The year: 2067
The place: Sun-Earth Lagrange Point L1, 1.5 million kilometers above the surface of the Earth.
The objective: Survive.
Sixteen-year-old Drusilla Zhao lives in the Hub, a space station used by the Chinese-American Alliance as a base to exploit Luna’s resources. Desperate to break free of the Alliance, a terrorist group from the Moon destroys the space elevator, space’s highway to Earth. In a flash, Dru’s parents are dead and she is cut off from her girlfriend Sarah on Earth.
The Alliance declares war against the Moon, conscripting Dru and all the youth of the Hub. Dru is forced to become a soldier fighting in the lethal vacuum of space. Can Dru survive lunar terrorist attacks and find her way home to Sarah?
Publisher: Thinking Ink Press
Publishers Weekly calls Lunar Cycle Book 1 “Appealingly reminiscent of an updated Heinlein juvenile, it’s a story of wartime bravery, principles, and self-sacrifice.”
The year: 2068
The place: The war-torn and ecologically devastated Earth.
The objective: Survive.
Sixteen-year-old Drusilla Zhao has done the impossible and escaped the meat grinder of space warfare alive. Now she and her only remaining comrade, Jillian, are about to be rotated right back into the firing line, and away from Dru’s love, Sarah.
About the Author:
David Colby is the author of the sci-fi novels Debris Dreams and Shattered Sky. A fan of old school sci-fi and tabletop roleplaying games, Colby started writing almost fifteen years ago. It went poorly. But despite these early setbacks, he continued to work and write and send out submissions until someone was mad enough to accept him. Currently living in Sunnyvale, California, David’s day job involves leaping in front of cars for fun and profit (he’s a crossing guard).
Read below for an excerpt from Shattered Sky:
Shattered Sky Excerpt
California, North American Economic Zone
T-Minus L-Day: 141
Happy endings were supposed to be a hell of a lot easier than this kōngtóu zhīpiào. I had been on Earth for a whole twenty-four hours and in all those seconds of all those minutes of all those hours, I had gotten to kiss the love my life a grand total of once.
Jillian stood next to me, her back leaning against the wall as she looked out at the vast sweep of Edwards Air Force Base. When I looked out at it, it just made me feel queasy and impatient and claustrophobic in a way that I had never felt before. I didn’t even need to move my eyes to splash the images all over the wallpaper of my brain: the three or so buildings the size of entire habitation blocks, the kilometer and then some of blackened tarmac that sucked up heat like a sink, and spread through it all the real reason why I was here and not with Sarah.
The troops. Specifically, the ten thousand or so troops that used Edwards Air Force Base as a way of getting to the next leg of their various deployments. Huge cargo hauling VTOLs landed and lifted off, while suborbital streakers burned hard to slow down and let off troops. Their uniforms spanned a spectrum of military minutia I’d never seen before, like looking through the world’s shittiest spectrometer. In space, the officer pool had been decidedly shallow, with maybe three lieutenants before General Lau. Down here, I saw every single rank that I had been forced to memorize during Basic: Gunnery Sergeants, Staff Sergeants, Second Lieutenants, First Lieutenants, Colonels, Majors, and Captains. It was a relief from the endless stream of PFCs and Corporals and Areos, like sunspots breaking up the eye scorching brightness of the sun.
Most of the Earthers were kitted out differently from Spacer soldiers, too. No laser weaponry, no bounce in their steps, no breathers and enclosed helmets. The enlisted pukes had slugthrowers on their backs, while the officers tended to be unarmed and glittery with medals, but they all trudged along, looking …
Actually, most of them didn’t look that unhappy. For most of them, this was a life they had chosen. A comfortable life with good pay, free medical coverage, honor and prestige. A life that I could have—something that fascinated and repelled me at the same time.
I wished they were unhappy. It’d be easier. It’d make more sense, if I could share that misery. Instead of being…
“So, Corp,” Jillian said, deorbiting my thoughts.
“Jillian, we’re out of the Marines now,” I said, rubbing my face with my hands.
“So, Dru,” Jillian started again. “What are you going to do once we get out of this?”
