The Lone Prospect
To find Eberron, Savannah didn’t have far to go. She walked across the compound parking lot, past a carved wooden sign braced with four by four square posts and built up with formed rocks. It read, “Moonbeams,” with a big happy smiling full moon logo.
The door was made of glass and on the other side at ground level she could see a pair of big blue eyes.
She pulled the door open, leaned down, and caught the black wolf puppy that was about to dash out. “No,” she said to him.
The bell set above the door chimed out.
The puppy didn’t seem to mind that his escape had been thwarted. He wagged his tail and wiggled around to lick Savannah’s chin. She giggled. The puppy proceeded to sniff her ear and then lick half of her face in happiness.
“Set a sentry did they?” she asked the puppy. She couldn’t tell who the puppy belonged to at first glance. All wolf puppies were born with black fur and blue eyes and he wouldn’t start to show his true colors for a few more years. He had to be under the age of six. She cradled him in her arms and scratched his ears and walked deeper into the atrium.
Poppy stuck her head out of the kitchen. “Savannah?” she asked, and tucked dark brown curls behind her ear.
“I have a missing technician,” Savannah said.
Poppy’s face crinkled up and she grinned. In the other room, the two of them heard a deep roar.
“Found him!” Savannah grinned and winked at Poppy. She turned and headed towards the largest doorway.
She stopped on the edge of a playroom. Three of the four walls were painted with brightly colored simplified trees and flowers. One of the walls had been given over to a chalkboard. The floor was covered in a resilient rubber like material instead of hard wood or carpet. The low tables had been pushed against the wall, and blocks and other toys had been pushed to the edge of the room. In the center was what appeared to be a large mass of children pushing and wiggling and wrestling on top of something.
The something made a deep bellow again and sat up, grabbing one of the boys around the middle. “I got you!” The large bald man with dusky skin of no easily identifiable ethnicity spun about making hover plane noises, the boy giggling hysterically.
Savannah started to laugh.
Eberron stopped and turned to face her, children clinging to his legs and one little girl with her arms about his neck.
Savannah grinned and tried to get her giggles under control. “We have a job and there’s a transport that needs fixing.”
“I’m not a mechanic,” Eberron said. His voice was deep and sounded like someone had raked it over gravel. At least, he wasn’t a transport mechanic and disliked being dragged into fixing it because he was intelligent and knew autos.
Savannah, with much twitching of her face muscles, tried to straighten her face and look sober. It was difficult.
The little girl patted the top of Eberron’s head. He had to reach up, grab her arm around his neck, and readjust her position so she wouldn’t strangle him.
Savannah struggled to ignore it. “Then you can be my parts monkey and tool jack,” she said.
“That’s what the hydraulics are for,” Eberron pointed out.
“There are doctors in distress here!”
Eberron looked at the little girl. The little girl pouted. Eberron winked at her and looked back at Savannah. “Are they hot?”
Savannah cocked her hips. “I don’t know.” She paused. Savannah adjusted her shoulders and took on a sultry pose. She worked her sweet voice to as closest approximation to a purr as she could get. “But Skyler and I are.”
To his credit, Eberron didn’t laugh. He looked Savannah in the eyes solemnly. He was a big man, six foot and his muscles strained against his t-shirt as if he spent a lot of time weight lifting. He held the little girl and little boy without any effort.
She stared back at him, not intimidated in the least.
He tried a last ditch effort. “It’s almost snack time.”
The puppy in Savannah’s arms whined and wiggled around, trying to jump out.
Savannah started and loosened her hold.
The black puppy jumped to the ground and disappeared under a pile of clothes.
Savannah’s lips twitched. She sauntered over to Eberron and put her hands on her hips. “Almost snack time, huh?”
He smiled at her. “Yeah.”
She went up on tiptoe and snatched the girl from around his neck. “Umph.” She swung the little girl around and she ended up on her hip with her arms around Savannah’s shoulders and legs wrapped around her waist. “Fine, I guess we’ll have to stay for snack time and then go fix the transport.”
“We?” he said. His eyebrow rose.
She smiled back at him, a dimple forming in one of her cheeks. “We,” she said.
Eberron sighed. Damn it. Savannah always saw through that ploy.
She wrinkled her nose at him.
“Help me set the tables back,” she ordered.
In the corner, a little boy pulled his shirt over his head and dashed over to Savannah, wrapping his arm around her waist. “Savvy!” he said.
