Samantha ran headlong through the broken cityscape, listening to the sound of the metal monster that was hunting her. She ducked behind a charred school bus and took to her heels, slingshotting across an intersection that revealed the aftermath of a Syndicate attack. The road was bottlenecked with wrecked machines, upraised sections of road, fallen buildings, and clusters of bodies in various states of decay. A real horror show as far as the eye could see.
Catching her breath, Samantha looked back and gasped. An alien drone, one of the really big mothers was visible, just down the street, striding forward like a mechanical spider.
The drone pistoned its spiked metal legs into the bricks on the side of a building and scampered up and scoped the terrain before it. Then it vaulted forward, before—
Landing with a terrific thud in the middle of the street, mushrooming debris into the air. The machine was almost translucent black with red streaks, the color of beets, as tall as a construction crane, and as heavily armored as an entire tank battalion.. Samantha listened to the sound of gears straining with it, heard the echo of hissing valves and snapping pistons as its armored turret swept left and right, searching for her.
It was midday but cloudy and so what looked like headlights on the thing’s turret snapped on, red lasers lancing out, cleaving the shadows that lay between what was left of the city’s financial district.
Samantha juked out of sight and behind a cement pylon and studied what stood in her way. Beyond a handful of burned out buildings were a few industrial lots and then the overgrown banks of the river, maybe thirty yards away. If she could get there, she might have a chance.
Bending, Samantha grabbed a hunk of cement and flung it back in the vicinity of the drone. The machine immediately sensed the projectile and turned, pausing to assess what it was. In that moment of distraction, Samantha struck off.
She danced between the carbonized metal studs of the fallen buildings, fighting through the herds of flies that were dive bombing the bodies of the fallen. She clambered up over a small mountain of furniture and computers when—
An explosion sent up geysers of dirt just off to her left, showering the backpack she had looped over her shoulders. She’d been spotted!
Covering her head, Samantha dove forward. She rolled down the reverse of the mountain and pushed herself up into a run. Another missile struck, the detonation ringing in her ears. In seconds she’d run through the last building and was nearing the riverbank.
The whine of metal on metal let her know that the drone was close behind. The riverbank up ahead was obscured in tall grass and shrubbery that obscured a drop off. Samantha looked down, but couldn’t stop her forward progress. The soft ground disappeared under her feet and she felt herself falling, plunging straight down, arms out in front, ready to brace against the hard ground.
Her fall was broken by several saplings that she miraculously wrapped her hands around. The branches scraped her face, but concealed her location even as the drone rumbled into sight. The machine was searching for her and Samantha realized there was only one thing to do.
She planted her feet against the sapling and waved her arms and screamed. “OVER HERE, DUMBASS!”
The drone turned and made a move through the brush, metal legs ticking and clicking like a Geiger counter. The machine aimed its chain gun and rocket launchers at her. She threw up her hands one more time and then the drone took another step and that’s when it happened.
The ground under the drone’s front legs gave way. The machine flailed, but lost its footing and fell forward.
A metallic screech resonated from the turret as the metal beast tumbled down the riverbank and crashed into the muddy, roiling river. It tried to regain its footing, but Samantha smiled, watching the water’s strong current overwhelm it, flooding its bubble-tops and what she was presumed were the compartments housing its engines and circuitry. Half-joking, but half-congratulating herself, she patted her own shoulder, like her mother, Quinn, liked to do when she’d done a good job. Her mother was more of a pat you on the back kind of person than a hugger, but Samantha had grown used to it, even come to like it and prefer it over hugs.
Not wasting any time, though, Samantha hauled herself up onto the bank and ran in the other direction, forging through the tall grass. She heard shouts and the report of gunfire off in the direction of the city, the echoes of what she presumed was a Syndicate ground patrol.
Moving in the other direction, she crept through what had once been a parking garage. Making herself small, she slipped through an obscured doorway and hid on a pile of rubble that stretched between the garage and two condominium buildings. This was nothing new, hiding by herself in the wreckage of the old world. Ever since the invasion, day and night, this had been her life. Find food where she could, shelter when it rained or the Syndicate was around, and search for friends or allies.
But so far her experience with friends hadn’t gone so well—an elderly woman had been crushed by a large mechanized machine, and the little girl she’d known for two days had been dragged off by a Syndicate patrol never to be seen again. There wasn’t anything she could have done, she told herself over and over ever since, but that didn’t stop the nightmares from coming. Every night, images of the poor girl, Katarina, assaulted her. Memories of Katarina calling out for Samantha who was hiding, tucked in an unseen space under a partially collapsed building, trembling with the thought that she too might be discovered.
Yet, so far she seemed to be the only one that hadn’t been caught. She crawled to the edge of a piece of cement wall that lay at a forty-five degree angle against the other wall, then peeked out.
Neither the alien patrol nor the drone from the river were in sight. In point of fact, there was nobody visible in any direction. Not a soul. She slumped against the wall and pulled out the only item she had left—a ruggedized, military-style cellphone she’d been given by a resistance fighter before he was killed in a bombing raid. She swiped screens and pulled up a few Apps, that the fighter had instructed her how to use. She wondered what had happened to Mackie and some of the others she’d set out with.
She hoped to God that he’d been smart enough to run off from the main battlefields like she had. That poor man who had loved her mother but never had the balls to say so.
Even at twelve she knew about romantic feelings and the courage it took to express them. It took real guts, stones as her mother used to say, to do several things. Communicate your true feelings, go against the grain, and stand up for what’s right. She knew all of this and yet here she was, kneeling and wishing she had the courage to run out, snatch up one of those rifles she had spotted among the dead resistance fighters, and mow down those Syndicate bastards.
