"Quinn, this is for your own good," my father said, the lines on his face set even harder than usual.
I remained expressionless. He was lying to me. He knew it, and he knew I knew it. But it had been this way for years.
Exactly one week ago, my father had dumped on me the news that he had betrothed me. That I was to marry, not anyone of my choosing, not even anyone random, which would have been infinitely better, but Damien Garzón. Just the thought of him made me retch.
Then, just to put the cherry on top, father told me that I was to be injected with the Serum.
"It'll be quick and painless," my father went on, his lies so practiced and smooth he didn't even falter as he looked me in the eye. "You won't even notice it. This will prevent you from getting lost, or kidnapped, or anything of the sort."
I tried to tune him out, watching the technician in the pristine lab coat prepare the Serum instead. He was peering through his selection of syringes, trying to select the proper needle.
My eyes drifted to the vial next to him. 15 mL of clear chemical compound that would change my life forever. It was very unexciting for such an inimical thing. No hissing, no bubbles, no vapors. If I was a bit more happily clueless, I could have passed it off for water.
"Getting lost," my father said. Another lie. It would prevent me from running off, from disappearing and breaking the fragile alliance he had formed with the Garzóns, a family he could not afford to snub now.
The technician picked up the needle, now fully loaded with the Serum. My hands shook, despite all my carefully practiced self control.
"It'll only hurt for a split second," he said, his voice robotic, his eyes practically indecipherable behind those black rimmed glasses. "Like a pinch."
He placed my left forearm on the table. My mouth felt like sandpaper, and despite telling myself to be stoic, I knew there was fear on my face.
The technician did not look at me. I wondered if he had been trained to do that, trained to not look his injectees in the eyes.
The tip of the needle pricked my skin, and the next second, it was all over. They had been truthful about one thing at least. It was quick.
"It should spread through the bloodstream relatively fast," the technician said, pulling off his rubber gloves with a snap. "Especially once it reaches the heart."
There was a moment's pause.
"How are you feeling Quinn?" My father asked, and he had the decency to pretend like he was concerned.
I unclenched my jaw. "Fine." I couldn't even look at him.
The next thing I knew, the technician was holding a device the size of his hand next to me.
I flinched, even though nothing actually physically touched me.
"Don't move," the technician told me, pushing his glasses up the bridge of his nose as he frowned at the device. "You need to be still for a few seconds for your radiation identifier to register in the database."
And with that, my incarceration was complete. The Serum was in my bloodstream. It was all over now.
I was thirteen when the McIntyre Family introduced the Tracker Serum. At 15 mL per injection, it was clear, cold, and easily vaporizable. It changed the way the world operated.
When it was introduced, the public saw the Serum as the solution to all crime. Once injected into the bloodstream, the Serum would react with human cells to produce a radioactive isotope specific to the individual. It was biologically safe and uniquely trackable. Because it combined with the DNA in an individual's cells, the radiation caused by the Tracker Serum could differentiate one person from the next, making every human being injected with the Serum completely identifiable and traceable.
For something that sounded so horrifyingly dangerous, the approbation it received was astounding. The East had become infested with crime over the two decades before the Serum's introduction. Murders, kidnappings, and general anarchy spread through the East like a disease. The Three Empires couldn't even control it, and if they couldn't, the police knew not to bother trying.
The Tracker Serum offered the government the ability to throw a fix at the issues. Murderers, rapists, psychopaths, and pedophiles were all injected with the Serum. They were traced, scrutinized, and publicly shamed everywhere they went. They couldn't hide, and for a while, crime did go down.
At $15,000 per injection, only the very rich and the government could afford it. Once injected into the bloodstream, the Serum would permeate the human body, making it impossible to remove without the Antidote.
That was much harder to obtain.
The McIntyres developed the Antidote along with the Tracker Serum, but they chose to release only the Serum. It was a brilliant move on their part, because rather than eradicate crime, the Serum essentially gave control of organized crime and law enforcement to the McIntyre Family.
The scales began to tip heavily in their favor. The Three Empires were no longer balanced. As the McIntyres wrested greater control over the East-first completely taking over New York, then New Jersey, and then focusing their efforts on Boston, the Garzón Family and the Knight Family knew they had to unite. The Knights had already felt their power start to decline. Gambling wasn't as profitable once crime was controlled from the floor up by the McIntyres, who had pretty much the entirety of the East's police force and law enforcement dancing in their palms and who were soon setting their sights on the pharmaceutical industry. This was when the Garzóns got antsy. It wasn't much of a jump between pharmaceutical drugs and recreational ones, and that was Garzón territory.
