Flashfall

Flashfall

by Jenny Moyer

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Overview

Orion is a Subpar, expected to mine the tunnels of Outpost Five, near the deadly flash curtain. For generations, her people have chased cirium—the only element that can shield humanity from the curtain’s radioactive particles. She and her caving partner Dram work the most treacherous tunnel, fighting past flash bats and tunnel gulls, in hopes of mining enough cirium to earn their way into the protected city.

But when newcomers arrive at Outpost Five, Orion uncovers disturbing revelations that make her question everything she thought she knew about life on both sides of the cirium shield. As conditions at the outpost grow increasingly dangerous, it’s up to Orion to forge a way past the flashfall, beyond all boundaries, beyond the world as she knows it.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781627794817
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
Publication date: 11/15/2016
Series: Flashfall Series , #1
Pages: 352
Product dimensions: 5.60(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.30(d)
Lexile: HL690L (what's this?)
Age Range: 13 - 17 Years

About the Author

Jenny Moyer grew up in Arizona, where she learned to fly before she could drive. She studied writing at Seattle Pacific University and co-owns Luminary Creative with her filmmaker husband, Jacob. She lives in Des Moines, Iowa, with her three boys and three-pound dog, Emmy. Flashfall is her debut.

Read an Excerpt

Flashfall


By Jenny Moyer

Henry Holt and Company

Copyright © 2016 Jenny Moyer
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-62779-482-4


CHAPTER 1

297.84 grams cirium


CAVES MAKE GOOD hiding places. But this close to the flashfall, they also make the most likely places to die. The creatures dwelling in the deep caverns are rabid by-products of the flash curtain, altered by radioactive particles. And they're starving.

Which makes them almost as desperate as us.

My boots scrape the cavern ledge, and a red marker illuminates at my feet. Danger. Do not cross. Behind me, Dram shifts, and in the soft jangle of climbing harness and anchors, I sense the questions he's not saying aloud.

My mother once told me I have magic. She didn't speak the words, nothing as dangerous as that. The day she guided me down my first tunnel, she simply pressed my hand to the cavern wall, and I knew.

I have magic in a place where it is outlawed.

My father would call it something different — bioadaptability. That's really what we Subpars are, adapted to the curtain's fallout and resistant to its elements in ways that Naturals aren't.

But he doesn't know what I feel when I'm down here.

I tip forward, and musty air caresses my face like the breath of a ghost.

"You passed the boundary marker," Dram says, his soft warning drawing me back.

I lean past the ledge, my heart thundering. My headlamp penetrates the first few meters of darkness.

"Secure an anchor," I command softly. "We're going down." When he doesn't move, I glance back. He studies me, blue eyes narrowing beneath his headlamp. "There's cirium down there, enough to earn more Rays."

"Rays don't mean much if we're no longer breathing."

My gaze slips to his arm, to the seal of our city-state and the two curving metal bars he wears pinned beside his designation. Each Ray represents 100 grams of cirium mined in service to Alara. If we earn two more, the director will pin them beside the others and then we will never have to wear these suits again.

"Step in my steps," I murmur. He sighs, loud enough for me to hear it through my earpiece, then kneels to anchor a line. I've invoked our cavers' creed, and there's not much you can say when someone commands you to follow blindly. Besides, there's more than that going on here, and Dram knows it.

At least, I hope it's more than me just being reckless. And desperate, my mind whispers.

"When you were little," Mom told me once, "I couldn't keep you from climbing the Range. You'd press your cheek to the stone and tell me it was singing to you." Her eyes had grown anxious then, so I didn't tell her that the cirium called to me so much stronger from beneath the mountains — that it reached for me like a hand in the dark.

"Use it to get free, Orion," she had said. A week later, tunnel seven swallowed her in a waterfall of rock.

Now, at sixteen, I'm the caver closest to earning a place in Alara, the city safe behind the cirium shield. As much as I want to live beyond the reaches of the flash curtain, far from the flashfall, I wonder how much of what I risk is for her. So that the part of her I carry inside me will know a place beyond this dust and ash.

