon up enough energy from the depths of fatigue that pulled hard at her to wake up enough to investigate further. Nik shouldn't be alone this soon after this last solo assignment. She needed to find him, make sure he wasn't caught in a flashback or anxiety attack, sleepwalking or in a fugue state. He'd pleaded fatigue to their usual debrief and decompression. She'd let it slide this time.
Obviously she shouldn't have.
Easy way first. She exhaled. <Nik?> she texted, subvocaling through her Dialogue.
<Operative Nikolas Morley offline> came back in bright red flashing text.
"Madre de Dios!" Angela snarled, slamming her right hand hard against the bed. Damn it, he knows better! SOP for a Nik solo post-op meant he needed to keep in contact. Especially if he said he was too tired to debrief. She'd given him the benefit of the doubt this time, exhausted as they both were. Maybe she shouldn't have. She was his com-ops supervisor for yesterday's quick and dirty black op, a different role from their usual official positions of Head of Security and Second or their private roles as husband and wife. Sometime the titles blurred and the wife let things through that Security or com-ops wouldn't.
Better go find the boy. She needed to find out if she had collateral damage to fix. Angela sighed, forcing herself to take another deep cleansing breath, blinking up data. First things first, brain-fried as she was. Where were they and what time of day was it?
Back at DIR HQ. 2 am.
She must be tired if she hadn't figured out she was back home. Angela groaned and linked into the cams. Might as well eliminate the easy possibilities. She blinked through various public area cams. Nothing. No one other than the expected staff. No unexpected blackouts.
Training stations check. Sometimes Nik went through a round in the parkour course or lifted weights to work off his post-operation angst.
Nothing. Paul was running a line through the parkour and no one was in the weight room.
Angela groaned. "You're going to make me go look for you." She sighed. "Goddamn you, Nik Morley!" With one swift motion she threw back the covers and sat up, pulling down her jungle camo camisole as she swung her legs off the bed and stood up. She yanked on black sweatpants and sweatshirt but slipped on shower sandals instead of moccasins or her work boots. With any luck Nik would pick up on the cue of sandals, not solid shoes.
Lastly she strapped on her inhouse Security utility belt. She always kept a backup sedation shot for Nik there.
That done and ready to go, she heaved a sigh. God, I hope he's not gone outside somewhere. So far that hadn't been his pattern. But this last operation for the Corporate Courts had been ugly. Still, things had been quiet since their Primary, Melanie Fielding, had settled in back at home after damned near getting killed during what was now being called the Third Revolution. Or was it actually the Fourth? At least two of these so-called revolutions had happened in her lifetime, and there probably had been one before she was born, beside the original American Revolution.
Too damn tired to keep count tonight. Melanie called it the Fourth Revolution, while Melanie’s mother Diana called it the Third. Woe on anyone who mixed it up around the wrong person.
Letting herself out of their quarters, she tried the obvious places that she couldn't look into via cam. Dena and Rick sat in the private Security bar, staring into pints of beer. She didn't have to speak, just raise a brow at them and get a headshake in response.
"Haven't seen Nik since he checked in," Dena said.
"Thanks," Angela said.
She glanced into the main family quarters. No one there, not even Nik.
Several other prospects at this point. She considered possibilities. How bad was it this time?
If he wasn't in this next place, then things were worse than she thought.
Even as she keyed the palm lock, the faint clack of skateboard wheels told her Nik was here. No one else had access to the skate park after hours—that was reserved for Nik alone. Angela carefully slid the door open and secured it behind her, glancing through the skate park obstacles. Where is he?
Low-voice cursing from the halfpipe. Angela glanced to her right, noted he'd grabbed his new board. She grabbed her old reliable. She couldn't keep up with Nik on the halfpipe, especially with sandals instead of solid shoes, but if he decided to be difficult, at least the board would give her a fighting chance to run him down in the park.
Hopefully he's not too tired to think. A Nik too tired to think post-op was a reactive and potentially dangerous Nik.
She stepped off the board at the pipe's edge, popping her board up deftly. She might be a Mountain kid instead of one of Nik's skateboard kin from Sellwood, with its three-generation tradition of boarders, but she knew a few tricks. The Mountain had its own riding traditions.
Nik rolled by her, eyes fixed on the far edge of the halfpipe, wearing old black sweatpants like hers with a holey, faded gray tank tee, strands of his short black hair twisted around each other and askew. He kicked over the top and pulled a grab, hit hard and bent low to build up momentum. As he topped the half-pipe on the other side he launched into a 360. But his long, lanky body didn't quite finish the trick before gravity yanked him down hard. He smacked the floor flat and hard halfway down the pipe, then rolled down the incline to the flat, ending up on his belly. He slammed his left palm down hard and buried his head in the crook of his right arm.
"Nik." Angela kept her voice flat to avoid triggering a reaction. Her hand hovered by the belt pocket that held Nik's sedative shot. Don't think I'll need it. But better to be safe.
Nik slammed his hand down hard on the floor again.
"Nik." Angela waited patiently. She squatted, waiting and watching. Won't need the shot. Don't think he'll need Medical. He's just pissed about missing the trick. But she still remained on watch and alert, waiting. Part of her job as com-ops supervisor, a role she never handed over to someone else when it was Nik running an operation, unless circumstances forced her to do it.