Savannah rolled her eyes and rubbed the top of his head, his short buzzed hair soft against her palm. “That’s Savannah,” she said, now able to identify him as Colt, one of Flint and Morgan’s many children.
“Auntie Frankie calls you Savvy.”
“And you aren’t Auntie Frankie,” she said and hugged him back. “Your shirt is on backwards,” she told him.
Colt frowned and glanced down at it.
“And it’s inside out,” the little girl pointed out.
“I don’t care.”
The little girl stuck her nose up in the air. “Change it, now!”
Colt stuck his tongue out at her, but pulled the shirt over his head.
The little girl smiled in satisfaction.
Savannah looked at her. “Spending a little too much time with Mommy, are we, Poppet?” she asked, but kissed the girl’s cheek. She hooked a foot around one of the table legs and began to drag it.
“Mommy is berry proud,” Poppet replied with a smile.
“I bet she is,” Savannah muttered.
Eberron rolled his eyes, tugged the kids off of him, and came over and picked up the table with one hand.
“What are you doing here, boyo?” Savannah asked, tucking Colt’s tag in once he had his shirt on right.
He wrinkled his nose. “The littlest had a doctor’s appointment. Daddy was accompanying Winnie on a field trip. Auntie Frankie is teachin’ a fightin’ class, and Aunt Bent is busy. Grandpa Ted and Grandma Hazel and Uncle Marion are workin’.”
Poor Poppy. She never knew from day to day who would show up. Savannah knew that Poppy didn’t care, but it made a mess of office work for her to keep track of. Poppy was really the one actual employee at the center, not that she was ever without help for long. Savannah made a note to ask Ted to have Spike come over and help Poppy out with it all, as long as all the children didn’t distract Spike. “You ended up here,” Savannah said with a grin.
Eberron finished setting the tables back, as Poppy came into the room with a tray full of snacks. Eberron rushed over to grab it from her. Savannah swung the girl down and went around the table.
“Duck, duck…” she said and patted them on the head.
The children giggled and sat down, vying for seats before Savannah got to them.
She came to Eberron, bounced up and smacked him on top of the head. “Goose!”
Eberron looked mournful. “I can’t chase you.”
Savannah grinned at him. “I know.”
Poppy came in with another tray and Savannah took it from her.
“But you’ve been warned,” Eberron said.
“Oh, I have now.” Savannah continued to grin and started to pass out snacks.
Savannah narrowed her eyes and looked at him out of the corners of them. If he was chasing her, she got to choose where they went. Sometimes, boys were easy to get to do what she wanted. She found Poppy, met her eyes, and winked.
Poppy winked back.
After snack time, Poppy handed Savannah a couple paper bags. “For the others,” she said.
Savannah opened it and wrinkled her nose. “If they knew they were getting snacks, I would have had more volunteers.”
Savannah turned around and glanced at Eberron. She needed a head start. She knew him well enough to know as soon as he was done with the pups, he’d be after her as promised. “Whelp,” she said. “Time to go.” She dashed for the door and shoved it open, bell jangling.
Eberron’s head came up and he set down the child he was hugging. “She’s taking off!” he said. “Sneaky brat!” he shouted after her.
“Go! Go!” the children yelled.
Eberron took after Savannah at a run. “I’m going to catch you!” he shouted after her.
“Then what?” Savannah shouted over her shoulder and dodged across the gravel. She laughed at him.
Eberron blinked. He hadn’t gotten that far in this hypothetical game of duck, duck, goose. He decided to make it up as he went along and pounded after her.
Neither of them noticed the old, somewhat beat up auto that pulled into the compound.
Savannah ducked into the transport hangar and dashed around it, finding a handhold and swinging upwards, climbing to the top of as Eberron came around the corner. She ran along the top. Eberron growled, grabbed his own handholds and swung upwards. Savannah got to the end of the transport and turned around.
Eberron halted in the middle. “You’ve run out of ground.”
Savannah grinned, took a step back, grabbed the ladder and skimmed down to the floor next to Quinn and Skyler. “We brought snacks,” she said and handed Quinn his bag of snacks.
Eberron came over and looked down. Skyler rolled out and looked upwards. “That was a lot longer than five minutes.”
Savannah passed it down to her. “It was snack time.”
Quinn opened his bag. “Pepperoni! Yes!” He rummaged around past the grapes. “And one of those little juice box things. I miss being a pup.” There was cheese and those gummy candies too. His eyes widened as he found the cookies at the bottom.
