Campaign has ended. This book was not selected for publication.
Back to top

First pages

1

Doyle’s Journal – November 6, 2045

You never really stop being a soldier.

Even after you come home and take the uniform off, even as your memories of the war turn to nightmares, you never give up on the principles that define a warrior.

Courage. Commitment. Self-sacrifice.

Every man or woman who ever picked up a gun to defend this country knows that coming home can be the hardest part. Home is a paradise compared to Syria, Iran, or Afghanistan, but it’s unfamiliar. Here, nothing is expected of us, and yet we’re still the same people who ran head-first into the hail of bullets, the same people who dragged brothers and sisters, their legs or arms destroyed by IEDs, out of harm’s way.

We never really stop fighting—whether that’s against the dreams that come every night or the regrets we carry with us from our failures.

Failure to live up to the code.

Country. Corp. Family. Self.

A month ago, I managed to let all of them down in less than twenty-four hours. We knew the Máquinas were coming, and yet I made no effort to reenlist. When the machines crossed the border, the country fell, and I did nothing except focus on my family. All I could think about was getting them to safety, and I couldn’t even do that.

The least of my commitments is to myself, but it’s enough to keep me from putting a gun to my head. There is nothing left for me in this world, and yet I can’t seem to leave it. That’s not what warriors do. They don’t run from the fight.

We are the fight.

In the few books I’ve read about PTSD, I’ve come across the theme of redemption a few times. Now I wonder how a man can truly serve himself after the apocalypse. Is it enough to merely stay alive, or is there a higher purpose? I don’t mean any religious bullshit or spiritual destiny. When you get right down to it, why am I still here?

The country and the Corp are gone. Angie and Gretta are gone. It’s just me and the bunker—my home at the end of the world.

But it’s not all hopeless. I stocked the bunker in the hopes of bringing my future sons up for sleepovers and weekend-long games of Aftermath:America. I’ve got plenty of food, some weapons for hunting, and more movies and TV shows than a man could watch in two lifetimes. I’m sure there are bunkers out there better equipped for what’s coming, all filled to the brim with MREs and faded copies of Guns & Ammo.

I was never a hardline prepper like those Lost Pines nutjobs from the ‘10s. Though we operated in the same circles, I didn’t share the same worry that Iran was getting ready to invade and that we’d all be screwed because our own government was trying to disarm us. And no one truly believed the stories about domestic terrorists programming a MESH-transmitted virus that would turn everyone’s brain into pudding.

Honestly, this was all supposed to be for fun. These walls protecting me from the elements and the synthetic killing machines were just an expensive goof. None of this was supposed to be real.

And for a while there, it didn’t feel real.

After the war broke, after I lost my family, I stayed holed up in the bunker for two weeks straight, slowly losing my mind, coming ever closer to just shutting down and taking the easy way out. Later, when I finally did venture outside, it only reinforced what I already knew.

I was alone.

The first thing I noticed was the lack of MESH traffic. Despite being a peer-to-peer network, the MESH repeaters in Billings and Park City should have been casting a wide enough net to be heard up here in the mountains. With the MESH silent, that meant either there was no one left alive to transmit or they were too far away to be useful.

My only human contact at the time consisted of watching old videos of Angie and Gretta. Despite the pain of seeing them alive and happy, I kept watching, going all the way back to when Angie and I first met, our first trip to Vegas, to Big Sur, all of it. Sometimes I put them on a loop while I slept so I could dream of them.

Sure, I’d wake up crying, but you don’t avoid drinking just because there’s a hangover at the end.

The day I came out of the bunker, I’d told myself I couldn’t keep hiding from the world—whatever state it happened to be in now. If my life meant nothing, then the only thing left was to give it to someone else. I tempted the fates making the trip to Billings, searching for other survivors, but only because I wanted to serve. I wanted to protect someone.

Maybe it’s true that warriors need wars.

Or maybe it was selfish to want someone to take care of because it would make me feel okay about my continued existence.

