Serah of the Runners is Live on Amazon!!!

There was a bit of a glitch with preorders on Amazon… so what does that mean? It means preorder was cancelled now the book is live two days early! You can head over by clicking the image above or this link…
https://www.amazon.com/dp/B085X39V97/

You can also find sample chapters here

From the back of the book:

Manhatsten is in chaos, and the city AI has vanished.

The battle for Langeles is over, and it’s clear nothing will ever be the same. Security forces are scattered, the Runnercore is gone, and many are missing in the aftermath of the battle. In the streets, the Lowers are organizing, and rebellion is spreading. The city is on the verge of tearing itself apart.

It’s up to Serah, to find the few that remain of the Order of the Eye and discover a way to unite the city before Miranda and the Recycled return to finish what they started.

But from afar someone is watching Manhatsten, a force older than the city itself.

Mimi of the Nowhere Free on Kobo till April 30th.

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.


Get it here!

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.

Mimi of the Nowhere Audiobook is finishing production (Free Chapters)

It’s been a long time coming, but the audiobook of Mimi of the Nowhere has finally begun its post-production. I do not have an exact date right now for release but it should be no later than April 2019.

Of course, if you don’t want to wait for the audiobook, you can find it in paperback and ebook here

Here are links to the first two chapters of the audiobook.

Chapter 1

Chapter 2



The Cover Art for the Battle of Langeles is Complete!

 

This afternoon my cover artist Gabriel Perez sent over the final copy of the cover art for the Cover of Upon Stilted Cities: The Battle for Langeles. To me, the cover is absolutely amazing but then, I blew it up on a bigger screen and saw the level of detail he put into this thing. Looking closely you can see Runners battling all over the place. Small skirmishes are everywhere and the details are just insane. If you have not visited this guy’s website you need to check him out. He is, hands down one of the best sci-fi artists around.

Book 3 in the Chronicles of the Great Migration

Upon Stilted Cities: The Battle for Langeles is out October 17th!

Final_wip4

Chapter 3 of Upon Stilted Cities is here

Chapter 3: The Inspector is here! 

USC Front Cover Graphic

 

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

Preorder has begun at some sites! 

Check out the Prologue and Chapter 1 Here 

Chapter 2 Here 

 

 

Chapter 3

The Inspector

 

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.”

“But Alexa—”

“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?”

“Yes, Miss.”

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?”

“Correct.”

“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?”

“Yes, Miss.”

“Which one?”

“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.

 

 

3.

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.”

“Of course.”

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.”

Cover Art for Upon Stilted Cities: Winds of Change

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.

Blurb: 

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.

Final Cover!!!!

Sample Chapters 

Prologue and Chapter 1 Here (No Spoilers there to worry about)

Chapter 2: A Return to Nowhere (Spoilers Here) 

 

First Two Chapters of Upon Stilted Cities

I have had the Prologue of Upon Stilted Cities up here on this website for ages. So, I thought perhaps I would post that and an additional chapter up here. You can find the prologue and chapter 1 below. Over the next few weeks, I will post several more chapters in preparation for our release date for Upon Stilted Cities: Part 1 the Winds of Change.

Here is a Synopsis of Upon Stilted Cities: The Winds of Change

The Children of Gaia won’t stop until every last walking city is destroyed…

The city of Langeles is rubble, resources are dwindling, and storm systems are larger than ever before. The people of Manhasten are in great danger, and they don’t even know it yet.

Life in the city hasn’t changed much in the forty years since Mimi joined her telepathic sisters of The Order of the Eye, but the winds of change are blowing, and their enemy, the Children of Gaia wait in the shadows to turn the city to ash. At the center of it all is one man, a man as ancient as the city of Manhasten itself, a man designated Runner 17. A man who is more then he knows, and maybe the only one who can save the city and the rest of humanity.

CroppedCityWeb

Here is the Prologue

To Destroy A Walking City (I)

 

1.

The city had toppled. Bits of skyscrapers were strewn across the desert. With the city’s legs destroyed, it had collapsed from towering heights. Most of what remained upon the excavated chunk of earth on which the city had stood were smoking ruins, shattered mechanized EnViro suits, and sun-dried corpses. Welts from bombs, bullets, and energy weapons pockmarked the perimeter, as various vapors cascaded into the late afternoon sky.

Inside the ruin, occasional echoes of weapon-fire permeated the stillness in and between the few remaining buildings, but even that would fade with the day.

Far back from the fresh ruin of the city of Langeles, Roderick sat slumped against a rock. He was alone in the barrens. His body ached from laying inside his metallic suit for what was probably several hours. The air was a cool forty-eight degrees Celsius as the sun began its final descent. Perhaps an hour of light remained before the cold night air set in.

Roderick blinked. It was a glorious sunset. Even as seen through the tinted UV protection of his suit’s helmet, it was a ritual of beauty, a day that ended in victory. The power core within Langeles still remained, but the death knell of the city was ringing. Langeles would never walk again. For a city with no shield and no migration, there was only death. Mother Gaia would swallow it whole.

He pressed a small button under his chin and with his left hand pulled off his helmet. Its thick inner liner tugged at his graying hair as the helmet detached. He dropped it to the ground. It thudded against the gravel, rolling for a moment before settling in.

He closed his eyes and caressed the tattoo on his neck, the mark of his order, a tree of life with an eye in the center. He liked to feel the raised skin, the scars that had formed under the ink and burn scars. Most adherents of the Children of Gaia chose a simple armband or an inscription on their EnViro suit exterior, but for Roderick, only the mix of blood and fire and ink could mark his tribute and his loyalty. He was hers.

He felt the fresh air on his face and took a deep breath, knowing full well that he wouldn’t be able to keep his helmet off for long. The methane would trickle into his lungs with each breath. Fresh air, as rotten as it smelled, was a luxury. But, it had been a long day, and a little non-filtered air wouldn’t kill him. At least, it wasn’t anything that an alcove couldn’t heal.

He reached up to wipe the sweat from his brow. Already, beads of moisture gathered in the crevices of his pockmarked face and shimmered in the dying light. His light brown eyes reflected the play of colors on the hard, rocky earth and the swiftly changing sky.

Pain sprang up his right arm like a horse bucking its mount, and his square features tightened as he gritted his teeth. Roderick looked down the length of his right arm and remembered. He shuddered. Truth had a funny way of reminding you where you stand. It would take a long time to get used to a missing limb. The bloody stump of where his right hand been was now a symbol of his haste. He turned and gazed at the wreckage of his Dugger vehicle behind him. The City and the Dugger had shared the same fate.

With great pain, he poked the damaged arm out through the metallic hole of the suit where his armored glove had been. He had managed to tie the pliable, cloth-like underlayer in a knot to slow any leak of his air. He used his teeth as a second hand. After several frustrating moments, the knot came loose. He unwrapped the gauze and examined the wound. It was already stinking. He was fortunate that his suit had maintained his temperature and filtered air as well as it had. He would need to cauterize the wound, and quickly. If the toxins from the air entered his blood… well, he had better not let it come to that.