Skyler wrinkled her nose and sat up. She glanced up at Eberron who was still scowling on top of the transport. “What are you doing up there?”
“It is. Very evil.”
Savannah smirked at him. “Whatever it is, do it to Quinn. He’s the one who mucked up the transport.”
Eberron tilted his head and thought about it. “I don’t think so.”
Savannah crossed her arms.
Eberron crossed his arms back.
Quinn took a bite of the pepperoni. He rolled his eyes upwards. “And it’s the stuff made with the bacon fat too. Oh God. I love this stuff.”
Skyler rolled her eyes and moved back under the transport, chewing on pepperoni. “Sav, you might want to take a look at this.”
Savannah frowned, and shrugged out of her kutte, placing it carefully over a bench. She got down on the ground and scooted under the transport with Skyler. “Algae-ridden, slime-covered buckets of—Quinn!” Savannah finished at a shout.
Quinn winced and pulled his snack bag closer as if afraid Savannah would take it away from him. Maybe he should go hide until this was over.
Eberron grinned down at him. “Now it’s your turn to run.”
Gideon slowly shut the door to his auto and looked around. He wasn’t sure what the big man chasing after the tiny girl had been about, but it hadn’t looked too serious. The girl had been barely able to run from laughing hard. The guard had told him Brand was in the clubhouse. Gideon figured it was the biggest building. It wasn’t the one that had a large free standing sign that read ‘Moonbeams’ out front. He didn’t know what that one was about, but he was sure he’d find out eventually. That is, if he stayed.
There were four buildings by his count in immediate sight. The one that the girl and the guy had run into looked like a hangar and the building furthest away didn’t have a visible sign.
He looked at the other closest one. There wasn’t a separate sign like the other building had, but a huge sign screwed onto the side. A large, white, insane-looking crescent moon blew out stardust. He had metal blade like wings, and daggers like half the rays of the sun were behind him. In large dark maroon letters next to this logo were the words Heaven’s Heathens. Stylistically, they looked like someone had done western letters with all the calligraphic flourishes. Stars were cut out of every letter. It was pretty safe to think that this was the clubhouse.
There wasn’t another guard by the door, fortunately for him. He didn’t think he wanted to go through that a second time. The guy by the gate had been friendly enough, but had still put Gideon on alert. The obvious security in the middle of what appeared to be a residential neighborhood was somewhat jarring and nerve-wracking.
Gideon stuck his hands in his back pockets and wandered across the lot to the heavy metal door and took one out to pull it open. He entered and blinked a few times to get used to the light.
He’d walked into a bar–dark maroon walls and piano black pool tables felted in light gray. The ebony bar took up most of one wall and behind it were rows and rows of different types of liquor. A sign on the wall read, “No shirt, no shoes… no problem.” He looked around. There weren’t really many tables, but against the walls and in front of the fireplace were several couches and comfy looking chairs. In one corner, a couple of older men sat playing chess. At first glance, a large gray and white dog lay under one of the pool tables.
A second glance confirmed it was a wolf, not a dog.
A curly brown haired guy with a goatee looked up from one of the couches. “Help you?” He asked. Gideon noted he wore the vest of the Club, or the pack, he wasn’t sure yet.
“Yeah, I’m looking for Brand.” Gideon met the guy’s eyes for a second and then quickly averted them, trying to be polite. He wanted the guy to know he was friendly. He didn’t want the guy to think he was being challenged. It was polite. Gideon was the outsider.
“He’s in the chapel,” the other guy said and pointed at one of the heavy wooden doors stained a dark brown that the grain looked the same piano black as the tables.
“Don’t mention it.”
Gideon bit his tongue. He had a standard response to that, but he was trying to make a good impression. He walked across the room to the door indicated and knocked.
“It’s open.” The voice was mild.
Gideon took a deep breath, reminded himself that he was a fine, upstanding citizen and a war veteran to boot, which was more than he could say about this group. They were a motorcycle club, whatever that meant. His mother always looked disapproving. He touched his military dog tags hanging around his neck on a ball chain and opened the door. He took a step in closed it behind him without presenting his back to the new room.
