The exhilarating final blast of the Hex trilogy, the laser-powered sci-fi thriller, by a talented young writer.
The city is a dangerous place for Hexes. The security forces are on the alert for any sign of Hex activity-any sign of a mutant presence. The Hex gene will soon be extinct.
But in the depths of the city, a powerful new force is taking shape. Led by the Hex Raven, a rabble army is planning a new future -- they're coming out of hiding. But the source of their strength, the computer system itself, harbors a devastating enemy....
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Rhiannon Lassiter is an author of science fiction, fantasy, contemporary, magical realism, psychological horror, and thrill novels for teenagers. Her favorite authors include Ursula K. Le Guin, Margaret Mahy, and Octavia E. Butler. Her own novels explore themes of identity, change, and becoming. Rhiannon lives and works in Oxford, United Kingdom. Her ambition is to be the first writer-in-residence on the Moon. Find out more at rhiannonlassiter.comExcerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Chapter 1: Tried in the Fire
Drow dropped off the edge of the walkway, landing with a jolt that knocked the breath out of his body. A blaster shot zinged past his head and he didn't waste time on catching his breath, staggering to his feet and running to where the arches sloped down to a lower level. He heard more shots around him but the Seccies were falling behind. A street kid wasn't worth the trouble of an extended chase and he was heading into the depths of the ganglands now.
The lighting on the next level was damaged, flickering erratically and creating odd shadows against the skyscraper sections emblazoned with gang colors. This was Spider territory: not far from home, but Drow kept to the shadows anyway. The Spiders wouldn't cause him hassle as long as he didn't mess with them; it was their style. Their territory was the rec complexes that surrounded Drow now: vice-joints, dream palaces and gaming 'cades. They catered to the low-wagers who couldn't afford to move up to the heights of the city but could spare the creds for a cheap thrill. The locals paid protection money to the Spiders and the gang patrolled the streets but, while they would get tough if they needed to, they didn't waste their time shaking down anyone wearing the wrong colors.
Drow weaved his way through Spider town, checking back over his shoulder casually every once in a while. As far as he could tell, the Seccies had cut their losses and decided not to follow him into the ganglands. But that didn't mean he was safe. They had holocams on their flitter and a record of him running away. If they picked him up later they'd be able to ID him as the kid who'd stolen a case of data discs from the Fractured Image. For now though he was as chill as you could be on the streets. Heading down through the levels of Spider territory he mapped out the route ahead in his mind. He had two choices and neither gave him much of a buzz. The way back home to his own gang's sector lay through Katana space. The knife gang wouldn't like his colors and if they caught him short-cutting through their turf he might not only lose the discs he'd lifted but wake up dead tomorrow. The alternative would take longer, circling Katana territory through the Ghost area. However, the Katanas were a menace Drow understood: no one knew anything about the Ghosts.
Catching sight of his own reflection in the grimy windows of a black-market tech store, Drow made up his mind. The fragments of shining circuitry braided into his black hair and the silvery mirror lenses in his eyes marked him as a Chrome, and a lone ganger was a target on the streets. The Katanas were expanding their area and any stranger would be fair game to enhance their rep. The Ghosts were known to be hard as ice and no one gave them trouble but they were a secretive gang and didn't need to prove themselves all the time. They controlled levels and enclaves all over the skyrises and starscrapers of London but never displayed their colors or openly hung out on the street. Ghost territory was a no-go area and gangs who tangled with them suffered runs of bad luck that made them suspicious of the Ghosts and wary of trouble. Standing in line for a public grav-tube to the levels lower down, Drow tried not to remember the other stories he had heard about the Ghosts. It was rumored they stole children to increase their numbers and that they were anarchists trying to bring down the city through terrorist action. It had been reported on the holovid that the Ghosts were linked to Anglecynn: a terrorist faction that engineered net crashes and gang attacks on European Federation agencies. But whenever the Seccies made a move on Ghost enclaves they arrived to find everything abandoned, not even trash left behind. Meanwhile, the Ghosts started up in some other wasted section of the city ganglands and the local gang steered clear.
