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Authors: Dean Murray

Driven

BOOK: Driven
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Driven

 

by Dean Murray
&
Eldon Murphy

 

Copyright 2013 by Dean Murray

 

Also by Dean Murray:

The Reflections Series
Broken (
free
)
Torn (
free
if you sign up for
Dean's Mailing List
)
Splintered
Intrusion
Trapped
Forsaken
Riven
The Greater Darkness (
Writing as Eldon Murphy
) (
free
)
A Darkness Mirrored (
Writing as Eldon Murphy
)
Driven
Lost
The Dark Reflections Series
Bound
Hunted
Ambushed
Shattered
The Guadel Chronicles
Frozen Prospects (
free
)
Thawed Fortunes (
free
if you sign up for
Dean's Mailing List
)
Brittle Bonds
Shattered Ties

Chapter 1

Jasmin Bianchi
I-40
Santa Rosa, New Mexico

I
first realized that I was being followed somewhere outside of
Albuquerque. I probably should have noticed the black SUV an hour
before that, but I'd been paying too much attention to Ben and not
enough attention to the other cars sharing the dusty freeway with me.

Ash
is the kind of treasure trove of information that only comes along
once in a great while. I hadn't spent as much time with him as
Dominic had, but I'd still managed to pick up an awful lot of
information and tradecraft during the short time between when he'd
joined the pack and when Alec had scattered us to the four corners of
the country. That meant that I knew enough to realize I was being
followed, but I hadn't learned enough from him to be able to lose a
tail in an unfamiliar city.

The
SUV posed a bigger problem than I wanted to admit, but I ruthlessly
forced myself to be rational about things. The tinted windows meant
that there was no way to know how many people were inside. It could
be as few as one or as many as seven or eight. I was betting on a
lower number simply because shape shifters, especially the big hybrid
bruisers favored by the Coun'hij, tended not to play very well with
other people.

If
someone had really been stupid enough to pack seven of my kind inside
of that vehicle, then all I needed to do was stay on the road for
another hour or two and wait for the boredom of the chase to make
them try and kill each other.

The
members of the Coun'hij were a lot of things, but stupid wasn't one
of them. The SUV wasn't going to be full, but while I could beat one
other hybrid or two wolves, anything more than that was pretty much a
guaranteed loss for me.

I
didn't want to have to backtrack because I didn't know how much
longer Ben had. He'd been doing better since before the pack all
split up, but he was once again getting weaker. The process was so
slow that I could almost convince myself that I was imagining it, but
it was happening.

I
sighed, partly in anger, partly in resignation, and then pulled my
phone out and called the number I was hoping would still put me in
contact with Alec. He picked up on the second ring and I started
talking before he could get a word out.

"I've
got a problem. A black SUV has been tailing me for at least the last
few miles. Heck, they could have been back there for hours for all I
know."

"Join
the club. I've had more than a dozen other people report in during
the last hour with the same problem."

Alec
sounded tired, but that wasn't too surprising. It had to be hard to
run a war, especially when your troops consisted of a bunch of
stubborn, erratic shape shifters.

"That's
it? There isn't any brilliant master plan for getting me out of this
particular jam?"

I
almost said more than that, but I managed to get ahold of myself at
the last second. My temper had been harder to control for a couple of
weeks now, but ever since I'd manifested a hybrid form my beast had
wanted to throw down against every single person I ran into.

"If
you want help you're not exactly going about asking for it the right
way."

Barely
suppressed rage bubbled in the back of Alec's throat and it was all I
could do to force myself not to respond in kind.

"You're
right, I'm…I'm sorry. Please can you help me out here?"

Alec
was silent for a second. I couldn't tell whether he was reinforcing
the fact that he was the one holding all of the cards, or if it just
took him that long to calm down to the point where he could respond
without causing a reescalation of the situation.

"Where
are you right now?"

"Half
an hour west of Albuquerque."

The
silence stretched out to nearly a full minute before Alec finally
responded.

"If
you've been driving for two or three hours then you don't have enough
range to make it to anyone who could help."

I
silently counted to five in an effort to keep my cool, but it didn't
help much. My tone might not have been quite as challenging, but my
words were still pretty close to the line.

"Seriously,
there isn't anyone else from one of the coalition packs within a
hundred miles of me?"

"No,
there are others that close to you, but they've all got tails of
their own, Jas, and everyone is headed north in an effort to meet up
with one or more other groups who have a chance of helping take out
whoever is following them. You knew when you started down that
direction that I was trying to keep our people out of there. The cats
are already applying a lot of pressure to the remaining border
packs."

I
wanted to yell or scream, but that wouldn't buy me anything. I'd
known Alec as far back as I could remember; if he said that there
wasn't anyone he could send to help then it was the truth.

"How
did this happen?"

"I'm
not honestly sure. I've got some of the best hackers in the country
on my payroll right now, and contacts that will let me bring in half
a dozen other guys if I'm willing to fork over the money required to
keep them interested. They told me that their security on this one
was bulletproof."

"Define
bulletproof."

"They
were supposed to have all of the satellites taken care of. They've
got the actual feeds redirected to their servers and are sending back
a ghost feed that is mostly all the right data, but with select parts
of the map blurred out and replaced with footage from hours ago."

