Authors: Sloane Meyers
Danger in a Fur Coat
The Fur Coat Society, Book 4
By Sloane Meyers
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Similarities to actual people or events are entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2016 by Sloane Meyers. All rights reserved.
Juno’s heart was trying to beat right out of her chest. She hadn’t been this nervous in a long time, but here in the dark stillness of the Michigan forest at night, she felt like the sound of her heartbeat could be heard for miles. She looked around nervously, worried that she had been followed. She couldn’t shake the feeling that at any moment Drew or one of the other clan members was going to jump out and ask her what she was doing. She took a deep breath and waited, pausing at the door of the large shed. But there was no sound, except for her own rapid breathing and heartbeat. No one had followed her. No one had heard her sneak out. She might actually pull this off.
Dressed in all black, with her dark hair pulled back into a neat bun, Juno was nearly invisible in the black of the night. She easily picked the lock on the shed, then slowly opened the door. The creaking sounded unnaturally loud against the silence. Juno winced, then paused and waited again after the door was open, worried that someone would have heard. But again, there was no noise—only the occasional rustling of the pine needles as the wind blew through them. Juno shivered and shook the snow off her boots as she stepped into the oversized shed, which was almost as cold as the forest outside. Juno slipped her heavy backpack off her shoulders and dug around in it for a flashlight, then turned the beam on and swept it across the room. She took in Drew’s large collection of gas-powered vehicles, guns, swords, and other weapons of every imaginable type. Drew, who was the man responsible for the clan having a place to hide out in the wilderness, was something of a rascal—to put it mildly. This was one of a few sheds he had hidden away deep in the Michigan forest, all filled with contraband and weapons of some sort. He’d been living off the grid for quite some time, and even when self driving hover cars had taken over, he had refused to buy one or to participate in any sort of activity that required the use of computers. Drew had never trusted computers, which Juno thought was weird and a bit extreme. But she was thankful for his crazy streak now. Since the war on shifters had started, hundreds of thousands of shifters had either been killed or sent away to prison camps. Juno was grateful for this hideout in the woods, but now she had to leave.
She had to get to Chicago and to Hook Labs so she could figure out how to develop a medicine that would combat the flu epidemic sweeping across the entire world. Juno’s eyes narrowed in frustration as she started doing a preflight check of the helicopter. The world was, to put it mildly, going to complete shit. Sure, it had all started with the war on shifters that the mayor of Chicago had instigated. Then the president of the United States had jumped on the bandwagon of activists who believed that shifters were dangerous. And with the development of eye scanners that could detect shifter DNA, it had become easy to single out shifters and stir up public fear. Riots and chaos had broken out across every major city in the United States, and Juno, along with her shifter friends, had been forced to leave behind the life she loved in Chicago. She had watched from afar as the news continued to report about the downfall of shifters. Then, just when it seemed like things couldn’t get worse, a flu epidemic had started to sweep the world. The deadliest virus in recorded history, it killed everyone who came in contact with it. There was no escape. No one was immune, and, despite the feverish work of scientists, no cure or vaccine seemed to be even close to completion. The fearmongers had labeled it “bear flu,” saying that shifters had created it in response to the eye scanners. But that was unlikely, since all of the shifters were in hiding or locked up at this point. The news always needed someone to blame, though.
Juno had watched in disbelief as the media reported city after city becoming a ghost town, and she had realized with horror that this “bear flu” might actually be the virus that killed off humanity. But then Drew, who was the only full human in their hideout, and his girlfriend Hope, who was a shifter, were both exposed to the virus. Drew got sick, and Hope didn’t, causing the clan to realize that shifters were actually immune to the disease. Using the immunity from shifter blood, they had managed to save Drew. In the process, they had realized that shifters might be the key to saving the human race. True, Juno and the other shifters could have gleefully sat by and watched the humans die off, leaving the world to them and the other shifters. After all, the humans had tried to kill the shifters. What obligation did they have to help any of the full humans? But Juno and her friends knew they couldn’t do that. Deep within them, they felt the pain of humanity as it fought against the greatest threat it had ever faced. They knew that this was their chance to show everyone that shifters weren’t dangerous and weren’t out to kill humans. This was their chance to prove that shifters were contributing, meaningful members of society.
