Free Book! USC: The Winds of Change is Free Right Now

Hi all,

Given the state of the world, I have decided to make Upon Stilted Cities: The Winds of Change free on Prolific works for the time being. Basically you can go to the link below and get a copy (and sign up for my newsletter if you like but it’s optional). I hope you enjoy book 2! Remember to rate and review if you choose to pick it up.

Get it here!
https://claims.prolificworks.com/free/HpISK51v

Serah of the Runners is now available for Preorder

I am happy to announce that Serah of the Runners (the fourth entry for the Chronicles of the Great Migration) is now available for preorder. You can find it on Amazon here and several other services here.

Book Blurb for Serah of the Runners:

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 Chapter 5 and 6

InsideBeing homeless in dangerous at the best of times in the giant walking city of Manhatsten. In Chapter 5 Disruption and Chapter 6 Paradise Lost, we find Mimi and Shannon’s lives turned upside down and Mimi has an encounter with a world that she never knew existed.

Since Chapter 5 is on the shorter side, I decided to include Chapter 6 in this post as well. You can find the first four chapters on the main page for Mimi of the Nowhere

Mimi of the Nowhere is out 5/17/18 in Ebook and Paperback

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

Chapter 5

Disruption 

 

Mimi could count on one hand the times in her life that she had experienced so much joy.

Over the next few weeks, her days consisted of her and Shannon wandering around the underground of the city, scavenging things to make their home more comfortable. Mimi taught Shannon how to fish. They found new furniture and Shannon spent time decorating while Mimi prepared dinner. New color lined the walls, like the new love beating in their hearts. Their nights were filled with love-making, endless moments of intertwined bodies, giggles and whispers of love. Seas of smiles. Softness.

In the spaces between, they shared stories, shared history, and though Shannon had quickly run out, Mimi could speak for years without pause. After so much time, Mimi felt able to do so again. Her load lightened. Her heart unclenched, and peace was found in so many private corners and corridors in their subterranean space.
Little time was spent on ground level after Mimi had secured a new supplier of Likatol. It hadn’t been easy but after several days of searching, she found one they could afford.
The Nowhere became to feel like somewhere. Their somewhere.
There was one subject that Shannon was unable to wrestle loose from Mimi.

“Tell me about Daniel.”

Mimi froze. “I don’t know if I can yet, Shannon. It’s…just so hard to speak of.”

The two lovers laid naked and covered in a new bed, scavenged from above. Mimi was warm and safe, but still, it was difficult to speak of.

Shannon stared in Mimi’s eyes. Her smile now a likely permanent fixture. “It’s okay.” She reached up and caressed Mimi’s face. “I’m here when you feel ready. I just want you to know the door is open.”

Mimi kissed and then nuzzled Shannon. Her face was hot, and one or two tears leaked out. “Thank you. That means a lot.”

The room took on a red tinge. Mimi’s sense of security evaporated and Daniel’s eyes, the white on white on white of where his pupils used to be, became visible. The terror of that pale skin marked with blue lines filled her vision so completely that for a moment she thought she had become blind to all else.

“Mimi?”

Mimi heard Shannon’s voice, but it was distant. It echoed and mingled with the normal noises of the underground, the sound fading.

Mimi couldn’t move. Daniel’s form took shape; a tall figure surrounded by metal. The EnViro suit used to travel outside the city his only garments. The recycled Runners could never leave them. It was their enclosure. Mindless beasts needed an enclosure.

“Mimi, you’re scaring me. What’s wrong?”

A hug turned into a shake. Gentle at first, then jarring. Mimi’s head wobbled. She couldn’t move, but she felt her tongue flopping on the inside of her mouth with Shannon’s attempts to break the trance. She could hear Shannon in the distance, but all she could see was the form of the undead version of her former lover, colored with a red veil in her sight.

Shannon’s voice began to fade away into the distance. Mimi was traveling, and now, what was once Daniel seemed to take notice. She had thought it was just an image, just a memory, but it was more. She was seeing him in real time. It looked at her as if they were occupying the same space. Its white on white on white eyes pierced her. No pupils remained to contract. There was only a blank stare, and she was aware that its mouth was open and that its teeth were no longer human but something much sharper. Blue outlines of veins surrounded the upward tilt of the lips as they formed into a grin. A framed monstrosity.

It moved towards her. Slow steps.

Its hand raised.

Mimi still could not move.

It reached for her throat.

She shivered.

Fingertips brushed skin. A grip taking form.

Then, a sharp pain punctuated her cheek.

She reached up to touch it, to stroke the stinging and found herself still in bed with Shannon. Shannon was screaming her name, was shaking her, weeping and terrified. She drew her arm back to slap Mimi again, and Mimi blinked and put her arm up to stop the motion.

“Mimi? Are you okay? What’s happening?” Her voice rough.

Mimi said, “I don’t know.”

Shannon’s eyes widened. “Mimi…did you just…” She trailed off, her face panicked and puzzled.

“Did I just what?”

Shannon’s eyes widened again. “Mimi, you aren’t opening your mouth when you’re speaking.”

“What? What are you talking about?”

Shannon slipped out of bed and backed away. “Stop it, Mimi…I don’t like this.”

“Stop what?”

“Whatever it is you are doing.” Shannon began to clutch the sides of her head.

“What am I doing?” She looked down at her hands. Red.

Shannon was backed all the way against the clothed wall. “I think you are in my head. Please stop. Please get out of it. It hurts.”

