The Geomancer



Everyone knows who's coming down our chimneys next week. If you plan on starting your shopping this weekend―well, good luck. Even if you started shopping before the bird was on the table last month, there are always a few people who seem impossible to shop for (or who you forgot!)  So to cover all your last-minute gifting needs, here are some ideas for the readers on your list:

Action, adventure, and humanity against the world

A fresh take on the vampire legends 


How about some fantasy on an epic level?

We're talking dragons and killer dwarves

Thrillers with a quantum physics twist

Gimme the science fiction, but take it out of this world 

BONUS! Be their favorite aunt or uncle and get the entire series

When all else fails, settle for a bit of everything


Want to put your love to the test? The Buzzfeed test, that is.

Yeah ok so we all know Adele and Gareth are an amazing couple, and if you didn't already then...surprise!  And just when our hearts were finally healing after being separated so long, Clay and Susan brought back the deadly duo in the newest Vampire Empire book The Geomancer!

Are you and yours like Adele and Gareth?  Or are you a bit more at odds like, say, Katniss and Peeta?  Are you ready to test your love? Well it's not that kind of test, exactly.  It's less intense than a test, makes up much less of your GPA, so let's call it a quiz.

Want to know which crossed couple best matches your relationship?

Take the Buzzfeed Quiz now!


Gold Throne in Shadow by M. C. Planck

If you read epic fantasy, you know the tropes can get a little bit stale.  We admit, there is absolutely nothing wrong with being in the mood for a good, old-fashioned, sword-filled journey to find the thing that will save mankind. But every once in a while you just need someone to shake it up a bit.

Take M. C. Planck's World of Prime books. In Sword of the Bright Lady, Christopher Sinclair goes out for a walk on a mild Arizona evening and never comes back. He stumbles into a freezing winter under an impossible night sky, where magic is real—but bought at a terrible price. To win enough power to open a path home, this mild-mannered mechanical engineer must survive duelists, assassins, and the never-ending threat of monsters, with only his makeshift technology to compete with swords and magic.

Planck infuses his world with the life and death rules of your favorite RPG. Kill your enemies, take their power, and move up the ranks until you win. In this month's newly released Gold Throne in Shadow, Sinclair has just used one of his lives to rise from the dead.  Finding his way back home may not be nearly as easy as he once hoped when he discovers the true enemy: an invisible, mind-eating horror who plays the kingdom like a puppet-master’s stage.

Plus the cover of Gold Throne in Shadow reminds me of fall.  So what if the world is actually on fire? The oranges and yellows match the view out my window and I DON'T CARE.

  Gold Throne in Shadow is available now.


Rising Tide is out today!

“A cool world with steampunk and zombies combined. . . . The voice is very real and gritty and I felt immersed in the world. Abercombie-edgy and a quick read at that.”
--Felicia Day

Falling Sky grabbed me right away and held me to the last sentence. . . . [It’s] like Hemingway meets The Walking Dead.”
--Tad Williams

Rajan Khanna is back this month (today, actually) with his latest action packed adventure Rising Tide. Ben Gold sacrificed his ship in an effort to prevent pirates from attacking the hidden island city of Tamoanchan. Now Malik, an old friend turned enemy, has captured Ben and Miranda, the scientist Ben loves. With Miranda held hostage, Ben has to do Malik’s dirty work.

Miranda has plans of her own, though. She has developed a test for the virus that two generations ago turned most of the population into little more than beasts called Ferals. She needs Ben’s help to rescue a group of her colleagues to perfect the test—but first they must rescue themselves.

Check out the first chapter excerpt below to dive (pun totally intended.  You'll see.) into this post-apocalyptic world!



