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Wyrd Worlds II

Wyrd Worlds II

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Wyrd Worlds II

390 pages
5 hours
Sep 20, 2014


WYRD WORLDS II is the work of an international collection of science fiction and fantasy writers, independent authors old and new, who have come together through the book recommendations site Goodreads to contribute to this anthology. This ebook contains a bumper 19 short stories from 17 independent authors from around the world, encompassing a wide range of science fiction and fantasy. Here lurks tales of the future, steampunk and time travel; of magical realms and fantastical deeds; and of things so weird they defy categorisation. The original WYRD WORLDS rode upon a new wave of indie collaborations; and now we're back! In this anthology you will find:
HORIZON - KIRA: PART 2 by Ross Harrison - It was just her and a boy, alone. Kira had to concentrate on keeping him alive.
THE VISITOR by Neil Shooter - Time is relative. On an ordinary blustery British night an extraordinary visitor comes.
A WORLD TAKEN OVER by Douglas Schwartz - He had conquered the world. How much more effort was it going to be to unconquer it?
THE JOY OF SOCKS by A.L. Butcher - The imps knew what they wanted from the Bringer of Offerings...
THE COLONIAL PLAGUE by L.L. Watkin - It's been years since Missra was executed and now her soul is shut away, but being the most powerful magical healer of her generation gets her out of the box occasionally...
HUMANITY WAS DELICIOUS by Ubiquitous Bubba - Imagine you were the werewolf who ate the last human. What will you eat now? More importantly, how are you going to get off this alien ship?
MY LAST DAY by Zach Tyo - Disaster awaits the Earth, yet an unexpected gift brings joy.
GUISARME by Barbara G. Tarn - Members of the Assassins' Guild can be as honorable as anyone. They might be trained to kill, but they're just people with loved ones to protect and avenge.
ROCK OF AGES by Steph Bennion - Letters from the past were hidden for a reason. But breaking into the secure facility was child's play compared to an unexpected family reunion...
THE DINER by Michael Puttonen - Sometimes a life lived hasn't been lived at all.
HOMELESS by Neil Shooter - Winter didn't end, but his world has. Is he completely alone? In a world gone cold, what can keep the spark of life shining?
GY by Peter Lean - The Book was the knowledge that could open the door, but the worlds had been separated for a reason...
IRREVOCABLE by L.J. Hick - He did not accept finality. All he knew was that he had to change the impossible.
POISONED GROUND by Laurel A. Rockefeller - Lady Abbess Cara of house Ten-Ar must find the cause of a mysterious plague of illnesses before it is too late for the city of Nan-li...
SASHA AND THE COLLARED GIRL by Stan Morris - The man was willing to trade his prized possession, but she was already lost.
QUEST FOR THE PURPLE PUMPKIN by Victoria Zigler - A glittering surprise in the woods leads Polly to another world, where just being human is punishable by death...
FREE WILL by A.L. Butcher - The other Grand Wizards thought Leonardos eccentric, indulging the little World Marble like a favoured child...
AT THE BOTTOM OF THE LAKE by Clark Graham - A tabloid journalist discovers his outlandish stories just might be true.
CHANGING EVERYTHING by Josh Karaczewski - Two men set out into one of America's roughest neighborhoods as one piece of a grand plan to change everything...

Sep 20, 2014

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Wyrd Worlds II - WyrdStar


[About the Authors] [Contents] [Foreword]



Copyright Notices:

Horizon: Kira part 2 (c) Ross Harrison 2014

The Visitor (c) Neil Shooter 2014

A World Taken Over (c) Douglas Schwartz 2014

The Joy Of Socks (c) Alexandra Butcher 2014

The Colonial Plague (c) L.L. Watkin 2014

Humanity Was Delicious (c) Ubiquitous Bubba 2014

My Last Day (c) Zach Tyo 2014

Guisarme (c) Barbara G. Tarn 2014

Rock Of Ages (c) Steph Bennion 2014

The Diner (c) Michael Puttonen 2014

Homeless (c) Neil Shooter 2013

Gy (c) Peter Lean 2014

Irrevocable (c) L.J. Hick 2014

Poisoned Ground (c) Laurel A. Rockefeller 2014

Sasha And The Collared Girl (c) Stan Morris 2014

Quest For The Purple Pumpkin (c) Victoria Zigler 2014

Free Will (c) A.L. Butcher 2014

At The Bottom Of The Lake (c) Clark Graham 2014

Changing Everything (c) Josh Karaczewski 2014

Cover artwork copyright (c) Ross Harrison 2014


All rights reserved.


