Last Sale of the Year


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Hi all! Quick notice that I’ve dropped the price of Failsafe to 99¢ for a limited time. It won’t be on sale again this year so grab your copy while the sale is on!





Barnes & Noble



Summer Reading Event



Fantasy author K. M. Shea has been running a pretty amazing summer reading event over on her site, collaborating with loads of authors to host awesome giveaways and free books.

For August, she has brought 70 authors together to participate in a huge BookFunnel giveaway of novellas and short stories. These are all classified as “clean” reads (no sex and minimum violence and language) and are 100% Free :):):)

Click here to head on over and see if there’s something new for you to try!


Crying Suns


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Couple of quick things to tell you about as we head into the weekend:

First, I’ve put Insurrection: The Complete Omnibus on sale for 99¢ for a few days (also on Kindle Unlimited). Space battles, chases, escapes, true love, blasters — sometimes a love of blasters — all at a discount;)


Second, for you gamers out there, I want to draw your attention to a seriously awesome indie game called Crying Suns. If you’re a fan of FTL, this is DEFINITELY a game you want in on. It’s in the final days of their Kickstarter campaign and the demo is unbelievably amazing. All the same fun and freedom of choosing your own adventure from FTL, but with more story. Kotaku has given it a rave review as well.

Check out the trailer:

Woah, right?? And the game play is as fun as this looks. The creators poured their heart and soul into this one, and it shows. We’re already contributors at my house and just had to signal boost. Support for independent creators is how epic games come about, so if you’re able, please consider giving them yours.

Go to Crying Suns Kickstarter campaign

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Guest Post: Challenging the Collective Identity


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Anela says: I’m excited to kick off a series of guest posts from awesome women authors of science fiction. Women fill science fiction as readers, writers, and characters in stories, though do not often receive equal recognition in this genre. Today, I welcome author Mikhaeyla Kopievsky as she examines gendered stereotypes and the ways in which science fiction has served as a vehicle to challenge them.

Take it away, Mikhaeyla!

Challenging the Collective Identity

Just a little while ago, on 14 July, I released the second book in my Divided Elements series, Rebellion. I thought it was kind of fitting that Rebellion was published on Bastille Day, since it is a dystopian tale of revolution set in a post-apocalyptic Paris. Interestingly, 14 July is also celebrated as International Non-binary Day – which similarly held a nice symmetry, since my book is centered on challenging the identity stereotypes society imposes.

As someone who has always strongly identified as female and as a feminist, but not particularly feminine, Non-binary day got me thinking about how gendered identity – like all types of identity – is both a deeply personal and a deeply cultural concept. And that authentic identity is forged in the way we both embrace and challenge the cultural stereotypes of that collective identity.

Collective identity is a tricky thing – by its very nature it is a generalisation; a broad-brushed characterisation of a shared experience, perspective, and values-system. Changing the way we view that characterisation (and opening up opportunities for challenging it), requires changing the narrative…

And what better vehicle for doing that than actual narratives?

Science fiction has been creating mind-bending narratives for decades and there are likely hundreds of examples that show stereotypes being challenged and reimagined. Today I want to share with you my favourite examples of gendered stereotypes turned on their heads by scifi books and movies:


  • Sarah Connor (Terminator) – ‘Mother’. Sarah Connor is not the kind of mother you’d find in a Norman Rockwell painting and yet she is nothing if not fiercely maternal. Sarah debunks all concepts of passive, gentle motherhood and instead gives us a mother lioness.




  • Ellen Ripley (Alien) – ‘Damsel in Distress’. Ellen Ripley is on a distant, unfamiliar planet when her entire crew is decimated by a really freaking scary alien. Ellen is not a kick-ass, alien-killing ninja (a la Emily Blunt’s Angel of Verdun in Edge of Tomorrow) – she is just a woman who is left alone and who must survive with the skills, knowledge and resources available to her. She is not super-human, but she finds a super-human strength within her to win her battle with a formidable foe and make it out alive.



  • Ann Burden (Z is for Zacahariah) – ‘Dreamy Schoolgirl’. Ann, a teenage girl who is left alone on her family’s farm in the wake of a nuclear fallout, undergoes a rite of passage when her isolation is interrupted by the arrival of Loomis – an older man who appears with a radiation safe-suit and ideas on how to survive. Desperate for company and impressed by his confidence and credentials, Ann nurses him to health and fantasizes about eventually marrying him, falling into line with his ideas and directions. Over time, she starts to harbor doubts about the man and his ideas and when he turns aggressive and violent, rather than capitulate to submission, Ann takes control of her life and claws back her own agency.


