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Authors: Dan Krokos

Tags: #Juvenile Fiction, #Action & Adventure, #General, #Science & Technology, #Love & Romance

False Future

BOOK: False Future
10.12Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Also by Dan Krokos


Copyright © 2014 by Dan Krokos
Cover illustration © 2014 by Sammy Yuen
Cover design by Sammy Yuen
Photo of Dan Krokos by Henry Stampfel

All rights reserved. Published by Hyperion, an imprint of Disney
Book Group. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted
in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including
photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval
system, without written permission from the publisher. For information
address Hyperion, 125 West End Avenue, New York, New York 10023.

ISBN 978-1-4231-5461-7


to Mom,
for making me read to her in the kitchen

rue Earth arrived in Manhattan to finish us off on December 21. They showed up during a whiteout, the worst snowstorm in ten years, which I thought was pretty rude to the citizens of New York. As if trudging through the sloppy streets wasn’t hard enough, now they had to deal with an invasion. I had to admire True Earth’s brilliance, though. It’s hard to organize any kind of resistance when you can’t see three feet in front of you. Cruel, but brilliant.

I was sitting at my post in our apartment on the fifty-third floor of 80 Columbus Circle. It was Sophia’s turn to be on watch, but she had asked me to cover for her, something about a tension headache. She did that trick where she looked at me and touched my arm and said, “Please, Rhys.” Maybe that doesn’t qualify as a trick, but it worked. It always works with me.

My post was a chair next to a floor-to-ceiling window overlooking Central Park. Noble told us this is where it would happen, if they came back. And we all knew they would.

The snow was blowing outside the window and sticking in the corners. The endless, swirling white had a hypnotic effect, so every hour I did one hundred push-ups to keep myself sharp. When my eyes couldn’t take the white any longer, I started to read a comic book, looking up from the pages every thirty seconds to check on the park. I was in my pajamas, drinking cocoa out of a thick red Christmas mug. At that moment, life wasn’t so bad.

At around two in the afternoon, they came. I glanced up from my comic book and peered out the window. Through the white, I saw there was now an enormous black hole in the middle of Central Park. It was a perfect circle—so black, the contrast with the snow hurt my eyes. I knew what it was. I sat there for a moment while the blood drained out of my head. Peace was over. We would have to fight once again. Then I stood up and screamed,
“They’re here!”
at the top of my lungs.

Sophia and Noble ran into the room. Peter was at a meeting with some military types about discreetly moving more tanks into the city. While the breadth of True Earth tech wasn’t exactly known (Noble wasn’t able to provide any specifics on what they might throw at us), the military figured that if they wanted to increase their chances of doing some real damage, it was best to go with shells 120 mm or bigger.

We stood at the window for more time than we should have, but it was impossible to turn away. Flying machines were rising out of the hole like hornets,
of them, flat and wedge-shaped, wingless. They fired missiles that arced up and over the tops of the skyscrapers, leaving milky trails against the gray winter sky. As we watched, we all knew we should’ve been preparing for battle, but where do you start? We’ve fought monsters before, but not an army.

The last few months had been full of preparation: tactics, ground war strategies, training with some of the military’s best. But through it all, none of it felt like enough to me. For the last attack True Earth sent thousands of monsters with claws and teeth. Who knew what they would send this time.

Of course, I never dared to say that out loud. Just because my hope was running low didn’t mean I wanted to stomp out everyone else’s. So I put on a happy face and ran drills with wiry men who had the eyes of killers, all the while knowing I could shred them with my bare hands and that soon people like me would be arriving to fight and kill them.

Now missiles crashed down around the city, creating huge black and orange clouds blurred by the swirling snow. The nearby explosions I could feel through the soles of my feet. A missile streaked by the window, left to right, and I fell back against the table, ears ringing from the noise, the path of the missile a shadow on my retinas. I knew what True Earth was doing. It was a military tactic the United States was familiar with: shock and awe, also known as rapid dominance. Stun the enemy in the opening moments of battle so they can’t organize. Crush their perception of the battlefield and you crush their will to fight. Combine that with the blizzard, and we didn’t stand a chance of winning in the opening round. No one said it, but I’m sure we were all thinking the same thing:
We’ve already lost.

