War is coming to Hob Ravani’s world. The company that holds it in monopoly, TransRift Inc, has at last found what they’re looking for—the source of the power that enables their Weathermen to rip holes in space and time, allowing the interstellar travel all of human society now takes for granted. And they will mine every last grain of it from Tanegawa’s World no matter the cost.
Since Hob Ravani used her witchy powers to pull a massive train job and destroy TransRift Inc’s control on this part of the planet, the Ghost Wolves aren’t just outlaws, they’re the resistance. Mag’s miner collective grows restless as TransRift pushes them ever harder to strip the world of its strange, blue mineral. Now Shige Rollins has returned with a new charge—Mr Yellow, the most advanced model of Weatherman, infused with the recovered mineral samples and made into something stranger, stronger, and deadlier than before. And Mr Yellow is very, very hungry.
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About the Author
Author hometown: Denver, Colorado
Read an Excerpt
He was so thirsty. Always so thirsty. He’d thought the thirst would go away, when he fell into that cool, bottomless well of stars. Maybe after floating in the bloodwarm water of a foreign ocean, there was nothing that could ever satisfy his thirst again.
Why had he dragged himself out, dripping and panting on an impossible shore? Why had he clawed his way out of the steep walls? Someone. He was missing someone, maybe even himself, but he tried that on for size and it didn’t fit. Could not put a name to the faces – the face, you precious moron – that kept him crawling.
Sometimes, he almost remembered his name. The shape of it, the sound of it. But no, not that shape and sound. A different one. A newer one. One that fit like the right skin, only he couldn’t find the measure of it because his skin clung so tight, dried to leather in the sun.
Mostly, his thoughts were not so coherent as to be sad, or filled with longing. There wasn’t room for anything but that overriding thirst. His body now whole, he walked the desert without making a sound, leaving no footprints.
On the wind, he smelled it: water, and salt, and oil. Hot metal thick on his tongue. The scent was a whetstone that sharpened his thirst, drew him in like a ragged rope.
After formless time with only the murmurs of wind and whispers of sand for conversation, the sudden babble of voices, hum of motors, was overwhelming. Disorienting. Color and unnatural shape and things that did not belong. They surrounded him, chattering, poking and prodding. He swiped a hand at one, just wanting some space.
They piled onto him. A sharp jab, and electricity coursed through his nerves, locked his muscles. He whimpered, and they laughed. And then, still laughing and gabbling harshly, they dragged him across the sand and threw him into something metal, a wrong metal that wasn’t familiar, and drove away with him.
His muscles would unlock soon. He knew that. He had only to wait. And pain was an impermanent state, unlike thirst. But he smelled the water so close now, hot and sweet and salty and thudding under skin, and it drove him wild.
Somehow, above the high whine of need and thirst in his ears, the noise sorted itself into voices, as if he had become used to it. Noises that became curious as the metal around him stopped moving, as the… the men dragged him through hot light and then into the dim mouth of a canyon. Sand then rock grated his toes as the shade became even darker, yawning into the mouth of a cave that was really a fault spread wide enough for shelter.
“This one’s got to be a witch.”
“No shit. We should shoot him. Crazy fucker.”
“Orders say to capture, not kill.”
“We don’t have time to run him in.”
“Send a message. We’ll hold him until they get a squad out here to pick him up. He went down easy enough with one shock. Good bonus for witches.”
Hold him, he thought, hold onto what? You could try to hold sand but it would always slide through your fingers. You could try to bend nature to your will and just discover that it was you, bending around it.
And he was still so thirsty. The thirst pushed the numbness from his muscles, leaving the parched fibers to demand, once more, that he wet them.
The men started binding him with something, scraping at his wrists. A rope, perhaps. He snapped it like twine. They weren’t expecting it.
They really weren’t expecting it when his teeth closed on the throat of one. Water, a hot, salty-sweet water, burst into his mouth. It gave him strength, gave the thirst strength as it roared for more, more.
