The Ma­chine Awakes

Ac­claimed au­thor Adam Christo­pher re­turns to the Spi­der War uni­verse of The Burning Dark in this grip­ping far- fu­ture space opera.

SFX: The Sci-Fi and Fantasy Magazine - - Promotion - By Adam Christo­pher

As hu­man­ity re­mains trapped in a los­ing battle against a me­chan­i­cal race ca­pa­ble of tear­ing apart en­tire plan­ets, trainee psi- marine Caitlin Smith is on the run from the Fleet Academy with a mission of her own…

Caitlin screamed and sat up, kick­ing at the damp sheets tan­gling around her feet, her drenched T­shirt slick against her skin. For a mo­ment she could see noth­ing but golden light flar­ing and hear noth­ing but the roar of the ocean. But as she opened her eyes and blinked and blinked and blinked she re­al­ized the glow was morn­ing light re­flect­ing off the gold mir­rored glass of the build­ing op­po­site her own, the shard of light shin­ing through the un­fin­ished wall of her refuge and spot­light­ing her as she sat on her makeshift bed. The roar­ing wasn’t in her head, ei­ther. It was com­ing through the ceil­ing, the end­less screech and thud of mu­sic so heavy it sounded more like an un­bal­anced shut­tle af­ter­burner.

She kicked the sheets clear, then leaned back and reached un­der her pil­low. It was the only place you could keep valu­ables, and her most prized pos­ses­sion was still in place. Like­wise her watch, which never left her wrist, not in a place like this. She rubbed her face and glanced at it. Five a. m. Time to move. She swung her legs over the edge of the bed, then paused.

She’d had the dream, again. As vivid as a mem­ory, a flash­back from battle, as if it had been her on War­world 4114, crouch­ing in the trench, fac­ing down the march­ing Spi­der army with her mind as her weapon.

But it hadn’t been her. She had never served the Fleet – never got­ten that far. The mem­ory be­longed to some­one else. Her brother, Tyler. Cait sniffed the air. It was warm al­ready, although the breeze blow­ing in through the open wall of her twelfth­floor hide­out was start­ing to make her shiver in her sweat­soaked un­der­wear. Get­ting un­dressed to go to sleep was a risk – a place like this, you had to be ready to move, quickly – but it had been so fuck­ing hot the last few nights, she’d de­cided to take the chance. Not that she’d been able to sleep much. The dream had dis­turbed her rest for most of the past two weeks.

With the mu­sic still thun­der­ing from else­where in the halffin­ished build­ing, Cait quickly hopped across the floor, the con­crete cool on her bare feet as she crouched down near the plas­tic crate where she had stashed her gear. That was an­other risk. She re­ally should have kept the crate within arm’s reach of the bed. She chas­tised her­self for be­ing sloppy, but that was the last night she’d have to spend in this dump any­way.

For two weeks she’d been living – if you could call it that – high in an aban­doned, un­fin­ished sky­scraper on the edge of Salt City. De­spite the slum’s over­crowd­ing, the skele­tal build­ing was only half­oc­cu­pied by squat­ters – per­haps, Cait had thought, it was the prox­im­ity of the build­ing to the shiny clean world of New Orem, lit­er­ally just across the street, that put peo­ple off. The con­struc­tion – half- fin­ished fin­gers of build­ing pok­ing into the sky like the rot­ting ribs of a forgotten an­i­mal car­cass – had been halted who knew how many years ago, a sym­bol of the Fleet’s com­plete in­dif­fer­ence to the plight of the gi­ant slum right on its doorstep. Maybe that was an­other rea­son she’d found a hide­out so eas­ily. The peo­ple of Salt City didn’t want any re­minders of how the Fleet had failed them. The con­struc­tion site, and the shell of the build­ing in which Cait had made her camp, was just that.