For two weeks, I searched the mountains, avoiding predators both natural and unnatural. Máquinas, for all their killing prowess, have no gift for stealth. Stomping through the trees the way they do, they kick up a lot of noise, and that brings out the bears and the big cats and other beasts with sharp teeth. Even with training and a good weapon, I’m nowhere near the top of the food chain anymore.

I know for a fact that my Admiral 640-series Survival Bunker is not the only safe haven in the mountains. But either the owners of those bunkers never made it out of the city or they were too scared to even poke their heads out and greet me.

No other humans crossed my path. I went out twice a day and never met anyone.

Today was different though. Today my entire future coalesced into a single adrenaline-soaked moment. Meaning has returned to my life, and it feels like the bunker has pushed through to the surface and the walls have come down and I can breathe fresh air.

Angie, you would have been so proud of me.

I saved a life today.

It, too, doesn’t feel real. Every time I get up to piss, I peek into Gretta’s room just to make sure there’s still a woman sleeping in there, tucked in under those princess pink sheets Gretta picked out herself.

You won’t believe how she got here either. All this time I’d been searching under rocks for survivors. I should have been looking to the sky.

I was on my second trip out for the day when it all happened. I’d gone an hour up-mountain, but didn’t stay long. The wind has come up and flakes are already starting to fall, so I headed back to the clearing when the sun was still a fist above the horizon. I’d seen some deer tracks on the way up, so I kept my Dragunov rifle at the ready in case some foolish buck wanted to be my dinner.

When I got back to the clearing, I found a Máquina waiting for me. That wasn’t out of the ordinary; there was always one or two coming or going, usually the same synthetics operating on set patrols. By the askew beret, I knew it was my friend Mac. Normally, he just passed through, head not moving but eyes and ears taking in every piece of data available. Today, however, he stood rigid about two meters from the hidden bunker entrance, as if he were looking for patterns in the seemingly random arrangement of rocks and tree branches.

I had the drop on him, but the Dragunov is a firecracker of a weapon. I’d gotten the Vietnam-era rifle off a darknet trade some years back, and though I’d fired it at the range, I wasn’t prepared for the noise it’d make the first time I fired it amongst the trees. The echoes lasted forever.

It was one thing to take down a deer and drag it back to the bunker before anyone came to investigate, but killing a Máquina? It was like the feeds always said: where there’s one synthetic killing machine, there’s always another. Somewhere in the forest around us, Mac’s partner was stalking through the trees, maybe circling around me for an easy kill.

Whatever list of pros and cons I was building in my head was made moot by the distant sound of an engine. Mac and I both turned to the west and saw a single-prop Cessna fly low out of the setting sun. Mac broke off his investigation and moved to the center of the clearing.

Every last part of me wanted to signal the plane, to tell it hey, I’m down here, and I’m fucking lonely, but there was no time. It was too close, nearly overhead. What could I have done? Shot at it?

That’s a stupid idea for a human, but evidently it was S.O.P. for a synthetic. Mac ripped off a dozen rounds from his FX-05 as the plane passed overhead. He went to a knee, pressed the short scope to his eye, and put the tap on full open. Distant pings echoed back. The engine began to labor, letting out a chug-chug-chug that reminded me of ancient cars on their last drop of gasoline. Black smoke trailed through the shimmering sky as the plane disappeared beyond the pines.

Mac stood and took off after it, and for a moment I thought the danger had passed. There was a clear path between me and the bunker, just a few meters to safety.

But that’s not who I am, is it, Angie?

I’m the motherfucking fight.

I shadowed Mac from a safe distance, not wanting to let him know I was creeping up from behind. Each time his head turned, I stopped and took cover. This put me a hundred meters behind by the time we got to the crash site.

Once I could see the plane, I set up behind a tree and scoped the area with the Dragunov. Smoke drifted into the sky in thick, black clumps. Trees popped and crackled as their trunks burned. The plane had come to rest right-side-up, but its wings had come off and the tail was missing.

Downwind of the crash, I was treated to a sickening bouquet of smells: burning rubber, aviation fuel, and melting flesh.

