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Sci-fi fans will tear through this new adventure as Johnny Turnbull — first human softwire — finds more danger and intrigue on the next ring of Orbis.
On Orbis 2, Johnny Turnbull has a new home and a new job, one that pushes his softwire abilities to painful limits. JT is the only one who can communicate with the Samirans, large aquatic aliens who have cooled the crystals on Orbis for nearly two thousand rotations. But as the Samirans’ work rule ostensibly comes to a close, they have grown dangerously agitated, and JT must find out why. What he learns is that the prosperity of Orbis is built on a brutal system of enforced labor — and that everyone seems to have something to hide. Can JT appease the Samirans before their threat is realized? And if he doesn’t, will his friends survive? In this second episode of THE SOFTWIRE, PJ Haarsma takes readers on another lightning-paced, cyber-fueled ride through the amazing universe he introduced in THE SOFTWIRE: VIRUS ON ORBIS 1.
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PJ Haarsma has been gazing at the stars and wondering what’s out there his whole life. After a successful career as a commercial photographer, he finally decided to write about it. He lives in Los Angeles.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
"Here it comes!" Theodore Malone shouted.
"But we're not ready yet!" I yelled back, scoping the sorting bay for any sign of it. I snatched the hand laser off the floor and hid it inside my vest.
"Give me that," Maxine Bennett protested, and took the tool from me. She pointed it at the scavenger-bot now dissected on the metal floor in front of us. "This is the last one. If that thing gets its paws on this before we fix it, who's gonna clean this place up? Not me," she said. "I plan to do more on this ring than just pick up after Switzer."
I did too. I just hadn't figured what that was yet. I strained my neck to see past the huge cranes rooted on the inner dome at the center of Weegin's World. There was no sign of it.
"Fine, Max. Then you keep working, and I'll find some way to block the lift," I said, standing up and tearing back toward the other kids.
"Better hurry, JT," Theodore said from across the sorting bay floor and to my far right.
"You could help," I told him, but Theodore shook his head. He was safely out of the way, perched atop one of the electricblue sorting belts. The belts were placed every meter or so inside the curved factory. Theodore waved me over to join him on the gaseous device, but I needed to make it to the second-floor lift, located between him and the last belt. Our roommate, Randall Switzer, was dozing on that farthest belt. I could see a portable O-dat clutched in his oversize paw. It was a weak attempt to prove his intelligence, but I knew the lazy malf only wanted to nap.
I heard the lift squawk into action. Theodore stood up on the belt. "It's on the lift! Forget about the bot, JT-just run!"
I froze. From where I stood, I couldn't see the lift, but I could definitely hear what was on it.
"Work! Work! Now work!" it screamed over the machine's metallic hum like a distress beacon.
"It's getting off the lift-now," another kid said.
I turned back toward Max. "Leave it," I shouted at her.
I took my chances and charged toward Theodore. I hadn't even broken stride when my feet were knocked out from under me. Before I hit the floor, a heavy, clawed foot (the worst kind) thumped against the lower part of my vest, knocking the wind out of me. "I see you with tools. Where you get tools?" it screamed at me.
"I'm fixing the scavenger-bot," I shouted back. "You broke them all!" But I knew speaking to him was useless. The bald little beast just tilted his head whenever I spoke, as if amazed I could make sounds with my mouth. It was worse than trying to reason with Switzer.
"My tools!" he said, and pushed down on my chest. When I was first assigned to Weegin, almost one complete rotation ago, my Guarantor always cradled a yellowed larva in his thick, three-fingered hands. He nursed that puffy thing phase after phase, and I never once bothered to ask him what it was. No one did. Weegin answered most questions with a twist of your nose or your ear, or even a painful yank on your hair. If he had wanted me to know what it was, he would have told me. But the mystery was gone now. Two phases ago, right after I fought the Belaran, Madame Lee, inside the central computer, that puffy lump of flesh hatched into the little monster that stood over me as I gasped for air.
"Who gave knudnik my tools?" he demanded, and lifted his disgusting foot off my chest.
Previous confrontations with Weegin's offspring taught me to give up early since he never understood a word I said anyway. I simply curled up on the floor, clutched my stomach, and waited for the oxygen to find its way into my lungs.
Looking satisfied with my condition, the undersize monster set his beady eyes on Switzer. The alien was not exactly a miniature version of Weegin, as you might expect. His hands were far more muscular, and his legs appeared thicker and stronger than they should for a Choi from Krig. The bald protégé stalked the corridors of Weegin's World with his lower jaw thrust absurdly forward, the result of a severe underbite. A row of pointed teeth curled up and over his top lip as he marched around barking orders at everyone. Somehow this pink little maggot thought he was in charge.
He ran straight at Switzer and slammed the operation button next to his head. The sorting belts hissed into motion. "Work. You. Big thing. Work now!" he yelled, and stood guard so no one could get at the controls.
Theodore had jumped to the floor. Switzer, however, remained soundly asleep. Even the clatter of the awakened cranes did not stir him.
"Maybe he's deaf and dumb?" Theodore said.
"Switzer!" Max shouted, but he did not move. Switzer kept right on sleeping as the blue mist holding him up headed for the chute. The chute was a hole in the wall that led to a furnace burning deep beneath Weegin's World. It was a drop Switzer would not survive. Max and another kid tried to get to Switzer, but Weegin's hatchling snapped his large, protruding snout at anyone who moved.
I pulled myself off the ground. "Distract that thing," I told Max, and she chucked a wrench at him. The alien turned on his heels and stomped straight toward her, his lengthy claws clacking on the metal floor.
"Tools are expensive!" he screamed.
I stuck my hand in the greenish-gray radiation gel used to protect our skin when there was junk to sort. I slid over to Switzer and reached my hand under his nose. The ghastly smell-rotten meat mixed with crusty socks and a touch of recycled toilet water-did the job. Switzer wrenched his head away and fell to the floor as Weegin dashed out from his glass bunker. I ran to an O-dat at the other side of the bay and accessed the local computer network with my softwire. I shut the cranes down instantly.
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