That didn’t stop scav­engers, of course. As Cait got dressed, she padded over to the open wall and looked down at the

rub­ble- strewn ground far be­low. The body of the last one she’d fought off was still down there, ly­ing in a par­tic­u­larly in­ac­ces­si­ble half­fin­ished foun­da­tion pile. She hadn’t in­tended to kill him, but she hadn’t been able to stop her­self. Backed into a cor­ner, fight­ing not just for her life but for the mission, and… it had hap­pened again. Her wild tal­ent had come to the fore, act­ing al­most like it had its own in­tel­li­gence, tak­ing over to pro­tect her when she couldn’t do it her­self. The scav­enger had screamed all the way to the ground. And he was still there. And she re­ally hadn’t meant to kill him – her tal­ent, her power im­pos­si­ble to con­trol, no mat­ter how hard she tried. But since then, no­body else had come to bother her. She guessed his corpse – his screams – had served as a warn­ing. Stay away from the woman on level twelve, north side. She’s a crazy bitch.

Cait pushed the mem­ory away, fo­cus­ing on the here and now, con­trol­ling her breath­ing as she felt her heart rate pick up.

Be­cause her tal­ent was a fright­en­ing thing. And not just for scav­engers or the train­ers at the Academy who had seen some­thing dif­fer­ent about her, out of all the thou­sands of re­cruits who en­rolled. She was scared of it too. She blew out her cheeks to calm her­self, and she sat on her bed and pulled her boots on. Her out­fit wasn’t black as in­structed, but it was com­prised of the dark­est things she still owned. The pants and boots were black, but the hoodie was dark navy blue, and the T­shirt un­der­neath was light gray – there was noth­ing she could do there ex­cept keep the hoodie zipped to the neck. She stood and pulled a hair tie from her pocket, scrap­ing her still- damp bangs off her face as she looked out to the spires of the Fleet cap­i­tal, New Orem, glow­ing in the sun­rise. It was a beau­ti­ful sight, de­spite the ru­ined sur­rounds.

The morn­ing sky was clear, and when the chill breeze dropped Cait could feel the real heat be­gin­ning to grow, the sun­light al­ready re­flect­ing off thou­sands of im­mac­u­late mir­rored build­ings op­po­site her own in­com­plete shell of one.

To­day it was time to head back into the city, be­cause to­day was her brother’s fu­neral.

It would be a mil­i­tary ser­vice with full hon­ors, to be held at the Fleet Me­mo­rial, a vast ceme­tery on the other side of the city. Cait had worked out a route, had run it a few times to make sure it was okay. It would take three hours to get into po­si­tion, as in­structed. The ser­vice was due to start at one in the af­ter­noon. She had plenty of time, but she knew she needed to get in and set up be­fore it got too dif­fi­cult.

Cait turned from the open wall and lifted her pil­low. Be­neath it was a slim black back­pack. As she picked it up, some­thing hard clanked in­side. She un­zipped the top, made sure the ob­jects in­side were se­cure, and slipped it on. She closed her eyes. Took a deep breath.

I’m ready, she thought. The breeze picked up, pulling at her hair.

I’ll see you soon, sis, said the voice of Tyler Smith in­side her head, as real as her own thoughts.

Cait opened her eyes and smiled. She reached down into the plas­tic crate and took out a small can­is­ter of liq­uid. She flipped the cap, poured it over her bed­ding, and then walked back­wards, splash­ing the liq­uid around as much as pos­si­ble be­fore toss­ing the con­tainer back into the crate. She took two steps down the open stair­well at the back of the room, then pulled a dis­pos­able lighter from her pocket. She flicked the flame and watched it for a mo­ment, then threw the lighter. Im­me­di­ately, her for­mer ac­com­mo­da­tion was en­gulfed with thin, pale flames. Caitlin Smith turned on her heel and jogged down the stairs. She had a fu­neral to in­ter­rupt. To find out what hap­pens next, pick up The Ma­chine Awakes, out now from Ti­tan Books ( RRP £ 7.99). E- book also avail­able. www. ti­tan­books. com

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