  • YT (Snowcrash) – ‘Sweet Sidekick’. YT (Yours Truly) is a savvy, self-assured skateboarding courier who is more the reluctant hero than the book’s actual protagonist, Hiro. YT is a world-weary fifteen year old, who wears a dentata (anti-rape device), frequently thinks about sex, throws herself into the path of danger, and still loves her mum.


  • Nyx (God’s War) – ‘Pure Warrior’. There are many stories about women warriors who are righteous and just and almost Madonna-like (holy, not musical) in their pure quest for victory. Not Nyx. Nyx is a ruthless mercenary who kills for money, not morals and not loyalty. She is not the one to save the cat, she is one to save herself.


Each of these examples show how good science fiction can challenge what we think we know about a shared experience and collective identity. I see aspects of myself, my sister, my mother, and my friends in all of these characters – and I love that they broaden my understanding of what being female is and can be.

Challenging gender stereotypes creates a more dynamic and fluid understanding of identity and allows us to create more personal reflections of the cultural stereotypes that have previously limited us.

I hope to read, and create!, more amazing and interesting and unique female characters that continue to challenge and inspire me.

Anela says: Thank you so much for this insightful post, Mikhaeyla!

Readers, where have you seen science fiction confront or confound gender stereotypes in books/TV/movies/games?

Don’t forget to check out Mikhaeyla’s gripping Sci-Fi series Divided Elements below!

Love thought-provoking and subversive science fiction? Check out the Divided Elements series, where forging your own identity is the most dangerous form of revolution.


From the moment you are born, you are conditioned to know this truth: Unorthodoxy is wrong action, Heterodoxy is wrong thought. One will lead to your Detention. The other to your Execution.

Two generations after the Execution of Kane 148 and Otpor’s return to Orthodoxy, the Resistor’s legacy still lingers.

In this future, post-apocalyptic Paris, forbidden murals are appearing on crumbling concrete walls – calling citizens to action. Calling for Resistance.

When Kane’s former protege, Anaiya 234, is selected for a high-risk undercover mission, Otpor is given the chance it needs to eliminate the Heterodoxy and Anaiya the opportunity she craves to erase a shameful past.

But the mission demands an impossible sacrifice – her identity.

While the growing rebellion will change the utopian lives of all Otpor’s citizens, for Anaiya it will change who she is. As the risk of violence escalates and every decision is fraught with betrayal, will Anaiya’s fractured identity save her or condemn her?

Winner of a 2017 OneBookTwo Standout Award, Resistance (Divided Elements #1) is free for a limited time. Rebellion (Divided Elements #2) is now available as an ebook from all major distributors.

Get your free Cocktail Companion Guide and deleted prologue by signing up to Mikhaeyla’s newsletter.


MIKHAEYLA KOPIEVSKY is an independent speculative fiction author who loves writing about complex and flawed characters in stories that explore philosophy, sociology and politics. She holds degrees in International Relations, Journalism, and Environmental Science. A former counter-terrorism advisor, she has travelled to and worked in Asia, the Middle East and Africa.

Mikhaeyla lives in the Hunter Valley, Australia, with her husband and son. Divided Elements is her debut offering.

Win Books & an eReader!


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Today I have a fun surprise I’d like to share with you:

I’ve teamed up with 30+ fantastic authors to give away a huge collection of Young Adult Sci-Fi & Fantasy novels to 2 lucky winners, PLUS a brand new eReader to the Grand Prize winner!

Oh, and did I mention you’ll receive a collection of FREE reads just for entering? ;D

You can win books from authors like Andrea Pearson (Mosaic Chronicles series) and Tosca Lee (The Books of Mortals series), plus my new novel FAILSAFE


Enter the giveaway by clicking HERE

Good luck and happy Monday, everyone!

Romance in books: A Love/Hate Relationship


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I love romance. Straight up, putting it out there and feelin’ no shame: I looove it. A friend of mine once told me I was in love with love. It could be true because a good love story gives me the fuzzies, the butterflies, the squees. Whatever you want to call it, a romantic sub-plot so does it for me. It takes a really good writer to make me not notice its absence because I usually feel like the story was missing something when there isn’t one.

So, you can imagine I’m pretty familiar with what sucks about them. I’ve read stories where the plot/worldbuilding/characters are all amazing, but for some reason they shoved in a glaringly bad love story that dragged down all the good. My working theory is that there are authors who think they have to have a love story in order to catch the attention of readers who prefer stories with them (like me), but they don’t actually read/write much romance themselves and thus don’t have a good feel for what it should look like.