Mimi looked around. She didn’t know what to say, what to think. She opened her mouth, but for a moment no words came out. The red tinge was still on everything in the room, it was faint, but it was there. She focused for a moment and imagined that the color wasn’t red, that it was blue. She didn’t know if that would work, had no idea what was happening, but she had to try something.
Shannon stopped holding her head and looked up at her; she still cowered in the corner, but her expression had changed a little. “There, like that, whatever you are doing, do more of that.”

Mimi did. She changed the blue to yellow and then lightened it. Then finally she imagined that there were no colors, that the light was clear.

Shannon relaxed visibly. “What just happened?”

“I don’t know, love. I really don’t. Nothing like this has ever happened to me before.”

Eyes full of worry, Shannon moved a little closer. Was there fear there too? Mimi thought there was. Shannon reached out for her hand.

“Were…were there any other times you lost control of your ability? I mean…after you started taking the Likatol to curb it?”

Mimi thought hard for a moment.

“Yes, there was at least one time, when we were at war with one of the other cities and people were upset.”

“What did you do then?”

Mimi thought about it. It had been at least three centuries, maybe four since it happened, but she remembered what it was like. She had thought her head would explode, that someone was taking a power drill and pushing it into her forehead. When one of the buildings had collapsed in the conflict, she heard the screams of those in the rubble pierce through her like an arrow. “I had to find something stronger than Likatol.”

“Like what?”

She thought for a moment, then remembered. “Benadixtrin, it was the only thing that would stop it.”

“What’s that?”

“It’s a medicine for treating people with severe schizophrenia.”

“What’s schizophrenia?”

“It’s like when someone hears voices and sometimes they even have trouble understanding if those voices are real or not.”

“Like you?”

“No, not exactly, I know mine are real because I can see how people react, but…” Mimi gripped her temples; she was getting a headache. “But I thought it might help, that maybe somehow if it helped them, it would help me?”

“So why don’t you take that instead of Likatol?”

Mimi closed her eyes and rubbed her temples. She was finding it difficult to focus. “There were other side effects. It made me sick to my stomach and it was much more expensive. Likatol doesn’t have any side effects. I only ever needed Benadixtrin once and haven’t thought about it since.”

Shannon started to say something then stopped. She moved closer and put her arms around Mimi. “Love, do you think it might be helpful if I go get some for you? Maybe just in case something like this happens again?”

For a moment, Mimi peered into her mind. Shannon was scared of her. Mimi frowned.

“Okay. If that’s what you want. I’ll keep it around just in case it gets bad again. We can go tomorrow.”

“No, that’s okay. I can do it now.” A quick response.

Mimi looked up at Shannon. She didn’t need to skim her to see that Shannon needed some time away, that she needed some space to feel okay with what had just happened. In truth, Mimi needed a little space to clear her head. She had no idea what was happening to her, and maybe a little space would give her a chance to breathe and think about it.

“Alright. Terrance, the short guy on the corner of East 83rd and Madison just by Central Park, he probably has some. He’s a tame one too, not like the other dealers, but only usually carries medical-type stuff.”

“How much?”

“I don’t know, just take what we have left. We can run a few scams on some Mids next week and make up the difference.”

Shannon nodded. “How far is 83rd and Madison, you think?”

“It’s in District 6, so probably a few hours’ walk round trip if you don’t take the people mover. You up for that?”

Most of the time they could only get on the people mover for a handful of blocks before ticket checks got them thrown off. Shannon would probably have to walk most of the way at least.

“I think so.”

Shannon moved in close, hugged Mimi and kissed her forehead. “I’ll be back as quick as I can, love.”

Gratitude and relief rose to the surface of Shannon’s mind. She was thankful that Mimi didn’t argue about her going alone.

Shannon walked towards the flap, lifted it and disappeared behind the cloth. Her footsteps padded away quickly, nearly at a run.

Mimi frowned. That red tinge again? What was that all about? She thought about the afternoon where the workers’ minds went silent. Why was all this happening now? It didn’t make any sense. After centuries of using her abilities, why would something suddenly change?

Mimi stood and began cleaning up the room. Shannon was a slob. She wasn’t much better, but she didn’t like to leave too much food lying around. The roaches weren’t picky, she’d seen them occasionally, but mostly she had been able to keep them away from her hovel.

Gathering the fish bones, she moved through her cloth door. She walked over to where the uneaten remains of the fish laid and saw a few flies that were curiously probing one of the fish heads. She gathered them up and walked a few dozen paces to where there was a hatch in one of the pipes. She put down the scraps and began to turn the large metal wheel of the hatch. She heard the click of the lock and yanked hard on the door to open it. It squealed and something in Mimi’s mind translated that squeal to a scream. It occurred to her that Shannon might not be okay alone on the surface. That maybe she should have gone with her, even if she had made Shannon nervous earlier.

She reached down, picked up the scraps of food and then cast them into the tube that went into the biorecycler. She shut the hatch and again, the squeal made her stomach sink a little. There was a gentle pushing in her mind. Almost like a sense of urgency. Shannon hadn’t been gone ten minutes, and she felt a deep desire to check on her.

She went back into the hovel and tried to clean up, but the sensation of checking in on Shannon was growing. She felt instinctively that something was wrong, that she needed to follow immediately. But she denied it. Shannon was already scared enough and needed a moment to herself. Shannon was a big girl. Mimi had seen her talk her way out of trouble a number of times. Shannon was a resourceful woman, it was one of the reasons Mimi liked her.

Mimi sat down on the bed, swung her legs up and laid down. She started to close her eyes and relax. She tried to breathe deeply and let the tension of her muscles be taken by gravity.

The pressure in her mind grew. There was no red tinge this time. But this time the sense of urgency and panic grew in her so sharply that she sat bolt upright, feeling that it was suddenly difficult to breathe. She found herself standing. Found herself looking around for her makeshift spear.