Something flickered in her mind and she wondered whether she had it all wrong. Maybe that wasn’t courage at all, she thought, but stupidity. It was hard to figure out where the line was these days.
The sound of a machine moving thrummed on the edge of her awareness, and so instead of confronting the aliens, she did what she always did after being confronted by a Syndicate patrol went by—she ran the other way.
Thirty minutes must have passed this way. Samantha was famished, but thought back on something her mother had told her about sharks, about how they had to always keep moving or else they’d die. She thought about this and trudged on, realizing that there wasn’t any good to setting down anchor anyway. The aliens seemed to always be skulking around.
A series of gliders swept past overhead, mechanized craft with wings that reminded her of pictures of flying dinosaurs she’d seen as a child. The gliders were close enough that she could feel their heat, but quickly they vanished and so she stood and ran, darting across the rubble and maneuvering around a clutch of junked cars that had been blasted atop each other.
Moments later, she was in the shell of another building, picking her way through piles of debris. She climbed to the summit of the debris pile and stopped, only to leave her perch seconds later. Keeping in a semi-crouch, Samantha wormed through a hole in the opposite end of the building. She dropped outside, hit the ground, and ducked into a bunching of trees that shaded the northern banks of the river.
The wind cooed, flicking dirt in her face, the air freighted with the funk of feces and death. Samantha covered her mouth with her sleeve before angling down, making sure to hug the shadows. She followed the river for several hundred yards until it narrowed. Then she trotted down over a sandbar and waded through the water that was up to her knees, before crawling up onto the opposite side of the river.
She searched for the drone that had chased her, but didn’t see it. Moving slowly, she negotiated up the riverbank and emerged from the tree line where she headed toward a three-story building wreathed by an apron of asphalt that appeared to have suffered little during the invasion and subsequent alien carpet bombings.
Creeping around the side, Samantha heard snatches of conversation coming from somewhere inside the building. There was a side door that had been ripped from its hinges and Samantha eased inside. More voices echoed followed by the sound of something slapping against flesh.
Samantha moved forward into the semi-darkness of what had once been a lobby. The interior appeared to have been looted, but was still largely intact. Tiptoeing across broken tiles, she rounded a corner to see three boys standing over a scrawny figure, a younger boy, lying prostrate on the ground.
One of the boys who was standing, the one who looked to be the oldest was tall and thin with a shag of brown hair. He clutched a sharpened stick, pointing at the kid on the ground whose lip was split and bleeding. It was clear that the boy on the ground had been roughed up by the one who stood over him.
Samantha fought the urge to run, but then she remembered her mother telling her that at some point everyone has to stand firm and be counted. She knew then, that she couldn’t turn from what she was watching and so she blurted out, “What are you doing to him?”
The boy with the stick turned and glared at Samantha. “Who the hell are you?”
“Who’s asking?” Samantha replied.
The boy with the stick swapped looks with his crew. Then he lifted the stick and aimed it at her. “If you’re smart, little birdy, you’ll fly away and forget you saw any of this.”
Samantha’s eyes narrowed. “You see me running?”
“Look, bitch,” the tall boy said, “best stay out of our lane and mind your own business.”
“I’m kinda making this my business.” She pointed at the boy who was on the ground. “Let him go.”
“Come make me,” said the boy with the stick.
Samantha assessed the three boys, debating her next move. They couldn’t be all that much older than her. The tall boy, the one who was probably thirteen or fourteen, cocked his head to one side. “You ain’t from around here are you?”
She shook her head and he smirked. “In that case, girl, I’ll cut you some slack, but just this once.”
“Don’t go doing me any favors.”
The other boys laughed and one said, “Maybe she wants to join up with us, Blake.”
“Impossible,” said the boy with the stick. “Anyone who wants to run with our crew gotta show that they belong. We don’t take just anybody. You gotta be able to carry your own weight. You gotta be able to fight. You gotta prove yourself.”
The boy with the stick took two steps and Samantha’s hands were a blur. She snapped out and snatched the stick away from the tall boy.
“What the hell?!” the tall boy roared. He swung at Samantha who ducked and then threw a jab that caught him in his midsection, stealing his air. The tall boy went down on his ass and Samantha turned the stick on him, holding it like a sword.
“How ‘bout now? Have I proved myself?” she hissed.
FROM JUSTIN >>> As you can see, we’re starting off book 2 in a fun direction! Yes, Quinn and Giovanni are still main POVs, but Quinn’s daughter is playing a huge role too!
You also might have noticed that we put book 2 up for preorder (releasing June 13, just about 2 weeks after book 1 released), and we’re doing the same for book 3. I don’t want any of our fans to miss the books, and especially not miss the $0.99 preorder sale.
More to come 🙂
For my book recommendation with this Snippet, I’d like to point out Chris Fox’s awesome new story:
The Void Wraith ravaged our galaxy, nearly eradicating both humanity and our enemies, the Tigris. Captain Nolan vowed it would never happen again, that he would find the Void Wraith’s dark masters.
Nolan leads a company of mechs into uncharted space, where a new foe lies in wait. The Coalition’s fleet is destroyed, and Nolan’s squad is stranded behind enemy lines. Between them and escape stand three Planetstriders, thousand meter monstrosities capable of destroying an orbiting capital ship.
In order to survive, they must disable these titanic war machines, an impossible task made even more difficult by the discovery of a terrible secret – one that must reach fleet command, no matter the cost.