Whatever the case may be, I’ve boiled it down to three main things that make readers despise a romance — and which give the romantic sub-plot in books a bad name.

1. Melodrama & Manufactured tension

I’d put the love triangle/square/hexagon mess under melodrama, because really, what a problem it is when one JUST CAN’T DECIDE between multiple hotties. The triangle can work. I’ve seen it done well and it was awesome, but most of the time it’s a total blunder. Also, I have a hard time rooting for a character who strings love interests along under the rationale that they don’t want to “hurt” one of them, or they’re “so in love with them both”. Lord, give me a break.

This is also the category where I file the miscommunication gag that could be solved with a single conversation, and the dumb arguments where one side is mad at the other for something ridiculous that wasn’t even the other one’s fault. If they’re gonna fight, let it be for something real. There’s plenty of that to choose from.

2. Insta-Love/No chemistry

When Romeo saw Juliet from across the room and fell in love, proclaiming that “she doth teach the torches to burn bright”, his best friends immediately told him he was an idiot and ribbed the crap out of him. “You were in love with someone else not five minutes ago, man!” (uh, paraphrasing here) So, yeah, insta-love is hard to believe in, and with only a few exceptions I’ve come across, it does not work well. Insta-attraction, hells yeah, that exists. But love is familiarity. Love is seeing their sadness while everyone else sees a convincing smile. That takes work to convey on the page.

Similar deal with the no chemistry thing. That relationship needs to be grown from a bond that’s believable, one based on mutual understanding and a genuine affection. Readers know the difference between a connection that’s real and one that’s inserted to check off the romance sub-plot box.


3. Abuse as romance

This is a big one. It takes many forms but to avoid the endless rant I’m capable of I’ll outline one specific thing I’ve noticed recently, especially in YA:

I don’t know how many times I’ve read a book where the pair started off as enemies (which is okay) but one of them imprisons/physically harms/threatens with death/verbally abuses/endangers or abandons the other one who eventually turns out to be the love interest later on (which is incredibly NOT okay).

I really don’t understand this or why people love the trope so much. If the relationship started out as harmful, HOW can the one harmed grow to trust and love the other one knowing what they are capable of in the absence of those lovey feelings?? The memory, the echo of that fear, does not just vanish no matter how sassy-tough the character is. If the harm happened on the field of battle — like, literally, they were in opposing armies attacking each other — that’s something else. It’s the intentional cruelty at the beginning of their association that I don’t feel can be overcome. Forgiven, sure, but turned into a romance, noooo. A complicated introduction can be done without this element!

Anyway, I promised not to rant, so I’ll stop there.

You might be wondering at this point, given how badly a romance sub-plot can go, why am I still a fan? That’s easy. When a romance is done well, when time and effort and, you know, love is invested in it, it can make a story that was good into something transcendent, one I’ll read and reread over and over again.


Two big reasons:

1. Love is transformative

Don’t everybody roll your eyes at me! The world is a cynical place and we are surrounded by tragic endings, and injustice, and wrongdoing, but this does not mean that love isn’t a force that can change everything. In books, I don’t think that love should replace personal strength, or require the sacrifice of one’s own dreams, or that it can cure trauma, but it can be the spark that shows the characters that there is more than despair. It can be the safe space offered by someone who loves that person for who they are, who will support them no matter what. It’s someone saying, “I believe in you” when the world is shouting the other down. Tell me that isn’t something that can turn defeat into victory and sorrow into joy.


2. Love is fun

You know what I mean here. Love is banter. It’s inside jokes, teasing. LAUGHTER. I can’t tell you how many stories I’ve read where the romance was so friggin’ seeerious with the smoldering gazes and angst and agony that I just couldn’t get into it. I remember closing the book and thinking, “You know what this story could’ve used? Some funny.”

For me, humor does not deflate intensity. It actually makes the romance–the bond–seem more real. And when they’re torn apart by *insert terrible thing happening in the plot*, the longing each character suffers is visceral because I feel the absence of that bright spot in their life with them.

These two things together are why I still adore the romance sub-plot even though it gets mishandled. An occasional disappointment, yes, but always eclipsed by my joy when a story does it well.

Anyway, that’s all I’ve got for today on the subject.

