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«Lies», Michael Grant

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Michael Grant


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Smashed windows.

Human Crew tags, their logo, along with warnings to freaks to get out.

In the distance, up the street, too far away for Sam to want to chase after, a couple of kids, maybe ten years old, maybe not even that. Barely visible in the false moonlight. Just outlines. The kids passing a bottle back and forth, taking swigs, staggering.

Grass growing everywhere. Weeds forcing their way up through cracks in the street. Trash: chip bags, six-pack rings, supermarket plastic bags, random sheets of paper, articles of clothing, single shoes, hamburger wrappers, broken toys, broken bottles, and crumpled cans-anything that wasn’t actually edible-formed random, colorful collections. They were poignant reminders of better days.

Darkness so deep, you’d have had to walk off into the wilderness in the old days to experience anything like it.

Not a streetlight or a porch light. Electricity out. Maybe forever.

No one wasting batteries, not anymore. Those, too, were in very short supply.

And not many trying to burn candles or light trash fires. Not after the fire that burned down three homes and burned one kid so bad, it took Lana, the Healer, half a day to save him.

No water pressure. Nothing coming out of fire hydrants. Nothing to do about fire but watch it burn and get out of its way.

Perdido Beach, California.

At least it used to be California.

Now it was Perdido Beach, the FAYZ. Wherever, whatever, and whyever that was.

Sam had the power to make light. He could fire it in killing beams from his hands. Or he could form balls of persistent light that would hang in the air like a lantern. Like lightning in a bottle.

But not too many people wanted Sam’s lights, what kids called Sammy Suns. Zil Sperry, leader of the Human Crew, had forbidden any of his people to take the lights. Most of the normals complied. And some freaks didn’t want a bright advertisement of who and what they were.

The fear had spread. A disease. It leaped from person to person.

People sat in the dark, afraid. Always afraid.

Sam was in the east end, the dangerous part of town, the part Zil had declared off-limits to freaks. He had to show the flag, so to speak, demonstrate that he was still in charge. Show that he wouldn’t be intimidated by Zil’s campaign of fear.

Kids needed that. They needed to see that someone would still protect them. That someone was him.

He had resisted that role, but it had come to him, anyway. And he was determined to play it out. Whenever he let up, whenever he lost focus, tried to have a different life, something awful happened.

So he walked the streets at two in the morning, ready. Just in case.

Sam walked near the shore. There was no surf, of course. Not anymore. No weather. No vast swells crossing the Pacific to crash in magnificent showers of spray against Perdido’s beaches.

The surf was just a soft whisper now. Shhh. Shhh. Shhh. Better than nothing. But not much better.

He was heading toward Clifftop, the hotel, Lana’s current home. Zil had left her alone. Freak or not, no one messed with the Healer.

Clifftop was right up against the FAYZ wall, the end of Sam’s area of responsibility, the last part of his walk-through.

Someone was walking down toward him. He tensed, fearing the worst. There was no question that Zil would like to see him dead. And out there-somewhere-Caine, his half brother. Caine had been helpful in destroying the gaiaphage and the psychopath Drake Merwin. But Sam didn’t kid himself into believing that Caine had changed. If Caine was still alive, they would meet again.

And God knew what other horrors were out in that fading night-human or not. Out in the dark mountains, the black caves, the desert, the forest to the north. The too-calm ocean.

The FAYZ never let up.

But this just looked like a girl.

“It’s just me, Sinder,” a voice said, and Sam relaxed.

“T’sup, Sinder? Kind of late, huh?”

She was a sweet Goth girl who managed mostly to stay out of the various wars and factions raging within the FAYZ.

“I’m glad I ran into you,” Sinder said. She had a steel pipe in one hand, the grip cushioned with duct tape. No one walked around without a weapon, especially at night.

“You okay? You eating?”

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