The lights come and wake me from dying.
At least I must be dying because I’m wet and cold and bleeding and every­thing seems broken inside of me. All around me I can smell smoke and burning gas and the sea.
Inside of me, a voice insists that there’s something next to me. Something good. Something to save me. But when I try to turn, everything goes black again.
Death hovers, close by.
The lights bring me back, dancing over me with a roaring hum. I remember stories I read when I was a kid, stories of angels—bright, blinding, flying angels. Have they finally come for me?
Some moments pass, my head spinning, and then they’re lifting me up, out of the raft, and into the sky. Where are you taking me? I want to ask. But I can’t. And something about leaving the ocean, going up into the sky, feels right.
More time passes—hands touching me that I can’t shrug off. I slip away once or twice.
When I awake again, I hear someone saying to take me to the infirmary. It’s apt because I’m very fucking infirm. Anyone would be after the last few days I’ve had. Beaten, shot, strung out on painkillers, beaten again, stabbed, then dropped from an exploding airship into cold ocean waters.
Well, when I say dropped, I mean more like I jumped. But it seemed like a good idea at the time.
Thinking about that makes me think of the Cherub, my airship, which was named after angels, and the last time I saw her, ripping apart into a bright fire­ball as I fell. It brings on pain of a different flavor. She was more than just my home—she was my safety, my security, my freedom.
“Miranda,” I manage to gasp. She’s the other woman in my life. Or rather, the one who’s left. She fell with me, into the ocean. We somehow both managed to survive, huddled in the bottom of a life raft, clinging to one another, wet and cold, our ears still ringing from the explosion, flames still dotting the water where the fiery wreckage fell.
We lay there, together, and I couldn’t even think. All I did was hold Miranda and take comfort in the fact that we were alive and together and she was solid in my arms. Later, I thought that if we managed to make it through the night into the morning, that we might have a shot.
She was what was next to me, I remember. She’s what I was trying to find.
“Miranda,” I repeat.
“Who?” a voice asks.
“That’s her name,” another voice replies. “The woman.”
“Where is she?” I ask. “Is she okay?”
“She’ll be back soon,” one of the voices says.
I reach up for the arms nearest me, grip them as hard as I can. “No,” I say.
“I need to know.”
Then my grip wavers and my arms go watery and the person pulls away from my grasp. “Give him another one,” a voice says.
Then I feel a sharp pinch.
And the world draws away around me.
 *   *   *

