Hello everyone, and sorry I’m posting so irregularly right now. Still working on Young Sentinels although I can’t give a firm release date. For one thing, YS will be the first book for which I will be paying for a professional edit! Try as I might, the previous books have all rolled out with embarrassing errors (since fixed), so…
I hope that everyone has enjoyed Omega Night! I may, in the future, release other short adventures, but Young Sentinels has priority for now, and after that there are a couple of projects I’m going to try and return to. But fear not! There will be more Wearing the Cape books; Astra’s adventures will be far from over.
Also, it looks like I will have my first “author’s table” event in March! It will be at the Tucson Festival of Books (March 8th-10th), and I will be sharing a table with Maxwell Alexander Drake, author of the Genesis of Oblivion Saga. So if you would like to get signed copies, you know where I’ll be.
So, what to say about Young Sentinels... As some have already guessed, it’s the story of the creation of the Sentinels’ “junior team.” Yes, the Sentinels are finally bowing to public opinion and the need to thicken their ranks and bringing on a team of superhero-cadets. It’ll be fun! To give everyone something to look forward to, here are the first two chapters (may change, no promises).
The Big One in California changed everything, we had no idea how much. The Godzilla Plague was the first hint, but it’s all changing, picking up, moving faster than it did in the Teatime Anarchist’s outdated future-files. Stuff in his Big Book of Contingent Prophecy that waited five or ten years to jump up before is hitting us now, and stuff TA never saw in his time trips is coming out of nowhere—and by “coming out” I mean wrecking real estate and throwing bodies around the streets. Our fight for the future was a near run thing in TA’s unchanged timeline, when we still had Atlas. Now how can we possibly be ready?
From the journal of Hope Corrigan.
We were just lucky I was flying morning patrol instead of sitting in class when Potowatomi Woods decided to destroy the Chicago Executive Airport.
“Shelly? Are you seeing this?” I asked.
Flying over the greenbelt that ran through the suburbs and communities of North Chicago, from my height the wave of green erupting out from tiny Potowatomi Lake looked like a surging carpet of leaves—which meant at ground level the edge of waving trees had to be moving faster than the panicked early-morning joggers using the forest park’s running trails could run. And they were running.
“Jeepers creepers!” Shelly whistled in my ear. Now that she was Galatea she couldn’t tap our old neural link to see with my eyes anymore, but she remained my Dispatch wingman and had full access to the microcam they’d built into my mask. I’d have head-smacked her if she’d actually been with me, but her joke nailed the scene below perfectly.
“Get more eyes on it, Shell!” I called. “I’m going in!”
I dropped, counting on her to bring the rest of the team into the loop—even to light up the whole Crisis Aid and Intervention dispatch tree, we were so going to need the help. Watching morning joggers flee along the trails under trees suddenly whipping like they were being beaten by hurricane winds, I wondered if it would be enough.
There was no wind, and the trees were growing.
“The spread is stopping at the Des Plaines River!” Shelly reported as I landed hard on the running path, leaping up to shatter an oak branch curling down to sweep a crowd of stumbling joggers.
“Stay on the trail! Cross the river!”
“Thanks!” one of the men gasped. He and a buddy pulled a hobbling fitness-granny into a two man shoulder carry as they all broke for the turn and the bridge. Popping up above the trees again, I could hear cries on surrounding trails. Crap crap crap crap crap! There was only one of me. My joggers hit the wider trail and I left them to drop back down and pull a middle-aged jogger out from under a tree root that looked like it had thrown itself over him. I lifted him into a fireman carry as the forest groaned around us.
“Any help would be nice, Shell!” I shrilled.
“Speed-evac commencing, sheesh! Rush, Crash, Sprints, and Sifu are on it!” Further down the trail I saw another jogger disappear in a blur.
Lie Zi broke in. “Astra, I want you to get back upstairs, stay available for any extraction assistance our speedsters may require. Copy?”