Again, she stopped herself, trying to steady her emotions. Why was she feeling such anxiety?

Then, a voice spoke up. The voice was so clear and so crisp that Mimi was certain that someone was saying it loudly right in her ear.

“Dammit Mimi, forget the spear and just go after Shannon. Her life is in danger.”

Mimi’s blood ran cold. She didn’t know where the voice was coming from and at that moment she didn’t care. She did exactly as the voice instructed and before she knew it, she was sprinting toward the pipe that led to the exit.

 

The Story Continues with Chapter 6

 

Chapter 6

Paradise Lost

  

The stairs to the surface were agony. Shannon only had to go up and down them a handful of times now, but Mimi walked them as if they were nothing. It seemed to Shannon that Mimi always walked on air. How could a woman bearing such a heavy burden step so lightly?

She opened the door that led out into the surface-level streets. It was still a few hours from designated dark. The city never had darkness anymore, as the giant, glowing shield around it which was fueled largely by the energy of the sun was its own light source. At night, the city was awash in a kind of forever sunset. It was a twilight that twinkled and twirled as the massive legs of the city marched on.
The shield protected them all from the lethal daytime heat and the cold nights. The city, constantly on the move to avoid massive sandstorms, pockets of methane and near-apocalyptic storms on the coast, rumbled almost silently beneath her feet.
Shannon took up the streets. She began walking south toward her destination. It would be a long walk to make it there and back before designated dark, but her recent forays into the underground had built her stamina. Mimi never slowed down, and it was only in the last few days that Shannon finally felt comfortable keeping up.

She walked for several blocks, mind on the earlier events. Had Mimi used her mind to speak directly to her? It had felt strange at first, but then, it had started to hurt. She didn’t think that Mimi would ever hurt her intentionally, but if somehow she lost control, Shannon needed something to protect both herself and Mimi. If she could afford it, she would also buy some sort of tranquilizer for a serious emergency. She hadn’t decided if she was going to tell Mimi this or not yet, but seeing as Mimi was able to, as she called it, ‘skim her mind,’ she probably should just tell her.

“There you are.”

The voice of the man behind her was familiar. There was an unpleasant tone in the voice. Shivering, she turned slowly. There, standing only a few paces behind her, was Andrew. His face was pale and ragged. Andrew always looked on edge, but there was something more alarming about his demeanor. She couldn’t pinpoint it, but her heart made its presence known.

“What do you want Andrew?”

“You.”

Shannon blinked, “Me? What did I do? I’ve never spoken to you in my life.”

“I know, it’s a damn shame. You know how many conversations I’ve had with your lover? She never once took the time to introduce us, and we’ve been business partners for years.” His voice was smooth. It only just masked something sinister.

Shannon glanced around to look for a way out, trying not to make it obvious. If he wanted her, it wasn’t for anything good.

She measured her will and tried her best to sound calm, but her voice shook just a little. “Oh, it’s really okay, I’m not a social person.”

Andrew took two steps toward her.

“Oh, but I am. And see, it bothers me a little when I lose a client. I always try to make sure I keep them coming back. Your friend Mimi has been a big source of credits for me over the years, and, call me old-fashioned, but I have a hard time letting go.”

Shannon took a few steps back and realized quickly she was against a wall. “So what does this have to do with me?”

“Well, I’ve seen you two together and I thought, maybe, just maybe, if we sat down and had a chat, that Mimi would decide to resume her purchases, if you know what I mean.”

“Well, we’re chatting, what do you want me to tell her?” She hoped that all he wanted was a simple chat, but she doubted it. Men like Andrew always wanted more.

“Well, you know, I thought about that. I thought about the fact that Mimi’s a pretty tough little girl. I thought perhaps, that it was best if you come stay at my place for a while so she would be…a little more inclined to talk?”

“It’s not going to happen, Andrew.”

Shannon’s heart was racing faster now. She could hear it in her ears, feel it in her forehead. Blood rushing. Fingernails digging in palms.

“But see I think it is, because if you don’t come with me right now, well, let’s just say I have some connections in security.”

Shannon swallowed hard. Ice water filled her veins.

“We can do this the easy way or the hard way. Your choice, Shannon.”

Shannon tried to relax visibly. Tried to make it look as if she had resigned. “Alright, I will go with you on one condition.”

“What’s that?”

“You keep your hands off me.”

“Baby, I’ll be a gentleman. You got my word.”

Shannon started walking, and he walked right alongside her.

“It’s not far. When we get there, we’ll send someone to find Mimi. I’m sure you’ll be out of there in a jiffy. And then you can go back to doing whatever it is you two get up to in the long hours of the night.” His grin showed a few extra teeth.

Shannon said nothing. She was watching, waiting for the right moment. She was a smart girl. She had survived on the streets long enough to know that the key to survival is to wait for the right moment to act. She just hoped there would be a right moment. Sometimes there wasn’t. Like most street kids, she learned long ago that sometimes there were no options.

Then they walked up East End Avenue. Her eyes traced the wall, only a few yards away, that ringed the edge of the world, the place where the city ended, and the wasteland began. The walls were only about ten feet high, just wide enough to support the shield, itself a semi-physical barrier made of light.
A small hedge grew a little higher than her waist along the road. It was a new thing, something someone had recently planted, but it lined the street. It was a way of trying to mask the wall, to make it less visible, to perhaps hide the view of their world.
Andrew was walking up against the hedge. Shannon glanced around. A thought occurred to her, an opportunity. She marshaled her courage and stopped. Andrew stopped in turn. The small of his back was just above the hedges.