Juno sighed again as she finished her preflight check. She threw her backpack into the helicopter, then clamped a large metal hook to the front of the helicopter so she could slowly drag it out of the hanger. She broke out in a sweat as she pulled it. Even though it rolled fairly easily on its wheels, it was still heavy—even for a bear like her. Besides, her nerves were still getting the best of her, and part of the reason her palms are so sweaty inside of her gloves was that she still worried that one of the others would realize she was leaving. Juno wasn’t supposed to be taking off on her own. She had agreed to wait for Grant and Jack, two of the other shifters in the clan. The three of them had been planning to fly to Chicago together three days from now. They would all go to Hook Labs where they could find equipment to work on a cure. But Juno didn’t want Grant and Jack to go with her. Chicago was no man’s land right now. The city was dangerous, and Grant and Jack both had lifemates. Juno had no one. It was better that she went alone. It didn’t matter as much if anything happened to her, since she wouldn’t be leaving behind half of a whole. Everyone in the clan would be furious with her if they knew what she was doing right now, but she didn’t care. She was doing it for their good.
Juno chuckled despite the seriousness of the situation. The world was ending, and everyone was pairing off. She had watched over the last few months as several of her friends had taken on lifemates. Truth be told, she would’ve liked to have a lifemate as well. But no one in the clan really appealed to her, and it’s not like she could walk freely around and meet new people right now. If anyone caught her, she would be killed or sent to a prison camp. Juno frowned as she unclasped the metal drag hook from the helicopter and went to close up the shed doors. She wasn’t exactly sure what she would find in Chicago. She knew she had to avoid meeting anyone, especially police officers or military. But if the news was to be trusted, Chicago had become a ghost town, anyway. It was unlikely anyone would see her. Even flying a gas-powered helicopter didn’t make her all that nervous. True, the government had long ago outlawed and banned gas-powered vehicles or aircraft of any sort. Less than a year ago, if you flew a gas-powered vehicle you were likely to run into a lot of trouble with the law. Any authority figure that saw you flying or driving a gasoline engine would chase you down and make sure you faced severe penalties. But, these days, everything had become more like the wild, wild West. With the majority of humanity dying off or hiding in fear of catching the flu, it was actually pretty unlikely that anyone would even notice Juno flying around.
Juno climbed into the helicopter and started the engine. She winced at the noise, by far the loudest sound yet in her little covert expedition. The shed was a few miles away from the cabin where the clan was sleeping, so if they hadn’t noticed that she was gone yet it was unlikely they were going to hear the helicopter. Still, the loud noise was jarring against the still of the night, and Juno’s heart started racing again. She had to get out of here before anyone caught her. With any luck, she had a little bit of time before the clan realized she was gone. Once they woke up, it would take them a few hours to notice that she wasn’t just off on a hike somewhere in the woods. At some point they would check the shed and realize the helicopter was gone. They would be furious, but by that time Juno would have been in Chicago for several hours already. And all of the gas that Drew had was currently in the helicopter. It would take several days, at least, for him to figure out a way to acquire more jet fuel. Juno hoped that by that time she would’ve cracked the code on the bear flu cure and come back to Michigan. She wasn’t sure herself how she would get back to Michigan from Chicago. It would take all of her gas to make it to Chicago, and she wasn’t sure she could keep the helicopter safe from people trying to steal it. But she would worry about details like returning home later. Right now, her main mission was to make it to Chicago alone, and finish the cure for the bear flu before the rest of her clan could catch her.
As the helicopter rose high above the Michigan forest, Juno finally started relaxing. She turned the aircraft south, easily maneuvering through the air like an old pro. Her father had been a copilot on a Coast Guard rescue team, so she had grown up around helicopters. Her dad taught her to fly before gas helicopters were outlawed, and she had spent a significant portion of her youth practicing. She was a little rusty, but flying mostly came back to her like riding a bike. It was in her blood.
It did feel a bit eerie being behind the controls of a plane. For so long now, her only mode of transportation had been self driving hovercars. She almost felt nostalgic as she breathed in the fumes from the helicopter fuel. After a few minutes of flying, Juno heart rate returned to normal. She had done it. She’d gotten away with sneaking out. Now, all she had to do was figure out a way to land in Chicago and break in to Hook Labs. She was hoping that Chicago truly was a ghost town, so she could easily get into the building without having to sneak past anyone.