“Buy a farm.” I stood. The gravity down here was intense. I had to actually use my hand and the wall to get my knees to unbend, rather than just kipping up. I had never thought that one-G would be so … so much more than the gravity on the Hub. It wasn’t even that I hadn’t been exposed to one-G before— it was more that it was all the time, everywhere. Standing didn’t feel worth it, but I felt too confined by sitting, too passive. I started to pace back and forth, my body wanting to bounce, but gravity glued me to the ground. “I told Sarah I’d be in Quebec Arcology as soon as I could get there. At this rate—”
Jillian shuffled to the left. I shuffled into the space she had vacated. The Space Marine—one of the survivors of the Battle of the Forge, as they were calling the last big battle of the war—behind me shuffled over to take up the spot that I had held. And so, the line continued to process, and so I got closer and closer to getting out of this endless waiting.
But I still felt trapped, stuck in adhesive, forced to do nothing but endure. Endure the sounds—the babbling conversations that overlapped and drowned each other out—endure the smells— the thick, cloying stench of the tarmac, the scent of the scrubland that surrounded the base, the smell of jets and jet fuel—and endure the heat. The pounding, unstoppable heat, pouring through my skinclothes and broiling me in my own juices. I had never imagined that an uncontrolled environment could be so horrifyingly unpleasant.
War of the Wilted (Garden of Thorns #2)
by Amber Mitchell
Publication Date: October 1, 2018
Publisher: Entangled Teen
Like flowers denied water, people are wilting under the emperor’s tyranny.
Rose will not rest until the Gardener is dead. But there are bigger battles to fight, and Rayce—leader of the rebellion and the only man Rose has ever loved—believes their best chance at winning the war is to join forces with her sworn enemy.
Saving innocent people is more important than her quest for revenge. But their new ally can’t be trusted—and he knows her darkest secret. One betrayal could leave the war and Rayce’s life hanging in the balance, and Rose will need to make the ultimate sacrifice to save them all.
1. Tell us about your writing process. Do you aim for a daily word count, page count, or a couple of scenes each day?
I have a daily word count goal of 500 words. It is really low, but I like the ability to always hit my goal. It motivates me to write even on days when I am sick or feel like I can’t because I can hit 500 words almost any time. In reality, when I am under deadline, my usual goal is around 1,500 or more.
I used to have a whole routine I had to follow before I could write and everything around me had to be perfect but I’ve learned over time that it actually is just a waste of time and gives me a reason not to write. Now I sit down and do it whether the world around me is a mess or not.
2. What gave you the inspiration for your book? Is it part of a series?
War of the Wilted is the second book in the Garden of Thorns trilogy. For the first novel, I came up with the idea after seeing women dancing in long, flowing dresses and thinking they looked like flowers from an aerial view. I started to wonder what would happen if women were actually thought of as flowers and that’s when I came up with the idea for the Garden.
I found this second book intimidating to write and had a hard time finding inspiration until I started thinking about who Rose needed to be by the end of the series. I realized this book was her chance to get there. Thinking about her character arc helped me put the other pieces in place.
3. Are you a pantser or a plotter? A bit of both?
I am a firm plotter. I used to write books without chapter outlines but I realized that left me with the excuse that I wasn’t going to write that day because I didn’t know where it was going. I can see how people wouldn’t like knowing everything about a book before going on, but I still find that there is a lot of discovery in the process. I love having a guideline so I can tell my progress and get excited about things to come. I never skip around when writing so I hold on to scenes I’m excited about like little rewards until I get to write them!
4. Do you prefer a certain type of music to listen to when you’re writing, or are you better with silence?
I used to make detailed playlists for my books but now I prefer to listen to fantasy playlists on Youtube. They usually don’t have many lyrics to distract me and help me feel really epic. I can write in silence when I am really focused but it’s my least favorite thing to do.
5. What book(s) are you reading now?
I’m currently in the middle of reading Haven by Mary Lindsey and am really enjoying it! I love Rain’s voice. I’m also listening to Throne of Glass by Sarah J Maas and it’s been a really enjoyable listen so far!
6. Anything else you’d like us to know about this book or any others (past or future)?
Well, as I mentioned, it’s the second book in a trilogy. I’m currently writing the third book now and it’s so bittersweet getting to the end of Rayce and Rose’s story. They have been a part of my life for such a long time now.