I’m below the ocean, only this time it’s warm and thick, not the shocking, freezing thing it was after I fell. It’s comfortable. Almost welcoming. I find this amusing since I have always preferred the sky. But slowly I feel myself start to rise and the air gets thinner and brighter, and then I’m opening my eyes to . . . light.
I smell metal and the sea and antiseptic. As my vision clears, I realize I’m lying on a table—cold metal, but with some kind of tarp draped over it. I’m not wearing a shirt, and my wounds have been bandaged. I ache, but the pain is dulled, lost in the wake of the painkillers I’ve apparently been given.
A woman wearing a surgical mask sees me stir, then leaves the room.
As I sit up, feeling the skin pulling on my wounds, and grunting because of it, the door opens again and a man enters what I now realize is the infirmary.
The metal tables and the counters and instruments all paint the picture. But my attention is drawn to the man.
He’s looking better than he was the last time I saw him. His skin is tanned by the sun to a light-brown color. He’s wearing his black hair long and he has an extremely neatly trimmed beard, which is a nice trick, seeing as how most of the tools for that kind of thing have long since turned to shit. He stands at the edge of my table and eyes me up and down.
“Mal,” I say, suddenly on edge. “You’re alive.”
“Benjamin,” he says, like he just picked a bullet out of his teeth. “As sharp as ever.”
“My God,” I say. “I had no idea.” I feel something hard lodge in my chest. “Thank you for patching me up.”
He shakes his head. Like everything he does, it’s a precise movement, no wasted energy. “That wasn’t me. That was courtesy of your companion.” “Miranda?”
He nods.
“How is she? Where is she? I need to see her.” I start to get up off the table, but he pushes me back, firmly and precisely, and my chest erupts into a constel­lation of pain despite the drugs I’m on.
“You don’t get to make demands,” he says, and I see his carefully cultivated mask slip for a moment. What’s behind is rage. And I know exactly why. Mal and I go way back, and our last meeting didn’t end so well.
He straightens and examines his gloves. “Miranda is safe and unharmed, Benjamin. That will have to suffice for now.”
My mind races, then falls back into an old, familiar pattern of movement. Even through the painkillers it’s a place I’m used to—assess, look for opportuni­ties, survive. It’s clear that Mal isn’t happy with me, and I’m not sure I blame him. But he still pulled me out of the ocean. Still let Miranda patch me up. So I’m on unsteady ground. I don’t know what he wants. And so I can’t use that.
“What happened to you?”
He knows what I’m asking. How did he survive? What happened after I saw him last?
He looks away for a moment. “Pardon me if I don’t feel like digging up ancient history,” he says. “I have no wish to reminisce about old times.”
“I get that you’re mad at me—”
Mal slams his fist down on the edge of the table and I jump, again feeling the pain ripple through me.
“Mad? Mad?” He shakes his head, his face twisted with disgust. “You con­tinue to underestimate me, Benjamin.”
I take a deep breath. “So why am I here? You didn’t need to fish me out of the water.”
Mal takes a deep breath, too, smoothing his long hair back from his face where it had fallen. He straightens his jacket. His face returns to its impassive state. “My people saw the wreckage in the water. Fresh wreckage.” He shrugs. “Old habits. They were checking for salvage . . . and information.”
“What kind of information?”
“What do you think, Benjamin? You’re telling me that if you saw that kind of fallout, it wouldn’t attract your attention? We’re operating in these waters. Knowing what’s happening around us is only prudent.”
I try to process all of this, and it’s hard with the painkillers dragging on my thoughts. C’mon, Ben. Get it together. I return to the phrase “we’re operating in these waters.” Could Mal be working with Gastown?
I look back up at him to see him examining my face.
“Are you working with Gastown?” I ask. It isn’t subtle, and it’s not what I had planned to say (as far as I planned anything) but it just spills out.
He squints, then shakes his head. “No. Neither in its former nor current incarnations.”
That’s how Mal likes to speak. Never a simple word when a more ornate one will do. In that way he’s a little like Miranda.
I nod. “Those were Gastown ships in the water. Them and the Cherub.” I feel a pain when I mention my airship. I’ve heard tell of people having phantom pains in lost limbs. Could you have that for an airship?
“I know this already,” Mal says. “Your companion told me.”
I frown. “You still haven’t told me why I’m here, then. If Miranda told you what happened, you could have dropped me back in the ocean.”
“I thought of it,” he says with a smile. “Believe me, I thought of it.” “But?”
“I wanted you to see me. I wanted you to know that I survived.” He waves a hand in the air, nonchalantly. “I have no illusions that it will provoke a response, but I needed you to know.”
I nod. It’s classic Mal. His ego has always been one of his most developed attributes.
“So now that I know, now you toss me in the ocean?”
His face goes serious. “No.”
“No. Your companion and I—”
“. . . Miranda and I came to an agreement.”
My head is still swimming, and none of this is making sense. Mal is alive. And wants to kill me. Yet I’m still alive. And he made a deal with Miranda?
“We always have need for people with medical training,” he says. He shrugs. “She made her skills known to me. But . . .” He pauses for a moment. “She’s quite shrewd. She insisted that she demonstrate her skills. On you.”
It’s such a nice piece of negotiation that I can’t help smiling. It’s the kind of thing I usually try to do—identify a need, make myself useful, benefit. She not only secured a safe space for herself, but she saved me in the process.
“All I can say is that you’re very lucky,” Mal says. “None of my people would have worked on you. Not in your state. Not without quarantine. And you probably would have died, otherwise. I locked her in here with you, with some medical supplies, and she worked on you through the quarantine period. That you’re alive, and awake, is a testament to her abilities.”
“She’s one of the best.”
He nods. “That, we can agree on. How she chose to associate with you . . .”
“People change, Mal.”
The look he gives me sends chills through me. It’s like being in a room with a wild animal—a wolf or a cougar. Mal clearly hates me. He has lots of reason to, I’ll admit, but he also has all the power here. I keep trying to kick my brain out of the painkiller fuzz, but it’s slow going, all uphill, and gravity’s pulling at me. Miranda had been thinking quickly, making herself useful, saving me. Now I have to do my part. “Mal, I—”
He quiets me by holding up his hand. “Please don’t, Benjamin. I can see the achingly slow grinding of your mind’s gears. You’re going to try to give me reasons not to kill you.”
“The thing is, Benjamin, I had a plan; one I thought poetic. I would leave you in the ocean, all alone, with no wings to carry you. With no friends to aid you. Leave you in the great vastness and just . . . sail away. I could take odds on what would get you first—a shark? some other ship? drowning?”
The thought scares me more than I ever imagined it could.
