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One of the worst traits of a writer is to not write. Not writing is easy. Know what else is easy? Finding anything else to do other than writing. When you don’t want to write, suddenly everything else becomes a lot more fun. Eating. Facebook. Staring at a dot on your screen. All far more entertaining than writing that next word.
In fact I’m kinda writing this post because I wrote a bit tonight, but now I don’t want to. So take that, unfinished manuscript! I don’t need you, I got my blog!
My first book was difficult because it was my first book. All sorts of crazy stuff goes on with your first book. Like a drunken nightmare.
As I work on the sequel to A Cold Black Wave, I’ve found it the most challenging yet. Even more challenging than writing a 324 page historical fiction novel. I’m actually reflecting back on Dustland with reverential glee compared to writing this sequel. Why?
ACBW 2 was never planned. I had a lot of background info and ideas from writing ACBW, but I never thought I would write a sequel until people asked for it. For the first time in my life, I’m writing something that wasn’t really my idea. Part of the joy of writing a new book is that amazing idea you have. That unique “gotta tell this story” feeling that lights a fire under you every time you sit down. No, even then it isn’t easy, but you can always lean on what originally inspired you.
I believe Nora Roberts said, “You can’t edit a blank page”.
But this doesn’t necessarily mean you always need to write IN your manuscript. As a “pantser” who writes without outlining, working on this sequel has forced me to write ideas out and…gasp…outline. I’m writing, but not writing. Yet its these particular challenges that develops us further. Write, but write with purpose, even if you’re not quite yet sure what that is. Have faith in yourself, because as writers we’re our worst enemy.
How many of you have been faced with writers block? Have you found some books of yours easier to write, and why? How many Oreo’s have you consumed in one sitting to keep your hands busy instead of writing?
The sequel has been slow going, but for non-writing-related reasons. I’m back in it though and wanted to post the second chapter (unedited, of course, so watch out!). A lot can and will change in the final draft. There’s a great deal of responsibility (or at least, I FEEL that way) in writing to expectations with a sequel. I want to get it right, but I also want to entertain. In the meantime, hope you enjoy!
If you missed Chapter 1 go here.
Music I listen to while writing this (Gotta be epic, of course):
Aggressive Expansion by Hans Zimmer
Introduce a Little Anarchy by Hans Zimmer
Dream is Collapsing by, you guessed it, Mr Hans Zimmer!
The sound of muffled yells seemed distant and trailing. Josh’s head moved, and with it, blurry outlines of moving objects. The noise grew in his ears as the fidelity of his environment slowly came into focus. The air thumped around him as he felt the pressure of concussions pressing against him in sporadic blasts. A soft glow emitted against his eyes, and Josh realized he was looking through a translucent visor with a digitized display with moving icons and informational readouts he couldn’t comprehend.
A soldier appeared over him as he tried to lift Josh to his feet. He couldn’t make out the details at first as the soldier blended with the scorched concrete of the building they were in, as if the armor had been cut from its very walls. Sunlight poured in from a broken wall nearby. The sound of heavy gunfire filled the streets outside with various caliber weapons discharging. One particular gun whined at a high pitch, and Josh heard the hail of projectiles emitting from its cannon.
“Get up Tedesco!” Josh heard the voice come through his own helmet. “We’re being overrun! Do you hear me?”
Chunks of concrete blasted inward just ten meters away from Josh and dust filled the room and roiled around them. The name “Sgt. Osgood” overlaid the soldier through Josh’s visor whenever he was within his vision.
Osgood pulled Josh to his feet and shoved his weapon back into his hands. “The box, where is it? Where’s Delange? My ID system is all fucked.”
Josh couldn’t speak. He was just with Leah. This can’t be real. Where the hell am I?
Another explosion sent half the ceiling down behind them and Osgood pulled Josh away, moving him with weightless ease. Josh’s disorientation increased with every question and every explosion. His mind couldn’t focus on anything and he felt trapped and helpless in his own body. Osgood’s voice triggered a response in his visor. Status of Delange: deceased. A yellow icon appeared on the left side of his visor. It read, “VX119”. When he turned his head towards it, the yellow icon centered in his vision and a wireframe outline of an oblong shape appeared through a concrete wall. Next to it, the red outline of Delange.
