Even death couldn't stop her.
Eleanor Valentine spent her life deciphering visions of the future. She counted the days until she would be murdered by her closest friend. But before the trigger is pulled, she must rewrite the fate of eleven would-be heroes in a last-ditch effort to save mankind.
Who were they before the Nighthawks?
From an angel able to read minds, to an invisible socialite, to a soldier with impenetrable skin, each destiny Eleanor manipulated exposes a decaying world desperate for heroes.
Morning Sun is a collection of short stories taking place before the Night Quartet.
"This book introduced us to the key players and relates the history of how they came to be. The writing is phenomenal, the story is engrossing. I'm diving into the sequel immediately."– Amazon Review
"I think fans of Brandon Sanderson's The Reckoner's superhero series would find a lot to enjoy in this series as well."– Indie Reviewer
"not only edgy, sarcastic, and downright action-packed fun; it deepens the shadows of these future heroes"– Amazon Review
"I guess we can skip, 'How's your day?' What sucks, Sarah?"
She eyed the gentleman sitting opposite of her, trying to push her annoyance into the glare. He didn't flinch. Instead he pushed his glasses up his nose and began scribbling notes on the pad of paper. He paused, biting the end of his pen as he formulated a thought and then finished the scribble.
"What are you writing?"
"Agitated, having a rough day, the same things I always write."
She flung herself backward on the couch, sitting awkwardly as she formulated her response. Deep breath. A momentary wave of pain coursed through her body, forcing her to inhale deeply and focus on relaxing her muscles. One breath, two, then three; the pain passed and her world returned to normal.
"The calcium deposits are still emerging?"
"They're bones. Don't try to make it sound scientific. I'm covered in bones."
Sarah covered her hand, rubbing her knuckles with her palm. Bone covered the majority of her left hand, collecting heavily over the top of her fingers. When she clenched her fist, the bone scraped against her digits, reminding her of the limitations of her mobility as the growths continued.
"How is your pain level?"
"Jenkins, do you think the pain changed since yesterday? I still have bones pushing their way out of my skin. It's tearing a little at a time. It hurts. It hasn't changed in the last twenty-four hours."
The sound of his pen denting the pad of paper filled the air again. The psychologist did his job of observing her. The man had a knack for understating the obvious, but more often than not, he hit the issue head-on.
His tweed jacket and thick facial hair seemed like a cliché, as if he had watched one too many movies starring psychologists. If he dared to trade in his thick-framed glasses for thin wire ones his costume would be complete and he'd win an award come Halloween.
"How are you acclimating to the new facility?"
"It's nice, you know, if you ignore the bars on the windows, or the armed guards." She leaned forward in her chair, resting her elbows on her knees, careful not to drive bone through the skin of her leg. "And do you know who I talk to about the showers? I have a hunch that lady guard might have a thing for women. The lip licking is alarming."
"I see your skill in sarcasm hasn't diminished."
"The perk of being a teenage girl."
"Is that how you see yourself?"
"The vagina and age on my driver's license—" She threw her hands up in the air. "That's right, I don't have one. 'Cause I am living in a maximum security prison for research purposes."
"I must remind you—"
"Yeah, this is not a prison, it's a research facility. You can save it, doc. Call it whatever you want, I'm not allowed to leave. I'm pretty sure that's the definition of a prison."
"If you ask how it makes me feel, I'm going to lose my shit."
Jenkins's eyes followed her, noting each movement she made. When the doctor found himself without words to continue, he studied her until the dialogue resumed. When she first sat across from him, it had been new, and she engaged in conversation willingly. As days turned to weeks, each daily session at the same time, one thirty in the afternoon, it became apparent it was less about her mental wellbeing and more about his psychiatric observations.
The Child admitted to herself that her emotions were running hot. The newest roommate to be moved into her block had a history of being caged. While Sarah resided with the benign powers, what this new guy lacked in aggressive abilities he made up with his overly masculine demeanor. He reminded her of the captain of the football team from high school, except for his hypersensitive reflexes. No, at the Facility, even the most normal-looking people had something abnormal about them.
In their battle of who would speak first, she found herself about to lose when the phone rang. Jenkins continued eye contact with her as it shook on his desk. The tones it made each time it rang grated on her. If he didn't answer, she would hurl it across the room.
"I think it's for you."
