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CHAPTER 4

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High above Sarah, a streak of lights reflected off the third story windows of the Next Gen tower. Seconds later, a hover car whizzed by overhead, operating in the designated lane between thirty and sixty feet above road level. The silvery wedge made a tight turn around a neighboring skyscraper and vanished. Since the early millennium, technology had grown exponentially, and Sarah still couldn't get used to the hover lanes, created a decade ago to accommodate the flying vehicles. Behind the first hover car came a buzz of more aerial traffic, some of the hover cars taking the same turn, zipping around the skyscraper and disappearing from sight, but several kept going on a straight away path, their tail lights glowing red in the distance. As far as Sarah was concerned, the flying cars were a major distraction to drivers on the surface roads. That's why she chose not to drive in New York. She'd rather walk, or take the subway.

The green stick figure finally appeared on the sign.

She hurried across the street and stepped up to another sidewalk, along with the bustling group of people, who were all excited about the new year.

"Can we see the ball drop?" a teenage girl said, wearing a knitted hat and a pair of matching gloves. She clutched a long pale braid in her hand as she walked.

"Maybe," a woman replied with a warm smile. A mother no doubt. "We'll have to see."

"Come on," a man said, shuffling past Sarah, guiding the woman and girl through the crowd. "We have to hurry."

Good luck weaving through the throngs, Sarah thought, shaking her head and stuffing her hands deeper into the pockets of her wool jacket. The fuzzy cream-colored material warmed her skin and shielded her body from the cold, the temperature plunging well below freezing since the sun went down.

If she had her choice, Sarah preferred a tropical beach somewhere. She remembered a time in the Bahamas with Jake, a memory that seemed so long ago. With the sun gleaming over Atlantis Paradise Island, they stood in the middle of the giant water park next to a pool in the heat of an intense moment, staring into each other's eyes, lips drawing so close she could smell his minty breath.

She almost slipped into another trance mid-stride.

Maybe that's where she should be, basking in the sun instead of shivering in the snow? But she was here for a reason. The sheer number of people in New York provided a better cloak for obscurity. Here in the city she could blend in with the masses. She had no desire to be found by the government. She would rather die than ever work for them again.

Involuntarily, a hopeless chuckle erupted from within her. It faded fast and made her grit her teeth.

As for the crowds here tonight, Sarah was not as foolhardy to think she could wait till the last minute and stand front row at the biggest celebration of the year. Truth? She was bored. That's why she took a taxi from her apartment and stopped by a relic of a bookstore with no internet connection or coffee to sip—but it had real hardcovers and paperbacks you could hold in your hands. It was a place Sarah could browse for hours. It reminded her of her childhood when life was simple.

She was surprised print versions still existed, seeing a person could download a book on an eBoard tablet and transfer it to any device on the go. Some devices even featured 3D holograms, but ebook technology in general had been around for years.

The next step was beyond her.

Although, she sighed, fingering a burnt orange strand of hair from her cheek. She remembered reading an online article about a future tech. Scientists thought they'd be able to zap a novel into the brain in the next thirty years.

I doubt it, she thought.

The Starbucks sign on the corner of the street caught her attention. Thank God, they still make a good cup of coffee. Luckily, the stores on Broadway were open till midnight to make money off all of the consumers jamming the downtown area.

The smell of pumpkin spice lattes drifted to Sarah's nose from twenty feet away.

Sarah's breath fogged in the air, fingertips straining to discover a warmer crevice in her pockets. Then she caught sight of a man outside the storefront. Not just any man. She stiffened, halting her advance, boots raking over a dirty combination of grime and ice.

The man stood in front of the coffee shop, his back to her, eyes glaring at her in the reflection of the window. He was not a humanoid. He was a man, in the flesh.

Sarah didn't know his real name, but she never forgot a face. His jawline angled to a narrow chin with a dimple in the center. Shadowy whiskers seemed on the verge of a beard. Likely, his rugged looks appealed to most women, but Sarah knew who he was on the inside. Entranced, she paused, unable to move or glance away. It had been decades since their last encounter.

Casually, he turned and said, "Gotcha."

The man's one liner slid across his lips with a mocking smile. Arrogant and condescending.

Sarah's reply caught in her throat. She wanted to swallow, but she couldn't.

Sixty years ago, they had a similar encounter. Then, the man who Sarah only knew as Wolf, looked to be in his late twenties, the same age as her at the time. But tonight, he appeared to have aged a decade, no more.

So, they'd managed to slow the aging process but not stop it.

After their first encounter, Sarah got to know Wolf more in the years that followed, working on the space station. He was part of the small military contingent from the Navy. He was the admiral's watchdog. Then came her escape back to Earth and her life on the run.

Without Jake, she no longer desired to be a pawn of the government.

Wolf's expression hardened to a steely gaze.

His jaw twitched.

Sarah reacted to the involuntary movement out of pure instinct. She burst for the street corner, twisting her body away to avoid his grasp, and in her peripheral vision, Wolf lunged for her, stretching out to snag her arm.

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