Silence slid into his ears. All noise evaporated. A high-pitched ringing emerged in the vacancy. Fresh fire burst forth from the remains of Langeles. Even from twenty-six kilometers out, he had temporarily lost his hearing. Roderick shielded his eyes from the blinding white light that erupted from the city like a second sun. No, not like a second sun, it was a second sun. For a brief moment, it was a star, a universe, created by the rupture of fusion and then winked out. His fingers pawed a solitary rock with his left hand for balance, feeling his feet giving way. His legs were so tired.

It was the Langeles power core.  Dense smoke seeped into the sky. A hint of a mushroom cloud emerged but was already caught by gusting winds and dissipated across the landscape, intermingling with the colors of the setting sun.

His men had reached it. Where he had failed, they had succeeded. Praise Gaia.

He stared at the city with anticipation. Where was the blast wave? Detonating a nuke inside the city core should have sent a cascading wave of energy. He should need to duck behind a ridge or be hunkering down inside a small cave, but nothing happened. Perhaps they didn’t use the nuke? Had his men managed to overload the core, containing the implosion? He would have to ask them.

It made no difference. Joy washed over him. Roderick let out of a roar of triumph. His roar caught on to the back of the lingering roar of the explosion and merged into forever.

He fell to his knees and bowed forward. Dry lips met the hardpan. His right stump grazed the ground, and a shock of pain climbed the length of his arm. He gritted his teeth but did not move from his position of reverence.

“Praise to you, Mother. Thank you for your aid in this great victory. I shall not forget the lesson you taught me this day. I shall not act in haste again. It is an honor to sacrifice in your name. May the blood that I shed bring new life in the soil.”

He pushed his right leg forward and used his left hand to thrust himself upward. Roderick stared at his bloody stump, still feeling where his fingers had been. Despite the immense pain of the open wound, his fingers itched; an itch he could never scratch again.

Roderick smiled, turning his attention back to the fallen city. The burning city roused his courage, his determination. There, in the smoking ruin, was the evidence it was possible to rid the earth of its infestation. The giant walking city of Langeles and its people were no more.

But what of his haste? What of his disregard for Mother Gaia’s words? Much had gone right, but what had gone wrong? Roderick reviewed the events of the morning assault.

 

 

Migration halted so that the excavation could begin. A massive drill protruded from the lower hunk of rock underneath the city and was burrowing into the earth. Clouds of dust cascaded into the empty sky. A cycle.

“Commander, the Duggers are submerged, in position, and await your orders,” said Patrick Lions. His face appeared before Roderick on his view screen. Patrick was a short, round, balding man who barely fit inside of a standard EnViro suit. With his helmet off, Roderick could see his rosy red cheeks and his crooked nose, broken from one too many fights.

“Excellent. What’s the status on the special delivery?” asked Roderick.

“The package has been delivered to the city’s AI Commander. Rocky said the primary shield should fail any time now. One thing, though, he also said the secondary shield is an isolated system. It’s unlikely the virus will deactivate it.”

“Yes, Rocky warned me earlier. But, there will be chaos, and that is all we need. What’s the status on city leg security?”

“One moment, Commander, I’ll check.”

Roderick squirmed in the semi-cramped quarters of the Dugger. He disliked being below ground in the Dugger transports. Duggers were designed for the conditions in severe climate change during the late 21st century, and were usually effective means of transport in the barrens. They had a small drill and two claw-like arms on the front of the vehicle that dug below shallow surfaces. Roderick had hated using them at first, piercing the earth had seemed like an act of great sacrilege, but Mother Gaia herself had given them permission to use the vehicles in her name.

“Commander,” said Patrick, “leg security has been deactivated. Should we send in Miss and her team?”

“No, stick to the plan. Shields fall first, then we send in the main attacking force, and then we send Miss and her teams to plant the nukes. If we deviate from the plan, it will be like Saud. You remember Saud, don’t you, Patrick?”

“Yes, Commander.” Patrick’s voice was notably lower in pitch and his eyes cast downward.

“It took 80 years to rebuild the Order after Saud, Patrick. Have faith in the Great Mother. She has blessed this plan. Langeles will fall before the sun sets.”

“Has she…” Patrick hesitated over the comm line. He knew that Patrick’s faith in Gaia had wavered as of late. Many of his soldiers’ faith had wavered. Inaction was a plague that could spread quickly, and six years of planning was a long time.

“Has Mother spoken with you about this plan, Commander? I… I only ask out of curiosity, of course.” Patrick’s voice contained a hint of a tremor.

Roderick smiled, showing his ancient, yellowed teeth. “Of course, Patrick. It was the Great Mother who devised this plan. She gave me a powerful vision that showed me the city of Langeles on fire. She whispered that other cities would come for salvage after the fire. And then,” excitement washed over Roderick’s anticipation, “then, we will destroy them as well. Mother Gaia has brought us Rocky and Miss so we could carry out the plan. Have faith, Patrick. We cannot lose this day. Today is the first of many victories.”

It was true that the plan had come to him in a vision that the mother had spoken to him. The timing of Miss and Rocky joining the cause was perfect, but even Roderick’s faith had been tested at Saud. They needed a victory to restore the faith of his people.

“The primary shield is down, Commander,” said Patrick.

“AI, confirm?” said Roderick.

“Sir, I confirm the primary shield system surrounding Langeles has fallen. Secondary shields surrounding their security buildings and storm shelters are active.”

“Excellent. There will be riots inside the city over access to those shelters,” said Roderick. “You see, Patrick? Mother’s plan will sew chaos inside the city while we destroy the legs. Send in the primary attacking force.”

“All of them, sir?”

“Yes, all of them, including your elite team. I want to keep their Runnercore busy.”

Seven hundred men were in the main attacking force, and only three dozen were on leg detail. Roderick’s personal guard consisted of only twenty-three men and women. He would hold his force until the nukes detonated, shattering the great legs. Then he and his personal guard would head straight for the city’s core, ending the long life of the parasitic walking cities.

“Yes, Commander. May Gaia bless your path,” said Patrick.

“And may Gaia bless yours. I’ll see you on the other side. Keep the mother in your heart and we cannot fail.”

Roderick watched his screen in the Dugger. He watched as the several dozen transport vehicles began moving toward the city. Most of them surfaced and crept along on treaded tires, but a few were still moving under the sand and hard earth. The ones under the ground would travel below the combatants and flank the Langeles Runnercore from behind.

They were greatly outnumbered. From what his spy had said, Langeles had 2,300 Runners ready for combat. Roderick only had 1,300 under his command, and several hundred were women and children back at Atlantis base. The fallen shield and surprise would give them a sizable advantage. Runners would have to be dispatched inside the city to maintain order.