The other people waiting for the grav-tube gave Drow sidelong looks. Two kids wearing Spider colors, at about thirteen just a couple of years younger than him, gave him lazy salutes. Trying to act it up like they were real hard men but chill enough not to try and prove it, Drow thought. The rest of the tube-riders were mostly low-wagers: looking at Drow shiftily until they dismissed him as too young to be a threat. That wasn't true, any street kid had to be able to take care of themselves, but Chromes didn't fight for thrills and Drow ignored the looks. The grav-tube car arrived with a low hiss and Drow dropped a three cred piece into the slot, receiving a piece of scrip for three levels down in return. Behind him the line shuffled along and the car filled quickly with people. Just before it took off another two people hurried aboard and Drow blinked in momentary surprise. The boy didn't look to be much older than Drow but he held himself with a self-assurance that made him seem much more experienced. Drow felt certain the stranger was a ganger, although he wore no symbols or colors on his clothes. But it was the girl who really drew his attention. There was no way a girl like that could be a ganger. She wore white, an unusual color down in the slums since it attracted notice and was quickly stained by the grimy streets, and her shining pale blonde hair and graceful stance made her look even more out of place. Drow couldn't take his eyes off her as the grav-car sank down through the levels and it was with a jolt that he realized that they had reached his destination and both the strangers were disembarking ahead of him.
Drow stumbled off the grav-car and on to the level. The strangers were already some distance ahead of him but Drow forgot about them when he noticed the silence of the streets. No other gang territory was ever this deserted. All the skyscraper sections on this level were shuttered up but they didn't look abandoned so much as closed off. Garbage and debris littered the streets but the areas in front of the buildings were swept clean and the doors were sturdy enough to be blast-proof. Glancing around warily, Drow realized that some buildings were empty, doors and windows damaged or gone. Those empty doorways worried him. Anyone could be hiding within: sentries watching for intruders into Ghost territory. Drow only hoped that he looked unthreatening enough for them to leave him alone. That thought suddenly reminded him of the couple ahead and he lengthened his stride to catch up a little, trying to keep them in sight. The girl's long white coat flapped in the still air behind her and the boy's hair glinted bronze under the streetlights. No sunlight filtered this far into the depths but Drow found the artificial lighting eerie. Despite the emptiness of the level the Ghosts obviously chose to keep the lights working. Instinctively, Drow scanned the area for holocams: the Seccies had them placed all over the upper levels to keep an eye on people. At first he could see nothing, but then a small black box on the side of a building caught his attention. Beside it someone had scrawled a graffiti image of a black bird with outspread wings. Across the street and lower down there was another slightly differently shaped box with the same bird emblem next to it. Drow's heart rate began to speed up as his eyes flickered across the scene. Black birds seemed to leap out at him from all directions and he realized that, if each symbol meant some kind of surveillance tech, he was under more complete observation than when he ventured into the Seccie-patrolled upper levels of the city. He checked ahead for the figures of the two strangers but they had crossed the plaza ahead and rounded the corner of a building. Drow followed their route cautiously just in case there was an ambush ahead. But when he got to the spot where they'd disappeared there was nothing. Not a sound stirred across the level, although in the distance he could hear the thrum of activity above and below. The strangers must have been Ghosts, Drow realized uncomfortably, and he was lucky they hadn't taken exception to his presence in their area. With that in mind he picked up his speed and kept to a smooth run across the level, heading as fast as he could back to Chrome territory.
As the door slid closed behind them Ali frowned to herself and then glanced at Kez.
"Was he following us?" she asked.
"Don't think so," Kez replied. "But let's check." He touched the keypad on his wrist-com lightly while Ali waited. They were standing in the foyer on one of the larger building sections that their group claimed and, in contrast to the deserted streets outside, the large room was a hive of activity. A flitter was parked in the middle of the space and three gangers in blue and gold Snake colors were unloading crates of equipment. Over to one side a larger group of Anglecynn members were going through a final weapons check and Geraint, their leader, flipped Ali a brief wave when he noticed her. The Ghosts were an unusual allegiance of different groups and in the two years they had spent hiding from the Seccies the gang had grown hugely. Ali had begun to like the feeling of being an important part of the group and she found herself smiling as she looked around the room.
Even more reassuring was the feeling of safety that came from being part of a large group. Despite their attacks on the brutal laws of the European Federation, no member of the group had been captured. The Hexes used their ability to interface with the net to gain information that the group could use. Their consistent attacks on EF facilities and their release of restricted information made it increasingly difficult for the government to cover up how much the regime was hated. Most important to Ali were the young Hexes they had successfully rescued from extermination. Despite the Civil Protection Service's best efforts to keep their records secret, the Hex group found them and tried to get to the victims before the CPS could. To some of these children their Hex abilities came as a complete surprise but to others who, like Ali, had lived in fear of discovery for almost all their lives, the Ghosts were the first real Ghosts because they aimed to be uncatchable and because none of them had any legal identity. They took their safety seriously and even minor threats, like the ganger boy who had followed them down to Ghost territory, were responded to quickly and efficiently.