“Get high, assist evac where necessary, got it.” With Sprints from the South Side Guardians and Sifu helping our own, Dispatch had fielded all four of the city’s A Class speedsters.
Dropping my shaken but unhurt jogger across the river, I got back in the air—high enough that I could see the leading edge of the whipping green tide. Yeah, like I was going to stop any of that with my little maul. Ajax’s maul. What would he have said? Use a bigger hammer? There was no hammer big enough.
“Astraneedalittlehelphere!” Crash’s run-together call for help reached me through Dispatch, and Shelly obligingly threw a red bracketing box up on my new contact lens display. I dropped again, breaking through swirling tree limbs to find the narrow forest path beneath. Crash struggled to pull another twisted root off of a trapped morning hiker’s legs. Around us the path shrank and suddenly I was in the middle of a childhood flashback of Babes in Toyland and The Forest of No Return.
“Go!” I ripped the exposed root out of the ground with more force than I needed to—I’d lived in fear of the old, gnarly trees on our street for months after seeing that show. Crash pulled the hiker up into an assisting carry and disappeared in a red blur, and I launched up through the thickening canopy of branches. Back up in the open air I spun around slowly, trying to put a frame on what I was seeing.
The trees weren’t walking, they were growing; the expanding edge of the growth made it look like they were on the march. But the growth wasn’t in a neat circle—it had started at Potowatomi Lake and was moving south, expanding to fill the entire greenbelt between the Des Plaines River and the Tri-State Tollway as it went. Why—
The sharp crack of snapping roadway cut off my thought. The south edge had reached Dundee Road, the four lane road that ran through the wide greenbelt to connect Wheeling to Northbrook. Arching roots buckled the pavement while new saplings burst up and out, trapping morning commuters.
“Evacuating Dundee Road! Get here now!” Choking down rising panic, I dove again to snatch up a minivan full of screaming carpoolers and drop them gently on the other side of the river, flying back for more. How many could we get out before growing green started grinding people under?
“Watchman and Variforce on station!” Lei Zi returned. “Continue vehicle evac!”
Watchman dropped out of the sky above me, Variforce in tow. Watchman joined me in picking up and airlifting cars while Variforce configured his golden variable-form forcefields into whirling blades, decapitating climbing saplings before they could thicken and crush trapped cars.
“It’s worst on the edges!” Watchman shouted. Coming down he’d had a wider perspective, and he was right; as the edge swept south of Dundee, the frantic, twisting forest growth left behind slowed. He smashed a tree aside as it tried to anchor itself across a sporty convertible, extracting the terrified driver. I lifted a delivery truck up and out of the danger zone and returned for more, listening for more intervention calls.
Shelly-Galatea was back. “The next road south of Dundee is a ways down—Willow Road—but then there’s the Northbrook Hilton on the wrong side of the river, businesses south of that. The Northside Guardians are assisting evac there, we’ve got other teams moving up, and here we come to save the day!”
The Sentinels floater came diving out of the morning sun, Galatea hitching a ride outside the canopy. Variforce swept a landing zone clear and as Lei Zi, The Harlequin, Riptide, and Seven piled out, Rush appeared in a red blur. “Dam Number One is still out from the spring flooding,” he reported to Lei Zi. “So Dam Woods Road is clear and there aren’t many civilians in the woods south of Dundee. We’re ahead of it, boss.”
Galatea settled next to me, leaning in as close as her shoulder-mounted missile racks would allow so she could whisper.
“Wow—so Babes in Toyland, isn’t it?”
I snorted before I could stop myself, turning it into a sneeze that wouldn’t have fooled any of my old teachers. Coach Gorski would have asked me to share the joke with the team—and then do laps.
Lei Zi considered the scene, expressionless as if she were looking at a traffic accident that needed unstacking, as if we weren’t standing in the middle of a walking forest. I tried to ignore the crunch of roots, the groaning wood, the crashing beat of branch against branch as they fought for room. And the weird smell—the sharp smell of churned earth and tree sap.