“We need her,” Sophia said. “We need all the help we can get. Or else we should just quit now and leave.” More explosions thrummed the glass behind her. She didn’t flinch, just stared into my soul with her big brown eyes, which I was perfectly fine with.

But my chest got tight anyway. I missed my friend, but she was at peace. She had done her duty, and it had bought us time. She deserved the break.

Noble didn’t say anything at first, which gave me hope. Surely he agreed with me. And not because we were genetically identical, but because it was

Besides, Peter wasn’t here. We couldn’t do it without talking to Peter first. And he would say no, I was sure of it.

“We need her,” Sophia said again, clearly sensing our hesitation. “There is only the mission now. This is it. This is the time.” Sophia’s total commitment to our team made it impossible not to love her (even though I hadn’t yet worked up the courage to say that to her face). This wasn’t her world, but she was willing to fight for it. She was one of us. In the last few months, she’d gone from malnourished girl to a young woman whose dark skin glowed with health. When we jogged in the city, she never lagged behind.

Noble still didn’t answer, but I could sense him weighing the options. Finally he said, “We need to find Peter,” and walked over to the red phone, the direct line to our military contacts. He picked it up, and I could hear it ringing faintly from the earpiece. Then he held the handset away from his face and looked at it. “It just went dead.”

“She would
to help,” Sophia said, her eyes flitting between Noble and me. “She would.”

Noble nodded grimly. “You’re right. We have to do it.”

“Wait,” I said, my throat tightening. We’d always planned to bring her back if we needed the help, and now was certainly that time, but I still hesitated. We had no way of knowing what she would have wanted.

“I don’t know,” I said.

Noble turned to me with this look on his face that I will remember for the rest of my life. There was pain in the lines around his eyes, the set of his mouth. He had made his decision, but it would haunt him forever.

“Do it, Rhys.” At that moment, I think he became my father again. Because though I wasn’t sure I wanted to, I was going to do what he said, the way a son is supposed to.

A portion of Central Park was on fire now. There was smoke and snow everywhere, and more things were coming out of the hole. It looked like people, but it was hard to tell from this far away. I didn’t want to watch anymore. I’d psyched myself out enough.

I left the window, and Sophia and Noble came with me. The remote was inside a locked case under the sink. Noble pulled a necklace out from under his shirt and tugged once. Hanging from it was the only key to the case, which he pressed into my hand.

I unlocked the case and opened the lid. Inside was a black cube with a single red switch on it, like the kind you’d use to turn on a light. It wasn’t labeled. I gripped it with my thumb and forefinger, but stopped there. The switch was such a small, simple thing, yet moving it a half inch would change everything.

Sophia put her slim hand over mine, and in the warmth of her skin I found my strength. I tried to look at her, but it’s hard to see through tears.

“We’ll do it together,” she said.

Then we flipped the switch.

’m losing blood. The bomb has rolled across the room.

A crippled eyeless swipes my leg from the floor and breaks my shin. It snaps and I go down, fingers tearing at the carpet.

Noah crouches next to me. “C’mon, Miranda. You can do it! You have to do it! Don’t give up!”

I pull myself farther along. Noah never leaves my side. “Keep going. Stand up, Miranda. Stand up right now.”

The eyeless behind me are a ragged bunch, flopping on the floor in their blood and guts. More are coming up through the hole. My fingers dig at the floor so hard my hands ache. I wiggle up next to the bomb, weak and swimmy, blinking.

I pick up the remote, too dizzy to see straight. Somehow I stand up, all my weight on one leg. I look down and see the hole in my stomach. My blood-slick armor. The pain isn’t so bad now. I think that’s the blood loss. Can’t feel much of anything.

“You can do it,” Noah says. He stands next to me, how I remember him. Bright and vibrant and alive. “I believe in you.”

He pulls me into a hug and I wrap my arms around him. He isn’t really here, but his arms keep me standing all the same. “You can do it,” he whispers in my ear. “You’re not alone.”