Thanks so much for having me on your blog!
About the Author
Amber Mitchell was born and raised in a small town in Florida. After briefly escaping small town life by attending the University of South Florida where she earned her degree in Creative Writing, she decided to ditch traffic jams and move back to her hometown. There she writes Young Adult novels, usually with a bit of magic in them, rolls D20s with her friends on Thursday nights and enjoys hanging out with her husband and four cats. Her other job involves crafting cardstock in to 3D art and has allowed her to travel all over the US vending at comic conventions which has only increased her love for fantasy and fandoms. She is represented by Nikki Terpilowski of Holloway Literature
The Last Ghost
by Jamie Blake
Genre: YA Urban Fantasy
Release Date: October 1st 2018
Christian Orland is dead, and everyone in his life is doing their best to understand what happened.
Especially Woe, the sixteenth Fatality, who knows that she was assigned the wrong case when she stopped his heart, but also knew she had to do it, or risk being destroyed herself.
Woe only handles expected death, and not many people expect to die in an accident. However, not many people have the history of Christian Orland. That history is now tormenting his brother Noah, the keeper of all of Christian’s dangerous secrets, his childhood friend Ellery, who he once swore he would love “until he died,” and his girlfriend Melissa, who can’t understand why she is the only person not haunted by ghosts.
Woe teams up with the Fatality who she thinks should have had Christian’s case, and the ghosts of Christian’s past to try to solve the mystery of how he ended up as her case. As they try to unravel some of Christian’s lies, they begin to uncover something far more sinister.
Together, the most important people in Christian’s life and death must work to restore order from the chaos his death caused in the lives of those who loved him, and in realms he could not imagine, before free will is lost forever.
The Last Ghost excerpt:
The sixteenth Fatality was surprised to find herself on a bridge, but that was where her appointment book told her to go, and thus, that was where she went. Not that she had a choice either way, but she didn’t mind, she liked the order, the predetermination of things. Car after car drove by, and she watched them, looking closely, knowing all the while that they couldn’t see her. A little after eight in the morning, she noticed a car moving erratically on the bridge. She watched as the car seemed to spin, and then crashed through the wooden guard rail and into the water below. She looked over the edge of the bridge as the car; front end first, began to sink into the depths. She peered down the road, waiting for another car to come, some passerby to notice the broken guard rail, someone to help the passengers. After a few minutes passed, she began to wait for someone entirely different.
Knowing that too much time had gone by for there to be a legitimate chance of rescue, she floated down to where the car had entered the water, looking around expectantly for the twelfth Fatality to come and bring a life to an end. He didn’t come. She started to panic, aware of the pain the people in the car must feel. She felt the familiar pulse of the appointment book as the realization began to overtake her.
“This is wrong. This is not how it is supposed to be,” she murmured, as she dove into the water, passed through the passenger side door of the car, and gently took the right hand of the young man, unconscious and bleeding in the front seat. Her icy touch went up through the fingertips, up the arm, and across his chest as it stopped the faintly beating heart.
She pulled herself out of the water, dry, but still shivering, and walked back towards the bridge to wait. For a Fatality, she hated the process of death. She had heard that she did not have the glamorous part, that there were various other beings that could comfort humans. Beings whose presence was welcomed, as they said their last goodbyes, or made the pain stop. That was not her assignment. Eventually, sirens blaring, the rescue workers came, and it was with a dull throb that she realized they were already too late by the time that she got to the bridge that day.
She had three other appointments that morning, all in hospitals, which was where she normally lingered. She knew some of the other Fatalities who spent time in hospitals, but was not in the mood to socialize with them, to tell them about her terrible day. She never truly felt like one of them anyway. Instead, she knew where she had to go, she just didn’t want to visit that place.
1. What is your writing process? Do you aim for a word count daily or maybe just a scene?
A. This may be unusual, but I do not write every day. When I do sit down to write, I try to write about 1,000 words at a time. I don’t wait for inspiration, but I try to find time in my schedule, for two or three times a week. I try to put on music based on what I think my character might listen to help me get in the right mood and then I write.
