Dream Wars: Rising

By: Leia Stone
Chapter One

Los Angeles 2030

I tipped my black coffee back, taking down the rest of the cup in one big swallow. I needed to stay awake until we met our next job assignment in an hour.

As I rolled out my neck, my comrade gave me a once-over.

“You look like shit. When was the last time we slept?” Brisk asked me. His deep, husky voice always made me melt a little, but we’d tried the dating thing and were better off as friends, coworkers. Besides, everyone knew he’d end up with Ronnie anyway, once she learned to get that stick out of her ass and finally give in to his advances.

“Forty-nine hours, and she’s on her period, so that doesn’t help,” my best friend answered for me.

I rolled my eyes, groaning. “Geez, Ronnie! Stop stalking me.” I warned her as she tied her long, black, silky Asian hair into a bun and placed two small throwing knives in to secure it.

She pursed her lips. “Need I remind you of my position on this team, Commander?”

Sass. So much sass.

I didn’t think tracking my periods helped her be any more or less of the team surgeon and medic. Maybe it did, what did I know? I failed biology. I was more of the F in math and science but A in English and ceramics kind of girl. I could make a mean table vase, but don’t ask me to do your taxes or explain why volcanos erupted. They just did.

I’d wanted to beat the shit out of Ronnie when I first met her at the Dream Wars Cadet Academy. She was a smarty-pants, know-it-all with a serious attitude problem. But now I’d come to crave that verbal ass-kicking that only Ronnie could give. Veronica Sato was an Ivy League graduate and the best damn trauma surgeon I’d ever seen. It was her job to make sure that our team of five, including her, stayed healthy and with our organs tucked safely inside of our bodies.

I groaned, the weight of sleep pulling at my limbs. “We’ve gone longer,” I reminded Brisk, shivering as I thought about the time I went seven days without a single minute of shut-eye. I thought I was going to die.

Ronnie nodded. We all had gone long stretches without sleep ever since the ghouls, an invisible alien race, landed on our planet ten years ago and started feeding on the human bodies of those asleep. The ghouls were like a cross between vampires and zombies. Nodding off had become a fight for our lives, but it also kept me employed. Avoiding sleep allowed me to heal the wounds I sustained while in the Dream Wars. If a ghoul injured you in the Dream Wars, it carried over into your physical body. So I refused to sleep unless I was 100 percent.

“Just the coffee or any stims?” Ronnie had her little freaking torture flashlight out and was shining it in my eyes.

I flinched, avoiding the light. I didn’t like stims, not since losing one of my best warriors to a stim addiction. She knew that. She’d also spent nearly every minute of the last two days with me, so she knew I hadn’t taken any. Dick. I just glared at her.

She threw her hands up. “Okay, no stims. Chillax, mamacita.” Even though Ronnie was Japanese, she somehow turned into an old Mexican lady when she was frustrated. It was weird but I’d come to love it. She frequently bitched us out in both Japanese and Spanish.

“Did you see this client’s file? He’s like mega rich and uber hot. My favorite combination,” Maxine cut in, purring in her raspy Marilyn Monroe voice.

Maxine was our resident beauty queen. Literally. She was runner-up at a Miss USA pageant four years ago at the ripe age of seventeen. Don’t ask me why we were still having beauty pageants when humanity was dying off in their sleep. Priorities, right?

It wasn’t until Maxine’s parents were mutilated in their sleep by ghouls that she joined the cadet academy the following year. I’d never seen someone with so much rage. When she fought, it was like a bomb went off; once she started, she didn’t know how to stop herself. She was my front-line soldier, one of the best I’d ever had.

“Of course I’ve seen his file. I’ve memorized it,” I told her.

She was right. He was rich—all of our clients were—and he should be. He owned Striker Industries, a private weapons research facility on the west side that he headed up with his genius little brother. He was also, in fact, uber hot.

“I’ll bet he’s a total dick,” I continued.

The hot, rich ones always were. You had to be rich to be able to afford my team, but we usually protected fat, lazy, old businessmen. Not young, model-hot, in-shape guys like him. Nearly half of my equipment was from Striker Industries. Next to the President of the United States, this was the highest-profile client I’d ever had.

Maxine grinned. “I wouldn’t mind if he got a little rough,” she said with a wink.

I chuckled. Maxine didn’t hide her promiscuity, that was for sure. She lived life to the fullest and it was admirable.

“I heard his last three teams got killed,” Nox, our dark and broody warrior, spoke then, from his corner in the shadows. Nox Lightfoot was our resident pyrotechnics expert. He loved to blow shit up. His father was Japanese and his mother a full-blooded Navajo, which gave him a smooth brown complexion and cheekbones to die for. We often called him “pretty boy” just to rile him up.

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