I crawled on my stomach to a dense thicket about twenty meters from the left side of the plane. The blue and white paint job on the hull was marred with streaks of ash and soot. Wires and tubes hung from oblong holes where the wings had once attached.

The impact had busted every window.

Flames ate at the human silhouettes inside.

My heart sank. All dead. No survivors. Just me and Mac and a giant fucking beacon for all the drones to see.

Mac stood on the other side of the wreckage, the back of his head appearing hazy through the heat. He surveyed the crash with his rifle poised, ready to kill anything that might have survived.

As if anyone could be that lucky.

I was ready to pack it in when I heard it.

Heard her.

She was face-down on the loose pine needles, half-hidden by a smoldering wing.

Mac heard her too and moved into position behind her. I saw his black caterpillar of a finger inch its way onto the trigger.

She wasn’t me, nor my family, nor the Corp, but in a plane that small, she had to be country. I knew right then what I had to do. And yet I hesitated.

Just a second. Just a brief, human moment.

And then she lifted her head, looked at me.

She was the first human I’d seen in a month, and suddenly it didn’t matter if she died from her injuries right there in the dirt or on the way back to the bunker—I was not going to let Mac kill her. Even if it gave away my position.

Even if this was all for nothing.

I flipped the safety off and pushed the Dragunov’s long barrel through the thicket.

“Hey, Mac,” I said.

2

And I’ll be dancing in the pain.

The altered JellyStar lyric repeated in Vida’s brain as memories of flame burned through her synapses. Yellow and orange ghosts wavered all around her when she closed her eyes. They pulsed with an unbearable heat, as if some demon were breathing in the substance of her being and exhaling nothing but pain.

She was on her stomach. That much she knew.

Below the smell of smoke and ash, there was a pleasant aroma of pine. She felt the needles press into her cheeks, digging and relenting as she struggled to lift her head. Her splayed arms contracted, raising her shoulders from the dirt. Blood and tears obscured the world, but through the veil, she made out shapes of trees and undergrowth.

In front of her, something moved.

A long, black barrel pushed through a thicket, glinting in the golden flames she felt at her back.

She looked deeper, finally saw a lean face framed by a camouflage hoodie. He had pale skin and wide eyes that were just as surprised to see her as she was to see him.

The barrel flashed. Something whizzed by above.

From behind, Vida heard the plink of metal hitting metal. Looking over her shoulder, she watched a headless man stumble in place, his arms flailing, before falling backwards into the fire.

Her vision snapped into focus.

The plane. The shapes in the windows.

Mouths open, screaming silently.

She tried to connect the shapes to her memories, but couldn’t remember being on the plane, couldn’t remember whether she knew the people who were now nothing more than ash.

“Can you move?”

Vida dug shaky fingers into the soft dirt and tried to drag herself away from the broken wing. Everything hurt, her legs barely responded, and above it all, a dull hum blanketed the world.

Her arms buckled. She fell into the dirt, picked herself up again, and stared at the pool of blood she had left behind.

The man eased through the thicket with the rifle pressed to his shoulder and the scope scanning the woods behind her.

“We don’t have much time,” he said. “They’re coming.”

Her fingers went numb, then her arms. She was six feet away from the man and yet it felt like a chasm separated them.

He paused, pressed the scope to his eye, and fired two shots into the trees.

“Now we really have to go,” he said.

Vida lifted a hand to the stranger, not knowing if he were better or worse than the unknown danger closing in behind her. All she knew was overwhelming pain, and no good decision would come out of it. She felt her body withdrawing from the world.

Her senses dulled.

Her hand fell.

Flames turned to ash.

Ash turned to darkness.

 

 

I’ve come to believe the pain will never stop; the storm rages on.

A full minute went by before Vida realized she was awake, that the colorful mural on the ceiling above her wasn’t a product of her dreams. The relative calmness of the small room made her wonder if perhaps the plane crash had been part of some nightmare, though it wouldn’t explain why she was in an unfamiliar bed under unfamiliar sheets.

