Authors: Toby Minton
Children of Evolution
Book Two of the Gateway Series
Cover by Indie Designz http://www.indiedesignz.com
Edited by Katie Lewis
Copyright © 2015 Toby Minton
All rights reserved.
Edition License Notes
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This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is coincidental.
For Tom Minton,
the man I will forever be proud
to call my father.
I never thought of myself as a selfish person.
Does anybody? Surely nobody says, “If I had to describe myself in three words, I’d go with ‘selfish,’ and…repeat it. Twice.”
I’m not the most giving person in the world. I wouldn’t be alive if I were. You don’t last long in the free zones if you’re always giving away what you need. If you don’t look out for yourself, you don’t eat. That’s not selfish though—that’s survival.
But it’s been a while since I’ve lived on the streets. I’ve had it easy for months. More food than I can eat, a warm place to sleep, money if I need it. I’ve been living the sweet life, in a way. But some habits are hard to break.
Even after what Michael did for me—even after I promised to make him proud, I still catch myself looking out for good old number one, first and foremost. Like I said, some habits…
Still, I thought that when push came to kick and the fate of the world was on the line, I wouldn’t hesitate to put myself aside and do the right thing. I thought I’d be able to follow Michael’s example without a second thought. I imagined myself quite the hero.
I was wrong.
-Nikki Flux, March 23
From a partially burned journal
found in the Wasteland
Nature of Change
After wrestling with visions of the end of the world for more than fifty years, Gideon wasn't surprised that those visions shaped his dreams. Finding himself in a dream version of a desolate ruin only vaguely recognizable as Earth was, for Gideon, a matter of course.
When his subconscious woke to this dream, however, and started processing his surroundings, something tried to warn him this time was different.
He was standing in the middle of an empty two-lane road, moonlight dusting the dark trees on either side as the wind brushed their long needles.
He dropped his gaze to the pavement below him, to a patch of fabric that looked like a child's abandoned doll trampled into a crushed patch of asphalt. His gaze started to drift, but the indentation around the doll tugged it back. Whatever had trampled the doll had left an irregular print in the asphalt, an elongated furrow, almost like—
A wave of energy slammed into Gideon from behind, knocking him to his hands and knees.
For a second he saw nothing but darkness, heard nothing but the ringing in his ears. Then he focused on the tattered doll under him and the rustle and creak of the trees nearby as the wave moved on.
From the corner of his eye, he saw a fallen billboard partially buried in the ground at the edge of the road, the light from its diodes slowly fading.
The faint light tugged at Gideon's attention, distracting him. He wanted to focus on the doll, on the shape of the footprint around it, the familiar shape, but the harder he tried to concentrate on it, the fuzzier it became. His slumbering brain couldn't make a connection. Even in his dreams, exhaustion plagued him.
For months he'd worked his mind to the point of failure analyzing where he'd gone wrong, what he'd misread, what he could have done differently with the twins. He'd pushed his body to the point of collapse searching for new leads, new ways of preventing the coming apocalypse.
Or so he told himself.
What he'd really been doing was avoiding the people he'd hurt, the people he'd failed.
Gideon stood and surveyed the damage the wave had left in its wake. In addition to the billboard, a handful of trees had toppled on either side of the road, one missing him by barely a meter.
He turned back toward the doll, toward the print, determined to force his mind to focus, but then he heard them. They were faint, distant, and short-lived, but they were definitely voices—terrified voices.
Following the weak sounds, he stepped off the road into the trees. The woods were thin here, the trees familiar. The soft undergrowth had the same thick, loamy smell as the woods around the church. Wherever he'd come in this dream, it was close to home.
Something about that thought triggered a stronger spike of alarm, but again Gideon's exhausted subconscious brushed it aside as he stepped clear of the thin trees to the edge of a sharp precipice.
Through the pointed tops of the trees below, he saw a familiar skyline silhouetted against the dusky sky, a city that had survived the Event and the years of war and neglect that followed. Seattle had more than its share of scars, but it bore them as badges of honor. It had survived and would continue to do so, or so its people believed. For a brief moment, the shadowed city Gideon saw before him appeared to be the same one he'd left in the waking world, stubborn and strong. Then it started.
