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
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?
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.
“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.”
“Falling Sky grabbed me right away and held me to the last sentence. . . . [It’s] like Hemingway meets The Walking Dead.”
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!
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
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,
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 waterwhere 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
“She’ll be back soon,” one of the
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.
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.
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?”
“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
“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
“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
“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.
that I know, now you toss me in the ocean?”
goes serious. “No.”
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
“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
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
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?
scares me more than I ever imagined it could.
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
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.”
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
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.”
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.”
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.”
leaves me to my solitude.
* * *
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
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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
“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
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.
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.
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
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?”
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.
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
Some of the people nearby threw
dirty looks their way. A few picked themselves off the ground after diving to
avoid the copter brigade.
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
“Oh, fine,” he said. “I see how it is. You like them tall
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
“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?”
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
“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
“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
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.
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.
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.