“But I’m not.”
Mal rubs at a spot on his left glove. “That was the other part of my agree­ment with Miranda. Her terms were that she get to demonstrate her skills on you, and . . . that I keep you alive until we reach our destination.”
Thank God, I think.
He must see the relief on my face because he says, “What I promised her, exactly, was that I would keep you on the ship. And that I wouldn’t take any action to harm you. And so I won’t. Because it doesn’t matter.” He smiles at me. “Once we arrive, however, I will have my moment. Believe me when I say that I’ve been imagining all the many things I might do with you at that point.”
Another scary feeling, this time one that sticks like a rock in my gut. Just then, my mind clears a bit more and I realize what he just said and that the rocking sensation I’m feeling isn’t completely from the drugs. “Did you say ‘ship’?” It’s not an airship—I would know if it was. “Are we on the water?”
“Your speed is as remarkable as always,” Mal says.
“Cut me a little slack,” I say. “I’ve had a lot of painkillers.”
“I am aware,” he says, glaring at me. He sighs. “Yes, you are on board a ship right now. A warship. She’s called the Phoenix.”
“You stole her?”
He looks at me, sharp, assessing. Like a bird. “I recovered her.”
Of course you did, I think.
“She was secured in a naval facility. My people and I liberated her.”
It’s a score, of course. Military targets have long been a flame the foraging moths have flown to over the years, but as a result the pickings are slim. Even if you do find something intact worth taking, the effort of getting it operational, being able to run it, is often too much. There are plenty of rotting old hulks in naval yards and off the coast. That he found one and managed to get it to work. . . .
“It took years to get it running,” he says. “Time during which my people were vulnerable.” He smiles. “But in the end we were triumphant.”
Jesus, I think. A warship. In Mal’s hands.
“The weapons?” I ask.
His smile grows wider. “Almost completely operational. That was one of the most difficult parts. She was partly stocked, but making sure everything worked and was loaded properly took some time.”
“I don’t believe it,” I say.
His smile is predatory and triumphant. “That is because you have no imagi­nation. We achieved a great victory, here, my people and I. And it will be our salvation.”
The word makes me uneasy. Especially in the Sick. “So you live here.”
He nods. “In some ways, the ocean is safer than the sky.” I find the words distasteful, but they make me think of Tamoanchan, an island settlement I recently visited. I think of Diego and Rosie, Sergei, even Clay. All the people Miranda and I left behind. I thought that sacrificing the Cherub might have saved them from attack, but that didn’t mean more wouldn’t be coming.
I needed off this ship.
“Where are you sailing it?” I ask.
A legend of sorts. I’ve met people who determined to go there, lured by the promise of old magazines and books. “You know it’s overrun with Ferals, right?”
He shrugs. “That’s the rumor. But it’s a series of islands. And by now the Ferals should have dwindled, equalized to a stable number. We can take our time to clean them out. And if the idea of it keeps others away, then all the better. If their maps already say, ‘Here there be monsters,’ then why disabuse them of that notion?”
I shake my head. “That’s the life you’re going to lead? Doesn’t seem suited to someone like you.”
“Things change,” is all he says.
I chew on it for a bit. Mal was on his way to a leadership position the first time I met him, but he seems to have taken it quite seriously. Seriously enough to risk his life on a dream. Miranda bought me some time. But then what? Even if he doesn’t kill me right away, we’ll be stuck there. With no way of getting off.
“Things do change,” I say. “Let me prove it to you.”
Mal laughs. “You?”
I can’t help frowning at him.
“Oh, Benjamin. I see what you mean. You’ve developed a sense of humor.” “Mal—”
“No.” The word is as hard and cold as stone. “I don’t care if you’ve changed. If you can grow wings or if you shit out my heart’s desire on command. I have you. And I’m taking you with us until I can deal with you in the appropriate way.” He leans forward. “Do you get that? You are mine.” He turns to leave. “Meditate on that on our journey.”
Then he leaves me to my solitude.
*  *  *
They move me to something more resembling a cell shortly later, something that was probably a bunk back in the Clean. There’s a simple bed, a sink, and a toilet. I suppose it could be worse. I could have to shit on the floor.
They feed me, too. Scraps and slop, but it’s something. I guess Mal’s sticking to his promise to Miranda. I can imagine him rationalizing it, too. Telling himself he’ll punish me at a time and place of his choosing. He has an overdeveloped sense of honor. Something tells me that Miranda picked up on that and used it against him.
Thinking of Miranda sends a pang through me—not knowing where she is, or how she is. What she’s doing. How Mal’s treating her.
There’s no way that he’s going to let her see me. That will be off-limits, even if she wants to, but. . . . But there’s this strange, nagging voice inside my head that says maybe she doesn’t want to see me. I don’t think it makes sense, but it still pipes up from time to time. I keep trying to stamp it down.
And this is the problem with being stuck with no one but yourself. With no books or music or people to talk to. You start having crazy thoughts. In one of these, Mal charms Miranda and, well, let’s just say she responds.
I’m definitely going to go crazy in here.
Of course I search my cell for means of escape but, well, there doesn’t seem to be any. The door to the room is locked from the outside, and there are no windows or other openings inside. There is the toilet, but judging by its dimen­sions, the hole beneath it would be too small for me to squeeze through.
Just one book, I think. One book. It wouldn’t even matter which one. Once, when I was holed up in an old house that just happened to sit next to a Feral nest, I read the same book four times. In a row. And it was about rabbits. Another time, when Dad had dropped me off on a rooftop, circling around to pick me up later (and got delayed), I read the same romance novel twice, the second time acting out all the parts. I sometimes go to great lengths to pass the time.
A short time later, my food arrives. Those scraps and slop. It’s skins and rinds and cores, cartilage and bone. The vegetables are just shy of rotting, the fish is too soft and has a smell that almost makes me gag. Something that was once leafy and green is now a muddy smear. Yet I open my mouth and shovel as much as I can in. Because I need to eat, and I’m hungry. I need to heal. That I don’t enjoy it doesn’t really come into it. Much. It helps that I’ve been on my own and hungry for much of my adult life. I’ve eaten all kinds of things out of desperation. This is tolerable at its worst. Or at least that’s what I tell myself.
Especially every time I start to gag.
I start marking the days on my mattress, scoring lines into the fabric cov­ering. One. Two. Three.
I start talking to myself. Except that quickly that loses all appeal. I’m a ter­rible conversationalist.
So I start thinking about the old days. About the last time I saw Mal.