Smashwords license notes

Thank you for downloading this free ebook. Although this is a free book, it remains the shared copyrighted property of the contributing authors and may not be reproduced, copied and distributed for commercial or non-commercial purposes. If you enjoyed this book, please encourage your friends to download their own copy at Smashwords.com, where they can also discover other works by the authors. Thank you for your support.

Smashwords publishing history

First published September 2014

This short story anthology is entirely a work of fiction. The names, characters and incidents portrayed in it are the work of the authors’ imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or localities is entirely coincidental.

* * * * *



[Title Page] [Contents] [Horizon]

WELCOME TO WYRD WORLDS II! The original Wyrd Worlds anthology rode upon a new wave of independently-released collaborations; and now we’re back! Like last year, this ebook is the work of an international collection of science fiction and fantasy writers, independent authors old and new, who have come together through the book recommendations site Goodreads to contribute to this collection.

This ebook contains a bumper 19 short stories from 17 authors, encompassing a wide range of science fiction and fantasy. Here lurks tales of the future, steampunk and time travel; of magical realms and fantastical deeds; and of things so weird they defy categorisation. As before, this anthology contains a wide range of stories, all born from a drive to create, share ideas and to entertain:

Horizon: Kira part 2 by Ross Harrison

The Visitor by Neil Shooter

A World Taken Over by Douglas Schwartz

The Joy Of Socks by A.L. Butcher

The Colonial Plague by L.L. Watkin

Humanity Was Delicious by Ubiquitous Bubba

My Last Day by Zach Tyo

Guisarme by Barbara G. Tarn

Rock Of Ages by Steph Bennion

The Diner by Michael Puttonen

Homeless by Neil Shooter

Gy by Peter Lean

Irrevocable by L.J. Hick

Poisoned Ground by Laurel A. Rockefeller

Sasha And The Collared Girl by Stan Morris

Quest For The Purple Pumpkin by Victoria Zigler

Free Will by A.L. Butcher

At The Bottom Of The Lake by Clark Graham

Changing Everything by Josh Karaczewski

This ebook is offered free for your reading pleasure and to provide a taster of the world of independent publishing. Variations in American and British spelling (you say color, I say colour; you say trunk, I say hello, mister elephant) have been retained to reflect the book’s international flavour. If you like what you have read, further details of other works by the contributing authors can be found at the end of this ebook. In the meantime, enjoy!

Steph Bennion


September 2014

* * * * *



Ross Harrison

[Foreword] [Contents] [The Visitor]

It was just her and a boy, alone. Kira had to concentrate on keeping him alive.


Kira shifted her weight against the door. Her muscles burnt, and she didn’t know how much longer she could hold it shut against the snarling beasts.

‘urry the ‘ell up! she shouted at the ceiling.

The reply was muffled.

One of the beasts threw itself at the door. Then again. Either it was too tough to be hurt by the violent action, or too frenzied to notice the pain.

Any time now. No rush or anythin’.

A second animal joined the concentrated effort to get in at their food. Every crash knocked the door open a little bit more. If one jammed its head in the gap next time, her weight wouldn’t be enough to get it shut again.

Kira’s heart thumped almost as violently against the door through her back. It didn’t help that they’d had to sprint to this rundown service station when the beasts spotted them. Under that sun, even the two-minute run had sapped her strength.

A grinding, scraping sound on the roof preceded a heavy thump outside and a short yelp. The crashing stopped, replaced now by the weird, gulping bark of the beasts.

More grinding and scraping above preceded another heavy thump and more yelping. That quickly stopped.

Kira tried to listen for movement, but she could barely hear over her heartbeat and breathing.

A firm, steady knock on the door startled her. But then relief flooded her. She pulled the door open.

‘Hurry’, ‘hell’, ‘anything’, Flip said.

The boy stood between the corpses of two of the beasts, a bloody length of brass pipe in his hand. One was crushed under a large brick, while a second brick pinned the other, and Flip had finished it off. The third and final animal had cut its losses and retreated towards the horizon.

Looks like we can finally eat, Kira said.

I’ll keep watch.

Flip grinned and snapped his magnifying goggles down from his scruffy blonde hair. The bulbous eyes flicked to the top of Kira’s dusty corset. She slapped his head.

Admittedly, there were probably a number of more important topics of conversation while they were crossing the desert, but the first thing Kira had brought up were rules. Rule One was: No starin’, peekin’, leerin’, peerin’ or otherwise givin’ prolonged attention to Kira’s chest area. Breaking this rule would result in a slap to the head.