“Where are you going?” Osgood called as Josh shook off his disorientation and, through instinct, made his way across the rubble of the collapsed ceiling and through an open door to the next room. Delange lay face down with multiple blast marks pierced through the chest of his armor. Osgood appeared behind him.
“What is it?” Josh asked.
Osgood grabbed the smooth metal object and slid it onto his back. “They musta got you good askin-” A humanoid machine appeared on the street directly across from them, firing a heavy gun that thumped in measured paces. A target appeared through Josh’s visor that narrowed down on a specific point along the lower oblique of the machine. He raised his rifle and fired a short burst along the targeted point and the machine blew in half at the hip, sending the upper torso up and backwards through the air.
They ran out of the building as further explosions sent the upper floors crashing down. All ten stories capsized onto each other in free fall. Smoke carrying sandy particles rushed past and around them in a dense fog. Josh’s vision changed to thermal and the world turned monochrome, but the smoke no longer clouded their view. Heat signatures of other soldiers running from the battle came in and out of their visor as they passed by in the streets.
When the cleared the smoke, Josh’s vision returned to normal. Muzzle flashes sparked from dozens of windows in a row of pockmarked buildings ahead of them, covering the retreat of soldiers caught in the overrun like Josh and Osgood. They sprinted across a street and ducked behind a building to collect themselves.
“Unbelievable,” Osgood said, the sun reflecting off his darkened visor. Command sent him new orders electronically, a dynamic system that assesses all available units in a given area, their remaining armaments, and enemy disposition.
Osgood pressed a button on his helmet and the visor swung up, swiveling on pivots attached near the ears and exposing his face. He was young, but a month old beard and stale eyes made him look aged and weary. His left eyelid sagged with marked tiredness. “They’re already sending us back in. We’re counterattacking.” He shook his head and glanced around before staring deadpan at Josh. “How’s your charges?”
Josh didn’t know what he was asking, but instinctively he looked to his rifle. The visor relayed the info to him displaying the charge level. “F-Fifty five percent,” Josh said in an uneasy voice.
“Thirty,” Osgood said, replying with his number. “I wasted twenty eight of those goddamn things. They just kept coming.” He tilted his head back and took a deep breath. Above, trails of smoke crisscrossed against the blue firmament like scars. ADF pilots, outnumbered by the drones, tried to keep the soldiers on the ground safe long enough to move out in the open without being picked off by enemy rail cannons. Dozens of objects, small to Josh and Osgood at this distance, danced about in the sky. Lights flickered from explosions miles above, and the arcing trails of burning aircraft as they fell to the ground appeared beautiful and hellish all at once.
Osgood gripped Josh’s shoulders, his eyes showing some faint light that he’d buried long ago. “This is our last push. Are you with me? Will you join our brothers with me? You ready to send these goddamn things back to hell?”
Bombs from some distant gun landed in successive concussions in the path of the approaching enemy, a designed element of the counterattack. A succession of explosions sent plumes of fire and smoke in roiling mushroom clouds and the shuddering concussions sent Josh and Osgood to the ground, covering their heads from falling debris. An uneasy silence followed as fires crackled and gunfire subsided. The other soldiers in the area, receiving the same counterattack orders from their officers, rushed out from the protection of the buildings and towards the lingering smoke-filled streets ahead of them.
“Get on your feet!” Osgood commanded. It was an order for Josh as much as it was for himself, dropping his visor down as he rose with rifle in hand.
Osgood joined the rush of thousands of soldiers pouring into the burning city. Josh followed his lead, struck in awe by the rush of men and women into the battle. Some were so small they had to be children. Yet they went forward, weapons in hand and no hesitation in their step. They ran through the rubble and smoke and past the broken bodies of the dead, the ground so littered with them it was impossible not to step on one. The cries of the dying came from the bloody swamp like the sound of lost children. A hand outstretched towards Josh as he splashed in the blood past a stricken woman. The streets ran so great with blood the old sewer drains took it in like some unquenchable beast.
The machines fared worse, losing triple their numbers compared to the men and women who lay in the streets. As they broke into the enemy held portions of the city, the shattered remains of the machines lay everywhere. A burst of gunfire from a disabled S7, lying without its legs and an arm, cut down three soldiers in the second it took to identify its target. A hail of return fire silenced it.