It wasn’t a good time.


If you haven't already, don't forget to pick up a copy of the first book, Falling Sky!


Read an excerpt from Supersymmetry

If you like a little more science in your fiction and a little more action with your plot, and somehow you haven't tried David Walton's latest thrillers then you're really, really missing out!  The love has been rolling in for his newest release Supersymmetry.   Check out the first chapter excerpt below to see what all the fuss is about.

“Fast-paced, mind-bending, super-scientific yet fully accessible and very understandable to the layman reader.  Full of new possibilities and probabilities, Supersymmetry gives readers a peek into what the future may hold and the cost that comes with it.  This is a science fiction novel full of humanity and all its inherent beauty and ugliness. FANTASTIC - KEEPER”
-RT Book Reviews

“With a confident, deft touch...David Walton explores concepts of quantum physics while expertly weaving the narrative perspectives of two young women.... An engaging science fiction novel about an ultra-dimensional intelligence bent on destroying reality.”
-Shelf Awareness for Readers

“Propelled by high-speed action and digestible science that makes you feel smarter just by reading about it, Supersymmetry is among the best in near-future science fiction.”

“A high-octane, high-tech romp through time and space, with lots of family drama and complex characters to root for…. Fast paced, with cool futuristic science and complex characters and relationships, this is must-read series for science fiction fans.”
-Books, Bones, and Buffy

“A story with cool science and a good heart. All in all, I was completely entertained by this smart, imaginative quantum thriller.”
-Fantasy Literature



