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.

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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 Cover Reveal

Today I am happy to present the official cover of my very first novel Mimi of the Nowhere. This book is the very first chapter in the Chronicles of the Great Migration. A series about life, death, and war in a Giant Walking Cities in a post-climate change era. Mimi of the Nowhere begins with the story of a Homeless woman living in the Giant Walking City of Manhasten, which was once, long ago the island of Manhattan.

A synopsis:

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 peek 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 cover was created by the very talented Kayla Rose. You can find more of her work at her Instagram page here

Don’t forget you can read the first 6 chapters of the book free at the page for Mimi of the Nowhere

 

Front Cover

 

Want to read this book completely free? Sign Up for our Email Newsletter here and get access to this book for free beginning 5/17/18 as well as a number other great perks. 

 

 

Mimi of the Nowhere Ch. 4 An Ancient Past

Check out Chapter 4, in which Mimi shares her origin story. How did she become homeless? How has she survived for centuries in the giant walking city of Manhatsten?

If you haven’t already you can find the previous chapters at the following links.

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Container

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.

Mimi of the Nowhere launches on 5/17/18!

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Chapter 4

An Ancient Past

Mimi lay naked, feeling the softness of Shannon’s skin on hers. Their bodies pressed closer as she pulled a blanket up over them. If she was going to do this, she wanted to feel Shannon close to her, wanted to feel the comfort of her touch. Shannon was much longer than her, but their slender forms accented each other perfectly.

“I’m gonna start at the beginning, if that’s okay. I have to warn you, some of this is going to be hard to believe, and I know the fact that I have been hiding a lot of things may not help you believe me, but I swear to you, everything I am about to tell you is the truth, Okay?”

“Okay.” Shannon was afraid, but the fact they had just made love had helped ease some of that fear. Mimi hoped her story wouldn’t be too much for her, but there was only one way to find out.

“I was born in the third century after the city began its migration. Hard to believe, I know, but my father died in the second uprising after the city began moving. My mother, who became pregnant only days before my father was killed, did her very best to survive in the city alone. She managed to find a job. She had a place to live in the lowers, and began trying to put a life together for me. It was hard. I have a lot of memories of the first years of my life of my mother bringing home security personnel for favors and extra credits.”

Shannon frowned. “She sold herself?”

Mimi nodded. “She did what she had to do to survive. And because of it, she was able to get me into a school in the Lower Mids. One of her regulars had a contact there. It was my mother’s hope that I could move up into the mids and out of the lowers. The school was even on the 15th level.”

“15th? But I thought Lowers needed a special pass to move above ten?”

“Yeah, this guard got me one. I guess he must have really liked my mother. But I can’t imagine it was that hard, I mean it’s not like he was trying to get access above the 40th level where the Uppers live, right?”

Shannon nodded, “Still, it couldn’t have been that easy. Wait, how did you end up homeless?”

Mimi frowned, “I’m getting to that.” She shifted her body around and became Shannon’s big spoon. Her skin was so soft and warm. She nuzzled Shannon for a moment, then took deep breaths inward, taking in her scent. For the moment at least, she felt safe.

“Things went alright for a while. The mid school was much harder than the lower one, but I’m not stupid, so I did okay. Mostly I pulled average marks. But then my thirteenth birthday rolled around, and everything changed.”

“See, I think my mother had become addicted to something. I started to notice changes in her behavior. It was small at first, but after a while, she started to scream at me for not finishing simple chores. A few times she hit me, nothing terrible, mind you, but she did. Before I was twelve, my mother had never raised a hand to me, not once. She had barely ever raised her voice.

Shannon turned to face Mimi again. She was looking directly into her eyes, and Mimi hesitated for a moment and swallowed hard.

“One night, a man came. I don’t know exactly who he was, but I figured he was one of my mother’s…gentlemen. But then the yelling started. He was yelling about money, that my mother owed him a lot and that her body just wasn’t going to cut it anymore. Then he asked where I was, said that maybe I would be able to help her pay the debt.”

Shannon’s eyes began to water. “No…he didn’t.”

