More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now download Brandon Sanderson's The Rithmatist for 5.00$ here.

Here's the blurb:

From #1 New York Times bestselling author Brandon Sanderson: his debut novel for the young adult audience.

More than anything, Joel wants to be a Rithmatist. Chosen by the Master in a mysterious inception ceremony, Rithmatists have the power to infuse life into two-dimensional figures known as Chalklings. Rithmatists are humanity’s only defense against the Wild Chalklings—merciless creatures that leave mangled corpses in their wake. Having nearly overrun the territory of Nebrask, the Wild Chalklings now threaten all of the American Isles.

As the son of a lowly chalkmaker at Armedius Academy, Joel can only watch as Rithmatist students study the magical art that he would do anything to practice. Then students start disappearing—kidnapped from their rooms at night, leaving trails of blood. Assigned to help the professor who is investigating the crimes, Joel and his friend Melody find themselves on the trail of an unexpected discovery—one that will change Rithmatics—and their world—forever.

Bestselling author Brandon Sanderson brings his unique brand of epic storytelling to the teen audience with an engrossing tale of danger and suspense—the first of a series. With his trademark skills in world-building, Sanderson has created a magic system that is so inventive and detailed that that readers who appreciate games of strategy and tactics just may want to bring Rithmatics to life in our world.

At the publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management software (DRM) applied.

This week's New York Times Bestsellers (August 26th)

In hardcover:

Neil Gaiman's The Ocean at the End of the Lane is up one position, ending the week at number 8. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

George R. R. Martin's A Dance With Dragons is up two positions, ending the week at number 10. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

R. A. Salvatore's The Companions is down two spots, finishing the week at number 12.

In paperback:

Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game is up one position, ending the week at number 1.

George R. R. Martin's A Game of Thrones is up three positions, ending the week at number 3.

Stephen King's Joyland is up one position, ending the week at number 4 (trade paperback).

George R. R. Martin's A Clash of Kings is up four positions, ending the week at number 8.

George R. R. Martin's A Storm of Swords is up four positions, ending the week at number 9.

George R. R. Martin's A Feast for Crows is down three spots, finishing the week at number 12.

Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game debuts at number 12 (trade paperback).

Stephen King's Under the Dome is up one spot, finishing the week at number 19 (trade paperback).

Ilona Andrews' Magic Rises is down six spots, finishing the week at number 21.

Max Brooks' World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War maintains its position at number 21 (trade paperback).

Max Brooks' World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War is down three positions, ending the week at number 24.

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can download the first volume of Roger Taylor's The Chronicles of Hawklan, The Call of the Sword for only 0.99$ here. The following installments (The Fall of Fyorlund, The Waking of Orthlund, and Into Narsindal) are also available for 3.82$ each.

Here's the blurb for The Call of the Sword:

The castle of Anderras Darion has stood abandoned and majestic for as long as anyone can remember. Then, from out of the mountains, comes the healer, Hawklan - a man with no memory of the past - to take possession of the keep with his sole companion, Gavor.

Across the country, the great fortress of Narsindalvak is a constant reminder of the victory won by the hero Ethriss in alliance with the three realms of Orthlund, Riddin and Fyorlund against the Dark Lord, Sumeral, hundreds of years before. But Rgoric, the ailing king of Fyorlund and protector of the peace, has fallen under the malign influence of the Lord Dan-Tor, and from the bleakness of Narsindal come ugly rumours. It is whispered that Mandrocs are abroad again and that the Dark Lord himself is stirring.

And in the remote fastness of Anderras Darion, Hawklan feels deep within himself the echoes of an ancient power and the unknown, yet strangely familiar, call to arms...

"The Call of the Sword" is Book One of The Chronicles of Hawklan.

You can read an extract from the book here.

Extract from David Hair's MAGE'S BLOOD

Here's an excerpt from David Hair's Mage's Blood, the first volume in The Moontide Quartet, courtesy of the folks at Jo Fletcher Books! For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Here's the blurb:

For years the Leviathan Bridge was a boon for prosperity and culture. But when the Rondian Emperor turned his avaricious eyes toward it, peace became war. In successive crusades the Imperial legions and their mighty battle-mages plundered the East unopposed.

Now the Moontide has come again, the Bridge is rising from beneath the waves, and the Third Crusade is poised for release. The board is set and the pieces are moving. But three lowly pawns, barely regarded, threaten the game: A failed mage, a jaded mercenary and a lowly market-girl are about to be catapulted into the maelstrom. Their choices and their courage are about to change the world.

Come to Urte, where the moon covers half the sky and the tides render the seas impassable. Where windships ply the skies and magi with god-gifted powers rule the earth. Where East and West are divided by colour, creed, language and the sea, but drawn to each other irrevocably in a dance of life and death. The Moontide is coming, to sweep away all in its path.

To learn more about David Hair and his books, check out the author's website.


“Mercer! Pay attention!” Fyrell barked.

Alaron blinked. Damn. “Sorry sir, just trying to remember the formula for calculating vectors.” He and Ramon had talked away most of the night, dreaming of their futures after graduation, but now they were back in the grim, moss-walled college. Turm Zau- berin was an old castle, four hundred years old at least. Magister Fyrell, his least favorite teacher, had his feet up on his desk and was tossing random questions at the whole class as revision. Alaron hadn’t been listening for some time.

“Nice try, Master Mercer,” sneered Fyrell, “but we reviewed calculus last period. This is Magical Theory.”


“Must I repeat the question?” The five Pure sniggered. Ramon leaned back, shaking his head.

Alaron hung his head, flushing. “Yes sir. Sorry sir.”

Fyrell rolled his eyes and stroked his black goatee. “Very well. We are revising for the exams—remember them? I asked you to name the four classes of the gnosis and what defines them—a very basic ques- tion. Do you think you could manage that for us, Master Mercer?”

Alaron sighed. Phew, easy. He stood up. “There are Four Classes of the Gnosis. First is Thaumaturgy, which is concerned with the tangible and inanimate: the elements. The Four Studies of Thaumaturgy are Fire, Water, Earth, and Air. Then there is Hermetic magic: the tangible and animate, which deals with living things, ourselves, and others. The Four Hermetic Studies are Healing, Morphism— shapeshifting—Animism, and Sylvanism—nature magic. Theurgy is the intangible and animate, using the gnosis to augment unseen forces—like strengthening one’s own gnosis, or healing the spirits of the living, curing insanity, calming people, or manipulating them emotionally. The Four Studies of Theurgy are Spiritualism, Mysticism, Mesmerism, and Illusion. The last is Sorcery, which deals with the intangible and inanimate, where we use the gnosis to deal with the spirit world—the dead, in other words—to do things like strengthen ourselves, or find out about the past or the future or the now. The Four Studies of Sorcery are Wizardry, Clairvoyance, Divination, and Necromancy.”

Fyrell grunted with displeasure and looked at Boron Funt. “Mercer sounds like he’s reciting a textbook. Boron, tell me the omission Mercer made with Sorcery.” He called only the Pure by their first names.

Funt puffed himself up. “He said that the only spirits are dead spirits, Magister. He omitted the angels of God and the demons of Hel.”

That’s because I don’t believe in them, Alaron muttered to himself. “Well done, Boron.” Fyrell smiled. “Malevorn, tell me of Affinities, using your own as an example.”

Malevorn drew himself to his feet, half-closing his eyes as he spoke. “Every mage is different: our personalities define the Studies we excel at. Most of us have greater aptitude at one or more of the four Classes of the gnosis. We also usually have one elemental aptitude greater than the others. My element is fire and I am strongest in Thaumaturgy and hermetic-gnosis.”

Fyrell looked approving, as he always did when Malevorn spoke. “Well done, Malevorn.” He turned to his other favored pupil. “Gron, what is Blood-Rank?”

Gron Koll smoothed back his lank greasy hair. “The Ranks of Blood are numbered First to Sixth. The First Rank are the pure- blooded, those descended directly from an Ascendant or two pure- bloods. The Second Rank are the three-quarter-blooded; the Third are half-blooded, the Fourth are the quarter-blooded, the Fifth Rank the eighth-bloods and the Sixth Rank those with a sixteenth. There are no lower ranks, as anyone with less than a sixteenth of mage’s blood does not have the capability to utilize the gnosis.” He paused, then added, “Above all are the Ascendants, the Three Hundred progenitors of all magi.”

“Excellent,” said Fyrell. “And what are the degrees of relativity between the Blood-Ranks?”

“Each is roughly the square of the previous, sir. If we use the quarter-blood as a base, a half-blood is twice as powerful, a pure- blood is four times more powerful, and an Ascendant sixteen times more.”

“Meaning that we pure-bloods are worth at least four of Mercer,” remarked Malevorn lightly, waving his hand at Alaron, “and sixteen of Sensini.”

Alaron steamed, but Ramon just shrugged.

“Seth,” invited Fyrell with a lazy gesture, “what can be done to improve one’s powers?”

Seth Korion had a placid face, short blond hair, and a solid build. Everyone had expected much of him, the only legitimate son of the famous General Kaltus Korion, but he’d been a plodder: a timid mage and fighter. He had shown none of the strategic and tactical thinking his teachers had expected would come naturally. The only thing he excelled at was healing, which was regarded by the boys as “girls’ magic.” Seth had always been the easiest of the Pure to get at.

“There are varying levels of skill, talent and equipment, sir. An ill-equipped, inept, or poorly trained mage is less effective than a well-equipped, skilled, and well-trained one.”

“Fortunately we have the best in everything, sir,” put in Francis Dorobon, sticking his chest out. His dark hair was slicked back, and he affected a little mustache on his upper lip, making his pale skin even whiter. He wore rings and diamond studs, and he liked to throw little Rimoni phrases into his conversation to remind people that he was rightful King of Javon, nominally a Rimoni country even though it lay in Antiopia. He raised his hand, displaying a large diamond ring on his middle finger. “This is a primo periapt.”

Students could own periapts, but they were not permitted to use them except in class until after they had successfully graduated. Alaron’s was a modest crystal, Ramon’s even poorer. Alaron knew his father was trying to purchase a better one for him, but quality periapts were rare and expensive.

Fyrell clapped his hands. “Excellent. Next week, your exams will begin. You will be tested on all aspects of the gnosis, as well as your ordinary academic lessons to decide whether you are to be granted the right to act as a mage and serve the community.” His eyes swept over the Pure. “It has been a pleasure to teach most of you.” His gaze flickered disdainfully over Alaron and Ramon and then back to the Pure. “I wish you well for the coming weeks.”

Malevorn stood up. “Sir, it has been a privilege to learn from you.” He made a lordly bow. “For myself, your name and memory will always be on my mind as we strike down the heathen.”

Fyrell puffed up as the other Pure followed his lead, taking turns to praise and thank him.

Alaron and Ramon slipped away, unnoticed.

“Malevorn alwayth doeth tha’. How do you ge’ an ego tha’ large into the room? An’ Fyrell panderth to him all the time. I am tho thick of thith plathe!” Alaron was nursing a split lip from the fight he’d got into with Malevorn between classes. It stung, but neither he nor Ramon were very good at healing. Three days out from the end of classes and he felt totally miserable—of course he’d totally failed to lay a finger on Malevorn, as always. He was probably the most unsuccessful brawler in the school’s history. The younger students, most of them of the same ilk as Malevorn, openly laughed at him.

He sat on the tiny balcony of the room they shared, Ramon beside him, looking glumly over the city as dusk fell. The air was cold, killing the smell of the refuse pits below this side of the building—of course the Pures were on the other side, the sunset side, overlooking the gardens. Each had a room four times the size of Alaron and Ramon’s.

Alaron saw the mighty shapes in the sky first, the dark silhouettes in the northeastern quarter, three black dots that grew and grew. He pointed, and Ramon followed his finger.

“Windships,” Ramon breathed. “Merchant-traders, up from Verelon, maybe, or Pontus.” His eyes shone. All boys dreamed of wind- ships. They watched them grow in the sky, sails billowing as the trade wind swept them up from the Brekaellen Valley, following the river toward Norostein. The enchanted hulls were winged, painted and gilded in fantastical designs, the prows like eagles and serpents, the tall masts hung about with canvas sails. A scarlet flag billowed above. “From Pontus, I think.”

They watched in silent awe as the ships swung into the Mooring Yards beneath Bekontor Hill. Windships had curved hulls to lessen wind resistance, and retractable braces for landing. The enchanted hulls and keels kept them airborne, but though Air-gnosis gave the ships life, it was wind that provided propulsion. Air-thaumaturgy could shape the winds, and a ship that was well guided by a strong Air-thaumaturge could even sail against the wind, but that took real skill and endurance.

All of the trainee magi had learned to fly in small skiffs. Alaron was barely competent, but Ramon had some genuine ability despite his weak mage-blood. Vann Mercer had always hoped that Alaron would be able to build and pilot a trading vessel for him, but Alaron’s prime elemental affinity had turned out to be fire, and he had proven to be a very poor Air-mage. He was, he’d been told, better suited to a military career. The teachers also told him he had ability in sorcery, but sorcery scared him shitless. Ghosts and spirits . . . ugh!

Ramon looked across at him. “Shouldn’t you be on your way to see Cym tonight? It’s your turn.”

Alaron thought about that. His lip was still swollen, his jaw and ribs hurt, and he felt totally depressed. But he knew a smile from Cym would lift his mood, though his chances of coaxing one from her would be nigh on impossible. It was his turn, though . . .

When Ramon had shown up at the college all those years ago he had brought with him a tiny, self-possessed gypsy girl with big flashing eyes, cherry-red lips, and cinnamon skin. Alaron had taken one look and fallen hopelessly in love. Her name was Cymbellea di Regia, Ramon said; she too was mage-born, but Saint Yvette’s, the girl’s Arcanum College of Norostein, would not take her in, so she was living in the Rimoni camp outside of town. Without their help she would never learn how to use her powers. Ramon said she’d run away from her mother, who was her mage-parent, which sounded terribly romantic to Alaron, and her plight offended his sense of justice, so it had taken little persuasion to enlist his help in educat- ing her. For the last seven years they had been taking it in turns to slip out after dinner and meet her beside the sally port in the old ruined city wall.

