Endgame: The Call­ing

The end of the world is com­ing. Play now. Or we all lose.

SFX: The Sci-Fi and Fantasy Magazine - - Promotion - By James Frey & Nils John­son- Shel­ton

After cen­turies wait­ing in se­cret, twelve un­bro­ken blood­lines, armed with hid­den knowl­edge and lethal train­ing, are called to take hu­man­ity’s fate into their hands…

It’s weird, isn’t it?” She cracks another peanut. “What?” “I’m from Omaha, you’re from near Lake Tit­i­caca, and we’re on a train to Xi’an. The me­te­ors hit in each place.” “Yes, that is weird.” “What’s your name?” “Feo.” He pops a peanut in his mouth. “Nice to meet you, Feo. I’m Sarah.” She pops a peanut in her mouth. “Tell me – you go­ing to Xi’an to see the crater?”

“Me? No. Just tour­ing. I can’t imag­ine the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment is go­ing to be let­ting any­one get too close to it any­way.” “Can I ask you another ques­tion, Feo?” “Sure.” “You like to play games?” She’s outed her­self. He’s not sure this is wise. His re­sponse will go a long way to de­ter­mine whether or not he will be outed too. “Not re­ally,” he an­swers quickly. “I like puz­zles, though.” She leans back. Her tone changes, the flir­ta­tious lilt melt­ing away.

“Not me. I like know­ing things for sure one way or the other. I hate un­cer­tainty. I tend to elim­i­nate it as quickly as I can, get it out of my life.” “Prob­a­bly a good pol­icy, if you can ac­tu­ally do it.” She smiles, and though he should be tense and ready to kill her, her smile dis­arms him. “So— Feo. That mean some­thing?” “It means ‘ ugly’.” “Your par­ents name you that?” “My real name is Jago; ev­ery­one just calls me Feo.” “You’re not, though, even though you’re try­ing to be.” “Thank you,” he replies, un­able to stop him­self from smil­ing, the di­a­monds in his teeth flash­ing. He de­cides to throw her a crumb. If she takes it, they will both know. He’s not sure that it’s a smart play, but he knows one must take risks to win Endgame. En­e­mies are a given. Friends are not. Why not take ad­van­tage of an early chance en­counter and find out which this beau­ti­ful Amer­i­can will be?

“So, Sarah from Omaha who is here on va­ca­tion, while you’re in Xi’an do you want to visit the Big Wild Goose Pagoda with me?”

Be­fore she can an­swer, a white flash comes from out­side. The train lurches and brakes. The lights flicker and go out. A loud sound like a vi­brat­ing string comes from the other side of the din­ing car. Jago’s eyes are mo­men­tar­ily drawn to the faint blip- blip of a red light from un­der a ta­ble. He looks back to the win­dow when the light out­side in­ten­si­fies. He and Sarah both stand and move to­ward it. In the dis­tance, a bright streak runs across the sky, go­ing east to west. It looks like a shoot­ing star, but it’s too low, and its tra­jec­tory is as straight as a ra­zor’s edge. Jago and Sarah both stare, trans­fixed, as the streak speeds against the dark­ness of the Chi­nese night. At the last minute, be­fore it passes from view, the streak sud­denly changes di­rec­tion and moves in an 88- de­gree an­gle north to south, dis­ap­pear­ing over the hori­zon. They pull back from the win­dow and the lights come back and the train starts to ac­cel­er­ate. The other peo­ple in the din­ing car are talk­ing ur­gently, but none seem to have no­ticed the thing out­side. Jago stands. “Come with me.” “Where?” “Come with me if you want to live.” “What are you talk­ing about?” He holds out his hand. “Now.” She stands and fol­lows him but makes a point of not tak­ing his hand.

As they walk he says, “If I told you I’m the Player of the 21st line, would that mean any­thing to you?” “I would tell you I’m the Player of the 233rd.” “Truce, at least for now?” “Yes, for now.” They reach the ta­ble where Jago saw the blink­ing red light. The Chi­nese cou­ple is sit­ting at it. They stop talk­ing and look at the two for­eign­ers quizzi­cally. Jago and Sarah ig­nore the cou­ple, and Jago kneels and Sarah bends to look over his shoul­der. Bolted to the wall un­der the ta­ble is a black metal box with a small, faintly blink­ing red LED in the mid­dle. Above the LED is the character 驚. In the cor­ner of the black box is a dig­i­tal dis­play. It reads AA: AA: AQ. A sec­ond later AA: AA: AP. Another