One last thing: If you like some romance in your books and enjoy reading Fantasy, there’s a big multi-author sale going right now over at author Nicolette Andrew’s website

Love and Magic (2)

As you can see, it ends after tomorrow, so hop over and see if there’s an awesome read for you. The sale includes my own fantasy novel, A Ransom of Flames, which is 99¢ until this sale ends.

Happy Monday and have a great rest of the week!


Blog Changes & Free Books


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You might’ve noticed a couple of alternations on the ole website here. I’ve cleaned up the link headers at the top menu, made a few adjustments on the pages, and other odds n’ ends. I don’t have plans to change the entire look of the place (yet) but my intention is to focus this site on the author part of me rather than the blogger.

Don’t panic! I will continue doing book and movie reviews, posts about speculative fiction, and other fun stuff, but I’m closing down the areas where I accept requests from the public. This page will still be dedicated to showcasing Indie books exclusively, though the newsletter might include some traditional book recommendations as well.

It saddens me a bit to ease up on the book blogger aspects because I had so much fun with it, but there are only so many full-time jobs a single individual can do at the same time. Reducing this obligation will allow me to fulfill the promises to those whose books I have agreed to review and, more importantly, free up the time I need to prioritize my writing. Being an author has always been my passion ever since I was a scrawny elementary school kid huddled over my wide-rule notebooks, scribbling feverishly with my #2 pencil at the kitchen table. (By the way, there are actual pictures of little me writing stories that my mom took covertly, wild curly hair and everything — No, you don’t get to see them! *cowers in mortification*)

So, that’s the update. Some change, but I’m betting you won’t notice too much since I’ve kinda been doing this for a little while already. Now it’s just official.

On to the Free books!

There’s a Science Fiction book giveaway going on at Instafreebie right now. Optional Opt-in and there are some pretty cool books in there:) Have a look and see if you find your next favorite read:


I also wanted to showcase a Steampunk space opera called Eye of the Colossus that’s on sale for just 99¢ on Amazon (or free via Kindle Unlimited).  It has four and five-star reviews and looks pretty awesome.

Here’s the teaser:


Sufficiently teased? Find out more on Amazon and get your copy for only 99 pennies!

That’s all for now! Sending much love and hoping everyone is having a great week!

Notes on a book release: Failsafe


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Every time a book is published, it’s a labor of love (and blood, and sweat, and tears, and–you get the idea), but in this case there are a few extra nerves to add to the twisty bundle because it’s the first story I’ve put out in the young adult category.

I did a lot of reading in YA before I wrote Failsafe to reference what’s out there and the debates as far as content. What are these debates? Well, young adult books have become somewhat more gory and, erm, more graphic when it comes to sex scenes. I’m not knocking either side of the argument but I will say that there should be some advisories in the description so such things don’t shock the crap out of unsuspecting parents encouraging their teen to read.

Failsafe does have a love story in it, something I included very intentionally. My main character, Sol, is disabled. Recently diagnosed with epilepsy, she struggles to come to terms with who she is while at the same time navigating through the dangers of her world and an ableist society. She’s a strong girl, but even strong girls doubt themselves when they frequently deal with messages of diminished worth because of their physical condition. The correlation between ability and desirability is, unfortunately, not a fictional issue, and it seems like stories with disabled characters rarely, if ever, include a romance.

Love story subplots are typical with young adult (hold your eye-rolling!), though whether or not you care about the relationship itself has a lot to do with pacing and building the bond between them. Don’t get me started on insta-love. Now, mutual admiration, trust, respect, someone you can be yourself with, someone who sees you for you–that’s hawt. I aimed high with the relationship in Failsafe and I’m really happy with the result.

For you parents out there, it’s a clean romance suitable for teens, no swearing (unless you want to count the occasional “Gears curse it!”), and a strong heroine out to save humanity.

I’m keeping the book at 99¢ until the end of the month. Pick up your copy on Amazon before the sale ends:)


There is only one rule: Never leave the settlement

Nobody remembers when human civilization fell to the living computer known as the Interspace. Trapped within its massive expanse, what remains of humanity struggles to survive. There are no maps to the outer grids, and drones patrol the network. Escape is impossible.

Except seventeen-year-old Sol can access the network’s secrets in her dreams. The information comes at a physical cost, but with food and medical shortages threatening her community, it’s a small price to pay for survival. The supply runs are also the best way to prove she can still contribute, especially after her recent epilepsy diagnosis took away the role she’d been training for.

When a grave mistake alerts the drones to her trespassing, Sol finds herself running for her life. She never expects to encounter Echo, a stranger who may hold the key to humanity’s freedom.

