Read Cut Off Online

Authors: Edward W. Robertson

Tags: #dystopia, #Knifepoint, #novels, #science fiction series, #eotwawki, #Melt Down, #post apocalyptic, #postapocalyptic, #Fiction, #sci-fi thriller, #virus, #books, #post-apocalyptic, #post apocalypse, #post-apocalypse, #Breakers, #plague, #postapocalypse, #Thriller, #sci-fi

Cut Off

BOOK: Cut Off
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Edward W. Robertson

 

 

© 2014

 

 

THE
BREAKERS
SERIES

 

Breakers (Book 1)

Melt Down (Book 2)

Knifepoint (Book 3)

Outcome (Novella)

Reapers (Book 4)

Cut Off (Book 5)

 

To hear when the next book is out, please sign up for my
mailing list
.

 

To Breakers Nation—without you guys, this book wouldn't be here.

 

Special thanks to Geoff and Richard. Cover art by Stephanie Mooney.

I:
PARADISE

1

On the floor of the caldera, tentacles stripped shining maroon beans from the branches of the bushes, and Tristan returned to the Orange. Captivity. Weeks in a damp box little bigger than a closet where time meant nothing yet every second was another in which Alden was taken further from her. The woman she was brought to the lab with—Cindy?—dying of the same disease they injected Tristan with.

She felt the wind in her hair. The sun on her skin. Fought her way back. She was crouched in the grass on the rim of the crater and the sea was rich blue on all sides and the air was cooler than she was used to. Alden hunched beside her, watching the aliens harvest the concentric rings of coffee bushes.

She hadn't seen one in five years, but she thought of them daily. Dreamed of them two or three times a week. Always the walls, with their tide pool smell and biological feel, damp and clammy and spongy, like the skin of a person who died in the bathtub and soaked overnight. They peeled open the roof of her box with a slurp, and though she knew how she would strike them—snap her fingers into their giant eyes, drive the blade of her hand into their skinny throats—she found her hands were too heavy to lift. Their claws extracted her from the Orange without a struggle.

When she woke, sweating and exhausted, she closed her eyes and continued the dream in her imagination. She no longer froze. No longer let them bear her away. Instead, she punched and clawed and gouged, tearing them limb from limb until nothing remained but spindly legs and citrus-colored ichor.

"What are they doing?" Alden said.

"What does it look like?"

"It looks like they're picking berries."

"Coffee beans. When I was at Berkeley, we once pitched in on some raw ones to roast ourselves. When they're raw, they're red."

He screwed up his face. "Don't tell me the crabs drink coffee."

"It's been so long since I tasted real coffee
I'm
ready to invade another world."

He chuckled, then silenced himself. In the years since sailing to Maui, both his face and his confidence had grown into early adulthood, but as he gazed down on the creatures, he once again resembled the scared 14-year-old whose whole world had been turned upside down by the plague. "What do we do now?"

"Only thing we can do. We run."

She edged back up the crater, careful to keep her head and bulky pack below the tousled grass. Alden followed, glancing back at the aliens with every step up the damp, rich dirt. After a short hike, they crested the rise and started down the long green slope overlooking the low saddle of land connecting the eastern lobe of the island to the mountain of the west. Copses of trees sprouted in irregular stands. They moved from cover to cover, bent under the weight of their camp gear. The grass was stirred into a verdant froth by the offshore wind blowing in with the sunset.

Neither she nor Alden spoke until the sun had extinguished itself in the Pacific and left them in a balmy twilight. They found a grove of trees and sat on roots to drink water and eat shelled macadamia nuts.

"Seriously," Alden said, "what were they
doing
?"

"Should I have asked them?" Tristan said.

"Did you know they were here?"

"Did I know that our home was infested with alien farmers?"

"Seems like a valid question." He swung out his jaw. "Considering that if you did know, you wouldn't have told me."

"I wouldn't have marched you into their secret volcano lair, either." They glared at each other in the mounting shade. Tristan laughed first and Alden followed. She knew the aliens had no normal sense of hearing, and thought it was unlikely they would patrol the slopes of Haleakala by night, but she couldn't help staring into the dark for signs of movement. Seeing none, she waved a hand, helpless. "Maybe they grew a taste for it. Maybe their bodies need caffeine as a nutrient. For all I know, they're trading it to the Turks. What we
do
know is they've been here long enough to grow it, and they haven't caused us any trouble so far."

"You can act not scared all you like. But we're going to have to make a stop in town."

"To warn them?"

"To get me a new pair of pants."

They resumed down the volcano. It was full dark, they had been hiking all day, and Tristan was already tired, but she had no intention of sleeping so close to whatever was happening inside the crater. There was no chance of getting home that night (unless they intended to collapse into bed and never wake up), but houses speckled the lower slopes. All they needed was to get inside a set of walls where they could sleep in peace.

Less than an hour later, they emerged from a line of trees into a pebbly yard with patchy weeds. The house was dark. Its front windows were broken, the door ajar. That increased the chance of animals, but Tristan was too tired to care if she stepped in stray scat. Alden closed the door behind them. It was darker inside than out. Tristan made a quick check to ensure there were no dogs or people sharing the space, then went outside to brush her teeth with baking soda. She returned inside and bedded down beneath the windows in the front wall.

