Series: Nevermore #1
Published by: Nemesis Publications
Release Date: 2002
Genre: Futuristic, Horror, Sci-Fantasy, Science Fiction, Urban Fantasy
Main Character: Josiah Crow
Intercepted Broadcast 2190
The virus ran swiftly on the hot summer breeze. Unseen. Unheard. Unknown. It swept through the entire earth in a matter of months, having mercy on no one. Young—old—it didn’t matter.
Brought to us by the Drabs, it was the last thing we expected. But the Drabs knew. They even fought a war over whether or not they should save us.
In the end, it was decided that we were diseased insects who were unfit to breathe their air.
So they left the human race to die a miserable death of agonizing pain. Left us with no doctors or medicine. Their plan was to rid the earth of us and to take our home as their own.
What they never expected was the change that would come after the plague. We didn’t all die as they’d planned. Those under the age of twenty somehow managed to survive the disease.
We managed to pull through it, even alone, and we learned to hide ourselves while our bodies changed. Still human, but now something else. Something more powerful. More intuitive.
More pissed off.
We’re still here, on this earth, and we’re not leaving. This is our home.
Drabs take note and learn to be afraid. You’ve had a hundred years here on earth, but now your time here is done.
You called us rodents. Insects. Diseased animals. The scraps of humanity—and that, my Drab friend, we certainly are. But what you should have realized is that you can’t kill a Scrap. Humanity isn’t dead. Not by a longshot. We still have our soldiers and we have our conviction.
Most of all, we have hope.
And we will win in the end. Whatever it takes. Whatever it costs. We won’t allow you to take our planet from us. So count your days, Drabs.
The war is on.
Also in this series:
“Well that little hissy fit is certainly going to get their attention. So much for keeping a low profile, huh? You might as well have just set fire to your nuts on the Capitol lawn.”
Leaning back in his chair, Josiah hated to admit just how right Anjelica Shepherd might be. Except for one thing . . . “This didn’t leave me sterile.”
“No, but if they catch you—” she gestured at his crotch— “They’re going straight for your no-zone, buddy. Trust me, those little friends of yours will be the first thing they take and fry up for a main course.”
He flashed a grin at her. “Then let’s make sure they don’t, shall we?”
She rolled her dark brown eyes at him. And shook her head so forcefully, it made the beads in her Nubian braids jingle. “Don’t even go there, Old Man Crow.”
He ignored her play on his last name of Crow and the fact that he was half Apsáalooke. Anjelica was one of the few who knew that little tidbit about him— along with the major secret he kept as sacred as a vestal virgin matron in charge of her convent’s vault of chastity belt keys.
Just as he was the only one who knew she and her daughter, Kyisha, had made their way from the refugee camps out of Louisiana to the hills of Tennessee where they were currently in hiding.
And she was lucky. He killed most people who knew anything about him. A necessity he’d learned a long time ago.
Keep your secrets close and you live longer. Keep your enemies dead and you live longer still.
But that was neither here nor there.
“I didn’t start this war, Anj.” The Drabs had, a hundred years ago when they’d brought their disease to the earth and left the human race to die out in utter misery.
Had left him an orphaned mutant with skills that defied everyone’s expectations. Even his own.
Yeah, you should have made sure I stayed dead.
Shakespeare had once written that hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. He was wrong. Hell hath no fury like a human forced to watch everything he or she loved be ripped away while the one who did it stood back and gloated in selfish, smug satisfaction.
Male. Female. Made no never mind.
If the history of humanity had any lesson to be learned whatsoever it should have been that no one fought harder than the home team. Whether it was the Athenians at Marathon, the Battle of Stirling Bridge, the Spartan Three Hundred, Alfred the Great, the Colonial Americans, or even the Native Americans who’d kicked Eric the Red’s ass out of Vinland— humans were capable of overcoming unimaginable odds and superior technology and tactics whenever they were protecting their own.
No one got the better of them. It was never about the size of the dog in the fight, but all about the size of the bite in the dog.
Too bad the Drabs had burned all human literature and history books instead of reading some.