Together, Sol and Echo will attempt to reach the central core of the Interspace and shut down the system. To survive the journey, they will need to evade drones, signal towers, and a dangerous enemy known only as the Override. Even with Sol’s access to the network and Echo’s incredible abilities, they may still fail. The Interspace is always watching, and if they’re discovered, it will mean the final extermination of all mankind.

Available now on Amazon!

Failsafe: Chapter One


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Failsafe is releasing this Sunday, May 20th!!

*breathes into paper bag*

Below I’ve got all of chapter one for you–and of course, another look at the awesome cover by the amazing and talented Jenny at Seedlings Design Studio. The book was up on Netgalley for a full month and her design didn’t get a single down vote.

At the moment, Failsafe is a standalone novel, though several early reviewers have asked if there’ll be a sequel and the answer is…There could be. I have a plot outline for a second book to make this a duology so if you love the story and want it, let me know!


There is only one rule: Never leave the settlement

Nobody remembers when human civilization fell to the living computer known as the Interspace. Trapped within its massive expanse, what remains of humanity struggles to survive. There are no maps to the outer grids, and drones patrol the network. Escape is impossible.

Except seventeen-year-old Sol can access the network’s secrets in her dreams. The information comes at a physical cost, but with food and medical shortages threatening her community, it’s a small price to pay for survival. The supply runs are also the best way to prove she can still contribute, especially after her recent epilepsy diagnosis took away the role she’d been training for.

When a grave mistake alerts the drones to her trespassing, Sol finds herself running for her life. She never expects to encounter Echo, a stranger who may hold the key to humanity’s freedom.

Together, Sol and Echo will attempt to reach the central core of the Interspace and shut down the system. To survive the journey, they will need to evade drones, signal towers, and a dangerous enemy known only as the Override. Even with Sol’s access to the network and Echo’s incredible abilities, they may still fail. The Interspace is always watching, and if they’re discovered, it will mean the final extermination of all mankind.

* * * * * * *


Copyright 2018 Anela Deen – Fine Fables Press
All rights reserved

Chapter One

If the world hadn’t ended generations ago, the broken stabilizer on my hoverbike wouldn’t have been a life or death problem. Sure, I’d gotten myself in this jam through a delightful combo of pride and stupidity, but it still didn’t seem fair.

The back-half of the bike sagged to the ground under the faulty stabilizer and I crouched beside it, examining the cracked casing along the cylinder with a deepening sense of dread. The tools dangling at my waist wouldn’t save me this time. I spotted the problem immediately—towing too much weight in the container hooked to the other end. What was I thinking? I’d let my excitement over finding that cache of supplies and foodstuffs override all engineering sense. As if the settlements’ desperation could convince an inanimate object to hold out longer than it had the capacity to do. Idiot me.

Solution-based thinking, Sol. Come on, girl, you can do this.

Right. As if my plucky optimism would fix the thing.

A string of profanity my mother would have been shocked her seventeen-year-old daughter had knowledge of stampeded through my thoughts. Not a peep slipped past my lips. Not out here in the network where the Interspace’s drones terminated any human they found.

I scrubbed shaking hands over my face as I considered my options, careful not to bump the cortical node affixed to my right temple. Wouldn’t want to add more flavor to this craptastic situation by throwing off its alignment and aggravating my condition. Halfway back to my home settlement, I’d marooned myself in grid one-thirty. Towering structures of dark metal and blinking circuitry surrounded, power conduits as tall as the skyscrapers in the cities of the Time Before. They reached toward the decking and interconnect bridges of the higher levels, and somewhere beyond that, the roof that sealed us all inside with the machine. Cables neatly embedded in the deck crisscrossed the broad rail paths I traversed like roots in a cybernetic forest.

The mind-numbing maze of the Interspace defied memorization, even for a photographic memory like mine. My dreams of the network—or visions since they were as accurate as holding a map—displayed the innards of a horizonless superstructure too immense to fully absorb. The solution? Narrowing my focus to the only grid that mattered; the one containing the twelve separate human settlements. Still massive, but doable.

I coaxed the memory of this area forward. Had there been somewhere I could hide until the drones completed their circuit and moved on? The gear didn’t matter. They wouldn’t pay attention to that. After three months of doing these supply runs, I had their directive figured out: Patrol the area, scan for life signs, and extinguish any found. This meant I had to get my pulse out of their way. On the other side of the rail path, I spotted a recessed panel on a circuit tower with an access door to a maintenance alcove large enough to slip behind. That would do perfectly.