Mimi shook her head. “Thankfully not. See, my mother, for all her weird mood swings, was not about to let anyone lay a finger on me. So, this man burst into my room and just as he stepped in the door, my mother put a knife right through his back. The man screamed, turned around and began choking her. I jumped up out of bed and began kicking him as hard as I could but nothing would help, he wouldn’t let her go. He just kicked me away. He was going to kill her.”

Mimi paused for a moment to wipe a tear away from her face. Shannon leaned forward and kissed the spot where the tear had been.

“I did what I had to do. See, the little steak knife was still in his back. I don’t think my mother had hurt him very much with it. So, I pulled it out and just started…using it on him. I don’t know how many times I stabbed him. I just wanted him to stop hurting my mother.” Mimi’s voice began to shake, along with her body, and the tears began to flow freely.

“She was all I really had.” Mimi buried her face into Shannon’s breasts for a moment and sobbed. Shannon stroked her hair in silence until Mimi calmed down.

She sniffled, her voice was low and hoarse. “The next thing I remember is my mother taking the knife out of my hands. I remember her packing my things. I remember her telling me I had to go; I had to hide somewhere. I didn’t want to leave, though. I knew what would happen to her if I did.”

“Did she…end up a Runner?”

Mimi nodded, “Is there any other punishment in this city?”

Shannon didn’t shake her head. She didn’t need to. She didn’t know there was another kind of punishment, but Mimi didn’t feel like it was the right time to talk about it.

“She made me leave though, threw me out the door. Screamed at me, hit me, kicked me, everything she could to get me out the door. She didn’t want anything to happen to me. I didn’t understand then, and for years after I thought she just wanted to be rid of me, but, well, I’ve had a lot of time to think about it. I know now that everything she did was to protect me.”

Shannon asked, “Then what happened? I mean, how did you end up down here?”

“That’s a long story. But there’s some other stuff first, like why I need Likatol.”

Mimi hesitated. “See, I don’t know what it was about that night. I don’t know if it was the act of taking someone’s life. I don’t know if it was my mother kicking me out. I don’t know if maybe it had something to do with the fact that I had no idea how to survive on the streets, but something in me woke up.”

Shannon cocked her head a little. “What do you mean?”

Mimi looked at her directly in the eyes. “This is going to be hard to believe. But after that night I started to hear voices. At first, I thought I was just going crazy. I thought that maybe I was losing my mind. I noticed that some of the other homeless people talked to themselves and I thought maybe that was where I was headed. But then I noticed something else, that sometimes when I was talking to people, I seemed to hear their voice both when they were speaking and when they weren’t. It created a few awkward situations.”

Mimi paused for a moment and watched for Shannon’s reaction. She deliberately stayed out of Shannon’s head. She wasn’t sure she wanted to know what she was thinking. Then she saw recognition on Shannon’s face.

“Wait…are you telling me…you read minds?”

Mimi looked away from her and nodded. But Shannon grabbed her chin so that she would look directly at her again. Mimi expected her to yell, to laugh, to scoff, or something that all her other lovers had done, but instead she said, “Well shit, that completely makes sense.”

Mimi blinked. “It does?”

“Um yeah. You know a lot of shit you shouldn’t know. Like when those sanitation workers were coming. You know all this information, that–having dropped out of school–you shouldn’t know. I mean I can think of a hundred times when I thought to myself, my god, does she read minds or something? And it turned out to be true.”

“So you’re not weirded out or mad or anything?”

“No, why would I be? It’s just another reason to love you for the amazing person you are.”

Mimi’s eyes began to burn, and before she could stop herself, she realized she was bawling. Shannon pulled her close. Mimi could feel her fingertips caressing her cheek.

“Why are you crying, Mimi?”

Mimi couldn’t answer, she just kept sobbing and pulled herself even closer to Shannon. She wanted nothing more at that moment than to merge with her, to be so intimately close to her that she couldn’t ever pull apart again. Here was someone, at last, who might finally be able to understand. And then she felt her eyes closing. For the first time in years, she felt at home.

*          *            *

Her face felt stuck. She lifted her head and felt the skin between Shannon’s bare breasts pull off her face. She blinked and looked around, wondering how long she had been asleep, but there was no way to know. Shannon herself was breathing deeply, her mouth hanging open with her head tilted back.