It would be the disaster of their generation, like the fall of the Twin Towers or Kennedy’s assassination. Sandra Kelley was one of the early responders, one of the first to see the stadium lying crushed, torn apart as if by an angry giant. She was less than two years out of police academy, a junior officer still doing patrol on the night shift. She had seen victims of traffic accidents, so she wasn’t entirely green, but nothing could have prepared her for this.
It seemed as if every police car, ambulance, and fire truck in the city had been routed to Broad and Pattison, but it wasn’t nearly enough. There had been a Wasted Euth concert at Lincoln Financial Field that night, so there were crowds of gawkers to control, and the number of injured in the parking lot alone was more than they could handle. Debris lay scattered everywhere.
Most of the light poles in the parking lot were still intact, but the stadium wreckage itself was dark, an unexpected hole where once 2000-watt lights had blazed out into the night. The sky was overcast, a brooding bank of clouds that hid the stars and seemed to press down on the city.
Sandra dialed her dad’s phone for what must have been the tenth time. The call went straight to voice mail, just like every other attempt. Her voice was shaking badly. “Dad, please call. Please get this. Tell me you weren’t at the game.”
She called her mom’s phone next. No answer. She had left three mes­sages already, but she left another one anyway. “Mom, it’s Sandra. Please call. Dad was there, wasn’t he? He had tickets. I don’t remember when, but I think it was tonight. He invited me, but I was on duty . . .” She choked on the words and clicked off.
She weaved her way around battered blue plastic seats, strewn across the parking lot alongside unrecognizable pieces of mangled metal and concrete. There were bodies, dozens of them. Some of them were whole. Others were not. She stopped, doubled over, and vomited on her shoes.
Her sergeant took one look at her face and pointed her toward crowd control. Facing away from the stadium as much as possible, she and a dozen other cops shouted people back and strung police tape to cordon off the whole area. The first moment she could, she pulled her phone out of her pocket and called her parents again. Nothing.
“Here.” Another cop pushed a water bottle into her hands. It was Nathan, from her class at the academy. She took the bottle gratefully, swished some water in her mouth, and spat it onto the pavement. It cleared some of the taste of vomit from her mouth, but not the acid taste of fear. She felt jittery and light-headed, like she was on some kind of uppers or a massive dose of caffeine.
“Thanks,” she said, handing back the bottle.
“Keep it,” Nathan said. He was blond and tall, with athletic good looks. The uniform fit him well. She had had a bit of a crush on him back in the day, but he had fallen for a cadet named Danielle instead, and they’d married a week after graduation.
Sandra tried her phone again, but with no result. Nathan studied her face. “You know somebody who was here?”
She nodded, swallowing hard. “My dad. He used to take us all the time, when we were . . .” Her voice cracked, and she pressed her lips together, holding back tears.
“They’ll find him,” Nathan said. “Don’t give up hope.”
She smiled as best she could and nodded her thanks. Heavy earth-moving and construction equipment rolled in, bulldozers and front-end loaders and cranes. Her sergeant pulled her back to help with search and rescue. There were people trapped under eighty-ton blocks of concrete, but no one seemed to agree about the best way to move them safely. She found herself in crews of strangers, moving what rubble could be moved by hand. She was tired, bone tired, but she knew she couldn’t stop. Peo-ple’s lives depended on the work she was doing. And one of them just might be her father.
The FBI rolled in and added to the confusion, waving their badges and trying to preserve the crime scene at the same time rescue workers were tearing it apart. No one seemed to know quite who was in charge. Without direct orders, Sandra did whatever she could, directing EMTs with stretchers, soothing panicked family members, and checking press badges for the reporters that swarmed the site like flies.
While she did all this, she recorded everything she saw. Like most police officers, Sandra wore eyejack lenses, the raw footage feeding into a huge database that could be merged into a single, time-tagged, three-dimensional image of the site. The detectives and bomb experts would study the data for clues as to what had happened. Was it a terrorist attack? Or just a catastrophic engineering failure? Feedback to her lenses told her which views and angles were under-represented, encouraging her to aim her vision in directions that would help fill in the holes.
The news she was getting through her phone told her the media was already pointing fingers at the Turks. With American forces in Poland and Germany blocking the Turkish advance, and the Turkish navy con­trolling access to the Mediterranean, this was hardly a surprise. The talking heads called it a Turkish attack on American soil, comparing it to Pearl Harbor and calling for war. The Turkish president officially denied it, and it was hard for Sandra to see what they would gain from such a move. Though she supposed terrorists operated under a different set of assumptions than most people.
She hadn’t seen her sergeant in hours, so she just wandered the site, joining gangs of workers where she saw a need. She queried the central database to see what views had not yet been covered and headed in those directions, trying to provide as much data as possible to the profes­sionals whose job it was to make sense of it all. All around her, there was the horror of death, so much death that she could hardly take it in. She felt emotionally detached, floating in a protective bubble her mind had formed around the experience. Her awareness collapsed to simple tasks.
Step over the twisted metal. Help lift the concrete slab. Check GPS and shift viewing angle to forty degrees.
Her father still didn’t return her calls.
“Hey! Officer! Could you give me a hand?”