I
wasn't any kind of hacker myself, but I'd spent enough time in
conversations with Alec, Ash and others to have at least a passing
understanding of some of the high-level stuff the black hats did.

"How
is that even possible, Alec?"

"My
guys are tracking everyone's cell phones and making sure that any
attempts to locate our people returns bogus location data. There
wasn't any other way to keep in contact with everyone, burner phones
wouldn't work with this many people in the mix. It would be more than
a full-time job for three people to keep track of who was using what
number and then you'd still have a central point of failure that the
Coun'hij might be able to capture."

"So
your guys are using the location data from the cell towers to erase
our cars from the satellite maps?"

"Yeah,
only they aren't sure it's working now. I called two of the
ringleaders when I started getting reports that people were being
followed and they tore their methodology apart and found some
possible holes."

"Someone
could take the ghost feed and analyze it for those moving
discrepancies."

"In
theory, but that would take a huge amount of computing power and an
incredible amount of access to the systems of the various
intelligence agencies. There are a couple of holes in their control
of the phone companies too. I won't bother trying to explain them
though because it gets into the kind of stuff that nobody is sure is
possible. That means that there's no way to prove whether or not
we've actually been counter-hacked."

"That's
bad news, Alec. I mean bad news even beyond the fact that I'm about
to go up against an unknown number of Coun'hij bruisers."

"I
know. Honestly I'm hoping that we were hacked, because if we weren't,
then it means that the Coun'hij have recruited or found another
weapon—one capable of keeping eyes on us in some other way."

I
could feel a headache starting to build. "Right, and that's
worse because we won't know how to counter that. Even assuming that
it can be countered."

Alec's
response was more certain than I could have managed in his shoes.
"Everything can be countered."

"Only
if you know what you're really up against. How bad do you think my
odds are?"

This
time I could tell he was trying to balance the truth against the need
to keep me from losing hope.

"You've
got a chance. Nobody has actually engaged yet, so I don't know how
many people everyone else is up against, but the Coun'hij only has so
many people working for them. They can't have each and every vehicle
full; they just don't have that many bodies."

"That's
something at least. I guess it's time to roll the dice."

**

It
was dark by the time I stopped, and my car was running on little more
than fumes by then. I found a tiny town that wasn't much more than a
gas station and a couple of houses, and then pulled off behind a
massive red barn that had seen better days. It wasn't much, but it
would screen me so that nobody on the road would be able to see me,
and the darkness should take care of any other prying eyes.

I
glanced over at Ben as the car rolled to a stop. He looked so small
in the passenger seat like that. His IV bag had run dry an hour or so
before and I hadn't been able to stop and hang a new one for him
because of our pursuers.

It
was one more reason to hate the Coun'hij, but things were past the
point where a little extra injustice made much of a difference. I was
fighting for survival and an extra smidgen or two of anger wasn't
going to change the odds one way or the other.

His
red hair had gotten longer than normal. I should have asked Rachel to
help me give him a haircut before everything fell apart back at the
manor. I brushed a stray strand back behind his ear so that it would
be off of his face and then opened my door. There wasn't time to just
wait around, not if I wanted to avoid being trapped inside of my car.

The
Coun'hij SUV was approaching slowly. Whoever was driving was
overconfident, which meant that I was outnumbered. I stepped well
away from my car in case they decided to try to run me over, and then
waited.

I
could feel possible courses of action stretching out before me in an
almost infinite set of paths, but I didn't let myself get too focused
on any one of them. There might be an almost unimaginable number of
different ways to get there, but there were only two possible
outcomes to this fight and getting too attached to a specific route
of attack would just increase the chances that I wouldn't be walking
away from this particular fight.

If
James had been driving that SUV, he would have come in fast and we
would have bailed out of the car at a run as soon as it dropped down
to thirty miles per hour. If Jess had been driving, she would have
stopped soon enough to leave plenty of room between her and the
target. Luckily the recruiting standards for the Coun'hij enforcement
group had gotten lax enough that the actual driver didn't do either
of those things.

As
the SUV rolled to a slow stop less than twenty feet away from me I
reached out to my beast and she responded with the white-hot rage
that only a threat to someone we considered to be
ours
could spark.

The
change from human form to hybrid took only a tiny fraction of a
second, but it was still new enough for me that it hurt in ways
nobody who wasn't a shape shifter could ever understand. Having your
muscles tear free of your bones and then reattach themselves
somewhere else is an incredibly painful experience, but that was just
the start.

For
a heartbeat pain was the whole sum of my existence, and then scraps
of my clothes were fluttering through the air, falling in a circle
around me like some pagan symbol designed to trap a beast whose only
resemblance to humanity was the fact that it had two arms and two
legs.

My
hybrid form was more than seven feet of muscled fur and each of my
fingers was tipped with a seven-inch semi-retractable claw capable of
scratching steel. If there'd been any humans around to observe what
I'd become they would have run away screaming, at least they would
have done so if I'd held still long enough for them to get a good
look at me.

I
didn't hold still though, instead I bounded forward, the rocky ground
blurring from the speed of my passage, and put my left fist through
the driver-side window. There was a rush of power as the driver tried
to transform, but even if he'd had time that wouldn't have saved him.
There wasn't room for a hybrid inside of the SUV, and shifting to a
wolf would have just resulted in him being trapped on his back
against his seat.

BOOK: Driven
11.78Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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