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Authors: Margaret Stohl

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Idols

BOOK: Idols
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Table of Contents

Copyright Page

In accordance with the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, the scanning, uploading, and electronic sharing of any part of this book without the permission of the publisher constitutes unlawful piracy and theft of the author’s intellectual property. If you would like to use material from the book (other than for review purposes), prior written permission must be obtained by contacting the publisher at [email protected]. Thank you for your support of the author’s rights.

For my friends in Chang Mai, Chang Rai, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, and Singapore—and for their stories.
Khorb kun ka. Xie xie. Terima kasih.
PARCE METU.
CEASE FROM FEAR.
—Virgil,
The Aeneid

PROLOGUE

PICK A GOD AND PRAY

I want to close my eyes but I don’t.

I refuse. I won’t let darkness be the last thing I see.

So I watch while my world spins out of control. Literally. While our tail twists and our alarms scream and our lights flash and the impossibly loud roar of our failing rotors fills my heart with terror.

Not now
, I think.
Please.

Not like this.

We have twelve more Icons to destroy. I never bound with Lucas—and Ro’s never forgiven me for kissing him.

I’m not finished.

But with every turn, the rocky desert floor beneath us lurches closer. And out the window, all I see is a dark kaleidoscope of stars, ground, moon—in a whirling, chaotic blur.

A cloud of smoke chokes my lungs. I grasp Tima with one hand, clutching my gear to my chest with the other. The outline of the Icon shard in my pack is unmistakable as its sharp edges push against my ribs. I always know it’s there—along with the power it once seemed to give me, back in the Hole. Even now, I couldn’t forget it if I tried.

It doesn’t matter
, I tell myself.
Not anymore.

Nothing does.

The Chopper drops again, and in the front seats, Ro and Fortis almost hit the glass window. Wedged as I am behind them—between Lucas and Tima—my head slams into the back of Ro’s seat.

“Bloody hell!” growls Fortis.

I feel Lucas’s fingers on my shoulder and his fear in my chest. Brutus barks wildly, as if he could attack our fate and chase the end away—when in reality he’s scrabbling just to stay put in Tima’s lap.

Stupid dog. Stupid fate.

Stupid, stupid Chopper.

“Hold on, mates, this may be a bit of a rough landing!” Fortis calls over his shoulder, with the sudden flash of a grim smile.

“I thought you said you could fly this thing!” Ro screams at Fortis, and I feel the clash of panic and anger coming off him in powerful waves.

“You want to take a crack at it?” Fortis shouts, too busy fighting the controls to look up.

“Dol.” Lucas finds my hand and tightens his grip on me, lacing his fingers through mine. He radiates little of his natural warmth tonight, but I know it’s there.

The tiniest of sparks, even now.

We’re together
, I think.
Lucas and me. Ro. All of us. It’s something.

Grassgirl, Hothead, Buttons, Freak.

The night we fell out of the sky, at least we were together. At least we had that.

The moonlit landscape of wind-sculpted rock and canyons whips around us, and I wonder if this is the end. I wonder who will find us.

If anyone.

Our seats are shaking violently now. Even the windows are rattling. Tima tightens her grip on me, closing her eyes. Her fear hits me with such force that her touch almost burns.

As she touches me, a new idea claws itself into my mind.

“Tima, we need you—” I search for the memory of her at the Icon, how she used her fear to shield Lucas from the explosion.

I reach out to her.

Try. Just try.

Tima’s eyes flash open. She stares at her blood tattoo, the colorful streaks and patterns on her arm. She grips Brutus tight.

Tighter.

I hope she can do it. We’re going down fast.

“It’s no use. You can’t fly a bird with broken wings,” Fortis shouts. “Hold on, children—pick a god an’—”

Pray.

Pray
, I think as we slam into the canyon wall.

I’m praying
, I think as I listen to the violent clash of metal and rock.

Chumash Rancheros Spaniards Californians Americans Grass The Lords The Hole. Chumash Rancheros Spaniards Californians Americans Grass The Lords The Hole. Chumash Rancheros Spaniards Californians Americans Grass The Lords The Hole—

I recite it in my mind, the only prayer the Padre really taught me.