Alaron loved his evenings with her. Even though she gave him nothing more than grief and frustration, he wouldn’t have missed their meetings for the world. “Of courth I’ll go. It’th my latht turn.” He thought for a moment. “You know, after gra’uation you’ll return to Thilacia and who knowth where Thym will go? We migh’ never meet again. Da wantth me to be a part of his buthineth and get mar- ried. I migh’ no’ even ge’ to joi’ the Cruthade.”

“And a good thing too,” remarked Ramon. “You don’t want to be a part of that—it’s just a bunch of pure-bloods slaughtering loads of Keshi and Dhassans. You’re better off out of it.”

“But, everyone ith going . . .” He exhaled heavily. “Everyone elth.” Ramon just shrugged disinterestedly. “War is overrated, amici.” “Huh.” Alaron got up and stretched. “I gueth I better go,” he said.

“Thym will be wondering where I am.”

Alaron found Cym in their usual place, a wrecked hovel against the old walls that stank of piss and rot. She was wrapped in a brown blanket, her head cowled in a large shawl. She had lit a fire, small enough to escape the notice of any passing watchman but barely large enough to raise the temperature. She was amusing herself by firing tiny energy-bolts into the city wall, leaving scorch-marks and a strange metallic tang in the air. Such bolts were the mage’s most basic weapon, deadly enough against an ordinary human, but easily countered by any other gnosis-wielder.

“You lose another fight?” she asked, eyeing his bloodied lip. “Here, let me have a look.” It was a sad fact that once she got the hang of it, Cym was actually better than both of them at most of the things they taught her. Alaron suspected that her mysterious mother—Cym never discussed her—had been of considerable power, and Cym herself was a natural. Alaron’s frequent scraps with Malevorn meant she got plenty of opportunity to practice her healing.

He closed his eyes, wincing as she poked and prodded, then sent a painful tingle of gnosis-power into his cut that reduced the swell- ing and sealed the wound.

“There, that should be gone in a few days. Idiot. Hasn’t he beaten you up enough for a lifetime already?” It was a rare week that he and Malevorn didn’t come to blows, either on the weapons-practice field or in some hall or back room. He just couldn’t hold his temper around the Pure.

“Thanks,” he said, running his tongue over the healed cut. He tried to squeeze her hand, but she avoided him deftly, pretending not to notice.

“So,” she said, “this is it: my last lesson with you. After tomorrow you’ll be off doing your exams and I’ll have to find other ways to learn.”

“We could continue after the exams,” he offered. “We’ll be gradu- ated then; we could do it openly.”

She shook her head. “Our caravan leaves on Freyadai—we’ve got to be in Lantris before the snows.”

“Will you be back in spring?” He found he wasn’t able to feign nonchalance.

“Maybe. Who knows?” She leaned forward, her face hungry. “What new things can you show me?”

For the next two hours he taught her the drills he’d learned since last time and reviewed her progress on earlier lessons, where, as usual, she’d already overtaken him, and ended up helping him as much as he did her. He hoped he might be more than just a rote- mage one day, but he wasn’t there yet. He tried to demonstrate shap- ing fire, but the flames sizzled and went out with a dispiriting pop.

“Let it flow, Alaron,” she scolded. “You’re so tense—you need to relax, let it run through you, like water.”

“I can’t!” he groaned. “I just can’t.” “You’re a mage—let it come naturally!”

“It’s not natural, it’s as unnatural as you can get,” he complained dispiritedly. He felt tired and clumsy. Outside, the new moon was up, its great arc covering half the sky. It looked almost touchable— more touchable than Cym, anyway. The Rimoni girl followed his glance, shuddered, and pulled up her cowl. She was always leery of the massive weight of the moon hanging in the sky above. “Off you go. You’re too tired for any more. Go home.”

He knew she was right, but to say goodnight . . . that would be to shut the door on so many dreams. He hesitated, but she’d already stood and ducked under the rotting leather sheet that formed a makeshift door. He had to follow, feeling even more wretched.

Cym turned to him. “So: after seven years, this is the end, for you and me. I do not know how to thank you for your kindness in teaching me.”

He tried to think of something charming and witty and roman- tic, but instead he was mute. She put a bony finger to his lips. “Shh.” She pressed something into his hand and he looked down at it: a copper amulet of a rose. The Rimoni Rose. He gripped it tight, and suddenly realized he was crying.

“Oh, Alaron, you idiot!” Cym stepped into him, pecked his cheek, and then she was two feet away, four, ten, and then the shadows of the old wall had swallowed her and she was gone. Maybe forever.

The People's Will

I've been saying it for the last couple of years, but no one appears to be listening to me! Vampire stories are a dime a dozen in this day and age, most of them with nothing original to differentiate them from the rest of the pack. Yet by mixing his own tale with Russian historical fiction, with the Danilov Quintet Jasper Kent created something truly unique, compelling, and thoroughly enjoyable!

The People's Will is the fourth installment in the sequence, and Kent continues to write with aplomb, pushing this story forward toward a grand finale which should be terrific! Once again, the author delivers on all fronts!

Here's the blurb:

Part historical adventure, part vampire thriller — the fourth dark and dazzling novel in Jasper Kent's 'Danilov Quintet'.

Turkmenistan 1881: Beneath the citadel of Geok Tepe sits a prisoner. He hasn'’t moved from his chair for two years, hasn'’t felt the sun on his face in more than fifty, but he is thankful for that. The city is besieged by Russian troops and soon falls. But one Russian officer has his own reason to be here. Colonel Otrepyev marches into the underground gaol. But for the prisoner it does not mean freedom, simply a new gaoler; an old friend, now an enemy. They return to Russia to meet an older enemy still.

In Saint Petersburg, the great vampire Zmyeevich waits as he has always waited. He knows he will never wield power over Tsar Aleksandr II, but the tsarevich will be a different matter. When Otrepyev delivers the prisoner into his hands, Zmyeevich will have everything he needs. Then all that need happen is for the tsar to die.

But it is not only the Otrepyev and his captive who have returned from Geok Tepe. Another soldier has followed them, one who cares nothing for the fate of the tsar, nor for Zmyeevich, nor for Otrepyev. He has only one thing on his mind – revenge. And it'’s not just Zmyeevich who seeks the death of the tsar. Aleksandr’'s faltering steps towards liberty have only made the people hungry for more, and for some the final liberty will come only with the death of the dictator. They have tried and failed before, but the tsar’'s luck must desert him one day. Soon he will fall victim to a group that has vowed to bring the Romanov dynasty to a violent end — a group that calls itself The People’'s Will.

More than two decades have elapsed since the events chronicled in The Third Section. This time, the historical backdrop for this novel is the period during which the People's Will, a group of revolutionaries, sought to bring the dictatorship of the Tsar to an end. Unlike its predecessor, in which the Crimean War acted only as a set-up to get certain characters into play, in The People's Will the brewing revolution takes center stage and influences basically every plotline and protagonist. Once again, Jasper Kent's flair and his eye for historical details capture the minutiae of the day-to-day life in Russia during that particular epoch and create an evocative narrative that never fails to dazzle the eye.

It was interesting to see the evolution and character growth in Dmitry's POV. To say that his life has changed would be an understatement, so it was great to see events unfold through his eyes. The most fascinating point of view, however, has to be Iuda. Through his POV and backstory, we learn so much about vampires and how/why he became the man who has left such an indelible mark in the series thus far. Mihail was another interesting addition to the cast, which now spans generations. It's captivating to realize just how all the threads that comprise this grand historical tapestry are all woven together. And the Zmyeevich POV was a treat, if only to discover more about this vampire's history. Characterization has always been a highlight in the Danilov Quintet and it's certainly no exception with The People's Will.

Both Thirteen Years Later and The Third Section occasionally suffered from pacing issues. Not so with this fourth volume, whose rhythm never falters from beginning to end. The more the story progresses, the more you need to find out what's going to occur next. I went through this one in a few sittings and now I can't wait for the final installment to be released!

I mention this in every single review: if you are looking for an intriguing blend of Russian historical fiction and paranormal fiction, Kent's Danilov Quintet is definitely what the doctor ordered. If you want to read something different, this series deserves the highest possible recommendation. Indeed, this should intrigue and satisfy even the most jaded genre fiction readers!

Hard to put down.

The final verdict: 8/10

For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Extract from Kay Kenyon's A THOUSAND PERFECT THINGS + Giveaway

I have a signed copy of Kay Kenyon's A Thousand Perfect Things for you to win, courtesy of the folks at Premier Digital Publishing. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Here's the blurb:

Kay Kenyon's The Empire and the Rose was hailed as "a star-maker", "a magnificent book", "audacious", and "the most ambitious science fiction epic of the current decade", garnering starred reviews and comparisons to Larry Nivens and Stephen R. Donaldson.

In this epic new work, the award-winning Kenyon creates an alternate 19th century; two continents on an alternate earth: scientific Anglica (England) and magical Bharata (India.)

To claim the powers of the legendary golden lotus, Tori Harding, a Victorian woman, must journey to Bharata, with its magics, intrigues and ghosts, to claim her fate, and face a choice between two suitors and two irreconcilable realms.

It is 1857. After millennia of seafaring, and harried by the kraken of the deep, in a monumental feat of engineering Anglica has built a stupendous bridge to Bharata. Bharata's magical powers are despised as superstition, but its diamonds and cotton are eagerly exploited by Anglic colonials. Seething with unrest over its subjugation, Bharata strikes back with bloody acts of magical terrorism.

Despite these savage attacks, young Tori Harding yearns to know if Bharata's magics may also be a path to scientific discovery. Tori's parents hold little hope for her future because she has a club foot. Therefore they indulge her wish to have instruction in science from her famous botanist grandfather, even though, as a woman she will be denied a career in science by the male-dominated scientific societies. Though courted by a friend of the family, Captain Edmond Muir-Smith, Tori has taken to heart her grandfather's warning not to exchange science for "married slavery."

Emboldened by her grandfather's final whispered secret of a magical lotus, Tori crosses the great bridge with her father's regiment and Captain Muir-Smith. In Bharata she encounters her grandfather's old ally, the Rana of Kathore, his rival sons, and the ancient museum of Gangadhar, fallen to ruin and patrolled by ghosts.

In pursuit of the golden lotus, Tori finds herself in a magic-infused world of silver tigers, demon birds and the enduring gods of Bharata. As a great native mutiny sweeps up the Rana's household, her father's regiment and the entire continent of Bharata--Tori will find the thing she most desires, less perfect than she had hoped, and stranger than she could have dreamed.

The rules are the same as usual. You need to send an email at reviews@(no-spam) with the header "PERFECT." Remember to remove the "no spam" thingy.

Second, your email must contain your full mailing address (that's snail mail!), otherwise your message will be deleted.

Lastly, multiple entries will disqualify whoever sends them. And please include your screen name and the message boards that you frequent using it, if you do hang out on a particular MB.

Good luck to all the participants!

And here's an excerpt so you can see what the book is all about!

Elizabeth Platt is a teacher bound for the land of Bharata, crossing over a great oceanic bridge, along with her friend, the story's major character, Tori Harding.

The women's tent shuddered in the gusts. Jessa had been reading aloud to the other two women by the lamplight, but Elizabeth felt uneasy. With the wind whipping about, she had visions of the book wagon's tarp coming undone and the rain doing its worst. The original batons had been very secure, but with Mrs. Harding riding prostrate in the book wagon during the days, Elizabeth worried that the tarps might now be neglected.

"I'll be gone only a few minutes," she declared, rising from her seat and throwing on her rain cape.

"You must let Jackson escort you," Jessa said, thinking she meant to make use of the privy.

Elizabeth ducked into the storm, pulling her hood securely over her head, and peered into the rain. Jackson was in the servant tent, no doubt, but she had only a few paces to go to check on the book wagon. No one was anywhere visible, not even the soldiers, having all retreated to tents. They had lanterns within, which threw a pallid light on her path. The Bridge rose and fell like an animal striving to be free of bondage. On her way she staggered against the carriage and careened on, growing more and more concerned for her books as the wind whipped stray cords and sent litter scudding.

At the book wagon, the tarps were holding, but one end flapped a little loose. She wished she had packed the books in another layer of oil-cloth. She had not foreseen that to make room for Mrs. Harding to lie down during her nauseous bouts, they would have to restack the books to make room down the middle, bringing the book stacks higher than the sides of the wagon. She untied the cords at the corner, bending to the task of making a good square knot.

It was just then that she felt more than heard a disturbance a dozen yards from her, out in the water. The ocean rose up, turning a most curious shade of turquoise. By all that was holy, it was an animal, rising from the water. Might this be an octopus such as Tori had seen? But in her heart, Elizabeth knew what it was. Slowly, she lifted her chin to look up into the eyes of an enormous kraken.

It was black against black, impossible to clearly see, yet its presence was palpable. Her mind, stunned in fear, yet noted odd details: the scales glowing green, the slick fin on its back, a wide face looking down on her. Surely it must be a phantom produced by her imagination. For if it was a beast, how could it maintain its position in the thrashing ocean?

With a sickening thump, it threw a great paw on the bridge railing. She was going to die.

Well then, she vowed, the books must not be forfeit. She gave a stout pull on the knot, drawing the cover down to protect the lovely paper. But flesh was weaker, exposed. To die in the jaws of the kraken would be merciful compared with the fate of the cow which had been hauled into the air and then submerged in the endless depths. She pressed trembling against the wagon, realizing with dismay that if she had not secured the knot, she might have thrust aside the edge of the tarp and scrambled into the wagon. Drawing breath, she prepared to scream to draw the guards.

A flash of sheet lightning.

Her scream died. She saw the kraken most clearly. The creature had let go its hold on the rail of the bridge and sank down a few feet, bringing its vast face on a level with her own. Oh, it was not a phantom, it was all animal, all teeth and nostrils and eyes, eyes like lanterns lit by the storm, its whiskers cascading water. It regarded her, oh indeed it did, with the delight of a lord about to enjoy a favorite repast.