For editing, I can’t recommend enough reading it out loud. That may be the only way it works for me.
2. What sort of research did you do for this book?
A. The biggest research I did was into the ICD-10 codes. In The Last Ghost there are 16 different fatalities, which are the embodiments of death, based on the cause of death. I had to learn a lot about the different official causes, and which are most likely to decide which cause would get which Fatality.
3. What are you working on now? Any chance of a sequel? I am currently working on a book about a championship winning high school girls’ basketball team, and whether you make your own luck—even bad luck.
I had always contemplated The Last Ghost as a stand-alone, but lately I have been thinking about a possible sequel.
4. How did you come up for the idea of your book?
The Last Ghost was actually inspired by an optical illusion. There’s an illusion called a subjective contour which is when your brain fills in the edge between things, even if there is nothing there. I was thinking of that as a metaphor for ghosts. At the same time, I had some tragic losses when I was a teenager, and I found there were not a lot of books that explored what I was feeling—that there was a mistake. Then, the Last Ghost sort of asks the question, what if Death thinks they made a mistake? So together, that question and the idea of the subjective contour created The Last Ghost.
5. Just for fun — what TV shows or movies have you really enjoyed (or disliked?) recently?
I love TV. My biggest recommendation for tv is The Good Place. I didn’t watch it in season 1 because I thought it was over-hyped. Turns out when they were saying it was the funniest thing on TV, they were correct, it is the funniest thing on TV.
About the Author
Jamie Blake writes smart books for young adults and teens. Born in Massachusetts, she is the third of four sisters, which by literary tradition makes her the bookish one. Jamie earned degrees in literature at the University of Rochester and public policy at Cornell University. She was an elementary school teacher in North Carolina before moving to Upstate New York, where she lives with her family, including identical twin cats. The Last Ghost coming October 1, 2018 from 50/50 press is her first novel.
Or you can use this link:
Wolf of the Tesseract (Wolves of the Tesseract #1)
Release Date: July 2016
Black Rose Writing
In a world underneath our own reality, magic & science are two sides of the same coin. After merging with her copy from an alternate reality, college student Claire Jones is thrust into a setting beyond imagine and must fight alongside Zabe, an inter-dimensional guardian. Together they must stop an evil warlock from shattering the laws of existence who, above all else, seeks Claire’s blood as the key to controlling the all-powerful Tesseract.
As they flee his wrath, Claire must decide what her romantic feelings for her protector mean… apocalypse-bringing sorcerers aside, Claire’s mission is to rescue the woman Zabe loves… even if Claire has likewise fallen for the selfless soldier.
Join author’s mailing list to immediately get a free copy of the prequel comic book delivered instantly: http://eepurl.com/b6phYn
Book Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R1XQR2JMT78&w=560&h=315
Author Guest Post:
There are two major types of writers: those who plot and those who write by the seat of their pants.
I used to be a “pantser” and just write without any restrictions… after my first novel ended at almost 175000 words I realized that “restriction free” also meant “with no direction,” for the most part. I became something of an outliner as my writing evolved and became a “plotter.” During the editing phase I realized that I needed to go back through and form an outline anyway to help keep revisions coherent. An outline at the beginning seemed far more helpful. If I had to write one regardless, I figured, I might as well start with it (and I could always deviate from it if necessary.) About two years ago I picked up Scrivener, mainly for its notecard/outlining options, and I’ve loved every bit of it.
Most weeks I set writing goals for myself and post them on my Monday blog. It helps keep me on task, although I wish I had more dedicated time to sit down and write, but my day-job keeps me busy. In the future, I may have to prioritize and protect some of my time better, especially as I head into a new draft of a major project (being edited by SF legend Timothy Zahn’s editor/son, Corwin.) Bouts of productivity seem to come in great spurts for me, usually depending on the season. I write more in the colder months and spend May through October at comics, SF, and lit conventions doing face-to-face sales and promotion, so that makes me shift gears for a period.
Productive authors develop a routine for their writing. Do whatever works! I know I sometimes have an obsessive personality—I channel that into writing. For one of my stories, I used that same compulsion and wrote about a novelist whose drive spiraled out of control (One Star). At one point he woke from a fugue and realized he had covered every wall of his home in ink—and everything he wrote turned out to be true… and horrible. I wrote the 20k word novella in a couple days. When I write longer books I try to keep more manageable goals like writing a chapter or two (or so many pages/words) per week. Knowing how you will define/measure success is the real key.
