I was recently interviewed on the Boulder radio station KGNU for my book series and on the topic of diversity and climate change.
The third chapter of my fourth novel, Serah of the Runners, is now live! You can now read A Shadow on Luna. This second chapter follows Serah who has some hard choices to make in the aftermath of the battle with both Saud and the Children of Gaia at the end of book 3.
You can find my first three entries to the series here
Serah of the Runners is due out October 17th 2019!
Another building burned. Fire crews and emergency vehicles scrambled to reach the wild inferno. The city was in a state of panic. Designated day and night didn’t seem to matter much now as the sun blazed non-stop. Before, there was at least a dimming in the shield marking the difference between night and day, but like all else, everything had changed. The earth grew smaller and smaller with each passing hour. But the city moved at a snail’s pace towards some unknown destination.
From a distance, Serah watched the chaos from the second level of a building. Her flaming red hair hung down to the middle of her back, and she wore a recon EnViro suit, with her helmet off. She knew the Recycled were still out there, and she’d be damned if she was caught unawares, at least for now.
Exhausted from all of her efforts to keep the city from boiling over into a full-fledged panic, she had finally given up soothing. She was never very good at it anyway.
She wished all of the sisters were around, all of them soothing the city, but most were dead and the few that might be alive were missing and scattered. The Order of the Eye was shattered. Miranda had won.
At first, people were timid and shy about looting shops. For a few days, everyone had stayed indoors in fear that the EnViro shield might collapse and they would find themselves cast out into the vacuum of space. But now that it was clear that wasn’t going to happen, or at least if it did happen there was little they could do about it, people had taken to the streets, realizing that the old order of things had collapsed.
“Should we help?” Shannon walked up next to Serah. She too was wearing a suit. They were probably the only two Runners left alive.
Serah shook her head. “No, looks like the fire crews have it under control. It seems like the water pressure is back to normal.”
“I don’t understand. Why would someone set fire to that building?”
“Isn’t it obvious?”
Shannon didn’t say anything, so Serah continued.
“It’s a bank. Someone wants to reset the credit system. They think that the Uppers would only store their credit information in one place. It’s a foolish thought, but I guess I can’t fault them on it.”
“It is? But those records are stored somewhere, aren’t they?”
“You’d have to kill the AI. It keeps everything backed up in all of the city’s systems.”
“How do you know all that?”
Serah shrugged. “I used to be one of them.”
“One of who?”
“It was a long time ago. Look, Vala’s around here somewhere, but she’s not responding.”
“Maybe she doesn’t want to be found?”
“Of course, she doesn’t. If I had been in the library when those things came in and survived, I’m not sure I would want to be found either.”
“How many survived, Serah?”
“Do you mean in the assault on the library?”
“Well, we know that Alexa wasn’t part of that group because she had run off somewhere with Runner 17, though if they were outside the city like we think, well, they might as well be dead if they aren’t already. We know that Mimi wasn’t there…”
Serah stopped herself from saying more. She swallowed hard. Shannon was the last person who needed a reminder of the last moments they had seen Mimi.
The image of Mimi reaching out to them as the Recycled closed the massive door flooded Serah’s mind. She hadn’t been able to escape it, nearly every moment she had thought about Mimi, about how she had stabbed her to stop her from using the red veil, how Mimi had killed indiscriminately and then how the Recycled had taken her. All of it was her fault. She had told Mimi to do something, anything and then she had run Mimi through. In the end, it was her, who had let the creatures take her beyond the door. Now she was dead, or worse.
“She’s not dead. I know it.”
Serah didn’t say anything. For the last three days, she and Shannon had argued over and over about it. She didn’t want to rehash the same old argument. She changed the subject.
“Well, as far as we know, only six sisters haven’t been accounted for, including Vala.”
What they had found in the library was disturbing. It was the kind of image she would dream about for the rest of her life. Even if she lived a thousand more years, she would see the leftover carnage of the library in her nightmares.
“Do you think we can find them all?”
“Well, Vala at least. She keeps searching for other sisters, but then she vanishes again. Every time I try to reach out to her and ask her where the hell she is, she disappears.”
“Why would she do that?”
Serah turned and looked right at Shannon and didn’t say a word. She skimmed Shannon; the girl didn’t really seem to understand the gravity of what happened in that library, even though she had seen the aftermath with her own eyes. Shannon was barely sixty and had spent more than half of that in an alcove; of course, she couldn’t comprehend the gravity of the situation.
“Shannon, if you had been in that library when the Recycled came… well, let’s just say you’d never be the same again.”
“So you think something’s wrong with Vala?” Her voice was soft and timid.
“I think she’s probably in shock. We have to find her before someone hurts her.”
“Who would hurt her?”
Serah bit her tongue. She and Shannon had trained together off and on for forty years. How did she never notice how naive she was before? But then, she only saw Shannon for a few hours a month when she was training her, and they had a specific focus. So, she supposed, now that Shannon was out and about, she was seeing another side of her.
“Looters, rogue security, there are tons of people who might hurt her. Under normal circumstances, Vala could take care of herself. She’s pretty formidable. Hell, Noatla assigned her to that crazy ass Senator for a reason. But I don’t think she’s right in the head. Every time I skim her, her mind’s a jumble, a series of horrific images from what went on in the library and all kinds of other strange images mixed in I can’t understand.”
“So how do we find her?”
“Around this time, for the last three days, she’s reached out looking for her sisters. I don’t know what it is about mid-afternoon, but for some reason, she’s trying then. If we can get her to give us a clue as to where she is, we can probably track her down.”
“Why this spot?”
“Well, I figure this is as close to the center of the city as we can get, and from a floor up we can see what’s going on in the street without getting hung up by a bunch of crazy looting assholes.”
“You don’t think they will try and come up here?”
Serah looked at her for a second.
“Oh, right, your skimming thing.”
Shannon glanced down. “And I guess they would be afraid of two people in EnViro suits after the battle?”
For a while, they watched the fire crews put out the old banking building. It seemed as if the looters were giving a wide birth to the firefighters and focused instead on other buildings and shops along the block. Perhaps they weren’t completely mindless animals. Maybe they had specific goals and targets in mind? But that troubled Serah more. Was someone organizing this? Of all the riots she had ever seen, she had never seen them stop simply because emergency crews arrived.
There was a pulse of transmissions, a wave of connection. Serah recognized at once what it was.
“Vala?” She spoke it both out loud and also reached out. Each sister had a unique feel to their mind, the way that every person had a unique voice. It was definitely Vala.
Shannon said, “Is it Vala? Is she trying to connect to you?”
Serah waited for a response. There was only the hint of pressure on the forefront of her mind, only that sense of presence. It was as if her missing sister had forgotten how to speak, how to reach out properly. Serah wondered, and not for the first time if there might be head trauma or something worse. It certainly wasn’t impossible, given the state of the library.
“Vala?” She reached out again, this time putting a bit of extra will behind her transmission.
Vala seemed to vanish, seemed to disappear into the nothingness. A deep sense of frustration rose in Serah. She clenched her jaw. Some other minds tried to crash in nearby, but Serah, with centuries of training, silenced them and moved past them to search for her sister.
Then she was back again, this time strong and clear.
“Serah? Serah is that you?”
A smile bloomed on Serah’s lips, and so Shannon could hear what was going on, she spoke both through mind to mind contact and out loud.
“Yes, Vala, it’s me. Where you? We’ve been looking for you.”
“It’s dark, Serah. It’s so cold down here.”
“Okay Vala, but can you tell me where you are? We’re coming to get you, coming to bring you into a warm and safe place, alright?”
“Nowhere is safe from them.”
Serah could feel Vala’s tears, hear the desperation in her transmission.
“Shhhh. Vala, let us come find you. Let us help you.”
“Oh god, they tore her in half. Oh god…”
Serah turned to Shannon. “Shit, I’m losing her. She’s worse than I thought.”
Shannon frowned. “Maybe you should try a different tactic.”
“What do you do when you want a sister’s attention?”
“You mean when everyone is called to assemble?”
“No… Mimi told me about some kind of saying you all have.”
Serah thought for a second… saying? What could have Mimi meant about a saying… unless.
A sensation of weeping again.
“The Eyes Come Open.”
Serah pressed on.
“The Sleeper Wakes. The Wheel Turns. As Above…”
Vala said, “So Below.”
Serah smiled and turned to Shannon. “It’s working, Shannon you’re brilliant.”
Serah said, “As Within.”
Vala replied. “So Without.”