That was her first thought. Her second was that it had seen enough and would proceed on its way.

And it did. It fell away as though it had never been. She thought--though the lightning had passed--that she saw a coiling tail humping up and slithering down.

Elizabeth fell to her knees. A moaning sound came to her ears. She was making a most remarkable sound, a guttural cry of terror and relief that soon subsided into a whimper. That would not do. Elizabeth Platt did not whimper, not in the face of a classroom of unruly tenement children nor a kraken from the abyss.

After a few minutes she heard Jackson calling for her. She stood up, smoothing her dress, trying to think how she would explain her dreadful state, her sopping hair, her shaken visage.

"Miss Platt," Jackson said as he hurried forward.

Cracks of rifle fire came from down the Bridge.

A shout from nearby as a sergeant rushed half-dressed from the nearest tent, pulling up his trousers. Then on every side the tents erupted with soldiers bearing rifles and swords. Officers shouted their men into formations.

Underneath yells of the troops and the howl of wind, from the distance came wild bellows like foghorns gone mad.


Colonel Harding leapt onto a stack of crates to get a view over the rail, into the churn of the sea. Cries of "kraken" came from all sides, but he could see none in the dark; he heard them, though, trumpeting at a distance.

Down the line, an explosion lit the Bridge, a magazine having caught fire. A tent burned, crackling and hissing. By this light he saw a dozen soldiers keeping formation, firing in sequence into the blackness, pray God finding a target. Heavy rifle fire came from forward on the line. There must be several of the monsters, all probing for weakness.

"How many?" Colonel Harding demanded as his adjutant rushed up to him.

"Five or fifty, sir, I do not know! They no more than rise up, than they're gone again!"

Harding felt the Bridge shudder. Good God, were the creatures attacking the Bridge deck itself? That was a greater peril than any other. "Shoot through the deck holes!" he shouted at soldiers who now swarmed around him. He jumped down, determined to get off a shot at the next passage of a kraken.

The deck rose up like a peaked roof. From under the grating came a grinding rattle that shook the pontoon, skewing it nearly out of line with the next segment. Soldiers fell, muskets clattering aside just as a foaming wave rushed over the lowest point, sweeping up his adjutant and carrying him away. Harding heard his scream as the surge threw his body against the rail and unto the very back of the kraken that now emerged from its passage under the Bridge.

The creature's long neck and head swiveled. Its jaws clasped down on the major's head and shoulders, snapping his bones.

"God damn it, shoot!" Colonel Harding cried at the stupefied men. He rushed to the railing which had now settled into mere humping chaos, and fired into the monster's neck, but his adjutant was gone. The kraken plunged down.

All along the bridge, ragged volleys spewed out but likely with little effect, as their kraken targets were one with the turbulent ocean, their movements cloaked in storm and waves.

Harding gathered the men near him and raced with them toward the civilian camp, but even as they drew near, they heard high-pitched screams.


Rifle fire was thick outside Tori and Jessa's tent, and the air filled with acrid smoke. Elizabeth was out there somewhere, alone. Tori rushed to the tent flap. "Stay here!"

Jessa threw herself forward, grabbing Tori's arm. "No! You can't go out!"

"Stay here!" Tori wrenched away and shoved out the tent flap into the storm. Wind-blown waves scudded over the rails, and men knelt by the carriages, shooting into the black, boiling sea. Fire engulfed a tent, barely slapped down by the salt water that seemed to come from every direction.

"Elizabeth!" she shouted. It was fruitless to call, so great was the roar of sea and fire and rifles. But there, just beyond the tent, she glimpsed her, bonnet gone, hair whipping around her, helped along by Jackson, as they labored to make progress up the Bridge. Tori was soaked through, her clothes weighing her down like an anchor, but she lurched forward to help. Then came a sound like the very mouth of the sea, a roar from a throat that must be many yards long, half-howl, half-screech. It brought Tori to her knees, as though a blow had struck her. The howl went on and on, filling her mind with its nightmare strength. How was it possible for an animal to produce such a sound?

Around her, soldiers were firing up at an apparition, but it was like shooting peas at a maddened bear. Hunkered down, face pressed into the heaving deck, she could not bear to look up at the thing.

And then she did. A great head and body towered over the bridge. Oh, it was all scales and cascading water, and whiskers jutting like lances. Somehow the kraken rose very high in the sea, balanced over the scurrying life forms under it. It paused horribly, looking down on the burning tent. God in heaven, it was going to devour the tent, and Elizabeth was right in the path. Tori sprang up, staggering, wildly lurching, and ran. She did not know why, nor what she could do, but she screamed for Elizabeth to back away, to dive clear of the descending jaws.

But it was too late.

Down they came. Serrated teeth tore at the flaming tent and hoisted it into the air and thence into the sea. Tori rushed through the cascading, flaming remnants, aware that she would die, stunned by the prospect of death at sea, death at all.

Ken Scholes contest winner!

Our winner will receive a full set of Ken Scholes' The Psalms of Isaak series, compliments of the folks at Tor Books! The prizepack includes:

- Lamentation (Canada, USA, Europe)
- Canticle (Canada, USA, Europe)
- Antiphon (Canada, USA, Europe)
- Requiem (Canada, USA, Europe)

The winner is:

- David Kartzinel, from Laguna Niguel, California, USA

Many thanks to all the participants!

Win an Advance Reading Copy of Scott Lynch's THE REPUBLIC OF THIEVES

I'm giving away my ARC of Scott Lynch's upcoming The Republic of Thieves! For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Here's the blurb:

With what should have been the greatest heist of their career gone spectacularly sour, Locke and his trusted partner, Jean, have barely escaped with their lives. Or at least Jean has. But Locke is slowly succumbing to a deadly poison that no alchemist or physiker can cure. Yet just as the end is near, a mysterious Bondsmage offers Locke an opportunity that will either save him or finish him off once and for all.

Magi political elections are imminent, and the factions are in need of a pawn. If Locke agrees to play the role, sorcery will be used to purge the venom from his body—though the process will be so excruciating he may well wish for death. Locke is opposed, but two factors cause his will to crumble: Jean’s imploring—and the Bondsmage’s mention of a woman from Locke’s past: Sabetha. She is the love of his life, his equal in skill and wit, and now, his greatest rival.

Locke was smitten with Sabetha from his first glimpse of her as a young fellow orphan and thief-in-training. But after a tumultuous courtship, Sabetha broke away. Now they will reunite in yet another clash of wills. For faced with his one and only match in both love and trickery, Locke must choose whether to fight Sabetha—or to woo her. It is a decision on which both their lives may depend.

The rules are the same as usual. You need to send an email at reviews@(no-spam) with the header "SABETHA." Remember to remove the "no spam" thingy.

Second, your email must contain your full mailing address (that's snail mail!), otherwise your message will be deleted.

Lastly, multiple entries will disqualify whoever sends them. And please include your screen name and the message boards that you frequent using it, if you do hang out on a particular MB.

Good luck to all the participants!

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now download Michelle Sagara West's Into the Dark Lands for only 0.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

War has its cost, and the Servants of the Bright Heart and the Servants of the Dark Heart have been locked in a struggle that has defined life—and death—for millennia. But the end is coming, and only the Lady who has served the Bright Heart for the whole of her immortal life has seen it, in a vision that spans time and demands the highest of prices.

Erin is a healer, and against the nature of her birthright she has learned to wield a sword and use it to bring death to the enemies of her people. Scarred by the losses that war always demands, she is the chosen champion of Light and the enemy of darkness.

But no magical sword or simple quest awaits Erin. Her journey and her doom lie in the Dark Heart’s stronghold, and in the hands of her people’s greatest enemy.

Extract from James Gunn's TRANSCENDENTAL + Giveaway

Thanks to the generosity of the folks at Tor Books, I have two copies of James Gunn's Transcendental up for grabs! Winner of the Hugo Award for his non-fiction, named a Grand Master of Science Fiction by the Science Fiction Writers of America, and a president of both the SFWA and the Science Fiction Research Association, Gunn has written a number of novels and shorter works, some of which have been adapted for television. Gunn also has a strong academic background, being the founder of the Center for the Study of Science Fiction at the University of Kansas, where he has taught for many years. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Here's the blurb:

Riley, a veteran of interstellar war, is one of many beings from many different worlds aboard a ship on a pilgrimage that spans the galaxy. However, he is not journeying to achieve transcendence, a vague mystical concept that has drawn everyone else on the ship to this journey into the unknown at the far edge of the galaxy. His mission is to find and kill the prophet who is reputed to help others transcend. While their ship speeds through space, the voyage is marred by violence and betrayal, making it clear that some of the ship’s passengers are not the spiritual seekers they claim to be.

Like the pilgrims in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, a number of those on the starship share their unique stories. But as tensions rise, Riley realizes that the ship is less like the Canterbury Tales and more like a harrowing, deadly ship of fools. When he becomes friendly with a mysterious passenger named Asha, he thinks she’s someone he can trust. However, like so many others on the ship, Asha is more than she appears. Uncovering her secrets could be the key to Riley’s personal quest, or make him question everything he thought he knew about Transcendentalism and his mission to stop it.

James Gunn's Transcendental is a space adventure filled with excitement and intrigue that explores the nature of what unifies all beings.

The rules are the same as usual. You need to send an email at reviews@(no-spam) with the header "TRANSCENDENTAL." Remember to remove the "no spam" thingy.

Second, your email must contain your full mailing address (that's snail mail!), otherwise your message will be deleted.

Lastly, multiple entries will disqualify whoever sends them. And please include your screen name and the message boards that you frequent using it, if you do hang out on a particular MB.

Good luck to all the participants!

And here's an excerpt to get a taste of what the novel is all about!

The voice in Riley’s head said, “You almost got us killed.”

Riley looked around the waiting room. Terminal was the jumping-off place for anyone wanting to go farther out. There wasn’t much farther out, but he and an odd-assortment of passengers were heading there in search of something he was pretty sure didn’t exist.

The debris from the barbarian Minal attack had been cleaned up, but the reason for the attack was unclear. Maybe it was the weather here on the equator, first freezing cold, then wet and hot.

“April is the cruelest month,” his pedia said, “breeding lilacs out of the dead land, mixing memory and desire, stirring dull roots with spring rain.”

His pedia said things like that, and other things he found more comprehensible and less benign. “What is ‘April’?”

“A thousand years ago people on Earth used that word to designate a time of renewal when plants started to grow again after their winter death,” his pedia said. “When humanity ventured out among the stars, they brought words along that had little meaning there. Except war. That means the same everywhere.”

“I was born on Mars.”

“Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages,” his pedia said.

Riley ignored it, as he often did when it gave him nonsense from its immense mass of stored information. Maybe it was talking about the pilgrimage he and the others were soon to embark upon if the authorities here ever let them board the climber.

A few hours ago the barbarians who lived in the wild mountains attacked Terminal City and battled their way almost to the spaceport. They killed hundreds of civilized Minals and a few outworlders as well, including a couple of humans. Riley himself had dispatched half a dozen of the barbarians when they approached the barricaded port, shooting them in their vulnerable underbellies as they reared up to launch their spears and arrows, and killing the last one with his knife when it fought within reach.

Riley had questioned Minal officials, but their answers were the equivalent of a human shrug: none of the Minal knew what the raiders wanted, or they were reluctant to speculate, or the Minals and the outworlders had reached a communication impasse. To add to his woes, after the attack was over and a semblance of order restored, the Minal officials had been unable to explain why passengers in the spaceport had been forced to wait as much as forty-eight hours for their transfer to the ship orbiting above, or when they might be able to depart. The attackers took no booty and no slaves as they withdrew, only their wounded. Maybe they wished to delay the pilgrimage or to kill the pilgrims. Maybe the officials and the barbarians were working together. The announcement of the pilgrimage had aroused almost as much opposition as the rumors of transcendentalism itself.

Riley looked around. The waiting room was small—no more than twenty meters square—and cluttered with refugees from dozens of alien worlds. They had been living here in the waiting room and some of them had slept here, and their trash had piled up under the seats, the pedestals that passed for seats if you were built differently, and the supports used by some species. The odors of strange spices and fetid emissions were a miasma on the air currents; the way it smelled depended upon your origins and your organs. The far wall was transparent except for a cloudy portion in the lower left-hand corner where a barbarian arrow had nicked it and a couple of bullet holes had not been repaired. Through the holes seeped the decay of the Terminal tropical jungle. Beyond was the spaceport out in the bay with its standard space elevator like an almost-invisible black beanpole ascending into the clouds above; a climber waited at its base. Beyond that lay the Terminal jungle, green and orange and blue masses of vegetation ending at the mountains that entirely surrounded this basin except on the ocean side. Behind the mountains the reddish Terminal sun was setting in a gulf between the clouds. Afterward would come the Terminal night, far blacker out here in this remote region of the spiral arm than that on Mars.

Riley turned his attention back to the waiting room and its occupants, trying to identify who was a pilgrim and who was here on some other business. Playing this kind of game forced him to pay attention to details. No matter what the people who had implanted his pedia thought, he was no superhero. He was a survivor, and he had survived so far by paying attention. Most creatures didn’t. Most creatures died sooner than they should.

That heavy-planet alien standing on a tripod of its two trunk-like legs and its thick tail: it had been a stalwart in the fight against the barbarians, hurling them aside with ease and sustaining cuts that seemed to heal as they were being sustained. It was not paying attention now, with two of its eyes closed and its short proboscis swaying. Riley didn’t think it was a pilgrim: heavy-planet aliens already thought they were perfect. It was probably a trader or an envoy, or maybe even a vacationer enjoying the exhilaration of low-gravity worlds.

A tank with treads, like a motorized coffin, stood in front of the window—a poor location for a creature whose fragile life-support system needed this kind of protection. The tank was decorated with engraved designs that Riley would have liked to examine more closely, but alien sensitivities were unpredictable. He had no desire to cause interspecies conflict, but the tank, for that’s what it most closely resembled, piqued his curiosity, if for no reason other than its unusual exterior. The tank had no windows, no obvious means of observing the outside world, as if the outside world was irrelevant or the occupant, if there was an occupant at all. It was impossible to discern anything at all about the interior of the tank. For all he knew, the tank itself might itself be the alien creature; or, if there was an alien within, it might already be dead or near-dead and being sustained by some high medical art.

