The Valiant was supposed to save us. Instead, it triggered the end of the world.
Earth is in shambles. Everyone, even the poorest among us, invested in the Valiant’s space mining mission in the hopes we’d be saved from ourselves. But the second the ship leaves Earth’s atmosphere, our fate is sealed. The alien invasion begins. They pour into cities around the world through time portals, possessing humans, forcing us to kill one another.
And for whatever reason, my brother is their number one target.
Now the fate of the world lies in the hands of me, a seventeen-year-old girl, but with the help of my best friend, Justin—who’s suddenly starting to feel like more—maybe if we save my brother, we can save us all…
|Publisher:||Entangled Publishing, LLC|
|File size:||2 MB|
|Age Range:||14 Years|
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Traveling through time is kind of like dying.
It's terrifying. You never know when it's going to happen. When it does happen, it hurts so bad you don't want to survive.
Gabe just burned to death in a car wreck, Natalie was shot, I don't know where Justin is, and Billy was just possessed by a Xua. Usually Aerithin is here by now, but he's late, and I'm running.
The Xua are right behind me.
I've failed. Again. For the fourteenth time.
Back in the beginning, I didn't know who had attacked us or why. Aerithin tried to explain things to me, or at least as much as he thought I needed to know. The problem was I didn't always believe him, especially when he was talking about "cascading events." I thought he was talking about some weird alien religion, not a scientific anomaly.
Apparently, there are certain things that can never be changed, no matter what you do or how hard you try. Cascading events are like destiny. These are the events that set other things in motion. The launch of the Valiant, my meeting Aerithin, my supposedly meeting some guy named Noah in the future — according to Aerithin, those are all unchangeable.
I can't change them no matter how hard I try.
I know, because I didn't believe him. Not at first.
My first three jumps through time, I tried to stop the Valiant launch. I thought it was the pivotal event that needed to change in order to save our world, because the launch always led to Gabe's death. Save Gabe, save the world, right? It made sense to me, but the cascading-events thing always got in the way.
Normal people live and learn. Not me. I watch everyone I love die and I learn.
In the distance, a skyscraper tumbles to the ground, dust and debris flying into the sky, shadowing the city of Los Angeles. The sky darkens, and I can feel the end, can taste it on my tongue.
Right when I think I'm toast, Aerithin appears. He calls to me, and I jump onto his steed, that fiery lionlike beast, and together the three of us gallop away. There's only one place to go — back.
In an instant, we're racing through the Corridor of Time that separates the future from the past, and I think we're safe.
Then I glance over Aerithin's shoulder behind us and see that the army of Xua is chasing us, all of them running as fast as the beast we travel upon. Some are running faster.
All the breath leaves my chest. No. They've never done this before. They've never been able to follow into the Corridor.
And then I realize —
The Xua have learned, too.
"Faster!" I yell, leaning forward, my hands gripping the beast's long fiery fur.
It cries back with a thunderous roar.
The faster Xua are gaining ground, and I don't think we're going to make it, but we have to. If we don't, it's all over for everyone on Earth. The Xua will win, and everyone I know will be dead.
The door to my past opens up ahead of us. Just a little bit farther and I'll be there.
But the fastest Xua have already climbed onto Aerithin's fire-beast. One of them wrestles with Aerithin, trying to dislodge him, while the other Xua grabs at me. Its long fingers latch and snarl into my hair. I scream, turn, and bite its hand. Its glowing blood sprays on my face.
I'm not going to make it; I know it. They're going to kill us both.
"Jump, now!" Aerithin yells. His steed slams to a halt, and I fly off, tumbling toward the open doorway ahead of us. I roll, then hit the ground running. Another version of myself stares back at me through the mirror and, for an instant, I feel like Alice in Wonderland staring through a magical looking glass.
Behind me, Aerithin howls in pain, a horrific sound that makes me shake. I can tell by his soul-wrenching cry that he's in torment. They've caught him and they're probably killing him and I can't stop it. I have to escape. If Aerithin dies, I'm the last chance for my world —
I stretch one hand toward my reflection, and as soon as my hand touches hers, we merge. It feels like I've been slammed against a wall, like my bones are poking through my skin, and I'm being turned inside out. But I have no choice. It's this or we all die.
I'm in the past.
I'm crammed back inside my own skin.
For a few brief moments, I can still hear Aerithin screaming. Then it's quiet, except for my breathing and my heartbeat, except for the panic that surges through me.
My hands tremble.
I made it.
But they got Aerithin. Nobody yells like that unless ...
Please, don't let him be dead, I beg, even though I fear it's already too late. If he's dead, this is my last life, my last chance to save my brother, my last chance to save everyone.
Instinctively, I listen for the low growl of enemy ships circling through the skies overhead. The Xua have never come to Earth before the launch, but I don't know what to expect. None of this has happened before. They've never followed us through the Corridor of Time. They've never caught Aerithin.
Have they finally learned how to change destiny?