Mimi ran her fingers up the side of her face. There was so much more to tell her, and for the first time in a very long while, she felt she had a partner, someone to whom she could actually tell things. Of course, it did remain to be seen how Shannon interacted with her now that she knew that whenever she wanted, she could skim her mind. But Mimi wouldn’t do that now. Now that she knew, she would respect her privacy. It was a funny thing. It seemed as if the moment someone knew about her abilities, she didn’t want to skim them anymore; that somehow, she felt like she was violating some semblance of privacy, yet she had no problem with doing this to a stranger or an acquaintance.

She lifted her body and put her clothes on. They were becoming tattered from wear. She would have to scrape together some more credits for new ones.

She rummaged through a small case to the left of her bed and found her bottle of Likatol. She didn’t need much, just a tablet every few days or so. A bottle usually lasted her about six months.

“So, you didn’t quite tell me why you need that stuff.”

Shannon was sitting up and stretching. She looked around the room, found her clothes around the various locations and put them on.

“Well, it has to do with my…talent, for lack of a better word. See, at first, it wasn’t such a big deal. I could easily skim people whenever I wanted.”

“Skim?”

“Oh, that’s what I call it when I read people. I call it skimming because so far as I know, I can only read what they are actively thinking about. I have never gone any deeper than that, and in truth, with most people, I am a little afraid to do so. People keep a lot of secrets, you know.”

Shannon nodded and moved over to Mimi and put her arms around her. They spoke face to face now.

“That’s kind of a relief. I can’t say I like the idea of you fishing around through my memories and stuff.”

“Yeah, and also…I won’t read you anymore.”

“Huh? What do you mean?”

“Well now that you know what I can do, I don’t feel comfortable doing it.”

Shannon moved her lips back and forth and looked around the room. “I don’t think it’s a big deal if you want to read me.”

“No, I’m not going to. It’s fine.”

“Alright. So, the drugs?”

“Yeah, so by the time I turned 16 it started to get more intense. There were these moments when I couldn’t control it, and the entire city within a few kilometers would rush into my head. Probably a few hundred thousand people, all speaking at once. It was overwhelming. It made me sick. Sometimes it would just give me a migraine and sometimes it would make me physically ill.”

“So the Likatol helps?”

“Yes. I mean, I tried a whole bunch of other stuff first. Lots of people thought I was an addict. But I don’t think I was ever addicted to anything. I only ever took something when the headaches were really bad. The problem was, I couldn’t stay clear, couldn’t function with any of the other stuff.”

“Isn’t Likatol to stop people from getting addicted to drugs? Like I heard that Uppers would take it before going on a long drug binge or something.”

“Yeah, that’s what I heard too. And there was one day that my dealer only had Likatol, so I thought what the hell, and gave it a try. I don’t know what it is in there, but for some reason, it gives me control over my talent. I don’t have to worry about headaches or sickness and obviously, because it doesn’t get you high, there are no debilitating effects.”

“How often do you have to take it?”

“Thankfully only once every few days, sometimes up to a week. It depends on how stressed out the city is, I think.”

“What does that mean?”

“If something stressful is going on, like there are security raids, or there is another migrating city nearby, people get nervous and anxious, and that stress impacts me more. When the city of Lundon did that raid a few years back, and the entire Runnercore went into combat, I had to take two Likatol a day just to keep from getting sick.”

“Wow.” Shannon kissed her forehead and turned around to gather up her things.

“Going somewhere?” asked Mimi.

“I’m hungry. I thought about getting my daily ration. And see if there is any more news about Tanya. But one thing first, who else knows?”

“No one.”

“No one? Not even Bobby or Angela?”

Mimi was mostly a loner, but Bobby and Angela were a couple that she occasionally spent time with. “No, not even them. You have to understand, I can’t trust a lot of people with this. If it got out and someone actually believed it…”

“I get it…don’t tell anyone, right?”

Mimi nodded. “Please.”

“Don’t worry, love, your secrets are safe with me.”

Mimi watched her leave and head back to the streets. She had the overwhelming feeling that even though Shannon fully intended to keep her secret safe, she wouldn’t. She had a sinking feeling that like in times past, everything was about to go wrong. And it seemed like that intuition was never wrong. Perhaps that was a skill set that she had too, that she simply hadn’t understood before.