“Shit! Shit! He’s–”
His fingers sank into an eye socket, and found it warm and wet. He hooked his fingers away and brought them to his mouth, straining the fluid through his teeth.
Yes. Better already.
“Three… six… I count twelve now,” Geri said as he peered through the scope, into the mouth of the canyon, black rocks spreading over pink-orange sand. The white skunk stripe in his hair, souvenir of a head wound, tilted as he scanned the situation. Sweat beaded on his black skin – the sun was punishing hot. “That’s a hell of a lot more than Mag said we’d be running up against.”
“Said it was an estimate,” Hob Ravani remarked around the cigarette clamped between her lips. She lay belly-down on the rocky outcrop, sandwiched between Geri and his twin Freki as they formulated their raid plain. Gravel tried to dig into her skin through the thick leather of her duster, and the undertaker’s waistcoat and shirt beneath. She had almost ten centimeters on the twins, but they had to be twice as wide in the shoulders as her, heavy with muscle where she was wiry. They had their tightly curled black hair shaved close – it was more comfortable under helmets that way – and she still kept her pin-straight, mousy brown hair long, braided into two plaits. Thanks to the witch fire in her blood that she’d paid for with her left eye, at least she wasn’t sweating or burning from white to a raw crisp. She could just drink in the heat and store it up to use later. Use like setting some damn bandits on fire.
Behind and below them, she heard the rest of Ravani’s Ghost Wolves, twenty-eight mercenaries strong now, shifting restlessly. Though not talking. They all knew the hammer would come down on them for that kind of bullshittery.
“Not much of an estimate,” Geri growled. “Two more puts us at fourteen. And you know there’s gotta be more back in that canyon.”
“Question is, is the number this fucking wrong ’cause Mag’s people done fucked up, or because they been hiding their numbers?” Of the options, Hob liked the first. Incompetence was a constant that she counted on. But on Tanegawa’s World, wholly owned and operated by TransRift, the company having its fingers up to the second knuckle in everyone’s asshole was also something to count on.
Geri cussed under his breath and handed the scope off to Freki, who accepted it without comment. “You think this is another fuckin’ Mariposa operation?”
As if to say he thought his brother’s question was a dumb one, Freki snorted.
“Ain’t most of ’em?” Hob asked. Bandit groups tended to either be criminal bands filled out with spies from Mariposa, TransRift’s private security company, or they flourished by the company turning a blind eye.
She considered the shitty lay of the land at the canyon mouth and grudgingly admitted to herself that these bandits had picked a good place to put down their tents. “Conall and Davey ever come back with an answer?”
“Found a route could get us up on the north wall, but it’s about thirty kilometers,” Geri said. “And there might be a problem.”
“North wall come with a way to get down?”
“That’d be the problem.”
Hob took a long drag of her cigarette, like she’d pull smoke and calm down into her toes to keep her from wringing someone’s neck. A quick calculation, remaining supplies versus the stupidity of a frontal assault. The math was simple, even for someone who’d never had formal schooling. “Guess I can tell Conall it’s his lucky day and he can finally play with his fuckin’ rappel gear,” she started. “We’ll leave a small group here to play distraction. Geri, get–”
“Hob,” Freki said.
The fact that Freki stirred himself to speak was like another man shouting. “What?”
Freki pointed down to the mouth of the canyon. “Somethin’s happenin’.”
Hob snatched up the scope as he offered it to her. It was difficult to see, between the contrast of light and shadow and the narrowness of the canyon mouth, but she made out men running back and forth. Someone staggered blindly out into the light, their face a mask of blood. “Well, fuck me.”
“What?” Geri asked, going for the scope. She let him have it. “Holy shit.”
“That’s one hell of a distraction.” She shoved back from the ledge, confident that no one was looking. Seemed like the bandits had other problems. Below, in the sharp shadow of the rock, twenty-eight faces snapped around to look at her. The Wolves who leaned on their motorcycles straightened right up. “I ain’t gonna say no when someone gives me the element of surprise on a silver platter. Mount up!”