So many things I've gotten wrong, so many times I've failed. If this is my last chance to get it right, I'm screwed, because the Xua are already a step ahead of me.CHAPTER 2
The first time I saw one of the aliens — the Xua — I thought they were all the same. They look alike with their long arms and yellow eyes and glowing silver skin, but they're not. Not at all. There are three types of Xua, and Aerithin made sure I understood the difference, because knowing exactly which type I was dealing with in a situation meant the difference between living and dying.
The first are the Jumpers. These aliens are the foot soldiers of the Xua army. Fast and determined, they're the first to turn into a vaporous smoke and enter a human host through the person's mouth. You'll know when a human is possessed by a Jumper — their muscles tense, their jaw hangs loose, and they hunch forward when they walk, like they're on a mission.
Jumpers can't hide what they are. There'd be no point anyway, because as far as they're concerned, they will possess you.
Second are the Hunters. They're the Xua's special-ops soldiers. Hunters are highly intelligent, methodical, and nearly impossible to evade. Unlike Jumpers, when they possess a human, they're skilled enough to manipulate their host's body. You'll never know there's an alien standing in front of you until it's too late. They can track a person for miles — that's their primary purpose, and they're extremely good at it.
A Hunter possessed Billy once. That's how he was able to find Gabe and me.
I need to avoid Hunters at all costs.
Finally, there are the Leaders. All Xua answer to them. These aliens are calculating and controlled, planning every attack and leading every battle. They don't care how many Xua they lose in a skirmish, as long as they win. A Leader led that first attack on my neighborhood.
Like Hunters, you'll never know a human is possessed by a Leader unless they want you to, though in my experience, they don't seem to care whether I know. And why would they? They're just as deadly as Hunters, and they have an army of Xua at their backs.
The possession itself is horrible. Being taken over by a Xua is like being possessed by a demon: you have no control over what you say or do. No matter which type you're dealing with, if a Xua takes full possession of a human, that human is dead. There's no saving them — a fact I learned that very first invasion. A Xua can leave a host's body and possess another person if it wants, but humans weren't built to withstand it. Our insides get ripped to shreds. Sometimes you can even see the claw marks on the body, torn apart from the inside out. Sometimes it's a full-body explosion.
Yeah, you can't come back from that.
I pull in a long breath and look around. It takes a moment for my surroundings to appear, for fog to give way to walls, for blotches of color to turn into furniture. I'm in my bedroom and, for a split second, I almost feel safe. There's a photo of Gabe and me from last Christmas on my nightstand, there's the vintage Anne of Green Gables book Grams gave me for my ninth birthday, there's the thrift-store stuffed bear Dad gave me when I started having panic attacks. He doesn't know they began when I first traveled through time. He doesn't know I travel through time, period.
Voices rise and fall in the kitchen. My parents. They're always arguing, and it's always a different topic.
I could almost relax into how normal it feels to be back home, for life to feel the same. But I know I can't.
First things first. There's one thing I have to do before I round up my crew and impress the urgency of the end of the world upon them. I have to check in on Gabe and make sure he's okay. Then I have to tell him the truth about all of this.
I've seen my little brother die fifteen times. He's drowned, burned to death, been shot, and stabbed. He's had his head chopped off, his eyes plucked out, and his skin flayed. He's died from a car crash and he's been poisoned.
Even though I know he won't believe me — heck, even I wouldn't believe what I have to say — he has to know how to fight. I wasted ten jumps trying to keep him in the dark and trying to protect him. On the eleventh jump, I lost it and told him everything. Ever since then, he's survived a little longer each invasion.
This time, I'm going to teach him how to fight. I didn't think he was ready before, or maybe I was just scared of letting him get too close to the Xua, but we're out of options.
I slip from my room as quietly as I can, but it doesn't matter. The volume of my parents' fight has escalated. Something just crashed in the living room — I think Mom threw a lamp or a beer bottle — so nobody is looking at me. I sneak down the hallway, past the shadows in the living room, a volatile moving-fighting performance, arms swinging, brows lowered, snippets of words spilling out.
"Our credit got shut down because of your gambling debts —"
"Maybe if you made more money —"
"Maybe if you didn't suck down all the profits —"
"What profits —"
I cringe, remembering a time when they didn't fight, back before all this started, before the Second Great Depression, before the invasion, before Gabe's first death. If I could pick a timeline to live in, that'd be the one I'd pick — the one where we were all a normal family, when nobody was pushing drugs, when Gabe was just a video-game-addicted boy, when I was a girl trying to graduate from high school and hold down a job at the same time.
When I was just a normal girl with a secret crush on a seventeen-year-old boy who's supposed to be my friend.
There's never enough time to fall in love when you're trying to save the world.
The closer I get to Gabe's room, the tighter and smaller the hallway feels. The low hum of tech that's hooked up to SkyPower filters through the thin walls. I'm not sure if our low-income access to space solar power is a blessing or a curse with as many hours as my little brother spends playing video games.