She nodded. “Okay then. We move south, follow the edge—but we leave no one inside the live zone. Watchman, finish clearing Dundee, then catch up. Astra, stay on backup with the speedsters. The rest, let’s follow the edge. Everyone?”
There were salutes, nods, got it boss’s, and other affirmatives, and we got to it. I flew through the creepy trees answering Dispatch calls, but like Rush said, there weren’t many left to pull out. I rescued an older couple—she’d gotten trapped between two new oaks and he wouldn’t leave her behind so I carried them both out—then an early morning birdwatcher who’d started snapping pictures instead of, oh, running for his life. He’d gotten knocked down and concussed by a fleeing white tailed deer smarter than he was.
Everyone got dropped at the designated evacuation stations across the river, and drone video showed the rate of expansion was slowing, short of Willow Road. Maybe—
“The woods just jumped the river!” Shelly-Galatea sang out. “It’s headed for the Chicago Executive Airport!”
And that was just wrong. Sure, Dundee hadn’t stopped it, barely slowed it down, but for a forest, even one growing fast as a wildfire, to take a right turn?
Sirens began wailing; an airport—a place where things happened at high speeds and lots of fuel lay around just waiting for bad stuff to happen—came equipped for disaster and able to let the whole wide field know to Head For Cover. The forest threw itself over the road and across the parking lot at the main terminal buildings in a cacophony of ruptured pavement and breaking glass. Explosively erupting trees thrust cars aside and smashed into the glass-sided buildings—and from the screams inside, not everybody had seen it coming soon enough to get out.
Despite being further away, Watchman and I hit the airport before anybody but the speedsters. Of us two, the stronger Atlas-type, Watchman simply battered trees down or uprooted them in the loose soil and torn paving while I swung my short-handled maul with both hands, shattering reaching trees as they tried to thicken and dig into the buildings.
“They’ll tear the terminal apart!”
He pulled another tree. “Rush’s team is on it! All we’ve got to do is slow it down!”
Thunder shook the air as Lei Zi arrived to make her contribution; lightning split trees from crown to roots, throwing chunks of tree and boiling sap with each strike. Riptide splashed down, going from flying spray to pissed-off man in an eye blink. Trees went down as he called water from the air, forcing the flow into pressure and velocity high enough to make a water-saw able to cut rock. Variforce arrived to slice away with his forcefield blades, edges only microns thick. Smoke-trails in the sky marked erupting craters as Galatea emptied her missile racks into the trees on both ends trying to flank our zone of destruction to get at the buildings to the north and south.
“Mainbuildingemptied!” Rush reported over the general channel, voice ragged.
Lei Zi’s orders came sharp and fast. “Let it have the building! Speed-evac the neighbors! Everyone work the sides, let the forest have the field!” Good plan—beyond the terminal lay wide open space, acres of runway and parked private and small commercial planes for us to channel the growth into. But how long could we keep it up?
Just another twenty minutes, as it turned out, even with the help of another dozen heavies from the Guardian teams. The new spur of forest made it more than halfway across the airfield, grinding under millions of dollars worth of private and company planes, and then just ran out of steam. Growth slowed, trees shivered, reaching branches turned skyward, and there was nothing to fight—just a dense wild of primeval trees where a commercial airfield had been.
Which was good, because my arms were on fire from wrists to shoulders. I could barely feel my hands, and had to force them to release their grip on Ajax’ maul. Everyone was covered in bits of oak, hickory, and other tree species that should know better than to mess with us, my hair was sticky with maple sap, and the tiny splinters of wood that had worked their way under my mask made my face itch.
“Is—is that it?” I gasped for air.
“The greenbelt is quiet,” Shelly confirmed. “The south edge stopped growing when the woods took its turn.”
“Look sharp, everyone.” Lei Zi landed, the shimmer of air made by her electrostatic field barely visible. “They’re evacuating the surrounding neighborhoods, and the DSA is sending an environmental team. We don’t know who started this, and until we know it won’t restart, we’re on station.”