Sandra turned to see a young man in a black Robson Forensic cap waving to her. He was struggling to haul two black hard cases on wheels over the debris-strewn ground.
“Finally,” he said. “What’s a guy got to do to get a girl to pay him some attention?”
She narrowed her eyes, not in the mood for humor. “What do you want?” “Could you take one of these? This
is really a two-person job.”
One of the cases was the size of a large suitcase; the other was big enough to hold a bass fiddle. Sandra took the smaller one. “What is all this stuff?”
“ID equipment,” the forensic tech said, puffing as he hauled on the larger case.
Sandra imagined a lab on wheels, blood testing and DNA, taking samples from the thousands of bodies and determining their identities. “You can do that in the field?”
The tech didn’t answer. They had reached a flat area with a minimum of debris. “This will do,” he said. “Open that one up, will you?”
Inside she found telescoping poles, wires, and what looked like a large security camera. “What kind of ID kit is this?” she asked.
“The best kind, I hope,” the tech said. He opened the larger case. Sandra didn’t understand at first what she was looking at. The case seemed to be stacked with dozens of small electric fans.
The tech circled around to the smaller case and pulled out lengths of pipe, assembling them with ease. In short order, he constructed a ten-foot tripod stand with the camera device on top. From the bottom of the case, he extracted a box with levers and a long antenna, like a remote control. “Stand back,” he said.
He flipped a switch, and the larger case started rumbling. It vibrated visibly, chattering against the concrete.
“What—” Sandra started to say, but she was interrupted by a sound like the buzzing of a hundred angry bees. Out of the case rose a formation of two dozen quad-rotored helicopters, each the size of a dinner plate. They dipped in unison, shearing off to the right just as a second forma­tion rose up to take their place. Each formation was a perfect rectangle, six copters by four, flying inches apart and moving as if locked together. At a cue from the tech, they left their places and flowed into a new forma­tion, twenty-four wide by two deep.
He pressed another button, and the quadcopters shot off toward the ruined stadium, doing twenty or thirty miles an hour, eight feet above the ground. Several people shouted or leapt away, but the copters veered effortlessly to miss all obstacles, breaking out of formation or angling their flight as necessary. Sandra looked after them in awe. In the darkness, their LED lights swirled like a swarm of fireflies. Above her head, the device that looked like a camera came alive, smoothly slewing back and forth as if aiming at each of the receding quadcopters in rapid succession.
Some of the people nearby threw dirty looks their way. A few picked themselves off the ground after diving to avoid the copter brigade.
Sandra forgot her astonishment and wondered if she’d just been tricked. She had no idea what this guy was doing, but it wasn’t forensics. Was he a reporter? Or was he a terrorist, out to destroy evidence or make a secondary attack?
She undid the snap that held her pistol in its holster. “Put the remote down,” she said.
He looked bewildered. “But—”
He dropped the remote and held up his hands. “You don’t understand—” “What kind of stunt are you trying to pull? You said this was ID equipment.” She reached for her radio to call him in.
“It is!” he said. “The copters have RFID readers on board. I told you the truth.”
She paused. She would make a fool of herself if she called in a real CSI. “Let me see your ID,” she snapped.
“Honest,” he said.
“ID.” She held out her hand.
Sheepish, he dug around in a pocket and handed up a laminated card. It was a University of Pennsylvania student ID.
“You’re a student?”
He looked offended. “I’m an engineering doctoral candidate in robotics and sensory perception.”
“Put your hands down.”
He put them down. “I’m allowed to be here.”
“What about the cap?”
He took it off and looked at the logo. “Oh,” he said. “Some of the forensic outfits hire us sometimes.”
“And who gave you permission to loose a fleet of helicopters in a crowded search and rescue scene?” she said.
“It’s a swarm, not a fleet,” he said. “Look, most of the people who died out there have cards in their wallets with RFIDs in them. Credit cards, gas cards, SEPTA cards. They work with magnetic resonance; illuminate them with a burst of radio energy, and they fire back a signal with a number on it. With the right databases, those numbers can be turned into people’s names. The quadcopters tag the number and the GPS coordinates, and boom: we have a map of the positions and IDs of every person on the site. Well, nearly. A lot of them anyway.”
Sandra was cooling down now that he seemed to be legit. She hol­stered her weapon. “What’s the camera for?”
“This?” he said, pointing up at the device on the tripod. “That’s the radio transmitter. I have to use a pretty narrow beam to get a strong enough return signal through the rubble. The copters can’t carry one, so I mount it here and coordinate them. Most RFID readers are two-way, but I had to split it up: the transmitter here to pulse the energy at each spot on the ground, and the copters at the right spot at just the right time to detect any returns.”
“And you had permission to do this?”
He winced. “Sort of.”
“What does ‘sort of’ mean?”
“The chief told me I could do whatever harebrained experiment I wanted as long as I got out of her way.” He gave an awkward smile. “I guess I charmed her with my rugged good looks.”
Sandra smiled in spite of herself. The tech wasn’t rugged or good-looking, not by anybody’s definition. He was short and soft, with a thick face, glasses, and a hint of a mustache. His skin was a light, mottled brown, and his hair could have used a trim months ago.
“Oh, fine,” he said. “I see how it is. You like them tall and blond.
Blue eyes, probably. Flawless skin, Swedish accent—I know the type.” “I’m just doing my job. You’d better not be lying about the chief, because
I’m going to check.” She glanced back at his ID card. “Your name is Angel?” “An-HEL. The g is pronounced with an h sound.” He rolled his eyes. Her smile vanished. “What?”
