K.M. Ruiz blew people's minds with Mindstorm, her novel about psychic fighters in a dystopian future. And now she's back with the sequel, Terminal Point, in which a group of "rogue psions" fight against the powers that be to save the human race, led by Threnody Corwin, who has the power to send electricity into anything she touches.
We've got an exclusive look at the first chapter. Find out for yourself why this book is being compared to Blade Runner and authors like Charles Stross and Hannu Rajaniemi.
SVEAGRUVA , NORWAY
They flew east into Bellsund, the arctic waters below mostly free of ice floes. The group of shuttles descended into the Van Mijenfjord beneath the government's security grid, light from the midnight sun shining down on their wings. They stayed locked in tight formation, all nine following a route uploaded on another continent. The whine of the engines echoed eerily across the vast emptiness of the island they were approaching.
The Van Mijenfjord began to narrow after the first forty or so kilometers, the lack of airspace noticeable, but not dangerous. Skimming above the still arctic waters between ragged shorelines, the shuttles sped toward their destination.
Sveagruva was a mining settlement abandoned long ago, located some distance from the head of the Van Mijenfjord. A dilapidated airfield sat at its edge, where the nine shuttles finally came to ground, landing gear sliding dangerously on uneven terrain. Less than half a kilometer away were the remnants of Sveagruva, the dormitories and the supply center long since iced over and eaten away by the elements.
The shuttles switched to standby mode, only their environmental systems running at full. Inside Alpha shuttle, the pilot leaned back in her seat and looked at her navigator.
"Well?" Matron asked. "Now what?"
Lucas Serca didn't answer. He stared out the forward windshield, dark blue eyes red from burst capillaries. Bruises pressed beneath his eyes and dried blood clung to the skin of his face, his ears, his neck. As a Class I triad psion, Lucas possessed one of the most powerful minds born in this generation, and it was killing him.
"We need a day," Lucas finally said, glancing at the leader of the scavengers. "Can the shuttles' stealth systems handle that?"
Matron pressed her lips together, brow furrowing. The exhaustion on her dark face was impossible to miss. "They got us here, so they should be good for it. Let me check with Novak, since he was the only one jacked into the system."
Lucas levered himself out of the seat, his lean frame rigid with pain. "You do that."
He stumbled back into the cargo bay. It was warmer in the main guts of the shuttle than on the flight deck. Lucas leaned his back against the cool metal of the hatch, letting it hold him up as he surveyed their passengers.
Threnody Corwin, a Class III electrokinetic, was pale-faced and sitting up, a vast improvement from the beginning of this trip, when she couldn't even breathe on her own. Wrapped in several thermal blankets, the former Stryker was carefully peeling off blackened skin from one hand, revealing healed pink flesh beneath the damage. She was still hooked up to an IV and trauma kit, her blue eyes glassy, but she no longer looked mostly dead.
Sitting beside her, one hand gently pressed to the back of her neck, was Jason Garret. The only Class 0 microtelekinetic in existence wasn't looking at either of them. Jason's attention was focused on where his partner, Kerr MacDougal, sat slouched in a seat against the bulkhead beside Quinton Martinez. Both men were unconscious with exhaustion. The IVs hooked to their arms were almost empty and would need to be replaced soon.
"Should you be moving?" Lucas asked.
"Felt the landing," Threnody rasped. "Jason took off my restraints."
"She's doing better than she was even an hour ago," Jason said. "Though she still has a long way to go."
Lucas studied Jason. The microtelekinetic looked better than the rest of them, but that didn't mean he wasn't in pain. Jason's power now let him work on the subatomic level, let him manipulate DNA in order to heal, to create. It's what he was doing right now, still leaning on the nanites in Threnody's body to help heal her since he didn't trust his new strength alone yet.
Jason's upgraded Classification didn't come without cost. His mind had been violated by Lucas's youngest sister, Kristen Serca, a dysfunctional Class III empath, in order to give him access to his full power. The psychic bond Jason once shared with Kerr was severed after Kristen broke his nearly impenetrable natal shields. Lucas permanently reset the bond into Quinton, and the link between the pair was still raw. It had saved Jason's life, yes, but at what felt like the cost of Quinton's.