Seven handed me a water bottle, looking disgustingly fresh; he and The Harlequin had stayed with the floater for this one.
“Thanks.” Trying to ignore my suddenly fluttering stomach, I took a long draw, stopped. “Do you hear that?”
My super-duper senses would drown me if I couldn’t ignore uninteresting sounds, but I always heard explosions in my range. I looked west as the distant boom turned into a roar, pointed.
Seven squinted. “Is that what I think it is?”
“Yep.” I could see details he couldn’t, and the boy climbing into the sky on top of a brilliant column of explosive flashes was wearing a red varsity jacket.
“Does he know what he’s doing?”
I sighed, handed him the bottle. “Probably not. He’s screaming. Tell Lei Zi I’ve got him.”
Everybody wants to be a superhero, because nobody knows what a shit-job it really is.
Malcolm Scott, aka Megaton
“Mal! Dude! Look at this!” Tony nudged me hard for the third time, eyes glued to his epad. “Malcolm Scott!” Mr. Winfield called, going down his list.
Ignoring Tony, I raised my hand. “Here.” Winfield didn’t even raise his eyes to look; he’d stopped looking at anybody years ago, which made it easy to ditch his class—just get a “friend” to answer to your name, he didn’t even have to disguise his voice. Freshmen year I’d been as many as three kids a day in his class, till I got onto the wrestling team and was able to shrug off those kinds of friends.
“Tina Halls! Rachel Kerry!”
Even out here, standing in the middle of the soccer field in our designated “homeroom station” for what had to be the third Emergency Evacuation Drill since school started, Winfield acted like he talked to disembodied voices. At least here the Emergency Class Monitors—Doug Lee and Tiffany Bright this fall, poor guys—were checking the same lists. Doug held one of the class’s two emergency phones, the ones they were supposed to call us on to tell us where to go or if the drill was over, in a death-grip. I wanted to tell him to lighten up.
I pushed my fists deeper into my pockets. A varsity jacket was good for two things: putting you out of range of the bullies and keeping you warm, and fall was coming early this year. The field hadn’t had time to warm up yet, and I wondered how long they’d keep us out here chilling until they decided the drill was over.
Dude, she’s standing right beside you.
“Mal, will you freaking look at this?” Tony shoved the epad in my face, almost dancing. “Not. A. Drill!” I pulled my hands out and managed to grab the pad before he dropped it. It would have been okay in the grass, but he was enough of a spazz he’d probably have stepped on it.
He had it set to Powernet; not a shock—he wasn’t a supergeek, but only because they were the worst kind of geeks and he wasn’t interested in getting beat on or hazed every other school day. The pad showed a streaming video identified as news helicopter footage.
The Sentinels and every Guardian team in Chicagoland were fighting a bunch of trees.
The information bar scrolled team stats and facts, going on about how Riptide had obviously leveled up—he’d never shown the ability to use his water jets to cut before.
“Dude, it’s at the municipal airport! No wonder they’ve got us out here!” Tony took the pad back, keeping it tilted so I could see, and we watched mutant trees waste a bunch of connected buildings the bar said was the Chicago Executive Airport terminal—the place rich guys kept their jets. The capes kept working the edges, like they were trying to trim a hedge growing faster than you could cut. They blasted trees, smashed them, sliced them, and the bar kept referring back to Riptide’s new attack style. Trees are eating the airport and that’s their priority?
“That is one bad-ass crip.” Tony said admiringly. He had more than just my attention now, and we became the center of a crowd as half the class tried to look or asked what we were watching; nothing like this ever happened out in the burbs. I smelled lavender, turned, and had to grab Tiffany before she hit the grass.
“Sorry!” she said as if it were her fault. She got herself straight and flashed me a smile when I let go of her arm. “What’s going on?”
I shrugged, not sure what to do with my hands. “It’s not a drill.”