Although she was certainly no stranger to being interested in someone unattainable and stealing glances at them, she thought it about time that the boy – eight years younger than her – stopped this irritating practice.

Flip returned to the back room, where he’d scrambled through a hole in the roof the first time, leaving Kira to skin and cook the beasts.

* * *

They sat on the roof, quietly chewing the barely-edible meat.

This roof had once been the floor of the first storey, and remnants of the walls provided them with some cover from prying eyes. Not that there were many of those in the middle of the desert.

On the horizon to the east sat the ruined city they’d been headed towards for the last six days. After the Government had destroyed their home town, and everyone in it, that city had been their only real choice.

Kira had half-expected them to die before they got halfway to the city. Thankfully, there had been a number of small buildings like this one, invisible from their town.

Should only be another day, Flip said, staring at the city. Probably get there about nightfall tomorrow.

Kira shook her head. Ain’t a good idea, arriving at night. I think we’d better start walkin’ as soon as the sun goes down. Get there about midday.

Flip exaggerated his groan. We’ve been walkin’ all day. I’m tired!

Really? ‘Cause after walking six days across the desert, I’m still full of beans. They both rolled their eyes at each other. We don’t know who or what might be in that city. It’s safer to arrive in daylight.

Fine. Flip looked towards the sun. We’ve got about an hour to sleep then.

He climbed back through the hole to the ground floor. They’d jammed the door closed with the large bricks, so if the escaped beast returned, it wouldn’t have any luck.

Kira wouldn’t sleep. Not for an hour. It wasn’t worth the nightmares. Six days ago, she’d killed a man. He had betrayed her town to the murderous, oppressive Government, and would have killed her and Flip... but killing was killing. And it was the first time she had ever killed a human being. Every sleeping moment since was filled with the hole in his chest, his blood on the sand and on her hands, her town sinking into the desert.

No, an hour’s sleep wasn’t worth that.

Kira sipped at her water bottle. One of the places they’d come across on the way sheltered a rundown well. It wasn’t particularly clean water, but it was drinkable. They had less than a day’s water left now though.

Like she’d said, they had no idea what they might find once they reached the city. It could be deserted, or full of bandits, cannibals, monsters, vampires, zombies. Anything. Okay, maybe not anything.

Kira’s eyes dropped to her corset. Slowly, hesitantly, she reached into one of its pouches and pulled out the ring. A simple lump of glass, with a brass mount. But it hadn’t always been clear glass.

The ring belonged to Michael, from her home town. When he had it, there was an awful, yellow, reptilian eye in that glass. Kira had always thought it was just an ugly ring, until the day Michael betrayed them. Then she realised that it really was an eye. It had looked right at her, and somehow given Michael orders. And then... disappeared. As crazy as it seemed, she was sure it was somehow linked to someone back in New Haven.

She’d taken it when they set off for the ruined city on the horizon. Sometimes, she wished she hadn’t. It made her skin crawl. What if the Government could use it to find her? Not that they had any reason to. But she couldn’t bring herself to throw it away, just in case, one day, it could somehow help them.

She put it back in the pouch, and thought about the comforting pressure of her half-top as she returned to watching the dusk shadows creep down her dusty, scratched legs.

* * *

Kira’s feet burnt with every step. The desert had retained the heat throughout the night, and now the sun made things so much worse. The tweed jacket seemed to suck in the heat, but without it, her leather corset – not to mention skin – in direct sun would be worse.

Flip lagged a few dozen steps behind, letting out an anguished groan every now and then. Finding a way to carry his brass pipe without burning his hands had been frustrating him since the sun came up, but Kira quickly got tired of checking his progress.

It was taking longer than expected to reach the city; midday had already overtaken them. She didn’t know which was worse: staring ahead at the city that never seemed to get any closer, or staring down at the unchanging white of the desert.

After what seemed like a lifetime or two of dragging her heavy-booted feet, she looked up again. The city finally took on some proper shape. Huge, skeletal buildings stuck up into the sky; some were maybe thirty storeys high! Wide, flat streets beckoned her. Something about it was welcoming.

About time! Flip moaned. I don’t see anyone around. That a good thing or a bad thing?

Even with his goggles, he could easily miss anyone who wanted to stay hidden.

I don’t know. That depended on who the anyone was, she supposed.

Kira’s foot caught on something, and she hit the ground hard.

As she forced herself back up – a feat much harder than it should have been – Flip arrived beside her, giggling quietly. Using his face mask to protect his hand from burning, he took hold of the L-shaped piece of metal protruding from the sand and heaved.