On the other side of the window stood a tall, spindly creature, its head, like a yellow flower in the heat of the day, nodding forward on a stem-like neck. Several extensions protruded from its body, like stems; fluids could be observed coursing through them and up the torso that was scarcely larger than the extensions. Riley would have thought it no good at all in a fight, but during the barbarian attack, he had noticed it slicing the armored neck of a barbarian with one swing of an arm.

A couple of small, wiry humans sat together. One was dark-haired, the other, blond. Riley couldn’t be sure what gender they were. Maybe they weren’t sure, either. Riley judged them to be members of the space crew. They moved a bit sluggishly on-planet, but they had acquitted themselves well against the barbarians, acting decisively, efficiently, and cooperatively.

The next person he saw was a small alien who reminded Riley of pictures he had seen of weasels—a pinched muzzle of a face, if it was a face, and small, shifty eyes, if they were eyes. It had fought like a weasel, darting in and out to deliver fatal blows with a knife. It might be, he thought, another space crew member, or maybe a pilgrim. He inspected and catalogued others before he came to the woman. She sat on a pack of belongings to his left and to the right of the weasel-like alien. There were thirty-seven in the waiting room, not counting the Terminal officials—a couple other human males; a barrel-like Sirian with small, hooded eyes and a round hole for a mouth; an Alpha Centauran with a feathery topknot, a fierce-looking beak, and vestigial wings; and several whose home world he could not identify. He had saved the woman until last. She sat like a cat, relaxed but lithe, as if she could spring into action at a touch. She had dark hair and blue eyes, a combination that was striking even if she wasn’t beautiful—her features were regular and her eyes were large, but they moved restlessly; moreover her mouth was too firm and her chin too set. But somehow she seemed just right for what she was and Riley thought he would like to know her, and maybe he would. She was a pilgrim, he thought, and she had accounted for as many barbarians as he had.

He was still pondering her status, when the heavy-world alien woke up, or perhaps had not been asleep after all. It clomped across the floor to the platform that served the quadruped Minals for a desk and said something that Riley’s pedia translated as “My name is Tordor, and we will leave now!”

Tordor would be someone to watch.

Within minutes the announcement came over the P.A. system in Galactic Standard that the climber would depart in half an hour. It was more like an hour.

* * *

The climber was primitive, no more than a huge metal box with grippers, as befitted a frontier planet. On more advanced planets, climbers offered private rooms, food, and windows to view the planet below or the starry sky above, and sometimes canned entertainment on viewers of various sorts. Here pedestals and seats lined the walls, with a single window on each side; otherwise the walls were bare. A cubicle at one end provided privacy for creatures that required it for elimination or ingestion, and a large open area in the middle left space for creatures that rested lying down. Dispensers at the end farthest from the privy offered several kinds of fluids but no solid food. Instructions told travelers to bring their own nourishment, and to provide their own protection against thieves and predators.

The climber was a cattle car and the passengers were cattle. The trip to geosynchronous orbit would take seven days; it had started an hour ago with a subtle jar and a grinding noise from the grippers. If the waiting room had been odorous, the climber was worse. It smelled already. More than half of the creatures from the waiting room were crowded in, including the heavy-planet alien. It stood in front of Riley.

A series of grunts came from it that Riley’s pedia translated as “I am Tordor. That is not my real name, which is not suitable for your voicing system. I am designated after my planet of origin, in the galactic custom.”

“Tordor,” Riley said. “Good work back there.” Tordor could take that as either a compliment on his fighting during the barbarian attack or his ultimatum to the officials.

Grunts: “You, too.” The barbarian attack, then; the ultimatum was SOP. “Protective association is wise.”

“I agree. But how do we trust each other?”

Grunts: “We enlist others. You pick one. I pick another. Two each. One from each always on guard.”

“Good,” Riley said. He approached the woman. “My name is Riley. This is Tordor. We’re forming a protective association for the trip up, and you’re invited to join.”

“I’ll take care of myself,” she said. Her voice was low but confident.

“And a good job you’ll do, too,” Riley said cheerfully. He led Tordor to the two space crew types, who introduced themselves as Jan and Jon, although it wasn’t clear which was which. They accepted.

Tordor picked the flower-headed alien. It produced a swishing sound by swinging its stem-like extensions. His pedia identified the swishing sounds as language but could not interpret. “It is from Aldebaran,” Tordor grunted. “Self-identified as flower child four one zero seven. It accepts.” Tordor went on to the coffin-shaped vessel, which had trundled onto the climber under its own power, and stood silently near one end. “This creature does not identify itself,” Tordor grunted, “and spurns our offer of association.”

Tordor completed his part of the group with the bird-headed Alpha Centauran. Neither Tordor nor Riley proposed approaching the weasel, but Riley suggested keeping an eye on it, and perhaps on the Sirian as well.

At the end of thirteen hours they had climbed more than sixteen hundred kilometers. In the last hour, standing at the window, he had watched the sky turn black and the stars appear—paltry as they were. He saw Terminal become a partial sphere and felt gravity slowly drop to what felt like about 50 percent. The loss of weight improved his energy levels and his spirits, which always were depressed by the thought of trusting his life to a meter-wide film or the centimeters-thick window through which he gazed. He looked around and saw that even the pachyderm-like Tordor moved with something approaching grace.

They conversed briefly about organization and the deficiencies of bureaucracies.

“Hierarchies are far more efficient,” Tordor said.

“Democracies encourage progress,” Riley said.

“Progress is bad,” Tordor said.

“The galactic powers agree,” Riley replied.

“No more wars,” Tordor said.

“We can agree on that,” Riley said. The wars had nearly destroyed the galaxy before the various sapient species had decided to make a peace that allowed no one to gain an advantage on pain of everyone else ganging up on them. Tordor, from a heavy planet with a hierarchical organization based not on birth but on seniority, believed in stasis, in keeping everything, people, culture, politics, the way they had always been, maybe because Tordor’s culture thought it would survive the centuries and others would fall.

Tordor was a pilgrim; Riley had been wrong about that. But Tordor didn’t say why.

By the time Riley felt it wise to get some sleep he had gotten acquainted with Jon and Jan. Jon was the dark-haired one, Jan, the light-haired. They were space crew hired to serve on the starship Geoffrey. Riley didn’t like the name of the starship; he never liked ships with people names, even if they were human names.

Previously the brothers? Sisters? He couldn’t tell … had worked on a freighter, but some months earlier they had jumped ship. He had been right about them, anyway, although he had never heard of anyone jumping ship in space; it didn’t seem possible unless they had been given planet leave, and who would give or accept leave on a planet as barren of attractions as Terminal?

Neither Jon nor Jan volunteered any information about gender, and Riley didn’t ask. Before they arranged sleep times, the members of Riley and Tordor’s protection association agreed on a rotation for keeping watch. Riley took the first one and woke Jan for the second. Before he went to sleep, with his head upon his single bag of belongings and his hand upon the gun tucked under it, he told Jan to keep his—or her; he still wasn’t sure which—back against the wall and to watch everybody, Tordor included.

He awoke suddenly with his hand around the wrist of the weasel-faced alien.

* * *

The weasel made a gesture that could have been a shrug of apology and retreated to a corner. Riley looked at his hand. It was still holding the weasel’s arm. The end of the arm—it was not quite a hand—had a knife in it. The other end wasn’t bleeding, as if the blood vessels had immediately shut down. Riley looked behind him. Jan was slumped on the bench, asleep or unconscious. The flower-headed alien stood on hairy, rootlike feet a couple of meters away, its head drooping.

Riley dropped the arm with the knife still clutched in what passed for a hand and got to his feet. Jan was still breathing. Riley felt his pulse and smelled his breath. Jan had been administered a subtle soporific, Riley’s pedia told him; it would degrade into harmlessness in an hour.

He shook Jon awake and pointed to Jan. “He’ll be okay,” Riley told Jon. “No thanks to you,” he told the flower child. It did not acknowledge his words. Maybe it too had been sedated, but Riley’s pedia provided no insights into alien physiologies.

By this time Tordor had opened his eyes. The large alien took in the scene with a quick swivel of its head. “So,” he grunted. “It begins.” Riley picked up the arm and carried it across the floor to the corner where the weasel-faced alien crouched. “I think this is yours,” he said.

The weasel accepted the arm and laid it at its own feet. It said something that sounded like modulated whistling. Riley’s pedia didn’t interpret, but Tordor grunted, “It says it saw your guards asleep. It feared someone would do you harm.”

“Tell it I regret detaching its arm,” Riley said.

“No matter, it says,” Tordor reported. “Arms easy, life hard.”

Riley laughed. He was beginning to feel a sneaky admiration for the weasel’s bravado.

When he got back to his sleeping place, the dark-haired woman was sitting nearby. “It could have killed you,” she said.

“You saw it?”

“I don’t need much sleep. I see a lot of things.”

“And you didn’t think it was worth warning me?”

“It was none of my business. If it killed you, it would be because you weren’t tough enough to survive. And if you’re going to be a pilgrim, you’ll need to be tough. Only a few of us will survive.”

What makes her so sure about that? He kept his question to himself.

“Who said I was going to be a pilgrim?” So she was a pilgrim, as he had thought, and if he could keep her talking, he might get a better idea of where she fit in with this pilgrimage crowd.

“You’re here,” she said. “It didn’t intend to kill you.”

“How do you know?”

“It had the opportunity before you awoke.”

“That’s what it said. It said it was protecting me.”

“It was the only creature that approached you.”

“Thanks,” Riley said. He didn’t want her to think he needed help in figuring out what the weasel wanted. Neither did he tell her that his pedia had awakened him as the weasel approached and that he had pretended sleep until the last moment.

But he didn’t know what the weasel wanted. He thought about it as he and Jon tried to revive Jan. Whoever had put Jan to sleep also may have had something similar for the flower child, but that implied a level of preparation that challenged belief. Of course the flower child could be part of the conspiracy, and could have administered the knockout chemical to Jan and only pretended to be asleep.

When Jan stirred, stretching and yawning and apparently feeling no aftereffects of the drug except guilt, he/she/it had no memory of anyone approaching or any sting of injection or an odor other than the universal stink. “I’m sorry,” it said.

“They were ready for us,” Riley replied.


“Whoever they are.”

“It won’t happen again,” Jan said, and Jon nodded in agreement. “We’ll be ready for them.”

“Get some sleep,” Riley said.

“It’s still my watch,” Jan said.

“I don’t feel sleepy,” Riley said.

When he sat down on the bench Jan had vacated, Tordor was rocking back on its tail a meter or so away, but its eyes were open, looking at Riley.

“What did you mean,” Riley asked, “‘So it begins.’”

“Long journey,” Tordor grunted. “Many perils. Many die. Many wish pilgrimage to fail.”

“Many forces,” Riley said. “Many motives.” His pedia processed the words as a series of Tordor-like grunts, which led Riley to respond in the same sort of clipped syntax as Tordor. The pedia needed time to translate languages with which it was unfamiliar.

Tordor waved his proboscis in a gesture that swept the room.

“Right,” Riley said. “Who are pilgrims? Who are anti-pilgrims?” Maybe, he thought, there are no legitimate pilgrims at all. Maybe they were all attempting to sabotage the pilgrimage. That would be an irony even the transcendental gods could enjoy.

They conversed for another hour, partly keeping awake, partly feeling each other out. As best they could in their limited common vocabulary, they discussed the reasons why this new religion might create universal fear.

“Surely,” Riley said, “every creature, every species, wants to be more than it is.”

“Not so,” said Tordor, “since only a few could transcend—if transcend possible at all—and leave other species behind.”

“We have a myth,” Riley said, “of the hero who ventures into a region of supernatural wonder, encounters fabulous forces, wins a decisive victory, and comes back with the power to bestow boons.”

Tordor replied, “We have story like that but ours is leader blessed by the gods who pass their god-gifts to leader’s tribe.”

Riley studied the elephantine alien. “And yet you venture forth.”

“My elder commands,” Tordor grunted.

They fell silent, and soon Tordor had rocked back upon its tail and closed its eyes. Riley looked around. The flower child was standing straighter now. Perhaps it was conscious again, if it ever had been unconscious. Jan and Jon were asleep at his feet. The weasel-like alien was huddled in the far corner, his abandoned arm at his feet, apparently unmissed, but the knife the arm had held was gone. The coffin-shaped alien had moved a meter or so during all the activity. Riley had not seen it in motion. The woman sat on a bench a few meters away, her legs drawn up against her body with her arms folded across them and her eyes looking at Riley. When their gazes met she didn’t look away.

And Riley knew that in his bag was an innocent object he had not placed there. The weasel had put it there before the attack, and the attack, if that was what it was, had been a diversion.

* * *

Riley awakened to a sense of danger. He had fallen asleep sitting up, in a chair, his bag under his feet. He hadn’t intended it, but three days of alert readiness, except for that brief hour or so before the weasel approached, had caught up with him. Or maybe he had succumbed to the same strange soporific that had affected Jan. Now his pedia had awakened him again. Jon and Jan were asleep nearby. The flower child’s head was drooping once more, and the Alpha Centauran was crouched beside the frame, his top feathers alert. Tordor was still asleep, rocked back on its tail. The woman sat in the same position, her knees drawn up. She still looked in his direction.

Something was wrong.

The woman felt it, too. Her arms clasped her legs tighter. Her eyes were wider, and her expression seemed to ask, “What woke you? What is about to happen?” Or maybe she had a pedia of her own.

Nothing had changed. No, the alien coffin had moved again. Now it was against the far wall. But that alone was not alarming.

Then he understood. The speed of their travel had increased. Not enough to change Riley’s feeling of gravity but enough for his pedia to detect, as well as the small increase in the noise of the ancient motor powering their ascent with the aid of the focused laser beam from beneath.