The EnViro shield surrounding the walking cities weren’t just for defense in combat. The shield was also used to create an enclosed ecosystem. Without the shield, most of the cities inhabitants would be slowly poisoned by the toxic air and cooked in the extraordinary heat. Secondary shields were set up around important buildings in the event that the primary shield failed, but with two million people in the city and only room for about a hundred thousand in the secondary shielding shelters, there would be chaos.  Langeles’s own citizens were weaponized in the Mother’s cause; every man, woman, and child an agent of chaos, an inadvertent soldier in the army of the Children of Gaia. They were to be offered up in sacrifice to the Great Mother.

The radar screen saw the dots consolidating about a kilometer outside the city’s boundary. Over the comm came Patrick’s voice: “Duggers, mount artillery and fire. Infantry, dismount and engage. Be ready. Here they come.”

Underneath the soil, Roderick felt the ground vibrate. Langeles had opened fire, with its railguns blasting huge holes in the rocky desert. But, with the shield gone, Roderick knew their ability to use the rail guns would be limited. The guns ran off the same power grid as the main shield system. Naturally, after a few shots, the guns would stop, and the majority of Langeles Runnercore would be deployed in the city’s defense. Fresh blips on the radar screen were appearing. Roderick knew those must be the Langeles Runners.

“AI, status check on our cargo?”

“Sir, all three atomic weapons are stable and ready for deployment.”

“Excellent. Open a line to Miss.”

Miss appeared on the screen. Her short black hair was ragged and unkempt. She had a lean face that contrasted with her thick, cracked lips. A faint crosshatch of scars ran up the left side of her neck and ended just below her ear. Her time in the barrens had taken their toll, but there was still beauty to be found. Her brown eyes glittered with an inner fire that Roderick had always desired. His second in command stared back through the communications line, awaiting instructions.

“It’s time, Miss. Uncouple the cargo cars and take down the legs. The main force and the fallen shield will keep Langeles security distracted.”

“Yes, Commander. May Gaia bless your path.”

“And yours, Miss.”

Roderick felt a jolt as the cargo car he had taxied uncoupled from his Dugger. He felt lighter, more eager than before. His plan was unfolding perfectly so far. Now he had to wait.

Time passed. Roderick grew agitated. For all his planning, he hated to sit back and wait while the rest of his troops fought. He had spent most of his life as a man of action, as the one on the front lines. It was bizarre to sit back and watch. So much could go wrong, but Gaia had instructed that he wait.

Roderick waited as the 8th and 9th nukes were attached to the city’s legs. A few more to go and then he would pull his troops back.

Then something went wrong.

Over the comm came Miss’s voice, the signal fragmented. “Commander… spotted us. Seven men… Confirmed that the…. 10th… leg. Should… detonate?

“Repeat that Miss, I didn’t catch all of it.”

“Signal… Under attack… Legs… Retreat…”

“No! Don’t retreat. Finish the mission and then get out of there.”

“Ten… pla… treating… distance. Gaia…”

The signal evaporated. “AI, what’s happening out there.”

“It appears that the Langeles Runnercore has discovered the leg team. Most of the team is dead. However, based on radiation scans, it looks like at least ten of the legs have a tactical nuclear weapon attached to them.”

“And Miss?”

“Her life signs are still strong. It appears she is back in her vehicle and moving away at high speed.”

“Then start the detonation clock. Let the Core team know we’re moving as soon as the blast wave is clear.”

“For detonation, a confirmation code is required.”

“Of course. V638927SI.”

“Thank you, Sir. How long would you like the countdown to run?”

“How long will it take for the main force to get a safe distance from the blast zone?”

“If they left immediately and put the Duggers at full speed, they could be clear in six minutes.”

“Alert Patrick and the main force to disengage immediately.”

“Unfortunately, Sir, Patrick Lions no longer has any vital signs.”

Roderick grunted. That was quite a blow. He liked Patrick. How many decades had they fought alongside one another? Patrick had saved his life at Saud.

Roderick sighed. “Fine, just alert the remainder of the main force. Set the countdown for fifteen minutes. Alert everyone at two-minute intervals. Any longer than that and we risk giving Langeles time to disarm some of the bombs.”

“Acknowledged, Sir. Countdown to detonation is now at fifteen minutes.”

It was a long fifteen minutes. Roderick passed the time watching the radar of his troops departing to a safe distance from the estimated blast zone. He watched nervously as more of the Langeles Runnercore seemed to be gathering around the legs. If they figured out what was happening… but Roderick knew it was too late, only six minutes remained in the countdown now, and there was no way they could disarm the weapons in time. Miss had planted the nukes at the upper third of the legs, only someone with her special skills could have easy access to them.

“Four minutes remaining until detonation.”

This was it. Roderick could feel a kind of giddiness pass over him. It had been a few hundred years since he felt so excited. The city would fall, their plan would work.

“Patience, Roderick,” said a powerful and soothing voice.

“Mother Gaia?”

The voice was outside him but coming through him.

“Yes, Roderick. You must have patience. Do not act out of haste now or there will be a heavy price to pay.”

“Yes, my Goddess, of course. Forgive me. I am unable to prostrate to you in this vehicle.”

There was no response.

“Mother Gaia?”

Still no answer.

“Two minutes remain until detonation,” said the AI.

What did Mother Gaia mean by “patience”? Did it mean that he would have to wait to assault the core? Did it mean that he should cancel the detonation?

“Sixty seconds remaining until detonation.”

A wave of panic washed over Roderick. He quickly reviewed the morning’s events. Had he overlooked anything? The AI began to count down the final thirty seconds. He smashed his fist into the steering wheel, and his anger burst forth at the same moment the bombs on the legs detonated.

Roderick watched over his view screen as the distant blast drowned out all vision with a great blinding light. He wondered if all of his men had remembered not to look directly into that light. Through his periscope camera it was fine, but he doubted the EnViro suit helmets would shield them from blindness. A mighty roaring noise pressed itself against the ground and waves of sand and rock shifted above the Dugger. Thunderous fury.

In the view screen, Roderick saw the city kneeling down toward the earth, like a man kneeling beside the dying body of a brother in arms. The west end sunk first, smashing into the hardpan of the barrens. Some skyscrapers broke in half and pieces scattered as they cascaded toward the ground. Tremors for each mass of concrete could be felt, even at this distance, when they returned to the earth from which they had risen. Then, finally, the rock slab of earth on which the city rested slanted up toward the sky, amongst the sand and gravel, and came to its final rest. A marker, a gravestone, a well-deserved end.

Roderick’s rage and frustration were forgotten, as were the words of the mother. Roderick’s cheeks pulled upward. A smile bloomed on his face. Red cheeks, like red roses, surrounded a sharp, toothy grin.

Roderick opened a comm line. “The Great Mother has brought us to the brink of victory my brothers, but we must not tarry. Main force, resume your attack, mop up what’s left of the Langeles Runners. Core team, you are with me. CHARGE!”

The vehicle vibrated violently, and the sand on top of the clear glass cockpit began to move and shake. As the vehicle moved up above the surface of the ground, Roderick’s view cleared. The vehicle lurched forward, its large, treaded, tank-like tires gripped like teeth in the earth.

