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