“Oh no!” She dropped her clipboard and spun around, looking up like she expected the capes to airdrop right into the Hersey High soccer field. I bent and scooped the board up from the wet grass, reattached the emergency phone she’d clipped to it, but kept hold of it all as some of the guys laughed. She flushed. Skinny and awkward, Tiff was probably the girl who would bloom into a supermodel after graduating, but guys are dicks and right now it sucked to be her.
“I’ve got to take that to the flagpole,” she explained, ignoring the guys. “Now that everyone’s been counted.”
“So let’s go.” I started off and she hopped to catch up.
“You don’t— Thanks. For back there.”
I shrugged, still walking. “Not a problem.”
“So, you think they’re going to evacuate us?”
Coming around the side of the school, we watched school busses pulling into the half- circle drive that separated the front parking and the flagpole lawn from the main doors.
“I think that’s a strong maybe.” We crossed between two busses already in line, engines idling while they waited to move up and load, joined the crowd of students and adults at the flagpole.
Vice Principle Blevins stood at the center of the group, looking at his own clipboard and calling into his phone. He nodded as a packed bus pulled away, said something else under the sound of the engines. After all the drills, he was probably totally into finally using it. Tiffany pulled herself up straighter, reached for the clipboard.
“Thanks Mal— Wait! The phone!”
Shit. It had come unclipped somewhere. I looked around behind us, spotted it back in the drive. One of the busses we’d passed between had moved up but the other just sat there, and of course the phone lay on the pavement in front of it.
“I’ll get it!” I darted back across the drive.
“No, wait!” Tiffany called, but I crouched and grabbed it. I turned back to her, heard the engine throttle down, and got smacked to the ground by the lurching bus.
Shit. The pain of my head hitting the drive blinded me, but I felt the scrape of the pavement as the bus fender caught my jacket. Blinking my eyes clear as the rolling bus twisted my body into line with it, I saw the right wheel coming at my legs, knew it was going to roll right over me. I panicked, kicked, the wheel caught my shoe, twisted my foot, and my scream went higher than Tiffany’s at the wrenching pain, sharper than any wrestling hold. Hot pressure erupted beneath my skin, flared out as I pushed.
The concussive explosion hammered my ears and I barely heard the shriek of wrenched metal, couldn’t see through the blinding flash. I blinked, blinked again, desperately scrubbed my eyes and tried to hear through the ringing. What—
The bus, what was left of it, lay twisted on its side twenty feet back from me—the entire front window buckled and craze-cracked and pushed deep into the cabin with the rest of the front of the bus. Blood painted the webbed glass, dripping onto the drive. Tiffany wouldn’t stop screaming, the crowd around Blevins added its noise, mute in my ringing ears—and my stomach rolled with a way too familiar nauseating panic. I tried to stand but couldn’t make my legs work. Blevins yelled something, pointing, and two of the campus-cops headed for me, pulling the guns we always teased them about—like they’d shoot kids—as I scrambled uselessly backward. Heat and pressure flashed through me and I exploded again, and kept exploding.
I rocketed into the air, acceleration squishing me like a thrill ride. Hersey High dropped away under my feet and my ears popped hard as the buildings shrank and the clouds got more personal.
It did. The burning thrust bursting from my bones vanished—and with it the roaring flaring column pushing me up. Now my stomach decided we were falling. Nope, the buried science-nerd in me said. We’re just decelerating, coasting to apogee. We’ll be falling in a few seconds.
Awesome—I’d burned through all my adrenaline and my brain had decided that a minute of non-stop terror was enough, so I was going to die calm and sarcastic. I should have been nicer to Tiff—
“Are you done?”
I flailed about my center of gravity. A tiny blonde sticky mess, lightly swinging a bell-shaped chunk of metal that weighed more than I did, hung in the air beside me.
“Because I can give you a lift.”
So that’s it for now. I will try and post a little more often, and am always glad to hear from you.