Hello there!

This is a story I started a while back but never finished. I'm hoping that some feedback will encourage me to write again on it. I only the prologue finished so far, and I don't know if I'll continue it. Let me know what you think!

Set in the future after global financial collapse and a second "Dark Ages" in which the survivors turned into scavengers and barbarians, society has finally taken root again in the form of independent city-states on top of the remnants of what was once the United States of America. Newly-made City-State Senator Valene Vega finds herself surrounded by corrupt politicians, lies, cover-ups, and the threat of the rebels who live outside the city boundaries.

Only, as with everything else in the great city-state of Valida, nothing is as it seems. Jace, the leader of a band of refugees hiding from the harshness and lies of city life, now branded rebels, helps his people struggle to survive the ever-increasing threat that emanates from the corrupt Governor of Valida who seeks to destroy them for the truths they know.

So this is what it's like to be on top of the world.

Valene had been to the Senate Tower before, but never so high up. The city stretched out before her, the multicolored twinkling lights of buildings, homes and moving vehicles bright against the black of the hulking structures. The Tower was the tallest of them all, but even from here she couldn't see the boundaries of the city or the empty Blacklands beyond.

She could see the reflection of her new office in the glass of the window; it was larger than her whole apartment, and decorated in neutral tones of white, tan and gray. The desk was large too, and made of shining metal and glass. The sofa and chairs were white leather. Cabinets stood all around the walls, presumably holding office supplies and hard copies of files. It was barren of all decoration; a cold place, and it gave her chills that were unrelated to the temperature of the room.

My new home, she thought to herself.

"Congratulations, Senator."

A smile formed on her lips as she turned from the window to face the doorway. A tall, lean man in his early sixties was leaning on the door frame with a grin on his face, an unusual shine in his sharp blue eyes and a bottle of wine in one hand. Rick Behner – Governor of Valida, her longtime mentor, and now, her boss.

He held the bottle up so the soft light emanating from the ceiling glinted off it. "Valida's finest," he said. "I took it from my own private collection. Now's as good a time as any to open it, don't you agree?"

"We don't have any glasses," Valene pointed out.

"If I knew Ed, he'll have some glasses around here somewhere." Rick set the bottle on her new desk and started opening drawers and cabinets. "Aha! I knew it." He emerged from a cabinet with two wineglasses in hand. "Ed loved the drink," he explained as he opened the bottle with a pocket corkscrew and began to pour. "The physicians say that might be what killed him."

Valene's smile became tight. "Let's not talk of Ed right now," she said, taking the full glass he offered her. The thought of her dead predecessor made her feel uneasy. They said he'd been found in this very office, sprawled on the rug; he'd been dead for hours and was already starting to stiffen. Her first order of business as senator had been to order the rug taken from her office, but she thought she could still feel the dead man's presence in the room.

"You're right, of course – this is a happy occasion. I shouldn't sully it with such morbid conversation." Rick smiled warmly and clinked his glass against hers. "To you, my dear. I always knew you'd make it to the top."

"I'm not at the top yet, Rick," she reminded him.

Rick laughed. "No, not yet – but you might one day! All it takes is patience and perseverance. Remember that, Val – patience and perseverance!"

Valene returned his smile halfheartedly. She still wasn't sure if she even wanted this office, let alone the one Rick held.

A comfortable silence fell between them as they stood at the wide window, sipping their wine and looking out over the city she had sworn to rule and protect just hours previously. Twice the size of the smaller cities, and nearly five times as large as it had been before the Second Dark Age, Valida was one of the largest city-states in the Pacific Northwest. And, as Rick liked to boast, it was also the most important.

For hundreds of miles in every direction, there was nothing but mines, small farming communities under Valida's protection, and ruins of ancient towns and cities that hadn't survived the Dark Ages; the rest was uninhabited wilderness, save for the bands of vagabonds who still roamed and attacked unwary travelers. The nearest neighboring city was a whole day's drive away on broken, rutted roads that hadn't been maintained in three hundred years. Valida was utterly isolated, a blaze of light and life in a black, dead sea.

It had been her home her entire life, and now it was – at least in part – hers.

Val sipped her wine, letting the taste roll over her tongue. When she swallowed she felt tendrils of heat spread through her chest; Rick hadn't lied, it was fine stuff. And yet it tasted of hollow victory to her.

"Do you think I truly won?" she asked abruptly.

Rick turned to her in surprise. "What do you mean?" he asked.

Valene tore her gaze away from the city lights and met his bewildered stare. "My election," she explained. "Did I really win, or was it just luck?"

Rick smiled; smiling had always come easy to Rick, and it was his chief weapon. He used it to soothe the citizens, persuade the senate, and disarm enemies.

"Of course you did! They all voted for you, didn't they?" He swept his arm out over the city.

"They did," she admitted. She watched him closely as she continued. "But would they have, if Luke hadn't so conveniently died from cardiac arrest two days before the voting?"

"Luke was popular in your precinct, I'll give you that," he admitted. "But I remain sure that you would have won regardless. Besides, why does it matter? Luke's death was a tragedy, but if it helped you achieve your dream, then it was extremely fortunate."

To say that Luke Soto had been popular in her precinct was an understatement. Crowds of voters had thronged his campaign speeches and hordes of volunteer workers had stood on every corner of every street in the precinct to attract even more supporters. Meanwhile, her own volunteer staff had been modest, and the "crowds" around her podium hardly crowds at all. She'd been sure all along that she had no hope of winning, but Rick had persuaded her into running and she would see it through to the end for his benefit. But when Luke had died and a much less popular – well, hated, to put it truthfully – candidate stepped forward, the crowds had nearly tripped over themselves to support her instead.

A shiver ran down Val's back as she thought about Luke. He'd been hale and hearty up until he'd dropped dead, and it had been far too convenient...

She eyed Rick as he smiled down at his city. No, she told herself, of course he didn't have anything to do with it. Rick was an ambitious man, but not a murderer. He'd been her mentor since she attended Valida University, and she liked to think she knew the man well.

Still, she needed to quiet her unease. She'd never be able to sit comfortably in the Senator's chair without at least asking.

"A little too fortunate, I think," Valene said. She hesitated, lifting her glass to her lips as she prepared to ask the question that had been haunting her all day. "Did you have anything to do with it?"

Relief spread through her at the shocked look on Rick's face. "Val, how could you think such a thing?" he asked, expression pained. "I love you as a father loves his daughter, but do you really think I would have a respected politician killed just so you'd win an election?"

The relief, so briefly felt, drained away as she remembered the night he had come to her apartment, flustered and desperate as he tried to convince her to run for the senate. He'd claimed he was pushing it because he thought it was her destiny, what she was meant to do, but now she wondered ….

No, she replied silently. But would you have an obstacle removed if it impeded your own ambitions?

"Of course not," she said aloud, as much to herself as to Rick as she forced the thought away. "I'm being ridiculous and impertinent. Forgive me, Governor."

Rick's smile returned. He reached out to squeeze her shoulder. "Put aside these silly worries, Valene. What matters is that victory is yours, and I know you'll make a terrific senator."

Valene forced another smile onto her face, wishing it was as easy for her as it was for him. "I sure hope so," she said.

The governor refilled their glasses and held his up to her. "To your future," he said.

"To Valida's future," she corrected, raising her own glass.

But as she drank to her toast, the uneasiness returned.