The man did a good job of hiding his satisfaction as he stood and reached the receiver. "Jenkins." He waited for a moment and turned his back to her. Although she had knuckles capable of tearing through skin, he offered her his back. The doctor was anything but foolish. She debated if the move was a slight on her non-threatening attitude, or if it showed his respect. Sarah saved that to deflect next time he asked about her feelings.
"Sarah, I am needed with another patient immediately."
"Nah, go ahead, I was far from telling you what keeps me awake at night."
The psychiatrist grabbed his clipboard and exited the room. A guard in all black greeted him, pointing down the hall. She shrugged her shoulders, Jenkins furrowing his brow, getting annoyed she didn't have the answer. He pulled the door shut as they headed down the corridor toward the recreational area.
"So I'll just entertain myself."
Sarah eased herself to her feet, meandering to the window. At one point, it may have overlooked the acres of land surrounding the Facility, possibly gardens below, or the outdoor dining area. Now, the window served as a reminder to the prison she hid within. It was sealed, preventing radiation from the nuclear explosions in New England from penetrating the walls. Now, a computer screen mimicked a window and UV lights almost fooled her into believing it was real.
She turned her hand in the light, unaware of the warmth being produced by the bulbs. It was only when her cheek, one of the few places on her body still entirely covered in flesh, entered the rays that she missed the sun. In the distance, a tree blew with the wind, whipping sharply back and forth. At some point, she would have to request being allowed outside before cabin fever took hold.
The phone rang again and she looked to the door, expecting Jenkins to come charging back in. She ignored it the first two times, but on the third, she stomped over and picked up the receiver to silence the damned thing.
"Jenkins, where are you? The doors to A-wing aren't opening."
Sarah tried to make out the voice, but in his fast-paced panic, she couldn't place the speaker. He started again, but all she made out was a grunt and sound of yelling in the background. She squirmed as the man begged for somebody to stop. His pleas silenced and she assumed it was for less than pleasant reasons.
The lights flickered and a tone sounded over the loud speaker. In the three weeks since she transferred, she had never heard it before. Usually the audio system gave announcements, any changes to the routine they had grown accustomed to. Even that was rare. A blaring noise meant that somewhere in the building something bad was happening.
She approached the door, contemplating whether she should leave the safety of his office. The man was not exactly her favorite person in the world, but after weeks of talking with him, he was her favorite person in the prison. Her fingers hovered over the handle. At best she risked an early curfew for punishment, at worst, they'd shoot her for becoming an aggressive Child.
Bones scraped against the door, removing small slivers of wood. The lock stopped the door from opening. With a strong yank, she made it shift, yanked from the frame. Against body armor, and the abilities she acquired from the Nostradamus Effect, the broken door couldn't resist. The splintered wood reminded her of why the government held her in the Facility against her will. Immunity from sickness and radiation, mixed with muscles stronger than the average human, gave her kind the potential to be dangerous.
The hallway appeared deserted. One way led to the more public areas of the building and the other toward the recreational area. If she found Jenkins, she might be able to rescue him. A rescue might have perks, including being allowed outside, or even better, have guests. The last person to visit her had been her mother and even that had been months ago.
Her altruistic intentions turned to a more self-serving motivation. "Jesus, I've been in prison too long."
Sarah pressed her back against the wall, the growth from her right shoulder blade scratching the plaster. Each step brought her closer to the intersection that would allow her a straight shot to the recreational area. Quick glances in the other direction assured her that there was no help coming from the Facility. For whatever reason, she was on her own.
Rounding the corner, she stumbled as her foot hooked on the body of the guard from earlier. Sarah knelt next to the woman, trying to discern if she was alive. Sarah started to reach for her throat, but froze, certain she couldn't read a pulse through the bone growths on her hand. She toyed with the idea of taking the officer's gun, but the thought of not being able to fit her finger over the trigger stopped her.
The guard's chest rose and fell, subtly enough Sarah might not have noticed if she had been further away. The Child stood, eyeing the hundred feet until the intersection. She took a step closer when the security camera suspended near the ceiling caught her eye. The surveillance machine followed her, documenting her every move.
She prepared to give it the finger, but Jenkins fell backward out of the double doors. Ten minutes had not passed since she saw him last, but she hardly recognized him. Bruises gathered along the side of his face; his split cheek and blood oozing from his lip turned the witty man into the victim of a horror movie.