I grabbed my pack and quick-stepped it toward my hiding place. The rubber boots quieted my steps, the threadbare fabric of my patchwork trousers hissing between my legs. I shivered, having forgotten to grab my jacket off the bike, but I wasn’t going back for it. The network always held a chill. Leithan, my community’s physician, and a talented engineer, taught me that even small electronic devices exuded heat while activated. Too much and things malfunctioned. For a machine as massive as the Interspace, whose network compound might well encompass the entire world at this point, the brisk environmental levels made sense but they bugged me all the same. I wondered if the mechanical sentience behind the Interspace could feel the temperature too, if the chilly air kept its sprockets and gears comfy while the remains of humanity withered in their designated settlements.

I set the thought aside. Anger and fear made you reckless. Besides, if my mysterious dreams of the network meant one thing for sure, it was the Interspace didn’t control everything. Too bad I still hadn’t figured out where the dreams came from or how and why only I got them. Yet another topic to ponder later.

I’d nearly crossed the wide swath of the rail paths when a shiver that had nothing to do with the chilly air went down my back. My gaze went to the silent towers surrounding me, my skin prickling with the sensation of being watched. Oh good. Paranoia. Drones did the watching for the Interspace, and if they knew I was here, they’d be on me in a flash. Humans were prohibited from wandering around the network. Rule number one of the Armistice my ancestors established with the machine and an edict I violated every time I did these runs. But what choice did we have? The Interspace had stopped delivering the supplies we needed to survive months ago.

I did a quick check of the countdown on my wrist patch. Plenty of time to get hidden. The situation wasn’t ideal but still manageable. I had no idea know how I would haul the supplies home without my bike. I’d figure something out. Everything would be—

Behind me, the puff and grind of failing machinery cut through my thoughts. I swung around. The front stabilizer on my bike gave out with a death-wheeze, and the whole contraption crashed to the ground with a deafening bang.

Sun, stars, and sky, I’d forgotten to power it down.

Above that terrible realization came the high-pitched whine of drones speeding this direction. I whirled and sprinted for all I was worth, the panic so sharp in my gut it was as if I’d swallowed shards of glass. A shrill alert went up, echoing across the network. They’d spotted me. I groaned, a scared, pleading sound. It’d be impossible to get away now. I might as well stand there and wait to be incinerated.

Instead, I threw myself behind the access door and slammed it shut. In the darkness, I crawled into the far corner and curled into a ball. The space was only a few meters deep, and that flimsy panel wouldn’t stop them. Crushing futility made me ill inside.

Gears whirred and screeched as the drones came in close. Laser bolts punched holes in the door and seared the wall over my head. Terror locked the screams in my throat and I tucked my head under my arms. The shine of their sleek oblong shapes and the red light of their targeting eye glared in at me.

This was all my fault. My parents hadn’t wanted me to do this alone. Here, at the end, I could admit I’d been trying to prove something. To my family and to everyone else. It wasn’t only about ferrying goods between the settlements. I’d wanted them to see I wasn’t just a glitchy brain. I wasn’t defective, no matter how many murmurs and stares said otherwise. Now I would never see home again. I was so stupid. And so dead.

The force of the next bolt blew the access door open so hard it smacked the inner wall and banged shut again. Mostly destroyed, it hung off its hinges. Red beams focused on my huddled form. I squeezed my eyes shut. Nothing noble came to me for my last thought, only a prayer I wouldn’t feel it.

A thunderous explosion shook the plating under me. My eyes snapped open. Beyond the drones, flames erupted, coiling and curling with black smoke. They turned, clacking and trilling, and for a wondrous moment, I thought they’d take off and forget my execution. Two departed to investigate. The third turned back to me.

What admirable delegators.

This time I didn’t try to hide. If this was the moment of my death, I wouldn’t face it cowering in a sad little ball. I sat up and stared right back at the thing.

“Go on then.” I spread my shaking arms, teeth chattering.

Its targeting beam painted my chest. The hum of a charged weapon reached my ears. I realized it hadn’t come from the drone a split second before an amber beam streaked in from the side and ripped through the machine’s body. Circuits blew from its bulk like brain matter and it clunked to the ground. The red eye flickered and went out.

Dazed, I stared at the incomprehensible sight, then lurched back in alarm when a figure sped past the door. Tall. Dark clad. What the—Was that a human being? I didn’t get a better glimpse before the dark shape disappeared in the direction of the explosion.