The Dugger gained speed and began moving more quickly toward Roderick’s final destination. He felt his heart beginning to pound. He was almost there. The outline of the city grew larger with every passing second, and in only a few minutes he would be on the outskirts of fallen Langeles.

A proximity alert flashed in the vehicle view screen, and the AI spoke. “Warning, incoming projectile. Five seconds until impact.”

Roderick looked down at his radar. He saw the red blip approaching the vehicle. He grabbed the steering wheel and jerked it left to avoid a direct hit, but it was too late.

The RPG struck the ground just below the Dugger’s left rear tire and sent Roderick spinning through the air, rotating like a corkscrew. The vehicle connected to the ground in a series of long hops, and Roderick felt his right hand catch in the steering wheel. The sounds of tearing metal screamed through the air as the vehicle slid and came to a wrenching halt.

Silence hovered. Only the wind dared to raise its voice. Tiny dust devils formed and spun and caught some of the smoke that gradually began to rise from the Dugger. Behind, the city of Langeles had caught fire.

A cacophony of noise returned and Roderick, dazed from what was probably a concussion, pulled the emergency cockpit hatch release with his left hand. He reached up with his right hand to pull himself up and out of the cockpit, only to realize his hand wasn’t there. Confused, he looked down the length of his arm. A mangled stump of flesh, shredded muscle and bone were oozing blood down the exterior of his EnViro suit. All Roderick could do was stare. No pain came to him, only shock and surprise.

Where had his hand gone? Scanning the cockpit, he saw a metallic gauntlet still gripping the steering wheel. Bone and blood dripped at the end of the gauntlet. Roderick looked at his stump, then at the steering wheel, then back to his stump again. It felt unreal.

It was the wrong hand. It had to be. It looked so small and frail. How could it be his? He glanced around another time but, seeing nothing, he refocused his gaze on the steering wheel.

Roderick stretched out his left arm and reached for the gauntlet. In his denial, he had thought it a simple matter to plug the hand back into the arm, like a robot or a child’s toy. His left hand wrapped around the gauntlet, the first instinct simply to pull the gauntlet from the steering wheel. It would not release. Then, he tried to pry one finger at a time off the wheel. No luck. He had heard of a death grip before but… he started to chuckle to himself but the laughter caught in his throat. He almost choked on it. He cleared his throat and let a sliver of madness drive a fresh wave of laughter, and for a moment the sight of his ruined hand was a source of great humor.

The laughter died as suddenly as it had come. Roderick turned his head out toward the burning city. There he saw someone standing only a stone’s throw away from him. It was a Runner, fully armed and in a combat-ready EnViro suit. He had a high caliber pistol aimed at Roderick’s face.

If Roderick had looked up only a single second later, it would have been the end of him. Without thinking, he threw the rest of his body out of the vehicle and rolled behind a solitary rock as the Runner opened fire. A few bullets sprayed the terrain. One of the Runner’s bullets ricocheted off the metal of the Dugger and smacked into the Runner’s shin armor. The impact forced him to fall to one knee. Roderick, seeing his chance, jumped up and reached down for his sidearm in his suit. His bloody stump mashed against the holster and Roderick screamed in pain.

The scream further stunned the Runner. He dropped his weapon, falling backward onto his ass. Roderick reached across his body with his left hand. He struggled, grasping at the butt of the revolver from the awkward angle, and finally pulled his revolver from his holster. He aimed and fired clumsily until the clip was empty. One of the bullets struck home. A single hole opened in the Runner’s face shield, and behind it, blood splattered, and the Runner rolled to his side, dead. His metal armor at rest, not unlike the city from whence he came.

Roderick sat and slumped against the rock.

“AI?”

“Yes, Sir?”

“Are there any more surprises out here for me?”

“No, Sir. I do not detect any more Runners in the immediate vicinity.”

“How…” Roderick was starting to feel weak and tired. Blood dripped into his eyes from a small gash on his head. “How… are we doing… out there?”

“My apologies, Sir, your inquiry must be more specific.”

“Progress of… my… troops?” His breathing was slowing down and the lids of his eyes felt heavy. The head wound and the lost of blood from his arm were both a threat.

“Sir, the Core team has penetrated the perimeter and the main force appears to be overwhelming the remains of the Langeles Runnercore. I calculate that you have an 87% chance of victory at this point.”

“Good, good… How many dead?”

“Exact figures at this time are difficult to calculate because of various reports of your troops and some conflicting data from the Langeles AI that I have intercepted. However, I calculate the total death toll at 1,752,892.”

Roderick felt a pang of frustration. “No, ours. How many of ours are…”

“Ah, I see. According to my sensors, there are 289 casualties,”

Roderick struggled to make a quick tourniquet by tearing off some of the linings of the passenger seat. He pulled some gauze from the glove box and wrapped it on the end of the wound. With his teeth, he pulled the material as tight as he could. Then he pulled up the lining of his suit and tied it and wedged it in the hole where the gauntlet had been, in hopes to keep the suit sealed.

Muttering more to himself than to the AI, Roderick asked, “Why was that Runner… out here?”

The AI responded, “Standard drill deployment procedure requires that a city deploys four perimeter Runners in each of the cardinal directions. Runners are instructed to set up sensor beacons and report anything unusual.”

“Why… didn’t he see us… earlier?”

“My apologies sir, I do not know.”

“Haste… Mother… sorry for my…” Roderick coughed. The remainder of his words caught in his throat. He closed his eyes.

 

Roderick opened his eyes back in the present. He stood and turned, moving toward the wrecked Dugger. He pried open one of the cargo hatches and began to rummage through the medical supplies. He would have to review the morning events again later, but for now, he needed to tend to his arm. It took him a moment, but he found what he was looking for, an emergency flare, an antibiotic shot, some morphine, and an EnViro suit sealant patch. It was a damn shame he didn’t have a regen patch in the Dugger–they had them back at Atlantis base–but the flare would have to do.

He dropped the sealant patch on the ground. He lifted the morphine syringe case up to his mouth and used both his teeth and his left hand to open the case. He grabbed the syringe out with his mouth and used his left hand to pull up the armored sleeve on his right arm. He injected it a few inches above the messy stump. It hurt, but the pain was minimal in comparison to the exposed nerves.

“All right. AI?”

“Yes, Sir?”

“If I pass out, I need you to wake me immediately. Don’t let me fall asleep.”

“As you wish, Sir.”

The morphine acted fast. It didn’t block out the pain entirely, but it was much more manageable. Roderick winced in advance. He knew what was coming next.

He pressed the trigger on the flare. The short flames sputtered and licked the sky at various heights. Sparks flew. He braced himself as he brought his left hand toward his right arm.

Roderick thrust the blue flame onto his stump and screamed, a scream that carried across the kilometers. A war cry of pain and victory. Roderick felt his body’s desire to lose consciousness; he fought it. A few more seconds and the wound would close, for now.