She shivered, closed her eyes, and took a few deep breaths. The cat was out of the bag now and there was nothing to be done. But later, she would think to herself, that there was something she could have done, that when everything went bad, she should have always followed Shannon back up to the surface. She shouldn’t have let her leave her side. It might have made all the difference.

Mimi of the Nowhere: Chapter 2 Home Sweet Home

Mimi’s adventure continues in Chapter 2: Home Sweet Home.

If you haven’t read it already, Chapter 1: The Fishing Hole is here

A brief synopsis of the book. Mimi Chapter 2

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.

Mimi of the Nowhere launches on 5/17/18

I am still accepting a few more readers to get Advanced Review Copies (ARC). If you are interested in getting an early copy in exchange for an honest review, sign up at the bottom and put that you would like to receive an early copy in the comments. I am taking ARC readers until 4/17/18.

Chapter 2

Home Sweet Home

Mimi worked her way through the large, cold pipe on her hands and knees, careful to keep the fish from touching the ground. The weight of it dangling was not great, but she struggled to steady its swaying motion as she shuffled along.

She slid out of the exit into the open area that led to her lair. A giant, metallic cylinder occupied most of the space. It was several stories tall and made a constant humming noise. Its outer shell was marked with rust and age.

Behind her, Shannon slid out of the pipe. Her sneakers slapped against the ground. The impact was almost too much. The sneakers barely hung together, bound by adhesive strips. Her clothes, like Mimi’s, were sewn together from discarded bits of cloth they had scavenged from the clothing recycling center.

So much of the city was recycled; it had to be. But the city, approaching the mid-twelfth century of its age, was showing signs of its tireless movement. Only rarely did the city cease walking across the barren landscape, and then it shuttered under the vibration of a massive drill, extracting the scraps of resources that were left in the earth’s crust.

“Wow, this is where you live?” asked Shannon. “Yuck.” She plugged her nose. “What’s that smell?”

“Sewage and garbage. Though there might be other things mixed in there, I’m not sure.”

Shannon almost gagged. “Here I thought, we’ve been together six months and I haven’t even been to her place yet. I thought maybe you were hiding something. You were: your place smells like shit.”

Mimi laughed. “Shit’s only part of it.”

“Why does it smell so terrible?”

“Because,” Mimi waved her stick toward the giant cylinder. “That’s a biorecycler. Well, the bottom half of it, anyway. The other half is up in one of the Sanitation departments.”
“But aren’t those things supposed to be sealed? Why does it smell so bad?”

“It leaks sometimes.”

“What, like, on you?”

“Nah, I’m over on the other side over there.” She pointed down a narrow corridor. “I think things would have to be bad in the city before the whole thing emptied. Maybe a war with one of the other cities or something. Besides, it’s one of the safest places in the whole city for someone like us.”

They walked toward the corridor. Small, iridescent puddles twinkled in the light. Mimi didn’t know what all the chemicals were, but she steered Shannon around each one.

“Doesn’t smell like it. Why’s it so safe?”

“No one comes down here unless there’s a major problem. So far, there’s been one in the last few hundred years.”

Mimi realized her mistake at once and hoped Shannon wouldn’t notice. She almost swore out loud. Instead, she held her breath.

Shannon stopped and grabbed Mimi’s right arm, the one without the dangling fish. “Wait a second. How. Old. Are. You?”

“Seventy or so.” Her words came out rapid fire. She knew she could pass for seventy, though she didn’t look a day over the age of twenty-five; it was the product of the regeneration alcoves. Even the homeless had occasional access to them. It was cheaper than dealing with disease and medical care, so the Uppers–the ones who lived in the top floors of the city–had decided to make some alcoves accessible to everyone, but only often enough that someone who was homeless or living in the lower parts of the city could live a maximum lifespan of two-hundred years or so.

“Then how do you know when this thing last broke down?”

“Uh… I looked it up. Come on, it doesn’t smell so bad back where I’m at.” Mimi knew that wasn’t going to cut it, but she couldn’t come up with anything else to say.

Shannon followed, but Mimi could tell she was frustrated. She would have to tell her some truth soon at least. It was hard to lie all the time. There was so much to keep track of. But how was she going to explain her age? How would she explain that she had found a way to access a regeneration alcove and extend her life like the wealthy Uppers in the city? She knew exactly where that would lead. Daniel had wanted access to the alcoves, and it had cost him everything.

