Nightsiders 1


 Susan Krinard


San Francisco, California

 Mommy was crying. Alexia knew it had something to with do the lady on the TV, talking in soft words that didn’t match the angry expression on her face.

Behind the lady was a picture of a city, a black, upside-down bowl that gleamed like a beetle’s shell in bright sunlight. “Erebus,” the lady on the TV said. Alexia didn’t know what that meant, but it sounded like a very bad word. And somehow, it was making Mommy sad.

Alexia got up from her seat on the thin carpet and went to Mommy, searching her face anxiously. There were dark blotches under Mommy’s eyes, and her nose was red.

“What is it, Mommy?” Alexia asked, reaching up to be taken into her mother’s arms.

Mommy picked her up and sat her on the couch beside her. “Nothing’s wrong, Lexie,” she said, trying to smile.

Alexia always knew when Mommy was fooling. It wasn’t just that she smelled different, or the way her voice got very tight, even though she was smiling. There was something wrong, and it made Alexia upset that Mommy was unhappy. Upset and angry.

“What are they talking about?” Alexia asked, pointing at the TV.

Mommy pulled Alexia close and stroked her hair. “It’s a city,” she said.

“Like San Francisco?”

“Not the same,” Mommy replied. She breathed in and out in a funny way that made Alexia’s heart hurt. “You remember when we talked about the Nightsiders?”

Alexia made a face. “They’re nasty. We had a big fight with them.”

“That’s right.” Mommy bent her head so her nose pressed against Alexia’s hair. “That is the city they built in what we used to call the Sonoma Valley. They made it all for themselves, where they don’t have to be in the sun.”

“Sun kills them,” Alexia said solemnly.

“That’s right.”

“And they used to kill people all the time, didn’t they? During the big fight?”

Mommy covered Alexia’s eyes as if she didn’t want her to see the TV anymore. “You shouldn’t know about that,” she said, a funny warble in her voice. “No child should know.”

“Don’t worry, Mommy.” Alexia pulled her mother’s hand away from her eyes. “The kids at school talk about the bloodsuckers all the time. I’m not scared.”

“Oh, God,” Mommy whispered. “Do they... Are the other kids...nice to you, at school?”

“Oh, they’re okay. Some of the girls are mean sometimes. They give me funny looks.

The boys just stare at me a lot.”

Mommy cupped both her hands around Alexia’s face. “What do they say?”

Alexia shrugged the way she had seen grown-ups do when they were pretending something didn’t matter. “Silly things, about my eyes.” She touched her own eyelids.

“They say I’m like a cat because I can see in the dark.”

“That’s right,” Mommy said in a completely different voice than before. “Like a cat.

And cats are beautiful, aren’t they? So graceful and brave.” She smiled, moving Alexia to sit in her lap. “But you know what? I think you look even more like a fox. Remember the pictures I showed you?”

Alexia nodded. “It was red, like my hair.”

“And quick and clever. Like you.”

They were very nice words, but Alexia couldn’t help looking at the TV again, and at the ugly city with the scary name.

“The bloodsuckers aren’t ever going to come here, are they?” she asked, just a little bit scared after all.

“Lexie, that word—”

“Isn’t that what they are, Mommy?”

Mommy made a sound a little like a laugh, but it wasn’t a happy one. “Yes,” she said.

“But you don’t have to worry about that.”

“I’m not worried.” Alexia bit her lip. “We aren’t ever going to get in a big fight with them again, are we?”

“No.” She took a big, long breath. “I wish—” Alexia wriggled free and looked up into Mommy’s eyes. “What do you wish, Mommy?”

“I wish things could be the way they were before...before the big fight.”

“When my daddy was alive?”

Mommy’s face seemed to crumple all at once. She sobbed, and Alexia knew it was because of what she had said. It was all her fault.

“It’s okay, Mommy,” she said, stroking her mother’s trembling hand and soft, wet cheeks. “I won’t ever talk about Daddy again.”

“Oh, my baby,” Mommy said, gathering Alexia up again so tightly that she could barely breathe. “I will never, ever let anyone hurt you. Not anyone. I’m going to keep you with me forever and ever.”

Alexia pressed her face to the pulse in Mommy’s neck. It was so warm and sweet. It made her feel safe.

But she didn’t want to just be safe. She wanted to find a way to make Mommy happy.

And keep those nasty bloodsuckers in their ugly black city from making anyone afraid, ever again.

Chapter 1

San Francisco Enclave, West Coast Region

“It may be fatal,” the Director said.

Alexia laughed. “Since when hasn’t that been true of every mission?”

Aegis Director of Field Operations Wilson McAllister regarded her without a trace of amusement. “This isn’t funny, Alex,” he said. “We’re talking about violating our side of the Treaty and striking deep into the Zone. Even the Mayor doesn’t know about it.”

“At least not officially,” Alexia said.

“Not officially enough to send someone to pull your ass out of the fire if you get caught.” The steel rims of McAllister’s glasses flashed as they caught the cold and sterile light from the overhead fixtures. “Your mission will be to learn everything you can about the Nightsiders’ illegal colony without doing anything to attract the Citadel’s attention. If you fail or are captured—”

“—Aegis will disavow any knowledge of our actions. I know the drill.” Alexia wandered to the window overlooking the glimmering waters of San Francisco Bay. From Aegis headquarters in the old Financial District, she could see a heavily guarded convoy of trucks carrying agricultural products from the Central Valley into the city. The Treaty meant that the Nightsiders were supposed to leave such convoys alone.

Usually they did. But there were always the terrorists, the ones who wanted to ignite a new War. On both sides. And that was what her team would be sent in to try to prevent.

Alexia drifted back into memory, of the year the Nightsiders had first appeared. Not that they’d been

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