As Josh and Osgood moved through the city streets covered in rubble, the broken frames and pieces of the bipedal S7’s lay twisted and severed. The counterattack would be the last in a series of pushes and routs that claimed the lives of thousands each day. This was only one of many battles occurring around the world on a daily basis. The machines fed everything they had into the fight to protect their regional command center, knowing the survivors would do anything to take it offline.
Josh and Osgood, running with dozens of other soldiers, made abrupt contact with the reassembled defensive line of the machines. Bursts of rapid gunfire, streaks of colored light indicative of the LM guns of the machines, burned through the air. Over a dozen soldiers fell.
Josh raised his rifle to his shoulder and fired. A stream of projectiles deflected off the chest of a bipedal machine, very similar in design to the one that attacked him and Leah in their shuttle. It crouched and returned fire on Josh hitting him in the chest, knocking him flat on his back. He couldn’t breathe. Pain expanded from his chest. His armor steamed from the impacts and his visor displayed the pain killer injection at eighteen percent. He heard Osgood faintly through his helmet. “You good? You good?”
Josh coughed and caught his breath. He looked over to see Osgood lying prone, aiming and firing with calm precision. “You need to get up brother,” Osgood said, keeping his focus on the enemy. “Not getting any easier. Three more coming up on my right. I can’t get an angle.”
The sound of a thousand weapons discharging outside dampened within Josh’s helmet as outside auditory exposure automatically reduced. He made it to his feet and ran over to Osgood’s position, lying down next to him but facing at a forty-five degree angle from his position and covering the opposite length of the street in front of them. He found the three encroaching S7’s in his crosshairs and opened fire before his targeting visor pinpointed a vulnerability. He blew apart two and the third returned fire, knocking chunks of brick and mortar off the building and on top of Josh.
Other survivors, clad in basic military clothing and operating in large groups, overwhelmed the machines by sheer numbers and took them down with guns and handmade grenades. Their losses were staggering in the face of superior technology, yet they pushed on, ignited by a bravery that knows only victory against a foe who seeks complete annihilation.
“On your feet. Move, move!” Osgood commanded as he took off across the road. Josh felt the warmth of the painkiller working on his body and the heavy pain in his chest dissipated. He chased after Osgood as an explosion ripped the ground twenty feet to his right. Pieces of metal whirred in a three hundred and sixty degree arc and embedded into the flesh of the unprotected soldiers. The small devices dug themselves into the body. Tiny explosions filled the air as limbs popped off bodies or ruptured internal organs. The screams were crucifying to the ears. Survivors ran past the dying and wounded, unable or unwilling to help.
Josh and Osgood ran across a plaza as gunfire exchanged back and forth. They fell behind the cover of a truck lying on its side. The impact of the LM rounds burned into the metal chassis and wouldn’t protect them for long. The surge halted at the outskirts of the plaza and both sides engaged in a firefight at a range of eighty meters. Osgood leaned out from behind cover and fired on a couple S7’s running up along the left flank before they ducked into cover. He leaned back in and faced Josh. “We’re almost there. The entrance to the RCC will be two blocks east once we get through the plaza. They’re going to hit us with everything they got. You ready?”
“Roxy One, this is Boxcutter, do you copy?”
“Boxcutter, this is Roxy One. We copy.”
“I need that last favor you promised us, brother. We’re almost there.”
“Roger that. Keep your people low. See you on the other side.”
Osgood’s airstrike order transmitted to the other officers in the area, alerting them of the impending attack and to keep their people down. An LM round pierced the truck and hit Osgood in the back of the arm, the armor in that area being less that more vital areas, and the round blew through his bone and severed the left arm at the elbow. His armor shredded, it hung there were his arm used to be. Josh heard only his scream against the backdrop of the fighting. White foam filled around the point of the severed limb and Osgood’s pain ebbed away with a high injection of painkiller from his armored suit. He lay back and lifted his visor to stare at Josh who sat over him to examine his wound.
A weak smile crossed Osgood’s face and his body tensed as he spoke. “Give me a minute. The stimulants are coming. I’m not out of this fight yet.” He grabbed Josh’s arm. “You gotta carry the box. It’s on us to deliver it, and now it’s on you.” Osgood’s eyes flared as stimulants entered his body. A single explosion ripped through the air over three hundred meters away, sending a concussive shockwave through the city. Josh pushed Osgood’s visor down to protect him.