I move my pickaxe to the holster on my back, watching Dram secure the bolt. We stand in a place where light filters down through cracks in the rock ceiling. I can almost pretend that it's sunlight, instead of fallout from a solar incident that occurred over a century ago. The flashfall is like this — hinting at the curtain's beauty, painting our excuse for a sky with luminescent clouds, quietly killing us while we're mesmerized.

"Anchor's secure," Dram says, giving the rope a tug. He knots the other end and throws it over the side.

"Be sure to mute your lights before you descend."

"At that depth, even muted lights will draw the gulls —"

"I know the risks." Tension pours from me, like I'm bleeding out with all the worry I've kept buried for days, and since despair will immobilize me, I lean into anger. I face Dram, trying to decide how to confront him.

Protecting Alara isn't the only reason we're down here.

My caving partner is keeping things from me, and while it's true I'm keeping things from him, my feelings aren't going to get me killed. His secret is a clock ticking down to death.

"Let me see your Radband," I say. In the sparse light threading past the flashfall, I see his face register shock. "Five years we've been scouting tunnels together —"

I grasp his wrist. "Did you really think I wouldn't notice when you started covering your Radband?" My fingers tighten over the biotech dosimeter we're all fitted with at birth — the band that monitors our radiation levels and sets us apart as Subpars. "How bad is it?"

"Orion —"

"Show me."

He mutters a curse and holsters his pickaxe, all the while meeting my stare. He flicks open a knife and cuts the cloth wound over his Radband.

"There." He holds his wrist in front of my face. "Satisfied?"

For the past year, I've watched his glowing green indicator dull to the muted shade of cave moss, but this gleaming light hits me like a kick to the stomach.

"How are you at yellow?" There are only two colors beyond it, and no one in the flashfall lives long with a red indicator.

He doesn't answer, and I know — I know — it's this cursed tunnel. Nine is bigger than all the rest, with the most potential for cirium. And the most potential for exposure.

"Why did you hide this?" I whisper.

"I got tired of looking at the damn thing!" His tone is hollow, but I hear the fear there. He's only eighteen, in prime health otherwise ... but his body's cumulative radiation levels indicate yellow. It's the warning before amber, when you really start dying.

Subpars are resistant to the curtain's particles, but not immune.

He squeezes my hand. Some of what I feel must be showing on my face. "There's nothing I can do about it," Dram says.

"You can get to the protected city." And it's like I've dropped over the ledge; my blood pounds through me like I'm falling. "There's a vein of cirium down there," I say, pointing past the boundary marker. "I'm certain."

He studies me, as if he's listening for the words I'm not saying. Then he lights a flare, steps to the edge, and tosses it over. We watch it fall, red fire sputtering against the darkness. One second, two, three ... the smoking flame grows smaller as it drops ... six, seven ... I know Dram's counting, measuring the distance to gauge how much climbing line we'll need, what it will take to get us down and back up again.

I barely watch the flare. In my mind, I've already made the drop. The truth is, I stepped off this ledge the moment I saw Dram's Radband.

"You understand the risks of going down there?" he asks.

"I understand the risks of not going." The statement hangs between us, but I don't look away, not even as his gaze locks with mine.

He threads the rope through my rappel device and secures it to my harness. I'm aware of his touch, his closeness, and I try to make my breaths sound normal, in case he can hear them through his earpiece.

"You're shaking," he says. I don't answer because he'll hear the emotions rioting through me — anger, fear, and something new that feels out of place down tunnel nine. A longing that probably belongs more with a Natural girl in the protected city who doesn't have an entire mining outpost relying on her. A normal girl who isn't trying to save her best friend with a pickaxe and a reckless disregard for boundary markers.

"Alara needs this cirium," I say. But it's not duty to our city-state that gives me the courage to grasp the line and lean back over the chasm.

"Careful," Dram says.

"Step in my steps," I murmur, thinking how many hundreds of Subpars have echoed those words. I'm not the first to scout the unknown, to face my fears and drop.