Hook Labs was the company that had developed the eye scanners for detecting shifters. They were one of the largest scientific research and development companies in the country, and Juno knew that they would have been desperately trying to come up with a cure or vaccine for the bear flu—not because they cared about saving humanity, but because they cared about money. If they could create a medicine that was desperately needed by every person in the world, it would be a dream come true for them. They would have unlimited wealth and power, which had always been their driving motivation. Juno hoped that inside Hook Labs she would find equipment she could use to run tests and perfect her idea for a bear flu cure. She also hoped that she might find some research notes from work Hook Labs had already done in their pursuit of a cure. That almost seemed like too much to hope for, but no matter what she found, she would press forward and work diligently until she came up with a solution. She would stop bear flu in its tracks. Humanity depended on it, and despite the fact that humans were trying to kill off shifters, Juno couldn’t stand by and let them all die. There were still some good humans. She knew it deep within her bones. There was still good in the world, and she was determined to be a part of that good.
Her heart started pounding faster again as the helicopter zipped through the black night. This time her rapid heart rate was from excitement, not fear. She was really doing this. She was going to save the world.
A few hours later, Juno had expected to be staring at the bright lights of the city of Chicago. But there was no light in front of her—only eerie darkness. For a moment, she thought she had miscalculated the navigation. But then it hit her. Of course there were no lights. Chicago was abandoned. No one lived there anymore, so why would the city be lit up? She should have realized this, but somehow it had never occurred to her. In her mind, she still pictured Chicago as a bright, bustling city full of light and noise, with maybe just a few less people. But no. The city was dead. Everyone in it was likely dead. Juno felt a catch in her throat as she flew over the dark high rises. This had been her home for years. She had built a life here. She had made friends. She had been pursuing her PhD in biology. She had favorite restaurants, favorite bars, favorite places to shop…all of it was gone now. All of it felt like a dream from a long, long time ago. Of course, in some ways she was grateful that the city was deserted. She could fly right into downtown without worrying about police hovers chasing her helicopter down. Still, it felt weird. Almost sinister.
Juno landed on a helipad in the middle of downtown Chicago. She wasn’t even sure what the building was. Probably either a hospital or some rich person’s deserted condo. It didn’t matter much. No one was here to tell her that she couldn’t land there. She killed the engine, and, as the propellers slowly spun to a stop, the eerie quiet took over again she was probably about fifty stories above the ground. Normally, the city would be crowded with hovertaxis, hovertrains, hovercars, pedestrians, and all sorts of activity. But without the sound of the helicopter, the silence was absolutely deafening. No one was there. Juno took a deep breath, then grabbed her backpack of supplies and jumped out of the helicopter. She hadn’t brought much with her, and she was beginning to think that maybe she should’ve brought more. She had a stash of meal replacement bars, several water bottles, some water purifying tablets in case she needed to purify new drinking water, a flashlight, and several batteries. Juno pulled out the flashlight and switched it on, sweeping the beam across the roof to look for an exit. She located a stairwell quickly and headed for it. The building would have an elevator, but it wasn’t likely it would be working. There didn’t seem to be any electricity in the city right now.
Juno peeked out of the first door she came to in the stairwell, and realized that she was in an abandoned condo building. The place was dusty and looked like it had been ransacked. Juno closed the door and continued down the stairs. It was a long ways down, so she needed to get moving. She was tempted to shift into bear form to make it easier to run down the stairs, but she was hesitant to shift in the middle of the city. Even though she knew that no one was there, it still felt weird. She had spent so much of her life hiding the fact that she was a shifter when she was out in public, and old habits die hard. Shifting in the middle of a big city felt unnatural. Besides, she didn’t want to ruin her clothes. She hadn’t brought much extra clothing with her and being in a science lab naked didn’t seem like a wise idea. So Juno started the long trek down the fifty flights of stairs, thankful that at least she was in good shape and could keep a steady rhythm. Michigan had been good for her in that way, at least. When she lived in the city, she hadn’t spent nearly as much time being active as she should have. In the Michigan hideout, there was nothing to do but hike around, so Juno had spent most of her days wandering through the forest. Still, she was out of breath as she finally reached the bottom floor of the condo building. The windows of the lobby were all shattered, and the walls had been completely vandalized. The numerous computer screens around the lobby had been cracked and destroyed. Juno gingerly stepped over the broken glass that was everywhere, and made her way out onto the city streets. She was in the middle of the Loop, the heart of downtown Chicago. There was snow everywhere, which was a strange sight since the city streets would normally have been plowed and kept clear no matter how many inches of snow were dumped on the city. Instead, the streets were abandoned, full of snow with footprints crisscrossing in every direction. Juno wondered about the footprints. Were there still people here?