Those last seconds were an eternity. He could bear it no longer. He turned off the torch. He injected antibiotics directly into the wound. Grimacing again at the pain, he withdrew his stump from the open spot in his suit. He picked up the sealant patch off the ground and placed it on the edge of the tear. He watched the sealant patch come to life and spread itself over the tears in his suit where his hand had once been. The pain eased. By morning, the wound would be well-scabbed. Though pain would be a long companion, the danger of infection was over, or at least long enough for Roderick to find an alcove.

Roderick considered laying down in the back of the wrecked Dugger for a moment, then thought better of it. He had to be visible, had to contact his men. It was either that, or he had to find shelter before daybreak.

Roderick reviewed the day again and again, through the mirage of morphine. He knew it was unfortunate that Rocky’s virus required the city’s security codes to work properly. The Langeles codes had not been easy to obtain. Eleven cities remained, and Roderick could think of only one path to absolute victory, especially with a fifth of his force destroyed. Runner 17 was the key. If he wanted to destroy the rest of the cities, he would have to find him.

Here is Chapter 1

 

 

Chapter 1

Designation Runner 17

 

“Activating Runner, Designation 17.”

The AI’s voice, muffled by the warm, gelatin-like padding of the greenish goop that surrounded 17’s body, echoed in his every cell. The lights of the Runner storage facility switched on. Flickering like a stuttering heartbeat, it pulsed against his closed eyelids. He was awake. He did not open his eyes. Not yet.

A large claw slid under and around his alcove on the storage shelf. Pops and hisses marked a disconnection. Thrumming eardrums. The claw tightened. It lifted. It rotated.  With the slow guidance of the machinery, the storage container shifted from its flat horizontal position to an upright standing position on the dock floor. As it stood stationary, the clear plastic of the alcove slid open from the bottom up. An avalanche of the stem cell, fusion-based gel escaped with increasing speed as the opening widened until it was man-sized.

AI said, “Runner 17, step forward.”

He obeyed, keeping his eyes closed; knowing from centuries of experience what came next.

“Initiating cleaning sequence.” A metal arm with four shower heads descended from above, spraying water into every corner of 17’s naked body, washing away traces of the gel mixture from his dark skin.

Eyes opened.

“Initiating drying sequence.” The same arm that had bathed 17 with soapy water now blew hot air from its four adjustable nozzles. The warm air felt good on his skin, and he stretched and rotated his shoulders. He tilted his neck from side to side, wiggled his square jaw, and rubbed his dark brown eyes. Then, he reached back and wrung out his thick, long, black hair. He removed a hair tie from his middle finger and braided it.

“Runner 17, please proceed through exit tube 8c for your pre-run inspection. Failure to comply will result in disciplinary action,”

“What? No baby powder?”

“Baby powder is not part of the standard Runner activation procedure,”

“Yeah, well, it should be. Coming out of those damn alcoves is a little too much like being born. Next thing I know, you’ll shove a thermometer up my ass.”

AI hesitated for a moment. “Runner 17, please proceed through exit—”

“–or I’ll be disciplined. Got it. Can’t they install humor? I’m getting tired of the same old schtick. I want new material.”

“AI customization options are disabled in the Runnercore Activation procedures. For all complaints and concerns—”

“Alright, I will go through the damn tube. Jesus Christ.”

17 yawned and walked toward the long, tube-like corridor leading to the Runner Docks. He scratched the stubble on his long face. Behind him, several other alcoves in the storage area were coming to life. He glanced back to who the AI was unboxing.

“AI, why are you unboxing 875 and 913? You know they’re just going to get themselves recycled.”

AI repeated itself. “Runner 17, please proceed through exit tube 8c for your pre-run—”

17 shut tube 8c’s door behind him. He couldn’t stand the activation AI. It was so stiff. It was no way to wake up.

The briefing screen switched on and followed him down the length of the tube as he walked. He noticed the date, April 4th, 1291 AC, 6:30 p.m. He’d only missed a few months this time. Time was funny in there. The screen displayed his mission. He stopped and glanced at it.

“Basalt and Quartz, huh? Sounds like a real rollercoaster ride. AI, why is there a particular location marked here?”

“Sir, the coordinates are the most likely location of the two required resources.”

“Uh huh. And since when am I given coordinates for a resource recon?”

“As you know, sir, access to resources in the past few decades have become increasingly scarce. Major Daniels has decided that our best chance of resource extraction is to pinpoint specific locations that appear, at least by previous mineral surveys, to be resource-rich.”

“So Daniels is the one who made up that bullshit story? You know, I’ve been at this for more than a thousand years now. The only time you send me out at 6:30 p.m. is when there’s something much more important going on than resource recon. How ‘bout you tell me what’s really going on at that location?”

“I am sorry, sir, but the only thing, ‘going on at that location’,” the AI switched to an exact copy of his own voice to quote him, “is a rich vein of resources.”

“I’m sure. Can you tell Major Daniels that I know he is full of shit, please?”

“Sir, Major Daniels is not receiving messages at this time.”

“Then leave him a message and make sure you include a smiley face in it. I know how much he loves them.”

“As you wish, sir. Please proceed to Inspection.”

17 walked forward again toward the end of the long narrow tube without argument. He wasn’t in the mood for a shock in the base of his skull. Without being aware of what he was doing, he rubbed the place on the back of his neck where they had implanted the chip more than a thousand years before. He looked up at one of the security cameras. No doubt that Daniels or someone else from security was watching him. He raised his right hand and gave them the finger and then a salute.

17 reached the end of the tunnel, and like a thousand times before, an iris whooshed open. He stepped forward into the light, squinting while his eyes adjusted, pupils shrinking. He swished the little saliva in his mouth and spat out the remainder of the stem cell mixture from the alcove. A hint of the greenish mixture blotted and swelled on the metal floor. There was no getting rid of that chemical taste. He thought for a moment that maybe stealing a meal from a dock worker or inspector would be worth the pain of a shock. He longed for some mouthwash or a toothbrush. The pain he could handle, the grainy taste of goo in his mouth was far more intolerable.

Then the inspector walked toward him, tablet in hand. With a single glance, he forgot everything else. He swallowed hard. She was stunning. She raised her right hand, holding a small wireless scanner linked to her tablet, and checked his vitals. She waved it like a magic wand up and down, left and right, muttering to herself the technical jargon of the readout.

17 could feel his heart pounding in his chest as his breathing grew more rapid. Her long blonde hair almost shimmered in the brutal fluorescent light of the docks. Those lights made everyone look ugly, so the fact that she was still radiant caught 17’s attention. Her deep bluish-green eyes accented her bronzed skin. Her mouth had an almost natural upturn, and he traced the curvature of her tiny jaw with his eyes. He watched her lips as her mouth moved and felt his breath escaping him. For the first time in centuries, he felt butterflies in his stomach.

“Runner… 17? Wow, that’s the lowest number I’ve seen so far.” Her voice was light and curious.

17 focused. He shook his head. He couldn’t imagine their life together, or even just what it would be like to bed her. It would only serve to remind him that he was a prisoner.

“Ain’t no lower number now.” He tried to make his words sound hollow and dry.