I'm just the youngest.

I rappel, my stomach dropping as I give in to gravity. The silence of the chasm presses around me, and I feel like that flare, tumbling through a void. Cold creeps in through my caver's suit, making me shiver as I descend. My heart beats in my ears, and it sounds like too deep, too deep, too deep.

But then another part of me comes awake.

Ah, yes, this.

The innermost parts of me — places I think of as distinctly Subpar — stir, as imprinted memory and sensation come to life.

My feet touch bottom. I free myself from the line and kneel, pressing my bare hand to the chasm floor. Humming. A faint vibration I feel deep inside. I stand, turning in a slow circle as my headlamp skips over walls wet with rivulets of water. Fear seizes me, a reactive instinct, but no orbies lurk in this water, piling atop one another to reach me, to taste me.

"Abseil clear!" I call, giving the rope a tug. The descending line is free. Safe to follow.

Moments later, Dram drops beside me. He pulls free of the rope and grasps a knife. "Lead the way."

As I mute my lights, his Radband glows in my periphery, a flash of yellow. I feel the color, an undeniable warning, pushing me on. We forge through a crevice, the rock so tight around us our Rays scrape the stone. I hear each one of Dram's breaths. Then, a sound louder than our sliding and scraping. Soft mewling, like the cry of an infant for its mother. But not a human mother.

I freeze.

"Orion ...," Dram breathes, so close I feel his breath against my ear. He says a hundred things in that one utterance, his tone confirming my worst fears.

Tunnel gulls.

I turn my head and meet Dram's eyes. We share a conversation in the space of a few shattered breaths. Survival instincts fire along my synapses.

There's a knife clenched in my hand that I don't recall reaching for.

"Right behind you, ore scout," Dram whispers. He turns off his headlamp and all his suit lights. We are going to cross beneath this gulls' nest blind, and he trusts me to lead the way.

I force myself to take one step, then another, and all the while we listen as the mother gull feeds her baby with a clicking of beaks and the dying sounds of some creature. We are soundless, holding our breath as we hug the wall and pass the rows of roosting father gulls, anxiously awaiting their turns to feast. I look up — just once — and the light of our Radbands illuminates the knifepoint feathers of dozens of gulls. I want to cover my hair so badly. It would be the first thing they'd tear into — but I force my attention to the widening of this pass I can just see about ten meters ahead. After that, we'll at least stand a chance fighting back. Or running.

Five meters.

One.

I let my senses move beyond me, a part of me detaching and finding its home in the call of the caverns. Free of its bonds, the cavern creature within me stirs, listening from a place of bone and marrow.

Yes. This.

Slowly, impressions filter through my mind, and passages overlay my senses like the pages of a map. The vein of cirium is down here.

I just need to find it.

The youngling gull cries out for more, and talons scrape the stone. The mother is off to hunt.

And so am I.

CHAPTER 2

297.84 grams cirium


WHEN YOUR NAME is a source of irony among the cavers of Outpost Five, you're motivated to work hard for a new one. Scout isn't an illustrious nickname, but it sure beats Orion in a place where you can't see the stars.

It's exactly this kind of musing that tells me my oxygen levels are dropping faster than I thought. I should be focused on not dying. I've earned the title of ore scout, but right now it's about to earn me a funeral pyre beside my best friend. I've led us too far off course.

"Read me our coordinates, Dram," I command softly, trying to keep the tension from my voice. Our mouthpieces pick up everything.

"Fifty-two meters southwest by thirty-three degrees, ten minutes," he says.

Not where we're supposed to be.

I close my eyes, straining my senses to pick up the vein of cirium I've been chasing. It's harder to do when your air's not a guarantee. I adjust the Oxinator I'm wearing over my nose and mouth.

Some people die on a sort of sigh, a shift of breath from one path to another. I doubt I'll go like that. Nothing in my life is peaceful — I don't expect death to be any different.

