Chapter 1 of Leto’s Children, available everywhere on Dec. 3rd, 2022. Preorder your copy here.
New Texas Territory, Earth
Impossible to kill. That’s what the package said when it arrived. Ezrie opened it up with an undue amount of excitement, red dust fluttering from her fingers as they tore at the tape. She had it inside the trailer even before the postal drone had fully disappeared back into the sky.
“Impossible to open is more like it,” she muttered, picking at the tape with broken fingernails, then picking it open with a butter-covered knife. It was two weeks late, but beggars couldn’t be choosers when you wanted to find an undocumented, untraceable delivery drone service. Her heart squeezed with an excitement that she knew wouldn’t last. But, at least for today, it made her feel something.
Ezrie pulled out her prize, pricking her finger only once on the jagged needles of the cactus. Of course, it was risky to have anything delivered to her. But she couldn’t help it. No matter what kind of danger it put her in, she had to have something alive. Even if she knew that eventually—no matter what the packaging said—she would end up killing it.
Ezrie introduced the cactus around the tiny trailer, showing it her computer and the room where her teleporter sat, unplugged and unused for almost six months, before depositing it with the others—nearly 20 ceramic pots with plants in variable states of decay.
She sighed heavily. “It’s the water, you know. Not a lot to go around,” she said to the cactus, half imagining its shock at the rampant vegicide. “That’s what got them. But I have a lot of hope for you.”
A lie. But at least she was only hurting a cactus this time.
Despite the blackout curtains, the trailer was already starting to warm up. She called the air conditioning on and the projector, taking a quick peek from behind her front window.
She could see the dusty, sunbaked earth frying beneath the January sun. Deadly hot. At the edge of her property (which she got for a steal because no one wanted to live in the No Man’s Land of the Texas Territories) her counter-intelligence drones buzzed, setting up the shielding that kept her invisible. There were several more potted plants that had long-since died lying against the trash heap which was now two months high. She shook her head at their corpses.
Impossible to kill, my ass, she thought. I should write a scathing Nets review. But honestly, it said more about Ezrie than the plants, didn’t it? Ezrie could kill the unkillable.
Ezrie linked into the Nets over breakfast, the new cactus the centerpiece of her coffee table. From the holoprojector, the political garbage, celebrity news, and water riot footage poured over her as she gnawed a bone. She washed it down with the last of her reclaimed water so as not to taste it.
All the boards were quiet this morning except for a message from a contact she had in Pakistan about finding a weak patch for RocketForce, and could she create a crowbar program by next week? She tapped her response, half-listening to the news, scrounging a couple jobs she could do for water money. Nothing big.
A message flickered across the screen. She scanned it, her eyes snagging on the name at the bottom.
Everything went hot and cold at the same time. Her hands were shaking as she flicked off the projected screen. It couldn’t be him, it couldn’t…
She wanted to scream. She wanted to smash something. But she felt numb and frozen. She was suddenly so cold.
Ezrie fumbled to the shower, not bothering to take off her tank top and underwear. She turned the water to scalding, knowing it was burning her, but not caring, not even bothering to wipe the stinging blue chemical scrub from her eyes. She tried not to think, but there were too many thoughts, memories crowding and drowning her.
It had been a long time since she’d seen Marcus. How many years? Fifteen?
So much had happened since then. Too much.
And in all that time, Marcus had never looked for her. Never returned a call or message. She thought she felt the shadow of that old hatred, the rage that had driven her in the first, desperate years. The places she had searched for him that barely existed except for dog-eared maps and whispered clues.
Orchard Grove, Utah.
Ezrie had driven that last one herself, brazen, unafraid of being tracked by the patrol drones that flitted above the dry, baked-earth riverbeds that served as the state’s unofficial highway. That had been nearly five years ago now.
When she had arrived, the house was another dummy—an empty lot with a “For Sale” sign. The trace integration chip that would have allowed her to hear the price and number of bathrooms (if she’d had a trace herself, that is) had been long since stolen. She had been more disappointed in that, actually. At least the chip would have bought her a night in a skeezy hotel. A dead end with no Marcus was one thing. Another night spent half-awake, jamming the truck’s signal so that the trollers passed by was like salt in the wound.