“Sorry?” The young girl blinked at him.

“You’re new, aren’t you?”

“Is it obvious?” She frowned, her whole face flattened, but a smile hinted.

17 paused and looked her up and down again, this time making it obvious what he was doing. Her face flushed a little. He couldn’t help it. Chances were, he would only see her a few more times before she moved on. Inspectors always moved on. Hell, he may never see her again, but something in him resisted that idea, something in him said he might see a lot of this one. He pushed the thought away. It was nonsense.

“How many years do you have?”

She hesitated a moment. 17 knew inspectors weren’t really supposed to talk to Runners, but he wanted—no, needed–to chat with this one.
“I… only… 23 years.”

“23 years? Are you kidding? I didn’t even know they let anyone that young away from their parents anymore.” He hesitated a moment, deciding if he should ask the next question. It burst from his lips. “Uh, what’s your name?”

The girl, her eyes soft, looked around. Doubtless, she’d been lectured on fraternization with Runners, warned at great length how evil they were. 17 gave her a little smile, trying to encourage her, but that only seemed to make her more nervous. Was she nervous for the same reason he was?

“I’m not supposed to… I…”

“Yeah, yeah. I know. They told you the big bad Runners might hurt you if they find out who you are, might steal you in the night like the Boogeyman. Told you we are all dangerous criminals on a life sentence, right?”

The girl nodded. Her face was bright red. Her eyes kept sinking downward, admiring 17’s naked body, but she was trying to hide her curiosity.

She bit her lip.
He shivered.

“You know what my crime was?”

She shook her head.

“Do you want to know?”
She nodded.
“I pissed off the wrong woman, an Upper. Least that’s what they tell me, but hell if I can remember. Been too damn long. Everything bleeds together after a few centuries.”

“But I thought…” she hesitated again, looking around to see if anyone, probably her supervisor, was watching. She lowered her voice just above a whisper and moved closer. “I thought that to become a Runner you had to commit a violent crime?”

17 laughed. The girl jolted back, looking around again.
“You’re shitting me, right? Is that what they are teaching up in that… what do they call it these days? College? University?”

“Um… Scholar school… Sir.”

“And she gives me a Sir. Wow, I like you,” he chuckled.  “You know, it’s been at least a millennium since someone called me Sir? What’s your name again?”

The girl looked down at her feet and then met his eyes. Her soft eyes made his heart ache a little. He couldn’t remember the last time someone had looked at him that way; centuries, at least.

“Maybe we better just get on with the inspection,” she replied. She looked back over her shoulder again.
“Come on now, don’t be like that. I just woke up, and it’s been several months sitting in that alcove. Do you have any idea how lonely and boring it is in there? You know we don’t fully sleep in those things, right? It’s more like an acid trip or something.”

Her expression softened a little, and her left cheek slanted upwards just a hair. She hesitated, and the words almost seemed to leak from her soft lips. “It’s… Alexa.”

“Alexa, you don’t look like an Alexa, you look like a…” He stopped. No. She couldn’t possibly look like… He didn’t dare make that comparison. A deep sense of anguish welled up in him. His memory was trying to surface, but he pushed it back down. There was a sense of mockery and injustice in this girl’s presence. He tried to shake it off. Now he was starting to understand the effect she had on him.

“Uh… Never mind. Alexa it is, then. Tell me a little more about yourself, Alexa. Are you a Lower?”

Alexa shook her head. “Mid, actually.”

“A Mid? What the hell are you doing in Runner dock then?”

“I…” she hesitated, her eyes again dipping down 17’s well-scarred body. She looked up into his face again. “That’s none of your business.” She shifted her weight from one leg to another.

“Uh, you’re right, sorry. It just seems like a lovely young Mid like yourself wouldn’t bother with the big bad Runners down here in the docks. If you’re a Mid, I bet you got lots of opportunities and probably a lot of interested men too, huh?”

She frowned. “I’m not some object for a man to possess, you know. And my career choices are my own.” Now determined to focus on the task at hand, she fixed her gaze on her data tablet. He could tell that it was hard for her not to look back up at him. She peeped over the tablet, caught his eyes again and smiled. She forced the smile down and with it, her eyes. It made his heart flutter a little. He swallowed, thinking of his wife from many lifetimes past. Only the hair color was different.
“I’m sorry Alexa… I… this isn’t a good place to be.”

She looked up at him. Her eyes moved back and forth across his face and then her eyes locked with his. “I think…  I think I’m done with my inspection. You have to move along now, Runner 17. And…” Her face turned bright red, and she looked down at her feet. “And put some clothes on. None of the other Runners come out of their alcoves naked. Um, your EnViro suit is in station 9.” She pointed her finger in the direction of the EnViro suit platform.
“Alexa?” A man’s harsh voice rang out over the intercom. “Alexa, please return to your office immediately. You know the policy about speaking with Runners.”
She turned and ran off. He watched her go. She dropped her data tablet on her way back to the tiny office in the corner of the Runner Docks, but did not stop.

He frowned. It had been the first time in decades that someone besides the AI had spoken with him and he went and screwed it up. He shook his head. What did it matter anyway, not like a Runner could ever have a normal life. After he returned from the barrens, he was debriefed and then straight back into the regeneration alcoves until the next mission. He was lucky if they allowed him a real meal instead of that nutrition drip they ran through his EnViro suit.

There had been a few moments in his Runner career when he had tried to date the female Runners, but it proved impossible. The timing of re-activation never quite matched up. Sometimes months or years would pass between encounters. He found over the centuries that the best he could hope for was a quick fling, which also proved difficult out in the harsh conditions of the barrens. It was hard to get your pants down when they were under thick layers of metallic armor, but somehow, they managed. Caves were helpful in that regard.

17 turned toward station 9 and walked forward. He glanced back in the direction Alexa had gone and frowned. Then he moved forward and stepped into worn yellow outlines of feet. A machine both above and below made a guttural whirring noise, sputtered, and came to life. The platform on which 17 stood lifted several meters into the air. Cracks had begun to take shape in non-symmetrical patterns on the platform. The whole place crumbled from age.

From above and below the platform, large metallic hands with three fingers and an opposable thumb extended outward, each with its own task.

The arms dressed 17 in undergarments and then a thin, electronic, protective spandex-like coating that resembled a wetsuit and protected him from heat and cold. The boots enclosed his feet, granting him nearly a half meter more in height. Next, the arms pieced together an exoskeleton that tripled the user’s strength. Bone joints glistened, waiting for connections to metal plates. Around the exoskeleton, the mechanical arms assembled the exterior armor. It started at his shins, attaching one piece at a time, moving upwards. Each piece resembled the armor of a knight, but it was perfectly connected, perfectly sealed like that of an astronaut’s suit but much more flexible. For the final step, a helmet descended from above and enclosed the EnViro suit. Everything clicked on and came to life.

“EnViro suit activated. Welcome back, sir. It has been four months, three weeks, and four days since you were last in an EnViro suit,” said the suit AI. “I have taken the liberty of uploading your system preferences and the required mission data into this suit.”