"Jenkins, what happened?" She kneeled beside him, unsure of what to do to help. The tweed jacket nearly had its sleeves torn off and his shirt was covered in a splattering of tiny red dots. Her hand rested on his chest, searching for the rise and fall of his lungs.
Jenkins's legs held the door open, giving her a line of sight into the library. In three weeks she had only visited it once. The shelves contained a plethora of books. Computers lined the right wall, but without a connection to the internet, she lost interest. The musty underused smell created by the books reminded her of high school, memories not worth indulging.
Another guard lay on the floor several feet inside the entrance, just in front of the checkout desk. Unlike Jenkins's, his chest didn't move. With the man wearing all black, she couldn't discern the damage; the body, however, appeared to be placed like a limp rag doll.
The tones from the ceiling refused to relent, sounding every few seconds in a pattern that raised her anxiety. Jenkins would remind her to breathe, perhaps visualize herself somewhere safe. The man would ramble on about how she needed to find an inner calm if she was going to survive. Right now, calm was the last thing from her mind.
Inside the door, hanging on the wall, a phone rang, the same annoying sound as before. For a moment, she resisted the urge to answer it, unsure if she wanted to enter the space with so many bodies. She imagined the phone, shaking, yearning to be answered. Before she realized she had moved, her hand gripped the receiver and placed it to her ear.
"Sarah." The voice had a deep, burly quality to it. "We're watching you on the cameras."
"I know," she whispered, unsure of who remained in the library.
"The guards are seeing to the Outlander vagabonds. Our friend in the library has taken it upon himself to use the distraction to cause havoc."
"The military is en route with more subjects. They will assist when they can." The man's voice went from deep and determined to an almost silky smooth singing voice. "Until then, we need to you to detain him." The moment it changed, luring her in to a false sense of security, she recognized the Warden. The man oversaw the Facility, and every Child avoided him when they had a choice. The portly man never touched her, but every interaction felt like a violation.
"Whoa, you want me to what?"
"Subdue the subject, Sarah."
"You want me to talk him down? What the hell makes you—"
"Talk him down if you can. Put him down if you must. We cannot afford a Child of Nostradamus injuring any more guards than he has. He threatens the entire program."
"Good, then we can go home."
"Child, do you believe the government will let you return home with your abilities?"
A crash from somewhere in the stacks preceded a pile of books tumbling to the ground. Behind her eyes an ache radiated through her sinuses, a pressure that would lead to an eventual headache. Sarah didn't like this situation, and she didn't want to play the Warden's game.
"If I stop him, what's in it for me?"
The tones stopped, the lights sputtering. The dead space between them dragged on. The man on the other end breathed into the phone, holding out, waiting for her to fold.
"If you think I'm going to give in, you haven't dealt with a teenage girl before."
"You want to see feel the sunlight on your skin, I can make that happen."
"How did you—"
"Do we have a deal? The threat is eliminated and I'll make sure you get sunlight on your skin."
He started speaking again and she dropped the receiver. The man offered her the only thing she desired as if he could read her mind. The pressure pushing at the bridge of her nose vanished, giving her a chance to think clearly about the situation at hand.
"I don't even know who's in here." It seemed ridiculous to go looking for trouble. She hoped the man would tire himself out. Perhaps he just needed to kill a few people before he returned to his normal book-loving self.
"This is only slightly worse than school."
The memory of sitting in her history class continued to haunt her. Between the obscene level of homework and grueling expectations placed on her by an asshole teacher, she thought she might have a mental breakdown. They were in the midst of discussing the implications of the Middle East closing its borders to foreign nations. While she had no love for the instructor or the subject, it was an opportunity to pass notes back and forth with Conthan. Of all the people in the high school, that angry boy had been her only real friend.
When the officers knocked on the door and exchanged whispers with the teacher, her intuition said they were discussing her. As they waved for her to follow them, it became increasingly obvious they weren't normal cops. Outside, a synthetic waited next to a van, giving away the Corps. It started at a local hospital where she had several vials of blood drawn. Later, a doctor confirmed the tests had returned positive: she was a Child of Nostradamus.