The truck they hid behind flipped on top of Josh, but he raised a reflexive hand and stopped its movement, holding up its massive weight and preventing it from crushing them both. An expansive heat rushed with the current of air blasting through the streets and an orange glow filled the sky and illuminated the world in a bright, artificial glow. Josh, stunned by his inhuman strength, dropped the vehicle down in front of them. Ash and smoke and heat surrounded them and blotted out the sun. Their visors switched to thermal. Osgood gripped Josh’s arm. “We’ll be dead before the rads kill us. Let’s go before we lose our chance.”
Osgood stood with renewed energy, picking up his rifle in his right hand. He slipped off the pack and gave it to Josh. “Let’s go,” Osgood said as he flipped his visor down.
They ran out into the plaza along with thousands of other soldiers for their last push. Fire and smoke lifted into the sky from every building in front of them. The blast had killed hundreds of survivors, but it cleared the way for everyone else to make the final assault. The bomb set the city alight and flattened every machine under its blast radius. Smaller buildings ceased to exist. The world glowed in a burning, hellish maelstrom of ash and fire with the sky blotted out with smoke.
Josh and Osgood cleared the plaza. The streets burned and smoke and embers whipped about like some fiery blizzard. Two more blocks to the RCC. Osgood led the charge. Thousands of survivors pushed forward, their singular duty to ensure they took out the RCC. Thumping explosions rocked the buildings and streets, heaving bodies into the air. One detonated near Osgood and threw him sideways onto the ground. His helmet blew off from his armored suit and blood ran from his head. Josh fell backwards and the audio dampening responded at maximum capacity, turning him temporarily deaf. As his hearing returned, he heard the cries of the wounded and dying. He crawled over to Osgood’s position and dragged him out of the street and behind a pile of rubble as gunfire raged around them.
Osgood laughed through blood stained teeth, a pained, fearful laugh. “They can’t stop me. They can’t stop me. Help me up, brother. We’re all gonna die here today. Let’s do what we came to do.”
Josh helped him stand. Osgood noticed his rifle lying in the middle of the road and walked out to grab it, nonchalant in his movements. He spat blood on the ground. Josh worried he suffered brain trauma or that the pain meds were so high they interfered with his reason. “Get back here!”
Osgood lifted the rifle and shook his head as if to clear the fog. Soldiers nearby, having been stalled by the bombardment, needed an officer to instill them forward again after suffering so many losses. Osgood raised his rifle, standing in the middle of the blood-spattered street as the wounded cried out all around him. Gunfire streaked back and forth in the air. Osgood looked about and yelled. “Follow me, brothers! This is it!”
Osgood leveled his rifle and ran up the street and Josh followed him. Soldiers, taking the cue from the officers, left their cover and resumed the assault as a roar of men and women rose in a pitched fever. The machines had a fixed gun set at the corner of an intersection that fired a heavy laser and swept it left to right. It cut through flesh and bone as if it weren’t there and soldiers fell cleaved in half. The wound happened so fast and clean that all of the victims lay conscious for moments afterward, calling out in confused pleas as they lay decapitated. Osgood tossed his last det bomb at the gun and blew it skyward. The soldier-like S7 machines gave way to the more sophisticated defense systems as they neared the RCC.
Black clouds came out of the buildings, swirling and contorting in some organic way as if it were liquid passing through the air. They passed over survivors and entered their bloodstream through their eyes and noses, boiling their blood from the inside out. Bodies seemed to melt in a pile of blood and burst apart from the inside, agape mouths trying to cry out in breathless death.
The clouds grew larger and thicker, threatening to blot out the light of the sun. Soldiers panicked and ran as they watched others suffer horrifying deaths.
Osgood pointed down the road. “The entrance to the RCC is there.”
Josh tried to see. “Where? Everything is destroyed, I don’t see anything.”
“Your visor will tell you.”
“That’s right,” Osgood said. “Keep the visor on and get in there. The helmet will protect you from the nano’s. I’m going to cover you.”
“How? You lost your helmet.”
“I still got my goddamn eyes. Let’s go, brother.”
Osgood ran into the street and towards the manhole. The soldiers who had made it this far with them were now either dead or fleeing. It was only them now. Josh followed with the heavy pack and as he neared the manhole, Osgood pulled up the metal cover. The black swarm came at them.