“The light passes and time squints allowing the faintest glimmer of wisdom.”
Vala replied, “But Fear is the little death, The one that brings an end to hope.”
Serah said, “Fearlessness is the key that unlocks all things.” But instead of going on, she said. “Vala, Vala are you there? Are you with me?”
“Yes, Serah.” Her thoughts were weak, but they were clear.
“Where are you?”
“District 6. Sub Level 4. Near…”
She disappeared. But it was enough. That area wasn’t huge, and with a few hours of searching, they would probably find her, especially if she was bleeding or left tracks behind. It was a wonder, though, all the way up in District 6. How had she made it so far in her state? Had someone or something helped her? For a strange moment, Serah thought of Noatla but then thought twice. Noatla was dead and gone, they had found her lifeless and cold outside the front of the Library, and they had taken her body and the others, even the parts, back to center of the reserve runners where Shannon had spent the last forty years of her life. They had cremated their remains; after all, no sister would ever want the slightest chance of becoming recycled.
It was no wonder she was having trouble reaching Vala: District 6 was the edge of Serah’s limit to reach out. If she hadn’t come to the center of the city, she may not have found her.
“What happened? What did she say?”
Serah turned to Shannon. “Come on, we’ve got a long walk ahead.”
Several hours later, they found her. It hadn’t taken long to find a trail of blood. Serah was grateful it was just a few splotches here and there, but it was easy enough to follow.
There in the corner, just outside an old storage unit. Vala lay huddled in a corner, her head buried in her knees. She knew they needed to get her back to the reserve core and into an alcove immediately.
The smell of shit and piss swam in circles in the room. There were a few traces of leftover food, but mostly there wasn’t much around. Where Vala had found food, Serah couldn’t be sure, but she seemed to have enough awareness to feed herself, though she guessed that she was using the corners for the bathroom. Rats and roaches scurried around the edges of her vision. They were waiting, hoping for a meal, but Serah wasn’t going to let that happen. For a moment, she thought sensed a kind of disappointment in them, but that was crazy, no one could skim animals, it was one of the first things that Noatla had ever taught her.
Shannon walked over and found a panel for the lights. She switched it on, and as the brightness caught Vala’s form, Serah could see that her gray dress was stained with brown. It took Serah a moment to realize what it was: the blood of her fellow sisters, crusted and dried. Some of the stains were shedding flakes and collected around her crumpled form. Vala must have fled down here just after the slaughter began.
Vala looked up and moaned. Her eyes were sunken, and the large bags beneath them made her look half-dead. Dirt and grime and a crust of dried, brown blood matted her hair and cheeks. She scrambled backward as far she could go, only inches, but still it made Serah’s heartache.
“Please don’t hurt me…” said Vala.
Serah moved toward her, but it was Shannon who got there first. She wrapped her arms around her.
Shannon said, “Shh, Vala. It’s okay now. Me and Serah are here. We’re going to take you to a safe place. It’s a place where we can protect you, and nothing can happen to you.”
Vala sniffled. “You don’t understand. She’s everywhere, everything. She’s going to make us all do our part.”
Serah frowned. Was Miranda still in the city or not? So far, nothing had happened since the creatures retreated behind the door, and Serah wasn’t entirely sure why. The city was in absolute chaos. Now would have been the best time to strike and destroy the city. It wouldn’t take much to crash into central security after so many of the SO’s had been killed or were recovering in Medical Alcoves. Things would only get better once the SO’s could retake the streets and establish order again. So why wasn’t Miranda acting?
“Vala?” Serah moved closer and got down on her knees just before the two women. She reached out and hugged her tight. “Listen to Shannon; everything is going to be alright now. You have to trust me on this one.” Serah paused a moment, and tried to skim Vala to see if it was okay to ask her questions. But the sad reality of it was that Vala was near total emotional collapse. It had only been three days since the library, and it was unlikely she had slept much.
“Vala, is she still using the red veil on you? Is she still pushing on you? Miranda I mean?”
Vala looked up at Serah for a moment. They were the eyes of a ghost. The eyes of someone who has seen something they can never unsee. Serah knew those eyes. They were perfect mirrors, the ghosts of the night when she had seen something so vile that it had broken her. Only Noatla had saved her from madness. Only her sisters had eased her anger.
Vala shook her head. It was slight, but Serah could tell it was a monumental effort.
She pushed on Vala, mixing soothing with a lie. Serah was good at pushing lies; it was part of her specialty. This one was going to be hard to sell though. She wished she hadn’t asked about the red veil, but she suspected that Vala might be confused enough to buy it.
Serah transmitted. “Vala, she’s gone now, out of the city. We are so far away from her now she can’t possibly reach us. Do you know where we are now?”
Vala shook her head.
“Come on; I’ll show you.”
Shannon helped Vala stand. At first, she was reluctant to move, but Shannon had a way about her, something that people responded to under crisis. She supposed that was why Mimi had fallen in love with her so easily. Serah had to admit, after spending more time with Shannon, she was both attractive and kind, which was an unusual combination for a street kid.
Slowly, they lead Vala to the exit and out into the street.
Vala screamed and dove to the ground.
Serah and Shannon both had a similar reaction when they had first surfaced from the subway tunnels three days before. To see the change above, the EnViro shield was a lot to take in.
In the sky, the Earth was still large. Looking up at that Earth for the first time gave you vertigo, it gave you the sensation that you would fall right back into it.
“What’s happening?” Vala was weeping on the ground, beside herself.
“We… we’ve left Earth. Something happened, no one really understands what it is, but there was an explosion, and then the whole city was falling… and then we weren’t. It’s okay Vala, it takes some getting used to, but stand up and you’ll see it’s okay. Besides we don’t have to go far.
Tentatively, Vala reached up and took hold of both Serah and Shannon’s hand. She stood, but as they walked, Serah noticed a limp. She looked down and saw that a large chunk of flesh missing from Vala’s right calf muscle. It was scabbing over, but it was oozing.
“My god, are you in pain?”
Shannon looked down and saw the same thing. She said, “Oh, Vala. We need to get you to alcove right away. Serah, we should carry her. She shouldn’t walk.”
Together they lifted Vala, Serah under her arms and Shannon by her thighs. Shannon took care not to touch the wound.
They entered the reserve Runnercore. Around the center of the room was the alcoves where Shannon had slept off and on for the last forty years, but now, with the Runnercore decimated, the AI virtually disappearing, and the city in total chaos, Shannon hadn’t needed to return to the alcove. She could walk about freely. So, they took Vala to the shower that Runners used to clean off after the alcove and stripped Vala naked. Together, Serah and Shannon washed her and gently cleaned the wound. Vala flinched a few times, but didn’t say much.
Serah was hesitant to put her in the alcove. Sometimes, after a significant trauma, the alcove would amplify the event; it would make you relive whatever was going on in a mixture of your conscious and subconscious mind. It wasn’t sleeping exactly, but something between dream and waking. So, Serah worried what being inside the alcove would do to Vala, who was already in a fragile state of mind. But there was little they could do. They had to help her heal or she would lose that leg, or worse.
After Vala was clean and dressed in the usual undergarments for the alcove, they placed her inside one.
“Here you are Vala,” said Shannon. “We’re going to let you heal inside this for a few days okay?”
Vala didn’t say anything. Her face was pale, and Serah was concerned she was about to lose consciousness. How much blood had she lost? But it didn’t matter. She sealed the alcove and activated it. It filled with the stem-cell fusion mix in just a few moments, and then they walked away.
“I don’t think she’s going to have a very good time in there.”
“You know what it’s like in there, the half-sleep state. Imagine if you just had something terrible happen to you just like Vala has.”
Shannon said, “Oh gods, I didn’t think of that… but what can we do? She has to heal.”
“I don’t know, but I can skim and check in on her semi-often. She probably has to be in there for a day or so before we could let her out if we needed to. The wound probably wouldn’t be healed by then, but it would be safe enough to take her out if she needed a break. If we had other sisters around, we could take turns soothing her, but since it’s just me… I don’t know if there is much I can do.”
Shannon frowned. “Okay. So, what now? Find the others?”
“Yeah, I was hoping some of the others would come to find us. I just hope they all aren’t as bad as Vala.”
Serah watched her think of Mimi again. She didn’t mean to skim Shannon, but she was worried about her. The love of her life was just taken through that door by the Recycled, and somehow Shannon was holding it together pretty well.
“Shannon… how are you holding up?”
