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Authors: James K. Decker

Tags: #Science Fiction, #General, #Fiction, #made by MadMaxAU

The Burn Zone

BOOK: The Burn Zone
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The Burn Zone
James K. Decker
Penguin Group US (2013)
Tags:
Science Fiction, Fiction, made by MadMaxAU, General

Plagued by overpopulation, disease, and starvation, humanity was headed for extinction—until an alien race called the haan arrived. And then the real trouble began.   It’s been a rough day for Sam Shao. As part of a program that requires humans to act as surrogates to haan infants, Sam has been genetically enhanced to bond with them. So when three soldiers invade her apartment and arrest her guardian for smuggling a dangerous weapon into the country, Sam can sense that something isn’t right. One of his abductors is a haan masquerading as a human, and the supposedly fragile haan seems to be anything but.   Racing through the city slums, trying to stay one step ahead of the mysterious haan soldier, Sam tries to find the man who, in her twenty years, has been the only father she’s ever known. Could he truly have done what he is accused of? Or did he witness something both human and haan would kill to keep hidden? The only thing certain is that the weapon is real—and lost now somewhere in a city of millions.   Fighting the clock, Sam finds an ally in Nix, a haan envoy devoted to coexisting with humans, or so it seems. But what she really needs are answers. Fast. Or else everything she knows—and everyone she loves—will burn.

 

 

~ * ~

 

The Burn Zone

 

James K. Decker

 

No copyright 
 201
3
by MadMaxAU eBooks

 

~ * ~

 

Chapter One

 

 

 

 

30:12:04 BC

 

The elevator rattled its way up toward my floor as I leaned back, eyes closed, only half-aware of the world around me. The bitter aftertaste of Zen oil lingered on my tongue, and while it still had me pleasantly disconnected my thoughts buzzed around in circles beneath the haze. I felt like I should be upset, or afraid ... like I should be freaking out or something, but I wasn

t any of those things. I didn

t know how to feel anymore, about anything.

 


To anyone receiving this transmission
...

 

The voice, a foreign man speaking butchered Mandarin, sounded distant, rising through a faint static whine from over the ad box maybe?
Somewhere nearby.

 


...
the race you call the haan are not
...

More static.

...
this
is not a dream


 

I snorted as the elevator jostled me out of my trance, and shook my head to clear it. I rubbed my eyes, and as I took a wobbly step forward I saw the ad box screen mounted inside the door flicker to display a panel of cool electric gray.

 


Xiao-Xing?

a female voice asked, issuing from the speaker underneath. When I didn

t answer, it tried again.

Sam?

 


Not now,

I said, chewing my lip.

 


Sorry, but elevators cost money, you know. I have two names on record matching your ID. Which do you prefer?

 


Sam, I guess.

The box screen flickered, updating info.

Was that you talking, before?

 


Sorry?

 


Something about a transmission?
The haan?
I thought I heard something.

 


It wasn

t me. Since you have a moment, though, I would like to talk to you about—

 


Do you have any news?

I asked it.

About the bombing?
Do you know anything?

 

The A.I. paused,
then
tried another tack.

 


Would you like to be sexy?

it asked.

 

I laughed a little at that, a giggle that sounded a little more unhinged the longer it went on.

 


I am sexy,

I breathed.

 


Well, maybe,

the A.I. responded, sounding a bit skeptical.

 

The screen dissolved the standby gray, and splashed the
Sultrex
logo while saxophone music began to pipe softly through.

 


Look, do you know anything about the bomb?

I asked again.

 


No, Sam,

it said,

but I do know this; as you

re probably aware, given your calorie allotment, it is impossible for you to naturally develop the kinds of curves all women want and all men desire, but why be a victim of circumstances beyond your control?

 

The elevator shook to a stop, and I hoisted my gear as the screen displayed two images of me. On the left, under the word
before,
was a shot it had taken of me when I first got on, standing there with my gear and covered in sweat. On the right, under the word
after,
was the exact same shot manipulated so that in place of my more-or-less flat chest was a big set of computer-generated tits.
They strained against the material of my tank top, while a drop of sweat did a slow roll down into the crevice between them. I laughed again, a little.

 


Nice touch.

 


It came out of the latest eye-tracking study,

the A.I. admitted.

 


Uh-huh.

 


For a very reasonable fee, you could be one of the most desirable young women in Hangfei—

 


Who says I

m not?

 


More people than you might think.

 


I gotta go.

 


Don

t forget, there is a scheduled demolition along the Impact rim tonight,

it said.

Curfew will be in—

 

The A.I. was still yammering as the elevator door squealed open and carried the screen away with it into the wall. I stepped out under the buzzing overhead in the hallway and dug into one pocket to find my last loose cigarillo, bent but not broken. I stuck it in the corner of my mouth and crunched down on the end with my teeth as I cracked my back. With the heat wave, washing windows up on Ginzho Tower was brutal, and a day of
squeegeeing
biocide and smog resin off hot glass had left my brain cooked. The cool air felt like water trickling down over my burned face, chest, and shoulders.

 

As I started down the hall, I crooked my neck, a motor cortex key that brought up the 3i front end. The braided lanyard from my wet drive implant brushed my shoulder as the holographic display appeared in front of my face with its candy pink neon borders, and immediately social taps from friends, notifications, and ads sprinkled into the foreground. The word cloud that formed in the corner of one eye was ugly, full of variations on bomb, suicide, attack, and dead. That last one flashed on headline tickers, the feeds a fever of rising death counts while laying bets on what horrible thing might come next. I glanced left to
screen out the static, and most of the little icons scattered. I tapped friends back to let them know I was okay, and then tuned out the tide of chatter as I headed down the hall toward home.

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