At last Nik propped himself up on his elbows, rubbing his face. "Ange."
"You didn't tell me you were leaving."
"I didn't think I was gone that long. What time is it?"
Angela blinked up the time. "Two-fifteen."
Nik dropped his head down again. "Jesus." His arms muffled his voice. He sighed and raised himself up again, burying his head in his hands. "No wonder I'm missing the tricks. I've been doing this for two hours."
Now it was her turn to be irritated with herself. "I should have noticed sooner."
"You were beat," Nik said. "You needed the sleep."
"But if you can't sleep because of the op—Nik, I gotta know. You gotta report this stuff to me."
Nik rolled over onto his back and threw his left arm over his face. "Ange, I don't need Psych for this one."
"You still gotta report. I am your superior, damn it. Especially since I let you crash instead of debriefing!"
With a swift roll he knocked Angela off balance. She went limp, not resisting as he shoved her onto her back and pinned her wrists, straddling her body and glaring not three inches from her face. "I. Don't. Need. It. I'm. Perfectly. Fine," he growled, teeth bared. "Leave. Me. Alone."
Which means you absolutely need something. Angela stifled the sigh she wanted to make. Still recoverable. He's running on empty. His hands quivered just enough on her wrists to tell her he was close to finally collapsing. She just needed to wait, offering no resistance, waiting, waiting, as he glowered down at her, almost panting, his face sagging into exhaustion instead of anger but still tight, still enough fury that he wasn't ready to let go yet.
There! His hold slackened. She struck swift and hard, kneeing him in the gut and reversing the hold as he groaned, letting himself show pain. She followed up her first kick with two more as she jumped up and dropped into a defensive stance. She didn't think Nik would follow up with an attack but better to be safe.
Nik tightened into a fetal ball, arms clutched around his gut, groaning. Angela eased her stance slightly, watching.
One. Two. Three. "Had enough?" she asked. "Or do I need to kick your ass before you'll settle down?"
Nik nodded, grimacing. She didn't think it was possible for him to get any whiter than he'd been before, but he looked bone-pale. "Okay. Now."
She still didn't let down her guard, not until he finally relaxed and rolled over onto his back, shuddering, arm over his eyes again.
"You want to tell me what's going on?"
Nik hissed through his teeth. "Can't wind down." He dropped his arm. "Not images. Adrenalin."
At least he's talking now. I can back off.
Angela lowered herself to the floor, this time sitting with her knees tucked into her chest. "Considering how close you came to buying the farm this time, I'm not surprised you're still running on adrenalin. Take a sedative yet?"
Nik shook his head. "Just hoping I'd tire myself out. Ange, I really don't want to take the meds. The blowback is nasty. I'll—dream and I can't get out."
"You sure about that?" She scooted closer and twined her fingers around his left hand.
His hand tightened on hers. "Adrenalin like this, yeah."
She raised his hand to her lips and kissed his bruised knuckles. "It was tough for me too this time."
Tired as he was, he still had enough strength to pull her off balance and to his side, wrapping his arms around her. "God, Ange. God." He kissed her forehead. "If it had been any other voice but yours on the com I've have freaked out."
"I know your reflex speed. I counted on it."
"And I'm grateful for that. I don't think anyone else could have gotten me out as fast."
"It was tough. I wouldn't have pushed anyone else that fast. Maybe Serg or Paul."
Nik snorted. "They're not that good!"
She heard the wounded pride in his voice. "I would have pushed them knowing it was the only option to get them out of that spot alive."
"Thanks," he breathed. "Those Freedom Army assholes are goddamn fast. Faster than I thought they would be or should be. We've got to let Melanie know."
"I sent her the report on our way back. She's pissed. We didn't have adequate support and she knows it. I think she's gonna talk to Diana about it."
"Good." Nik sighed and for the first time she felt his muscles sag as he breathed out.
"Breathe with me."
He tensed slightly but followed her lead, sighing out deeply, breathing back in slowly. Once. More relaxation on the exhale. Again. Even more relaxation. A third time. This time his exhale went on and on, his muscles softening, inhaling more shallowly and breaking more into his sleep pattern. Angela shoved him.
"Nik. Man. Let's not go to sleep here."
"Umph? Oh. Yeah."
She had to nag him up, nag him to follow her back to their quarters and their bed. But once back there he fell into the bed and was instantly, deeply asleep.
Angela sat on the side of the bed, watching him sleep, shaking her head. He'd be back to his usual self by morning. But at least he'd taken out the key person for the Portland cell. Be at least a few weeks before we have to worry about them again.
And next time she was pretty damn sure that they'd have more backup and less underestimation of the Freedom Army's ability to wreak havoc.
Melanie would make sure of that, even if no one else did.
The mysterious war machine device known as the Gizmo is getting restless and trying to use Melanie’s daughter Bess and her nephew Richard as a means of escape from its confinement. Meanwhile, problems arise with potential rogue Netwalkers tied not just to Melanie’s past but to her parents and the original capture of the Gizmo. Can Melanie work with her estranged Netwalker grandmother Sarah as well as Bess to stop the Gizmo and deal with past shadows that threaten to dominate Bess’s future?
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