My throat is dry as I open his door, not bothering to knock. There's no need to be polite when you've got the end of humanity hanging over your head.
My fourteen-year-old brother sits at his desk curved over his tablet, his thumbs flicking the controls as he plays one of his favorite video games. Headphones cover his ears, and he's lost in his own world, where he's in control and he can survive if he just practices hard enough.
I wish it were that easy.
"Hey," I say as I approach him.
He glances up, only slightly startled to see me.
"S'up?" he asks, dimples growing as his grin widens. He takes off his headphones and hangs them loosely around his neck.
Soft blue light flares from his screen and patterns from his game scroll across his face, revealing those brown eyes, the face that looks a lot like mine, the wild dark hair that neither one of us can ever keep under control, the cheekbones that look like Mom, the nose that looks like Dad.
Gabe stares at me, waiting for me to speak and, I swear, I want time to stop. I want to live forever in this moment where my brother is safe and happy and alive. Where we're just two kids from Santa Ana, not the only hope for our planet.
I grab his left hand and put something in his palm. It's a laser switchblade. My weapon of choice. It's old tech that can survive an EMP, a power outage, an earthquake, a flood, name your favorite disaster. Better yet, it's solar-powered and needs only about half an hour in the sun for two weeks of full-time use — handy when the government controls power consumption.
The most important thing? This baby can kill a Xua, even when it's in smoke mode and halfway down someone's throat.
"What the —" he begins, but then the geek boy he is stops to admire how cool this old-fashioned weapon is. He's fascinated by old tech and old sci-fi, two things that work in my favor. I look around his room, at his hand-drawn pictures of Superman and the X-Men, at the list of digital graphic novels he wants to check out from the library, and at the black-market photocopied poster of an old movie, Zombie Brides From Outer Space. A cardboard model of the Mars terraforming project rests on his nightstand, beside a partially painted, handmade clay model of the Valiant.
I wish, in at least one of these timelines, he wouldn't be so blasted enthusiastic about the pivotal event in our future that will kill him and change everything.
"Where'd you get this?" he asks, completely transfixed by the blade that glows with a short beam of red light when he snaps it open.
"It's a secret," I say.
He looks up at me, his eyes wide, excitement in his voice. "Whoa. Isn't this thing illegal? Any chance I can keep it?"
"Yup. I have one, too," I say.
He grins and turns it over in his hand. "Wicked."
"Let's go up on the roof, and I'll teach you how to use it."
"Yup. Come on."
* * *
Gabe and I practice for two hours. I make up a story that isn't a story. I explain that if someone's coming from another planet, maybe their physiology is different from ours. What if they're solid sometimes but a vapor other times?
"You mean like the monsters in The Urban Alien Trash Kings?" he asks.
"Uh, sure." I haven't seen that movie or read that graphic novel. I've never even heard of it, but if it gives him a point of reference, then we'll use it. "If they're in vapor form or, let's say they're like smoke — "
"Smoke! That's cool!"
I frown. "It's not cool. It's creepy. Anyway, if they're smoke and they're flying through the air, swing your laser like this." I sweep my blade up and to the left. "If you cut through their vapor trail — or whatever the heck you want to call it — they'll die."
Gabe does a couple of practice swings. I watch to make sure he gets it right. Before long, he's got more enthusiasm and each strike looks killer.
"And let's say this Urban Alien Trash King monster is flying toward you. It probably wants to get inside you and possess you —"
"Holy crap, that's so wicked. You should be writing graphic novels!"
"Gabe, pay attention!"
"Sorry. It's just, that was a great idea."
I sigh, then continue. "It will probably want to get inside you through your mouth, so keep it closed! Don't yell, don't talk, don't frigging sneeze when one of these things is nearby —"
"So much great detail, we should be writing this down. Seriously, this is better than the Trash Kings or Body Snatchers or The 5th Wave —"
I kick his leg. "Mouth closed or you're dead! Now, fight!"
He obeys, mouth clamped shut, chin jutting out, right arm swinging, red laser blade glowing. Then he surprises me. He begins to advance, one bold step at a time, like he's taking down an entire enemy army. He swivels at the hips to get an imaginary Xua to his left, whips back around to get one behind him, moves forward two steps and then takes down two more — one to the right, one in front of him.
My little brother is a frigging natural.
Now is the time to tell him. He won't believe me — not at first, anyway. He never does. Still, he has to know. I give him my best Big Sister stare, the one that always makes him freeze in place.
"There really is an alien invasion coming," I tell him. He snorts. "Yeah, right."
"The day of the launch, they're coming to kill us." He rolls his eyes.
"All our friends are going to die, Gabe. Even Mom and Dad —"
His face turns pale, his eyes widen, and I swear I can hear his heartbeat speeding up. "You're starting to freak me out."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Valiant"
Copyright © 2018 Merrie Destefano.
Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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