Shannon leaned against one of the alcoves. “Fine. I… I’m worried about Mimi, but… I know we’re gonna get her back as soon as we get the remaining sisters together, right?”
Was that what she was thinking about all this time? That they were going to go on some rescue mission? Should she tell her the real reason they were looking for her sisters? Or should she lie to her? She considered for a moment, but it didn’t take long to make a decision.
“Yeah, once we get them together, we can go after Mimi.”
“Good, just like you guys rescued me all those years ago, right?”
Serah couldn’t help but recall Shandie and Leahara dying in that rescue, but she wasn’t about to point that out to Shannon, who was already struggling to stay afloat. The truth was, Serah wasn’t doing so well herself. They needed to find Fatima. She would have to take over the Order of the Eye. No one else could. The other four were too new, and after Fatima, Serah was the oldest member still alive, and there was no way she felt comfortable as Matron.
“Look, Shannon, I am going to head to a few places where I know the other sisters sometimes hung out when they weren’t running an errand for the Order. We are going to have to make this place a bit more comfortable, maybe use some of those old scavenging skills you learned living on the streets, huh? We need to get beds in here. Luckily, there is at least the bathroom, shower, and two food dispensers already. We just need to make it a bit more comfortable. Maybe you could head out and do that while I am searching for other leads?”
Shannon nodded, and Serah skimmed for a moment. Shannon was happy to have something to do. Serah would have to try and keep tabs on her throughout the day, which meant she couldn’t get too far out of range. But for now, they both had something to accomplish.
“Maybe it’s best if you kept your suit on?”
“Don’t worry, Serah. I might be a bit rusty, but I survived on the streets for a while before Mimi found me, and even without my suit I have that muscle augmentation and years of training with you, right?”
Serah nodded and watched Shannon go. She had to reassemble the Order of the Eye, even if it was just a few of them. If Miranda came back before they were ready, no one would be safe.
Serah turned and looked at Vala inside the alcove. Her eyes were open, and her face strained with whatever she was seeing. Serah reached in and soothed her the best she could and saw a Vala’s face relax. It would have to do for now. She hated leaving her, but there was nothing else to be done. Serah also needed sleep, but it would have to wait, at least for a little while more.
The second chapter of my fourth novel, Serah of the Runners, is now live! You can now read A Shadow on Luna. This second chapter delves into some new characters that are going to significatly influence the fate of our heroes (and villains). But you spoilers still!!! If you have not read The Battle for Langeles you may want to do so first.
You can find my first three entries to the series here
Serah of the Runners is due out October 17th 2019! Preorder coming soon!
A Shadow on Luna
“So that’s it?”
Kirka stood looking at her console. Her brown hair held streaks of gray and her short slender form shaped by the low gravity of Luna and a lifetime of food rations hovered just above her chair. Her sharp nose and hollow cheeks deepened the power of the gaze for her gray eyes.
“That’s it,” said Loni.
Loni was her opposite, short with darker skin and light hazel eyes. Everything about Loni, was round. Kirka had always wondered how, despite the lack of gravity of Luna, Loni had stayed so healthy and thick. Most Lunites were thin and wispy, but Loni, considered one of the most beautiful women of Luna, had her pick of all the men with her curvy feminine form.
The end was coming now, the image on the screen showed streaks of light, flaming arrows ready to end their world in fire. Most of the Lunites had no idea of their fate. But now, Kirka and Loni did. There were rumors, of course, hints that ROAM’s hostility had finally reached a critical point. Doomsday prophets preached from every corner that Kirka would let them. Of course, with such a small population, people didn’t pay them much mind, especially since the commons was only a twelve hundred meters long in the underground of Luna.
Kirka said, “Dammit, how could do they do this to us? After all we’ve done for them. They wouldn’t exist without all of our efforts. Centuries of work and neither of us have anything to show for it.
Loni said, “They’re jealous; they’ve always been jealous Commander.”
“I can’t believe I didn’t see this coming. I should have been suspicious when our delegation never arrived at their destination.”
“You don’t think it was an accident, do you?”
“I had my doubts, but now I see that all they wanted was our Solidonium.”
Loni said, “I don’t think most of ROAM knew what was happening and, well it’s not like we could skim that Asshole Ithica from here is it? He was probably planning this the whole time. Maybe only a few in his inner circle knew. Most of the Martians seemed open to long-standing trade, and I know at least a dozen people who were ready to migrate over there.”
Kirka shook her head. “We should have known when Ithaca won that election. All that talk of purity and now…”
Loni said, “I can’t believe there’s so much hate for telepaths there.”
To say that there was hatred for telepaths on ROAM might have been an understatement. When they had first learned that nearly a quarter of Luna 1 and Luna 2 were telepaths, and that the entire power structure of Luna surrounded telepathy, ROAM had stopped transmitting to Luna for two months. It seemed in that time that the key issue of the bi-annual elections on ROAM centered around what to do around Luna. Of course, it was Luna who needed ROAM more than ROAM needed Luna, especially now that all of Luna’s ships were filled with Solidsonium and more than halfway to ROAM. It was if the moment they had launched aid to their neighbors, the doors had closed. Those ships were supposed to be coming back filled with parts to upgrade and repair both Luna’s alcoves and food dispensers, something that all Luna desperately needed. But now that the ships were more than halfway, there was no turning back. Even if they reversed course, it would be 37 months for return with the remaining fuel and the pilots didn’t have enough supplies to survive that long.
Kirka said, “AI, How long till impact?”
“Commander, at their current velocity, the rockets will impact Luna 1 in 13 months, 5 days and 12 hours and Luna 2 thirty-four minutes later.”
Loni said, “Should would turn the ships around?”
Kirka thought long and hard, so long, that Loni repeated her question, but in direct mind to mind contact, as if Kirka hadn’t heard.
“I heard you. There’s no help for us. The ships would never make it back in time, and even if they did, they could only accommodate a few hundred, not even a third of our population. Plus, there are the pilots to think about isn’t there.”
Loni frowned, “What do you think they’ll do to Darsee and Collin when they get to ROAM?”
“Neither of them is telepathic, so they might be okay. It’s certainly better than dying of starvation, isn’t it? If the ships had an alcove, then maybe it would be worth turning them around.”
“And what if they decide to execute them or torture them?”
The lines on Kirka’s face deepened. “Even if we did call them back, Where would go?”
“There’s always earth.”
Kirka snorted. “You really want to go there, don’t you? That has to be the fifth time in the last six months you’ve suggested it. Have you seen any of the latest climate reports? Things are getting worse, not better. Besides, it’s not like anyone’s even alive down there.”
“It’s moot though isn’t it? It will take the ships twice as long to get back here as it will the rockets. We’re done. It’s over and no doubt the stabilizers will fail, and the moon will end any chance the earth might have had for recovery.”
For the centuries since the Lunar war split Luna into two discreet pieces, Kirka and the other survivors of that war had maintained the Lunar orbit above earth. Luna was on a slow decay and the power required to stabilize the orbit in full was far beyond their reach. They best they could do was delay the orbital decay and hope like hell, their best scientist, Loridian, could find a solution in the long term.
Loni said, “We should give them a choice.”
Kirka ran her hand through her hair and closed her eyes for a moment. Both pilots knew in advance that this was likely a one-way trip. Both had nothing to live for on Luna, and it was why they were both chosen. They were expecting to start a life on Mars. Still, that was a far cry different from going into what was now enemy territory with no way of defending yourself.
“That’s fair. They deserve to make the choice. AI?”
“Yes, Commander Kirka?”
“The next time we are in broadcast alignment for the shuttles, will you notify me so that I can send a message?”
Loni jumped and floated to another consule. This one closer to Kirka.“When are you going to tell everyone?”
“Tell them what? That ROAM, the people that we spent so many months convincing everyone to help has betrayed us and sent rockets to destroy us?”
“Yeah, that thing.”
“I don’t know Loni. You know what it’s going to do to everyone? You know how tense things are already? Thousands of people suddenly told they are going to die? We might tear ourselves apart before those missiles reach us.”
“They have a right to know.”
“They do. But how much time in advance?”
Kirka wished she had the answers, but no matter how many years she served as commander, no matter how many times the council reappointed her, there was simply no easy answer here.
“I have to think about it Loni.”
“And the council?”
“This is a security issue. I am in sole command of security. All those five will do is to complicate the issue. Better to hold out for now.”
“They’ll stick you back in storage if you do that.”
Kirka shrugged. “Maybe. Maybe not. I am not interested in turning those rockets into another excuse for political theater. You know how Grayson and Sanders get.”