About the Author
Christopher D. Schmitz is the traditionally published and self-published author of both fiction and nonfiction. When he is not writing or working with teenagers he might be found at comic conventions as a panelist or guest. He has been featured on cable access television broadcasts, metro area podcasts, and runs a blog for indie authors.
Always interested in stories, media such as comic books, movies, 80s cartoons, and books called to him at a young age—especially sci-fi and fantasy. He lives in rural Minnesota with his family where he drinks unsafe amounts of coffee. The caffeine shakes keeps the cold from killing them. His entire family is musically gifted, although he is, sadly, their only bagpiper.
Education: Schmitz also holds a Master’s Degree in Religion and freelances for local newspapers. He is available for speaking engagements, interviews, etc. via the contact form and links on his website or via social media.
16 prizes up for grabs! Sign up for the Author’s Newsletter to enter: http://eepurl.com/dF_J2z
Blog Tour Organized by:
Guest Post by author Gareth Worthington
First off, let’s get the advertisement piece out of the way. My latest novel, co-written with Stu Jones, It Takes Death to Reach a Star, is currently kicking butt. At the time of writing, we have won the New York Book Festival 2018 sci fi category, been shortlisted for Chanticleer’s Cygnus award and are on the official finalist’s ballot for a Dragon Award (set up to be an alternative to the Hugo Award). It’s also in development for TV/film with Vesuvian Media and Boilermaker Entertainment – founded by the director/producers of the famous CSI TV series franchise.
Stu and I are as happy as clams.
That said, today, I am going to talk about something not so happy, very real and pertinent to the book and me: mental health.
For those of you who have not read the book, it is told from two points of view in first person present tense. Stu wrote Mila (named after my daughter) – a tough, badass character who survived the slums. She’s witty and cool and readers across the board have spouted their love for her. Understandably.
I wrote Demitri. He’s part of an elite race, a quiet scientist, a little afraid, and very tortured inside – mostly due to an evil voice in his head called Vedmak. Readers are often split on whether they like Demitri, some saying they wished he was brave or stronger, some wishing to give him a big hug; yet these same readers all love Vedmak, who for all intents and purposes is a complete [insert expletive here]. Vedmak is viscous and evil to the core.
Here’s the important bit that perhaps these same readers miss: Vedmak only works, because Demitri is meek.
Let me back up.
Demitri was born of two things. Firstly, he is the product of my own condition: Borderline Personality Disorder. While symptoms vary, those that manifest in me include: frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment; splitting (“black-and-white” thinking), self-damaging behavior (suicide), and distorted self-image. The cause of BPD can vary; however, mine can be traced back to an abused childhood. My father was very mentally and physically abusive and we lived in social housing in a very bad neighborhood for twenty years. This latter piece, is Vedmak.*
When writing a character like Demitri, I wanted him to be very real. Equally, I wanted readers to feel the evil that is Vedmak. For Vedmak – or any bully – to have power, the bullied have to be weak. And so, writing what I know, I endowed Demitri with all of the inner doubts and fears and struggles that have plagued me for a good chunk of my own life. And for Vedmak, I drew on the years of mental torture from my father (and surrounding environment). Like Vedmak, my father only had power, because I was weak then.
I’m not writing this to garner sympathy or tell a sob story. I have my BPD under control for the most part, and I have spent more than thirty years building myself a very nice life. I’m good! Instead, I hope people read Demitri and understand a little better what it is like to doubt yourself every day and suffer at the hands of a bully.
Everyone would like to believe that they would be strong in the face of adversity – but for some, that choice just isn’t as easy. For some, the ultimate goal of feeling good in our skin seems just so far away. For some, it may very well take death to reach a star.
*Disclaimer: Vedmak plays a HUGE role in the book, beyond his torturing Demitri. He is also not my father so you’re allowed to like him!