Kez had stopped speaking into his wrist-com and Ali looked at him inquiringly.
"Jordan's reviewing the surveillance holos but she thought the kid was just taking a shortcut," Kez explained. "I don't think we have a problem."
"In that case we'd better get going," Ali replied. "There's a briefing in an hour's time, we have two rescue attempts tomorrow and Alaric's team have a plan to sabotage Seccie communications."
"Electric!" Kez grinned, and as Ali smiled back she realized he was enjoying life as much as she was. Two years ago they'd disliked each other; Kez resenting her for her privileged upbringing and she despising him for growing up on the streets. But now the group was so much larger the differences between them no longer seemed important and there was always too much work to do to waste time quarreling.
As they headed up through the building, friend and allies greeting them briefly as they went about their work, Ali thought about the rescued children who were the main focus of her own activities in the group. There were almost two hundred of them now, ranging in age from five to as old as Ali herself. It was Raven's responsibility to teach them to use their Hex abilities but Ali, Kez and Luciel were responsible for the rest of their education and for any other needs they might have. It was demanding work. Wraith and Raven virtually ran the Ghosts and one of the few things they agreed on was that the Hex children should grow up with every possible advantage the group could provide. As a result Ali was having to relearn things she'd never paid any attention to at school in the luxurious Belgravia complex just to stay one step ahead of her students. Kez soaked up knowledge like a sponge, Luciel experimented constantly with new teaching methods and ideas and between the three of them they had constructed an education course that covered everything from philosophy to firearms. Their reward was that the children liked and trusted them, although they were still wary around Raven.
The thought of the group's leader caused a shadow to pass over Ali's cheerful mood. The children weren't the only ones to have been trained by Raven: the older Hexes relied on her to give them the benefit of her experience. Luciel had progressed by leaps and bounds; his ambition to be a scientist had been revived by what Raven taught him of his abilities and he was trying to write a study explaining them. Avalon, the former rock singer, had successfully integrated her powers into her music and was still entranced by the idea of being a Hex. Although she remained on the sidelines of the group, her celebrity continued to gain the Hex cause prominence in the media. But Ali, despite her best efforts to understand Raven's teaching, was intimidated by the net. She had progressed sufficiently in her studies that she could wander happily through databases and nodes. But secured systems alarmed her and the infinite depths of the data network made her feel scared. She sometimes wondered if Raven was more like the net than a human being. The dark-eyed Hex with her cold summaries of people and the situations and her dizzying mood swings reminded Ali of the dark, unknown expanses of information which frightened her.
The flitter hung like a bird above the city and Raven stared down at her domain. She came here more and more often now, watching the starscrapers linked by a glittering network of bridges and arches sinking into bottomless depths where no light penetrated. Up here she felt like a Ghost, unseen and intangible, with the cityscape spread out beneath her like an array of complex circuitry. While the others had found fulfillment in being part of a group, Raven felt increasingly stifled. None of them was any match for her, in abilities or imagination, and as she trained the legion of Hex children she wished that just once they would find in a Hex who had struggled as she had had to and triumphed.
"What are you thinking?" a voice asked quietly and Raven turned to regard her companion. Cloud Estavisit was the least likely member of their group. Cloud had fallen from the pinnacle of fame with Avalon and had tried to save them both by betraying the Hexes. He'd made up for his treachery when he'd saved their lives, but most of the Ghosts still felt uncomfortable around him. However, Raven saw in him a foil for her own black moods and a companion in her isolation.
"That maybe Kalden was right," she said softly.
"Kalden?" Cloud raised an eyebrow. "The scientist who experimented on all those children? I thought he was supposed to be renowned for his evil."
"To simply say something is evil means you refuse to understand it," Raven replied, turning to look back down into the maze of the city. "Research like Kalden's cannot be dismissed, no matter how twisted its origins."
"So why was he right?"
"For the wrong reasons," Raven replied. "He was trying to exterminate the Hexes...
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Book Description Simon Pulse, 2002. Mass Market Paperback. Book Condition: New. Bookseller Inventory # DADAX0743422139
Book Description Simon Pulse, 2002. Mass Market Paperback. Book Condition: New. book. Bookseller Inventory # M0743422139
Book Description Simon Pulse, 2002. Mass Market Paperback. Book Condition: New. Never used!. Bookseller Inventory # P110743422139
Book Description Simon Pulse. MASS MARKET PAPERBACK. Book Condition: New. 0743422139 New Condition. Bookseller Inventory # NEW7.1234527