Loni nodded. “Well, don’t think too hard about it. You know that’s not going to help.”
“I need to get some rest. I’ve been on for 18 hours now. AI?”
“Keep all information about the incoming projectiles classified until I deem otherwise, maximum security clearance.”
Historians Note to the Text
Commander Raldaz Kirka had a long record of military service. Officially a military representative of the mid 21st century European Union, she lead the war on Luna for the Europeans and Americans against the Chinese and Russians. During the day of the great split, in which a fusion core ruptured and split the moon into Luna 1 and Luna 2, Commander Kirka was severely injured. She spent nearly a century inside an alcove. Upon revival, she was immediately commissioned to take control of both Luna 1 and Luna 2 which, were on the verge of total collapse from high crime rates, severe food shortages, and two warring gangs. At first, she was considered a poor leader, one of strict and apathetic persuasion, but, when after only a single year, Lunites found peace and stability, her talents were recognized, and she maintained command for centuries until the conflict with ROAM and the beginning of the Great Migration.
For more on Commander Raldaz Kirka, including her published works, biography and genealogical relations to Matron Angela, visit library 34n in section 9143.
Matron Mariposa Phillips 832.1.6 I.S.
Three days. For three days and nights Kirka tossed and turned and paced and braced herself for what she needed to do. She needed to tell Luna general, needed to announce to all her people that the end was coming and that death was a certainty. She tried to discover a way out, a route toward liberation, but it seemed certain that there was no path forward. So far, she had only told Loridian, and had then spent nearly every free moment for two days grilling them on possible strategies for saving Luna. Loridian had no answers.
Now she stood on the deck of her command, one of the only spots that had an open view of the surface of Luna 2 and allowed for a view of the greater starfield, and of the earth. She gazed down at the planet. Loni had been right, even a descent into the wasteland on the surface would have given some hope to the people. Even that would have provided them with an opportunity to rally around something, to cradle it and give birth to a chance. But they were denied even that.
“Commander, my long range scopes are detecting something coming our direction.”
“Yes, I know, you don’t have to remind me AI.”
“Commander, this object is different than the projectiles.”
She walked from the window and over to her center console.
“What? Describe it.”
“The object is massive and is approaching at a steady speed from the direction of earth.”
“What is it?”
“At this time, that is unknown. However, it has adjusted course on several occasions since I began tracking it, which would indicate that it is a humanmade object.”
“How long have you been tracking it?”
“And why didn’t you say something about it before?”
“The parameters you set for detection of an object require that I verify whether it is a naturally occurring or a manmade if time permits.”
“Fine, How big is it?”
“Exact dimensions are difficult to calculate from this distance, but it appears to be more than fifty kilometers in width and fifteen kilometers in height. I cannot tell the other dimensions from this angle.”
“Too large for a ship then. AI whats the ETA of the object?”
“Commander, at its current velocity, the object will reach Luna 2 in eighteen days, five hours and fifteen minutes.”
“I want you to alert me the moment you know more; anything at all do you understand?”
Kirka’s heart was pounding. She didn’t know why, but something about this object gave her a strange sense of hope. It wasn’t a natural object, so it could it be one of the long lost colonies from the asteroid belt? But that didn’t make any sense since it was coming from earth did it?
Kirka spun around in her chair and moved to her screen for a closer look. The object appeared to be some kind of oblong disc but in the scopes it was tiny.
“AI will you contact Loridian?”
“Captain, Luna 1 will not be in broadcast alignment for 2 more hours.”
“Fine, alert me when it’s time.”
Luna 1 no longer had any way of detecting long-range threats, not after the meteor shower had damaged their scopes a few decades back, so it was up to Kirka to be the eyes and ears of Luna general.
Kirka paced back and forth. Loni was late. She was always late for shift change, and Kirka was growing tired of that. Why had she promoted her in the first place? It’s not like she didn’t have others that she could have picked.
The object intrigued her. If it was making course corrections and coming from the planet, what did that mean?
“AI, what is the likelihood that this is a transport vehicle?”
“Probability is high.”
“During the end of the 21st century, there was the development of technology that would be capable of moving thousands of humans into space at one time. There was also the development of the technology to move entire cities.”
“We know that failed. We know cities never walked and that it was just a pipe dream before the Lunar war made things on the surface worse.”
“Commander, there is no reason to assume it failed. Just because we lost contact with the surface does not necessitate failure.”
What if it was a ship or a transport? Would they be able to accommodate all the Lunites? Could it be Earthlings? They had watched the earth for centuries now and had been certain that if all the population wasn’t dead, that they were at best scattered or more likey underground. But their scopes weren’t that powerful, everything that allowed for long distance viewing and been destroyed in the Lunar War. They had only discovered that ROAM was still around out of sheer dumb luck when ROAM had sent a transmission exactly as their communication array was aligned with the planet a few decades earlier.
For now, though, they would watch and wait and see what the object was. Maybe just maybe, when she announced that ROAM had sent missiles to destroy them, she would have good news as well. After all, it wasn’t as if their situation could get worse than impending doom right?
I am very happy to finally post the first chapter of my fourth novel, Serah of the Runners. The book picks up just where Upon Stilted Cities: The Battle for Langeles left off… which means there are huge huge spoilers for this chapter! If you have not read The Battle for Langeles you may want to do so first. You can find my first three entries to the series here
Serah of the Runners is due out October 17th 2019! Preorder coming soon!
A Long Way Down
Frank walked back down the corridor toward his station. It was time to get back to work. With Saud destroyed, the last thing Manhatsten needed right now was a clogged recycling system. Work was good at times like this. There were still rumors of a few of those strange battles on the streets, but any sanitation worker knew the networks of tunnels just below the surface of the city, and so they avoided the conflict. Even when the city was in chaos, sanitation still had to do its job.
Jenny said, “So what do you think will happen now, Frank?”
“Don’t know. Never survived a war between cities before. I ain’t that old.”
Zelda said, “Can you believe how fast we’re moving since Saud blew up? I never knew the city could move like that.”
Then, the motion of the city shifted. Frank grabbed a guard rail and steadied himself. Both of the women did the same. The city was stopping. After several moments of silence, Frank let go of the rail and resumed his trek down the corridor.
“Speak of the devil huh?” Frank scratched his head. “The city isn’t supposed to be able to move that fast, I don’t think. But, maybe someone in the Uppers figured something out.”
Zelda said, “I wonder why the hell they stopped in the middle of a storm warning.”
Jenny said, “Maybe the battle isn’t over?”
Frank said, “What do you mean? Everyone saw that blast from Saud. They’re just mopping up the few that got inside now.”
Zelda stopped in the middle of the hallway. “Frank.”
Frank turned. Jenny was several steps behind Zelda and also paused. “Yeah?”
“Frank… have you ever heard of a city blowing up like that before?”
Frank thought about it. He thought of all the stories and the vid screen films about battles with other cities. He thought about how they used those giant guns and how they took shots at each other’s shields. But now that Zelda had pointed it out, he couldn’t remember a city ever becoming a giant ball of light and disappearing all at once. He was sure he wouldn’t have believed it himself if he hadn’t seen the thing with his own eyes.
“No… No, I don’t think so.”
Zelda frowned. “Something’s wrong Frank. I can feel it in my gut. Why else would we stop in the middle of a storm warning? Ain’t never happened before as far as I know.”
They fell silent and resumed walking and entered central sanitation. The dank air was familiar and comforting to Frank. A lot of people complained about working in sanitation, but he loved it. Did he wish the pay was a little better? Sure, but the job was just fine. He didn’t mind getting dirty. It was a job worth doing, a job to feel useful; a job that if it didn’t get done, it would cost lives. A man couldn’t ask for a job more important than that. He was necessary, and that was satisfying.
They only needed to do a routine check. There was a full crew working already, but with the battle, Frank wanted to be sure there weren’t any other hidden problems. Michael, Andrea, and Scott were working hard. When they saw the trio, Frank asked, “How’s it going down here? Any surprises?”
Michael shook his head, and his long beard waggled back and forth below his chin. “Nah. Everything’s running like clockwork. Andrea had to climb up into one of the pipes and deal with a blockage, but other than that, nada.”
Frank glanced over Michael’s shoulder at Andrea, who looked surprisingly clean for climbing up inside a pipe.
“How’d you get out clean?”
Andrea’s dark eyes regarded Frank. He knew she hated his guts, but he couldn’t understand why. Might have been something to do with the fact that she had the sense of humor like an angry hedgehog. “I already went through decon.”