As if in answer to her question, she heard a bloodcurdling scream ring out through the dark night. She jumped, her heart pounding again as she took a step backward to lean against the wall of a nearby building. Moments later, gunshots rang out, followed by more screaming. Juno shivered, and not just from the cold. It didn’t sound like the current residents of the city were all that friendly. She resolved to keep a careful eye out as she started walking down the street. Everything was ransacked. Every storefront had broken windows and messy, spray-painted messages on the outside walls. The stores seemed mostly empty, and Juno stepped inside a few only to find that all of the food, drinks, and anything else that might be vaguely useful had been taken. She wasn’t sure who was still living here, but it was clear that Chicago was in a state of chaos. Once again, Juno was overcome with a sick feeling in her stomach as she realized just how true the dire news reports had been. Death and destruction were everywhere.
Juno quickened her pace and started heading in the direction of Hook Labs. She wanted to get off the streets as quickly as possible. Every now and then, a scream rang out, and she didn’t want to meet with whomever was causing those screams. Thankful that at least she knew the streets of the city like the back of her hand, she broke into a run and didn’t stop until about fifteen minutes later, when she stood in front of the Hook Labs building. The lobby windows were smashed in, just like all of the other buildings’ windows. Juno’s heart sank. She hadn’t thought about what she would do if the Lab was completely ransacked and destroyed. Without the equipment from Hook Labs, she wouldn’t be able to work on a vaccine or cure, and then this whole dangerous little trip would have been for nothing. But as she stepped inside, she noticed that the main doors to the interior of the building were shut. She also noticed that there were some lights on, because light was creeping from under those doors. Somehow, this building still had electricity. There must be some sort of backup generator working. Probably solar powered, which also meant that the security system was most likely still working. On the one hand, that was good. It would have kept the looters from getting in and raiding the lab. But, on the other hand, she was going to have to find a way to break in—no easy feat since she was sure that Hook Labs’ systems would have been programmed with the highest level of security. Even though the scientists that work here had probably all died off or abandoned the place long ago, Juno was sure that they had left the security systems set to the highest levels possible. Juno pulled back her long sleeve to glance down at her solar-powered watch, which glowed dimly in the darkness. It was after three in the morning, and she was exhausted. She was having trouble thinking straight at this point, and she needed time to think about how she was going to get in to a high-level security building with no special tools and no one to help her. Juno let out an exasperated sigh. She needed to find a place to sleep tonight, and then try in the morning with a clear head.
As silently as she had entered, she left the building and went back out onto the city street just in time to hear another bloodcurdling scream. She shivered in terror, and ran several blocks until she found something that looked like an apartment building. She slipped in and sniffed deeply, trying to smell whether anyone else was on the premises. Her bear nose could tell that nothing in the building smelled alive. All she could smell was the dank, pungent odor of mold and dust mixing together. This place was abandoned. Juno went up a few flights of stairs for good measure. Somehow, it seemed safer to be a few stories up than right at street level. She picked an apartment door at random and went inside. Since this building had no backup generator like the lab, and no electricity, the security system was completely ineffective.
Juno swept her flashlight across the room. This place, like so many others she had seen tonight, was a mess. Blankets, dishes, clothes, and various household items were strewn across the floor in complete disarray. She went to the kitchen and found the refrigerator door wide open. The fridge was completely cleaned out. She checked the pantry, and there was nothing there except a case of some weird looking health drink labeled “Green Future Combo Extraordinaire.” Juno frowned as she pulled out one of the bottles and opened it. She wrinkled her nose at the smell, but decided to try it anyway. She immediately revolted at the taste and spit it out. She’d have to be a little more desperate before drinking that shit. Apparently the looters agreed, since it was the one thing they’d left behind.
Picking up her backpack, Juno moved toward the bedroom. Thankfully, there were still a lot of blankets here. Although being inside offered some relief from the blistering wind and cold of the Chicago winter, the fact that there was no electricity and no heat meant it was still uncomfortably chilly in this apartment. Juno gathered up several blankets and snuggled under them, then closed her eyes to get some rest.
Just as she was finally drifting off, another scream and more gunshots rang through the air. Juno reached into her bag and pulled out the one weapon she had allowed herself to bring—a sharp, deadly knife. She slipped the knife under an extra pillow next to her and then squeezed her eyes shut as tightly as possible. She willed herself to sleep, trying to drown out the noise from the city’s rogue citizens, and the worried pounding of her own anxious heart.