One thing is certain — I'm going to experience it for myself soon. My air tank hisses as my lungs reach for a breath that isn't there. When I go, there won't be any peaceful sighing, but a violent thrashing, a desperate wrestling with an invisible opponent. I refuse to die before I've had a chance to live.

I tap gloved fingers on my wrist monitor, hoping the readings there will contradict what the tightening in my chest is hinting at.

"Your oxygen levels are low, Rye," Dram says.

I look back at him through my lighted goggles. His brown hair falls into his eyes beneath his skullcap. Even with the Oxinator, I can hear the concern in his deep voice.

I glance at the cylinder looped over my shoulder. "Tank fifty-nine's always testy."

We duck beneath a dripstone, avoiding the water that drops from its sharp points like saliva from a monster's teeth. These caverns are always hungry, tunnel nine most of all. It's taken everyone on our scouting team. All but Dram and me.

I pull off my glove and set my hand to the wall. Cavern particles prick my exposed skin like the warning nip of a feral creature. Even the air bites down here. I listen for the call of tunnel gulls. Instead, I hear the flash curtain.

A hundred fifty kilometers long, one hundred kilometers high — even if techs hadn't told us its dimensions, I think I would sense its magnitude. Our outpost lies thirty kilometers west of it, behind a barrier of mountains, but I feel it, distant, pulsing with energy. It hums, and something inside me sings back.

My breath stutters.

"They issued you a compromised air tank," Dram says. "We should turn back."

I take a cautious sip of air and press on. Without cirium, we are all dead anyway. An element born of the flash curtain, it can be milled and refined into the only effective shields we have against the band of radioactive electromagnetic particles the sun sent crashing through our atmosphere more than a hundred years ago.

"Alara needs this cirium, Dram." A cough catches me off guard, breaking up my words. I steal a glance at my indicators. Worse than I thought.

"Our city-state doesn't need a dead ore scout," Dram says, unclasping his tank. He pulls a deep breath from his mask and switches the tubing to the valves on my tank.

"No, Dram —"

He pushes my hands aside as easily as he ignores my protests. The air hisses, and he takes a breath from faulty tank fifty-nine. I realize I'm holding my breath for every one of his, more concerned about the busted valves on that tank now that it's strapped to his back.

"Let's get what we came for," he says. "And get the hell out of here."

We tromp past a narrow river of water glowing with luminescent bacteria. It's strange how the beautiful things are often the most deadly. If the cavern is hungry, the water is ravenous.

"That's right," I say. "You promised Marin a date tonight."

"Just a dance."

"Uh-huh," I hum the word. Teasing him makes it sound like I don't care. I can't afford to care. These caves are too hungry.

The Congress of Natural Humanity gives the Subpars at Outpost Five one night and one day off each week. Since we're hemmed in by fences on the fringes of the Exclusion Zone, all sixty of us just end up around the fire pits, playing music and dancing. Food is still our rationed nutrition packets, but on Friday nights there is the addition of alcohol — lots of it.

My father says it's when the Congress lets the monkeys out of the cages and throws bananas at them. Too many bananas is not a good thing. His words, not mine. I take my bananas where I can get them. So does Dram.

"Stop," I say suddenly. I lift my palm light to a stretch of rock. Hope spins through me, more sustaining than oxygen. "It's up there."

"You sure?"

I don't bother responding. The air tank Dram gave me is having issues, and I need to conserve my breath. Besides, we both know I'm sure. They don't name a sixteen-year-old girl lead ore scout for no reason.

I approach the seam of ore, and Dram follows. He has mined 271.56 grams of cirium. We are both less than 200 grams from freedom — a nearly impossible goal. Until now.

"Marker, please," I say.

He slides a cartridge into his bolt gun and aims it at the cavern floor. "Mark," he says, and pulls the trigger. I cover my ears to block the sound. Yellow light fills the cavern, illuminating the wall. I hear his gasp through my earpiece. There might be even more here than we hoped.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Flashfall by Jenny Moyer. Copyright © 2016 Jenny Moyer. Excerpted by permission of Henry Holt and Company.
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