Now they were about to get schooled at the University of Serious Bell Ringing by Dr. Crow and his elite faculty of kick-your-ass-and-make-it-count. Because Josiah had no intention of stopping until he hand-delivered the bill that was long past due, and shoved it down their gray, Drab throats and made them choke on it.
This was personal. They had made it so.
His gaze fell to the latest report that had prompted his declaration of war. And his throat tightened around the bile that rose up in angry indignation. “Did you hear? They burned Phoenix last night.”
Anjelica winced. “I saw the footage. Did anyone escape?”
He forced himself to mask the kick-in-the-gut he felt over her question. “If they did, they haven’t surfaced yet. No doubt they’re in hiding. Afraid of being caught.”
“Yeah. I’d dig in deep, too. And pray hard for the hand of death to pass me by.” She jerked her chin toward his secured laptop that he’d used to post his message on the Drab’s network. “That the real reason for your declaration of war tonight?”
He nodded even as disgust, fear and hopelessness threatened to overwhelm him. The human race couldn’t afford such strikes against them. It’d taken a hundred years of hiding from the Drab tracesakers who’d been assigned to hunt them down, to rebuild their underground population back from the near-extinction levels that had almost wiped them off the planet.
Another hit like this and they might become history, after all.
“My little tantrum should get the heat off the survivors. . . . If there are any. The tracesakers will start looking for me now.” It was what the Drabs always did whenever they sensed a threat.
Any action required a swift and direct overreaction.
Anjelica tsked at him. “Boy, you’re insane. You done bought yourself all kinds of hurt.”
“Perhaps, but remember what William Blake said. The eagle never lost so much time, as when he submitted to learn of the crow. If I can buy them even an hour of peace, I will give up my life for it.”
He meant that. Yet he had no intention of dying. Not to today.
He was, after all, a crow. And crows were sacred to his people. They were messengers and harbingers. A gateway from this world to the next. As his mother used to say . . .
One crow caws for sorrow.
Two crows sing of joy.
Three crows fly to borrow.
Four crows are a ploy.
Five crows warn of tomorrow.
Six crows bring much gold.
And seven crows caution you of all the stories left untold.
Josiah had been the seventh crow born in his family. His mother’s youngest.
Her deadliest and most unpredictable.
I swear, Joey, you came into this world backwards and fighting, and you’ve been that way ever since. Cantankerous and stubborn as the day is long. Ain’t no one ever been born what could tell you what to do.
But then that, too, ran deep in his blood. Deeper still in his people and his family.
Again, the Drabs should have learned something of the culture they sought to destroy. It was easy to hate without context. To destroy without understanding how difficult it was to build something.
Unlike them, he’d taken his time to carefully study his enemies. Intimately. He knew how they thought. How they lived and how they’d developed into their current collective mind-set.
Now he was going to use that to destroy them.
Once and for all. Starting with the one who’d delivered the deepest blow to his heart.
Without a word, his gaze fell to the poem he’d written just before his declaration. This particular bit of his writing, he would forever keep to himself.
A silent promise. Just between the two of them.
Her name he didn’t speak. He didn’t have to.
She knew who she was.
He knew who she was. That was all that mattered.
And he would have her throat. Come hell or high water. Come nuclear devastation. Even if he had to fight his way back from death again.
Josiah would bathe in her blood and he would feast on her heart. After all, that was where his middle name had come from. His mother’s original maiden name.
Given to their ancestor who’d been known for coating himself in the blood of his slain enemies and reveling in the violence of war. Her entire family had been peace-loving until crossed. Then it was on to such an extent that his father used to joke their unwritten family motto was: I’ll kill you.
And Josiah wouldn’t rest until he saw this through . . .
Tick tock rang the clock. The talons of death came nearer nigh.
In the dark, all was stark. And only your breath was heard as a wretched sigh.
On the wall, the shadows fall. As you ran the entire hallway’s span.
Yet with every step, you continually wept. For you knew the end would be coming soon.
No matter how hard you tried, or deep you cried, still you felt your impending doom.
You felt it there, beneath the stair, or lurking in the shadowed pane.
And still you tried. Still you vied. Ever seeking to grow your infernal fame.
All the while, you lived in denial. Knowing for you there’d be no reprieve.
