They come at night when Ember Janerro is sleeping, when she lies unconscious and vulnerable and alone. The slavers have always erased her memory as fast as they open the locked front door. Her mind is designed to offer no resistance, to keep her blankly imprisoned behind amnesic barrier. The perfectly controlled super-spy. Until this morning. When Ember wakes at dawn, standing in a grove behind a gas station in someone else’s clothes, one thought pounds through her head: My name is not always Ember. Realizing her simple life as a nurse is the manipulated cover for her secret life under mind control, Ember is now a threat to the most powerful secret society in the world. When a mysterious philanthropist offers to help her find freedom, Ember uncovers psychic abilities that the manipulators have invested millions to hide and control. And she’s running out of time.
Our Story Begins...
Monday, 1:04 a.m.
She heard the sound, even as she slept. Her eyes flew open in the dark. Her dreams faded, splintering into pieces as she lay straining to listen. A car door had shut.
The bedcovers released their embrace into the shocking cold air. Her bare toes squeezed the hardwood floor as she crouched. The inky outline of furniture, the red glow of the clock. She crept to the desk, slipped the laptop from the drawer and tucked it under her arm. In the bathroom she palmed the edge of the toilet seat, held her breath. A drop of water echoed from the rain gutter. A motorcycle rumbled in the distance. Silence.
She sensed it. The impression of footsteps ascending the stairwell outside her apartment. Her teeth pinched her lip.
Crossing the apartment, she angled around her kitchen table toward the fire escape. A sliver of light cut through a crack in the curtains. She raised her hand to pull the material back and stopped—someone would be watching the alleyway.
She wrapped the laptop in a dishrag. Lifting the thin lid of the electric stovetop, she wedged the bundle in the space between the burners. The refrigerator compressor clicked on, whirring. Her chest squeezed. Had a key slipped in the front doorknob?
Retracing her steps to the bathroom, she pressed her fingers against the glazed window and pushed up. It slid open, soundless. Cold air rushed her face. Now or never. She angled her body through the window, wincing in pain as the metal slide dug into her abdomen. Her hands reached down and gripped the iron railing. She twisted in mid-air, landing on the stairs on the balls of her feet.
The shadow-drenched street came alive. Figures broke cover as she vaulted off the steps, hit the landing, and bolted across the sidewalk. She slid over the hood of a parked car, pain splitting her shins as her feet slapped wet pavement.
His arm shot out and grazed the back of her neck.
Concrete chewed her feet as she sprinted down the middle of the street. A car crossed the intersection and turned away, headlights fading. Dashing between a parked truck and a telephone pole, she switched directions. Raced uphill.
His arm shot out again, grabbed her hair and whipped her head back. She threw an elbow to his neck and he blocked it with his shoulder, slammed her down. Her lungs ripped open for air. A gloved hand jabbed the device into her ribs and her body complied in a spasm of electric agony.
The door of the sedan shut like a vapor lock. The vehicle slipped into gear and she caught his empty eyes in the rearview. She sighed as she leaned into the backseat. A headache swelled against her skull.
The sedan accelerated through the dark streets of San Francisco in the hands of a professional driver. Shadowed images sped by; driveways and empty cars, garages and front doors locked and quiet. A world of barriers that sheltered and protected their inhabitants.
Her agitated fingers twirled the loose fabric of her flannel pajamas into a knot around her finger. She closed her eyes. The vehicle sped through the circuitry of city streets, colored lights pulsing through the skin of her eyelids. Merging onto the interstate, the sedan left the city in the fast lane.
Gravel crunched under the wheels as the sedan slowed. Evergreen trees lined the narrow road like sentries guarding the threshold of a forbidden realm. The edge of the cliff sank into a pristine vista as moonlight struck the ocean like a crystal orb shattering into fragments across the endless surface.
She pressed her forehead to the window. The pulse of the sea penetrated her mind and lifted her chest in resonate breath. Her fingers calmed and rested against her pajamas.
The sedan cornered and her window inked to black. The vehicle stopped and the driver stepped out to open the rear door.
“Get out,” he said.
The torture apparatus clenched her feet, separating her bare toes with bracing wedges. A metal ball poised under each arch, prepared to crank deep into her plantar fascia when she stood. Gripping the passenger headrest, she lifted her legs out, grating the baseboard with the metal shoes.
“Stand up,” he said.
She saw the outline of a black box in his hand.
“Take the shoes off,” she said.
“The last guy could put more than two words together.” She eyed him. No reaction.
“Get the fuck up,” he said.
She picked at the nail of her middle finger.
His hand flicked and an electric explosion of pain licked up her feet and rocked the inside of her skull. Her back arched and she smacked her head into the door frame. The convulsion ceased and the wave of nausea passed. She wiped her sweating palms on her flannel pajamas and sat up straight. Took a breath.
“Right,” she said.
The forest flanked the stately mansion beneath a starless sky. She crunched the short distance across the gravel, grimacing as the metal shoes agonized her with the weight of each familiar step. Running was impossible. She leaned against the front door, a line of sweat across her brow. A heavy knot congealed in her chest.
The driver leaned against his black sedan, regarding her. She gripped the extravagant doorknob and swung the door in a wide arch, the moon-swept sky rotating behind her.
A white marble statue rose in the foyer under vermilion track-lighting. A naked man arched back on his knees, a globe beneath him. The stone eyes moved under the lights as she stumbled forward. Gloom gathered in his shadowed sockets as if something conscious pleaded without sound. Screamed silently under the rain of blood-red illumination.
“You’ll learn.” A disembodied voice echoed off walls. “Never keep me waiting.”
Senator Pastrano stood tall on the landing above her.
She clenched her jaw in silence.