"We make it?" Jason asked in a low voice. He moved his head a little, tipping it back until he exposed his throat. Lucas could see the rise and fall of his Adam's apple as the older man swallowed.
"To Sveagruva, yes," Lucas said. His English accent got thicker with every word he spoke, exhaustion heavy in his voice. Lucas shoved himself away from the hatch tiredly.
Jason frowned, blinking slowly as he turned his head to look at Lucas. "Thought it was supposed to be Longyearbyen? Those were the coordinates you uploaded."
"We'll get there soon enough. In a day or so." Lucas crossed over to where his sisters sat slumped together on the other side of the cargo bay. "We need a day to recover."
"We need more time than that."
Lucas said nothing as he looked down at Samantha and Kristen. Of the three siblings, Kristen came away from the fighting in Buffalo with the least amount of damage, not surprising when one considered her default damaged state. Most psions tried to keep insanity at bay; Kristen reveled in it. His sixteen-year-old sister destroyed the minds of others in her search for a balance she would never find. Kristen's dysfunction made her dangerous, yet also powerful. Even at full strength, Lucas was hard-pressed to keep her in check. Kristen was the only person who could have broken Jason's formidable mental shields and survived. If they were lucky, maybe she had learned how to build sanity out of Jason's neural pattern.
Lucas wasn't going to hold his breath.
Reaching out with a steady hand, Lucas stroked his fingers over Samantha's tangled blond hair, cradling her head. The eighteen-year-old Class II telepath didn't stir at his touch, her mind a mess that Lucas didn't bother to reach for. He could feel her wounds through his shields, those she sustained at his hands and also at her own. When Samantha severed the bond she once shared with her twin and Lucas's brother, Gideon, it nearly broke her. Lucas didn't attempt to heal her mind. She knew how to fix herself.
"Why didn't you take your brother?" Jason asked. "If you're saving your family from your father, why not save them all?"
"Aisling has no use for Gideon," Lucas said as he pulled his hand away from Samantha. He returned to the center row of seats where Jason and Threnody sat.
"What about you?"
"Family ties mean little to Sercas and their Warhounds."
"I find that hard to believe after you dragged your sisters into this mess."
Lucas laughed, a dry, hacking sound. "They chose the lesser evil. That's all. We don't love each other. We don't even like each other. They're going to need to be reminded that this course of action is the right one, or the minute we turn our backs they'll try to kill us."
"Your family is really fucked-up."
"Says the man who was leashed and collared like a dog not even a month ago."
"I still had people I could rely on," Jason countered as he lifted his other hand to press it against Threnody's sternum beneath the blanket. His careful, gentle touch was at odds with the raw anger in his voice. "I still had Kerr."
The loss was still too recent for the emotion to just be swept aside. Lucas didn't need to be an empath to understand that the twist to Jason's voice was fury, grief, and pain.
"You know, Lucas, I could probably kill you right now," Jason said, his eyes locked on Threnody's face.
"I may be suffering from psi shock, but trust me when I say I'd survive whatever you tried to throw at me. Then I'd have to mindwipe you, and there goes all my hard work," Lucas said evenly. "How is Threnody?"
"I'm not a psi surgeon."
"No. You're something better."
Jason didn't argue. It was the truth, whether he liked it or not. He sucked in air around his teeth, looking for a balance he wasn't sure he would ever get back. It was different, reaching for his telekinesis now that nothing held it back. The depth of his power, the strength, was frightening. He could no longer trust his control or any of his childhood training in the Strykers Syndicate. Most of that training didn't apply, not when he had the power to see the atomic makeup of cells. Channels he never knew existed were now accessible, areas of his mind geared to see the world on a completely different level all synced up now.
Maybe telekinetics who attained Class V strength and could teleport had the potential to become what he was now. Jason didn't know. All he knew was that he didn't want to be the only person who could do this.
Jason tapped into the wealth of power in his mind and let it pour out of him. He slipped through Threnody's skin down to her bones. An echo of her damage crawled across his own nerves, countless pinpricks of heat and sudden scar tissue that was being absorbed back into her body at an accelerated rate. The new nerve endings created through cellular regeneration were going to take time to rewire, even with Jason able to control the nanites.