sec­ond, AA: AA: AO. “Is that what I think it is?” Sarah asks, tak­ing a step back. “I’m not will­ing to wait around to find out,” Jago says. “Me nei­ther.” “Let’s get your bag.” They head back to the ta­ble and Jago grabs the back­pack. They move to the rear of the car and open the door, step into the space be­tween cars. If the let­ters are seconds, they have 11 left. Sarah pulls the emer­gency brake. It doesn’t work. The mov­ing land­scape is there. Wait­ing for them. “Go,” Jago says, step­ping aside. Eight seconds. She doesn’t hes­i­tate, jumps. Seven seconds. He hugs the back­pack, hop­ing it will soften his land­ing, jumps. It hurts when he lands, but he’s been trained to ig­nore pain. He rolls down a gravel em­bank­ment and into the dirt, takes a mouth­ful of grass, scratches his face and hands. He can’t be sure, but he thinks he’s dis­lo­cated his right shoul­der. Three seconds. He stops rolling. Two seconds. She’s a few yards away, al­ready stand­ing, as if she some­how landed un­hurt. “You all right?” she asks. One sec­ond. The train is past them. “Yes,” he says, won­der­ing if she can tell he’s ly­ing. Zero seconds. She crouches next to him, wait­ing for the train to ex­plode. Noth­ing hap­pens. The stars are out. They stare. Wait. Jago looks in the sky above the train and sees Leo and Can­cer above the western hori­zon.

“Maybe we over­re­acted–” Sarah starts to say, just as the din­ing car lights up and the win­dows blow out. The en­tire car is lifted 50 feet or more into the air amidst a cloud of orange fire. The force rip­ples through the train. The aft cars crum­ple, mo­men­tum pil­ing them into a screech­ing and jum­bled pile. The for­ward cars are ob­scured by the blast and the dark­ness, but Jago can make out the lights of the en­gine as it’s twisted off the rails. The sound of grat­ing metal tears through the night, and another, smaller, ex­plo­sion goes off to­ward the front of the train. There is a brief mo­ment of si­lence, just be­fore the scream­ing starts. “Mierda,” Jago says breath­lessly. “I guess we’re go­ing to have to get used to things like that, aren’t we?” “Yes.” Jago winces. “What is it?” “My shoul­der.” “Let me see.” Jago turns to Sarah. His right arm is hang­ing low in his shirt. “Can you move your fin­gers?” He can. “Your wrist?” He can. “Good.” She gin­gerly takes his arm with both hands and lifts it a lit­tle. The pain shoots over his shoul­der and down his back, but he doesn’t say any­thing. He has been through far worse. “Dis­lo­cated. I don’t think it’s too bad,” she says. “You don’t think, or you don’t know?” “I don’t think. I’ve only set one of th­ese be­fore. For my brother,” she says qui­etly. “Can you put it back?” “Of course, Feo. I’m a Player,” she says, try­ing not to sound like she’s con­vinc­ing her­self. “I can do all sorts of won­der­ful things.” She lifts it again. “It’s gonna hurt, though.” “I don’t care.” Sarah pulls, twists, and pushes the arm, and it pops into place. Jago breathes deeply through his teeth, test­ing out his arm. It works. “Thank you, Sarah.” The scream­ing is louder. “You’d have done the same for me.” Jago smiles. For some rea­son, he thinks of the peo­ple who came to see his par­ents after the me­teor struck Ju­li­aca. There are some debts that must be hon­ored. “No, I wouldn’t have,” he says. “But I will now.” Sarah stands, looks to­ward the wreck­age. “We need to get out of here. Be­fore the gov­ern­ment gets here, be­fore they start ask­ing ques­tions.” “You think it was meant for one of us?” Jago asks. “It had to be. This is Endgame,” she says, reach­ing out her hand, of­fer­ing it. “My name is Sarah Alo­pay. I’m the Ca­hokian.”

He takes her hand, and it lights him up, feels as if it be­longs in his, as if it’s some­thing he’s been wait­ing for. It also scares him, be­cause he knows th­ese feel­ings can be dan­ger­ous, can make him vul­ner­a­ble, es­pe­cially with some­one who has the skills he sus­pects she has. For now, though, he’ll al­low him­self to feel it, to love it.

“I’m Jago Tlaloc. The Olmec.”

To find out what hap­pens next – and to start solv­ing the puz­zle that could win you $ 500,000 in gold coins – pick up Endgame: The Call­ing, out now from HarperCollins.

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