They stepped over the crisscross networks of pipes in one section, ducked under them in another, and moved their way through several cramped areas until, finally, they reached her nest.

It wasn’t anything special, but it was a spot to call home. Multicolored sheets patched together tightly to create a sturdy outer covering over a frame of pipes, tucked away in a corner. It was well-hidden. You had to be looking for it to know it was there. Mimi pulled back a flap and ushered Shannon inside. A small, ancient mattress lay on the floor next to a small makeshift camping stove. The mattress also had patches, like a bandaged soldier after a battle. It was lumpy and uneven, but much better than anything they would find at street level. A few tattered maps of the city hung in the corners, displaying the underground networks of tunnels and pipes.

“Where’d you get the furniture and pictures? Some place down here?”

“The furniture, well, you just have to know where to look. Mattresses don’t exactly grow in Central Park. The maps I stole from Sanitation. Not like they will miss them.”

“What do you need the maps for?”

Mimi shrugged, “Nothing really, anymore. I know most of those tunnels by heart now, but it took a while to get the hang of them.”

“So why do you still have them up?”

“Habit, I guess. Better than nothing, right? Makes it feel cozy.”

Shannon walked around the room inspecting everything. “Hmmm. I suppose so.” She lifted the bottom of one of the maps and looked under, exposing the splotched green and brown cloth below. “Yeah, better with the maps. You need some flowers here or something.”

“Flowers? You’re joking, right?”

“You could swipe some from Central Park or one of the other green spaces in the city.”

Mimi shook her head, “Do you want to attract attention? You know how much those flowers go for in the uppers?”

Shannon shook her head.

“Let’s put it this way, you’d probably end up in front of the Supreme Justices.”

“For flowers?”

“For flowers.”

“So, you’ve never picked any?”

“No, have you?”

“No, but they smell so nice. I just thought that…” Shannon trailed off.

Mimi shrugged. “Think whatever you want, the point is, getting the attention of the Security Officers for flowers seems like a waste.”

“But in the vid screens… when a girl brings another flowers, it’s so romantic.”

“That’s the vid screens. Those programs are all about Mids and Uppers, anyway. No one wants to hear love stories about a couple of homeless women.”

Shannon frowned.

Mimi reached over and pressed a few buttons to prime the makeshift stove. She pulled the fish off her broom handle and flopped it down on the grill. She turned around and pulled out a wide and flat piece of metal with a wooden handle. It was bound together by some cheap twine.

“What’s that?” Shannon stared at the object.

“You ever gut a fish before?”

“Gut?”

“Yeah, gut. You can’t just plop it on a grill and cook, you know. You gotta take out the guts, cut off the head.”

“Ew, what?” Shannon’s nose wrinkled. Her face paled.

“I’ll show you.” Mimi grabbed the fish and stepped outside her dwelling. She found a flat surface and Shannon, following reluctantly, watched as she raised the blade and brought it down just south of the fish’s head. It made a soft squishing sound and a little of the creature’s juices sprayed onto both women.

Shannon’s eyes widened, and she pushed past Mimi. She ran around a corner and vomited.

Afterward, Shannon refused to eat the fish. Mouth full, Mimi said, “You can’t be so squeamish about things down here. You have to eat what you can get or you’ll go hungry.”

Shannon said nothing. She kept looking at the maps, kept looking at the ancient sheets that were tied to the pipes. Her hand caressed them. Then, keeping her eyes off of the fish, she stared right at Mimi.

“Alright, how old are you, really? And don’t give me that seventy crap. Besides, you look way too young for seventy anyway, even with our alcove allotment. It’s clear you’re a lot older than that.”

Mimi shrugged. “Women of Asian descent just age slowly.” She paused for a moment.  “Tomorrow we’ll take another trip down below. There’s a food dispenser down there I can hack sometimes, if you don’t like the fish.”

“Don’t change the subject. You have access to an alcove, don’t you?”

Mimi swallowed her last bite of the fish. “Sure you’re not going to eat?”

Shannon shook her head and gestured for Mimi to eat the rest.

“Answer me, please, or I’m leaving.”