She took in the room, which was no bigger than a jail cell, rectangular, with one wall dedicated to closet space, and the other taken up by the bed. A fold-down desk hung on the wall near the foot of the bed. An LED strip and mirror filled in the space above it.

Vida pulled the sheets to her chin as a knock sounded at the door.

Her eyes jumped to the hangers on the closet door where her jacket, shirt, and pants hung, charred and streaked with dirt.

The door inched open, revealing the man who had saved her life. He was dressed in a faded Blake Shelton t-shirt and blue jeans, and if the dampness of his light brown hair were any indication, he had recently bathed. Gone was the fear in his eyes. Instead, he sipped casually from a thermos—the rich aroma of coffee wafted towards the bed. In his other hand, he held a glass of water.

“How are you feeling?” he asked. “I brought you some pills for the pain.”

He held out the glass, but Vida didn’t move to take it.

“It’s okay,” he said, “you’re safe now.” He flipped the desk down with his elbow and placed the water on it. Three blue pills dropped from his palm.

“Who are you?” Vida asked. “Where are we?”

“Two very good questions. I’m sorry I didn’t have time to introduce myself earlier. My name is Doyle, and this is my bunker. I call her the Admiral. She’s twenty feet below the Montana dirt, so you don’t have to worry about any Máquinas getting in here.”

Máquinas.

Vida tried to find meaning for the word, but nothing came. Panic welled in her chest. She felt exposed, naked, with nothing to protect her except a few blankets and her underwear.

“And what should I call you, ma’am?”

A spectral hand grasped her heart and squeezed in a slow, sickly rhythm. She saw Doyle’s lips continue to move, but heard nothing. A process had spun off from her internal programming, and it was racing between the infinite rows of her memory banks, looking for the answer to what should have been a simple question.

What is my name?

Vida began to shake.

As the question repeated, other questions joined it. Where am I from? What came before the crash? Who am I? The more the questions repeated, the louder they got, until the words themselves degenerated into clanging and crashing.

The tears came, warm and wet.

“Hey,” said Doyle, kneeling next to the bed. “It’s okay if you don’t remember. Here, give me your hand.” He took it without waiting for a response and guided it to the side of her head.

She felt damp gauze.

“You hit your head. You probably have a concussion. I tried not to let you fall asleep, but we had to double-time from the crash site before the Máquinas got to us. I’m sure your memories will come back to you. You just gotta give it time.”

Vida thought about her family, saw the blurry faces of mom and dad. Everything else was shadow. She turned away from Doyle, shut her eyes, and cried.

After some time, Doyle spoke again, but his voice had lost its jubilance.

“My next words,” he began, pausing to take a sip of coffee, “were going to be nice to meet you. Usually when people say that, they’re just being polite. But now… you really don’t know how happy I am that you came along. I’ve really been waiting for some sign of life from the world, and now you’re here. The circumstances could be better, but the net-net is that you survived. You made it through the first month of the invasion, fell out of the sky without breaking any bones, and wound up safe here in the Admiral. Either you’re the luckiest woman I’ve ever met or God has a plan for you.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” said Vida, wiping her eyes.

“Don’t worry,” he replied. “All you need to know is that you’re alive and safe. Something bad happened up there on the surface, but you’ll remember soon enough. And if you don’t, I’ll fill you in. I almost envy you, not knowing what went down. I can’t stop wondering how we’re going to get past it. If we’re going to get past it.”

A mechanical hum filled the lull in conversation.

Vida stared at the wall, tried to breathe despite the crushing pressure in her chest.

“You’re probably hungry. I’ll make us some dinner.”

“What time is it?” she asked.

“1935 hours, um, seven thirty-five.”

The next words caught in her throat.

“What day?

“November 7th, 2045. It’s a Tuesday.”

Vida shook her head. The date meant nothing to her.

“Do you like Mexican? I make a mean burrito.”

“I don’t know.”

“Well,” he said, groaning as he stood, “maybe it’ll trigger a memory, verdad? There are some fresh clothes in the closet. They should fit. You look about the same size as…” He drifted off, unable to finish the sentence. “Well, when you’re ready, join me in the solarium. Bathroom is out here to the right if you need it.”

