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