But it was all so long ago.
Ezrie came out of the shower, commanding the air dryer on. As she sat on a pile of dirty laundry, her blue footsteps dried to nothing. Like she’d never even been here at all.
She could forget the past, let it dry up and blow away. None of it mattered any more. Marcus had won. She had lost. The only ones who cared were dead, anyway.
But then she remembered sitting, small and scared in the plastic hospital chair, defending him—even as Marcus jockeyed to put his name on the teleporter prototype that her father had died to complete.
The case worker who had been assigned to her asked questions that Ezrie refused to answer.
How long ago did your father die?
Were you the only one caring for him?
How long has it been since you’ve been to school?
Where is your mother?
Ezrie could only tell her one thing: Marcus will come. Marcus will take care of me.
It had taken time to realize that he was a liar. But she’d only been thirteen. And she had wanted to believe him. But when she’d seen the porter in the news for the first time—The Olet Porter—that’s when she knew.
He was never coming for her. And he was her enemy.
Ezrie went back to the holoscreen and opened the message. The location was real. Sent through the trace security program Ouros. If anyone knew how unhackable that was, it was Ezrie.
It was a hoax. It had to be. Yet the teleporter location pin included as a footnote looked real enough. The DNA-generated sequence included the same tagged characters she had tracked him with all these years.
After all this time, he’d finally come to her.
Breathe Ezrie, she thought. It’s a trap.
“No shit,” she muttered. She tapped the message open, anyway.
I am sorry for all that has happened between us. I have found a way to make things right. This pin will bring you where you need to be. I don’t have much time. I can understand if you leave me here to die. You should after what I’ve done.
Marcus’ message ignored the years but struck the right notes. Apologetic. Contrite. He knew what she wanted to hear.
Once a liar, always a liar.
But he had finally answered her messages. He had finally come to repair what he’d broken.
It’s probably death if you go, a quiet, small voice in her head whispered. How can you trust him?
She smiled. “I don’t.”
Ezrie backtracked Marcus’ message, opening up the hidden coding and using a custom tracking program to map its progress. She removed the security code, a few lines of logic that needed to be redirected. Then she visualized the data on her projector screen. It called up a map of Earth, the Mars and moon colonies, and a few outlying mining stations on Titan—every place that a message might be coming from.
The map blinked a single light, of course, her own location in Texas. After a breathless moment, additional lights blinked on the screen tracking the path of the message. Locations lit up in California, El Salvador, Nigeria, and Mars South.
“Someone doesn’t want to be followed,” she mumbled.
ERROR. LOCATION UNKNOWN.
Ezrie ran the location again through all her maps and location programs, this time including off-shore sites, private mining databases and personal properties on the lunar surface and Jupiter’s colonized moons, Io and Europa. Nothing.
“He’s sending me into the goddamn nothing of space,” she muttered.
So, the Marcus train ended in Texas and began somewhere unknown. It was a bad idea to follow him there. But if she could jump to the next to last stop, get ahead of him a step, she might be able to gather some intel. Figure out what he wanted before she took the last leg of the trip.
The signal was protected, high level. Mars. She’d been out there before. Mining country was always a little like the wild west. The only law there was paid for by the mines. Everything else was survival of the fittest.
“This is crazy,” she muttered. “I can’t.” Her things were here: her screens. Her drones. The components and parts that she used to build and hawk porter hacks. But, somewhere, there were magazines with Marcus’ face on them, the eyes torn out.
You promised. You promised to make it right.
She felt that old ember burning now. Yes, she still hated Marcus. She had business to finish with him.
The porter loomed, a shoddy-looking thing that stood nearly fifteen feet tall in the shed at the back of the trailer. The two legs that supported the oculus beam were made of scraps, which gave it a patchwork color. She touched one of the rough welds, shaking her head at her own haphazard work.