“Are you coming?” Josh asked as he took the pack off and dropped it down the hole.
Osgood didn’t respond, pushing Josh down into the sewer and covering the hole. He heard Osgood’s screams above him but knew there was nothing he could do. Blood dripped down from a small hole in the center of the manhole cover and onto Josh’s visor as he looked up. He wiped it away and stood alone.
Now that I’m doing a series for “A Cold Black Wave”, I’ve had three all new covers designed. These are far different from the original cover which was hand-illustrated by my most excellent friend Brent Kim. I still love the original, and it’ll continue to be used in limited instances (rare copies? 😉 ), but I thought it was worth developing an entirely new brand image for the series. Hopefully it works out a’iiiight.
Nicole from Cover Shot Creations was quick, responsive, patient (thankfully!) and as always, super professional and is pretty fun to work with to boot. She also did my cover for Dustland. If you’re an author looking for some new covers, get in touch with her. She’s apparently getting busier for some reason so don’t wait too long!
So, what do you think? Next month I’m posting the cover for the sequel, “ACBW: Revelations”. Stay tuned!
As I work on the sequel to A Cold Black Wave I decided to try a bit of an experiment: post a few chapters as I write them. There’s some risk here, I think, in presenting an unfinished and unpolished work. But with ACBW and Dustland, I didn’t dramatically change much from the initial versions. For those interested in following the development of a story and those waiting for the sequel, you can watch the drama unfold for a few chapters. Enjoy!
Josh awoke to thunderous explosions. Glass shattered windows and sent dust and smoke billowing down the street and through every crevice in the room. His eyes stung as he tried to shield them. Coughing, Josh tried to stand and felt a tug on his arm. A thin tube ran from a metallic wrap around his left arm to a cylindrical machine that sat next to him. He groped with his other arm to disconnect the tube when an explosion sent chunks of wood and tile showering down from above, just missing his head. Gunfire smacked into a building nearby and voices called out to each other amid the firefight.
“Leah?” He groaned. His voice came out dry and raspy. “Leah!” God, where is she?
A heaving explosion sent the ground rippling and knocked Josh sideways against a wall. Someone outside screamed in pain. Josh managed to undo his wrap and release himself from the device as he rolled away from another piece of ceiling coming down. He looked around for a weapon. Nothing. His leg hurt and he had difficulty walking.
A soldier appeared in the doorway covered in blood and dust. She wore armor that contoured to her body and a metallic apparatus covered her left ear and ran down her face and to one side of her lips. It was flush with her skin and moved just like it as she spoke. “We need to go. Come on.”
“My leg. I can’t move very fast.”
She went and held him around the waist. “Put your arm around me. Let’s go. My name’s Jayce. Don’t die,” she warned. “Or everything is lost.”
Amid the fighting and confusion, a lucid thought crossed his mind. How can I understand her?
Jayce helped carry Josh across the street as streaks of light passed back and forth in the air around them. The sun retreated from the sky behind a grey haze that cast the land in a dreary light. An explosion rocked the third story of a building not a block away, sending up a voluminous cloud of black and fiery ash as wood and concrete blew out in every direction. Shrapnel of all types whizzed through the air and fell from the sky around them as they dove inside another building and lay breathing in gasping breaths on the floor.
“Where’s Leah?” He asked between pauses in the fighting. “The girl, where is she? I’m not going anywhere without her.”
“She’s safe. Deas has her at the pickup site.” Jayce touched her ear and spoke to someone else. “Rechtel, this is five one, do you copy?” A pause, then, “I’m two clicks away from extraction. I have the boy. Pull your people back immediately and return to extraction point. Do you copy?”
Two shots pierced through the wall just above their heads, leaving a clean burn the size of a fist that glowed orange and then died away.
The room spun and Josh’s vision distorted as objects flickered into and out of existence. The world turned jagged with sharp edges and a grainy texture filtered through everything. Josh lifted his hand and examined it but everything appeared normal. He looked up again to see if the distortion returned. Nothing. He squeezed his eyes shut and pressed his fingers just above them to dispel the sensation. It passed as he found Jayce reaching down to lift him up. “Come on,” she said, standing over him.
She grabbed Josh by the shirt and lifted him to his feet. She pulled him along. “Keep your head down!” She yelled before crossing another street and entering a narrow alley.