“Come on now, Shannon, don’t say that. I love you.”

Shannon was almost sidetracked by this. Her face lit up. “You do?” Then her face darkened a little. “You love me, do you? But not enough to tell me the truth?” Shannon shifted her body in the chair, the little table wobbling off balance. “You’re always lying to me. You’re always holding back information. This little hut or whatever this is, is just another example. You didn’t tell me about it ’til last week. So, tell me the truth.”
There was a severity in her voice that Mimi took seriously. Shannon’s mind had always been a rather serious place, and her emotions always close to the edge, but it was clear she meant what she said, even without skimming.

“Alright. What do you want to know?”

“Everything.”

Mimi rolled her eyes. “They always do. Just pick something.”

Shannon scowled a little. “They? How many women have you brought down to your little hobbit hole?”

Mimi knew from the surface of Shannon’s mind that she didn’t really want an answer to that question. Few did. She knew that Shannon was a jealous person, but she was feeling a bit annoyed. Plus, the fish hadn’t been as good as she had hoped.

She made to count her fingers, pretending like she had to think about it. “Oh… Hmm… I think nine women and eight men have shared this bed.”

“Excuse me?”

“What? You told me to be honest.”

“So what am I? Your flavor of the month or something?”

Mimi rolled her eyes. “Considering how many years I’ve been doing this, more like flavor of the decade?”

Shannon’s face reddened for a moment and then she smiled. “Ha!” Shannon shouted. “I knew you were older than seventy. Tell me the truth. How old are you? You won’t distract me.”

Mimi bit her lip. Again, she pretended to count. This time she took much longer to respond even though she knew the exact number. It was hard to forget her 13th birthday. She thought on how easy it is to mark that night as the end of her normal life, to count off the exact distance from it. How could she forget the night she had murdered someone?

“Let’s see, in April I’ll be 782.”

Shannon’s jaw dropped, fishlike. Mimi was tempted to throw a piece of fish into it, but restrained herself.

“But… how? Even most Mids rarely live that long with their allotment. Oldest Mid I ever heard of was 650. I mean, Uppers, sure, but they’re the only ones who can afford unlimited access to the alcoves.”

She shrugged. “You’re right. I found an alcove.”

“What, just lying around?”

“Yep, just sitting right in the open underground.” Mimi knew Shannon didn’t understand her sarcasm and heard her ask herself if she was serious. “Yep. Serious.”

Shannon’s big eyes narrowed, “You’re being sarcastic.”

It wasn’t a question. Shannon was catching on, at least. “It’s dangerous.”

“So what? So is living on the street for any woman in this city.”

“Not like this. My last lover, Daniel… he got…” Mimi froze. She didn’t like to talk about Daniel, about what they had done to them. There were worse punishments than becoming a Runner, worse than dying. Daniel had been caught red-handed because he hadn’t listened to her, had gone to the alcove when she had told him not to.

“Don’t even think about it,” said Mimi. “It won’t happen.”

Mimi saw the anger forming on Shannon’s mind. She saw what she was about to say. She felt her own rage envelop her.

“Oh, I see. So, every few decades you get yourself a pet, someone to shack up with for a while, someone whom you can cast away when you’re bored, when they get too old and you don’t want their body anymore.”

The anger rolled from Mimi’s tongue, like dripping venom. “What the hell do you know? You’re just a little girl. Twenty-seven is barely an adult. You have no idea how deeply I’ve loved. You don’t understand what it’s like to watch someone you love stolen away from you.”

“Um… Tanya,” said Shannon.

Mimi felt the anger pulse in her chest. Her heartbeat thudded in her ears. She felt her tone sharpen. “Oh, no, no, no. There are things much worse than becoming a Runner, worse than death. You don’t even have a clue.” Mimi slammed down the remains of her food to the floor. She stood up at full height, which wasn’t much above Shannon’s height at sitting. But Shannon drew back.

For a moment, the light of the room tinged red. She had the strange sensation that her words somehow flowed into Shannon’s brain almost in the same way that Mimi could skim minds.

