Read an Excerpt
“Are these people defective?”
Lemon Fresh winced as another explosion burst against their hull. The world shook and her brainmeats ached and she was beginning to wonder if getting up this morning had been such a fizzy idea. The heavy armor they were encased in held fast, but the boom was still deafening, echoing around her skull. She could barely hear Ezekiel’s shout from the driver’s seat below.
“Their rockets seem to be working just fine!”
Lemon pulled her helmet down harder, yelling over the ’splodies. “Dimples, when you convinced me to jack this thing, it was on the understanding that nobody’d be stupid enough to pick a fight with a tank!”
“I didn’t think anyone was!”
Another explosion burst against their roof, and Lemon held on to her gunner’s seat for dear life. “Okay, I hate to be the one to break this to you, but--”
“Look, if you’re that worried, you could always shoot them back!”
“I’m fifteen years old! I dunno how to shoot with a t--”
Another explosion cut Lemon’s sentence off, but from the swearing she heard down in the driver’s cabin, she was pretty sure Zeke got the gist. She looked into the vidscreens at her gunner’s controls, heart sinking as she noticed their hull was now on fire, that another rocket team had joined the first in trying to murderize them, and finally decided that, yeah, crawling out of bed today?
Really bad move.
“We’re allllll gonna die,” she muttered.
It’d seemed like a pretty sensible plan at the time, too. . . .
They’d motored from Babel Tower less than five hours ago, and talking true, Lemon was still trying to wrap her head around it all. The throwdown with Gabriel and his lifelikes. The blood on the chrome. The murder of Silas Carpenter. The look in Eve’s eyes as the bullet wounds in her chest slowly knitted closed.
“What’s happening to me?”
Lemon had thought of Silas as her own grandpa, and the memory of his death was a fresh, hard kick to her chest. But right on top of Mister C’s murder had come the revelation that the girl Lemon had known for two years, the girl she thought of as her bestest . . . that girl was a robot. Eve wasn’t Eve at all. She was a lifelike, modeled after Nicholas Monrova’s lost and youngest daughter, Ana.
True cert, and strange as it was, Lemon couldn’t give a faulty credstik if her bestest was a bot. Growing up in Dregs, you learned to stick by your friends no matter what. Rule Number One in the Scrap:
Stronger together, together forever.
But Eve . . .
After all the years and all the spills and all the hurt . . .
. . . She still sent me away.
Lemon hadn’t wanted to bail. But her radiation gear had been wrecked in the tussle, and the reactor in Babel Tower was still leaking--she didn’t know how many rads she’d sucked up already. And whatever her feelings on the topic, Cricket wouldn’t let her stick around anyways. The First Law of Robotics just wouldn’t allow him to. So, with tears streaming down her face, she and Cricket and Ezekiel had slunk away from the heart of that hollow tower, away from the Myriad supercomputer that contained every one of Nicholas Monrova’s dirty secrets, and away from the girl who was nothing close to a girl at all.
They’d had their pick of vehicles in the GnosisLabs armory. In the end, Ezekiel had settled on a grav-tank, big and bulky and bristling with guns. It’d be slower going, but the tank’s cushion of magnetized particles would handle any terrain, and its rad-proof armor plating would offer better protection out on the Glass. Heart like lead in her chest, Lemon had taken one last look at the tower where her bestest had decided to remain. And then, bad as it hurt, they’d left her behind.
Ezekiel drove, and Lemon sulked, the kilometers grinding away in silence. They’d avoided the broken freeway where they’d fought the Preacher, heading west toward the setting sun. Lemon fought her sobs the whole way. Cricket plodded behind, looking back over his shoulder as Babel grew smaller and smaller still.
Before he’d died, Grandpa had transferred the little bot’s consciousness into the Quixote--GnosisLabs’ champion logika gladiator. The little fug stood seven meters tall now, wrecking-ball fists and urban-camo paintjob, optics burning like little blue suns. He might look like a faceful of hardcore, but Mister C had created Cricket to protect Eve, and Lemon knew the big bot was feeling just as sore as she was about leaving her behind.
It was close to sundown, and they had been making their way through a series of deep sandstone gullies when the ambush hit. Lemon had been sitting in the gunner’s seat, sucking down some bottled water and fighting a growing nausea in her belly. She’d heard a faint whistle, a shuddering boom, and half the gully wall just collapsed right on top of them. As the dust cleared, Lemon had realized the front half of their tank was buried under rubble. If she and Zeke were riding something with a little less armor, they’d already be fertilizer.
Cricket had disappeared under an avalanche of broken sandstone. Ezekiel had gunned the engine hard, but the tank didn’t have the grunt to drag itself free of all that weight. That’s when the first rocket streaked down from above, lighting up their hull with a blossom of bright, crackling flame.
“We’re allllll gonna die,” Lemon muttered.
Dusk was deepening, but the tank’s cams were thermographic. Lem scoped two rocket emplacements on the gully walls above. They were protected by sandbags, crewed by three men apiece. The scavvers were wearing piecemeal armor and muddy gold tees underneath, painted with what looked like an oldskool knight’s helmet.
Lem had to give them points for the color-coordinated outfits, but she wondered if these goons actually had any brainmeats inside their skulls. She watched through her gunner cams as the rubble behind them stirred, and a titanic fist punched up from beneath. Servos and engines whining, Cricket pushed himself free, shook himself like a dog to rid himself of the grit and dust.