I watched Calamity rise.
I was six years old then, as I stood in the night on the balcony of our apartment. I can still remember how the old air conditioner rattled in the window next to me, covering the sound of Father’s crying. The overworked machine hung out over a plummet of many stories, dripping water like perspiration from the forehead of a suicidal jumper. The machine was broken; it blew air but didn’t make anything cold. My mother had frequently turned it off.
After her passing, my father left it on; he said that he felt cooler with it running.
I lowered my popsicle and squinted at that strange red light, which rose like a new star above the horizon. Only no star had ever been that bright or that red. Crimson. It looked like a bullet wound in the dome of heaven itself.
On that night, Calamity had blanketed the entire city in a strange warm glow. I stood there—popsicle melting, sticky liquid dripping down around my fingers—as I watched the entire ascent.
Then the screaming had started.
“David?” The voice came from my earpiece.
I shook out of my reverie. I’d been staring at Calamity again, but nearly thirteen years had passed since Calamity’s rise. I wasn’t a kid at home with my father any longer; I wasn’t even an orphan working the munitions factory in the understreets.
I was a Reckoner.
“Here,” I answered, shouldering my rifle and crossing the rooftop. It was night, and I swore I could see a red cast to everything from Calamity’s light, though it had never again appeared as bright as it had that first evening.
Downtown Newcago spread out before me, its surfaces reflecting starlight. Everything was steel here. Like a cyborg from the future with the skin ripped off. Only, you know, not murderous. Or, well, alive at all.
Man, I thought. I really do suck at metaphors.
Steelheart was dead now, and we had reclaimed Newcago’s upper streets—including many amenities the elite had once reserved for themselves. I could take a shower every day in my own bathroom. I almost didn’t know what to do with such luxury. Other than, you know, not stink.
Newcago, at long last, was free.
It was my job to make sure it stayed that way.
“I don’t see anything,” I whispered, kneeling beside the edge of the rooftop. I wore an earpiece that connected wirelessly to my mobile. A small camera on the earpiece allowed Tia to watch what I was seeing, and the earpiece was sensitive enough to pick up what I said, even when I spoke very softly.
“Keep watching,” Tia said over the line. “Cody reports that Prof and the mark went your direction.”
“It’s quiet here,” I whispered. “Are you sure—”
The rooftop exploded just beside me. I yelped, rolling backward as the entire building shook, the blast spraying bits of broken metal across me. Calamity! Those shots packed a punch.
“Sparks!” Cody yelled over the line. “She got around me, lad. Coming up on your north side—”
His voice was drowned out as another glowing energy pulse shot up from the ground below and ripped the side off the rooftop near where I hid.
“Run!” Tia yelled.
Like I needed to be told. I got moving. To my right, a figure materialized out of light. Dressed in a black jumpsuit and sneakers, Sourcefield wore a full mask—like a ninja might wear—and a long black cape. Some Epics bought into the whole “inhuman powers” thing more than others. Honestly, she looked ridiculous—even if she did glow faintly blue and crackle with energy spreading across her body.
If she touched something, she could transform into energy and travel through it. It wasn’t true teleportation, but close enough—and the more conductive the substance, the farther she could travel, so a city made of steel was kind of like paradise for her. It was surprising it had taken her so long to get here.
As if teleportation weren’t enough, her electrical abilities also made her impervious to most weapons. The light shows she gave off were famous; I’d never seen her in person before, but I’d always wanted to see her work.
Just not from so close up.
“Scramble the plan!” Tia ordered. “Prof? Jon! Report in! Abraham?”
I listened with only half an ear as a globe of crackling electricity whizzed by me. I skidded to a stop and dashed the other way as a second globe passed right through where I’d been standing. That one hit the rooftop, causing another explosion and making me stumble. Shards of metal pelted my back as I scrambled to the side of the building.
Then I leaped off.
I didn’t fall far before hitting the balcony of a penthouse apartment. Heart pounding, I darted inside. A plastic cooler waited on the other side by the door. I threw open the lid and fished around, trying to remain calm.
Sourcefield had come to Newcago earlier in the week. She’d started killing immediately—random people, no perceivable purpose behind it. Just like Steelheart had done in his early days. Then she’d started calling out for the citizens to turn in the Reckoners, so she could bring us to justice.
A twisted brand of Epic justice. They killed whomever they wanted, but to strike back was an offense so great they could barely conceive it. Well, she’d see soon enough. So far, our plan to bring her down wasn’t going terribly well, but we were the Reckoners. We prepared for the unexpected.
From the cooler, I pulled out a water balloon.
This, I thought, had better work.
Tia and I had debated for days on Sourcefield’s weakness. Every Epic had at least one, and often they were random. You had to research an Epic’s history, the things they avoided, to try to figure out what substance or situation might negate their powers.
This balloon contained our best guess as to Sourcefield’s weakness. I turned, hefting the balloon in one hand, rifle in the other, watching the doorway and waiting for her to come after me.
“David?” Tia asked over the earpiece.
“Yeah?” I whispered, anxious, balloon ready to throw.
“Why are you watching the balcony?”
Why was I . . .
Oh, right. Sourcefield could travel through walls.
Feeling like an idiot, I jumped backward just as Sourcefield came down through the ceiling, electricity buzzing all around her. She hit the floor on one knee, hand out, a ball of electricity growing there, casting frantic shadows across the room.
Feeling nothing but a spike of adrenaline, I hurled the balloon. It hit Sourcefield right in the chest, and her energy blast fizzled into nothing. Red liquid from the balloon splashed on the walls and floor around her. Too thin to be blood, it was an old powdered fruit drink you mixed with water and sugar. I remembered it from childhood.
And it was her weakness.
Heart thumping, I unslung my rifle. Sourcefield stared at her dripping torso as if in shock, though the black mask she wore kept me from seeing her expression. Lines of electricity still worked across her body like tiny glowing worms.
I leveled the rifle and pulled the trigger. The crack of gunfire indoors all but deafened me, but I delivered a bullet directly toward Sourcefield’s face.
That bullet exploded as it passed through her energy field. Even soaked with the Kool-Aid, her protections worked.
She looked at me, her electricity flaring to life—growing more violent, more dangerous, lighting the room like a calzone stuffed with dynamite.
Uh-oh . . .
The next two chapters are available in the US paperback of Steelheart and the UK hardcover of Mitosis.