The clamor of confused screams and shouts was loud enough for Hob to hear through her helmet, over the near-constant, staticky chatter of the shortwave radios as they angled their motorcycles toward the entrance of the canyon. The electric motor driving the chain mesh wheels beneath her made a constant, familiar hum through her bones.
More bandits spilled out across the sand, many of them bleeding. It had to be a goddamn riot going on in there. A woman, her shirt torn to ribbons, stumbled out of the canyon, turned, and looked directly at Hob. She opened her mouth to scream, but the sound was lost in the rest of the pandemonium. She still had the presence of mind to draw a gun, though, raising an unsteady arm.
Hob shouted, “Break formation!” and turned sharply, drawing her own revolver. A shot ricocheted off the battery stack of her motorcycle, by her knee, leaving an ugly score across the sandblasted metal. Better that than her knee cap. Hob aimed at the bandit woman and pulled the trigger as she flashed past.
More bandits began to scramble into a loose sort of defense, but with more coming up against their backs from the canyon, they couldn’t form any kind of line. The Wolves swept through the stumbling crowd. Hob saw Geri firing his sawed-off shotgun, while Freki reached back into one of the holsters on his motorcycle and pulled out a length of heavy pipe that Hati the garage master had welded into a mace in a moment of bloodthirsty whimsy. There were only four men on the base big enough to wield that thing, and Freki whirled it around his head like it was a damn banner before whipping it across the skull of a bandit who’d been aiming at his brother. The mace won.
Hob shot at another bandit in the quickly shrinking crowd. She saw three break for the dunes, too confused or scared to try to defend their own camp. “We got runners, get on ’em.”
Akela and Davey, discernible by the bull horns on Akela’s helmet and the jagged black bolt painted on Davey’s, arrowed out in pursuit. Hob didn’t need to watch what happened next.
Gunfire cracked through the air, a few bandits finally getting their wits together enough to shoot back. Freki went sideways off his motorcycle. The machine slid across the sand and knocked Lykaios off hers, though she rolled out of the way before either hit her.
“Freki!” Geri shouted. Not caring about the melee still going on around him, he dropped his own motorcycle and hit the ground running.
“Sing out, Freki,” Hob said, keeping her voice flat as she tried to watch from the corner of her left eye. She aimed up where the shot must have come from, saw a glint of metal on the canyon wall. Instead of squeezing the trigger, she focused down the barrel, that bright line of metal, and poured all of that worry about her second-in-command into the witchfire that always pounded through her blood. The empty pit of her left eye filled with momentary, searing heat, and then fire surged through the air. Fifteen meters away and halfway up the canyon wall, the sentry burst into flame like they’d been soaked down with oil. Sun-bright, they left a trail of flame across their short fall to death.
When her heartbeat retreated enough for her to hear the crackle of the radio again, the first sound to assault her ears was Freki cursing. For someone who didn’t talk much, he had an impressive vocabulary. “Get the fuck off me,” he growled, probably at Geri. “Shoot the fuckin’ bandits afore they fuckin’ put another motherfuckin’ hole in me.”
“What’s your status?” Hob asked. She raised her revolver again, had to take a deep breath and let it out slow when her hand shook at first. She had to practice more. Had to do a lot of things more, and there was never enough time. “Other’n pissed off.” Before she could squeeze the trigger, Raff took the bandit’s head off with an ax.
“Just got me one in the arm. Pride’s more hurt.” And to her relief, she saw him get up, and head toward his downed motorcycle. He paused to tackle a bandit to the ground.
The skirmish – it hadn’t even been big enough to be called a battle, just another day in the bandit hunting trade – was effectively over. The bandits, for whatever reason, had routed themselves before the Wolves even got there. It was cleanup now, though Hob didn’t trust that to be easy so much.
But she still had it in her to smile. “That the one, took your pride?”
Freki slammed his right fist solidly into the bandit’s face and got back up. “No.”
“Better keep lookin’, then.”