“Why are you stopping, I said it’s not far.”

“I was just thinking about something.”

“What?” His eyes narrowed.

She tried to think of something to say, but nothing came. He cocked his head and chewed the side of his cheek.

“Come on, out with it.”

When she didn’t respond again, his face darkened. He made to grab her right forearm, but just as he did, she shoved as hard she could. Andrew fell back over the hedge and tumbled. Shannon didn’t stay to watch. She ran as fast as she could toward the lower level entrance that led to Mimi’s place.

Behind her, she heard angry shouting. She could make out none of it. Her legs pumped hard as she ran down along 79th past Orphan’s Ally. When she rounded the final corner that led to the underground access, she slammed right into someone. There was a shout and a muffled cry.

“What the hell are you doing, Lady?”

Shannon, who lay on the ground, saw an arm reach out to her. She took it, and a large man all clad in dark blue helped her up. She brushed herself off and looked up. Her heart sank.

He was security.

She swallowed hard.

Behind them, came a shout. “That’s her, Jerry. Hold her.” Jerry grabbed her. He was a huge brute of a man with a shaved head and thick black eyebrows. He was well over two meters tall and had a thick, flabby torso. Shannon tried to struggle, but it was no use.

Andrew caught up with them both and stopped. He was panting hard and leaned over, putting his hands on his knees trying to catch his breath.

“Little…bitch…shoved me…right in the damn bushes.”

Jerry let out a big hearty laugh. In other circumstances, it might have been a pleasant laugh, but not this one.

“Andrew,” he said in his deep, smooth voice, “you didn’t tell me how beautiful she was.”

“You think she’s beautiful, wait ‘til you get a look at her girlfriend. They’d both clean up nice.”

“Andrew, has anyone ever told you a bird in the hand is better than two in the bush?”

“No, what the hell does that mean.”

“It means, I think you should be happy with what you got here and forget the other one.”

“Now wait just a sec, that’s not the deal we had here.”

Jerry’s smile turned into a dark scowl. “The deal we have is entirely contingent on what I get out of it. A case of Likatol is nothing compared to the price this one will fetch in the Uppers. I bet you heard of that senator up there, the games she gets up to every night?”

“Reeves?”

“That’s the one. Rumor has it, the woman has quite the appetite. I’d be happy to split the proceeds with you, say seventy-thirty?”

For a moment, Shannon was sure that he would say yes and then it would be all over. She would be a plaything for the wealthy. She would never see Mimi again. Her whole world seemed to be crumbling beneath her.

Then Andrew’s expression changed. Shannon would swear that he almost seemed an entirely different person. His cheeks turned red. He pulled something out from his rear pocket. It made a loud click. Shannon looked down to see what it was. A switchblade gleamed in his right hand.

“I think you should take the case of Likatol, Jerry. She’s mine.”

Jerry let out another great, bellowing laugh. Shannon had to admit, the tiny blade didn’t look like much of a match for a man the size of Jerry. Jerry pushed Shannon to the ground with her hands behind her back. Her face smashed into the concrete and blood spurted from her nose. With tears forming in her eyes, Shannon turned her body and began trying to stand.

“Now you stay right there, little miss. Uncle Jerry’s gonna make sure that we get you to a safe place.” Jerry stood a little straighter and sucked in his gut. “Now Andrew, I am gonna give you one more chance to back down. Then, it’s off to the Runnercore with you. Is that what you want?”

There was a moment of hesitation in Andrew, and he took one small step back. His thin, wiry body looked like a toy compared to Jerry’s. But then, he took one small step forward again and widened his stance.

“You won’t be the first member of Security I’ve killed, Jerry. You don’t get to be in the drug trade as long as I have without drawing a little blood from time to time. I’ve taken down guys bigger and stronger than you. Besides, you aren’t allowed to kill me, but I can sure as hell kill you.”

Andrew reached into his pocket and popped something in his mouth. Jerry’s face darkened.

“What’s that,” Jerry said taking notice.

“A little something to enhance my strength.”

“How did a little shit like you get one of those.”

Andrew grinned. Shannon saw a few extra teeth. She shivered.

“I got a few friends in the docks.”

“In the Runnercore?”

He nodded.

For the first time, Shannon thought that Jerry looked a little less confident. His jovial smile seemed to melt away.

Shannon watched as the two men began to circle one another. She wished Mimi was here. She had a feeling that Mimi would know exactly what to do. For a moment, she wondered if she could call Mimi, if somehow she could reach out to her. She could read minds, couldn’t she? Maybe she could hear her? It was a long shot, but she tried with all her might to call to Mimi, to tell her she needed help.

“You might like that shit in pill form kid, but you’ll have wished I killed you when they start you on the chemical injections down below. I’ve heard it makes even the strongest men scream in agony. I’ve heard that some of them don’t even survive the process. Last chance, Andrew.”

Andrew did not waver. He took a swipe at Jerry, but Jerry, despite his size, was far faster than he appeared to be. It was obvious that Andrew had also not expected this, and Shannon watched his eyes grow wide.

While both men were distracted, she tried to stand and was amazed how hard it was without the use of your hands. She laid back down, rolled over on her stomach and then lifted herself up onto her knees. She got to her feet and took a single step forward.

“I don’t think so, little lady,” Jerry said. With one quick swipe, he knocked her right back down and she landed on her face. This time, she felt a tooth pop and tasted blood. She started sobbing but turned to watch the fight. She almost wished Andrew would win. If he really wanted to deal with Mimi, it was a lot better than becoming a plaything of one of the wealthy up in the tops of the skyscrapers.