She revved the generator on, the sound ear-splitting, and plugged the porter in. It began its own hum, the oculus light blinking red as it warmed up. She hadn’t powered it on for months now, maybe even a year. Not that ICET could track her ports—the Black Door frequency made her incognito wherever she went. But the police drones sometimes made rounds, even out here, and the kind of energy that the porter needed had aroused suspicion before.
The empty door frame of the porter sizzled to life, and a sizzling, popping field of light filled the empty space where a door should be.
There was a ker-chunk from the generator, and the light flickered twice before resettling as a smooth panel of yellow ions. She swallowed hard. It was probably fine.
Her father’s image flashed in her mind, his skin sloughing, his eyes bleeding yellow gore.
I won’t think of that. Not today.
As the sound of the porter’s hum increased, she dug out her radiation suit from a pile of dirty clothes and stuffed essentials into her “go” bag. A manual screen and computer board, a few personal items, a few weapons (just in case) and her laster. It had been partial payment for a crack job she had done for some weapons dealers a long time before. She’d still never used it, but it always made her feel safer to have it with her. She flicked it on, relishing the hum and warm vibration in her hand.
The last thing was the virus. She took the earring from its box beneath her bed, wiping the dust gently. It unfolded in diamond brilliance, the black pearl stud like a jewel against the velvet. Ezrie put it on carefully. Even though she knew it couldn’t hurt her, she had seen what it could do. She was counting on it.
On impulse, she grabbed the dog-eared photo from beside her bed. It had been taken at the ocean on a vacation. Her mother hadn’t wanted to pay for a picture. But her father had insisted, and he’d paid the man with the acne and moustache almost twice what he’d asked to take as many pictures as it took to get a good one.
In it, the light of the setting sun filtered through her father’s thinning hair and highlighted her mother’s short, round nose. Molly was looking up at Richard, as if she might kiss him. Ezrie looked up at them, smiling, her black hair pinned back with plastic barettes. It had been taken so long ago that Ezrie now resembled her mother more than herself. They had the same pale skin and black hair. But her boxy jaw and her eyes were her father’s. The combination had always confused people. “You’re Japanese?” she’d had a teacher once ask incredulously. “I don’t believe it.”
“Neither do I,” Ezrie had said. But her looks gave people the impression that she was something that she was not. Throughout her life, strangers had spoken to her in different languages—Japanese, Chinese, even Spanish—assuming she could understand. But she understood them about as well as she had understood her own mother, who never spoke a single word of Japanese. No, Molly’s language was English, but she was as closed and coded and unknowable as if she were speaking an alien tongue.
Ezrie gave one last scan of the trailer. Was there anything she was forgetting? The cactus sat on the coffee table as if to answer. Impossible to kill. Maybe she would be back soon. Maybe this time her little plant would stay alive long enough to greet her when she returned.
Ezrie wanted to believe it was true, but she knew better. Nothing that she cared about ever lasted. Like that poem her father had read her when she was little: Nothing gold can stay.
By now, the generator roared like a diesel engine and the porter read the signal strength at 91%. The oculus eye was steady green, ready to send her into the unknown. She felt small. Scared. But the shimmer of the ion field was patient. It hummed in her father’s voice.
She inputted the location manually, her stomach queasy and greasy. Then Ezrie placed her hand on the porter panel. It took her DNA and made that shadow copy of her. Somewhere she was already there. Somewhere on Mars, not quite where Marcus wanted her to be. But close enough to take matters into her own hands.
Because I can kill anything, she thought. Even Marcus.
The door shimmered, the ions speeding up, becoming a yellow frenzy of motion. Ezrie gripped the laster tightly in one hand, the strap of her pack in the mesh glove of the other. She held her breath and stepped through.
Chapter 1 of Leto’s Children, available everywhere on Dec. 3rd, 2022. Preorder your copy here.
The Weird Team is comprised of several unhinged individuals that have a love of life and a lust for adventure. They scour the world to find the strangest, scariest, and most wonderful news in the universe.