The rest of the object came out easily.

Looks like a shield, Flip said.

The thing was a strange, skewed square shape, and curved. Half of it was solid metal, while the top had a big hole, with remnants of glass around the edges. On the other side was a handle. Kira thought it looked a bit like a shield too, but some kind of hinges on one end made her think it was a small door.

Flip tried to hold it up like a warrior advancing a siege on the city, but the door/shield was too heavy. With a disappointed frown, he discarded it.

Now that they were getting closer to the city, a dark grey road was beginning to emerge out of the desert. Another five minutes of walking and there was little sand left under their feet. They both took the opportunity to pour out the build-up in their boots.

Kira could see the questions in Flip’s eyes. The worry. They’d spent the past six days and nights with a goal: get to the ruined city on the horizon. Well, now the city wasn’t on the horizon any more; it was right in front of them. What was the goal now? Make a new home here? Hope for a friendly community to join? But what if there was no one, or they found an unfriendly community? The once-hopeful possibilities were slowly becoming more scary.

She supposed they did have a pressing new goal: find water. Hers had run out an hour ago, and Flip was in the process of shaking his bottle’s last drops onto his tongue.

City this big, there’s gotta be water somewhere, she said. Let’s find it.

Flip nodded.

A few minutes later, they were swallowed by the city’s shadows. It wasn’t a cool shade, but at least their skin had some respite from direct sun.

The road started to rise and soon, they were level with the buildings’ first floors. Streets crossed beneath the raised road at regular intervals. They stopped at one of these points.

The street below stretched so far into the distance that the edges seemed to meet. It was littered with rubble from the broken buildings and big metal things. They looked like the motorcar things Kira had seen in New Haven, only more curved. Most even had roofs. Now she knew where the little metal door had come from.

Wind whistled through the bones of the city. A squawking bird echoed from inside the nearest building. Flip batted away a fly. Everything seemed so peaceful. But someone was here. Kira could feel it. She could feel their eyes. Or maybe it was the lack of sleep.

We’d ‘ave made it, Flip muttered.


The Father said we wouldn’t make it to the ‘orizon. He said we’d be killed by beasts and brig... brag...


But you an’ me made it.

That don’t— Doesn’t mean a bigger group, settin’ out at a different time, would have. An’ we’ve only just got here. There’s plenty of time to get killed yet.

Flip didn’t find that amusing. Neither did she.

Kira took a last glance at the long, ruined street and moved on. Horizon.

Flip’s parents had got some idea into their heads that if they spoke properly, and taught Flip to do the same, then their fortune would be better. Or some rubbish like that. When he’d started hanging around Kira, they’d had stern words with her concerning how she talked. She didn’t pay much attention at the time, but when they died and left him alone, it hadn’t seemed right to continue to ignore their wishes. So she tried to pronounce words the way they would have. Perhaps it was some sort of comfort to Flip.

Although some if it was becoming habit, speaking that way just wasn’t her. The longer she had to force it, the more tiring it became. And it never seemed to make much difference to Flip’s speech anyway. Except that he’d taken to correcting her, too, now.

She thought about what else the Father had said. The idea of other Government-like groups out here in the unknown. She doubted there were any in this city, but it would be worth getting a look at the surrounding area.

Flip, I need to borrow your goggles.

What for?

Kira remembered that they’d belonged to his father. That and his pocket watch were the only things he had to remember them by.

I’m goin’ to get to the top of that building. She pointed at the tallest building she could see, a short distance down from them. She what I can see.

Why can’t I do it? he asked, cradling the goggles.

‘Cause I can’t see out your bleedin’ eyes! I just wanna see what else is out there. He seemed even more reluctant than she’d expected. Perhaps they’d become more precious since he and Kira lost their town. Please. I promise I’ll be careful with them.

He handed them to her with a small sigh.

I won’t be long. Don’t go far. An’ keep that rifle ready.

Kira crossed the street between two rusted motorcars. Most of this side of the building had crumbled, but the other three walls seemed mostly intact. The falling rubble had caught between the building and the road’s barrier to create a small bridge. It didn’t exactly look stable though, so Kira jumped the short distance.

The room she found herself in was full of wooden tables. Each one held a box with a black window. Some of the tables had been broken up and gathered into a campfire, but it looked months old, at least.

Wire hung from what little was left of the ceiling, swaying in the calm breeze. It tapped her half-top as she carefully picked her way through the rubble, avoiding the gaping holes in the floor.