The eyeless regroup and surge toward us, circling around like wolves. The nearest one springs, claws outstretched for my throat.

If I push the button, I will save the world.

If I push the button.

I will save the world.

I push the button.


I see the light of fire through my closed eyes and feel pressure too quick to understand. It moves through me, like pain in a dream. I open my eyes and the bright light fades into blue-green. I try to breathe but get a mouthful of something wet and thick. I choke. The floor falls out from under my feet and I slide down, then smack the ground with the back of my head, screaming and coughing on fluid, the pain in my broken leg and torn stomach fading and tingling into nothing, and it doesn’t hit me for another second that I’m not dead, that I’m still feeling things, and the fire is gone. I sit up looking for eyeless but of course there are none, and understanding comes in one fell swoop, like a guillotine.

I’m in a small bedroom. A snow-caked window looks out on a redbrick wall.

The empty clone tank behind me is a huge plastic cylinder tilted at a forty-five degree angle. The bottom opened and dumped me and all the weird blue-green fluid onto the floor. There’s a TV in the corner coated in a thin layer of dust. The floor is covered in a half inch of fluid.

And I am alone.

“Peter—” I try to call out, but choke instead. I go down on all fours and vomit a long, thin stream of fluid that tastes like nothing. That’s when I realize I’m naked. The gel is already cooling on my skin. There’s only one reason I would be in a tank. Because I’m not me at all. I’m in a new body, free of burns, holes, broken bones. I died, and yet here I am.

They brought me back.

Why did they bring me back?

Seemingly on its own, my right hand drifts up to the back of my neck. My fingers push through my hair and touch a small, circular piece of metal stuck to the base of my skull. The stamp. There’s nothing else it could be, no other way I could be here. There’s no other way for me to remember what happened. Somehow they found it, and instead of letting me die for good, they brought me back.

Because they missed me, or because they need me?

I blew myself up to kill the monsters that were planning to literally eat their way through our world. My skin still tingles with the feeling of the explosion. The first microsecond of it anyway, before it turned to brief pain, then nothing at all. Did my death save our world? It better have been for something.

I look at my hands, and they’re
hands. I’m in a Miranda body. My hair is auburn and shoulder length, like normal. But the scar on my cheek, a horizontal slash courtesy of Mrs. North, is gone. This is my third body. The last time I came back I only remembered scraps of my past. Now I remember everything. I’ve been dead, but now I’m alive. And I have no idea how to feel about it.

I stand up and don’t fall down.

“Noah?” I call out, and get no response. I search for his presence in my head but don’t feel him. A shiver rolls through my gut. It sounds like it’s thundering outside, but I don’t hear rain.

I try again just to be sure. “Noah? Noah, please.” But he doesn’t respond and I still can’t feel him.

He’s gone. Truly gone. The stamp must not have saved his identity, his presence within me. All I can feel is the hollow space he left behind.

He deserved more. I say it out loud. “You deserved more.”

He might be gone, but I’m not going to stop thinking about him.

I won’t let him fade away.

In the corner opposite the TV is a workbench. On top of it is a folded set of black-scaled armor. On top of that is Beacon, my straight sword. The blade is scorched in places, and the hilt is partly melted, but it’s intact. There’s also a silver revolver leaning against a box of bullets. And a beach towel with little half watermelons on it. The watermelons are dancing. There’s nothing else in the room.

Wait, there—a piece of paper half under the towel. I slide it out, and the fluid on my fingers blurs the ink. But it’s easy enough to read.


I’m coming to get you. I’m sorry. I love you.


I work my tongue around and spit more fluid. “Peter,” I call out again, and it sounds like a sob. It is a sob. They brought me back and I can’t do anything but cry. I should be happy. I get to see my team again. I get to look into their eyes, touch them, talk to them. That idea is enough to excite me, if only for the briefest moment.

And Peter is coming to get me. I let that make me feel good for a few more seconds, until I realize that sound outside isn’t thunder. I go to the window and lift it up with both hands. It screeches and jams in the frame, but goes up high enough for me to stick my head out.

Below is a trash-filled alley. Above, the sky is aflame.

BOOK: False Future
10.12Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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