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Authors: J. Barton Mitchell


BOOK: Winterbay
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Title Page

Copyright Notice

You’re Late

The Tone


Ice and Fog






An Idea




Clinton Station

Excerpt from
Midnight City

Also by J. Barton Mitchell

About the Author


You’re Late

Mira Toombs flinched as the thick, blackened windows of the building exploded inward and the buzzing of compact engines filled the air. Half a dozen Seekers—cylindrical machines about the size of soccer balls, with turbines holding them aloft—burst inside, their optics already scanning for targets. They could fly and squeeze into tight spaces where larger Assembly couldn’t, and they had plasma cannons, too, small ones, but still lethal. Outside she heard the distinctive, electronic chirpings of Mantis walkers and the pounding of their footfalls as they started surrounding the building.

They were in a lot of trouble.

“Go!” Mira shouted, ducking behind a steel workbench lined with dusty wrenches and looking to her left.

Topher was still there, eyes wide and staring at her with pure fear. She didn’t blame him. He was smart and skilled, good at making things, but younger than she was, only fourteen or so; the Tone hadn’t even started to snake through his eyes yet. Of the five people that had come here, he and Mira were the only ones left.

“It has to be
Topher!” Mira yelled with urgency. His eyes focused again. He nodded, took a deep breath, and lunged out of hiding.

Mira could see he still had the part, the big, metallic wheel cap they’d come here to make in the first place. She just hoped he’d hold on to it, or this was all going to be for nothing.

The buzzing of the Seekers became furious as they spotted him. Their cannons opened up, spraying bright bolts of heated death toward the kid as he ran.

They were in an old metal shop in the middle of what used to be Des Moines. It had been deserted since the invasion, its machines sitting silent and crumbling on the floor. Drills, saws, cutters, welders, lathes, all of them dusty and unused, created a miniature obstacle course full of sharp points and jagged edges, and Topher was dashing through it all, drawing the Seekers’ fire as he did.

Mira looked down at the strange combination of items in her hand: a C battery, a coil of thin copper wire, four quarters, and a few other things, all wrapped in duct tape. Jutting out from a hole in the side of it was a small, delicate glass vial of a powdery black substance.

Magnet shavings.

Mira could have used a solid magnet, but she wanted to control when the combination Interfused. The problem was she’d been forced to make the combination with quarters, which meant it was going to be strong.
strong. And in an environment like this …

A loud, fragmented hissing from the far end of the shop caught her attention. When she looked, she saw what she expected: a laser torch, burning through the sealed doors from outside, slicing up the length of them as if they were made of cardboard.

The Mantises were cutting through, and if they got inside …

Mira looked and saw Topher running for an old rusted car on blocks in the middle of the shop. It was missing the driver’s door, and he lunged desperately inside, followed by a hailstorm of plasma bolts.

He was doing what he was supposed to do: buying her time. She had to make it worthwhile.

Mira took a deep breath … then broke the small glass vial on the combination with her thumb and tossed it toward the center of the shop.

There was a bright flash, and then a loud hum that built and grew as the artifacts all Interfused into a new, single combination. The air wavered a moment … then exploded violently outward in a bright pulse of energy that left a crackling, swirling orb of light hovering in the air.

Instantly, everything began to shake around Mira, and she knew it wasn’t the ground, or even the building. It was everything
it, everything

Wrenches, nuts, bolts, hammers, screwdrivers: Dust fell from all of them as they began to vibrate and slide and lean off their wall pegs toward the pulsing orb in the center of the room.

A hammer tore loose and flew forward, barely missing Mira. Then a screwdriver. Two more pliers. A bolt cutter began to slide forward. A mist of nails exploded into the air from a cabinet and buzzed like a mass of bees toward the sphere, and when they reached the fluctuating orb, they slammed into it, pulled inside, crunching and forming into an ever compacting circular shape, held together by an irresistible force and growing in size as it continued to pull various metallic pieces and parts into itself.

It was a Magnatron, an artifact combination that created a powerful, focused magnetic field, and this one was attracting every piece of metal in the place, which meant it was also attracting something else.

The Seekers themselves.

The turbines of the small, hovering machines whined as they tried to resist the pull of the artifact, but it was just too strong. Like everything else, they were slowly being pulled toward it.

Mira didn’t have time to congratulate herself. She’d bought them minutes, nothing else.

She looked to the right, through the insane storm of flying metal tools and parts, toward the other end of the shop where she’d left the Portal on a table. Another artifact combination, their only ticket out of here.

She’d made both pieces of the Portal before fleeing Midnight City, and this one was wrapped with silver chain, glittering in the sunlight that filtered through the broken windows. The good news was it would be easy to track. The bad part was she’d only get one shot at it.

Mira could see the Portal begin to vibrate as the Magnatron’s field reached it … then it was ripped up and flying through the air. She bounced to her feet and ran, groaning as an empty toolbox slammed into her and sent her reeling. Somehow she kept her balance.