“Ah. You lose a toss or something?”
“No, I volunteered.” Her words were sharp and curt.
Frank nodded and looked around. “Jenny, will you head back and check on the bio recycler?”
Michael said, “I think Scott’s back there already.”
Frank said, “Yeah, doesn’t hurt to have two eyes on it, though, does it?”
Michael shrugged. “Sure thing, boss.”
For a little while, Michael and Frank caught up while Zelda and Jenny double-checked everything. There was tension between the two teams; there always was. Michael liked Frank okay, but he hated Zelda. Andrea hated Frank, and Jenny, after bawling her eyes out over Jose, had slept with Scott and the aftermath was less than ideal. He was hoping that sending Jenny back with Scott would force them to talk things out a little, but that was probably unrealistic.
When Frank was satisfied that everything was in order, he called Jenny and Zelda and bid farewell to the other team. The three of them would be back on the clock in another nine hours again, and so there was no point in lingering too long.
The trio walked up the corridor for several dozen meters in silence. Frank took the lead. He thought maybe Jenny would have something to say to Zelda about Scott and wanted to give them both a little room.
It was Jenny that broke the silence, “I’ve been thinking…”
In the silence of Jenny’s pause, Zelda said, “You and Scott get things figured out?”
Jenny’s eyes were glassy but cleared for a moment as she looked up and over at Zelda. “What? No, nothing to do with that. Scott is… Never mind.”
Frank turned and, walking backward, said, “What then?”
Jenny said, “I was thinking about what we were talking about before, been thinking about it a lot. A city shouldn’t blow up like that. It’s not right.”
Frank said, “Why’s that?”
“We learned all about city combat in scholar school.”
“You went to scholar school?” asked Frank.
“Yeah… but I dropped out. I was… I studied city mechanics. I wanted to be a shield engineer; you know, one of those people who jumps around on those harnesses checking the shield ribs for energy fluctuations? But well… there was an accident when we were up one day… and I couldn’t go back…”
Jenny leaned against the wall, grabbing for something to hold on to, as if the terrible thing was happening all over again. Frank had seen that look before in Jose’s eyes, how they grew like deep wells of pain overflowing with something dark and sticky, something he couldn’t ever really escape. He supposed maybe that’s why Jenny had liked Jose so much; she saw something familiar in him, a shared experience of horror and trauma.
Zelda changed the subject. “So, why shouldn’t a city blow up like that?”
The light came back into Jenny’s eyes. She blinked. She said, “Because cities are too big to blow up at once… unless…”
Frank said, “Unless what?”
“Unless they destroyed the core.”
“Yeah, you know, the power core that makes all cities function. Our professor told us it’s like a miniature sun. But, she also said that it was near impossible to destroy.”
“Because the architects planned for just about everything. She said that another city could shoot at the core’s location for a year and they would never get to it. The whole core is encased in Solidsonium and a second internal EnViro shield. You’d have to destroy both things at the same time, and that’s supposed to be impossible from the outside.”
Zelda said, “So wait, what you’re telling us is that Manhatsten didn’t win the battle?”
Jenny said, “No… at least not by attacking from the outside.”
There was silence for a moment. Frank felt his gut clench.
He said, “Jenny, what could destroy a core?”
“Our professor said that only two things could destroy one. The first was a critical overload. But, you’d have to be an architect for that, only they know the codes and the exact sequence required to start the process. And we only have one architect left, and I don’t see him going over to Saud in the middle of a battle with no way back, do you?”
Frank and Zelda shook their head in unison.
Zelda said, “And the other one?”
Jenny said, “It’s also not possible.”
Zelda said, “Why not?”
“Because you would need an atomic weapon and you’d have to detonate it inside of the core past both the Solidsonium and the EnViro shield. But that can’t happen.”
Frank said, “No?”
“Well again, you’d need to have access, so you’d have to be a high ranking person inside the city in the first place. Second, no one has even seen an atomic weapon in a thousand years. We think maybe the architects purposely made sure they were gone and buried before the cities started walking. They didn’t want humans lobbing nukes at each other once the inevitable conflict started. They were trying to get the environment to heal, and a weapon like that would make things far worse.
Frank opened his mouth to speak, but it Zelda cut him off. “But what if someone found one?”
No one spoke for a moment. That tightness in Frank’s chest grew. Then he said, “You don’t think there’s one of those on Manhatsten do you? Like, if we did that to Saud, couldn’t they do it to us?”
Jenny said, “I don’t know. I mean, we are the good guys, aren’t we? Didn’t Saud attack us first?”
But no one ever had the chance to answer that question. The whole of the city shifted. It was as if some angry deity had picked the city up and lurched it hard sideways, shaking all the domed contents within like a snow globe. All three slammed against the wall, and Frank felt a blinding pain on the side of his head. Everything went black for a moment.
He scrambled around, his hands clawing for something to grasp. Frank grabbed the rail leading up the stairs. The whole of the city shook. With Saud gone, what the hell was happening? Was it the core? Was the same thing happening to them as it had in Saud? But that didn’t seem right. Saud had vanished almost instantly, and the fragments had scattered to the four winds.
Something was wrong with the city. The floor was tilting, and he felt the weight of gravity tugging at his back. He didn’t know how he knew, but the city was falling. Something had knocked them over or had destroyed the legs.
“Right here.” Frank looked back and saw the familiar outline of Zelda’s thin, birdlike form. She was clinging to the railing now too.
“Is Jenny back there?”
Good, we gotta get out of here. I think the city is falling…”
Neither of the women contested this point. It was the only explanation. A massive jolt and suddenly, the floor shifts? The only thing that could do that was the city falling over.
The tug of gravity grew, an irresistible mistress. It took all of Franks effort to hold on. The stairway had disappeared below him. He was dangling; the pull on his large belly was immense.
Jenny screamed, but Frank couldn’t turn around. His entire focus was on holding the railing. He had no idea how much longer he could hold on. The angle grew deeper with every passing moment, and it was all he could do to keep from falling back into the long corridor that led to the heart of central sanitation. How far was he from the door that led inside? He didn’t want to find out.
“I got you,” said, Zelda. But again, Frank couldn’t look back.
“Zelda, you gotta get you and Jenny around me somehow. I…”
“You’re not gonna fall, Frank. We won’t let you.”
“Yeah well, you always warned me this gut was gonna get me killed, and it looks like you’re right. I can’t hold on much longer, especially since it’s almost a straight drop now.”
Frank knew if the city was falling, it didn’t matter. They could all die now, or they would die later when the shield failed, or a storm came, or in a hundred other terrible ways. But the survival instinct in Frank made him hold, made him grip tight. If nothing else, he wanted to see his wife one last time before he died and he couldn’t do that if he let go.
Frank felt his fingers slipping.
“Dammit, ladies. You gotta get around me or get to the other railing or something. You don’t want to be underneath me if I fall.”
Jenny wept. Frank was glad to hear it, it meant she was still there, still alive, still holding on tight.
Zelda said, “No, Frank. I’ve been at this too long with you. If you go down, we go down together.”
Jenny’s sobs increased, and through mumbles and tears, she said, “I don’t want to die.”
Frank tried to adjust his grip, but he lost one of his hands off the railing. Later, he would wonder how the hell he managed to swing his arm back up and grab hold again, but for now, as his whole body reached back up, he felt a sense of comfort in reestablishing his grip.
“Frank, don’t you dare let go. Your wife would never let me hear the end of it.”
“Yeah, yeah. I’m doing my best, but please Zelda, get you and Jenny across or around me. I can’t do this much longer.”
The city dipped forward, and now they were hanging vertically down the stairwell.
Zelda said, “Shit. Well…” she shifted her grip, and now Frank could see both Zelda and Jenny fighting to hold on.
Tears streaked down the side of Jenny’s face. At that moment, he was glad they were both petite women. It made it easier for them to hold on longer. He, however, wasn’t going to be able to do it.
Zelda said, “Well, you don’t have to worry about knocking us down now do you?”
Frank said, “Guess not. Guess we gotta play the game like in school, huh? Who can hold on the longest?”
Zelda said, “Ha, you’re screwed then Frank, I always won that game.”
Even at that moment, Frank couldn’t help but crack a smile. Here they were dangling down what had to be several dozen stories of corridor, and he couldn’t help but grin. He guessed that even if he didn’t die today, he would probably die grinning and laughing.
His arms trembled from the strain. The metal of the square railing dug into his fingers, leaving deep grooves bright with pain.