He saw the first building shudder and start to topple in silence before the muted pop reached his ears. From this distance, the sound of tons of concrete and steel falling onto the street below was almost natural, like waves crashing against the rocks of the distant shoreline. Not so the weak shouts of the people in the path of the falling debris, or the thin screams of those riding the dying building down. Their cries were unmistakable even at this distance.
Farther into the city, other buildings started dropping from sight one by one, falling from their places in the iconic skyline, each disappearance punctuated by the same muted pop and rumble. As each building toppled, the thick gray dust of its passing fed the growing haze shrouding the doomed city, a low-lying echo of the seemingly motionless dark clouds high above stretching to the horizon.
He knew what he was watching. This was the end. Humanity's fall—the early days of it, at least. Gideon knew because he'd witnessed scenes like this one more times than he cared to recall. Inspired by his brief visions, Gideon's dreams were often filled with the worst the future had in store, making most nights as tortured as his days.
The dreams varied, but some elements remained constant: the ever-present dust clouds in the stratosphere that made even the midday sun—what he'd mistaken for the full moon—a weak candle in the gloom; the crumbled cities with scattered pockets of survivors, some few still angry and desperate, most others starved of body and spirit to the point of numb resignation; and the screams, always the screams.
This dream had everything Gideon was accustomed to experiencing when he imagined the fall, and one thing he wasn't.
With a thought Gideon soared from the ridge to the city, flying just over the rooftops, never losing speed or crashing to the ground despite the persistent feeling of falling.
He settled to the ground on one of the main arteries into the city, now nothing more than an endless parking lot of abandoned cars, around which the steady stream of people wove as they fled the crumbling city, clutching whatever possessions their shocked brains had told them they couldn't live without.
Gideon drifted through the throng, ignoring the people as he searched for what had drawn him in.
This time the pop came first, accompanied by a pulse of blue energy, and a section of the four-story building in front of Gideon turned to dust. The screams of the people around it were swallowed by a thunderous crash as the building collapsed. The dust of its fall rolled over Gideon like a wave.
Something about the way the dust moved around him in swirling eddies tugged at Gideon's mind, but his curiosity wouldn't let the thought take hold. Even asleep he was a scientist first, and the mystery of the energy flashes had him firmly in its grip. Until he discovered the how and why of the destructive bursts, he knew nothing else would be able to hold his attention.
Gideon had seen a similar effect once before, on the day of the Event. He'd seen matter vaporized when electricity met genesis, the element that had changed everything. But if these were pockets of genesis atoms, where were they coming from?
His first instinct was to blame Savior. After all, for decades his visions had told him that his former partner would bring about humanity's fall. However, not even Savior could cause this phenomenon directly. Savior generated energy from his genesis-mutated cells, much more so now that he’d supercharged his abilities through Nikki, but he couldn’t create the element itself.
As far as Gideon knew, genesis couldn’t exist outside the alien environment on the other side of the Gateway. The element was fundamentally unstable. In fact, it shouldn’t exist in the alien environment either, which had initially led Gideon to posit the rather unpopular hypothesis that the Gateway itself was the source of the element. Unfortunately, his chance to test that hypothesis, or any other for that matter, had never come. The Event had put an end to far more than just his career and set in motion a chain of events that would one day lead to…this.
He looked around at the people climbing over the rubble, scrambling through the billowing dust toward the I-5. In the distance, the thundering deaths of other buildings echoed through the city streets.
Gideon needed a closer look at one of these bursts if he were to have any hope of discovering the cause. If this were a real vision of the future instead of just a dream, he would chase the truth he sought without having to move himself. In the visions, he could will what he sought to appear out of the swirling eddies. The images that answered his call were not always clear, if they appeared at all, but at least there he knew what he saw wasn’t conjured by his own memory and imagination.
The dust closed around him as if in answer to his thoughts, and again an uneasy feeling clawed at Gideon, like some suppressed part of his mind was struggling and failing to make itself heard.
The swirling cloud parted in front of him, revealing a dead-end alley that he quickly realized was on the other side of the city from where he’d started. The rumbling echoes of collapsing structures were still audible, but they were approaching now instead of receding. Whatever the bursts were, they were traveling in the same direction as the wave he’d felt when the dream started, like ripples in its wake—ripples coming closer to where he stood.