At the moment that Jerry had turned to knock her down, Andrew had taken a quick swipe at Jerry’s mid-section. He had scored a minor hit; a dark patch was beginning to spread on his uniform. Unfortunately for Andrew, he didn’t even seem to notice.

Nor was Andrew’s retreat quick enough. Though he had sliced Jerry, Jerry had turned around and smashed his fist right into the side of Andrew’s face. The momentum of Jerry turning had given the punch extra weight, and Andrew was knocked down by that singular hard blow.

Jerry pulled his foot back and went to kick Andrew in the gut, but Andrew rolled out of the way just in time and got back on his feet. The left side of his face was already swelling up.

Footsteps slapped the pavement hard from behind Shannon. She hoped to god it was Mimi, but it sounded like several people. Maybe she would have the chance to get away with other people interfering. She rolled onto her stomach again and waited. She would bolt the second Andrew and Jerry were distracted by the newcomers.

She felt a hand grasp hers and lift her. They were big, strong hands.

“What the hell is going on here, Jerry?”

Shannon was standing upright now but was held firm by a medium-sized security officer. His light eyes and thick mustache both twitched as he examined the scene.

“Capitan Richardson, oh man. Glad you’re here.”

Shannon distinctly noticed a tone in Jerry’s voice that suggested otherwise and the captain seemed to notice it too.

“I bet you are, Jerry. You better explain just what in the hell is going on here.”

“This lady here, seems she’s been trading sex for drugs, and I think this guy is her dealer. I overheard them and intervened.”

To her surprise, the captain seemed to doubt this story.

“I bet, Jerry. You and I need to have a long talk when we get back to the station. Maybe it’s even time you and Daniels had a chat.”

Jerry stopped dead in his tracks. He turned his entire body away from Andrew and Andrew broke to run.

Jerry heard the footfalls and turned. “Hey, shithead, get back here.” Before the captain could say another word, Jerry began his pursuit. Shannon saw her chance as the captain was distracted and ran the opposite direction.

Neither of them got very far. Jerry tackled Andrew quickly, and the captain grabbed Shannon before she made it fifty feet. The handcuffs made running odd.

Captain Richardson said, “Look, I don’t know what’s going on here, but I can’t just let you run away from one of my SOs. Looks bad. We’ll bring you in and try to get to the bottom of this.

Shannon’s face fell.
***

 

Mimi had watched the whole thing. She watched as the guards took Andrew and Shannon away. How could this have happened? She took a deep breath. There was no time to worry about that now. She had to think quickly. Would there be a way to free Shannon from the SOs? She didn’t know.

She tailed them for many blocks from the shadows of the alleys. She knew the streets well. Every crack was familiar. Every shadowy spot was an ally.

There were no openings. No gods or devils intervened. Why would they, they were from nowhere. Even the gods and the devils cared little for those from nowhere.

When Mimi watched Shannon cross the threshold of the entrance to central security, hope leaked from her heart like a barrel of water with a hole in it.

The giant migrating city of Manhatsten had a rigid legal code. No lawyers. No public defenders. Only favoritism. Mimi had seen it dozens of times. History is a circle.

She found a place to weep, to sag in the concrete. A corner of shadows. Stinging tears. Smoky vision. Utter despair. Sleep.

 

 

***

 

 

She was being lifted. Dreaming? No. The smells were too strong. She started to struggle.

“Easy now. Calm yourself.” The woman’s voice was soft and soothing. A strange calm fell over Mimi.

Her voice embodied a dreamlike quality. “Where are we going?”

“To a library. You will be safe there.”

Mimi was certain she would be. Rarely had she been so certain of anything in her life. She found that she did not mind letting the two large SOs carry her. She didn’t mind much of anything.

This concerned her. Like the tumbling of a lock, things began to click in her mind. She became unsettled again, felt the urge to resist, to lash out, rising.

“Calm, Mimi. I am not your enemy.” The voice was compelling.

Another’s woman’s voice said, “Damn. She broke through already?”

Mimi couldn’t see either of them. Both them walked in front of the two SOs who carried her. One had long blonde hair, the other a fiery red.

“Yes, it’s curious how quickly she bypassed my suggestion.”

“She’s dangerous. We should put her back where we found her.”

“Ryla said the same thing about you when we found you.”

“Maybe, but at least I had an honest job. This one is like a stray cat.”

“Feral cat. And I would hardly call Running an honest job.”

“Either way Noatla, I don’t know if she can be trusted.”

Mimi listened, and her agitation began to grow again.

“Rest, Mimi. Soon you will have answers.”

“How many times do you think you are going to have to do that?”

“At this rate, a half dozen more.”

“Can’t we make these SOs go any faster?”

“Serah, you know very well what will happen if we push too hard. Besides, what’s the rush? Soothing her isn’t so difficult. It’s also clear she doesn’t know the full extent of what she can do.”

“How can you be sure of that?”

“If she knew what she was capable of, do you think she would have allowed her lover to be taken away like that?”

“I guess you’re right. Maybe we should suggest that she sleeps again?”

“Mimi, are you tired?”
Mimi knew it was the woman with the blonde hair speaking, but she did not turn to face her. She had the strangest impression that this woman was not using her lips to speak.

Mimi said, “I…I don’t think so.” The moment the words came out, she realized that she wasn’t using her lips, either.

“Mimi, I think you’re tired. I don’t even know how you can keep your eyes open. Why don’t you just rest a while? I bet it would feel wonderful to close your eyes, just for a few minutes.”

“But Shannon…I have to…”

“Shannon can wait. We will make sure she’s okay. Just close your eyes, Mimi. You know how good it will feel, how easy it is just to let your eyelids close. After all, they’re so heavy.”

