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Macmillan Childrens Publishing Group

A Chain Across the Dawn

The Universe After (Volume 2)

Drew Williams

Tor Books

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CHAPTER 1


The air-raid sirens were still screaming, echoing out across the golden sky of Kandriad like some sort of terrifying lament, hollow and vast and loud as all hell. The sound bounced off the concrete and the steel of the long-abandoned factory city around us, rolling out over the plains of metal toward the distant horizon still tinged with the faintest blue hints of the dawn.

There shouldn’t have been air-raid sirens on Kandriad. Not because the pulse had repressed the technology for sirens, but because it had repressed the ability for anyone to conduct air raids at all: flight was supposed to be impossible in an atmosphere this choked with pulse radiation.

Except it wasn’t. Jane and I had seen the shadows of the warplanes hurtling over the factory city as we approached by the bridge, dropping bombs and executing amateurish evasive maneuvers to wheel away from the strafing gunfire of the defenders’ anti-aircraft weaponry. The planes hadn’t exactly been modern spec—prop-driven, combustion-engine relics cobbled together from spare parts—but that didn’t change the fact that they shouldn’t have been able to get into the air at all. Something weird was happening on Kandriad.

Something weird always seemed to happen to Jane and me, but this was weirder than most.

“So we … knock?” I asked, shifting my weight from side to side, staring up at the massive barred door that was the one and only entrance to the factory city from the south. We hadn’t seen a single native as we made our way down the abandoned railway line toward the factory—they were all hunkered down inside their converted city, being dive-bombed by impossible airplanes. The sect wars might have been forgotten by most of the galaxy post-pulse, but on Kandriad they’d never stopped, the locals locked in the same stupid conflicts that had led to the pulse in the first place. “Or … like…” I winced as the sirens came around again; I winced every time. I always thought they were finally going to stop as they dopplered away across the distance, and then … nope. Still going.

“We should probably wait until they’re not having the shit bombed out of them,” Jane said mildly, leaning against the railing of the dilapidated bridge and smoking one of her awful cigarettes. Jane wasn’t fidgety. Jane never got fidgety. Taller, leaner, and in significantly better shape than I was, I’d seen her be more collected under sustained gunfire than I usually was making breakfast.

“Do you think that’s likely to happen soon, or…” I winced as one of the bombers overshot its target, its payload coming down instead on the empty urban district beside the bridge—otherwise known as beside us. I was holding a telekinetic shield in place over both Jane and myself, and the feeling of the shrapnel from the blast smashing itself to pieces against what was basically a psychic manifestation of my own will was … not overly pleasant. Still, the shield held, and even if it hadn’t, our intention shields—hardwired into our nervous systems—would have protected us. Hopefully.

I didn’t particularly want to die on a bombed-out hellhole like Kandriad.

Jane waved her hand—and her cigarette—in front of her face, not so much dispelling the cloud of dust that had risen in the wake of the blast as adding to it with her cigarette smoke. “Doesn’t seem that way,” she said.

“So can we talk about how there are warplanes flying and dropping bombs in a pulse-choked atmosphere?” I asked instead. Since we appeared to be stuck out here, underneath the falling bombs, that seemed a topic of particularly hefty import.

Jane frowned at that. “I don’t know,” she said shortly. I almost grinned—despite the nearly-being-blown-apart thing—just because Jane hated to admit when she didn’t know something, and a part of me was always a little bit thrilled when circumstances forced her to do so anyway.

Still would have traded it for “not huddled just outside a factory door, hoping not to get bombed,” though.

“But how—”

“Still don’t know, Esa,” she sighed, dropping her cigarette butt to the bridge and grinding it out with her boot heel—though it wasn’t like there was anything out here to catch on fire. “And either way, we’re not likely to find answers standing out here. Go ahead and knock—we’ve got a gifted kid to find.”

“I thought you said we should wait until they weren’t getting bombed.” As if cued by my statement, the air-raid sirens finally cut off, the last hollow howl echoing out over the horizon until it faded into the golden light of the day.

I looked at Jane. She was grinning. I glared at her; that just made her grin some more. She opened her mouth to say something, and I simply held out my hand, forestalling whatever smartassery was about to emerge. “Don’t,” I told her flatly. “Just…” I sighed, and reached for the heavy knocker welded to the riveted steel of the door. “I got this.”

I knocked.


Copyright © 2019 by Drew Williams.