Something exploded! The climber was beyond the atmosphere, and no noise reached them, but Riley felt the impact on his feet and his buttocks. His bag rose in the air and thumped back to the floor as the climber began to gyrate and its passengers were tossed from side to side like bags of grain.

Riley reached out to grab Jon and Jan and tugged them to the bench. “Hang on!” he said. He turned to help the woman, but she had her legs under the bench and her hands gripping the edge as she dodged flying bodies.

The space-elevator ribbon had parted—or had been parted. But the climber wasn’t falling. It was being pulled upward like a weight on the end of a long string. The release of the ribbon’s tension had imparted a wild swing to the climber, and the counter-balancing weight on the other end was plunging them toward outer space.

At least they were not falling. That was hopeless doom. But being flung into space in their barren box was only doom delayed.

The flower child stood in its frame, alert and swaying. The Alpha Centauran grasped the frame for support. The weasel flew past toward the other end, followed by its arm, but it swung itself around like an acrobat so that its legs could absorb the impact. The alien coffin seemed to have anchored itself against the far wall.

Riley dodged Tordor as the other hurtled past, and into the wall beside him. The heavy-planet alien was too big and too dense to try to stop. But Tordor braced itself on its legs and tail, facing the wall.

The violent motion began to slow as the pull from above dampened their gyrations.

“Something wants to stop this pilgrimage,” Tordor grunted.

“Something seems to have succeeded,” Riley replied.

“Who’d want us dead?” Jon asked.

“Yeah,” Jan said.

“Maybe it’s one of us,” Riley said. “The alien in the box over there, the woman, Tordor here, me…”

“The ribbon was cut below,” Tordor grunted.

“A mistake?”

“A miscalculation?”

“Who is to say?” Riley responded. He did not tell Tordor about the change in the rate of the climber’s ascent before the explosion. If that had not happened, the ribbon would have parted ahead of them instead of beneath. Someone knew enough about the climber’s motor and how to change its speed, and about the explosive charge and when and where it would be set off.

“What’s going to happen to us now?” Jan asked.

“Yeah,” Jon said.

From his feeling of weight, Riley judged that their speed was increasing. “We’re going to fly into space with enough velocity to leave this system. Of course that will take a millennium or so, and by then we all will be dead. In fact, even if we brought a lot of provisions, our food won’t last for more than seven days, and air and water not much more than that.”

“Gee,” Jon said. “I never knew one of these strings to fail.”

“Yeah,” Jan said.

“It didn’t fail,” Riley said. “It was blown apart.”

“Golly,” Jan said.

“Yeah,” Jon said.

“We’re going to go on a pilgrimage, all right,” Riley said, “but it wasn’t the one we intended.” He looked at the woman. He knew she had heard the conversation, but she didn’t say anything. She had straightened out her legs, though. Her feet were on the floor and her hands held the edge of the bench.

Riley continued to look around the room, to take stock of the effects of the explosion. Two aliens had been killed in the gyrations of the climber, a third had broken a leg, and a fourth had lost a tentacle. The half-dozen informal self-protection groups combined efforts to treat injuries and ration supplies and protect individuals from predation. Clothing and other materials were shared with those who suffered from the increasing cold.

Through all the mutual aid, Riley kept thinking it was all useless, like maintaining law and order when the wave front of a supernova was scheduled to arrive in a few days.

Seventy-one hours of desperate fatigue and soreness later Riley felt a thump and the increased weight of deceleration. Creatures fought for a place at the windows, but only blackness, without stars, could be seen. An hour later, he heard more thumps, followed by the sound of the release of the airlock door beyond the privacy room. The fetid air inside the climber was invaded by the only slightly less fetid air of a spaceship.

“Boys,” Riley said to Jon and Jan, “we’ve been saved.”

They emerged, one by one, into the airlock of a ship. A party of space crew greeted them with food and drink and blankets, and received Jon and Jan with particular warmth.

Riley recognized one of them. He wore the insignia of a spaceship captain.

“Hello, Ham,” he said.

“Up to your old tricks, Riley?” the captain said.

“Thanks to you,” Riley said.

Malazan release dates update

Adam from The Wertzone recently reported that both Ian Cameron Esslemont's Assail and Steven Erikson's Fall of Light had, at least according to Amazon, been delayed.

As things stand, the Esslemont is scheduled to be released on March 27th 2014, while the Erikson should be published on June 5th 2014. So I contacted Simon Taylor, both ICE and SE's editor, to get the lowdown on these delays and that's what he had to say:

And Amazon’s right (for now) – and all things subject to change.

Hence, though nothing is set in stone, I have a feeling that these release dates could change again before both books see the light. For better or worse? Time will tell. . .

Musical Interlude

Cool tune. Quirky video. I think we should all try to channel our inner ninja!!

Margaret Weis and Robert Krammes contest winner!

Thanks to the generosity of both the folks at Tor Books and Margaret Weis, our winner will get his hands on the two volumes of The Dragon Brigade series! The prizepack includes:

- Shadow Raiders (Canada, USA, Europe)
- Storm Riders (Canada, USA, Europe)

The winner is:

- Christopher Adams, from Bertram, Texas, USA

Many thanks to all the participants!

This week's New York Times Bestsellers (August 19th)

In hardcover:

Neil Gaiman's The Ocean at the End of the Lane is down three positions, ending the week at number 9. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

R. A. Salvatore's The Companions debuts at number 10.

George R. R. Martin's A Dance With Dragons is up one position, ending the week at number 12. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

In paperback:

Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game is up one position, ending the week at number 2.

Stephen King's Joyland is down three positions, ending the week at number 5 (trade paperback).

George R. R. Martin's A Game of Thrones is up one position, ending the week at number 6.

George R. R. Martin's A Feast for Crows is up seven spots, finishing the week at number 9.

George R. R. Martin's A Clash of Kings is up one position, ending the week at number 12.

George R. R. Martin's A Storm of Swords is up one position, ending the week at number 13.

Ilona Andrews' Magic Rises is down fourteen spots, finishing the week at number 15.

Stephen King's Under the Dome is down three spots, finishing the week at number 20 (trade paperback).

Max Brooks' World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War is down one position, ending the week at number 21 (trade paperback).

Max Brooks' World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War maintains its position at number 21.

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now pre-order Kay Kenyon's forthcoming A Thousand Perfect Things for only 3.99$ here. The ebook edition will be released on Tuesday.

Here's the blurb:

Kay Kenyon's The Empire and the Rose was hailed as "a star-maker", "a magnificent book", "audacious", and "the most ambitious science fiction epic of the current decade", garnering starred reviews and comparisons to Larry Nivens and Stephen R. Donaldson.

In this epic new work, the award-winning Kenyon creates an alternate 19th century; two continents on an alternate earth: scientific Anglica (England) and magical Bharata (India.)

To claim the powers of the legendary golden lotus, Tori Harding, a Victorian woman, must journey to Bharata, with its magics, intrigues and ghosts, to claim her fate, and face a choice between two suitors and two irreconcilable realms.

It is 1857. After millennia of seafaring, and harried by the kraken of the deep, in a monumental feat of engineering Anglica has built a stupendous bridge to Bharata. Bharata's magical powers are despised as superstition, but its diamonds and cotton are eagerly exploited by Anglic colonials. Seething with unrest over its subjugation, Bharata strikes back with bloody acts of magical terrorism.

Despite these savage attacks, young Tori Harding yearns to know if Bharata's magics may also be a path to scientific discovery. Tori's parents hold little hope for her future because she has a club foot. Therefore they indulge her wish to have instruction in science from her famous botanist grandfather, even though, as a woman she will be denied a career in science by the male-dominated scientific societies. Though courted by a friend of the family, Captain Edmond Muir-Smith, Tori has taken to heart her grandfather's warning not to exchange science for "married slavery."

Emboldened by her grandfather's final whispered secret of a magical lotus, Tori crosses the great bridge with her father's regiment and Captain Muir-Smith. In Bharata she encounters her grandfather's old ally, the Rana of Kathore, his rival sons, and the ancient museum of Gangadhar, fallen to ruin and patrolled by ghosts.

In pursuit of the golden lotus, Tori finds herself in a magic-infused world of silver tigers, demon birds and the enduring gods of Bharata. As a great native mutiny sweeps up the Rana's household, her father's regiment and the entire continent of Bharata--Tori will find the thing she most desires, less perfect than she had hoped, and stranger than she could have dreamed.

Deleted scenes from Jason M. Hough's THE DARWIN ELEVATOR

I recently reviewed Jason M. Hough's The Darwin Elevator (Canada, USA, Europe). And to help promote the release of the upcoming sequel, The Exodus Towers (Canada, USA, Europe), which you can pre-order for only 5.99$ on Amazon right now, here's an excerpt which consists of a number of deleted scenes from Hough's debut that should please existing fans and maybe entice potential readers to give the series a shot!

Here's the blurb for The Darwin Elevator:

Jason M. Hough’s pulse-pounding debut combines the drama, swagger, and vivid characters of Joss Whedon’s Firefly with the talent of sci-fi author John Scalzi.

In the mid-23rd century, Darwin, Australia, stands as the last human city on Earth. The world has succumbed to an alien plague, with most of the population transformed into mindless, savage creatures. The planet’s refugees flock to Darwin, where a space elevator—created by the architects of this apocalypse, the Builders—emits a plague-suppressing aura.

Skyler Luiken has a rare immunity to the plague. Backed by an international crew of fellow “immunes,” he leads missions into the dangerous wasteland beyond the aura’s edge to find the resources Darwin needs to stave off collapse. But when the Elevator starts to malfunction, Skyler is tapped—along with the brilliant scientist, Dr. Tania Sharma—to solve the mystery of the failing alien technology and save the ragged remnants of humanity.

To learn more about the author and his work, check out Hough's official website.


Author’s Note:

SPOILER ALERT! If you haven’t yet read The Darwin Elevator, this sequence of omitted chapters may spoil certain elements of the story for you. Stop here! Read the book! Then come back!

If you have read Darwin, a little context: This sequence took place when Skyler crashed the Melville outside the city. Though everyone involved agreed these chapters were good, they were ultimately pulled for a simple reason: They were not germane to the story.

I knew this when I wrote them, but I had a problem that needed solving: I had to get Skyler out of the picture for a while. Indeed, in the first draft of the novel Skyler crash-landed nearly 1,000 kilometers from Darwin, met up with his old friend Skadz, got into some adventures, and finally returned to Darwin weeks later to pick up the story. Some of my beta readers were okay with this, but most could not get over the coincidence that Skadz would happen to be in the exact place Skyler crashed. I agreed with them, so I changed the chapters to what follows. That is to say, a crash-landing about 30 kilometers from Darwin, and a meeting with someone else entirely.

But another new subplot, added around the same time, eliminated the need for Skyler to vanish. I was too close to the book to see it though, and not yet good at culling my own excess. I left it in because I liked it. It had a real Stephen King vibe that I was quite proud of.

It was tough for me when I first spoke with the editors who offered to acquire Darwin. When asked about their editorial vision for the books, every single one of them brought up these chapters as something to remove. “The Clever chapters,” Mike Braff at Del Rey said. “I love them, but I think we can remove them to tighten up the pace and lower the word count.” It was tough for me to hear, but I knew it was the right move. Luckily, I’m able to share them with you here as a fun little glimpse into what could have been.


Jason M. Hough

Editor’s Note:

To say that I fell in love immediately with The Darwin Elevator is not an exaggeration. When Jason’s agent pitched me a sci-fi adventure that read like a John Scalzi and Joss Whedon collaboration, I had my reservations, but I was ultimately blown away. The rest of Del Rey were too, and we were off to the races with an awesome new sci-fi trilogy!

But have you ever wondered about that liminal period between acquisition and publication? Well that, dear reader, is where I come in. My job as an editor is to help authors tell the best possible versions of their stories. Often that means helping them rephrase something, or providing insight into why a scene may not be working. We'll go back and forth with a series of notes until we have something that we both love.

Sometimes, however, I have to cut large passages out wholesale. I loved the Clever chapters (what we're grouping here as A Clever Ploy). The scenes are dark and funny, with loads of suspense and danger. As a character, Clever is deeply layered, being both friendly and menacing at various times. All in all, there is some great stuff here. But I had it earmarked for a cut just the same.

Why? For me, it came down to pacing, which is one of the more ephemeral elements that an editor has to be aware of in a manuscript. In the chapters leading up to A Clever Ploy, Skyler received an important mission from Neil Platz, and had to get back to Darwin ASAP in order to save the city. Ultimately, I felt that having Skyler get wrapped up with Clever for an extended amount of time would kill the tension and focus of getting back to Darwin and saving humanity. Moreover, I wanted to see what Skyler would do on his own in the wilderness, and how he would manage the many-kilometer trek back to Darwin through subhuman territory.

Thankfully, Jason is a dream to work with, and once I shared my notes on the Clever scenes, he immediately took my advice and wrote up a new section. “But, Jason,” I had said at the time, “don't lose those Clever chapters. Maybe someone will be interested in reading them someday. Like a deleted scene on a DVD.”

I hope you, the reader, have enjoyed The Darwin Elevator and will further enjoy a peek into our “deleted scene.”

Happy reading!

Mike Braff


The Clever Ploy

Gunn, Australia

Skyler aimed for a dried-up pond, centerpiece to a public park at the southern end of the town. Once it may have been a nice space, with families strolling along the paved walkway under the shade of irrigated trees. The pond, now bone-dry, dominated the piece of land. From above it looked like a bomb crater, lined with skeletal trees as victims.

When he hit ground a sharp pain lanced up his leg. The gash from the rooftop antenna seared, and warm blood trickled down his leg into his boot.

He stumbled and rolled in the dusty bowl of the former pond. With no further need of his parachute, and no time to collect it, he let it drift away in the hot wind.

From all around, the disturbing howl of subhumans grew to a fever pitch.

Skyler put sunset at an hour away. He needed shelter, someplace he could defend while bandaging his wound.