As they neared the end of the alley, she looked at her forearm. A hovering projection displayed a clear, 3D digital image of the surrounding topography. Red dots emitted near their position. She turned to Josh. “If something happens to me, keep heading in that direction.” She pointed towards another alley across the street. “You’ll find the extraction point.”
“How will I know?”
“You won’t miss it.”
She checked her weapon that was attached on her arm and pressed a button. They both watched as the red dots converged on their position from both sides of the street. Jayce took a deep breath and knelt in the tight corridor of the alley, leaning out from behind cover. She fired on her target and a concussion of light and debris sprayed through the street. A three shot burst slammed into the wall near her head and sent Jayce onto her back as fire caught on the walls and along the left side of her body, a slick, crawling, and liquid mass that stuck to everything it touched.
The viscous fire ate away at her armor. She pulled hard on a release pin near her collarbone until it clicked, and the armor opened up and fell from her body in a rapidly dissolving pile. Underneath her armor, she wore olive drab clothes matted in sweat. A humanoid machine ran into the alley and fired on Josh. Jayce grabbed its neck and arm, slammed it into a wall, and caused the shot to go errant.
“Run, now!” She yelled as the machine emitted a concussive blast that knocked Jayce backwards and Josh flat on the cement. Jayce leapt to her feet as the machine swung its arm at her to fire again. She used a straight palm to its wrist to deflect his aim and a honeycomb of needles blasted into the wall next to her. It turned a shoulder down and rammed her against the wall as a cough of air expelled from her mouth. “Run!”
Josh did, running behind the machine and into the street. Pain streaked up his leg and through length of his body. He hobbled as he went, but the adrenaline overtook any physical limitations. He didn’t look around. He didn’t check for safety before continuing. He just ran. Leah would be there waiting for him. She had to be.
As Josh entered an open plaza, he stopped. A grey, sleek helicopter hovered twenty feet off the ground. It was devoid of any rotors and used small, gyroscopic engines to hover and turn. Its engine hummed not unlike that of the machines they’ve fought against, but at a higher pitch. Two soldiers kneeling behind cover noticed Josh and scoped him from afar through their rifles. One signaled the other and he ran to Josh’s position while the other covered his advance.
Josh hobbled to meet him and as they met, the soldier knocked Josh to the ground. A projectile hissed by and an explosion knocked the air from their lungs as chunks of a nearby building blew out into the plaza. The helicopter rose in the air and pitched right as a concealed door gunner sprayed the enemy’s position with a steady hail of streaking light that cut a building in half and sent parts of the pursuing machine whirling in every direction.
“Get up!” The soldier ordered as he lifted Josh and ran for the copter. It dropped down above ground level, and as they neared it, a door opened for them to enter. The soldier shoved Josh inside while he called his friend over and they both climbed inside the cramped space. There were other bodies inside. Two wounded soldiers bleeding from wounds suffered in combat lay prostrate on their backs.
Leah. She sat in the corner with her legs up to her chest and face buried under her arms. She didn’t realize Josh was sitting across from her.
“Leah!” Josh called, reaching over and shaking her. The hum of the engine and the whirl of the door gun as it laid waste to encroaching machines overwhelmed his voice. He shook her harder until she raised her head. “It’s me. Leah, it’s Josh!” She couldn’t hear his words but her face sunk in relief when she recognized him. She leapt forward and wrapped her arms around his neck. He kissed her on the forehead and squeezed her tight.
The helicopter took to the air and banked around the combat zone as the door gunner seemed to exhaust a limitless supply of ammo on the enemy. Empty cylindrical canisters rolled around inside the cabin, and when the gunner needed to recharge, another canister popped out of the gun chamber and he grabbed a new one next to him to reload. Josh noticed a small porthole on the gunner’s side and peered out into the burning city below. Black, curling smoke rose in slanting columns from pockets in a two square mile radius below. Lines of cyanic light streaked chaotically in the air as targets below fired on the helicopter. Josh spotted seven machines pursuing two survivors through the streets, one wounded and carried by the other.
“Hey!” He called, pointing outside. “There’s survivors down there!” The soldier next to him couldn’t hear and stared as he pointed. Josh slammed the back of his fist against the soldier’s chest and pointed for him to look. He looked down on the battlefield and then covered his mouth as he radioed the pilot.