There were no special abilities at first, nothing that seemed worth mentioning. The dry skin had been the first change, almost to the point where it burned. When it cracked open and bones surfaced, she tried to hide it, unsure of what would happen when they found out. The bone around her brows protruded next, first a small spot and eventually her entire forehead. The hiding came to an end and she became a victim of more blood tests and x-rays and as it progressed, so did the research.
Her life as a high school teenager ended.
A growl brought her back to the present. The library, the one place she expected to be quiet and filled with hushed whispers, housed a loud grunting man somewhere in the stacks. If she didn't know better she might assume it was an animal wreaking havoc until it found a way to escape.
"Hello?" Stupid. She didn't know how to subdue somebody. She endured physical testing as part of her research, but not enough to be building muscle like at the gym. Practicing yoga in her free time didn't seem sufficient for the task in front of her. Perhaps if she survived she'd learn to box or at least start lifting weights.
The space grew quiet, the man seeming to calm down. She eased her way forward until she reached the checkout desk. The antique computers resting on the surface gave away how long it had been since the Facility used the library. If she didn't start sneezing it would be a blessing.
"We're prisoners here," he said.
The man stepped forward, climbing over spilled books, his face covered in blood. His calm demeanor frightened her more than his rage. If she turned around and ran, she would probably be able to reach her room and lock the door. She observed the man closely as he kicked books out of his way, approaching her.
"I know," she said.
"We're the ones with power. We're the ones chosen to receive these gifts. Yet we let ourselves be locked away like criminals."
The newest addition to her quad, the hyper reflex guy, knew more about prisons than most of them. Not all Children were thrilled with their gifts; most she talked to discussed how abilities ruined their lives. If not for her gifts, Sarah would have been at the prom, dancing the night away instead of having marrow samples taken. Because of a fluke of nature, she would never apply for jobs, fill out resumes all in the hope to make something of herself.
"I didn't ask for this." No point in lying, she might as well engage in conversation in hopes it prevented her engaging with her fists.
"Neither did I," he admitted. "I'm powerful now. The world is mine for the taking."
"That's a delusion of grandeur."
"You hide. I see you, girl, you're ashamed of what you are. You're pathetic."
"Ouch, because your opinion of me matters."
"Do you understand what you could do with your abilities? Nobody could stop you."
"That's what I'm hoping," she mumbled to herself.
"Instead of being the victim and letting them study us like lab rats, join me. We could take over this Facility, free our brethren."
"Brethren? Are you serious? Most of the people here are criminals because of thoughts like that. Just because you have abilities doesn't make you above the law."
"Doesn't it, though?"
"What about before you had abilities? Didn't you spend more time in prison than out?"
He growled as he stepped forward, approaching the far side of the checkout desk. The man wasn't large; he probably stood a few inches shorter than her. She had watched him do pushups in the common area, and she knew underneath his clothes were well developed muscles. She wondered if the majority of his anger came from his small stature? Perhaps he had been picked on or bullied in school?
"You're a lamb being led to the slaughter."
"I'm a girl trying to survive."
The growl started low. She wished she knew the man's name, so she could yell at him to stop being stupid. If captured, the Facility would put him in a secure cell with the other dangerous Children. If he made it past the Marines, he'd be hunted until they terminated him. The man was an idiot.
"Cut the shit," she demanded. "You're going to get us both killed."
With two steps, he jumped on the counter. He moved like a cat, almost graceful in the certainty of his movements. Hyper reflexes? She didn't have a clue what that meant. The man could move fast, and before she finished the thought, he stood above her. "You're their tool, girl," he shouted. She cringed as the spit from his mouth rained down on her.
The blow to the side of her face caused her head to snap sideways. She hissed in response. Scientists poking and prodding at her had never tested her endurance for pain. Perhaps the constant ache of the growths numbed her, or maybe the bone themselves served as armor, but for the first time, she didn't hate her abilities.
"You are so fucked."
She jabbed her fist toward his chest. Quickly, he dodged enough that her knuckles barely connected with his torso. The man's speed allowed him to step off the desk and roll backward to a standing position. She didn't know how she would fare against a seasoned thug, but she found the prospect of hurting him alluring.
"Running away from a teenage girl? There goes your superior argument."
He charged. The heel of his fist landed hard squarely between her breasts. The impact forced her to take a step back, but not before he retracted his hand, cradling it against his body. She was covered in bone; even the space beneath her clothes was mostly consumed by the sharp spikes of calcium.