Not for ye who always deceived.
Coward, liar, thief and whore.
May you get all you deserve and more.
To hell I hope you will soon be bound.
And never again will ye be found.
May your name forever be stricken from each and every tongue.
And may never again let any praise for you be sung.
For you have spread poison and lies upon this land.
And you deserve nothing save utter misery and deepest reprimand.
In time I hope you come to wear,
All the shame you once dispensed with giddy flare.
For this to the heavens I do so decree.
And know in my heart that so will it be.
“From me to you, bitch. From me to you.”
They Are Among Us
Daria Stazen shivered at the electronic signs being broadcast all around their school. Images flickered on the walls and lockers, showing all the shapes and sizes and disguises those creatures could take, and how they could easily blend in without anyone ever knowing.
It was such a chilling thought that one of her classmates could be one of them in hiding.
A human being.
She shuddered in revulsion and fear. Then glanced about suspiciously at everyone in her hallway. How would she ever know? Could it be the strange girl on her right whose gray skin was a shade darker than the others? Or the boy to her left whose skin was a tiny bit bluer? Or the teacher whose lips held more black to them? Was it cosmetics, or genetics? Or what about the custodian whose black eyes had pupils that didn’t seem to dilate properly? He said it came from an accident in his youth.
But what if it wasn’t?
What if he were a human using some kind of magic or drug to disguise his real features? The documentaries all warned that humans were extremely cunning.
“Are you all right?”
She almost screamed as Tamira came up behind her to speak in her ear. “Don’t do that!”
“Do what?” she asked innocently.
“Sneak up on me when I’m scaring myself with really creepy thoughts about humans being here!” Daria waved her hand in front of her unit to open it automatically and pull out her sweater and gear for gym. Like her, Tamira was slightly taller than average and rather muscular, with pale gray skin and dark ebony eyes and hair. They were both from warrior caste families, but Daria’s father had been granted a special dispensation to attend university after he’d scored exceptionally high on his entrance tests in upper primary.
Now he was one of their top rated scientists— like her mother. Daria was hoping to follow in their footsteps. If she could stop being late to her classes all the time . . .
She closed her unit and paused as she caught Tamira staring at the images, too.
They were mesmerizing. As all good nightmares tended to be.
Tamira jerked her chin at the human they showed transforming himself into the unerring image of a Materian, right down to the dual noble birthmarks Daria had been fortunate enough to inherit in perfect symmetry at the edges of her mouth. It was something all of her friends envied her for.
“You think we’ll ever see a real human?”
Daria clutched at her designer bag that her father had brought to her all the way from their homeworld on his last trip there. “Hope not.”
Tamira arched her brow at that. “Why? Aren’t you curious about them?”
Not even a little. “They’re disease-ridden, for one thing.”
She laughed. “Oh please! How can you say that? We’re the ones who brought it to them. Besides, it was a simple cold.”
“Exactly! They were so weak a species, the sniffles killed them off. How can you admire a race that can’t even survive a mere head cold?”
Tamira scoffed. “You are so cynical. No wonder they chose you for the committee.”
Lifting her chin proudly, Daria patted her badge that proclaimed her chairwoman of HELL – Human Extermination Licensing Leaders. It was now officially her job to help investigate and find any humans who might infiltrate their school or youth community. “Yes, well, the humans are a threat we need to eradicate.”
“Why? You just said they were so weak as to be ridiculous.”
Daria growled in frustration of her friend’s continued churlishness. Sometimes she swore Tamira would argue with a sign post! “That doesn’t mean they couldn’t mutate it into something worse. Like bird flu and wipe us out with it!” That was, after all, what their people had fought a civil war over when they’d first landed on this planet a hundred years ago.
Rodents and humans. Same thing. Parasites could do all kinds of damage to higher organisms.
Why any Materian had ever thought a single human would be worth saving, she couldn’t imagine. Everything she’d read said they were a barbaric lot who’d been on the brink of war with each other all the time back then. No culture. No higher tech. They’d never done anything particularly noteworthy as a race.
Mass extinction had been the greatest kindness for them.