The helicopter banked harder to the right and swooped low over buildings to give the gunner an angle on his targets. A spark blew through the left cabin door and exited the top of the helicopter as dripping hot metal fell inside. Some landed on one of the wounded soldiers and he screamed as it burned through his leg and the smell of singed flesh and sulfuric metal filled the cabin.
Leah tried to help the man by using the butt of a rifle and scrape the hot mass off his leg. The attempt was futile as it ate through flesh and muscle, and the man gave one last moan before passing out. The helicopter rattled and a moment later, Josh realized they landed back in the plaza. The cabin door opened and the two healthy soldiers jumped back out and ran into the dark plaza, the sun all but a red ember on the grey horizon. A spotlight burst on from the top of helicopter and aided the soldiers as they ran to help their comrades. Two bodies appeared at the far end of the plaza.
It was Jayce.
A spider drone jumped from a rooftop and skittered along the ground towards the two soldiers. The door gunner fired errant shots but he gave up once the machine came within ten feet of the men. The drone jumped with a burst of speed and hit one of the soldiers, knocking him flat on the ground. The machine pierced his eye with one of its legs, the metal apparatus going through the back of his skull. The other soldier shot rounds through the machine, breaking its dome and disabling it as choking black gas shot out in a bursting cloud. The soldier tossed a grenade at it. A strange burst of light, like that of static electricity, crackled through the air and the black cloud disappeared as if it never existed.
The soldier met Jayce and her wounded comrade and they made for the helicopter. The door gunner laid down a ferocious covering fire as it tore through and collapsed entire buildings before the oncoming machines. A cloud of dust and smoke expanded violently throughout the plaza. Still, the enemy fire streaked over and past the helicopter in any attempt to keep it from taking off. Jayce and the other soldier dragged her bloodied friend along as fast as they could until they made it to the cabin door. As they lifted the wounded soldier, the cabin exploded with warm, red liquid as he took a direct hit through the chest. It left a gaping, smoking hole that was so hot his wounds cauterized. He slumped to the ground as the other soldier grabbed Jayce, who was stunned and unmoving, and pushed her inside before following her in.
The copter rose in breathless ascent as pieces of metal and molten iron burst forth from inside the cabin as enemy rounds tore through the hull. The copter shuddered and the engine gave out a final, worried moan before turning silent. They suspended in the air for a moment, weightless, as the craft nosed forward and took a fatal plunge towards the earth. The pilot fought the controls and the copter rumbled with such force that the bodies of the dead soldiers animated and slid about in macabre display. Jayce fell forward into the laps of Josh and Leah before fumbling with their safety harness in an attempt to get them secured.
Warning bells banged in their eardrums as the earth approached. Smoke roiled out from the copters wounds and left a trail in the sky. The pilot angled down a main road like a runway, but as he approached, the nose drifted left and he lost control of the yaw. They spun in rapid circles that pressed them motionless against the walls. The copter hit the ground with such force that the hull bent outwards and collapsed the roof down just above their heads. Smoke and dust went up in a blinding cloud that thickened the air and covered everything in a fine gray soot. The concussion from the sudden crash gave way to an unnerving silence.
Leah sat unconscious and Josh struggled in a daze with his harness. Blood ran from Jayce’s leg. A metal rod from the threshold of the door broke free and drove through her thigh. Her head knocked against the back wall on impact and blood trickled from her right ear. She tried to move but in her slow confusion, she didn’t realize she was pinned by the rod. Josh freed himself and unlatched Leah from her harness. He stuck his arms under hers and dragged Leah out into the street before lying down next to her in a drifting haze.
Josh coughed as he sucked in dust with each breath. Jayce moaned in pain and struggled to free herself from the wreckage but she couldn’t figure out why her leg wouldn’t move. Josh covered his mouth as he rose to his feet and saw movement coming at them from the end of the street, some two hundred yards away. They’re coming.
He grabbed Jayce’s leg and lifted it until the rod slid out. She let out a scream and her hands shook as she gripped her wound. She clenched her teeth until she could bear the pain long enough to talk. She pointed weakly. “Get the bag there, and the rifle.” Josh reached inside the cabin and grabbed both and Jayce wrapped her arm around him as he pulled her out. They stumbled away, clearing the crash site.