The next punch landed on her stomach, one of the few vulnerable spots left. She bent over, heaving at the pain pulsing through her body. She swung out wide, a poor attempt to get him away from her. The small man ducked the blow and knocked her hand to the side, causing her to spin around.
He wrapped his arm around her neck, squeezing the fleshy part of her body. Her elbow launched backward, connecting with his ribs, causing him to scream loud enough to make her ear ring.
Tiny orbs of light appeared, telling her she was close to passing out. With a boney knuckle, she ground into the man's hand, slicing through the skin and grating her finger against the bone. She twisted, cutting apart his hand as he attempted to hold her.
A darkness crept in along the sides of her vision. Her lungs starved for air, and despite her open mouth, she couldn't draw in a breath. With her other hand, she dug her bony nails into his forearm, tightening her grip until the sharp blades sliced through his muscle. He shoved her hard, sending her to the ground.
A deep inhale didn't seem enough. Quick exhale, another cough as she inhaled, pushing away darkness on the edge of her vision. The screaming from behind made her flip on her back to see what would happen next. The man inspected his arms, the blood dripping to the library carpet. It took her brain several seconds before she came to grips with the fact she had caused the blood. She inflicted the damage, defending herself.
When the military came for her, she had gone peacefully, coerced into believing it was in her best interest. When she moved from the research center to the Facility, she didn't argue, scared the alternative meant winding up in a body bag. When the Warden told her to stop the man, she did it for a chance of normalcy. Now, as she climbed to her feet, she wanted to kick his ass. For the first time since she discovered she was a Child of Nostradamus, she felt in control.
Sarah felt powerful.
The man dodged her first punch. He ducked underneath her second. Cradling his arm, he stepped outside her reach. He didn't yell like before, he reacted, staying one step ahead of her. When she leaned in, hoping to tackle him, he spun about, his foot sticking out, catching her shoe and sending her to the ground.
She scrambled to her feet, fearful the Child would try and attack her again. The man didn't approach, instead watching her like a predator studies its prey. Her middle school self-defense course hadn't prepared her for taking on sociopaths.
"You can't win, child."
"Neither can you."
He had one more step, then she would have him pinned between her and the desk. She inched forward until he backed against the massive wooden structure. Bringing her fist out wide, she aimed for his chest, the largest part of his body. Without effort, he jumped straight up, landing on the large piece of furniture, moving safely out of her reach. Her other hand slammed into the wood, tearing apart the surface, leaving a dent in the top.
He kicked forward, the toe of his shoe connecting just under her jaw, one of the places with little protection. She flew backward, trying to absorb the impact of the blow. Sarah tripped over her own feet and landed hard on her back.
The man grabbed the computer monitor and jumped down. He walked closer, holding the archaic equipment high above his head. Her bones were strong, but she imagined they were as breakable as any normal limbs. The monitor might be enough to crush the bone. She panicked.
The tear in his shirt appeared a fraction of a second before the bang. The man froze, the monitor hovering above him. Then his arms went limp and the machine fell to the ground just to Sarah's side. She scooted away, never taking her eyes off the wound. Blood stains spread along the fabric until he reached down and put his hand over their source.
He fell to the ground. Sarah screamed at the dead man as she tried to climb back to her feet. Once his body crumpled, he stopped moving. Sarah turned to run out and knocked into a woman standing in the doorway. Instead of stumbling, the woman acted more like a cement wall, causing Sarah to take a step back.
"You killed him?" Sarah asked.
"Would you rather I let him kill you?"
The woman's face appeared emotionless, as if she was unaware she just killed a man or that she stood near adead guard. Sarah didn't know if she should be thankful or fearful of the woman and the gun in her right hand.
Unlike the guards covered in dark body armor, she wore a bright red suit hugging her body. It took a moment before Sarah remembered the story of the hunter in red. Prisoners talked about a woman working for the military that hunted them down. It wouldn't have been such a popular discussion except the people in the Facility suggested she might be a Child herself.
"You're with the Corps?"
The woman's hardened eyes focused on her and a chill creeped up her spine. The woman didn't answer as she stepped to the side of the exit. Sarah's uneasiness only intensified as she saw the Warden standing next to the body of the fallen Jenkins. The tightness in her stomach paled in comparison to the headache starting just behind her eyes.
"Sarah, I believe we have much to talk about."