The Garzóns and the Knights were forced to form an alliance that both parties talked about with a smile on their lips and hatred in their hearts. And there was no better way to form an alliance than through a marriage. It was medieval, but effective.
Damien Garzón was the only child and heir to the Garzón Empire. The Knights had three children, but only one daughter.
My father was the head of one of the three largest crime organizations in the country. I was his daughter, but in the end, I was really just a political pawn. A means to an end.
Sitting here on this cold, clinical table, I don't know why I ever thought otherwise. My brother Zander was the smart one. He had disappeared four years ago, before anyone could inject him with the Serum. When we were young, I had proudly boasted to anyone who would listen that I was better at school, but ultimately Zander had won at the game of life. That is, if he wasn't dead yet.
My father wasn't even the one calling the final shots on this injection. The one calling the shots was Damien Garzón.
I knew Damien from my Harvard days. He was rich, handsome, and ten million shades of fucked up. He strutted around campus with a sense of imperious entitlement, using his last name to get everything and everywhere he wanted. Grades, Harvard clubs, girls' pants. No one denied him access.
He would want a docile, tractable wife. One who obeyed him, had dinner waiting on the table for him, and turned a blind eye when he slept with the maids. I didn't fit the mold, so I knew I wasn't his first pick either. But the Serum would make me as controllable as possible with my personality still intact.
Damien Garzón. Our names were naturally associated with one another's, but back at Harvard I had avoided him as much as I could. I almost let a giggle escape my lips now. A fat load of good that did.
"There, it's registered," the technician said with supreme indifference as he pulled the device away from my body. Then, in a smooth and fluid voice, he set the device down on the table next to his case of syringes before pulling something else out of his pocket. This, I recognized. It was a recorder.
"I'm just going to need you to say a few basic facts about yourself to finish off the process," he said, holding the recorder to my face.
I was looking at the device that had registered my radiation identifier, however. For one crazy, brief moment, I wondered if I could leap off my seat, over the technician, and smash the device into the floor.
But I knew even as my hands itched that it would do me no good. The information had already been transferred. Smashing the device was useless. Damien Garzón would already know where I was. Would always know where I was.
Plus, I thought as I eyed the two burly guys at the corner of the room, standing there with their arms crossed and anger on their faces, the security would stop me. Serum Technicians always came with such security detail in case the injectees were less than cooperative.
"Name?" the technician asked, giving his recorder a little shake in front of my nose.
I unglued my tongue from the roof of my mouth with great effort.
"Quinn Arlene Knight," I said. I couldn't even recognize my own voice with all the hoarseness.
Without warning, the technician withdrew the recorder from me. I suddenly felt lost. I was expecting to answer more questions.
"Serum Injection Number: 1836479," he said instead to the recorder.
I stared at him blankly.
Turning back and seemingly noticing me for the first time, the technician looked surprised. "We're done, Miss Knight," he said.
And just like that, the technician, his pristine lab coat, and the two great brutes were out the door, out of the room, out of my father's mansion.
I stared at the wall, hating this whole room. It was the Operating Room in my father's house. It was where our private surgeons would come and stitch up our wounds. It was where my mother had died, collateral damage from my father's quest for domination over the drug market, when it was still up in the air over a decade ago.
The Garzóns had won that war. And then the McIntyres came out with the Serum.
"Zajack Garzón's men will come get you tomorrow morning," my father said gruffly, shifting to stand in front of me.
I stared at him. Damien's father, Zajack Garzón, was the nominal head of the Garzón Empire, but everyone knew that he held no actual power. His wife was the one who actually pulled the strings.
"This is for the best, Quinn," my father told me, tilting my chin up with his index finger so I was forced to look at him. "It would be infinitely worse if the McIntyres ever got to you."
He didn't need to tell me that. After twenty four years of being my father's daughter, it was drilled into my mind that if there was anyone I should hate more than the Garzóns, it was the McIntyres.
But if there was anyone I hated more than the McIntyres right now, it was my father.
"I didn't complain," I told him blandly, wishing he would stop talking.
He sighed. "I'll send Lucas and Drake with you. Zajack has agreed they can stay for a week, just so you feel more at home. Tomorrow they'll accompany you straight to the airport. It's a one hour flight to Boston..."
He went on about logistics and I tuned him out, staring instead at the wall in front of me. I could almost see the remnants of the technician and his paraphernalia on the table against the wall. It was as if he never quite left the room.