The explosion. Where the drones went. I wrangled the broken door open, kicked away the remains of the destroyed drone, and crawled out. Smoke hazed the air, acrid in the back of my throat. I edged my way alongside the rail path, a circuit tower at my back. The drones remained airborne, swooping left and right over the pocket of flames, dragging tendrils of smoke with them like snagged curtains. They fired toward the ground, but their targeting systems hadn’t locked on, the beams spread wide searching. The fire must have distorted my rescuer’s heat signature.

An amber beam sliced through the smoky veil and impaled one of the drones. It quivered, electrical bolts sizzling across its length. It split in half and dropped to the ground. The other zeroed in on the point of origin, sending a barrage of focused bolts toward the ground. My shoulders slumped. No one could have evaded those shots. I should get out of here and find another hiding spot in the distraction. That drone would sweep the area in a minute.

Yet…it didn’t seem right to run off. Someone had risked their life for mine. What if they were injured? I had to help somehow. Whoever this person was, they’d come equipped with a powerful weapon. Maybe if I diverted the last drone’s attention, it would give the stranger the opening they needed.

I dug my slingshot out of my pack and readied a bolt in the pocket. As I drew back the cord and fixed the drone between the prongs, I had trouble believing I meant to do this. The slingshot was enough to stand up to a Wraith—an exiled human condemned to death in the network—but not a drone.

“This is really dumb,” I whispered and released the bolt.

It ricocheted off its armored hide with an adorable plinking sound. Instantly, it whirled my direction. And there I stood, completely in the open. My survival instincts were absolute junk today. Nothing stirred between the flames. Of course not. The machines always won.

It glided away from the fire, targeting beam honed in on me. The slingshot fell from my hand. A shape blurred through the swirling smoke and a man catapulted from the ground onto the back of the drone. My jaw dropped open. He held on as the thing swiveled and bucked, thighs clamping on the smooth, metallic surface. His arms rose above his head, a glowing amber blade in his hands. He drove into the machine. It whirred and screamed, careening in a downward spiral. The man slid off and landed nimbly in a crouch, the glowing blade swept out to one side. The drone collided with the ground in a burst of sparks and metal shards.

I stood there, plastered against the tower wall, unable to absorb what had just happened. No one could move like that. Backlit by smoke and flames, my rescuer seemed like a figure out of a mythic tale of heroes from the Time Before. He stood slowly, the amber blade retracting into a black cylinder with a hand grip on one end. He didn’t appear to have another weapon. Did that thing have multiple functions? Dressed all in black, it was the only thing he carried but for items he had strapped, stored, or clipped to his body.

He secured his weapon to his side, turned, and looked right at me. My shoulders stiffened, fear still flush in my adrenaline-soaked system. If he’d wanted to hurt me he could have left me to my fate, right? My heart picked up speed anyway as he strode toward me.

Broad shouldered, lean muscle flexing beneath the dark clothes, he cut an imposing figure. He looked unlike anyone from the settlements, a fact which had me gaping in outright astonishment. With so few humans left, our bloodlines had mixed and remixed over generations, resulting in mostly everyone possessing the same thick brown locks, prominent brown eyes, and copper skin.

Black, tousled hair fluttered over the stranger’s brow, his skin a tawny-beige with deep-set eyes shaped like teardrops. Although his face remained expressionless, intensity burned in the dark green gaze he leveled at me. He called out no greeting as he approached. In other circumstances, I might have thought his angular face handsome but his demeanor intimidated me.

I put my hand over the laser cutter on my tool belt, ready to pull it free and defend myself if necessary. He’d saved me, yes, but that didn’t mean I could trust him. His gaze flicked to the cutter in my white-knuckled grip, then back to me.

“What is our current network location?” The quiet voice had a slight gravel to it as if he didn’t use it often.

I blinked up at him. “Our location? This is block one-thirty.”

“Which sector? Which grid?”

Was he serious? There was only one sector and grid for the human settlements. I rattled it off to him, then fidgeted under his relentless stare before I realized he wasn’t looking at me but through me. Puzzling over the information I’d given him?

His gaze refocused. “I seek grid one, block one, alpha sector.”

“The ICCS? The Interspace Central Command Space?”


It was my turn to stare. “Are you…asking for directions?”


My brow furrowed incredulously. “No one knows where that is. Buried someplace deep in the network where no human has ever been since the End War.” He continued to watch me. I shifted uncomfortably. Did he expect me to say more? “Uh, thank you. For saving me. I don’t know why you did it, but I’m grateful to not be a pile of ash right now. I’m Soleil, by the way. Sol for short.”