Grunting with effort, he limped to the rim of the pond, unstrapped the rifle from his chest, and scanned the town. Most of the structures were small shops in various states of decay. Further north, toward the center, he could see the tops of small stores and a church steeple. Some distance west a water tower, the tallest structure around, stood against the red sky.

Nearest to his position, he spotted a two-story building with some sort of shop on the bottom. A stairway outside led up to a covered walkway that ringed the second floor. Skyler noted that all the windows had been broken long ago, but at least he could reach the second floor and get his bearings while using the stairs as a natural choke point.

Good enough, he decided, and limped toward them.

He didn’t bother to keep low, out in the open—a dark figure against a sandy landscape. Best to move as fast as possible. He ignored the pain in his shoulder, the wound on his calf, and jogged toward the building.

When he was twenty meters from the stairs, three subhumans came around from the front of the building. They moved as one, protecting one another as they hunted. A typical pack, and Skyler felt glad for it. Not the collected mass like there was in Hawaii. He took a knee and opened fire, dropping them easily. They hadn’t even seen him yet.

Throughout the town the howls grew louder, and he knew there were far more subhumans here than he had bullets.

At the sound of more scuffling footsteps coming from the street, Skyler sprinted the rest of the way to the stairs, grunting back the searing pain in his calf.

Reaching the stairway, he tossed the gun’s strap over his shoulder and climbed, two steps at a time.

Halfway up, the rusted stairs collapsed under his weight. Skyler heard the bolts splitting an instant before the structure fell, and used his last step to jump toward the walkway at the top. His arms just made it over the lip of the landing, but immediately began to slip on the dusty concrete.

Below him the stairs crashed into the dirt, creating a calamitous sound surely heard for miles.

He had to ignore it. Reaching to his left, he grabbed a rusted iron bar—part of the railing of the second-floor walkway. To his amazement it held. Pain bloomed anew in his shoulder as he struggled to lift himself onto the platform. Legs dangling, kicking for momentum, he groaned through clenched teeth. It took all the strength he could muster to pull his upper body onto the walkway.

Below, more subhumans arrived, hissing and growling like animals. A child led the way, perhaps ten years old, with filthy wild hair and a mangled arm. It jumped with astonishing power toward Skyler’s dangling legs, sheer savagery in its bloodshot eyes.

He felt the small hand grasp his boot, and then Skyler felt its added weight in his tenuous hold on the rusty iron bar. Without thinking, he reached down with his right hand and swatted the subhuman’s filthy fingers from his boot.

The child fell.

Only then did he realize his mistake.

The gun, slung over his right shoulder seconds before, slid down his arm. Skyler fumbled for it, but the strap slipped past his fingers, and he watched helplessly as the weapon dropped to the ground below. It landed in the wreckage of the stairs.

Skyler flung himself over the railing and onto the walkway proper. He lay back on the platform, clutching his wounded leg with both hands, and forced his breathing into a regular rhythm.

He stayed still for a long time, staring at the sky. Around him, the cries of the formerly human receded with the setting sun. He could hear a group of them sniffing about below, grunting at one another like dingoes.

He fought against heavy eyelids, not wanting to sleep. Sleeping felt like giving up.

Give up, he thought to himself, darkly amused. Give up what?

He thought of everything he’d lost. The Melville, Samantha and the rest of the crew—his entire world. The weight of it all brought tears to his eyes.

I haven’t got a damn thing left to give up.

Skyler put the thought out of his mind. Focus on the immediate, he told himself. Survive.

As the last light of the sun faded, Skyler set to work bandaging his leg, using fabric torn from his shirt. He knew he could not stay here long. The creatures below might eventually lose interest, but clearly the town was infested with them. There would be no easy way out.

Satisfied with the wound dressing, Skyler rolled over and pushed himself to the edge of the walkway. In the darkness below, he could make out the shapes of a few subhumans. Some milled about, most crouched in the dirt, still as death. He focused on the wreckage of the stairs and thought he could see a glint of light coming off his dropped weapon.

As he considered his options, one of the subhumans—the small one again—noticed him, and began to snarl. The sound paralyzed Skyler, so inhuman. The other creatures took up the call. As if spurred on, the small one began to leap for the platform where Skyler lay, but fell short by half a meter. Then it started to use the wall beside it as leverage, and sent Skyler’s heart racing with a swipe that missed his face by mere centimeters.

Skyler knew the next attempt might succeed, yet he lay still, frozen in place. I’m going to die here, he thought. The subhuman child leapt again, savage hunger plain on its face.

The tip of one dirty fingernail scraped Skyler’s nose. No more than a tickle. The child-creature’s mouth curled in frustration as it fell back to the ground. It landed on the stairway debris and stumbled, its ankle folding in an unnatural way. A howl of pain erupted from the wounded animal as it rolled in the dirt.

The tingle on the end of his nose coaxed Skyler from his fog. He crawled back from the edge of the walkway and sat up against the wall, intent to be silent and invisible. Let the monsters below get bored and move on.

Several hundred meters away, against the crimson sky, he saw the silhouette of the water tower.

High ground. The first step in figuring out where he was and how far the journey to Darwin would be.

The clouds above were thinning. From where he sat, Skyler could see only the southern sky. He decided to crawl around the walkway to the north face of the building and scan the horizon for telltale lights of climber cars on the Elevator cord. If he was close enough to Darwin, and the sky clear enough, it would give him his bearings.

His leg throbbed. The ache in his shoulder, from the melee aboard Gateway, had almost abated, provided he didn’t lift his right arm too high. He rubbed at it, coaxing out the tenderness.

Crawling around the walkway suddenly seemed like an impossible journey. Like traveling to Gateway Station itself. He felt the energy drain from him as the surge of adrenaline wore off. His focus shifted to simply breathing in long, regular measures. His vision blurred from sheer exhaustion.

With nowhere to go, and no energy to move anyway, Skyler lay down and closed his eyes, one hand rubbing at his shoulder, the other clutching the bandaged wound on his calf.


Sleep never came.

His mind instead replayed the chaotic escape from Gateway. Guilt consumed his thoughts. No matter how he tried to justify it, he’d left his crew behind. He’d fled. Whatever sense that decision might have made at the time, he struggled to recall it now.

He tried to picture the crew, languishing in some high-tech brig aboard the space station. He could hear their conversation, wondering where he was. If he was okay. Would they assume he was being held separately? Or maybe that he’d died, in heroic fashion, trying to save them?

He lay still on the cold concrete until well after dark, imagining a heroic death. A preferable outcome to dying here, cold and alone, in God-knows-where.

The mere thought of hiking his way back to Darwin, however far it might be, exhausted him. Part of his mind kept offering the same question: Why bother?

Platz and his dubious plan to save the Aura, if it even needed saving, could sod itself, Skyler thought. What did an immune need with the Aura? If it failed and the rest of the ungrateful world perished, he could finally have some peace and quiet. No more scavenging, no more damn request lists and desperate pleas.

“Stop that,” he whispered to himself. He shut his eyes and willed the pessimism back into the corners of his mind.

His thoughts turned to Prumble. If nothing else, he should find Prumble. Tell him what happened. The big man could help, or give him a corner of his vast garage to convalesce.

And then Skyler remembered that Prumble had a sat-comm. A direct link to Platz. At the very least, Skyler could find out what happened to the crew. That, he thought, would dictate what he would do next.

It was a first step—a tangible goal.

Hours passed. A crescent moon offered poor light, augmented every few minutes by lighting that rippled in clouds to the east like a distant war. A poor way to navigate unfamiliar territory, but the subs should at least be dormant now. Sleeping, conserving heat and calories like any wild animal.

Skyler sat up with a grunt. He checked the bandage on his leg and found that only a little blood had soaked through. The wound looked minor despite the pain. He could only hope that infection would not occur.

Time to get moving.

With care not to make noise, he crawled to the edge of the walkway where the stairway had collapsed, and studied the ground below. The subhumans had indeed wandered away. That or they were well hidden in the pitch-black shadows beneath him. He held his breath and listened for a time. No sounds of their ragged breathing.

Skyler gently lowered himself over the edge, hanging on by his fingertips. The ache in his shoulder returned as he began to swing his legs. When the pain became unbearable he let go, swinging his fall to land away from the pile of metal and concrete.

He took the impact on his good leg, rolling as he landed, vaguely proud of the nimble move. Standing, he pushed himself back against the wall of the building and waited. No cries arose from the surrounding buildings. Satisfied, he knelt before the remains of the stairway and retrieved his weapon.

The weight of a gun in his hands bolstered his confidence. He crouched and did a half-walk, half-run along the wall, gun pointed at the ground a few meters ahead. He peered around the corner at the wider road beyond. Dusty and trash-strewn, and blessedly empty. The building he stood next to had once been an art supply store, the faded sign told him. The windows were long ago shattered, and he didn’t need to see inside to know the place was a ruin. He tried to think of anything useful to scavenge from an art store but came up blank. Not worth the time to look.

More shops lined the rest of the street, all in similar states of disrepair. None were more than three stories tall. Skyler suspected that nothing in this poor town remained unscathed by the ravages of rioting, abandonment, and plague. He’d seen a hundred just like it. He pictured his beloved Amsterdam, languishing in a similar state.

All the great cities of man, left to rot. All except Darwin—and Darwin would be along soon enough.

He looked for the water tower to get his bearings. At least four hundred meters west, and perhaps a hundred meters south. He knew from experience that subhumans were drawn to sound and movement. Most had lost their ability for higher thought, but their primal senses remained. Indeed, the curse of SUBS was that one primal emotion would intensify to the point where it drowned out all other thoughts, the result made all the more unpredictable by the fact that one never knew which emotion would take over. Anger, fear, lust . . . even humor. He’d seen a few in the early days who laughed hysterically at everything around them. They tended not to survive for long.

Gun held low, safety off, Skyler set out. Many of these buildings likely served as shelter for the subhumans, and they all looked straight out onto the road. He needed a path that kept him out of view.

He crossed the street to the building directly opposite, formerly a bookstore, and stopped to listen. Hearing only the barest whisper of wind, he pressed on past the broken shop windows to an alley just beyond. The narrow space, barely the width of a car, was pitch-black. This he followed one careful step at a time until it met the next junction, which appeared to be simply a wider alley, something the shop owners could use for deliveries. To the west Skyler could see the water tower, looming black against the starry western sky.

Another three hundred meters, and now straight ahead.

He stepped up his pace and moved to the end of the backstreet. A wide avenue crossed his path, dotted by the husks of abandoned cars and a commuter bus that had burned. Charred passengers still sat in some of the seats, dry and black. A sculptor’s demons set against a nightmare background.

The alley’s end marked the edge of the business district. Beyond was a residential part of town, with evenly spaced homes nestled in weed-infested yards. One section had succumbed to fire, many years earlier. The homes were too spread out to offer much in the way of cover. Skyler decided to keep moving rather than find a more advantageous route.

A soda bottle ruined his silent passage. In the near blackness, he kicked the old thing, sending it rolling and hopping along the cracked asphalt. The clicky-clack sound went on and on, calamitous in its volume after so much silence.

Like clockwork, the cries of newly agitated subhumans returned, emanating from the empty buildings that lined the street.

Skyler made a run for it.

Pumping his legs as hard as his injury would allow, he beat a direct path to the tower. He could hear rapid footfalls behind him.

A quick glance over his shoulder—at least ten of them were in pursuit, and gaining. He forced his attention ahead, to face the tower. Then he caught movement to his right. Another sub emerged from an old house and raced toward him. Skyler squeezed off a burst of bullets from his hip. The pitiful creature pitched forward to a sliding stop, utterly limp.

The deafening crackle of the machine gun brought a chorus of mindless howls from every direction.

Skyler pushed himself harder, lungs burning as he sprinted the last few meters to the tower. With despair he realized there was no way up. He would have to try and climb one of the metal support struts.

A ladder lowered as he approached.

Without thinking twice, he leapt on to it, grunted at the impact, and climbed.

A blissfully short climb, as luck would have it. Four meters up, the ladder ended at a narrow metal stairway that spiraled up the outside of the round tower. Behind and below, he heard a subhuman hit the ladder. Skyler turned in place and crouched, taking careful aim. He saw only the whisper of a shadow as the creature cleared the top of the ladder. He fired a single round, catching the skinny thing full in the face. It fell backward to the dirt below.

Skyler turned and took the rest of the steps two at a time. Behind, he heard a small crowd of subhumans clamor for access to the ladder.

Never mind. Run.

At the top of the stairs he saw the shadow of a man against the sky, a hand outstretched.

“Duck,” the man said.

Skyler ducked.

The man raised a pistol. A big one, silver and gleaming in the faint moonlight. Skyler covered his ears just as the shooting began.

The stranger unleashed a flurry of rounds. Unable to turn and look, Skyler listened to the result, hearing bodies tumbling over the stairway rail, landing with a wet smack on the dirt far below.

“Inside. Now,” the man said, pulling a makeshift lever. On the street below, Skyler heard the iron ladder clang to the ground.

At the center of the tower’s roof, Skyler saw an open hatch, warm light glowing from within. He crossed to it and hopped onto a narrow ladder that descended inside.

At the bottom he stepped off and took in his surroundings. The cavernous space held no water, those days long past. On the bare metal floor, Skyler saw a glowing lantern, a bedroll, and a large camping backpack.

“Cover your ears!” the man yelled from above.

Skyler complied, this time a split second before a huge explosion from below rocked the entire structure. He felt as if inside a bass drum struck with zealous ambition. Even his teeth vibrated from the blast.

Above, the man got on the ladder himself and closed the top hatch. He tightened it down with a wheel on the underside, a mechanism that had obviously been added recently. He’d had probably rigged both it and the ladder release.

“Concussion grenade,” he said as he lowered himself down the rungs. His thin voice came in odd, deliberate syllables. “Thin the herd, scare the rest away.”

Skyler stared at the stranger in disbelief. “Do you live here?”

“Yes. Well, until dawn,” he said. “Been here a few years, but it’s time to move on. The subs are changing, you know. Working in big groups. I don’t like it, so I found a little place in the outback that is nice and secluded. Been moving my stuff there for weeks. You were aboard that aircraft? The one that crashed?”