The fact that Lucas and Drake, two of the security guards my father had used to guard his own children, were coming with me was actually of very little comfort to me.
Lucas came to my father's household when I was five. He had come for my personal protection. His build was intimidating, his face stoic, and he was as unapproachable twenty years ago when I was a little girl as he was today.
Drake was newer. He came to be my younger brother Otto's guard before Otto left for college. It was an unspoken rule that college was off limits as a warring zone between the Empires, and so father wasn't too worried when he packed Otto up and shipped him to school. Otto had, surprisingly, not wanted to attend Harvard like the rest of the family had. He went to the West for school, and so he was even more untouchable. So after he left, Drake stayed with the family, where his services were actually needed.
I didn't know Drake well. He seemed silent and broody. He might be a force in my father's house and maybe even in the East in general, but I doubted that he could help me in Damien Garzón's house.
The next morning, there they were, Lucas and Drake, lined up and standing tall among four of what I presumed were Zajack Garzón's men.
As I walked into the foyer, the men from the Garzóns all turned and looked at me. They openly stared at me, appraising me with stony looks on their faces.
I dug my nails into the palms of my hands, but I refused to give the the satisfaction of seeing me whither. Instead, I glared back at them.
"They'll take you to the airport, Quinn," my father grunted.
I swiveled around on the spot, turning to stare at him in horror. "The airport?" I drew in a breath. My father knew how much I hated flying. I avoided it by all means possible.
He was frowning at me. "I told you this yesterday, Quinn," he said, clearly displeased even though this was probably the last time he was going to see me in a while. "After the technician left."
I could barely register any type of stimulant after the technician left, much less what my father said to me. "Why can't we go by Rail?" I protested, my voice rising despite my determination to make myself sound calm.
The Rail was developed before the Three Empires fought the drug war. It connected all the major cities in the East by high speed rail, but it was shut down for the duration of the war, having come under constant hijacking and derailments. After the Tracker Serum though, the government reestablished the Rail, making it feasible to travel like that through the East again.
One of the Garzón men snickered. I turned around, glaring at him even though I knew what he was going to say.
"We can't take the Rail, Miss Knight," he said, his face twisted in a leer as he gave me the most contemptuous look possible. "It goes through McIntyre territory."
God, they probably all thought I was an idiot. The McIntyres controlled the Rail system. Almost all the trains on the East went through the heart of their territory. Thank goodness Lucas and Drake had the decency to keep their faces devoid of all emotion.
"And what, are the McIntyres going to hijack our train?" I snapped, feeling my temper rise. It didn't matter. It didn't matter that we were going through New York. I hated flying.
The man who had answered me the first time shrugged. "I wouldn't put it past them," he told me dismissively.
I clenched my fists furiously. If this was how the Garzón security detail treated me, then I had no doubt in my mind as to how Damien and his family would treat me. Behind me, father grunted something. I could tell he was displeased, unhappy with the attitude the guy was giving me. But he was smart enough not to say anything. He knew that whatever he could do to punish them here, in his territory, they would take it out on me later when I was out of his protection.
But that wasn't going to stop him from giving me away. His face remained impassive as he watched me walk out of the door, out the the house I had spent my whole life in.
I left for the Garzóns with one suitcase in toll. I was told to pack lightly, that Damien would provide for whatever I didn't bring. I gritted my teeth. I'll be damned if I ever let Damien Garzón provide for me. I had a job, and this move from DC to Boston wasn't going to get in the way of that. Damien Garzón wasn't going to get in the way of that.
There were two black sedans waiting for me on the driveway. There were eight of us in total. Four of the Garzóns' men, Lucas and Drake, me, and Miranda.
I had requested of both my father and the Garzóns to allow me to take someone from inside my household along with me. It was during those first few days after my father had let me know about the marriage agreement, when I was driven half crazed with fear and repulsion, that I had practically knelt in front of him and begged for him to let me bring someone, anyone.
To my immense surprise, Miranda had volunteered to go with me.
Miranda Carver was an administrative assistant for my father's house. When your job was to run the gambling industry among others, you needed many administrative assistants. My father had many of them, but none were as pretty or as young as Miranda.
She was hired about five years after my mother had died. Immediately, Zander, Otto, and I had suspected that she was meant more to be my mother's replacement than anyone of use to my father's business dealings. She even had my mother's name. We were convinced that our father was screwing her, but we never found out for sure.
Miranda was reserved. She kept her personal life completely separate to the point that, despite having known her for years, I knew nothing about her family or her friends. In fact, I barely knew anything about her. Granted, for a large chunk of the time, I had been away at college, but even so I had never been able to get close to Miranda.