“Thanks.”

“De nada, Vida.”

She turned to face him, asked, “Huh?”

“That’s what I’m gonna call you until you remember your name. It’s nice, right? Spanish for life. Do you mind?”

Vida shook her throbbing head.

“The wife and I were learning Spanish before everything went to shit. I’m trying to keep it up in case a Máquina ever wants to have a conversation.”

“Your wife?” asked Vida. “Is she here?”

Doyle bit his lip, shook his head. “I’ll see you at dinner, Vida.”

He pulled the door shut, leaving the room still and quiet. No cars driving by outside, no birds chirping beyond windows. It was almost as if the world outside didn’t exist anymore.

Twenty feet under the dirt, she thought.

Buried in silence.

Vida pulled the covers back and swung her aching legs over the side of the bed. Despite the pain from before, they were largely unscathed. Her knees were red, skinned in a few places, but nothing was broken, no gashes oozed blood. She wore simple black underwear, lined at the edges with only a small amount of lace. Similar bra. She bristled at the idea of Doyle seeing her in such a state.

A scream rose in her throat, but she pulled it back. She wanted to cry for help, to beg her friends and family to rescue her.

I just can’t see their faces through the pain.

Vida took a deep breath, decided there was no way to deal with the memory loss head-on. If Doyle was right, and she prayed (to whom?) he was, then all she needed to do was wait for the answers to come to her. In the meantime, her stomach rumbled.

She dressed in the clothes she found in the closet. The shirt was a little too big and much too flannel for her taste, but the sweatpants were warm and comfortable.

At the desk, she downed the three blue pills and chased them with the entire glass of water. In the mirror, she caught the slight edge of her reflection—just an ear poking through a wave of long, brown hair. Five little dots spoke to jewelry once worn but now missing.

Vida struggled to bring herself closer to the mirror.

Buzzing. Humming.

Something beyond the borders of her perception, waiting for her.

Was it a person? A husband? A child?

Maybe it was just the sum feeling of her previous life.

That was where she would be truly safe, not here with Doyle, not buried underground. Remembering home was only the first step of a much larger goal: getting there.

That was worth surviving for.

Vida opened the door and stepped out into the corridor.

From around the corner, she could hear Doyle singing in Spanish.

“Me enamoré, la primera vez, que te vi…”

She wondered what the words meant.

3

Construction advisory for U.S. Route 101 until January 10, 2035. Multiple accidents have been reported. Would you like to re-route?

Kagan looked up from his palette and squinted at the dashboard. The mini-map showed the 101 outlined in crimson streaks. Surrounding arteries were a rosy shade, but at least they were moving. Orange and yellow icons showed three wrecks ahead, all before his exit to Santa Monica Boulevard.

“Re-route through Wilshire,” said Kagan, his eyes lingering on the vidscreen to confirm Priya had heard him.

A tiny gear icon turned. The blue navigation line shifted.

Kagan returned to his palette.

There was an all-hands meeting at 9:30, and he was going to be late. That was sure to piss off his boss, Wayne, but it couldn’t be helped. Los Angeles traffic wasn’t about wondering if there would be a delay, but rather, how long the delay would be. Worst case scenario, Kagan could just join the meeting through the MESH.

He cleared the reminder for the meeting when it popped up. As the car turned onto Wilshire, he swiped aimlessly at the third and fourth pages of his news feed. They contained mostly ads and gossip pieces. VFeed was supposed to be tuned to his interests, but lately it seemed to be adjusting based on his demographics.

White male. Thirty-five years old. Single and looking.

Eastern European women in sheer black robes waved from tiny portals in his feed.

Hot Ukrainian Women Looking for Man Sex 24/7.

Even the spam was carefully tailored to his proclivities.

His finger traced over the vidscreen and tapped on a still frame from Lost in Your Eyes, a new drama starring Persian (read Iranian) actress Sepideh Ahmadi. The video played, showing a large fountain under a starry sky. Sepideh faded in, twirling in the darkness in a long, emerald gown. A voiceover about love. A flash of other characters.