That night, she had the dream. Same as always. When she woke with the panic of her paralysis fresh in her head—as unexpected and unwelcome as coming in from a jog, taking a mouthful of water, and discovering it's blood warm—she closed her eyes. She didn't open them until she had envisioned herself killing every single one of them.

It was a breezy morning with little clouds. With no intention of lugging it any further, she sliced up the pineapple she'd brought with them and they ate it at a dusty table, watching the upper slopes for movement. Before they left, they did a quick search of the house, more from habit than anything else. They found nothing they couldn't obviously live without.

It was a gorgeous day. To north and south, the ocean was the bright blue of the tropics. She resented that they had been unable to camp in the crater. She had been intending to do so since she'd discovered that was possible, yet between adapting to not only a new land, but a previous century of lifestyle, she'd never gotten around to it. Maybe now she never would.

"So what are we going to do about it?" Alden said, wiping his forearm over his brow.

Tristan reached for her water. "Are we sure we need to do anything?"

"What, you think since the invasion they've found Jesus?"

She laughed. "Or crab-Jesus. Who miraculously turned water into...slightly salty water."

"They can't be here for anything
good
, can they?"

"I don't know. They're aliens. Stranded on a foreign world. Maybe they've given up trying to take over and are doing the same thing we are: trying to survive."

He glanced uphill. "Dude, we just found out we're sharing the island with aliens. That has to change things."

"How? Do you want to fight them? The two of us against the swarm?" She raised her brows, but he said nothing. "Should we leave, then? Sail to the Big Island? Back to the mainland?"

"I don't want to leave the islands. But would it be that crazy to go to a different one?"

"Without knowing anything about them? Yes. If you're serious about moving, first we need to scout."

She left it at that. The morning smelled like the sun on the grass. Her sweat, too, which had been accumulating ever since they set off on this trek. They got down to the road by noon. The blacktop was winding, contoured to the angles of the mountain, but so far it had held up with minor cracks. She wondered how many more years it would last.

She believed the argument she'd put to Alden. But it was a long walk—thirty miles, which meant another night away from home—and she spent it mulling things over. The fact of the matter was they
were
sharing a relatively small island with a species that had tried to annihilate mankind and had once kept her as a human lab rat. It did feel like that should change things. Could be she was in denial.

If she'd had anyone to talk to, she would admit that the invasion, her internment, and her ensuing search for Alden had driven her out of her mind. She had done some things that, in less challenging times, would have struck her as...brutal. Rationally, she was fine with this. She'd been fighting for her freedom. Sometimes for her very life. That excused an awful lot. Under similar circumstances, she would happily—readily, at least—do it all over again.

She'd been out of that place for a while, though. Some of her memories no longer made much sense. She felt like there had been times she'd leapt to violence sooner than may have been required. She had had to do very little of it since landing on Maui, and for that, she was glad. She didn't want Alden to follow on her path.

Her discovery of one way to process these feelings had come completely by accident: working so hard on their new home that she didn't have time to think about anything more than the task at hand and what she would have to do tomorrow. Initially, they'd stayed in a hotel on the shore, but a year after arriving, feeling exposed, they'd found an old farmhouse in the hills overlooking the resorts.

Between setting up their water supply, cleaning up the house, and whipping the fields into shape, it had been months before the labor calmed down to an hour or three of maintenance per day. And then she had discovered that Hawaii itself made forgetting pretty damn easy.

If the invasion had been a nightmare, the islands were a dream. More perfect weather than she could believe. The soil ached to grow things. Pineapple, taro, bell peppers, melons. They soon were able to spend far less time tending to the vines and shoots than they did lying around the beach and snorkeling in the reefs. Often, she wondered why anyone had ever chosen to live anywhere else.

Hiking down from Haleakala, however, their cozy little farmhouse no longer felt so safe.

"We should set up a backup home," she said. "Higher in the mountains. Away from the road. Doesn't have to be the Backwoods Ritz, but we should stock it with enough food and supplies to last at least a month."

"So we have somewhere to hide if we're suddenly on the menu again?"

She nodded. "And the time to figure out where to go next."

After this suggestion, Alden spent less time looking uphill. They descended into semi-rural neighborhoods of modest houses surrounded by large, overgrown yards. She thought there might be a homesteader or two in the area; it was remote without being completely in the middle of nowhere, and they were high enough in the foothills to feel safely elevated from the lands below. Harder to tell where people lived around here, though. On the mainland, the smoke of fires had been a dead giveaway. On the islands, it was never cold enough to need one for warmth.

At last, they got out of the hills and into the flat saddle connecting the island's two volcanoes. Cane grew wild in the fields. The road curved through two small towns, both dead, then turned to run along the south coast. She could smell the salt again. Across the water, another island hung in the haze. Waves broke on rocky beaches. There were no homes for miles and once night fell they set up their tent in a former state park on the shore.

"Did you floss?" Tristan said as they were bedding down.

"Come on. I'm beat."

"If you don't take care of them, your teeth will be, too. Remember all the jokes people used to make about the British? Well, now we're
all
British."

BOOK: Cut Off
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