“No. I can’t…”

Mimi forced her eyes to stay open. She felt the agitation rising in her again. She felt the strength in her arms and legs returning.

“It’s not working Noatla. You better do something fast.”

Noatla said, “Officers, put her down gently. I want to speak with her.”

They obeyed. Mimi jumped up, ready to run, but Noatla, a tall, thin, blonde woman, grabbed her by the arm and held her tight. She was surprisingly strong for how skinny she was. Her face appeared to be chiseled from rock, and her light eyes were piercing.

“Wait a moment, Mimi, just listen.”

Mimi had been wrong. The woman’s lips moved just like anyone else’s. Perhaps she was mistaken because of what she had done earlier in the day?

“Why should I?”

“You want to help Shannon, don’t you?”

“Yes.”

“You’d think after all the resistance she put up when we tried to get her up here earlier, that she didn’t want to save her girlfriend,” The red-haired woman said.

“Hush, you know all too well what it was like before you entered the Order. Mimi, do you recognize me?” asked Noatla.

“No, should I?”

Serah said, “Of course she doesn’t recognize you, you think this one votes?”

Mimi said, “Votes?”

Noatla smiled. Mimi liked her smile. She began to notice how attractive this woman was. A pang of guilt hit her chest, and her mind turned back to Shannon.

“Yes Mimi, I am Senator Noatla Lightfoot of District 14. This district. If you come with me, I might be able to help you with Shannon.”

Mimi scowled. “Why would you want to help me and why should I believe you?”

“Those are both very good questions. All I ask is that you come with me to the library and hear me out. After that, you are free to do whatever you wish.”

“With the SOs following us? How do I know you don’t want to sell me to one of your Upper friends?”

Noatla frowned for a moment, but then stood and turned to face the SOs.

She said, “You may go now. You are needed in District 13.”

The two SOs turned and left without a moment’s hesitation. Mimi felt a deep sense of relief to see them go, but she still was wary of trusting an Upper. The Uppers loved to mess with the homeless, some of them got off on it.

Serah said, “What’s in District 13?”

Noatla smiled, “Oh, probably nothing, but I am sure they will figure out something important to do.” Noatla turned back towards Mimi. “So, will you come with us?”

This time, the woman wasn’t using her voice. Her lips were still. Then it occurred to Mimi.

“Are you like me? Can you skim?”

Noatla smiled. “Much more than just, as you put it, skim.”

Mimi asked, “What’s at the library?”

“A chance for you to use your gifts for the benefit of this city. A chance for you to be off the streets and in a safe home.”

“Why? What’s in it for you?”

“Come, listen. Hear what we have to say. I promise if you choose to leave, no one will stop you. As you’ve already seen, we cannot even pacify you for long. You have an extraordinarily strong mind.”

Mimi nodded and followed.

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.

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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A Sample Chapter of My Novel…

Readers,

Below is a Sample Chapter from my novel, Upon Stilted Cities: Part 1 The Winds of Change.

If you enjoyed this chapter follow me on Twitter or my Facebook Page. More samples will be posted online at a later date.

This chapter can also be found at: https://michaelkilman.wordpress.com/upon-stilted-cities/

Prologue: The End of a Migration

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 previously 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 was fading with the day.

Far back from the ruins of Langeles, Roderick awoke and sat up. 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 EnViro suit helmet, it was a ritual of beauty, a day that ended in victory. The power core within Langeles still remained, but the bells of the city were ringing for the last time. Langeles would never walk again and without migration, there was only death.

He pressed a small button under his chin and with his left hand pulled off his EnViro suit helmet. Its thick inner liner tugged at his graying hair as the helmet detached. He dropped the helmet to the ground and it thudded against the gravel.

He closed his eyes, took a deep breath and caressed the tattoo on his neck, the mark of his order; a tree of life with an eye in the center. Most of adherents of the Children of Gaia chose a simple armband on their EnViro suit exterior, but for Roderick, only the mix of blood and ink could mark his tribute and his loyalty.

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 gradually trickle into his lungs with each breathe. Fresh air was a luxury, but it had been a long day, and a little non-filtered air wouldn’t kill him.

He reached up to wipe the sweat from his brow. Already beads of moisture were gathering in the crevices of his wrinkled 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. Roderick looked down the length of his right arm and remembered. He sighed. Truth had a funny way of reminding you where you stand. The bloody stump where his right hand been only hours before was now a symbol of his haste. He turned and gazed at the wreckage of his Dugger vehicle behind him. It, like the city, was little more than a smoking ruin.

He untied the makeshift knot in the arm of his suit with his left arm and teeth, then unwrapped the gauze and examined the wound. It was already beginning to stink. He was fortunate that his EnViro suit had maintained his temperature and filtered air, considering the suit was no longer sealed properly. 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.

A deep and sudden silence slid into his ears. All noise evaporated and a high pitch 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 issued from the city. He clenched a solitary rock with his left hand for balance, feeling his feet beginning to give way.

It was the power core. An explosion that massive had to be the main power core. Dense smoke seeped into the sky. A hint of a mushroom cloud emerged but was quickly caught by gusting winds and scattered across the landscape, intermingling with the colors of the setting sun.

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

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 have to be ducking behind a ridge or hunkering down inside a small cave… but nothing was happening. Perhaps they didn’t use the nuke? Maybe his men had figured out a way to overload the core?

It made no difference. He allowed joy to wash over him. Roderick let out of a roar of triumph that caught on to the back of the lingering noise of the explosion and merged into forever.

Roderick fell to his knees and bowed forward, kissing the hardpan. His right stump barely 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.”

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 would never be able to scratch again.