Still, she was a reminder of home. And although we weren't exactly friends, it was comforting to have her around just because she reminded me of home.
It was strange, I thought as I sat in the black sedan, staring out at the passing landscape as we moved towards the waiting jet, that I missed home. I had hated it there growing up, hated what my father did for a living, hated the fact that my mother had enabled him by standing by and turning a blind eye to all his business dealings. Hated it so much that when I went to college I had majored in journalism and gotten a job at The Daily, a newspaper known for its articles on corruption in the East.
My coworkers all thought I was a hypocrite. I was working for The Daily, trying to write articles that exposed corruption, and all the while my father ran one of the Three Empires.
My father had hated it too.
"When shit hits the fan, you think your little paper writing job a The Daily is going to help you?" he had roared when he found out what I wanted to do. "It's going to me that's going to help you!"
He was right, of course. The meager income I earned at The Daily was always supplemented by the fact that I had my father to fall back on if anything ever happened. He knew that and I knew that. And that was what made me the biggest hypocrite of all.
I did my job properly. I was one of the hardest workers on my team. I triple checked all the facts, went to extremes to get the sources, and was grudgingly accepted by all my colleagues. But for all the government corruption I exposed, I could still never report on the crimes my father was responsible for.
If I really wanted to support my cause, I would have ran away, like my brother Zander did. But I was too much of a coward. I wrote about corruption in the East during the day while resting comfortably at night knowing that should anything happen, I was still under the protection of my father's Empire. An Empire built on gambling, smuggling, and trafficking.
I had always hated myself for it. Deep down, I was such a coward. I talked about justice and crime eradication, but the only system I was sure about, the only system I truly believed would stand at the end of the day, was the Three Empires.
Most of what I wrote about was government corruption. If it irked the McIntyres, who bought most of the Senators, the Congressmen, and the police chiefs, they never did anything to retaliate. In fact, my interactions with the McIntyre's were severely limited.
I had only ever interacted with Bruce McIntyre on three occasions. I had never even seen his wife, who died even before my mother did, and I only ever saw his sons once. His elder son Parker was five years older than me. I met him just after the drug war, when the families of the Three Empires had gotten together to talk out a truce. He had just turned twenty then, and it was no secret that Bruce McIntyre intended for Parker to succeed him, but Parker never seemed interested in his father's Empire. In fact, he was more known for leading a careless and extravagant lifestyle than anything else.
Parker's younger brother Trent was only nine at the time. The thing I remembered about Trent was that he was distinctly...normal. He was unspoiled, energetic, and eager for adventure as nine year old boys often were. If he didn't look just like a mini version of Parker, I would have not pegged him for a McIntyre.
"You okay?" Miranda's voice jolted me back to the present.
I looked over at her. Blonde hair, blue eyed, tall and slender, it was no wonder we all thought that there was only one reason our father would hire her. Although if she was sleeping with my father it was rather unexpected that he would so easily let her go like this.
"I'm fine," I told her, even though I was clearly tense.
She tapped my arm lightly. "Just so you know," she said very quietly so that only I would hear. Lucas was in the passenger seat of the car, while Pete, the guy who had talked down to me back at my father's house, was driving our car. "I heard that the Garzón family-
I never got to hear what she had heard of the Garzón family, because at that moment, Pete slammed down on the brakes so that we all lurched forward.
"Fucking cops!" he yelled into steering wheel, slamming his massive hands against the dashboard.
I looked around, out the window. I hadn't even heard the sirens, but I must've just been so caught up in my thoughts. We were on the side of a small country road. I recognized it. It was close to where a small hanger was, where the jet would be waiting for us. Seeing that we stopped, the other Garzón car had stopped about twenty yards in front of us.
"A problem, officer?" Pete grunted as he rolled down the window.
I peered out, seeing the police officer, dressed in his full black uniform with a white helmet, stopping full on to park his motorcycle.
His eyes were hidden behind super reflective sunglasses.
"Yeah," the officer said, clearly unintimidated by Pete's size and his cockiness. "You were speeding.
"Hah," Pete laughed, as if the police officer had just told a joke instead. "Yeah, but you see," and here he leaned in towards the window and tugged at the collar of his shirt. "We were in a hurry."
I saw the officer's lips twitch. I knew what Pete was showing the officer. Every security guard for the Garzóns had it. It was a tattoo of lizard, just under the collarbone. It was a way for people to immediately recognize that these were Garzón men.