It Takes Death to Reach a Star
By Stu Jones & Gareth Worthington
Genre: Sci Fi, dystopian, apocalyptic
THE WORLD YOU KNOW IS DEAD. WE DID THIS TO OURSELVES.
The epidemic struck at the end of the Third World War. Fighting over oil, power, and religion, governments ignored the rise of an anti-bacterial-resistant plague. In just five years, the Earth was
annihilated. Only one city survived—Etyom—a frozen hell-hole in northern Siberia, still engulfed in conflict.
The year is 2251.
Two groups emerged from the ashes of the old world. Within the walled city of Lower Etyom, dwell the Robusts—descendants of the poor who were immune to The New Black Death. Above them, in a metropolis of pristine platforms called Lillipads, live the Graciles—the progeny of the super-rich; bio-engineered to resist the plague.
Mila Solokoff is a Robust who trades information in a world where knowing too much can get you killed. Caught in a deal-gone-bad, she’s forced to take a high-risk job for a clandestine organization hell-bent on revolution.
Demitri Stasevich is a Gracile with a dark secret—a sickness that, if discovered, will surely get him Ax’d. His only relief is an illegal narcotic produced by the Robusts, and his only means of obtaining it is a journey to the arctic hell far below New Etyom.
Thrust together in the midst of a sinister plot that threatens all life above and below the cloud line, Mila and Demitri must master their demons and make a choice—one that will either salvage what’s left of the human race, or doom it to extinction…
Praise for ITDTRAS
“… merging the best of apocalyptic fiction and science fiction… compelling.” ~ Library Journal
“Cinematic, thought provoking, and immersive, this is an option for fans of darker, grittier, and more science-focused dystopias in the manner of the novels of Philip K. Dick.” ~ Booklist
“… I cannot fathom how Stu Jones and Gareth Worthington created this masterpiece.” ~ Readers’ Favorite
“…this new series has the potential to render popular franchises like the Hunger Games, the Maze Runner, and Divergent as mere forerunners in the genre.” ~jathanandheather.com
About Gareth Worthington
Gareth Worthington BSc PhD is a trained marine biologist and also holds a doctorate in comparative endocrinology. Currently, Gareth works full time for the pharmaceutical industry helping to educate the world’s doctors on new cancer therapies. His debut novel, Children of the Fifth Sun, won in the Science Fiction category at the London Book Festival 2017. He has a number of passions, including: martial arts (he trained in Muay Thai at the prestigious EVOLVE MMA gym in Singapore), studying ancient history, and most of all writing fiction. Born in England, Gareth resides in Switzerland.
About Stu Jones
Stu Jones has served full time as a law enforcement officer for twelve years. Over the course of his career he has worked as an investigator, an instructor teaching SWAT close quarters and defensive tactics, and as a member and team leader of a multi-jurisdictional SWAT team. He is also trained and qualified as a law enforcement SWAT sniper, as well as in hostage rescue and high-risk entry tactics. He is an Eagle Scout, a lifelong martial artist, and an avid outdoorsman.
On Twitter: https://twitter.com/DrGWorthington
On Amazon: https://amzn.to/2uoafnV
On B&N: https://bit.ly/2KZbBjg
On Kobo: https://bit.ly/2NUczLy
|Chapter One: MILA|
No matter how badly I want it to be different this time, in the end I still die.
We all do.
I lie on the cot, cold sweat clinging to my skin, arms raised to my face, stuck like a marionette tangled in its own strings. The dream feels so real. Another breath—count it out. In, two, three, four. Out, two, three, four. My heart slows, my mind no longer caught in the grip of the terrifying dream: a battle in which I play a critical role, yet I’m no soldier. This nightmare stalks me night after night, and even though I know I’m dreaming, I’m powerless to prevent the inevitable—the coming of Death.
The alarm on my personal electronic device, or PED, chirrups three times: 05:00. Not much sleep during the dark hours, again. I squeeze my shoulders, rubbing away the dull, muscular ache, and try to remember the fading embrace of a brother who now feels far away. A deep breath in, a slow exhale out. Get up already, Mila.
