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Authors: Nick James

The Pearl Wars

BOOK: The Pearl Wars
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Woodbury, Minnesota

Skyship Academy: The Pearl Wars
© 2011 by Nick James.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any matter whatsoever, including Internet usage, without written permission from Flux, except in the form of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

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Any unauthorized usage of the text without express written permission of the publisher is a violation of the author’s copyright and is illegal and punishable by law.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Cover models used for illustrative purposes only and may not endorse or represent the book’s subject.

First e-book edition © 2011

E-book ISBN: 9780738730493

Book design by Steffani Sawyer

Cover design by Kevin R. Brown

Cover illustration by Derek Lea

Flux is an imprint of Llewellyn Worldwide Ltd.

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Manufactured in the United States of America

1

The Year 2095

Syracuse, New York–Fringe Town

My fingers grip the ledge, searching for cracks. The rest of me dangles into empty sky like some demented human windsock.

I hear him approach from the other side of the rooftop, footstep by footstep closer to crunching my fingers until I let go in agony and plummet twelve stories to the cracked pavement below. Splat goes me.

Cassius Stevenson
, his government badge reads. When he showed up I thought maybe he was here to help us. Maybe the Academy sent him down in case we messed up. He can’t be any older than fifteen, same as me. I didn’t even know the government trained people that young. But apparently they do. And apparently he’s not here to help us.

“Can’t say I expected
this
.” His voice is every bit the spoiled Surface kid, complete with a lilt that he must think sounds sophisticated. In reality it’s just mass irritating. “I’d about given up finding anything interesting out here in this wasteland. And then I bump into you and your little friend. I gotta tell you, you guys saved my day.”

He’s talking about Skandar, my teammate, who should be up here helping me. Too bad Cassius already immobilized him downstairs. Eva’s gone too, off with our Fringe contacts. I’m the only one left. I don’t know why I let Skandar talk me into exploring this rotting hotel in the first place. This Cassius person is instant karma for straying from our mission objective.

Cassius flashes me a smile as his face comes into view. “I’m in awe, buddy. I’ve never seen someone actually trip off the side of a building before.”

He stares down at me over the ledge, his dark bangs touching the top of his hazel eyes. He wears a spotless navy sport coat over his lean, muscular body. A silver
badge sparkles with the reflection of the unrelenting sun. There’s no mistaking that familiar lightning bolt emblem surrounding his name. He works for the Department of Energy Acquisition—a Pearlhound. That means he also works for the Unified Party. And that makes him my enemy.

“What’s your name?” He coughs and shields his eyes from a cloud of dust kicked up from the rooftop. “There’s gotta be some kind of record book for the stupidest ways to get yourself killed.”

“Jesse Fisher,” I answer, and instantly regret it. What kind of secret agent gives up their name first chance they get? A mass failure kind, for sure.

Cassius gives me a thumbs-up before grinding down on my fingers with the heel of his shoe. I muffle the string of curse words fighting to fly from my mouth. The arid wind beats at the side of my face. Syracuse’s atmosphere isn’t regulated by a Bio-Net like New York’s Chosen Cities. This would sure be less of a struggle in a decent temperature. A hundred and fifteen degrees isn’t exactly workin’ in my favor right now.

I dig my fingers into the hot brick, straining to lift myself while trying to find footing on the side of the building. Beads of sweat drip down my arms. I’m like a human sprinkler. It’s the dang heat. I don’t know how Fringers live like this. I’m waiting for the moment when my muscles snap. I suck at pull-ups. This is like one endless endurance test.

Cassius’s smile widens as he watches my pained expression. “So the question is, who do you work for? I saw your shuttle back behind those buildings. You’re Skyship, aren’t you? I bet you guys are down here looking for a Pearl. Illegally, of course.”

He pauses, waiting for me to answer. My vocal chords have shut down and gone home, but I know I’ve gotta say something. Keep him talking.

“We already found it.” I struggle to form each word. All I really want to do is cry out for help, but there’s nobody around to hear it. The town’s deserted. Most Fringe Towns are. And even if there were people here,
they’d be as far away from the sun as they could get. “You’ve g
ot the wrong person. I don’t have it.”

Cassius squats, his eyes never leaving mine, his foot pressing harder and harder on my fingers until it feels like they could break off. “Well, obviously,” he chuckles, “but the fact that you’re even down here without clearance makes you an enemy of the state. Come to think of it, I’ll probably get a gold star for getting rid of you.”

“Please.” One minute in and the begging’s already started. A more experienced agent would pull out some complex, psychological argument to convince this guy to reach down and save me. And here I am with my pathetic “please.”

“Who’s got it, then? Not your ridiculous friend downstairs?”

