TS901: Anomaly by Stacey Rourke and Tish Thawer by Stacey Rourke and Tish Thawer - Read Online

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TS901 - Stacey Rourke

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To all those who’ve ripped off their masks of conformity

and embraced their exceptional truth.

Chapter One


Stabbing pain woke Thia Kelly from a restless sleep. Grinding her teeth to squelch a yelp, she swung her legs over the side of her hammock bed. While clenching the faded, tattered fabric in a white-knuckled grip, she blinked into the darkness, impatiently waiting for the throbbing nerves to lessen enough for her to move.

Daybreak began to beam through the string of multi-colored wine bottles hung at the top of the one window not completely blacked out by heavy fabric. They added a needed burst of color to her drab, underground existence. A few bare light bulbs swung overhead, their exposed cords running to two old car batteries in the corner. They were there for emergency use only, when the electrical systems of the old, abandoned subway system that housed her and her kind faltered. It hadn’t been easy to make a subway car homey, but Thia did her best. Removing all the seats gave her a blank slate to work with. From there she draped as many blankets as she could spare from the walls. Maybe she was biased, it being her first true home, but the eclectic look of the mismatched patterns and fabrics added an element of quirky charm.

Breathing through the prickling torment radiating from her shoulder blades, Thia’s bare feet sank into her woven rug, kicking up dust particles that danced in the beams of light filtering in. With each step, dull daggers stabbed into her spine, sawing through her muscles with an agony that radiated to her bones. She shuffled to the stack of shipping crates that doubled as her makeshift dresser. Her trembling hand grabbed a rolled towel from the top shelf, and dropped it on the surface where it unfurled on its own. Relief laid in the center of that bundle. Arms shaking, Thia fumbled to remove the cap from the pill bottle and shook two small little wonders into her palm. Not bothering with water, she slammed them back and swallowed hard.

Tipping her chin up, she stared at her reflection in the cracked and smudged mirror before her. Mornin’, sunshine, she grunted to the disheveled mess staring back at her with dark circles under her hazel eyes and pale lips.

Step two in her pain management routine was sparked a moment later. A flick of orange, a wisp of smoke, and Thia dragged deep on her momentary reprieve until the pills could work their magic. It was skunk weed, that’s all she had access to in the compound, but it did the job. As its pungent odor filled her glorified tin-cup oasis, Thia breathed deep and arched her back as the ache gradually eased.

A second drag.

Then another.

Raking her fingers through her long, chestnut hair, Thia reveled in the fleeting peace that often eluded her.

Walking with far less difficulty, she strode to her makeshift couch—comprised of the backseat of a van, and a few throw pillows—and gave it a firm kick. "Corbin, unless you want Jules to know you slept off yet another bender here, you need to get up and head back to your car."

He rose in a series of grunts, stumbling out the door without a glance back, leaving only the pungent stench of cheap bourbon and vomit in his wake. Silence descended in the absence of his rhythmic snoring. The only sounds to be heard were the rustles and muted chattering of the compound outside her tin walls raising its head for a fresh day.

Clicking her tablet to life for a bit of background noise provided by the morning newscast, Thia set her wash basin onto the rickety table she purchased off a scavenger for a stack of linens and some extra antibiotics. After snagging a gallon of water from her dwindling supply, she filled the basin. Twisting her hair into a knot on the back of her head, Thia splashed water on her face and under her arms. She was scrubbing away the last traces of sleep when a name snuck from a breaking news report, chilling her in a way the tepid water never could. As she patted her face dry, her full attention was diverted to the pixelated picture on the dated tablet.

Evan Daniels, known by many as Patient One of the TS901 strain, is wanted for questioning by authorities in the death of two Russian dignitaries. Viewers will recall the TS901 chemical was to be a supplement of biological vitamins intended to enhance strength and health when it was released into the public water supply. It was soon found that elements within the cocktail attacked the DNA of certain individuals, causing an outbreak of mutations. Eyes flicking effortlessly over the teleprompter, the reporter pressed on without a hint of emotion. "Upon infection, Daniels, the son of a decorated Marine, developed superhuman strength and speed. He was then enlisted to an elite task force with the military, and became the public face of the TS901 cause. While once considered a hero, officials now warn that Evan Daniels should be considered armed and extremely dangerous. Anyone that encounters him is advised to call 9-1-1 immediately. Do not approach him. A ten-thousand-dollar reward is being offered to anyone who can provide information that will help lead to his capture."

Thia held the towel in a tight fist, approaching the tablet with tentative steps. The newscaster’s face vanished from the screen, replaced by a publicity photo of Evan. The breath caught in her throat as Thia swallowed down the pain of the scar on her long-wounded heart suddenly being ripped open again.

It had been so long since she laid eyes on him, yet he strode through her dreams in vivid detail every time she closed her eyes. The smell of his skin. The curve of his lips. The pulse that coursed through her core every time their eyes met. Those bits of dwindled magic lingered in her memory, snuffed out in her wakeful hours by the reality of the shattered mess he left her world in when he turned his back on them all.

Jelly legs refusing to hold her, Thia sat down hard on the edge of her hammock. For a beat, she stared straight ahead without seeing.

You thought you knew better than any of us, you dumb son of a bitch, she growled to the ghost of Evan’s presence, which had long faded from those walls, "I will find you ... just to prove to you how wrong you were."