She looked up at him, a grave expression on her face.
“Zelda, you’re the best friend a man could ask for, you know that?”
“Don’t let go Frank.” Her voice shook. “Please don’t.”
“I don’t wanna, but let me say this. It’s been an honor working with you all these years, Zelda.” The noise of cities tremors echoed up and down the corridor and Frank had to raise his voice.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better friend at work. And you, Jenny, I wish I had the chance to get to know ya a little better.” He readjusted his grip, but he could feel his fingers slipping. His right hand was numb, and his left a blazing fire. “It’s been great working with both of you. I only wish I could see Jose’s dopey face one last time.”
“Hold on Frank; we’ll figure a way out of this. We always do.”
But Frank’s fingers couldn’t do it anymore. His arms had never felt strain quite like that. No matter how hard he wanted to hang on, he couldn’t. There would be no grabbing hold again this time.
“Goodbye Zelda. Hang on as long as you can. Tell my wife I love her, alright?”
He let go.
He started to fall. There was a sense of freedom in it. He thought for a moment that maybe if everyone had just learned to let go like he just did, that maybe, just maybe the world would be a little happier.
He looked down and watched as the corridor stretched out before him. It seemed to take an age to fall. Time stretched like the entire lifetime of the universe was available to him now to think about all the things he loved about his life and all the things he regretted. First, his fondest memories flooded him. He thought of the lifetime of laughter and friends and family. Then he thought of Jose. He thought about how he had felt so helpless when he the SO’s arresting him. He thought about the last uprising and how so many people he knew were sentenced to the Runnercore or were killed, all because of the greed in the city. He wished he had been more outspoken, or that he had done something to change their fates. Frank wished that he had taken a stand and right there, he promised himself that if somehow he survived the fall, he would stand and be true. It was too late now though wasn’t it? The ground was rushing up toward him, and in a few seconds, his life would be over.
But then all motion stopped. For a moment, Frank thought he had hit the other end of the corridor, but looking around, he realized that he was hovering, mid-air. Nervous about his strange circumstances, Frank looked around for something to hold on to, but there was only the concrete wall. His stomach flipped, as it did in childhood when his father tossed him into the air. Then, he dropped to the floor, the actual floor. For Frank, the sweet comfort of stability on the ground married with the pain of his short fall.
He lay on his back, checking himself. His ass and his pride were bruised, but he had barely fallen a meter. What the hell had happened? Shouldn’t they all be crushed under the weight of the collapsed city?
He heard footsteps and saw that both women were running toward him.
“Frank, you asshole.” Zelda’s voice shook, and there were tears down her cheeks. And then Zelda’s arms were around him, and then Jenny’s, and the three of them cried together. They were alive. The city was alive. They didn’t know what happened, but somehow everything was okay, at least for now.
The lesson that Frank learned in those few moments when he expected death would stick
with him through the coming days, and the coming battles. For difficult times were ahead, and Frank would lose many of those he loved and cared about before it was all over.
When great change comes, it tears things asunder, it uproots the old and leaves us gasping and injured and exposed. In those times, we are raw nerves, bare roots, open flesh. But if we are willing, we can get up again. We have the chance to go forward into the world and take what we have learned and lost with us. Then, we may bandage our wounds and look often at our scars so that we do not make the same mistakes again.
See Frank now; see him for what he is. He is an ordinary man in extraordinary times. But in so many ways, it is the ordinary we need. Hope lay in the courage and the strength and the will to move forward in the ordinary so that we can give birth to the new.”
Matron Mariposa Phillips 833.12.13 I.S.
They surfaced. Something was wrong with the light. Frank looked around. One of the buildings was leaning into another. Luckily, it was one of the shorter ones. People were scrambling out the front door before it collapsed, but most looked like they were okay. There were fresh cracks in the street, some as wide as a person. Everyone was outside. Many of those on the concrete and earth stood dazed and confused, statues frozen mid-moment like in the ancient city of Pompei. They were puzzled slices of life.
There were several fires, and a few people were doing their best to put them out. The old automated fire systems were working, but barely. Frank swore. They would have to go back and check the water pressure to ensure that there wasn’t a clog. If too much smoke filled the city…
Then, some of the gazes cast upward. People pointed up toward the EnViro shield. A conspiracy of whispers and hushed voices bathed the city in rapturous awe. They grew to mumbles and mutters in a slow drone. Someone screamed. Frank looked over and saw a woman fall to the ground. She hugged the earth as if it were her child, and she was saying goodbye to for the final time.
“Frank.” Even Zelda whispered. “Frank, what the hell is that?”
Frank traced the end of her finger skyward. His mouth opened to say something but then closed again. He felt vertigo and the sensation of the ground falling out from under him. He grabbed for Zelda and Jenny.
Jenny, clinging to him said, “That’s… that’s…”
Frank grabbed his chest. That terrible tightness was back, but this time, it shot down his arm. He fell to his knees, barely feeling the impact of bone on concrete as the shock rippled upward.
Zelda was on him in a moment. “Frank, what is it?”
“I think… I think I’m having a heart attack.”
Jenny moaned. It was a loud and long wail. “That’s…”
Zelda helped lay Frank down gently. “We gotta get you to an alcove Frank. There’s an emergency one a few blocks away.”
Frank just nodded and laid on his back. The pain was less now, but there was a fog settling in over his mind. He stared up at the sky, drinking in the new and terrible view.
Jenny shouted. “Oh Gods. That’s earth. It’s earth. It’s earth. Why is earth in the sky?”
Jenny, too, fell to her knees and wept.
Frank watched the earth. He watched as it started to grow smaller in the sky. They were moving away from it now. To where, was anyone’s guess.
It’s just what the title says! If you haven’t checked out Mimi o the Nowhere the ebook is free on Kobo for the next few days.
The world has become a strange place after climate change. Giant walking cities roam the landscape evading deadly storms and searching for resources. Immortality is available for the right price, and an ancient conflict is stirring in the heart of the city of Manhatsten.
In this world, there are things worse than death. Mimi, a homeless woman from nowhere, knows all too well what that means.
She thought she was unique, that there were no other telepaths. She was wrong.
Soon, she finds herself in the center of a conflict that has raged since the cities took their first steps over a thousand years ago. But this time, there might be no escape. This time, the city might just recycle her.
Chapter 3: The Inspector is here!
Alexa Turon, a young girl who works as the inspector in the docks has no idea Mimi is watching her. But the one person she can’t seem to stop thinking of, is Runner 17.
This chapter is Spoiler Free for Mimi of the Nowhere
Only 12 days left before Upon Stilted Cities is released on 7/17/18
Alexa Turon watched Runner 17 descend with the lift, sinking until he was out of sight. Her two-way mirror caught a flash of setting sun just before the dock bay door shut. The fluorescent lighting flickered across her face.
She ran out, picked up her dropped tablet, and then hurried back to her office.
There was a hotness in her. It surged up through her chest and settled in her throat. She sat down at her desk. Placing her hands on the ancient cracked keyboard, she felt the rough bumps against her fingers. She began typing up her report. Missing keys had already caused her fingers to callus. Slow work, many typos. Worse, the delete key was completely gone.
“Alexa Turon,” a high, obnoxious voice whined over the com line. It was Marty, her shadow, her boss. She still couldn’t remember his last name and when she called him by his first, it frustrated him. “You have a call from a man named Douglas Turon, who claims to be your father?”
Alexa groaned. “Great, here we go again.”
“Pardon?” asked her supervisor.
Alexa blinked, she hadn’t realized she had said it aloud. “Oh… um… put him through.”
Douglas Turon flashed on the view screen just above Alexa’s cluttered desk. He didn’t look much older than his daughter. The screen flickered for a moment and settled. At 193 years of age, his face was frozen in that of a man in his mid-30s. His chin-length blond hair, short pointed nose, and thin patchy beard made him look a brother, not a father. It was the alcoves.
“Alexa, how are you? Is everything all right? Your mother and I are worried about you, you know.”
She tried hard not to roll her eyes. Here she was, 23, and her parents were still calling her at work. Granted, she wasn’t legally an adult yet regarding voting and other privileges, but she would be in just two short years. Besides, so far as she knew, none of the other 23-year-olds had parents freak out if they didn’t hear from them for a few days. Even though the legal definition of an adult was 25, most parents still accepted that their children were adults at 18. An ancient habit.
“Oh, things are fine, how’s Mom?”