Skyler nodded.

“What happened?” the man asked.

The events of the past twenty-four hours swirled in Skyler’s head. “I don’t know where to start.”

“How about a name? I’m Clever.”

The man, African in descent, had a mop of curly black hair that came down to his shoulders. He wore a black coat and fashionable blue jeans, both in near-pristine condition. The silver handgun rested in a holster on the man’s hip. “I can see that,” Skyler said. “The ladder rigging. The hatch. Very clever.”

“I meant Clever’s my name. A boyhood nickname,” the man said. “Clever Cleveland, they called me.” He let out a deep breath, shook his head repeatedly as he ran his fingers through unkempt black hair.

“I see. Call me Skyler.”

“Any crew? Were they able to get out?”

Skyler winced. He decided he wasn’t ready to share that story. “Just me aboard.”

Clever watched him with suspicion. “We can search the wreckage after the fire stops.”

In the flickering lantern light, Clever sat down and folded his arms over his knees. A boyishness in the action contrasted with his apparent age. Skyler wondered if he was really immune, or just somehow mildly afflicted. He’d met immunes in the Clear a few times before. One, Takai, had joined the crew and proven a valuable friend. The others had been unstable at best. Immunity from SUBS did nothing to help the loneliness of surviving outside Darwin, year after year. It took a certain kind of person. A certain kind of mentality.

“You look exhausted. Grab a nap,” Clever said. “I’ll wake you at midnight—they should have lost interest by then. That’s when I gotta bust for home. Not getting caught here during the day.”

Instinctively, Skyler glanced at the gun on Clever’s hip.

“I’m the least of your worries,” the man said. “Relax. We’re safe in here.”

Or trapped. Skyler decided not to show a lack of trust. He could lie down and pretend to sleep, and think through his options. He removed his backpack and flight jacket, laying the latter down as a makeshift pillow.

“Drink some water first,” Clever said, handing him a canteen.


He nodded. “I’ll cook up some beans later. You must be hungry.”

“Again, thanks.” Skyler tipped the canteen back, letting the cool liquid pour into his dry and dusty throat. It tasted sweet, pure. “Damn, that’s good.”

“From a well by my new place,” Clever said, “a day’s walk from here. Can’t say more than that till I know you better.”

“Where are we, anyway?”

“A town called Gunn, according to the signs.”

Skyler took another sip and handed back the canteen. Gunn was only ten kilometers southeast of the Aura. He could make it to Darwin on foot, and in half a day if his leg permitted. “Thanks, really,” Skyler said.

“Sleep, man,” Clever said. “You’ve got a few hours.”


Derby, Australia

The smell of baked beans coaxed Skyler from a bizarre dream about turtles with castles on their backs.

He opened his eyes to the high ceiling of the water tower’s interior. Light from a small flame illuminated the place in ever shifting patterns. He turned on his side, rubbing the sand from his eyes, to see Clever hunched over a portable butane stove, stirring a pot with a worn plastic ladle.

“Christ on the damn cross, that smells good,” Skyler said.

Clever paused his work and gave Skyler a stern, untrusting glare. “Do not take the Lord’s name in vain.”

Skyler froze at the vehement order. Clever’s eyes were wide and bulging. “I meant,” Skyler said, “the beans smell delicious.”

The expression vanished as quickly as it had appeared. “I found them in some poor bastard’s attic,” Clever said. “Lots of people around here hoarded stuff when the plague approached.” He tasted the thick brown mixture and tossed in a generous pinch of salt from a tin container. “Bit old, but keeps pretty well. Thank the Almighty for Preservall, eh? Best invention in human history, if you ask me.”

“What time is it?” Skyler asked.

Clever checked his watch, a gaudy piece made of gold and diamonds. Skyler noticed an extravagant tattoo on the man’s forearm, too faded to discern in the weak light.

“A bit after midnight,” Clever said. “Was going to wake you when supper was served.” He removed two coffee mugs from his pack. Both were chipped and faded, but they had been made to resemble the faces of Laurel and Hardy. Clever divided the beans between them and dropped a plastic spoon in each. “Tuck in,” he added.

Skyler accepted the offered mug with eagerness, shoveling a bite into his mouth almost before Clever could pull his hand away.

The beans tasted of hickory and molasses, cooked down to a stewlike softness. Skyler chewed anyway, drawing out the flavor as long as possible. He couldn’t recall the last time he’d eaten something that satisfied him so perfectly.

Clever sat in total stillness for thirty seconds, eyes closed, his mouth moving in a silent prayer. Finished, he opened his eyes and set to work on his beans with slow, deliberate bites. His spoon scraped the edges of the cup as he worked to scoop out every last bit of the meal. Skyler copied him, not wanting to be rude.

The spoon no longer effective, Clever set it aside with great care and proceeded to run his finger around the inner edge of his cup. He noisily slurped the remnants of the beans from his finger, so focused on the task that Skyler wondered if he’d forgotten what it was like to have company.

Clever glanced up as if hearing Skyler’s thought. “Sorry,” he said. “I have a scorched-earth policy. No food left behind.”

Skyler shrugged. He couldn’t fault that.

The stranger set his mug aside and began to break down the rusted old stove. Skyler watched as he poured a little water over it to cool it down, sending a puff of steam upward toward the roof.

After some time, Clever said, “How’s your leg?”

Skyler glanced at the bandage. It looked no more bloody than before he’d fallen asleep. “A scrape during my landing. It’s feeling better.”

“Can you walk?”

Skyler nodded.

“All right then,” Clever said. “Eat up. Time to go.”

Nodding, Skyler wolfed down his last few bites and returned the cup and spoon.

After a quick rinse, Clever tossed it all in his bag, then rolled up his own bed. Skyler did the same with his borrowed blanket and handed it over as well.

“Any bullets left in that thing?” Clever asked.

Skyler picked up the gun he’d brought from the Melville. He checked the clip. “Just five, but I have an extra clip.”

“Good,” Clever said. “Let’s go. Long walk ahead.”

“Where are we going?”

Clever pulled his backpack on. “I’ve got another little safehouse, about three klicks from here. Best to be back by dawn—keep the afflicted from following us there.”

The idea of some rest in a safe place, and some company, sounded good. Skyler could give his leg another day to heal before saying goodbyes and starting his trek back to Darwin. He nodded.

“You first,” Clever said, gesturing to the ladder that hung from the high ceiling.

Skyler had one foot on the bottom rung when the blow landed, and his world went black.


Spectacular, relentless pain throbbed in Skyler’s head when he came to.

He lay on his back against a cold metal floor. The ache in his head blared like trumpets at point-blank range. He rolled to his side, and the pressure of the floor on his skull abated, and some of the pain along with it. Gingerly, he reached up and touched the back of his head.

The lump there, big as a lemon, blossomed with fresh agony at his touch. Skyler yanked his fingers back and they came away sticky.

He lay still for a time, eyes closed, unable to think above the droning ache. Minutes passed. An hour, for all he knew. The torment subsided enough that he could form a thought.

My gun.

He shot out his hand and patted randomly around the cold floor. Every movement of his head threatened to send him back to unconsciousness. He kept as still as possible, swiping his hand across the steel surface in vain.

He found nothing. He realized then why the floor felt so cold: his clothes were gone, too. He felt his body and found that only his undershirt and undershorts remained. Even his socks were gone.

Skyler closed his eyes and inwardly cursed Clever’s name.

More time passed in absolute silence and total darkness.

With a grunt, Skyler forced himself to sit up. He blinked as pain bloomed once again at the back of his skull. Less now—not so much that his thoughts were clouded. He tried touching it again and found he could put a little pressure on it.

Complete blackness surrounded him. He couldn’t see his own hand in front of his face.

“Hello?” Skyler said. His own gruff voice echoed slightly. Still inside the water tower, then. He crawled until he found the wall, and then he moved in a circle around the entire inside of the structure to build a mental map of the place. Still crawling, he moved back toward the center and reached up for the ladder.

His hands found only the stale air. He stood and reached higher, swiping his hands about like an idiot. Still nothing. Skyler tried to jump for it. The motion brought a new pang from his head, enough to send him back to his knees. He clutched at his skull and groaned with agony. Clever had left him for dead. Stolen everything. His gun, his boots, his clothes. Locked him inside a steel tomb.

Skyler leaned back and shouted as loud as he could. “Bastard! Goddamn bastard!”

A brief, tinny echo punctuated the words.

He staggered his way to the sidewall again, hands outstretched to feel for the surface. Once there, Skyler ran his fingers in wide circles, reaching as high as he could. He probed for something he could get purchase on. A bolt, a joint ridge . . . anything at all.

He did this around the entire perimeter until he wondered if he’d already made a full circle. He might have gone around twice; there was no way to tell.

His back against the wall, Skyler slid down to a seated position and hung his head. His throat felt dry as sun-bleached bones, and his stomach grumbled, empty again. He figured he’d been unconscious for some time.

He tried to recall the floor of the water tower when lit. It sloped gently toward the center, where Clever’s camp stove and backpack had been. Skyler crept to the spot, brushing his fingertips against the rough floor. A small, flat area marked the center. He searched for a drain or hatch. The absolute darkness filled him first with annoyance, then anger. He probed and probed but found nothing. No grooves, no hint of any way through.

A dull metallic thud caught his attention. Skyler sat perfectly still and listened. Another thud. It came from his left, from outside. On his hands and knees, Skyler crawled that direction in slow, smooth motions, not wanting to make any noise of his own.

Footsteps now. Outside, on the spiral stairs that encircled the building. They had an odd cadence. Tap-thud, tap-thud. Skyler tilted his head to follow the noise as it wound its way around and up, toward the roof.

A spark of fear ignited in him. He stood and pressed himself against the cool metal wall. Despite the total blackness, he looked up, and waited.

Above him he heard the sound of the top hatch opening. A weak light poured in, and Skyler could see a small circle of sky, a faint purple. He put the time at dawn.

Blinding light suddenly washed over him. He threw a hand up to block the worst of it. A flashlight, and a damn strong one at that.

“Rise and shine, O cursed one,” came a voice. Clever’s voice.

“What the bloody hell are you doing?” Skyler shouted. “Lower the ladder!”

“Tsk, tsk, tsk,” Clever said. “The bloody hell. The bloody hell indeed.”

He’s insane, Skyler thought.

“Lower the ladder?” Clever went on. “The ladder can go no lower. The ladder can only go higher.”

“Clever, listen. You can have my things, just please . . . extend the ladder and let me out of here.”

An odd grunt came from above, abruptly cut off as if part of Clever had tried to answer and another part had stifled it. Except the noise sounded different somehow.

“You’ve sinned, Skyler,” Clever said. “You took the Lord’s name in vain. Unacceptable behavior in my flock. You must repent before you can ascend the ladder and join the angels on high.”

“Fine, I repent. Forgive my poor choice of words.”

Soft laughter drifted down from the blinding light. “Lies only deepen your debt to God, and to me.”

The desperation within Skyler transformed into hopelessness. He knew then that nothing he said would placate the man. He was a Jacobite, clearly, and even more insane than most.

Yet he had come back. He must have some reason for returning, beyond the simple act of taunting his captive. Though insanity could explain that.

A different tactic, then, Skyler decided.

“Clever,” Skyler said calmly, “what do you want? Why’d you come back, you goddamn son of a bitch?”


Skyler flinched at the booming voice, amplified by the enclosed steel tomb.

“I’ll say whatever the hell I want,” Skyler shot back. “Damn you, Clever! Damn you and your pitiful, imaginary God!”

The light above faltered. Skyler heard an exhale filled with shock and frustration. Good.

“You mock me? You mock the Lord in my presence?”

“Go fuck yourself, Clever,” Skyler said as casually as he could muster. “Leave me the hell alone, or come down here and speak with me directly. I won’t participate in this conversation any longer.” With that he sat down, and folded his arms.

“You . . . what . . .” The light vanished. The hatch slammed closed with a deep crash that shook the wall at Skyler’s back. Above, Skyler could hear the sounds of footsteps on the roof of the tower. Clever paced back and forth.

Good, Skyler thought. Get agitated. Make a mistake.

Silence followed. Not more than ten seconds of stunning silence and absolute darkness, then the hatch opened again.

“You are a lost soul, Skyler,” Clever said, a shadow against the purple sky. His voice had lost its authority. He sounded sad now. Truly sad. “God says he wants me to test you. You must prove yourself before you can reenter the flock and ascend the ladder.”

Skyler kept quiet. A rustling above caught his attention, but he resisted the urge to look up. Then he heard another strange grunt. Strange enough that he did glance toward the roof.

He saw something falling. A bundle the size of a person.

The hatch slammed closed. All light once again disappeared.

Skyler heard a thump from the center of the floor. A gasp of pain, then silence, and then a long, anguished, inhuman groan.

“Clever?” Skyler said. Had the idiot jumped? Or slipped and fallen?

A muffled voice came down from the roof. From outside the hatch. “Your test begins, sinner. I will return in two days.”

Footsteps followed, clanging off the roof.

From the sheer blackness before him, Skyler heard a violent rustling sound, followed by ragged breaths. Snorting. Smelling. Then a voice, incomprehensible but nevertheless human.

No, Skyler thought. Not human. Subhuman.

A rush of fear flashed through him. Cool sweat rose to his skin. He braced his bare feet in the grime on the floor. Without thinking about it, his hands pushed at the wall. One last desperate search for anything he could use. A way to climb, or something loose he could hold as a weapon.

He found nothing.

His heart hammered. Blood pounded in his temples, in the veins along his neck. Phantom blotches of light began to swim across his vision. Skyler fought it back. He had to think. He had to be . . . clever.

The ironic thought almost brought a laugh to his lips. It broke the cloud of fear, and he took the opening to focus.

Skyler lifted his left arm straight out, extending his hand. He couldn’t see anything, but the last thing he wanted was the creature to get to him before he could raise a defense.