The officer pushed his sunglasses out of the way. Now that his eyes were exposed, I could see that they were dark and beady.
"So?" the officer said with a downward curl of his mouth. "It doesn't change the fact that you were speeding." His voice was as low and as dangerous as Pete's had been. It made his message clear. He realized that Pete was part of the Garzón Empire, and he didn't care.
I saw Pete's jaw tighten, saw his hand move towards his gun holster.
I wouldn't let it get to that.
We were in my father's territory. I didn't recognize the police officer, but perhaps he would recognize me. I moved my hand to the button that would roll down my window.
"Quinn, don't!" Lucas hissed, having seen my movement out of the corner of his eye. Almost at the same moment, I felt Miranda's grip on my arm tighten. I hadn't even realized she had had her hand on my arm the whole time.
I froze in the act of depressing the button, turning to look at Miranda and Lucas, my whole body tense.
But it was already too late.
Sensing the commotion, the officer turned to peer through the window of the backseat. His eyes widened at the sight of me.
That recognition...Was he on my father's payroll? I barely had time to ponder this when the next second, the officer had whipped out his gun.
"Step out of your car, hands in the air!" he yelled.
What the heck?
The officer turned towards his right shoulder, shouting something indecipherable into the device sewn into his shoulder. I had interacted with enough of the police force that were on my father's payroll over the years that I knew what that was. He was calling for backup.
"What the hell?" Pete was staring at the officer in bewilderment. Then his face hardened. Instead of moving to step out of the car, he reached for his gun.
The officer didn't hesitate.
The shot hit Pete on the shoulder and he keeled over, his head banging against the steering wheel.
Miranda was screaming, and so was I.
"Get out of the car!" the officer yelled, now pointing his gun at us.
My whole body was trembling.
"Stay down, Quinn," Lucas said, hand reaching for his gun as he tried to reassure me, but I was already in hysterics. All my life, I had always been under heavy protection. Plus, I wasn't involved in my father's business dealings, so I was generally left out of it all. And on top of that, this was the Knight Empire's territory. Who would dare attack me here? Who would dare attack one of the Garzón security on my father's territory?
Lucas answered my unasked question.
"I think he's working for the McIntyres," he said.
Then, his car door was wrenched open.
I screamed again, completely and utterly frightened out of my mind. Two men dressed in black had appeared out of nowhere and began pulling Lucas out of his car.
Miranda was full on hyperventilating next to me, gripping my arm so tightly I was afraid I was going to lose circulation.
"Get the girl!" one of the two guys who had their hand on Lucas yelled, nodding towards me.
I swiveled my head around. Men around us everywhere. I had no idea where they had all come from. It was like an ambush.
"Run, Quinn!" Lucas shouted at me, trying to wrestle one of the guys off of him.
I didn't need telling twice.
"Miranda, come on!" I hissed at my companion, hoping that she had her head together enough to stop sobbing. Fortunately, my words seemed to have some sort of effect on her, and the next moment, she had gained some of the composure I had usually associated with her.
I practically dragged Miranda out of the sedan, the two of us tumbling towards the ground. The gravel scraped my skin, but I didn't have time to think about it.
Kicking off my heels, I half crawled, half ran towards the tall grass on the side of the road. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see that the occupants of the other sedan-Drake and the three other Garzón men-were out of their car as well, scrambling in a chaotic mess of a punches and body slams with assailants in black who had come out of nowhere.
They were occupied enough that they didn't notice Miranda or me, and we were soon immersed into the grass.
I started running. I didn't turn to say anything to Miranda, because I was sure if she had any sense, any sense at all, she would start running too. Maybe if we made it onto the other side of this field, we could flag down a cab. Enough of this city had some form of a connection with my father that they would help us.
The dry grass cut into my skin, drawing blood. I knew my feet would be scarred by the end of the day, could already feel the rocks digging in, cutting the bottoms of my feet, but I didn't care. I was getting farther and farther into the grass. Hopefully, even if they had noticed that I was gone from the scene, they wouldn't be able to find me in the midst of all this.
Suddenly, I had the wind knocked right out of me, as something caught me in the stomach.
That something was a person's arm. My entire body turned to ice, as suddenly I found myself caught between someone's arms. I was so shocked and so frightened that I couldn't even scream. Instead, I could only look up into the face of my captor.
Even in my fright, I recognized him immediately, even though it had been almost a decade since I last saw him.
Parker McIntyre grinned down at me, amusement etched on his handsome face.
"Where are you going, sweetheart?"
A/N: An idea I've had for quite a while. Let me know what you guys think!