The frigid floor stings my bare feet. I shrug into a few less-than-clean garments and pull on my boots. The stale smell of the attire fills my throat. A shiver crawls across my skin. Sard, it’s cold. Gotta find something warmer. After rummaging through a pile of soiled clothes that lie in the corner of my room, I pull out a short leather jacket, its collar lined with fur—though from what animal is unclear. Shaking it hard a few times, I stare at the fur lining. I know the lice are in there somewhere. No time to try and clean it now. The jacket slips over my shoulders, the ice-cold collar snugging up around my neck. It stinks like dead rat.
My PED and my precious collection of writings go into my satchel, carefully so as not to crush the worn old picture that lies at the bottom. I fish out the faded image of Zevry and me. I can be no more than eight-years old in this photo. He’s grinning, as usual, with one arm wrapped around my shoulder. It was taken more than twenty years ago—yet little seems to have changed. Still have roughly cut short hair, now with a streak of color in the front. Still have a lean, almost boyish frame—though I’ve added some piercings and tattoos over the years in an attempt to distinguish myself. And then of course there’s my scar—cutting its pink path across my forehead and left eye. Slashed deep into my face not long after this picture was taken, it’s a permanent reminder you don’t walk the streets alone in a place like Etyom.
No time for this. I stuff the picture back into my satchel and head out the door without locking it. Anything worth stealing is already on me—and it wouldn’t take much to force the door to my closet-sized room anyway.
My boots creak on the rickety stairs leading into the bar below. It’s quiet now, a far cry from the bedlam hours earlier. Smoke hangs lazily in the air, like the memory of an old ghost.
“Come on, Clief.” I cough. “How do you breathe this stuff night after night?”
The man at the bar raises his head but continues to wipe down the counter. “Oh, it’s not that bad. Sorta like burning plastic.” He offers a tired smile. “Off so early?”
“Every day.” Still pinching my nose and squinting, I make my way toward the door. “I’m serious. Get some fresh air in here. That botchi is going to scramble what’s left of your tiny brain.”
He huffs out a laugh. “And that out there? That’s where you get the fresh air?”
“You know what I mean.”
As I push open the door, the wind hits me like a frozen punch in the mouth. Going out in this icy hell never gets easier. The streets are dark and cold, shadows upon shadows concealing the horrors of Etyom. It’s hard to believe this place was once considered a haven. Long ago, it was a vast, sprawling gulag-turned-mining community called Norilsk. Between World War III and the New Black Death, nearly nine billion people around the world lost their lives. Those who were left fled their homes and cities in search of someplace safer. For many, this barren hell hole was it. The conflict hadn’t fully destroyed the city, and the New Black Death struggled to take hold in the brutal Siberian climate. Survival was possible here.
A mass migration followed; the Russian government was helpless to stop it. Outside Norilsk, organized social structure, atleast the way people understood it then, gasped its final dying breath. And then, silence. Communications with the outside world went dark. Zev said anyone who hadn’t died in the war succumbed to the New Black Death. It was then everyone here knew they were truly alone. They chose to isolate themselves, even renamed the city Etyom. My brother and I weren’t born for another few hundred years, the descendants of those who fought to survive. We’re fighters, Mil. Survivors. Nothing can keep us down. That’s why we’re called Robusts. But then why didn’t you come home to me, brother?
I pull the jacket closer around my neck. Bilgi’s place is only a block away, and it’s a good thing, too, because with average temps below zero, the wind is cutting through me like a razor. I half run, half walk, down the quiet street, torn between wanting to get there fast and not wanting to bust my tail on the ice.
Six raps with my knuckles in the practiced manner and the rickety door immediately opens. Bilgi waits inside. His simple place is lit by a single oil lamp. It’s barren and less than inviting, but I’m not here to be pampered.
“Love me so much, you just wait for me by the door now?”
“If you would rather stand on the stoop a little longer, then be my guest,” he answers in a clipped tone, ushering me in.
“Come on, let’s do it already. I need to get my blood pumping.”
The words are barely out of my mouth, my arms still stuck in the sleeves of my jacket, when he lunges forward. I see it coming, but the impact still throttles me as Bilgi’s heavy hands encircle my neck and drive me against the wall. My hair scatters across my face. Bring it, old man. The jacket comes free, and with a flurry of punches and a swift roundhouse kick to Bilgi’st high, I drive him back.