“Good, I don’t suppose you can talk to someone about the Runner activation AI, can you?”

“Is there a problem with the activation system, sir?”

“Yeah, that system is an asshole.”

“I… apologize, sir, we may not customize—”

“I know, I know. It told me already. Tell me again, why can’t I just use your system for activation?”

“I am flattered, but my systems are based on the chip in the base of your neck and only works when in direct contact with an EnViro suit or another external uplink.”

17 sighed. “If you say so.”

“Are you ready to depart?”

“Yeah sure. Being out there in the Barrens is a hell of a lot better than in those damn alcoves.”

“I am sure I would agree if I had a body.”

The outer bay door opened. Before he stepped forward, he looked back. Was Alexa watching? He hoped he would see her again. He frowned and turned forward toward the lift.
As he descended toward his Dugger, 17 had his first glimpse of the Barrens in months. Dunes and rocky wastes filled his gaze. The wind changed the landscape right before his eyes. There was nothing but death and possibilities out there. He glanced in the corner of his heads-up display and noticed the wind was only 80 kph, a mild evening at least.
He missed trees. Even though they had some here in Central Park, he hadn’t seen one in centuries and wondered if there would ever be a day when he would see one again.

Before the end, he would see many.

 

 

Mimi of the Nowhere Chapter 3: Orphan’s Alley

Chapter 3 of Mimi of the Nowhere is now up!

You can find Chapter 1 here 
And Chapter 2 Here 

A brief synopsis of the book:

First Sketch of Mimi

Life on the street is hard. Drug dealers, thieves, and even the security officers of the giant walking city of Manhatsten are up to no good. But somehow, Mimi’s done it for centuries. Of course, it helps that she is able to peak into other people’s minds and avoid trouble most of the time. Unfortunately, that same talent is about to get her into a whole other world of trouble. One that she never even knew existed.

The sketch of the main character, Mimi, is by the very talented Kayla Rose who recently agreed to do the cover art. Check her amazing work at the link.

Mimi of the Nowhere launches on 5/17/18

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Chapter 3

Orphan’s Alley

Mimi surfaced and walked the street until she reached the entry to Orphan’s Alley. Passing through the mob of homeless, she took inventory of those she recognized and the ones she didn’t. They were islands, shackled and disheveled. Some clung to their cart full of possessions, others to the rags that draped their bodies and little else. For most of them, there was little to cling to, and so they clung tight.

Here, the homeless had no fear of the cold winter nights when they may meet endless sleep. They had no hesitation in the heat of the summer sun, needing to seek shade and water to survive the onslaught. They would not starve. They would not die of disease. The alcoves ended disease centuries ago. But some would be beaten; some would be recruited into the Runnercore. Some would be exploited in other ways, especially the women. All were disposable, like so much cast away paper, waiting for a time when their purpose, like so much else in the city, was recycled.

The city had various spaces where the homeless clustered, where they pressed their tired bodies up against ancient brick and mortar. There were only a few places that city security allowed them to live and so there was a limitation to where they could lay their tired heads. This one was called Orphan’s Alley. A name that the residents themselves had given it hundreds of years prior. Probably none here were alive to see the naming, but names, like ideas, can be passed on through the generations, and there wasn’t much else for the homeless of the city to pass on. Names were their empty legacy.

A single food dispenser had been installed at the end of Orphan’s Alley. It provided only the basics, a green algae nutrient-rich soup, once a day. It was enough to keep a person alive, but only just. If you could figure out a way to earn some credits you could get more, but panhandling was strictly forbidden in Manhatsten and so those who the city had cast aside, who it had made orphans, were left with only illegal means. After all, no one would hire you in the city if you did not have a place of residence somewhere. And illegal means usually meant that eventually you were caught and recruited.

Orphan’s Alley, a prime recruitment ground.

Mimi found who she was looking for. A man, standing slouched against a corner, thin brown rags covering his body in multicolored clumps held together by safety pins, staples, and in a few places, stitches. He was a tall man with short, dark, greasy hair, chopped off in places with a blade. Facial hair crowded the edges of the scars but did not dare cross it.

His voice was soft and deep. It was a welcoming tone like a snake’s slither. “Mimi, good to see you, you know I was just telling the boys you’d be back any day now.”

The redness was still there, just under the surface, and Mimi felt it threatening to break free. What part of her had she opened? It was a terrible, empty feeling. It was hungry, and she didn’t like it. It almost seemed to be whispering to her, telling her to release it.

Her eyes locked on the dealer. Mimi shrugged. “What else have I got to do to kill the time, Andrew?”

“Hmmm. True enough,” a ragged grin spread across his face, revealing several missing teeth. “Do you have credits? Or are you finally going to make some other arrangements?”

“I have credits.”

Andrew frowned, “You know, I am sure that if you would like to pay some other way than credits, we could arrange a more physical kind of payment.”

“No thanks.” She couldn’t help but skim his mind. She saw what she didn’t want to see. In his mind he was undressing her, peeling back the layers of her ragged clothes, unwrapping her like a little boy’s present.

Mimi felt her face flush. The redness rose in her. It spiraled upward. She could almost hear it beckoning her to unleash it on him. It was hungry for him, in the same way Andrew was hungry for her body.

She shook her head. “No.”

“Hmmm? What was that, Mimi? Let’s make a deal, one night with me for several months’ supply of Likatol.”

“No, Andrew.” She took a step back from him. The redness had died down now, but her normal anger was brewing and she didn’t want any more trouble today. Her heart was aching for her argument with Shannon, and she wasn’t sure if she could fix it.

“Tell you what, one night and I’ll give you a full year’s supply. Come on now, that’s more than generous, and I certainly won’t need an entire night, perhaps just a few hours.”

Why was he so insistent? Normally, Andrew knew how to take no for an answer. Mimi risked skimming his mind again for another moment and saw something she had never seen before. Something was pressing on him, putting pressure on him. It was almost like someone was encouraging him, egging him on.

What was happening lately? For so long, she thought she knew the rules, thought that she had everything about her abilities figured out, but first there was that strange silence by her favorite fishing hole, then the redness, and now this? It was almost too much. It was like someone, or something was changing all the rules, and she couldn’t act fast enough to figure out what they were.

Mimi shook her head. “No, Andrew.” She paused for a moment when his face twitched. Fear traced her spine, a cold finger. She could feel him growing impatient. But this was not the impatience of a man, rather of a stray dog hungry for meat.

She thought about walking away but then her anger released. She wasn’t going to be bullied by some low-life dealer. She wasn’t going to put up with any of his shit and she was going to make that clear.

She moved up closely to Andrew, leaning in almost as if she was going to kiss him. He leaned in close and then at the last moment, she dug her elbow right into his neck, pressing it into his windpipe. He choked and tried to step back but she had him pinned against the wall. His hands reached up to grasp for her arm but as he did, she pressed harder. His eyes bulged as his skin purpled and she felt satisfaction as she skimmed his mind and found terror.