“Check for survivors,” Jayce told him as she sat down and pulled a metal wrap out of the medical bag. Blood dripped from the hole in her leg. She covered it with the wrap, touched the side and it shrunk in size as if vacuum-sealed. Jayce leaned her head back as sweat dripped from her face and fought the pain, but the bleeding stopped.
Josh ran back to the helicopter and checked the cockpit, but the pilot was dead. The others in the cabin were, too. Leah stirred and he helped her to stand and get out of the street. Streaks of light came at them from the machines, blowing pieces of metal off the remains of the helicopter.
Jayce forced herself to stand and pointed down an alley, her face drawn and haggard. “Let’s go, down here.” She said, waving them forward. The grim sound of her voice wasn’t lost on Josh. There wasn’t anywhere to go.
Leah clung to Josh’s neck as they staggered. Jayce brought up the rear and told them where to go. Bloodied and dazed, they staggered their way through back alleys and across streets. When they reached the end of a street lined with rusted vehicles, Jayce stopped and leaned against a building. Leah and Josh breathed in sucking bouts and looked to their new friend for direction. They all knew they couldn’t keep running in their condition. Jayce looked about. “There, go up there,” she said, pointing to a multi-story building.
They climbed the steps to the fourth floor, grimacing against the pain with every step. Jayce pushed open a door to an office that contained decomposing paperwork stacked neatly in bins, and computers left untouched for decades and covered in thick dust. Pictures of loved ones sat in frames within each cubicle.
“In that office over there,” Jayce pointed to another room. Josh pushed the door open to a separate office with a window view of the street below. There was a single desk in the room and bookshelves along both sides. A clothed skeleton slumped in the chair, its skeletal head resting on the desk. A gun lay on the ground and brown stains covered his suit. “Lie down and be still,” she warned. They did as she said.
“Do they know we’re here?” Leah asked with worried eyes.
“They’ll find us. That’s what they do.” Jayce said. She stood to leave, pulling two cylindrical grenades from an emergency belt she wore in case she ever had to shed her armor. “Wait here.”
She left and they listened as her footsteps disappeared.
Leah grabbed Josh’s hand. “What’s happening?”
“I don’t know.” Josh sat up to look out the door but didn’t see anything. A pin-drop silence filled the room. He glanced at the dried, rust-colored blood lying on the ground beneath the man’s chair. “She’s our only chance to survive now,” he said, turning his gaze to Leah who tightened her sweaty grip around his hand.
“I thought you were dead,” she whispered. “I thought they left you out there.”
“So did I.” Josh said. He gripped his head and winced as a pain ebbed up through the back of his skull. The room spun in a slow, dizzying pace. Colors faded and washed out. Pieces of the world fell away and blackness replaced them like missing elements of a puzzle. He heard Leah’s voice but it was distant and tinny as if she were falling away. What the hell is happening to me? Sweat beaded on his forehead. He raised his hand and looked on as his palm disappeared from his fingers and returned again, and then whole blocks of the room flickered into and out of existence.
An explosion rattled the building and dust unsettled from the room and hung about. A pen rolled off the desk. Josh felt something jolting him and noticed Leah speaking, but no sound came from her mouth. He only heard a calming buzz in his eardrums and then the world turned black.
I just received the first proof of Dustland, and it came out awesome! There’s a few minor things I’m going to tweak, but overall I’m seriously impressed. If anyone is interested in a free copy in return for an “honest and unbiased” review to post on Amazon and/or Goodreads (or anywhere else you like) please let me know. I’ll be more than happy to send you a copy! As I’ve learned with A Cold Black Wave, honest and numerous reviews definitely make an impact on exposure and sales so I’d be glad to shuttle this out to ya’ll for them. Thanks for stoppin by!
I recently did a short Q&A with Edward Lake, author of the Mamluk’s series. Check it out ya’ll!!
EL: As it pertains to your readers, what do you hope to accomplish as an author?
THS: I want to entertain firstly, but I also want to convey important messages that may not be the usual expectation for a reader. In A Cold Black Wave, faith and reality clash. What is the purpose of living when you are the last ones alive? In Dustland, vengeance leaves no room for “good” guys (or ladies). For me, it’s not enough to create an interesting story. There has to be a greater meaning to it all, even if that means not fulfilling the typical expectations in that genre. If you want formulaic, don’t read my stuff!
To read the full interview, head on over here.