Long ago someone had told him that all great gains came at great personal cost. If one city had cost him his hand, what would the remaining 11 cities cost him? He imagined himself, limbless and crippled at the end of his quest, or worse. What if he fell short? What if he was unable to stop the drills from piercing the Mother’s soul? He shook off the idea. Gaia would not allow it. Her will was more powerful than the walking monstrosities, wasn’t it?

A pinprick of doubt surfaced like a solitary bubble flowing upwards from the depths of a pond. He had been taught, growing up in the migrating city of Mex, of the great poisoning of Gaia. He learned that many fought to defend Mother Gaia, but all had failed in the wake of the greed and lust of so many powerful companies and corrupt politicians. When Gaia had grown too harsh, and had tried to eradicate humans with climate change, what had humans done? They built the wretched stilted cities and survived like a walking plague in perpetual motion, always escaping the sandstorms and apolicanes.

Apolicanes had made the coastal regions of the earth unlivable. Migrating cities were able to visit briefly to stock up on water from the vast and mostly lifeless oceans, but if they lingered, even more than a few weeks, they risked facing an Apolicane, a massive storm system that could span nearly a thousand miles with winds of more than 350 kilometers per hour.

It was rumored across long memory, that the Apolicanes were not in themselves natural, but yet another attempt for man to try and control his environment, some climate management system gone wrong. Roderick had never known if that particular story was true, but considering all the desperate things humans had done at the end of the 21st century, he wouldn’t be surprised.

His progenitors had called the cities the miracle that saved humanity. They had become giant arks keeping alive those that would continue to pillage the earth’s resources. Drilling deeper and deeper, scraping for every last raw material to maintain the mobile city infrastructure. To a city, Gaia was nothing but a giant piece of salvage, something to continue to exploit. Humans had learned nothing from history, nothing at all.

He stood surveying all that was barren. Today was a good day, a cause for celebration. Roderick smiled lifting his aching body and turning his attention back to the fallen city. The ruins roused his courage, his determination. There, in the smoking ruins, was the evidence that it was possible to rid the earth of its infestation. He would not fail. The last hope anyone would have of repairing the city ended with the destruction of the power core. They could repair the massive 150 meter legs, assuming they were able to avoid a sandstorm. They could repair the drill and the holes in the hull of the city, but the destruction of the power core marked its finality. The city of Langeles and its people were no more.

What of his haste? What of his disregard for Mother Gaia? So much had gone right, but what had gone wrong? Roderick closed his eyes and reviewed the events of the morning assault.

 

The city had begun drilling operations. Migration was halted so that resource extraction could begin. A massive drill protruded from the lower hunk of rock underneath the city and was burrowing into the earth.

“Commander, all 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.

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

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

“Yes, Rocky had warned me earlier. The city should still be thrown into chaos. What’s the status on city leg security?”

“One moment commander, I’ll check.”

Roderick squirmed in the cramped quarters of the Dugger. He disliked being below ground in the Dugger transports. Duggers had been designed for numerous 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. They were a kind of land submarine, periscope sensors and all. These particular ones had been salvaged from the fallen city of Mex, which had been destroyed by a freak accident.

“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, then we send Miss and her teams to plant the tactical nukes on the legs. 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 70 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 com line. Roderick heard the hesitation. He knew that Patrick’s faith in Gaia had wavered of late. Many of his soldier’s faith had wavered. Inaction was a plague that could spread quickly and three years of planning was a long time.

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

Roderick smiled, showing his ancient tobacco stained teeth. “Of course Patrick. It was the Great Mother who devised this plan. She gave it to me in a powerful vision and showed me the city of Langeles on fire. She showed me 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 that 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 shaken at Saud and his own impatience was bubbling up to the surface. They needed a victory.

“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 have been activated.”

“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 Runner Core 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 and nail shut Langeles’s coffin.

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

“And may Gaia bless yours, Patrick. I will 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 towards 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 Runner Core from behind.

They were greatly outnumbered. From what his spy said, Langeles had 2300 Runners ready for combat. Roderick only had 1300 under his command and several hundred were women and children back at Atlantis base. The fallen shield would give them a sizable advantage.

The EnViro shield surrounding the walking cities wasn’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 tens of thousands in the secondary shielding shelters, there would be chaos. Numerous Runners would have to be deployed inside the city to maintain order. Langeles’s citizens were weapons mobilized in the Mother’s cause; every man, woman, and child an agent of chaos, an inadvertent solider in the Children of Gaia, to be offered up in sacrifice to the Great Mother.

The radar on screen saw the dots consolidating about a kilometer outside the cities boundary. Over the coms 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 begin to vibrate. Langeles had already opened fire with its rail guns 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 Runner core would need to be deployed in defense. Fresh blips on the radar screen were already beginning to appear. 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 channel to Miss.”

Miss, a strikingly beautiful woman, appeared on screen. Her deep blue eyes, olive skin, and black hair were everything that Roderick 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 was uncoupled from his Dugger. He felt lighter, more eager than before. His plan was unfolding perfectly so far.

Time passed and Roderick grew increasingly agitated. He hated sitting back and waiting while the rest of his troops were out fighting. So much could go wrong.

Roderick watched as the 8th and 9th nukes were attached to the cities legs. Only a few more nukes to go and then he would draw his troops back.

Then something went wrong.

Over the com 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… Retreating.”

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

“Ten… planted… retreating… distance. Gaia…”

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

“It appears that the Langeles Runner Core have discovered the leg team. Most of the team has been destroyed. 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 quickly.”

“AI, start the detonation clock. Let the Core team know we are moving as soon as the blast wave is clear.”

“Sir, In order to detonate I require a confirmation code.”