“I know what you’re thinking. Who would name a boy ‘Angel’? Typical American. I’ll have you know Angel was the fifth most popular name for boys born in Mexico last year.”
“Is that where you’re from?” she asked. “Mexico?”
“Born and bred.” He lifted his chin high. “Spent my whole life in San Antonio, until last year.”
Sandra paused. “Isn’t San Antonio in the United States?”
“There you go again, with your prejudicial comments,” Angel said. “Only Americans think it’s in the United States.”
This time she caught the sparkle in his eyes. “Are you serious?”
He grinned, breaking the tension. “I’d say about twenty percent of the time.”
She wanted to punch him. She couldn’t tell when he meant what he was saying and when he was just messing with her. In her current state of high tension, she didn’t find that funny. On the other hand, she was having a conversation, and having a conversation meant not looking at the scene around her, expecting to stumble over her father’s body at any moment.
The angry buzzing sound grew louder, and she turned just in time to see the swarm of quadcopters bearing down on her. She gasped and ducked, but the copters reined up short, breaking off into groups of four. Each group of four wheeled up to Angel, hovering around him for a few moments before banking away again. He snapped open a laptop and typed rapidly.
“It’s working!” he said, the astonishment evident in his voice. “You’re surprised? Haven’t you tried this before?”
“In the lab, sure, but not in real life.”
“You covered the whole site already?”
“No, not even close.” As the last foursome left him, the copters slid into formation and shot away toward the wreckage again. “It’ll take hours to cover everything. But that’s a lot better than days, maybe weeks, of dozens of techs with handheld readers doing the same thing. The information won’t be con­clusive; people will still have to confirm each identification, actually look at each body. But as a preliminary map, it should save a lot of effort and let family members know about their loved ones more quickly.”
He rotated the laptop to show her the screen. It was an aerial map of the site, flanked by Pattison Avenue and Hartranft Street. One corner was peppered with yellow dots. Angel zoomed in on that corner, and the dots bloomed out into numbers.
“Each of those points is a person. Probably,” he said. “There are RFIDs in other things, too.”
“And from that you know who they are?”
“Well, I don’t,” he said. “I don’t have access to those databases. But the police do, you can be certain, and if there are any they don’t have, the feds can get them.”
Sandra studied the design the dots made on the screen, swooping in zigzagging curves. It didn’t look random. “Why does it make a pattern?” Angel shrugged. “I don’t know.”
She thought about what her dad would say, seeing a pattern like that. “It might be important,” she said. “If things were thrown around in a recognizable pattern, we might be able to determine what caused this, maybe even track down the source.”
Another shrug. “I work in a robotics lab, but I’ll tell you one thing; this was no bomb.”
She cocked her head at him. “What do you mean?”
“There was no fire,” he said. “Nothing’s burned. And look at how the stadium collapsed—it looks more like it fell in on itself than like it was blown out. Most of the rubble is piled up inside, on the playing field. More like an earthquake. Or a sinkhole.”
He was right. It was obvious, now that she thought about it. There was plenty of debris in the parking lot, but it looked more like it had been pushed by the force of the falling stadium walls, not like the walls themselves had been blown out. But there had been no earthquake; at least not that anyone was reporting in the news. “Maybe there were a lot of smaller charges placed at key spots,” she said. “Arranged so that the walls would fall in and kill as many people as possible.”
Angel nodded, thoughtful. “Hey,” he said, “if we know where the people are now, and where they were originally sitting, maybe we could draw lines from their starting point to where they ended up. We could track the vectors of force.”
He was getting excited, but all she could think about was the image of her father’s body being blown out of his seat. She felt sick and put her hand over her mouth.
A female cop ran up to her, dark hair blown back in the wind. It was Danielle, Nathan’s wife. “Sandra,” she said, “you’ve got to come now.” “What is it?”
“I think it’s your father.”
Sandra’s mind rebelled at the words. She wanted to punch Danielle in her pretty mouth for daring to say such a thing. “Dead?”
Danielle didn’t answer, but her eyes told Sandra everything.
Sandra followed her at a run to where Nathan stood over a body on the ground. His shoulders were hunched, his eyes dead. He was holding a black leather wallet, worn and familiar. Sandra looked at the wallet, refusing to look down, terror gripping her throat.
She took the wallet and flipped it open. Her father’s face stared up at her from his Pennsylvania driver’s license, but she checked the name anyway. Jacob Kelley. She shook her head, trying to process what she was seeing, the information somehow failing to sink in, even though she’d been expecting it now for hours. She shook her head, trying to push the evidence away, wishing for a return to uncertainty, when it was still possible that he hadn’t been here.
Finally, she looked down. Her father lay on the pavement as naturally as if he’d fallen asleep there.
“I’m sorry,” Nathan began. She waved her hand to fend off his words, and he trailed off. He stood there, awkward, not knowing what to say. Danielle put a hand on her arm. Sandra turned and buried her face into the coarse, blue fabric of Danielle’s shoulder. She felt like she ought to cry, but the tears didn’t come. Danielle stroked her hair, while Sandra took in big gulps of air, like she was drowning.
Her phone rang.
The noise startled her. She reached for it automatically, and then nearly threw it away. She’d been waiting for it to ring all night, and now, when it finally did, it was too late. The automatic movement brought the screen up to her eyes, however, and she saw the number. It was her father’s number.
She answered.
      “Sandra?” Her father’s voice was warm and strong and sweet and utterly recognizable.


Supersymmetry is out now!