“Do you really think that I would ever let you put your filthy hands on me, dealer? Do I look like some kind of whore to you?”

He was barely able to draw breath, but he still managed a guttural, gasping, “No.”

“Bet you thought I was just some weak little thing, didn’t you? You asshole, I’ve been on the streets longer than you’ve been alive, and if I even feel your eyes undressing me again, I’ll fucking pluck them out and feed them to you.”

Mimi thought that despite the dark shade of his face, he paled a bit at that statement, and a quick skim confirmed that not only did he believe her, but that he was thinking, “This bitch is crazy.”

“Yes Andrew, I am crazy, and I’m not afraid to maim your ass.”

His eyes were beginning to close. She skimmed his mind to wait ‘til just before he lost consciousness. She didn’t want him to pass out; something might be lost in the experience if he did. She wanted him to remember this day for a good, long while. It wasn’t the first time she had to put the hurt on a man like this, and it certainly wouldn’t be the last. Her best defense was a reputation and she had to maintain that. Long experience had given her every tool she needed to intimidate even the stronger men.

She pulled back her elbow and he fell forward, taking deep and wide breaths. On all fours, saliva dripped from his mouth as he coughed and sputtered.

Mimi said, “Act like a dog, get treated like one.”

There was a moment when his mind was blank, when she was sure he wasn’t going to say anything. It passed. At first, he seemed to be having trouble making words, as if he had forgotten language. Then he said, “Forget it, bitch.” He wheezed and coughed. “I’m done selling to you.”

Mimi shrugged, “Fine by me. I’ll take my business elsewhere. You’re not the only one ‘round here to sell Likatol, asshole. You’re just the dumbest and cheapest.”

In truth, Mimi hated to have to go looking for another reliable source of Likatol, but she was also tired of Andrew. In the old days, she might have done more than just choke him a little, she might have made sure he remembered the lesson for years to come. But lately, she was getting tired.

“Get the hell away from me, you bitch. I don’t ever want to see your face again.”

She headed back through the crowd and out of Orphan’s Alley. She only had a few days of supply left, so she would have to find someone else soon. She thought she might try one of the other city districts–she preferred staying around District 17 since it was so close to her hovel–but last time she checked, Districts 8 and 13 usually had a steady supply of Likatol.

She walked out past the threshold of the homeless territory, her mind at work on the problem at hand. She had, for the moment, forgotten about Shannon, knowing that the headaches would come soon, that the voices would grow so strong, that tears would come.

She rounded a corner and bumped into someone. The collision caught her by surprise, but a steady hand reached out and grabbed her and kept her from falling. It was Shannon.

Mimi froze. Here was another secret she was going to have to explain, and judging by the look on Shannon’s face, she probably had no idea why she could possibly want drugs. And to explain why she needed them, she would have to explain a whole hell of a lot more than her age.

“So, you’re a drug addict?” The wrinkles on her forehead creased. Her short blond hair never hid those wrinkles very well.

“No, I’m not.”

“So what were you doing talking to Andrew?”

Mimi breathed a heavy sigh. What could she say? That she needed small doses of Likatol to keep the entire city out of her head? That she would get terrible migraines without them because she could read people’s minds? Doubtful Shannon would believe her.

“Shannon, maybe it’s best if we don’t see each other anymore.”

Shannon’s face changed, from anger and frustration to shock and hurt.

“What? Wait, I don’t understand. I…”

“I like my privacy, Shannon. I understand you want to share your life with me, but there are certain things I am not sure I can share, not now anyway. I’m not a drug addict, in fact, what I need is Likatol, but I don’t think you would believe me if I told you why I need it.”

Strictly speaking, Likatol wasn’t a drug, it was a pill that someone could take before going on a drug binge. It would keep the user from losing all control and from becoming addicted, but it wouldn’t block the high. Likatol was a kind of drug buffer.

“Try me.” There was a note of desperation in her voice. “Please, Mimi, you said you loved me…”

Mimi shook her head. “No, I don’t think so. Anyone I have ever told has gotten hurt. It’s best if you stay away from me.”

Mimi began walking down the city streets. Shannon followed close behind. At first, she kept trying to stop Mimi, to get her to talk to her, but after a while, she just followed in silence. Mimi blocked her out, refused even to skim her. It was better this way. She would give up soon enough, she would go on with her life. Besides, it was better than Shannon leaving her, as some of them did.

After more than twenty blocks, Mimi began to hear sobs and sniffling directly behind her. She tried to ignore it, to let Shannon cry, but after a few more blocks she couldn’t take it. She loved her. There was something special about Shannon, something soft and warm. She made Mimi feel safe and warm and special. Shannon really cared about her. It was like, with Shannon, all the wounds from her life on the street didn’t ache so much.

She opened herself to Shannon’s mind. She dipped into it and there was comfort there. Comfort in knowing that this woman, more than anything, just wanted to feel Mimi in her arms, wanted to embrace her and never let her go. There was something powerful in knowing someone else’s thoughts, especially when those thoughts were of love and longing. People said a lot of shit, and their minds so often cast a shadow over the true meaning. But here, here was a woman who truly loved her and knew it.

Mimi could not stand against it. When love comes like that, all you can do is surrender, to lay down your arms and submit to the will of those who would love you. For in denying it, you face only regret. Mimi had been waiting for this a long time, she just hadn’t known it.

She stopped. As she turned, she realized that she too had been crying. She looked directly at Shannon, whose streams of tears had eroded the soot in streaks on her narrow face. Mimi reached up and touched her own face, running her finger along her cheeks, her tears had cleansed those parts they had touched.

Shannon stopped and looked at her. She took one step closer and hesitated. Mimi felt Shannon’s question press against her. All Shannon wanted was to hold her. Mimi moved closer to her, pulled her close and kissed her. Both minds blanked to the warmth of the embrace. Mimi could taste the salt from her tears on her lips. Then she pulled away slightly and hugged her hard.

“I’m so sorry, Shannon. I love you… I… Let’s go back to my place and I’ll tell you whatever you want.”

Shannon didn’t say anything, but skimming her mind told Mimi of the overwhelming relief she was feeling. Shannon’s smile was enough. The tears couldn’t darken it.
Perhaps it was time to take a chance. Perhaps this time would be for keeps. Maybe that was Mimi’s purpose, to love as deeply as she could.

A small voice pushed up in the back of Mimi’s mind. “This one won’t last long. It will be even shorter than Daniel. You will watch her suffer. It’s what happens every time someone gets close to you. Free her now or you will bring her nothing but misery.”

The voice almost sounded real, almost sounded external. Mimi felt a bit of a headache and took a few deep breaths.

She looked at Shannon again. She drank in her beautiful eyes and face and raised her right hand up to wipe away her tears. Her heart longed to be with her, to hold her close and feel her touch. She pulled Shannon in close and kissed her again, feeling the warmth of her body pressed against hers, the softness of her lips making her body tremble with joy.

She pulled away, grabbed Shannon’s hand and together, they walked home.