The Portal flew through the air. Mira leaped forward … and caught the artifact in midair with her left hand, crashing down on the ground and sliding hard into the base of an old drill press. She winced through the pain, looked up, and saw Topher running toward her now, dodging and weaving through all the flying debris.

The Seekers’ turbines whined and buzzed, trying to resist the pull of the Magnatron. It was no use; the force was too strong.

The little machines, one by one, slammed into the center of the growing pile of metallic debris. Mira watched in satisfaction as they crumbled in showers of sparks, buried inside the ever larger ball of junk that hovered in the air.

Even so, the laser torch at the other end of the shop had almost cut through.

Mira slammed the Portal onto the floor and slid down a metallic ring of dimes, each of them facing heads out. There was another flash of light, another hum … and then the thing pulsed powerfully.

A hole of light ripped the air apart, forming into a perfect, bright, hovering circle. There was no way to see to the other side; you just had to trust it was there. Of course, if it wasn’t …

The front doors of the building shattered apart. The Mantises had cut through. She could hear their angry, electronic chirps, knew they were rushing inside, their targeting lasers streaming out.

Mira shouted, getting to her feet. He was almost there, running through all the flying debris, covering his head. Mira smiled. Amazingly, they were actually going to pull this—

Topher groaned as a storm of flying socket wrenches slapped into him one after the other like a flurry of punches. He spun and crashed to the floor, the big wheel cap coming loose and sliding away.

Behind her, Mira heard the Mantises coming. The Portal was right there, she could jump through … but it would mean leaving Topher, and the part they’d come here to make in the first place.

“Damn.” Mira frowned. Why wasn’t anything ever easy?

The air was full of hissing plasma bolts as she lunged out from hiding, ripping apart the old cabinets and tools inside the shop, burning past Mira’s head as she ran. It was a pair of hammers that caught her on the right arm and sent her slamming into a workbench. She righted herself … then immediately ducked as a rusted saw blade almost took her head off.

Topher was a few feet away, staring around wildly. Mira glared at him. “There are times to take cover, good times, well-chosen ones. This
one of them.”

Topher nodded in agreement.

Mira yanked him to his feet and shoved him back toward the glowing hole of the Portal, while she dashed for the wheel cap. Plasma bolts ripped through the flying debris in the air and Mira slid to the ground and grabbed the heavy part, pushing back to her feet and turning.

That’s when she saw them, through the storm of flying metal, just past the huge, floating ball of tools and parts. Three Assembly Mantis walkers, pushing into the interior of the shop, colored in their usual blue and white, pushed off the ground by four powerful mechanized legs. In the middle of each rested its “eyes,” triangular groupings of three polished, round sensors that glowed red, blue, and green, searching and looking.

Mira saw Topher leap through the Portal and disappear in a flash of red. She knew she’d better do the same. Mira swallowed nervously. “Only the good die young.” She leaped to her feet and started running …

… and the lead Mantis found her and opened fire. Yellow bolts sizzled past her head, sparking on the old machines around her. Mira weaved in and out, using them as cover, moving as fast as she could for the Portal as even the metallic walls of the building itself began to buckle inward.

The last things she heard as she leaped through and the flash of red overtook her senses were the angry, electronic intonations from the walkers and the sound of the building disintegrating around her.

Then she landed on the cold ground somewhere else and the sun shone down on her from above. She saw kids running toward her, saw one of them swinging a hammer and smashed the Portal artifact on the ground, the twin of the one she had used back at the shop.

When they did, the hole of light in the air burst apart into nothing, sealing away the chaos and the Mantis walkers back in the machine shop. Mira rolled over and let the wheel cap fall to the dirt, staring up at the sky and breathing hard. A figure appeared above her, staring down with a very displeased look. It was a girl, half Mira’s size but twice as fierce.

Mira squinted up at her through the sunlight, exhausted. “Captain.”

The girl frowned. Her name was Olive. “You’re late.”

The Tone

Olive kept staring down at Mira with that same displeased look. Large strands of her hair had been dyed pink, and they laced through her locks in twists of bubble-gum color. She wore a simple gray shirt, with a pocketed vest, tucked into tight-fitting brown pants that were double belted to hold the girl’s navigation tools: a small expandable telescope, a flashlight, a magnifying glass, and a tarnished brass sextant.

She was a Wind Trader, the Captain of the
Wind Rift,
the massive Landship that sat crippled down the slope of the hill. Wind Traders were the primary means of trade and transport in North America, and Mira had known Olive for years, even before she was the
Wind Rift
’s Captain. The girl had bought lots of artifact combinations from Mira; nice ones, pricey ones. In fact, Mira had made the
Wind Rift
’s Chinook and Zephyrs, artifacts that amplified (or created, when necessary) wind in order to propel the giant ship over the ground.

BOOK: Winterbay
8.68Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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