Cracked tile crunched beneath Thia’s scuffed motorcycle boot as she stepped from her car and slid the door shut behind her. Only owning three pairs of jeans, the pair she wiggled into that day had holes in the knees and frayed stitching across the bottom hem. Her thin, cotton hoodie did little to block the draft of the windy tunnel, but combined with her leather bomber jacket—gifted to her by one of her more generous foster families—she achieved a passable barrier from the day’s chill. Ironic as it was, when she ventured topside, the models on the covers of the Nary (ordinary folks) magazines were clad in similar ensembles they probably paid hundreds of dollars for. They called it grunge chic, she called it It’s this or nothing.

Around her, The Hive—a clever nickname the Anomalies, aka the Malies, came up with to own their mandated space—was alive with activity. A swarm of bodies ebbed and flowed through what had once been the terminal of the subway station. Often, Thia marveled at the beauty of the forgotten space. High archways were decorated with rod iron scrolls. A multi-colored stained-glass window drew the eye up to the domed peak of the terminal. Hand-laid tiles surrounded hammered plates which stated where each tunnel would deposit busy commuters. All of this, that had once been lovingly maintained and even doted upon, had been cast-aside ... including the people.

To an outsider, the hurried masses—off to work, collecting supplies, struggling to keep busy—appeared as any other Nary crowd. Only upon closer inspection could the subtle differences be found. Solid black eyes here, reptilian scales there. Beside an Amazonian-sized woman with thick, gorilla-like body hair strode a fella with no mouth ... at least not on his face. They all bore some sort of mark of shame, Thia was just one of the lucky few who could go undetected at a casual glance.

Throwing herself into the sea of bodies, Thia cut through the throng, making her way toward the ramp labeled City Hall. As she passed, she exchanged nods, waves, and brief salutations with familiar faces that bobbed by. Riding the wave of the crowd’s current, she made her way to the stairs. There, the mob thinned. Only a select few risked venturing topside without justifiable cause.

Squinting into the sunlight, Thia filled her lungs with the crisp morning air and pulled the collar of her jacket farther up her neck. Almond-shaped eyes scanning the chain-link fence that sealed off The Hive, she snorted in contempt at the ever-present band of scantily clad Naries propositioning every Anomaly that wandered within earshot of them.

Still shaking her head, she approached the platform of the guard’s station with a steady gait. As always, two heavily armed guards were positioned there with more patrolling the perimeter. One of the two—whose name Thia never bothered to learn because he had the temperament of an agitated rattlesnake—attended to the short line of Malies at the gate. Scanning the trackers embedded in their wrists, he confirmed on his tablet if each one was approved for passage before allowing them to leave or enter the compound. The second guard, with sandy brown hair falling into his eyes and an easy smile, offered Thia a steaming cup of coffee the moment she hopped onto the platform.

The Maly Munchers are getting an early start today, Thia commented in place of a greeting, jerking her head in the direction of the leering and catcalling Naries.

Sergeant Lance Baker chuckled in response, the steam from his own cup wafting over his reddened cheeks and nose.

That’s a horrible term. The corners of his eyes crinkled with amusement. The timbre of his voice was gruff and raspy, yet oddly soothing. So what if one glimpse of someone with any kind of abilities makes their hearts flutter and panties drop? Who are we to judge?

Hey! A Maly Muncher with billowing blonde hair and practically nonexistent denim skirt curled her fingers in the chain-link. Her heavily mascaraed stare locked in Thia’s direction. "What can you do? I’ve got an open-mind and plenty of time for you, doe eyes."

Thia tipped her chin in Lance’s direction, trying unsuccessfully not to laugh. How about now? Can I judge them now?

I think it’s required after that. Holding his gun out in front of him, Lance ducked behind Thia to kick the fence with the toe of his boot. Metal clanged at the impact. "Back away from the perimeter! Three feet, you know the rule. Or you should, you’re here every damned day."

Shrinking back, blondie recoiled into the comfort of her band of like-minded eccentrics.

So tough with your big gun, Thia mocked, letting her gaze travel the length of him. Can you imagine the world of crap you would catch if you actually opened fire on a Nary?

When she still counted herself among the normal folks, Thia probably would have found Lance attractive. His lanky frame, military muscle, and chiseled jawline were unarguably easy on the eyes. The situation being what it was, she considered him nothing more than an ally that required the same type of arm’s length distance as the fence.

Pulling back as if she’d slapped him, Lance’s brow furrowed in confusion. "I’m sorry, a ... Nary?"

"Nary—Ordinary person. Thia nodded, her lips pressed in a thin line. I coined the phrase. Clearly, it caught on."

"Clearly. He laughed, never hearing the term before and feeling out of the loop. You’re quite the trendsetter," he continued, slinging the strap of his gun over his shoulder.

"If only I was the one that coined the phrase Maly Muncher," Thia tsked, pantomiming sincerity. I wanna hug that brilliant bastard.

Pacing along the front edge of the platform, Lance’s head swiveled to monitor the fence line. I actually meant that you’re becoming quite the voice of the people, smartass.

Filling her lungs, Thia forced on a mask of confidence that countered the hammering of her heart and pivoted to face him. "I do have the ear of the Maly people. They trust and respect me, because they know I will look out for them no matter what."

Picking up on the somber change in her tone, Lance turned to face her. His head tilted with interest. "Oh, this is going somewhere," he mused.

I’m worried about Gigi. I haven’t heard from her in a couple of days, Thia explained in a long-winded ramble. "I know it’s against regulations, but if I could use the tracking tablet I could pinpoint where she is,