He flicked his eyes around the room out of habit. The walls weren’t maroon in this room. The top halves of the walls looked to be painted a soft silvery gray, at least where the light through the windows hit them. Otherwise they seemed more like a silvery pearlescent opal radiating a soft light into the room. The bottom half of the walls were covered in black leather studded with rounded rivets at the top and the bottom, and held in place by black molding. Gideon glanced up. There weren’t any lights in the ceiling confirming his suspicion that the walls were the lights. Despite that there were still decorations on the walls, ones that Gideon didn’t have any time to pay attention to other than yet another rendition of the metal sculptural Heaven’s Heathens logo.
Gideon turned his attention to the other man in the room. He needed to make an impression. He needed this man’s approval to stay in this town. Gideon wished he felt a little more prepared.
Brand sat at the opposite side of a large heavy wooden rectangular table set square in the middle of the room. The table was large enough to sit at least a dozen people in Gideon’s estimation. Brand’s hair was dark brown and grayed at the temples. Brand leaned against the back of the chair, his hands out of Gideon’s sight. His face showed no more emotion than a slight, pleasant smile that conveyed no information to Gideon. Despite that, to Gideon’s eyes, Brand conveyed control and power. He was in charge and Gideon knew it.
Gideon met Brand’s eyes and then lowered his deliberately. “My name is Gideon, sir, Gideon Vonrothe.” He wasn’t sure how to explain exactly what he was here for and decided to stop right there.
He felt his nerves increase. He didn’t know a lot about biker clubs, but Brand had a lot of patches and decorations on the front of his vest. It was the most decorated vest he’d seen yet. On one side there were two, one read President and underneath it was one that read Fear No Evil. On the other side were another two, the top read Jasper and under that was one that read Mother Club. There were silver metal stars on the ends of his collar and a dagger pin and a few other patches that Gideon didn’t bother to pay attention to.
Brand’s lips twitched, respectful. “We’ve been expecting you.”
Gideon’s head jerked up. They had been watching him.
Brand leaned forward. “Tell me. Do ducks give good advice?”
Brand smiled at him and leaned back again. “Have a seat.” He nodded at one of the chairs. “What brings you to Jasper?”
Gideon took the seat offered and sat down. He still wasn’t sure what to say to that, and said the first thing that came to mind. “I’m not exactly cut out to be a farmer.”
Gideon hoped this was a good sign. He didn’t really have a pitch as such. He was flying by the seat of his pants here. Maybe he should have thought about it more instead of getting angry at the duck and coming straight over as soon as he had his courage up.
“I thought I had a career in the military. Then an unexpected encounter with an IED ended it. After I healed up and they decided to let me go permanently, I traveled. Met your people in Texas, and while they said they weren’t looking for anyone to add to their pack at the moment, they thought that I should come and talk with you.” He took a deep breath and his heart raced. He was nervous and he knew there was no way of hiding it. “That maybe you would be willing to consider me joining your pack here.”
Brand tensed at the mention of the military. He narrowed his eyes and reassessed the boy in front of him. Brand probably would have given Gideon a chance no matter what, the puppy had been well behaved, but military training meant he might make it through the prospect period and save Brand a lot of time in having to train Gideon himself.
“Have you ever ridden a motorcycle?” he asked, alluding to the fact that the Club and the pack were one in the same. He wasn’t sure if Gideon knew that.
A slow grin spread across Gideon’s face. “I guess I’ll learn.”
Brand grinned back. That was good. He hoped it meant that Gideon would keep an open mind for new experiences. There were probably going to be a lot of them for the boy. He stood up. “Come with me,” he said. He’d had time to think about what to do with the boy if he ever found his courage and showed up at the door.
Gideon stood too. “All right,” he said, unsure of whether or not this was a good or not. Other than his smiles, Brand wasn’t giving him much to go off of and Gideon just didn’t know Brand well enough to say one way or the other.
He followed him out and eyed the embroidery work on the back of Brand’s vest. It was the insane crescent moon again, like the one screwed to the side of the building. And over top of it was the Heaven’s Heathens logo again. There was a smaller MC patch, which Gideon assumed meant motorcycle club, and then a matching patch to the logo on the bottom, except this one read Colorado. It made him a little uneasy. Did this pack claim all of Colorado as their territory? Or was this something to do with the club or both?
Brand nodded at the guy in the bar on the couch. They passed him and went out a different door. The guy watched them, then got up and dashed out the door Gideon had first come in.