Not that it mattered. They were gone and the Materians were here now. This was their planet and it would remain so. It’d been theirs since the last of the major human cities had succumbed to the final wave of plagues and her people had burned the last of the human bodies and shed the planet of their feeble disease-ridden remnants.
All that was left now were bits and pieces that only the most daring Materians collected as curiosities.
She paused as she heard Frayne’s deep voice. Her heart quickened.
Tamira’s eyes darkened with jealousy an instant before she caught herself. As did most of the girls in the hallway. But then Daria was used to that. Frayne was one of the most eligible boys in their city. The son of their territorial regent, he would one day rise to a seat of political power to rival or surpass his mother’s. And because she was a third cousin to their ruling family, he had his eye on her.
Daria liked to pretend he had other interests in her as well, but she wasn’t completely stupid. If she were someone else, he might still talk to her and date her from time to time.
But . . .
He pressed his cheek to hers and took her bag. “Did you not get my message?”
He tsked. “My mother’s been called out of town tonight.” He wagged his eyebrows at her. “Want to come over and study some biology? Up close and personal?”
She snorted at his less than subtle innuendo. “Nice. I’m surprised you didn’t announce it over the intercom.”
“Want me to? I will!”
“No, thank you. I don’t have anywhere to hide your body and prison doesn’t look good on my university applications.”
He laughed. “But it would give you a leg up for the military.”
“Possibly.” Daria sobered as she glanced over his shoulder and caught the strange expression on Xared’s face as he stared at her badge. “Something wrong?”
A full head taller than Frayne and even more ripped and better looking, there were a number of people who speculated that Xared was the more accomplished athlete, but because of Frayne’s social status, Xared pulled back in matches and let Frayne take the best shots to win. Some claimed he did the same on tests, too, making sure he always took second place to Frayne, in all things.
She wasn’t so sure about that, but right now there was something strange going on. She could feel it deep in her bones. And since she’d known Xared since birth, they were more akin to family than friends. In fact, he was the closest thing to a sibling she’d ever known.
“Hadn’t heard about your promotion. Congrats.”
Yet the chilly undertone of his voice didn’t match those words.
Something was bothering him and she didn’t like to be the cause of his strife.
“Thanks. I think. Although, I’m feeling a little frostbite.” He blinked and offered up a half-hearted smile. “Sorry. I was hoping I’d get it. Last I heard it was mine, so I was a little shocked to see you with the badge.”
Oh, that explained it. And it made her feel even worse that she’d deprived him of anything. Unlike Frayne, she didn’t take joy in beating others out of their dreams. “I had no idea, Xed! I’m so sorry. If you want, I’ll decline it for you and you can take my place.”
He held his hand up. “It’s fine. Really. They obviously wanted you for it, and I am happy for you to have it. It just shocked me, but I’m over it now.” The warmth returned to his eyes. “Couldn’t imagine it going to a better, Materian. Peace to my sister.” He clutched his hand to his heart in a symbol of eternal kinship.
She duplicated the gesture. “Peace to my brother. Always. You know I love you.”
“Love you, too.” He clapped Frayne on his arm. “I’m headed on to class. Roundabout!”
“Roundabout!” they said in parting.
As they headed the opposite way, Frayne handed her a small silver charm. The unexpected gift delighted her. However, there was one tiny problem. “Thank you! But . . . what is it?”
“I found it in the bathroom. It’s a human symbol.”
Her stomach shrank. “What?!”
Nodding, he jerked his chin in the direction Xed had gone. “Xed dropped it from his bag. I had to look it up to find out what it was.”
“And what is it?”
“An ankie or something like that. The humans use it to identify each other and sympathizers to their cause.”
Suddenly, she felt nauseated with fear and dread. “What are saying?”
“That either Xed is a human being in disguise or he’s in league with their cause. Whichever it is, you have to report him. It’s your job.”
She shook her head in horror. “He’s like a brother to me!”
“And you swore an oath. Loyalty above everything.”
Daria wanted to weep at his dire tone and the cruel light in his dark eyes. One that was mirrored by Tamira’s. Worse was the unspoken threat that hovered in the air between them.
If she didn’t report Xed and see him arrested, the two of them would report them both.