“Your mother is doing just fine. She landed another promotion in the library. She is going to be working almost directly with Senator Lightfoot on one of her artifact-cataloging projects. You know your mother, always the archivist and never much a people person. The prospect of spending days on end cataloging items from the last dig has got her so excited she can’t sleep. It’s all she talks about.”
“Oh, well that’s great news. Does that mean you could move to the Uppers?”
“You know Alexa, we just might. Your mother says that Senator Lightfoot has offered to sponsor us. I mean, Floor 39 is a wonderful level to live and all, but can you imagine the Turons making it to Floor 40? I mean, think of the benefits we would have as an Upper. Your mother and I have talked about having another child, and a move upward would make that possible. Speaking of which Alexa, I may have a job for you here in the IT department.”
Uh oh. Here it came. For the twelfth time since she took this job, her father was about to ask her to work for him, and then, of course, ask her to move back in with him and her mother. She knew the tired argument already. He would mention, again, some fantastic job opening (probably one that he made up just for her) and again, he would talk about the benefits of living at home as a young Upper Mid and saving to become a true Upper. Then he would talk about Alexa’s potential being wasted in the Runner Dock and how dangerous it was amongst all those criminals.
“Dad, I love you, but stop. I’m not interested.”
Her dad’s eyebrows shifted and one arched upward as if to say, whatever do you mean my sweet daughter.
“Dad, I don’t want to go through all this again. I’ve chosen to work down here, and I don’t want another lecture.”
“No buts, Dad. I know you’re worried about me, but my new apartment in the Upper Lowers is in a safe area and working in the docks is as safe as anywhere else. You know damn well that they keep the Runners on a short leash. I have a button on my data tablet that I can press if I feel any threat at all.”
“Alexa. It… it’s not just your safety. Your mother and I are worried about your future too. You have so much potential. You scored the highest of any Mid on the Standard Placement Test; you were the top of your class. Supreme Justice Smith even offered you a position, and yet you chose the Runner docks. Why? If you could just explain to us why you made your choice, we could support you. We want to understand why our little girl is throwing her life away.”
Alexa felt a rush of anger. “First of all, Dad, we both know why Justice Smith offered me a position. You’ve heard the rumors about all his pretty young assistants and the after-hours ‘work’ they do for him.”
“Oh Alexa, those are just rumors. None of the allegations made against the Justice were ever proven.”
“Professor Claven told me that the rumors were true and to stay the hell away from him. So that’s what I am doing. For the last time, Dad, I’m not throwing my life away.”
Her father rallied, not dissuaded.
“Alexa, if you could explain why you chose the Runner docks when you could have chosen almost anywhere else in the city, then maybe your mother and I could be a bit more understanding.”
“It’s not any of your business, Dad. I’m done discussing it.”
Her father stared blankly at her, and Alexa felt a rush of guilt crest over her like a wave approaching the shore. She wanted to tell them, but she just couldn’t. They would never understand, and though they had been supportive of her alternative methods for dealing with her headaches… well, this was something else entirely.
She sighed. “I’m sorry, Dad. You have to trust me. I’m doing this because I feel it is the right thing to do. This is the right place for me to be. Can’t you just accept that?”
Her father frowned through the flickering glare of the view screen.
He sighed, “You are almost an adult now, Alexa, and of course we want you to do what you feel is right, but time so often has a way of revealing our mistakes.” He paused again. His head turned back away to acknowledge someone nearby. He nodded his head a few times and mouthed a few indistinct words before he turned his attention back to Alexa.
“I’m sorry Alexa, but the AI needs some routine maintenance, Joe Fisher told me it’s acting a bit strangely, so I have to go. But Alexa, I’ll make you a deal. Neither your mother nor I will mention anything else about your job if you promise to sit down and at least chat with Dr. Black in systems maintenance next week. He’s heard about you from one of your professors in scholar school and is interested in meeting with you.”
Alexa rolled her eyes. It was another deal. There would be more. Always more. She also knew that accepting the meeting would get them off her back for another week and would allow her to focus on… well… whatever it was she was supposed to be doing down in the docks. She wasn’t sure what it was yet, but she had some ideas.
“Alright Dad, I’ll meet with Dr. Black next Friday. How does that sound?”
A smile spread across her father’s face. She loved that smile. “Wonderful. Your mother will be so happy to hear it, and I just know that—”
“One thing, Dad. Don’t expect me to take the job. I will go to the meeting but please, no expectations, okay?”
“Of course, Alexa. Of course.” But his smile said otherwise. He expected her to take this other job, to get out of the Lowers and to move back in with them. She knew another argument was coming, probably even a yelling match this time. But for now, a temporary ceasefire.
“I have to get going; Joe Fisher needs me. Do me a favor and call your mother this evening, Alexa. I know she would be happy to hear from you. I love you.”
“Love you too, Dad.”
The screen went blank. She exhaled. She wished so much that she could tell them why she chose the docks, but she didn’t exactly know herself. She also knew that until she could give them some sort of concrete explanation, something that made sense to them, they would continue to pester her. She wished she was a better liar.
In truth, she didn’t much care for the job. The hours were long and mostly boring, the smell of the place was almost intolerable. And the Runners, despite her reassurances to her father, made her very nervous. Well, except for that Runner 17. He had made her feel something… different.
17’s beautiful dark skin. And his eyes, like gray-brown orbs, she couldn’t stop thinking about his eyes. Her mind’s eye wandered downward, recalling each muscle. His chest hairless, covered in scars. She wanted to run her hands across those scars and feel the muscle below. She wanted to run her hands further down his naked body and… She caught herself at the thought and put a stop to it. Those thoughts lead to trouble, and she was already worried she was in over her head, despite what she said to her parents.
Her mind wouldn’t shift. She began to type at the keyboard again but found it impossible to focus. Her supervisor, Marty, had warned her that 17 was entirely unpredictable. But maybe it wasn’t the bad kind of unpredictable. And his face… it was so familiar. Where had she seen it before?
17 had told her that his only crime was pissing off the wrong woman. But she wasn’t sure that she believed that. After all, Marty had told her that every Runner claimed to be innocent, that every single one of them would say that were framed or imprisoned for ridiculous reasons. Most of them, he had told her, were murderers or thieves or rapists. Most of them were the scum of the Lowers. Marty had told her that, even if a few of them were innocent, it didn’t matter, because most of them were guilty as hell. What were a few innocent lives if the scum was off the street; if the city was safer. She wasn’t sure just what to think about that. Safety seemed like a big price to pay if innocent people were having their lives destroyed.
But was there any truth to what 17 had told her?
She felt that warmth again. Alexa found herself wondering, what was 17’s real name? The thought had overtaken her so rapidly, that she hardly recognized she had it. By the time she began searching through her data tablet for the desired records, she had only just become conscious of what she was doing. It almost felt intuitive.
It was quick work to find 17’s listing. He was first on the list of active Runners. Of course he was. The list was in numerical order. She selected his profile and opened up the record. In it, she could see most of 17’s missions and their details. A few were marked with a restricted access symbol, a circle with a red x in the middle, but for the most part, she saw that he had been on hundreds, no thousands of missions. She wasn’t interested in most of the mission by mission details and scrolled downward, looking for what she desired. As Alexa reached the end of 17’s profile, she felt a wave of frustration. There was no name, but there was something else, something that almost took her breath away. At the very bottom of his profile, after the first mission was a ‘years active’ indicator. 17 had been active for one thousand, two hundred, and ninety-four years.
Quickly she thumbed the main menu button and returned to the screen to put in the search query.
“AI?” she asked.
“Yes Miss, how can I help you?” Alexa’s AI now sounded just like her third-grade teacher, Mrs. Feltcher. It hadn’t sounded like that before. Why the change? It occurred to her that she did have a lot of fond memories of Mrs. Feltcher. Had the AI analyzed her history and psychological profiles? It was a thought that she didn’t like, but her curiosity was getting the better of her, so she put it aside.
“AI, can you give me a complete list of current Runners in order of the longest active duty status to shortest?”
Almost instantaneously the list appeared on her data tablet screen, and just as she had suspected, 17 was at the very top. The next Runner down had only had an active duty status for 674 years. She gasped and then caught her breath before it ventured too far from her lips.
“AI, are these active duty stats correct?”
“Yes Miss, they are current as of this morning.”
“So that would mean that Runner 17 has almost double the years of active duty of any other Runner?”
“What does that mean?”
“I’m sorry Miss, but I am not fully sure I understand your query.”
“I guess… I mean… why is he still alive?”