The stairs were just outside the room, and intact enough to take her to the fourth floor. There, her luck ran out. The top two floors were the most badly damaged, and on their way down, they’d taken the rest of the stairs.

I should have sent Flip, she thought.

Moving more carefully now over the damaged floor, she stepped into the first room. More tables, more weird boxes. Rotting chairs with star feet looked like they’d once been comfortable enough to sleep in.

Most of the ceiling in here was absent, so Kira used one of the tables to climb up to the next floor. Her ears were immediately met by rattling and tapping. Her hand whipped to the pistol at her hip, but her eyes soon found the source. Strips of a kind of hardened cloth hung from the top of a large window, half-covering it. It rattled in the breeze, and tapped against the wall.

She could see right away that this was as high as she was getting. The top floor and the roof were missing entirely.

Kira had no idea how this curtain thing was meant to work, so she just took hold of two of the strips and yanked. The flimsy strip holding it up clattered to the floor. Sunlight blinded her. The breeze carried a light dust with it, so she pulled Flip’s goggles over her eyes.

The city wasn’t as big as she’d first thought. It was long, taking up a good chunk of the horizon as they approached, but it wasn’t wide. Whatever had ruined this city must have come from the other end. The further into the distance she looked, the worse the destruction got. The taller buildings were snapped in half, crushing those below. Motorcars seemed to have been lifted and thrown into other buildings.

Her heart sank to her stomach. There was nothing on the horizon but more desert and heat haze. She wasn’t sure why she felt bad about that. It wouldn’t have made much difference. This ruined city, the next; what did it matter?

Then her heart threw itself back to her chest. She could see movement about a mile away, at ground level. Not a person, though.

She flicked down the goggles’ magnifying lenses.

It was water! Water spraying out of some kind of manmade fountain.

Kira stared at it for a few minutes, waiting to catch the slightest movement that would suggest people were there too. There was none. But while she watched, she thought back to her home town. They’d had a system of keeping water fresh. The Father had got the idea from an old book. He’d called it a Hero Fountain, or something like that.

It was pretty simple. It required three containers. A sealed one full of air at the bottom, another full of water in the middle, and then a basin on the top. Tubes connected them. Basically, the water would go from the basin to the air container, forcing the air into the water container, which then forced the water up into the fountain.

That was the problem. It wasn’t long before the air would run out and the containers would have to be switched around. So if the fountain thing she was looking at now was the same, that meant someone was nearby.

But it was water. And they needed water.

Kira pushed the goggles back over the brim of her half-top and stepped back.

The world was confused and loud for a moment. Then it was hard and dusty and sore. She gasped, inadvertently sucking in air thick with dust and coughing violently to get it back out.

She felt dizzy. She decided not to sit up just yet. Instead, she tested each part of her body. Her feet worked. Her knees, hips, shoulders, elbows, wrists, hands, neck and head. The fall was short and seemed to have done no damage beyond winding her.

Finally, she opened her eyes. They were met by a length of metal poking out of the rubble. In was an inch from her neck. She was frozen for a few seconds as visions of what might have happened flashed through her mind.

With a groan, she turned onto her back. It took a moment to work out what had happened. That window up there had been at head height just a minute ago, and now it was one storey above her.

Her hands slapped the top of her head. Her hat! Where was her half-top? Where were Flip’s goggles?

Through the haze of dusty sunlight, Kira spotted a shape that wasn’t there before. There was a person crouched in one of the windows. Flip? No, too big for Flip.

Kira reached for her pistol, but it wasn’t in the holster. Seeing this move, the figure in the window dropped to the floor in a half-crouch. She scrabbled about in the dust beside her until her fingers found the pistol. She whipped it up to the figure’s face just as he pounced forward.

Amid a mass of shaggy hair and wild beard was a patch of sun-darkened skin. Pale blue eyes almost seemed to shine in contrast. He held a stained but sharp machete to her throat.

Kira remained motionless and silent while she considered her next move. The man’s posture was like some kind of wild animal, hunched in readiness to pounce again.

My bullet will move faster than your blade, Kira said finally, forcing confidence into her voice. Make a move, and you die.

Maybe. The voice was deceptively weak. It had a kind of light roughness, as though he gargled sand. But your friend will die too.

Suddenly, he was holding a pistol out to the side. Kira followed it towards the stairs. Flip stood at the top, his rifle aimed at the wild man.