He listened. Sound and feel were his only friends now. The creature thrashed against the floor. It might have been hurt in the fall. Broken a rib, or a leg. Skyler should attack now, press that advantage.

Footsteps dashed the idea. The creature sprinted across the floor, to Skyler’s left. It managed only three steps before it crashed into the outer wall with a calamitous noise, shrieked and fell. More trashing filled the cavernous room as the animal righted itself.

Skyler took a few tentative steps away, to his right. Buy distance and time, he thought. Let the sub wear itself out. He could smell it now, the smell of sweat and urine and rotten meat. The scent of a wild animal.

The sound from across the floor stopped, and Skyler froze in place. He heard a slow, deliberate sniffing sound. Subhumans were, in the physical sense, human. Their sense of smell was no better, yet their total reliance on senses had sharpened them. In the enclosed room, Skyler had no doubt the subhuman would be able to locate him by smell alone. It was only on a question of how long it would take.

Not long.

The creature ran again. This time, Skyler heard the footsteps grow louder. One, two, three—

Skyler kicked. He braced his hands against the wall and thrust his leg straight out. In the dark, his timing and aim were off. The strength of the kick ended before the impact, and his foot only brushed the side of the sub. Not ideal, but better than nothing. The creature deflected off his leg and slammed into the wall again.

It struck out with wild rage. Sharp fingernails raked across Skyler’s upper arm. Ignoring the pain, he pushed out from the wall and rolled away, coming up in a coiled stance that faced where he thought—hoped—the creature was.

More silence, then sharp intakes of breath through the nose. Skyler centered the sound in front of him, and shifted his weight from foot to foot, ready to move in any direction.

It came again. Closer now, so Skyler waited for only two steps before he acted. The noise came slightly from his right, so Skyler dropped his left hand to the floor and swung his right leg out in a wide arc.

This time his kick landed. His leg whipped across the creature’s knees, sending it sprawling. It cried out in surprise and agony as it smashed into the floor.

Skyler pressed the attack. In total darkness, he followed the sounds and dove, knees first. He landed squarely on top of the creature and rained blows against the back of its head.

It flailed in a last, primal urge to survive. Skyler grunted as he struggled to keep on top of the thing. He grabbed two handfuls of tangled, rough hair and twisted. Twisted with all his strength.

With a sickening crack the neck broke. The creature went limp in the span of a heartbeat.

Skyler let go, hair sticking to his sweaty hands. He rolled off the subhuman and lay on his back, struggling to control his breathing. Many minutes passed before he regained calm. The last of Clever’s words echoed in his mind. “I will return in two days . . .”

Two days. The need to conserve strength came forefront in Skyler’s mind. He lay still, and breathed slow. After a time he rolled onto his knees and crawled to the wall again, for the simple reason that he didn’t want to lie next to a corpse.

His eyes felt heavy, but he resisted the temptation to sleep. He needed a plan. Possible conversations with Clever played out in his mind. He wondered if defeating the creature would be enough to earn his freedom. No matter what, he decided he would play the pensive, repentant sinner, as genuinely as he could, until Clever let him out.

Footsteps outside interrupted his thoughts. More clanging steps on the circular stairs, at a normal pace this time. Skyler couldn’t be sure if Clever had returned already, or if someone else had arrived. He thought it unlikely that another immune would be here. There probably wasn’t another immune within a thousand kilometers.

As the footsteps reached the roof, Skyler thought up a new plan. He crawled back to where he thought the subhuman’s body lay, and curled into a fetal ball on the floor near it.

The hatch opened above, and Skyler closed his eyes. He sensed the bright flashlight on the inside of his eyelids and knew that Clever had returned.

“Well, well,” the man said. A long pause followed, and then, “Sinner? You okay down there?”

Skyler lay as still as he could. His heart hammered, and it took all his self-control to hold his breath.

“I guess we have a tie,” Clever said to himself. “That’s . . . unexpected. But then God’s plans often are.”

A few long minutes followed in total silence. Then Skyler heard the telltale sound of the ladder being lowered. He kept still, straining his ears for any hint of the man’s location.

Quiet footfalls came from above as Clever worked his way down the ladder. The steps grew louder, though Skyler could tell the man was trying to keep quiet. He heard a noise from the floor and realized he’d lain down with his back to the center of the space, a bit of luck. He risked opening his eyes and saw the wall a few meters away, illuminated by Clever’s light. The beam swung around in confusing fashion, as if the lunatic had started dancing. Then the light clicked off, replaced by a weaker light from the small lantern Clever had used before.

In the warm yellow glow, Clever’s shadow appeared on the wall. Skyler tracked him as he took a few timid steps to the side and crouched down, apparently checking the body of the subhuman. Skyler could see the shape of a pistol in the shadow of Clever’s hand.

“Your soul returns to hell,” Clever said, “from whence it came. God have mercy on you.”

The shadow on the wall stood, and then shrank as the man walked toward Skyler’s spot on the floor.

Skyler closed his eyes.

Clever began his eulogy again. “Your soul returns to hell—”

Skyler rolled. He threw a punch as his body spun. Clever knelt a half-step away, his hands clasped in front of him in sincere prayer, one still gripping the pistol. An odd sight to see. The man’s eyes sprang open just in time to see Skyler’s fist.

The punch fell with perfect aim against Clever’s eye. Skyler felt a satisfying squish as the man fell backward, an awkward motion from his kneeling position.

The gun slipped from Clever’s hand as he braced for the fall, and it clattered away toward the center of the room.

Skyler jumped to his feet and prepared to punch again. His opponent surprised him with a nimble kick against the bandaged wound on Skyler’s calf.

White-hot pain erupted from Skyler’s leg and he lost balance. He fell hard against the steel floor, one arm underneath his body. Wind rushed from his lungs.

“Risen from the dead! Unexpected!” Clever shouted. Then the pain from Skyler’s punch seemed to catch up to him. He groaned and staggered. The moment gave Skyler a chance to draw a breath. He pushed himself up on one arm and struggled to get his good leg underneath him.

A powerful kick in the back sent Skyler down again. He managed to roll this time, and rolled again, and again.

“You’ve taken a path of treachery, Skyler, and to your peril. God’s wrath is on my side. Eternal love, too, but mostly that awesome wrath.” Skyler managed to get to his knees. The pain in his leg made stars swim across his vision. He felt faint, and he shook his head violently to dash the sensation.

He turned just in time to see Clever standing before him. The man threw a punch this time and it landed against Skyler’s cheek. A solid blow, but not enough to force a retreat. Skyler threw a punch of his own. His fist found only air as Clever stepped back. The action spun Skyler to one side and left him open.

Clever attacked Skyler’s midsection next. Skyler heard a crack, and pain lanced into his lungs like a hammer-driven nail. His next breath added salt to the wound.

Unsteady, Skyler clutched at his ribs and staggered away. The small lantern filled the room with exaggerated shadows, dancing across the walls in dizzying fashion. Blinking tears from his eyes, Skyler stumbled across the floor. He heard Clever laughing behind him. A low, rumbling chuckle.

“Lord, guide my fists,” Clever said. “The sinners shall fall and the righteous shall climb, all the way to ladder’s end.”

A glimmer caught Skyler’s eye. The pistol, oddly forgotten on the rusty floor. Skyler darted toward it, a drunken stagger. Each step brought a fresh wave of pain from his cracked rib.

“No you don’t,” Clever said. Skyler heard him rushing forward, exactly as he hoped.

Clever had the shorter path. He ran and dove for the weapon, his fingers curling around the butt as he slid in the grit that coated the floor.

With every bit of strength he could muster, Skyler leapt into the air and came down, knees first, as Clever rolled to aim the gun.

Skyler’s knees landed squarely on the man’s stomach. The Jacobite screeched as the air in his lungs rushed out. Skyler took a wild swing at the gun and knocked it loose again. It clattered all the way across the floor until it hit the wall with a deep clang.

Stunned from the impact to his abdomen, Clever lay almost still for a split second. It was enough for Skyler to rock himself forward, driving his forehead into Clever’s nose.

Bone shattered with a sharp crack. Clever tried to scream but had no air to do it with. A horrid, guttural sound came out instead.

Skyler rolled off the man. The ache from his ribs threatened to send him unconscious. He lay still on the floor as Clever writhed, hands covering the bloody mess of his face.

Struggling to his feet, Skyler tried to focus. Two options came to him: keep fighting or leave. He didn’t think he could take another blow. He rushed to the ladder and jumped for the rungs. The edges of his vision darkened and he only just managed to hold on. The cold metal bars felt reassuring in his hands as he began to climb with jerky, awkward motions. His left calf burned, and the right side of his rib cage throbbed. Even his knuckles screamed for relief, bruised from the punches he’d thrown.

“Oh God, oh God,” Clever muttered from below.

Skyler did all he could to swallow the agony that blared from every corner of his body, his mind. He climbed faster at the sound of Clever stumbling across the floor of the water tower. Not climbing, Skyler realized, but going for the pistol.

Four steps to go. Skyler pushed himself harder. His lungs burned. He focused on the circle of slate-blue sky above. He reached for the open hatch.

A shot rang out from below. Deafening in the enclosed space. Skyler flinched and almost lost his grip. He heard the whoosh of a bullet, felt the passing of it near his face. It ricocheted off the roof near him.

Skyler reached up and found the lip of the hatch. Grunting with the effort, he grabbed the round edge with both hands and pulled himself up, kicking his legs wildly to get over the side.

Another shot. This one hit the ceiling with a pocksound, punching clean through. On the roof now, Skyler rolled onto his back, took one solid breath, then came to his knees and slammed the hatch down.

Clever’s horrified shout was cut off as the round metal door closed.

Skyler spun the wheel to lock it in place. He rocked back into a seated position and then inched his way backward.

Two more gunshots sounded from below, neither puncturing the roof. Then the shooting stopped. Out of bullets, Skyler guessed. A strange silence followed, and he sat there for a while, just breathing until the pain in his side abated to something he could tolerate. He felt a lump forming on his forehead.

The sun cracked the eastern horizon, a bright line of fire between Earth and the heavens.

A cool breeze picked up. It carried the smell of rain, the hint of lightning. A clean smell, and comforting. Skyler found some strength there, and mentally he latched on to it.

With a long sigh he struggled to his feet. One careful step after another, he staggered to the railing at the edge of the tower. The steel surface felt cold on his bare feet.

Near the top step of the spiral stairs, he found his backpack and machine gun, along with Clever’s own gear. The sight of his supplies drained enough anxiety and pain from his mind that he could focus again. Grunting with effort, he knelt down and picked up both packs.

“Thanks for the food,” Skyler croaked. “Rot in hell, and take your God with you.” He didn’t know if Clever could hear him, and he didn’t care.

Skyler put one shaky hand on the railing and started down the stairs, one painful step at a time.


Gunn, Australia

Skyler awoke in total darkness.

He lay on a surface of cold metal, and it brought tears to his eyes. Back in the water tower, back in Clever’s trap. He must have passed out before getting far, and somehow the bastard had escaped and dragged him back.

Pain throbbed in his side from the cracked rib. He probed it gently and found his torso tightly wrapped in gauze. A vague memory of dressing the wound tugged at his mind, like a distant beacon in thick fog. He brushed his fingers along the floor until they crossed an edge and found vacant air.

His tears turned to those of relief. He lay on an operating table. Vague fragments of how he’d come to be there flitted through his mind. Wandering, staggering, through dark streets. Seeing subhumans in every shadow and knowing he would be powerless if attacked.

A veterinary clinic, gated and barred. He’d climbed to a second-story window and hauled himself in, thinking he would die from the sheer agony of it. Inside he had to crawl, lacking the strength to stand on two feet. He remembered tumbling down a flight of stairs to the first floor and lying at the bottom for a long time, expecting never to move again.

He did move, sometime later. Warm light poured in through the windows, shafts of gold and swirling dust. He crawled along the mildew-coated floor until he’d found the operating room. It had taken hours to get to a sitting position, then standing. He remembered rifling through the cabinets, tears of joy streaming down his face at the unmolested supplies there. Gauze, gel stitch stored in Preservall, anesthetic.

Twice more he’d passed out. Perhaps more times than that. Awaking in sheer black, half bandaged and on the floor. He’d slept then, and had woken in the meager sunlight that found its way to the room from the hallway. Parched and shaking with hunger, he’d pulled himself onto the gurney and finished dressing his wounds.

He’d made a sloppy job of it, too, but couldn’t find the energy to fix things. With a grunt he rolled off the table and pulled on his shirt and jacket.

On a high shelf in a supply room, Skyler found an unopened carton of distilled water. He drank greedily from it, letting the cool liquid spill down his neck and chest. After splashing some on his face, he poured the rest into his canteen and left the half-full bottle on the dusty floor.

Food eluded him. His stomach groaned at the unbidden memory of Clever’s delicious beans. Remembering anything about Clever with fondness made Skyler want to kick himself. After searching every corner of the clinic and finding nothing edible, he gave up. He hoped the water would give him enough strength to reach Darwin.

The rest of the day he spent sitting on the roof, looking north and west. The town of Gunn spread out before him like an untended hedge maze. It rippled in the distance, as the bright sun baked away the previous day’s rain.

Discerning a path to take was impossible from his low vantage point, so instead he focused on landmarks he could move between once the sun slipped under the horizon. His gaze came across the main landmark, a church steeple, and it reminded him of Jake.

The thought brought a new wave of grief over the fate of his crew. He realized with sudden, overwhelming clarity why he could never walk away from Darwin. Why he could never use his immunity as a vehicle to leave it all behind and make his own way, as Skadz had done.


With that single thought, a flame reignited within him: the drive he needed to forge ahead with the task Platz had given him.

If I don’t, Skyler thought, and the Aura fails completely, loneliness will be my only option. He’d be stuck on this pitiful rock with a scant few people to ever talk to. He might find people like Samantha, Jake, Takai, and Angus, sure. But also people like Clever.

And the chances were just as good that he’d never see another friendly face again.

He focused on the northern sky, where he thought he could just discern the line of the Elevator. If Darwin needed help, Skyler would give it. The alternative, he thought, was far worse.