“Shannon, I’ve never had the luxury of watching someone grow old. Every single person I ever brought down here and told my secrets to ignored me. Every single one either left me because I wouldn’t tell them how to find the alcove, or ended up a Runner because I did. You have no idea what it’s like to live for centuries, having your heart broken over and over again. You have no idea what it’s like to lose every single person you love, to have them stripped from you. Wonder why I lie? Because no one ever listens to me, even after I tell them what happened to the others. So, Shannon, I do care about you, or else I wouldn’t tell you shit.”

Mimi’s sight cleared a little, the red tinge faded, but she had not seen Shannon’s reaction until that moment. She had not seen the fear and the pain that she had somehow pushed inside her. Shannon sat motionless, eyes wide open. She appeared unable to blink, but tears were pouring down her cheeks. An open faucet.

Then her face came back to life again. She blinked and her cheeks twitched. Shannon’s whole body shivered as she buckled from the inside. She was a building, collapsing under its own weight, unable to stop falling.

Mimi reached out to catch her, but missed. Luckily, she fell on the bed.

What had Mimi done to her? Was she able to push her thoughts onto Shannon? Did she somehow… scream into her mind? A sense of panic took her as she examined the ruins and wreckage of the woman she loved. Sharp sobs punctuated the space, deep rasping breaths and gasps for air. Shannon did not seem to be able to speak and Mimi walked closer to her, hesitantly putting a hand on her shoulder.

“Shannon… I…”

Shannon turned over, just enough to look in Mimi’s brown eyes. “Did… How… What did you…”

It was all that Shannon could utter.

Mimi felt the anger rise in her again. Shannon had made her do this. It was Shannon’s fault and if she didn’t get out right that moment, if she didn’t get away from her, she would hurt her again. She didn’t understand how, but she knew it on some instinctive level.

Her anger was a pulsar, a radical sun, heavy and dense and full of heat and fire. She felt it radiating from her body, she felt almost a desire to scream at Shannon again, to go back to the red. That redness was almost hungry, and now that she had let it see the light of day, it wanted more.

Mimi turned and fled the space. She hurried toward the long metal pipe at the entrance. She didn’t know where she was going, but she needed out, needed away.

Why was it they never understood? They always thought she was holding out on them. Didn’t they understand that she had loved them all? She watched them all leave, or be taken to the Runnercore or… She swallowed hard. She couldn’t let herself think of Daniel. Couldn’t think of what he had become. She didn’t dare turn her mind that direction.

The red had faded with each footstep. She felt herself cooling. The tectonics of her inner life had settled, for now.

Why did she keep doing it? Why did she keep sneaking into the alcove? Why did she keep extending her years? Most of all, why did she keep taking new lovers? Because she could? Because she needed to fill some emptiness in her? There was some reason, she reached for it, but it seemed impossible to grab hold of.

She heard footsteps behind her, felt the gentle press of Shannon’s mind come closer, like an invisible tide gradually rushing in. She did not turn to meet her.

Shannon had come. After what Mimi had done to her, of which she still wasn’t sure, Shannon had still come after her.

Her voice was soft and hesitant. “What happened to Daniel?” Shannon waited a moment for a response. “Mimi, please. Tell me. Sometimes it helps if you talk about it. It helped me… no, it saved me to tell you about Tanya. I don’t think I could have gone on without telling you. Just tell me. I love you too, you know. I didn’t say it earlier, but I do.”

Mimi still didn’t turn. She kept herself cold, afraid of the return of that redness. “Me. I happened to him.” Her voice was cold and quavering. She barely held her tears, her tears cried for freedom. She headed for the surface, breaking for a run, and did not stop until she saw that Shannon wasn’t behind her anymore.

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Timeline for the Chronicles of the Great Migration

Sometimes when I read fiction, especially a series, I have trouble of keeping track of the history of that Universe. Sometimes this is something done intentionally by the author, but other’s I think it’s just so easy to forget, that when you are writing about a world, that not everyone can peak into your mind and see how events shaped that reality.

So, today I thought it might be helpful to create a timeline of key events in the world of the Chronicles of the Great Migration. The first book, Mimi of the Nowhere is due out in six weeks from the date of the post, and soon after Upon Stilted Cities and A Blooming Rose will follow.

I am still looking for a few ARC readers for Mimi of the Nowhere! Sign up below and comment that you want to participate if you are interested.

I hope this timeline is helpful. IMG_3209

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