A few months ago I started something that, given my hatred of thinking up titles, I then took to referring to as The Dystopian Cyborg Angel Novel – or any number of different arrangements of those words.
A few months later I’m close – I think and hope and pray – to being done with the first draft of it, which will probably clock in between 80k and 90k words. I’m very back and forth on whether it’s any good, but at least it’s going to be done, which is about all a writer can hope for some days. It also has a title – Harbinger – and I definitely don’t hate that, at least. I don’t know yet what’s going to happen to it or where it’s going to be sent, but for the moment I’m not worrying too much about that.
I’ve been posting little snippets of it as it’s been written and I mentioned last week that I was going to post another one, so here it is.
A little background: My two protagonists, Samir Ghani and Michael, have attempted to make contact with a terrorist organization known as Phoenix, which Samir hopes might help his sister Ashmita (who has gotten herself uncomfortably mixed up in a theft). The meet has gone sour and the private security agency that has essentially replaced the government has attempted to arrest them. But Michael is possessed of terrifying powers that neither he nor Samir entirely understands, and he has unleashed them in an attempt to allow both Samir and Phoenix’s representatives to escape into some disused subway tunnels.
Excerpt under the cut.
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Samir was running. He wasn’t sure how that had happened, but now that it was happening he was prepared to commit to it. Dimly, he was aware of filthy water splashing around his ankles. The gloom around him smelled like mold and ancient garbage. He thought he might hear rats squeaking over the sound of footfalls and panicked breathing.
He had not really believed that any place like this still existed in the districts.
“Come on!” Someone had his hand—Ashmita. But she wasn’t the one speaking, and she wasn’t pulling him. He was pulling her. He peered ahead and there was the woman, he thought, and the two men, one of whom appeared to be half supporting the other.
Michael. Where the hell was Michael?
“We have to wait,” he gasped. Something about Michael. What had happened to him? Why couldn’t he remember? “Michael is—”
“Your friend is occupied.” Even through the panting, her voice sounded oddly cold. “He’ll follow us if he can, I think.”
From far behind them, there were screams.
“We can get out this way.” The woman skidded to a stop—they were at a branching of the tunnels, three directions extending straight and diagonally from where they stood, identically shadowy. Samir stared, feeling the clutch of Ashmita’s hand and a rising sense of panic, but then the woman was turning down the left branch, gesturing over her shoulder.
“Where? The ring?”
“Not quite.” She turned back again, and Samir caught a flash of a smile, teeth in the dimness. “There are other places than the ringland and the districts, boy. Follow.”
He followed. Ashmita kept pace beside him, silent except for her breathing. The dimness faded into near-darkness, and with no visual reference points the tunnel seemed to stretch out into forever. He ran until his legs ached and his lungs burned, and he was near stumbling. If he fell, he thought—and his brain conjured up images of broken glass, rusty nails and shards of metal waiting to stab at his palms and knees.
They stopped again, so abruptly that he ran into someone’s back and stumbled backward with a gasped apology.
“We wait here.” The woman. “For five minutes. If he comes to us, he comes. If not, we leave him behind.”
Samir turned in the dark—how were they even seeing?—and was about to protest when Ashmita’s hand tightened on his arm, tugging him toward her. He felt hot breath against his ear, her lips moving.
“What is he?” she whispered. “That wasn’t… that wasn’t anything like I—“
There was a rushing sound, hissing and the sensation of moving air across his face and the side of his neck. He lifted his head, turned. The quality of the dark itself had changed. There was something new in it.
A shiver rolled down his spine.
“I’m here,” Michael said quietly. Then, “I’m all right. A lot of them are dead.”
“Are you hurt?” The woman. Were the men even still with them? Samir strained, trying to hear their breathing. But the darkness was a mass of breathing, the shuffling of feet, running water. It was nearly impossible to say which sounds belonged to whom.
“No.” Shuffling that Samir felt abruptly sure was Michael, close by. Barely a foot away from him. He felt Ashmita flinch against his side and slid an arm around her. What is he? What he was had changed.
And what had that change consisted of? He knew he had seen it, barely moment before, or so it seemed. Why couldn’t he remember it clearly now?
“Good.” The woman again. “Then let’s continue. The tunnel entrance is still a mile or so ahead.”
How can you tell? Samir wanted to ask her, and then, as she laid a hand on his arm, he realized—augmentation. She must be able to see infrared. Possibly other ways. Her hand on his arm was slick and cool with perspiration.
“Are you all right?”
“Yes.” He held Ashmita closer. She was trembling slightly, and Samir was reminded of a pet rabbit that he had had for one ill-fated summer, its shivering little body when it was taken out of its cage. “Ash,” he whispered. “Come on. We can talk about it later.”
He felt her slide away from him, though she kept hold of his hand. “I’m all right,” she whispered. “I’m all right. I’m fine.”
In the darkness he could feel Michael watching him.