Put your little knife down, Flip said, moving towards the window. Clever: the sun would make him appear less solid, harder to hit. It should also have strained the man’s ability to keep them both covered, but he paid no heed to Kira’s warning, and stepped aside, where he could still aim at Flip with the machete to her throat.

Fire a gun like that, boy, and it’ll throw you out the window.

Who are you? Kira asked, thinking it wise to keep things as civilised as they could be between three people pointing weapons at each other.

You’re the ones in my city, he rasped. "Who are you?"

You own this city? Flip said with a smirk.

We’re just passin’ through, Kira said quickly, with a sharp glance at the boy. Our town was destroyed and we had nowhere else to go.

The man studied her for a minute. You’re from that town they destroyed with the airships.

How do you know ‘bout that?

Hard to miss big shiny things floating in the sky, spitting lightning, and giant clouds of dust where a tiny speck of a town used to be. Even from this distance.

They all watched each other for another minute, and then the wild man slowly straightened up and lowered his weapons.

Kira waited until he holstered his pistol again before lowering her own. Flip was more reluctant, but the man didn’t seem to consider him a threat anyway, so he slung the rifle over his shoulder. He kept the brass pipe ready, though.

We should go, the man said. Others will have heard the noise you’ve made here.

He let his machete lead the way down the stairs, leaving Kira and Flip unsure what to think of their new acquaintance. Flip looked to her for direction, but she only had a shrug for him.

Kira looked around for her hat. There it was, a few feet away in the rubble. The goggles were still there. She reached for them.

Are you okay? Flip asked, now the man was gone. Did all this collapse?

Flip, Kira said, her stomach in knots. I’m so sorry.

Flip looked down at her hands. The goggles were in one, the left main eyepiece cracked, and one of the magnifying lenses in the other. The lens itself was undamaged, but the arm had snapped off.

The expression on his face was stuck somewhere between its previous worry and its new devastation. She could almost feel the pain pouring from his heart, and a tear trickled down her cheek.

The floor collapsed under me... Even that seemed like a weak excuse in the face of Flip’s hurt.

You promised.

His tone prompted more tears to chase each other down her cheeks.

They can be fixed, she said, with as much confidence as she could muster. We’ll find a replacement lens, an’—

Give me my watch.

Kira pulled the shiny pocket watch out of a pouch on her corset. She’d been keeping it safe for him since they set out for the horizon. He pulled it out of her hand and disappeared down the stairs.

The goggles felt heavy in her hand. She didn’t completely understand how they meant so much to Flip, but that didn’t matter. What mattered was that they did. Perhaps when he had them, it kind of felt like his dad was there with him, or something.

Then she looked down her half-top again, and the realisation hit her. She knew exactly how he felt. She felt the same about that hat. It had been her father’s. If anything happened to it, she’d be devastated. It would be like the last remnant of him had been taken away. He’d finally be dead.

Flip was never seen without the goggles on his head. Five minutes in her care, and they were wrecked. The only way she could make him feel any worse was if she’d taken the watch and dropkicked it out the window.

Having to go back outside and face Flip was the last thing she wanted to do, but that man wouldn’t stick around. If the water she’d seen was his, they needed to go with him. Besides, she hadn’t liked the way he’d mentioned others.

Kira shoved her oversized half-top firmly over her head and hurried down the stairs. Outside, Flip was sitting on the road’s central barrier, staring at the inside of the watch. Kira knew there was a faded picture of his parents in there, and the leaden guilt pulled at her heart again.

The wild man hung over the side barrier to get a better look underneath the road. He seemed satisfied and stepped away. As he turned to head down the road, he gave Flip a disgusted look. Kira didn’t know what he had against a boy he’d just met, but she’d have to keep a close eye on him.

She took a deep breath and turned to Flip. C’mon. We should go with him.

Flip silently closed the watch and put it safely away. As he stood, he instinctively reached to the top of his head, but his goggles weren’t there. Part of Kira wondered if he did it intentionally, to make her feel worse. It didn’t matter.

I saw water from up there, Kira said, quickening her pace, but refusing to jog to catch up to the man. Is it yours? We ran out a couple of hours ago...

It was hard to tell from behind, with so much wild hair blowing in the dusty breeze, but the man seemed to shake his head.

It’s not? Kira asked, dismayed.

It’s mine, he said. You can fill one bottle each. That’s it.

She knew that wouldn’t be enough; she could guzzle down a full bottle right now. But they’d have to take what they could get. Thanks.

Amid the dead, silent buildings, every step they took seemed to echo right across the city. Under the relentless sun, Kira began to regret arriving during the day. If she listened hard enough, she was sure she could

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