Kagan focused on Sepideh’s eyes.

How dark. How piercing.

Priya brought the car to a stop at Highland, and Kagan dragged the video into his Watch Later list. As he did, the advertisements on the page shifted to offers from Rakuten—other movies and TV shows starring Sepideh for only $29.99 each.

Outside, Wilshire bustled with early morning joggers and teenagers on hoverboards walking dogs. One woman’s bright pink leggings and white sports bra caught Kagan’s eye. Her ponytail swung from shoulder to shoulder as she ran. At the Highland light, she paused at the curb and ran in place. She checked her heart rate on her sliver.

Kagan saw the disheveled man in green fatigues before the jogger did. He held a cardboard sign in front of his ratty beard.

Veteran of the MX. Anything helps. God bless.

The vet approached the jogger from behind, his hand slightly outstretched as if to tap her on the elbow.

When she noticed him, she darted in front of a black sedan to cross the street.

Priya guided the car around the corner, and the homeless man stared inside. Something about his eyes and the curve of his nose struck Kagan as familiar.

“Do I…” he asked.

Sorry. I didn’t catch that.

“Pull over.”

The next available parking space is in two hundred and fifty-seven feet.

Kagan groaned and smacked the large red button on the vidscreen, enabling manual drive. He spotted a private driveway off to the right and pulled in.

The cool January morning kept him from overheating as he jogged back down Highland to Wilshire. The vet was still at the corner, though he had shuffled back to his regular position beneath the window of a Starbucks. Kagan patted his pockets as he got closer, found a folded twenty sticking out of his wallet.

“Here you go, bro,” he said, holding out the cash.

The vet looked up, gave a weak smile, and reached for the offering.

His hand stopped in mid-air. Hard eyes softened, reddened.

“It is you, motherfucker,” said Kagan.

The vet withdrew his hand, looked away.

“No speak English,” he mumbled.

“Bullshit,” said Kagan. He grabbed the man’s wrist, flipped it over before he could pull it away. Faded but still visible under the dirt was a small, black triangle, shaded thicker on one side.

“That was a long time ago,” said the vet, snatching his arm back.

“No shit. What the hell happened to you, Raf?” He tapped the cardboard sign. “Is this true? Did you really end up in the MX?”

Rafael Orozco nodded weakly. He looked everywhere except Kagan’s face. Finally, his eyes settled on the twenty.

“Can you spare that?” he asked.

“Fuck,” said Kagan. He pulled out his wallet and emptied the cash. “Do you know the Plummer Tower at Fountain and Gardner?”

Rafael nodded as Kagan deposited the money in his hand.

“I’ve got a customer demo at eleven, but I should be able to bail at lunch. Get yourself a lift and meet me there at noon. Vitra Synth offices on forty. Can you remember that?”

“Yeah, I can remember that,” said Raf, shoving the bills into his jacket. “Maybe I’ll be there.”

“No fucking maybe. You will be there. Delts por vida? Recuerdas?”

Wayne’s voice pushed through the MESH.

Where are you, Kagan?

He checked his sliver. It was already nine forty-five.

“Gotta run,” he said. “Plummer Tower. Fortieth floor. Noon. Don’t make me come find you.”

“Delts por vida,” said Raf.

Kagan hurried back to his car, relieved to find it unmolested. The doors unlocked at his approach, and he eased into the driver’s seat.

“Get me to work, fast.”

I can get you to work safely, if that’s what you’re asking.

“Just go.”

Priya coordinated with the traffic on Highland to open a hole large enough for her to back Kagan’s Maserati into. He watched until they had rejoined the flow and then grabbed his palette from the passenger seat.

He searched through his email, dialing back the years until he found the last message from Rafael Orozco. It was dated October 5, 2024, and contained a picture of Raf in San Diego. Dressed in battle fatigues. Ready to ship out. Some kind of covert mission he wasn’t allowed to talk about.