He didn’t reply or offer his name. Officially weird. Had he been expelled from his settlement? It didn’t happen often and usually only for a capital crime. He seemed a tad too well provisioned to be a Wraith, however, and um—my gaze flitted over his solid form—too healthy as well. If he was out here looking for the flipping ICCS, he’d obviously lost his mind. Did he think he was going to stroll in there and singlehandedly deactivate the system that’d ruthlessly overrun the world countless years ago? Even if he’d bested those three drones, it seemed a good bet anywhere near the central core would be crawling with them. And speaking of drones…

“Hey, it’s probably a good idea to get moving while we can. Only three drones were assigned to sweep this area today but I’m sure they sent off an alert to the ones a few grids over.”

It would take several hours for them to get here and I’d need all that time to cross the remaining distance.

His keen gaze sharpened. “How do you know this?”

Oh, right. How would I explain why I knew such oddly specific details about drone locations? Definitely wasn’t about to reveal my network dreams to a stranger.

“Er, just a guess.” Smooth.

“I observed you leave the path before the drones arrived. You knew they were coming. How?”

So someone had been watching.

Slowly, casual-like, I bent to retrieve my slingshot. “I had a gut feeling?”

“A gut feeling.” The hint of a question there.

“Yeah, you know, sixth sense. Instinct. That kind of thing.” I took a step away. He followed.

“Your pulse is elevated and your cortisol levels indicate increased stress. You’re lying.”


“Well, I did almost die a couple of times there. Everything’s elevated right now. Just look at my hair.”

Something was off about this guy. His speech held no inflection. Between the impossible physical feats he’d just performed and his now eerie stillness, it didn’t take a genius to see he wasn’t entirely human even if he looked it. The sooner I put distance between us, the better.

Inching away, I said, “It sounds like we’re headed different directions, so I’ll just be on my way. Again, thanks for the help.”

I moved off at a stately trot—no, this didn’t count as running—and slowed as I recalled the supplies I’d abandoned by my bike. Crud. I couldn’t leave those behind. Too many people were counting on them.

A hand clamped around my arm. “Stop.”

Startled, I didn’t think. I whipped around and swung a fist with my free hand as hard as I could. I aimed for the guy’s jaw but he anticipated this and leaned back. My knuckles missed his face entirely and hit his shoulder with a wet smack. Something spattered my cheek. I flinched, then gaped at my blood coated fingers. That wasn’t mine. My gaze found the wound on his shoulder, the bleeding soaked into his dark clothes.

“Oh. Oh no.” Impulsively, I pressed my hand to it. “You’re hit. You were hit.”

Not that one could tell by the way he stood there. No hint of pain creased his face. He tilted his head to look at my hand on him.

“The injury is negligible.”

“Are you crazy? You’ll bleed to death if this isn’t tended.”

“You will tell me how you became aware of the drone maintenance schedule.”

“The what? Are you a robot or something? Doesn’t this hurt?”

His jaw twitched. “I am not a robot.”

“Who are you then?”


“Is—That’s your name?”


Totally did not make him seem less robotic.

“Can’t you feel there’s a hole in your shoulder? Where did you come from anyway?”

“Answer my question.”

Okay, a change of tactic was called for here. I had to get myself and the supplies back to my home settlement on the other side of this block before more drones showed up. Somehow, I had to convince this idiot to come with me and be treated for a laser wound. I didn’t know precisely what he was but he couldn’t be a tool of the Interspace if he had no idea how to reach the central core. He hadn’t even known where he was. Besides, he’d saved my life. I owed him.

“I have a better idea. You come with me to my settlement and I’ll tell you how I knew where the drones would be.”

His green eyes cooled. “You will tell me now.”

His grip on my arm was firm but not painful. As much as I didn’t appreciate being grabbed, my instincts said he wouldn’t hurt me.

“A compromise then. I’ll answer one question here on the condition that any others have to wait until we get to safety.” He stared at me blank-faced and didn’t reply. “You know, a non-robot would see the benefit of compromise in this situation.”

Did his eyebrow twitch ever so slightly? He released me.

“Very well. Tell me how—“

“I knew because I saw it. I saw the schematics for this grid and the schedule the drones would follow. I saw the access codes of the other settlements for entry and departure. I can see everything. Every detail.”

And each time I did, I risked my life.

End of Excerpt

Release Date: Sunday, May 20th

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