I pray as I feel the streaming heat of spreading flames.

I pray as I close my eyes to a flash so bright it burns through my eyelids, thin as onion skin, as paper.

I pray as I fall into the silence.

Pick a god—

I don’t know a god. Just a girl.

So I squeeze her hand as the Chopper hits the ground in a ball of fire.

GENERAL EMBASSY DISPATCH: EASTASIA SUBSTATION

MARKED URGENT

MARKED EYES ONLY

Internal Investigative Subcommittee IIS211B

RE: The Incident at SEA Colonies

Sirs:

I have, after great expense and effort, located and infiltrated the secure archives of Paulo Fortissimo. I believe their relevance to the disastrous recent situation in the Colonies will be instructive, or, at least, illuminating. It is to this effect that I offer my services, in the name of our dear mutual friend, the good Dr. Yang.

Now commencing decryption of files. Will immediately send all relevant materials as they are unpacked and decoded, in chronological order.

Following, you will find transcripts, beginning with initial contact with Lords (done via AI/virtual), research notes, personal journal entries, etc.

We can discuss compensation in due time. Recommend destroying all files immediately after review, Physical Humans being as swayed by emotion as they are. The final decision is, of course, at your discretion.

Yours,

Jasmine3k

Virt. Hybrid Human 39261.SEA

Laboratory Assistant to Dr. E. Yang

1

WRECKED

I am lying facedown in the dirt. I taste it. Dirt and blood and teeth as loose as old corn. Every bone in my body aches, but I am alive. Death would hurt less.

I feel hands rolling me over, pressing against my arms, my legs. “No, don’t move her. She’s in shock.”
Fortis.

A blur of dirty blond hair comes into view in the darkness, and I feel the familiar warmth surge into my cheeks as a hand touches my face. “Dol? Can you hear me?”

Lucas.
I move my lips, trying to make a word. At the moment, I think, it’s harder than I remember. “Tima—” I finally croak.

He smiles down at me. “Tima’s fine. She’s still out, but she’ll be fine.”

I roll my head to the side and I see her lying in the dirt next to me. Tima, her scrawny dog, cactuses, and stars. Not much else.

Brutus whimpers, licking Tima’s tattooed arm, which looks like it’s bleeding.

“Fine? You don’t know that,” says a voice in the night.
Ro.
I see that he’s just on the other side of Lucas, tossing dead tumbleweeds onto a makeshift fire. Ro doesn’t feel just warm—not to me. He’s smoldering. I could feel him anywhere.

Lucas rubs my hands between his. “I do know that, actually.” He looks over his shoulder. “Because if Tima wasn’t okay, we’d all be dead right now. Who do you think broke our fall?”

Tima. It must have worked. She must have done it.

I remember now the bright blue light expanding outward from Tima just as we hit. The muted, violent shock as we landed, the heat of the exploding Chopper—then nothing.

I sit up, weakly. I don’t know how we got here, but we’re clear of the wreckage, which is still burning black smoke in the distance. I can smell it from here.

I cough it out of my mouth.

Lucas pulls me up until I am leaning against the side of a rock. Ro is there a second later, forcing a canteen to my lips. The cold water chokes my throat as it goes down.

I can’t take my eyes off the burning Chopper. The burning metal carcass that was our only chance to escape the Sympas and get to safety is going up in flames, like everything else. Then—

POPPOPPOPPOP

A string of rapid noises catches me off guard. It sounds like gunfire, but it can’t be. Not out here. “What was that?”

Fortis sighs from the darkness nearby. “Fireworks, love. That’s our live ammo, burning up with the bird.” He disappears toward the fire.

POPPOPPOPPOP

There it all goes
, I think. Our dreams of living another day, popping like bubbles. Like a pan of hot corn set in Bigger’s fire.

POPPOPPOP

Gone, gone, gone
, I think. Our chances of success in our impossible mission to rid the world of twelve more Icons.

POPPOP

Our shot at making it to the next Icon—let alone coming up with a plan of destroying it.

BOOK: Idols
5.77Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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