“No.” I inch my free hand across the surface of the ledge. If I can just grab onto his ankle before he notices, maybe I can take him by surprise and pull myself up.

“Don’t tell me there are more of you Shippers running around.” He grabs onto the sleeve of my windbreaker, yanking my arm up off the ledge.

“Don’t drop me!” I shout, about as far away from an intimidating hero command as you could get.

A gust of wind batters my left side, throwing hair into my face. The world is a sea of blond for a moment before I manage to whip it from my eyes.

“Then don’t try anything funny.” He hoists me up a few inches by the thin material on the arm of my jacket. “I’m going to give you another chance, even though you don’t deserve it. Where’s the Pearl?”

“My friend’s got it,” I stammer. “She’s on the ground, in an alley
way behind the hotel.”

Cassius grins. “There. Was that so hard?”

I look up at him, hoping for a hint of mercy in his eyes. Instead there’s something else: a playful coldness, like a kid sneaking into his parents’ room to open birthday presents two weeks early. He’s actually gonna do it. He’s gonna kill me. For fun.

And before I have a chance to do anything, he lets go of my jacket.

“Oops.” He grins.

I struggle to grab onto the top of the ledge as my arm
falls to my waist, but I miss it by a good inch. My body lurches to the
side as the muscles in my right arm tense with the added weight. I’m left scraping at the bricks with my fingernails, desperate to regain my grip. Nothing at the Academy’s prepared me for this.

I twist around in the air, hanging on by five fingers, soon to be four. Three. Then … I can’t even think about it.

“Oh god.” Cassius covers his mouth. “Why don’t I have a camera right now? Your face is priceless. You really should see yourself. You’d be laughing.”

I glare at him as I pull myself back to a more stable position, using every ounce of remaining strength in my rubber-band arms. I’ve gotta project confidence. No begging. No crying.

I press the tips of my boots against the side of the building. The shirt under my windbreaker clings to my body, heavy with sweat. I consider reaching for the taser on my belt, but it’s too risky to try.

Cassius sighs and crosses his arms. “You just won’t quit, will you?” He crouches. “Maybe I underestimated you Shippers. I mean, you’d be used to heights, living up there your whole life.” He points to the thin layer of clouds above us before focusing back on me. “You know, I’ve always wondered. Is it a superiority thing? Do you enjoy looking down on us, this ‘failed country’ you couldn’t stand to be a part of anymore?”

I wanna shout at him, spit in his face. But if I did it’d only come raining back down on me.

“It’s okay,” he continues. “You don’t have to answer. You’re all a bunch of cowards, running away. All that does is get you in trouble, just like you’re in now.”

“I told you I don’t have the Pearl,” I sputter, trying to think of something mass heroic that’ll get him to leave. “The longer you stay up here, the less chance you’ll have of finding it.”

Yeah. Good one.

He shrugs. “I guess we’ll have to get this over with, then.” He grabs my ring finger and twists it back until my nerve endings scream out in pain. He laughs, but I’m too busy wriggling around to notice. Every last instinct wants to reach over and stop him, but if I do that, I’ll fall.

Then suddenly the pain disappears, replaced by a numbness that shoots back from the tips of my fingers, up my arm, and into my chest. At first I’m convinced that Cassius has destroyed some vital part of my nervous system and left me paralyzed, but then his eyes widen and I know he feels it too.

He tries to pull away, but his hand sticks to mine as an invisible whirlwind sucks our fingers together. Sparks kick off from our fingertips, tiny green things shooting out from within our hands. They should be hot, but I don’t even feel them. Everything above my wrist is numb.

“What are you doing?” Cassius strains his arm as he continues to pull. It’s no use. We’re completely stuck.

I don’t feel pain anymore, not even in my strained muscles. It’s like I’m floating.

A soft humming joins the suction where our hands meet as the sparks amp up. They shoot across the rooftop and disappear. The humming vanishes with them.

Silence.

The pain returns. It starts in my toes, moves up to my feet, legs—all the way to my arm. I feel it rise through my hand and into my fingertips. When it can go no farther, an explosion of force pries our hands free.

Cassius and I separate violently, thrown back with the strength of a hurricane. We fly apart, which isn’t so bad for him because he’s got the rotting Fringe hotel rooftop to land on.

Not so good for me, as I’m looking down at twelve stories of freefall. I don’t have time to grab onto the side of the building. I don’t have time to grab onto
anything
.

The dust-clogged air tugs on my windbreaker, ruffling the material as I fall backward. I panic, combing through training modules for something I can do to stop myself before hitting the ground.

Rows of shattered windows pass by above me in a blur, faster and faster until I’m mere feet from smashing into the ground.

This is it. All I can do is close my eyes and pray.

BOOK: The Pearl Wars
3.03Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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