“Of course. V638927SI.”

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

“How long will it take for 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.”

“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 his troops departing to a safe distance from the estimated blast zone. He watched nervously as more of the Langeles Runner Core seem to be gathering around the legs. If they figured out what happening… but Roderick knew it was too late, only six minutes remained in the countdown and there was no way they could disarm the weapons in time.

“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?”

“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 countdown 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 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. A mighty roaring noise pressed itself against the ground and waves of sand and rock shifted above the Dugger.

In the view screen, Roderick saw the city kneeling down towards the earth, like a man kneeling beside the dying body of a brother in arms. The west end sunk first, smashing into the hard earth of the barrens. Skyscrapers broke in half and pieces scattered as they cascaded toward the ground. Then, finally, the rock slab of earth on which the city rested, slanted up towards the sky, on the hard desert earth.

Roderick’s rage and frustration were forgotten, as were the words of the mother. Roderick’s cheeks pulled upwards and a smile bloomed on his face.

Roderick opened a com 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 gripping the earth.

The Dugger gained speed and began moving more quickly towards 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 rear left tire and sent Roderick spinning through the air, rotating like a corkscrew. The vehicle connected with 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? He glanced back into the cockpit with only a hint of concern. 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.

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 it from the steering wheel. It would not release. Then, he tried to pry one finger at a time off the wheel, still no luck. He had heard of a death grip before but… he started to chuckle to himself but the laughter caught up with reality and it caught in his throat. He almost choked on it.

Frustrated he turned his head out towards 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. A high caliber pistol was aimed at Roderick’s face.

If Roderick had looked up only a single second later, it would have been the end of him. Roderick threw the rest of his body out of vehicle and rolled behind a solitary rock as the Runner opened fire. Bullets sprayed the terrain. One of the Runners bullets ricocheted off the metal of the Dugger and sunk into the Runner’s shin, forcing him to fall to one knee. Roderick, seeing his chance, jumped up and reached down for his sidearm in his EnViro suit. His bloody stump mashed against the holster and Roderick screamed in pain.

The scream further stunned the Runner and he dropped his weapon taking few steps back. Roderick reached across his body with left hand. He struggled, grasping at the butt of the revolver from the awkward angle, and finally, pulled it 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, behind it, blood splattered and the Runner rolled to his side, dead.

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 was dripping occasionally 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.

“Sir, the Core team has penetrated the perimeter and the main force appears to be overwhelming the remains of the Langeles Runner Core. 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. 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 life sign readings there are 289 casualties,”

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

“Standard drill deployment procedure requires that a city deploy 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 towards the wrecked Dugger. He pried open the cargo hatch 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 then he found what he was looking for, an emergency flair, an antibiotic shot, some morphine, and an EnViro suit sealant patch.

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 grabbed the syringe and 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 quickly. 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. He braced himself as he slowly brought his left hand towards 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. Only a few more seconds and the wound would be closed.

Those last few seconds felt like an eternity. He could bare it no longer. He turned off the torch. Quickly, he injected anti-biotics 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 over and though the pain would linger, the danger of infection would be over.

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 hazy mirage of morphine. He knew it was unfortunate that Rocky’s virus required the cities security codes to work properly. The Langeles codes had not been easy to come by. Eleven cities remained and Roderick could think of only one certain path to absolute victory, especially with almost 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.

Science Fiction + Anthropology???

I always have a lot of irons in the fire. I work on film projects, create visual art, write and teach. However, everything I do is grounded in one thing, Anthropology.

When I was an undergraduate I changed my major… a lot. I started out in music performance (I was in rock bands and jazz bands playing the guitar) and realized that I was nowhere near as good as some of my fellow classmates. I got burned out and quit school for a while. When I went back I tried majoring in English and Creative Writing and then in Philosophy. Then one semester, I decided to take an Intro to Cultural Anthropology and it changed my life.

I quickly realized, that my whole life I have been fascinated by human beings and other cultures. After taking that course, I switched my major to Anthropology and Religious Studies. I went on to do field research schools in Northern Mexico and on Ute Mountain Ute Indian Reservation in Southern Colorado. Then I went to graduate school at Portland State University and worked on a project with 17 Native American Tribes of the Great Basin and a project that involved a community theater troupe in Denver. After finishing graduate school I began teaching at Metro State University of Denver and the University of Colorado at Denver.

There is little more I enjoy, then exploring other ways of knowing and experiencing the world. I have always wanted to understand what it would be like to see the world through many different sets of eyes.

So what in the world does this have to do with Science Fiction? Well a lot actually. Science Fiction, as most of you reading this probably know, is about creating a unique and different world from our own. It is about imagining the future (Note: for a wonderful blog on Indigenous Science Fiction visit https://medium.com/space-anthropology/navajos-on-mars-4c336175d945#.3sgnjptnl ) and other possibilities and potentials. In short, science fiction is about stepping back and trying to see the world through a unique set of eyes. This is not unlike cultural anthropology.

This is one of the reasons that my novel ‘Upon Stilted Cities’ doesn’t just have a singular main character/protagonist. Instead you view the world from several different individuals, each with unique perspective on a future world with giant walking cities. There are several different cultures within the book and I even took time to do some additional research on those cultures in the present and then attempted to imagine their future. Basically, I wanted to try and create a world that was as authentic and diverse as possible, all while crafting an engaging story with unique characters.

Science Fiction does not need to be informed by Anthropology, but the two are certainly complementary, just look at one of the greatest writers of the 20th century, Kurt Vonnegut http://www.openculture.com/2014/02/kurt-vonnegut-masters-thesis-rejected-by-u-chicago.html