"Ow," Threnody said, grimacing. "That feels — weird."
"Does it hurt?" Jason asked, gaze blank.
"Not exactly." Threnody frowned, feeling the muscles in her face move stiffly. She peeled skin over the top of her finger and tossed it away. "It feels like my insides are being moved around."
"I had the nanites target your organs first. I think they're still working on them." Jason adjusted the placement of his hands. "The reason you lived long enough for me to help you was due to your electrokinesis. You'd be dead if you were any other kind of psion."
"That makes me feel so much better. Really." She flexed her fingers carefully. "How did you fix me without a biotank?"
"Take a wild guess."
The lightning strike that seared through Threnody's body and jump-started the power plant back in the sprawl of Buffalo had fried her entire body. When Quinton finally found her, he hadn't been sure she was even alive, but her electrokinesis had preserved her brain and central nervous system from total destruction. It shut down her body, then shocked it back to life over and over again, a dangerous cycle that her system had struggled to overcome. Only when Lucas arrived to keep her heart beating to a steady rhythm with his telekinesis did Threnody start to stabilize.
Jason did the rest. He was still doing the rest.
The amount of power Jason carried now left him seeing the world — literally — through new eyes. His optic nerves shifted through spectrums of vision that should have been impossible for any human or psion to process without biomodifications. It made him nauseous, especially when magnification was thrown into the mix, allowing him to see the microscopic with the naked eye.
The nanites were doing their job. Threnody was alive and healing. For now, that was enough.
Jason carefully pulled his power out of her body, letting every last cell and nanite go, until he could no longer even visualize the layers of skin cells and capillaries that made up his eyelids. His head felt heavy. He watched as Lucas changed out Threnody's IV bag. The soft, constant beeping of her cardiac rhythm was almost lulling.
Jason shifted his focus to Lucas, sinking his power into the younger man's body. It showed Jason the dark spots in Lucas where trauma had left ugly pools of damage beneath his skin.
"I can feel you," Lucas said as he finished securing the IV bag. "Get your power off me. Now."
"You've got bleeding in your brain."
"I'm handling it."
"Not well enough. That subdural hematoma isn't going to fix itself. Let me do something about it."
"You finally get full access to your power and suddenly you think you can do the impossible."
Jason arched an eyebrow as he pushed himself to his feet. "That is why you were after me, right?"
"I'm not the only one," Lucas said as he went to toss the used bag in the head's disposal system. "Not anymore."
Jason grimaced. "Nathan."
Nathan Serca, the oldest psion alive at the age of fifty-one, was a Class I triad psion that Lucas rivaled in power, if not cruelty. Lucas's father had no equal when it came to cruelty.
Lucas came back out, nodding at Jason's answer. "And every last Warhound at his disposal, so remember to read as human on the mental grid, at least until the launch, or you'll get us all killed."
Unlike Warhounds, Strykers were never taught how to match their psi signature to a human's, reading as human on the mental grid, that vast psychic plane of the world's thoughts. But Jason wasn't a Stryker anymore, and Lucas had taught him how to shield on the flight over, literally dumping the information straight into Jason's mind and letting the microtelekinetic sort through the overload on his own. There hadn't been time for subtlety, but Jason still got his shielding right.
Jason looked over his shoulder at Samantha and Kristen. Three of Nathan's children were turning their backs on their heritage, but Jason still didn't trust them. One of the founding families of the society that survived the Border Wars, the Serca Syndicate they owned was well-known for its forays into politics and government-restricted sciences. Genetic manipulation and segregation were just the beginning. The Sercas were the ones to force the Fifth Generation Act on the world, beginning the long cleanup of tainted and mutated human genetics. The Act went hand in hand with another Serca creation, the Registry, a list of people whose genetic makeup was clean and utterly human. The Sercas had placed themselves on top of the list, though they were far from human.