The message read:

Oye hermano, I’m shipping out today. This will probably be the last message you ever get from me. I’ve attached a picture for you to use in my obituary. Please don’t touch yourself to it. Or if you do, please make it short. If I don’t make it back, tell my mother I love her. Don’t forget while you’re sitting in your cozy, air-conditioned office that your best friend is out there somewhere in the world kicking ass. How fucking baddass is that? I knew this would happen someday, just like I knew you would pussy out. I don’t blame you though. We all gotta play our parts. Cuídate, hermano. Por vida, para siempre. -Raf

Kagan read the email a few times, and when he looked up, the car was pulling into the underground garage at the Plummer Tower. Priya found Kagan’s reserved spot next to the elevators and parked. The internal systems shut down as the cabin lights came on.

You have arrived at your destination. Battery is now charging.

Kagan grabbed his bag and headed for the elevator. As he stepped inside, he muttered, “Eleven fucking years.”

Destination entered. Eleventh floor. Nixle Chronos, Inc. Offices are currently closed. Hours of operation—

“Cancel,” said Kagan. “Take me to forty.”

Destination entered. Fortieth floor. Vitra Synth. Offices opened at 7 a.m.

“Thanks.”

You’re welcome.

It was hard to believe Raf had been out of touch for so long. There was never any report of his death, but when no letters came after a year, then another, and another, Kagan had assumed the worst. The horror stories about Syria, Iraq, and the MX were front page news for years. Unlike news organizations of the previous century, media feeds like Lincoln Continental and VFeed didn’t hesitate to post pictures of the casualties.

American soldiers dead. Ripped apart.

Sometimes, there would be a single MX Máquina splayed out over a small mountain of human bodies. Most times, it was just the bodies.

Official stats said that for every Máquina CPU smashed, the U.S. lost sixteen men. Sixteen living, breathing, rightful inhabitants of this earth. Kagan recalled the backlash when the casualties started racking up. The pressure on the government to do something. The flat-out refusal by Perion Synthetics to develop a synthetic soldier that could match a Máquina. If it hadn’t been for Vinestead Synthetics stepping in, the human component of the military would have been decimated.

That was six years ago. Since then, the U.S. had replaced most of its fighting force with synthetics.

Soldiers like Raf would have been sent home.

They should have returned as heroes, living a life of government-sponsored, middle-class luxury.

Instead, he was covered in dirt and smelled like shit.

It wasn’t right.

The elevator doors opened on the expansive open layout of the Vitra Synth offices. Sharp haircuts peeked over the tops of slate gray cubicle walls. Muted conversations filled the air, drowned out by the noise machines in the false ceiling. Sunlight poured in through floor-to-ceiling windows, bathing everything in a soft, yellow glow.


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

Daniel Verastiqui is a Science Fiction author living in Austin, TX. His novels focus on relationships in the larger context of technology, explosions, and gratuitous nudity. He has previously self-published three novels and numerous short stories.

Q. Where did the idea for this book come from?
A.
This story came from a discussion about social anxiety and whether the disorder is biological, chemical, or mental. If a human were to transfer into a synthetic body, would the anxiety follow? What else might not transfer over? Sexual preference? Religion? What does it mean if the DO transfer over?
Q. Tell us about the cover and the inspiration for it.
A.
The main character, Sepideh Ahmadi, undergoes a procedure that puts her mind in a synthetic body. The cover is meant to show her loss of identity by covering up her eyes. Who is she really? How is she different when you can't see her eyes?
Q. Is there a message in your book that you want readers to grasp?
A.
Acceptance of self. Social anxiety, depression, unrequited love... most people treat them as traits to be ashamed of. It's hard to accept that "this is who I am." You can't help how your body / brain works; you can only choose how to react to their actions.

Next in:
Science Fiction & Fantasy
GOLD FROM ETHER /novel/
The method of extracting gold from ether.
Light's Rise
Someone must rise to protect humanity.
The Corrupted Spirit
Demigods, Alchemy, and Magic in the Dark Ages