Brand led him across the grounds to the third building, the one without a sign. If the boy really were military, it wouldn’t hurt to put him to the test. If Gideon hadn’t been military, Brand would be giving him a much less strenuous test than he was about to. Brand’s grin didn’t fade. If Gideon were lying, then this would quickly show them what he was made of and if Gideon wasn’t, it wouldn’t hurt the pup at all.
“I take it when you left the military, they made you return all your weaponry,” he said. He opened the door and led Gideon down the main hallway.
“They let me keep the boots.” Gideon shrugged. Boots could be weapons if you thought about it right.
“They let you keep the boots,” Brand repeated and shook his head.
“Custom made, yadda yadda.”
Brand looked over his shoulder at him and half-smiled. “That makes sense.” He stopped by a window and leaned in. “Hey, Hunter,” he said.
“What?” Hunter asked. She came around from the back and scowled at Brand.
Gideon blinked. Hunter was a woman, long dark brown hair, brown eyes, tanned skin, and broad shoulders. She looked grumpy.
“Prospective needs a knife.” Brand said.
Hunter looked past Brand at Gideon. This must be the puppy everyone was buzzing about. Looks like he’d gotten up the courage to ask into the pack if Brand was calling him a prospective. Brand must be looking to test him to see if he was club material. If the puppy passed, he’d be part of the Club on a provisional basis. The latest prospect to harass and annoy with the club kutte as a badge to prove it. Hunter had her own ways of harassing and annoying. She needed someone new to use them on. Everyone else was getting too used to her ways.
Hunter looked at Brand. The knife test was a bit extreme. Who was she to argue with him? Brand’s club. Brand’s rules. She raised an eyebrow. “Let me see his hands.”
Brand took a step back and gestured for Gideon to come over. Gideon tried to quell the uneasiness in his guts and did as Brand wanted. He held his hands up for Hunter to see. Hunter reached beneath his view, pulled out a silver cuff, reached through the window, and clasped it around his wrist.
Gideon’s glasses automatically materialized over his face as the computer recognized the device, though he’d actually never been in contact with one of them in his life. He heard about them, seen one maybe once, joked about how much easier it would make military life, but never actually had one on his wrist before. He wasn’t sure how it worked, except that the cuff could hold weapons and ammunition, like how a computer could hold data. He knew how to use one of them out of curiosity. He’d never had a chance to try one before. They were worth more than he wanted to think about without breaking out into a cold sweat.
The contents of the weapons bracelet came up on interior of his glasses lenses. There was a knife, and according to the system it wasn’t a real one, a holographic version. He clenched his fist and a large bowie knife materialized in his hand. That he was at least familiar with. He hefted it. It didn’t feel any different than what he was used to. He laid his hand flat and the knife disappeared. That was uncanny.
He looked at Brand.
Brand jerked his head towards the door. “This way.”
They walked down the hallway through the building and out yet another door. Gideon tried to remember how many doors were in the hallway and couldn’t. He blinked at the light and his lenses automatically darkened back to his preferred sunglasses tint.
Fifty yards or more from the building and out of sight, hidden behind the hangar and away from the main parking lot, was what looked like a shantytown. Gideon glanced over at Brand, his gut twisting again.
Brand stopped next to the door. “This is where we practice our skills,” Brand said. “Your goal is to make it out the other side alive.”
Gideon wondered if this was a sick joke on him or if Brand did this with everybody who wanted to join his pack. He’d heard that some packs had weird initiation rituals.
“You won’t be timed,” Brand added.
Okay, that was a lie. Gideon would be timed. He wouldn’t be penalized if he went over a certain time limit, though it would affect his score. His time would be important, not life or death important. It wasn’t that type of test.
He looked up at the sky. “Enter in five minutes.”
“Oh, hundreds,” Gideon said. “They can wait.”
Brand grinned again. He turned around and walked back to the building and disappeared inside.
Gideon glanced at the opening of the shantytown. It looked like a maze. “Get in and out alive, right,” he muttered. “Maybe I was better off with the duck.”
Gideon clenched his fist again and felt the reassuring weight of the knife materialize in his hand, his grip automatically adjusting to fit. “Practice,” he muttered. “It’s a test.” He looked back at the other building and narrowed his eyes at it. “Weird test, but all right.” He looked back at the shantytown and smirked. It didn’t look too much different than the places he’d been in countries with names he couldn’t pronounce if he’d been told in the first place. “I’m game,” he said.
His five minutes were up. He crouched down and entered the building.