The Sercas had freedom and they wanted to remake humanity on Mars Colony, with themselves ruling atop society. The World Court and their chosen elite contemporaries were planning to inherit what the world's ancestors had left them — Mars Colony. They dreamed of a utopia and a chance to start over. Caught in between were the Strykers, psion slaves bound to a paramilitary company, who only wanted to save what was left of the world and their own skins. The whole mess of false fronts and alliances was the reason why they were here, on Spitsbergen, following Lucas. Jason owed him for more than just removing the neurotracker that was once grafted to his brain, but that knowledge was a bitter pill to swallow.
"Sit down," Jason said flatly. "Let me fix you."
Lucas seemed amused by Jason's temerity. "Do you honestly think Nathan hasn't inflicted worse on me before? I'll be fine."
"Don't compare me to Nathan." Jason scowled, but his gaze held steady. "I'm not going to kill you. Now sit the fuck down and let me take a look at your brain. We still need you, Lucas. Even I know that."
"How altruistic of you."
"Just take a damn seat."
"You should listen to him," Threnody said. "He does okay work for being such an obnoxious pain in the ass."
"I'll take that as a compliment because I'm not arguing with someone in your current state." Jason eyed her. "You should lie down, Threnody."
With Jason's help, Threnody once again stretched out on the row of seats that was her berth, wrapped securely in thermal blankets and modified harness straps to keep her stable. Once Jason saw to Threnody, he headed over to Lucas, picking up a hypospray half-full of nanites from a case as he moved through the cargo bay. They couldn't afford weakness, and all of them were damaged in some way. Recovery was going to be slow for some, quicker for others, but even Jason knew that if they wanted to survive what was coming, they would need Lucas at full strength.
"Get the bleeding stopped," Lucas said as he sat down beside Samantha and let Jason inject him in the throat with a dosage of nanites. "The rest will keep."
Jason braced himself over Lucas with one hand, his other curving carefully over the left side of Lucas's skull, pale blond hair beneath his fingers a dirty mess. Jason closed his eyes, bent his head, and let his power seep into Lucas's skull. Down through the blood-brain barrier, down to the dura mater, into the brain itself with its swollen tear, just a few centimeters long. Jason could feel where Lucas had picked at it telekinetically, struggling to ease the pressure there with a power that couldn't compete with the one Jason now wielded.
"Messy," Jason muttered.
"I don't need your opinion on how I keep myself alive."
Jason dug his fingernails into Lucas's scalp. "Be still."
Jason saw capillaries and cell structure, flash images of hemoglobin and plasma, as he worked through nanites to carefully reattach torn capillaries. Blood flow returned and the swollen tension in the cells around the area began to fade. Jason spread his microtelekinesis through Lucas's skull, helping the nanites chase down stray blood cells that were shifting into clots and teleporting them out of Lucas's body. Tiny drops of red splattered intermittently to the shuttle's deck until Jason was certain he'd done enough to ensure that Lucas wouldn't keel over and die from an aneurysm right when they needed him most.
Jason retracted his power, opening his eyes. The layers in the world wavered and it took effort to fix his vision. He wondered if he would ever get used to this, to the way he could see things, feel things, through his power.
"I never wanted to be this."
"This is what you were born to be," Lucas said, satisfaction curling through his voice. "I'm not the only one the world needs."
Jason's answer to that was a twisted smile that reminded Lucas of Kristen. Lucas found little comfort in the expression. They stared at each other for a moment, the only sounds in the cargo bay the quiet hum of the environmental system and everyone's soft breathing.
"You're awake" came Matron's rough voice a few seconds later. She stood in the open hatch with her arms crossed over her chest, tapping her foot. "Get your ass up here, Jason. Novak needs some help with the hack."
Jason straightened up, but didn't move. Lucas smiled tightly at him. "Go."
"All right." Jason left the cargo bay for the flight deck.
"How come you're the only one not bleeding out their eyes?" Matron asked as he took over the navigator's seat.
Jason reached for a wire embedded in the controls. "I don't know."
His fingers brushed over faint flecks of blood on the console, his power momentarily slipping free of his control. It seeped into the blood, and the only DNA he could identify in the fluid was Lucas's. He grimaced, clenching down hard on his control.
The world looked, and felt, strange.
It always would.
Terminal Point is available now from Amazon.com.