“To quote Major John Daniels,” the AI’s voice switched to what was the imitation of a gruff old man’s voice that she assumed belonged to Major Daniels, “That bastard 17 is the toughest, luckiest son of a bitch on this whole worthless rock of a planet.”
The AI system was not without a sense of humor, and she almost burst out laughing. Before she could, however, one question burned. She could feel sweat beading on her brow, it had to be asked, or it might burst forth from her chest. There was that heat again. It was taking her.
“AI…” she paused for a moment, terrified of the answer. She didn’t know or wouldn’t learn for a while why she was so terrified of that question, but it caught in her throat, struggling its way upwards toward her lips.
“What was his initial crime? I mean, why was he sentenced to Running?”
“I am sorry Miss, but that information is restricted.”
“Restricted? To know someone’s crime? That seems odd. Aren’t those records supposed to be public knowledge?”
Alexa had studied both the current and ancient legal systems in scholar school and was certain that this information was supposed to be public record. It was one of the concessions that the first Senate had made when they had originally commissioned the Runnercore because so many people had been worried about transparency once they had abolished lawyers. In fact, after the sentencing of the first Runners, there were riots in the streets. It had not been lost on the people in the lower levels of the city that they would be the primary recruitment grounds for the Runnercore. They had known that those in the upper tiers of the city would rarely, if ever, become Runners.
One city, Sydney, had fallen to the mobs. No one had ever heard from Sydney again it had apparently vanished off the face of the earth.
But here was a man who lived those times. Only two years after migration began, this man had become a Runner. Not only had he been alive during the transition to migration, but it was also likely that he one of the first Runners if not the first Runner. Alexa felt a tinge of disappointment in herself. Here had been a great opportunity to learn about the ancient history of the city, of what life had been like in those early days from an actual living, breathing person. The only other person in the city who had been alive during the transition, from what she had read, was Major John Daniels, the head of security, and it was unlikely she would ever have a chance to ask him questions about ancient history.
“You are correct, Miss, all criminal records are supposed to be available to the public, but Runner 17 is a special case. His records had been marked off limits by an Architect.”
“An Architect? You mean one of the creators of the migration system?”
“I am sorry Miss, but that is also classified information.”
Something about all this was strange. Maybe her unknown task had something to do with Runner 17? She bit her lip.
“AI, can I have access to all the files on 17, including before migration?”
“I’m sorry Miss, but most of those files are restricted.”
She frowned, none of this made sense, why would anyone hide the files of one of the oldest Runners? There just really was no reason to restrict those files. Something in her flickered, that familiar feeling of knowing, but she dismissed it for now. This was neither the time nor the place; she would explore that feeling when she got home. She kept her breathing slow and steady to keep her from going under. Her head had begun to tingle, but it was subsiding.
“Just give me what you can, then.”
“I am transferring the files to your tablet now Miss. Is there anything else you need at this moment?”
“No thank you, AI, that will be all.”
At that same moment, on the other side of the city, an alert popped up on a data tablet indicating that someone was attempting to gain access to 17’s files. The eyes watching traced the source of the data inquiry and for a brief moment activated the camera on the tablet accessing the files. The tiny camera on the front of the data tablet snapped a picture and immediately an image of Alexa Turon’s face was captured and transmitted. Facial recognition software identified the face as Alexa Turon, and instantaneously every known file and record on Alexa Turon was accessed and reviewed.
The threat was considered.
For now, at least, there was no threat.
But he would watch this one closely, lest she put many lives at risk.
Alexa sat down at her desk, utterly unaware of the surveillance. She scrolled through some paperwork, the part of the job she hated most. She marked a few boxes on her tablet and signed her name below, indicating that the inspection of 17 was complete. She submitted the data through the city’s server and after less than a second, the central AI confirmed receiving the packet.
There wasn’t much to inspection. Between the AI, the engineers, the Recycled Runners, and the alcoves, most Runners were ready to go with only the most basic inspection. Her main job was to do all the paperwork, double check vitals and put up a red flag if something psychological was wrong, whatever that meant. Most Runners were at least to some degree unstable. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be Runners. All she was, was a cog in the wheel of the Runnercore, akin to a mechanical arm in the never-ending assembly line that kept the city functioning. Her parents were right about that, and she knew it. The job was a dead end.
She was told from the get-go that most of the time she wouldn’t even see Runners, and it would be an extremely rare occasion to see more than one at a time. In fact, the security advisor who had briefed her on her duties had told that she might only see a Runner once or twice a month. She had asked, what then were her duties in those slow times? She was told that she was to stay vigilant and to do her part. But in the month she had been there, she had encountered not only a dozen or so Runners but now even one of the oldest Runners.
Despite her long battle with boredom and the overwhelming pressure from her family, Alexa knew she was in the right place. The pieces of the puzzle were beginning to take shape, though the picture still wasn’t clear.
“Alert, Runner 494 deployment.”
Alexa grabbed her electronic tablet and searched for 494’s profile. She walked out of her office and toward the EnViro suit platform. 494 was emerging from the tunnels. He was, unlike 17, clothed from the waist down. Several tattoos of red lines of concentric circles painted around his nipples and cascaded outwards across his chest.
Alexa reviewed the profile as she walked. 494 had a warning label attached to his profile. “Convicted Serial Rapist” it stated. She shivered. There wasn’t any real danger to her since the dozen or so armed security guards would incapacitate 494 if he so much as breathed the wrong way, but she still disliked dealing with individuals like this. It was the thing she had dreaded most about the Runnercore.
Alexa approached with her clipboard, “Vitals are all looking good, 494, how are you feeling?” She tried to hide the quiver in her voice. She didn’t want this one to know that she was afraid, but it was too late.
494 turned and stared at Alexa, his face expressionless but his eyes hungry. He glanced up and down her body, “Fine.” It was a long, drawn-out word, and his lips spattered saliva just a little bit. He licked them to keep the moisture from becoming drool.
She felt his eyes consume her, and every part of her instinct told her to get away from this man. She felt that at any moment he would lunge for her. Her fingers drifted toward the emergency assistance button on her tablet, a button that would call every guard in the dock and potentially activate 494’s shock chip in the base of his neck if the AI felt he was too aggressive or out of line.
Her heart was racing. He kept staring at her. Now he was taking in every detail of her face, and she didn’t like it. She could tell by the way his eyebrows worked in concert with the slight changes in his eyes that he was considering something. Alexa hoped to the gods that he wasn’t considering what he should do to her. She decided to stay out of this one’s mind, it wouldn’t help any to skim him.
Even still, she felt exposed and even a little violated. She moved her feet a little closer together, narrowing the space between her legs. Her thumb moved to a hair’s breadth above the emergency button. One sudden movement and she would press it.
“Um… Your EnViro suit… It’s in station 12,” she said, forcing the words out.
She thought he was about to say something, but instead, 494 turned without further interaction and began walking toward the platform where his suit waited. She let out all of her breath, so hard in fact, that she worried he would turn and look back. But he didn’t.
Then she lost control of herself, and Alexa felt 494’s mind overwhelm her with images of violence, anger, and lust. She felt nauseous, dizzy, and had to stop herself from fainting. 494 was truly a terrible human being. She was glad to see him leaving.
Some of the Runners she had encountered so far had definitely deserved to be there but 494… he was exceptional. Sure, most of the Runners were slimy and could even be malicious at times, but 494’s mind was the very definition of insane. She hoped that the Barrens consumed him, that he disappeared in the winds forever.
Her mind returned to 17 as she watched 494 walked toward the lift that led out into the Barrens. What had 17 done to deserve his tenure? Were all Runners true criminals, or were some in the wrong place at the wrong time? She would have to do some more reading up on it. It’s not like she had much else to do while waiting for Runner deployments, and if her boss asked her, she could simply say she was learning about each Runner for her own protection. He would probably approve of that; it would probably fit into his narrow definition of “being vigilant.”
Special thanks for the remarkable work of Gabriel Perez an amazing Sci-Fi artist! The cover art of Upon Stilted Cities: The Winds of Change is here! Some sample Chapters are below, but remember they contain spoilers for Mimi of the Nowhere (which you can get here) so be warned.
Forty Years after the events of Mimi of the Nowhere the city of Manhasten is in danger. It just doesn’t know it yet. An organization known as the Children of Gaia has returned from the ancient past and destroyed the city of Langeles. Resurrected and more powerful than ever, their leader is hell-bent on destroying every single remaining city that roams the earth. At the center of it all, is one man, a man as ancient as the city of Manhasten itself, a man designated, Runner 17.