A man screams at the car stopped ahead of us at the red light. Spit flies from his mouth as he shakes his fist at the driver. The light turns green, and the car speeds off, its engine choking and spitting as it revs.
My eyes meet the pale, raging blue ones of the man as we pass him. He gives me the middle finger for no reason and shouts something that I can't hear. The sounds of horns and sirens—the sounds of the city—drown him out. The noise is almost as stifling as the sweltering heat. Even under the shade of the overpass, there is no relief from the blazing sun.
Steel bars line the windows of the old, refurbished school bus they are transporting me on, so there is no way to slide the glass shut and escape the heat and noise. Not that I'd want to shut the window, anyway. The bus isn't air conditioned, so the breeze through the bars as we drive is the only relief I get from the stink of the sweat of hundreds of students from decades past that still saturates the fabric of the seats.
I lean back, watching the world pass by through the window as we make our way to our destination. Other than the driver and the prison guard, I'm the only one on board. I feel like royalty, riding through the dirty streets of the city on my own private prison bus.
Tall office buildings rise around us on both sides. My stomach turns over, a sick feeling crawling up my throat as we approach one I recognize. The two enormous eagle statues guarding the front door of the headquarters to Abraham Health and Medical Coverage Corporation stare me down. Their eyes watch me like vultures. It's the office where I used to work—the office of the insurance company I embezzled the one and a half billion dollars from, eventually resulting in my imprisonment.
As we pass, I give the eagles the same gesture the man on the street gave me, except at least I have a reason for doing it. "You look more like turkeys than eagles to me," I mutter under my breath.
Finally, the high rises and skyscrapers give way to strips of bars and clubs. Even during the day, neon red lights flash outside the gentlemen's clubs, enticing people to step inside and escape the world for a minute as they indulge and waste away their money.
The yelling on the crowded streets and screeches of traffic eventually lull me towards sleep. I haven't seen the city since I was sent to prison, but I don't miss it. It's exactly the same as when I left.
I'm jarred awake when the old, yellow school bus shudders and breaks to a stop. A gasp of cool, ocean air rushes in through the heavy bars across the open window. We've finally reached our destination.
I take a moment to breathe it in everything around me, savoring the taste and smell of the salt. It's been a year and a half since I've had fresh air.
With a squeaking groan, the door to the bus accordions open, and I rise to my feet. The handcuffs latching my hands to the floor tug on my wrists, keeping me from moving too far.
"I'll be waiting right at the top of the dunes for you," the prison guard sitting in the seat across from me says as he gets up. "If you try anything . . ." He taps the gun secured to his belt. "We've put a lot of time and money into your training, Miss Heart, but that doesn't mean you can't be replaced."
I chew on the insides of my cheeks. "I understand, sir," I say.
The guard nods, crossing his muscular arms over his chest and narrowing his eyes at me, as though he thinks he'll be able to see what I'm thinking if he stares hard enough.
I examine him as well. A large scar runs from the bridge of his nose, under his right eye and across his cheek bone. He's seen a fight or two in his past. Now, his hair is trimmed short and neat, but the faded tattoos on his knuckles are still visible. He wears a cap that casts most of his face in shadows. Finally, he takes the key from his pocket and unlocks my handcuffs.
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Down UnderScience Fiction
Shawn, a convicted criminal, never thought she'd see the sun again, let alone call another star system her home. When she's offered an out from her prison sentence, she embarks on a dangerous interstellar expedition along with 18 of Earth's most int...