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Scavenged

Read a sneak preview of Scavenged, Scott’s debut novel about a young man struggling to retain his humanity in the wake of an alien abduction.

Almost there, the scavenger thought. Just a little farther. He slid the damping piston the rest of the way down into the shock and reached for the motor oil with his right hand, pouring it into the open assembly with a soft little glug-glug. He used the sound to gauge when the oil level was near the top, because the dusky light in the garage was dim, and he couldn’t risk seeing if the fluorescent lamps overhead still worked. They probably didn’t. He had to get this right, or he’d die alone in a filthy garage a few minutes from now.

Orion Danes liked the sounds of his work—the soft whirring and grinding of something being fixed up, something old and broken being made new again. He concentrated on these sounds, shutting out the screams and gunfire in the streets outside. He replaced the rubber seal and tightened the nut back down on the top of the repaired shock, then removed the shock from the vise on the workbench and carried it to the dirt bike in the corner. He’d ducked into this abandoned garage just as the raiders had come charging into the little town. Orion had originally intended to stay the night here, moving on in the morning; now, rest was the last thing on his mind.

Finding the old bike in the corner had been a godsend, even in its present condition. Somebody had landed hard on the back wheel, cracking the rear rim and busting the shocks. Not such a tough job for Orion, who had spent most of his fifteen years hanging around the trade caravans that scavenged junk in the wastelands. Most things could be fixed, if you knew how to do it. Somebody needed to fix the entire world: clean it up, replace what was old and broken, and make it all new again. It just seemed like nobody knew how.

The United Corporations Order couldn’t fix what had happened—they might have their shiny towers in the Great Cities with their legions of Protectorate officers and herds of obedient vassals, but it was just a veneer, a fresh coat of paint on something that was headed to the scrap heap. And the UCO was in better shape than anyone; the outlanders who lived outside the cities talked a lot about fixing things, too, when in actuality, their Resistance fighters were getting slaughtered every day out here in the wastelands. An outlander’s existence was short and brutal; it was better to be behind the UCO’s huge city walls, if you could manage to get there. New Zaragosa wasn’t much farther, and this bike just might save his life.

With the shock assembly back on the bike, Orion turned it upside down, then pumped the kick-start valve to clear the fuel line. He flipped the dirt bike right side up, pumped the valve some more, and then froze.

A chilling screech cut through the sounds of the fighting outside.

Lacerta warriors were here—drawn by the chaos of the attack. Now the slaughter was a three-sided free-for-all: Lacertas versus the banditos versus the Resistance townsfolk. He had to get out of here now.

He crouched to inspect the cracked rear wheel. Making the repair using a conventional torch would mean removing the tire altogether before welding, then replacing it on the wheel when the hot work was done. Otherwise, the heat would rapidly expand the air in the tire and cause it to blow up in his face—ruining the wheel and injuring him as well. Normally this job might take forty-five minutes, but that was time he didn’t have.

He rolled up the sleeve of his jacket, exposing the bionic interface grafted into the flesh of his left forearm. He no longer got chills when looking at it—but the cold prickles still came every time he remembered the Greys bending over him on the table, staring with inky bug eyes and blank, lipless faces. He’d been awake through part of it, feeling the sickening tugging on his arm from their bizarre tools and cold, clammy flesh. He’d had the crazy thought that he was lying on a workbench and they were fixing him like a machine, taking an old, useless part and throwing it away, replacing the scrap with a new piece that worked better.

Pushing these memories away, he danced his fingers across a few keys on the interface. The computer’s scanner bathed the wheel in pale-yellow light. He held his left arm steady with his other hand as a piercing red laser shot out from the interface, stitching the crack in the wheel rim into a shiny line of solder. The job was done in seconds. He pumped the kick-start valve a few more times, threw his leg over the frame, and then started the bike, unable to suppress his grin when the engine roared to life on the second try—

“Nice work, son,” said a gravelly voice from behind him. Orion looked back to see an unkempt man standing near the door of the garage. A wide-brimmed hat and duster hid most of his face except for a ragged beard, which parted to reveal a yellow-toothed sneer. The man held a thermal pulse rifle in both hands. “Sorry to do this to you, kid, but you get off that bike nice and slow.” Orion tried not to look at his own 9 mm ballistic pistol lying on the ground with his tools nearby. He had no choice; the outlaw wouldn’t hesitate to fry him. Orion dismounted, relinquishing his prize. Without another word, the criminal seized the bike and was out the door.

Orion scooped up his tools, glimpsing the carnage outside through the open door. At this point, the aliens were massacring the entire town. He crept out into the street, which was littered with empty weapons and mangled corpses. He could smell smoke and fresh blood. There were no Lacertas in sight at the moment, however, and his eyes darted to a panicked, riderless horse flying down the street toward him. With an outstretched hand, he made a leap for the reins as the beast approached. His fingers closed around the rough leather straps, and he took a moment to calm the animal before swinging up and into the saddle. As he did so, a bolt from a thermal pulse streaked by so fast it singed the peach fuzz off his face.

Head down, crouched low over the horse, Orion charged through the street. Burned and ruined buildings went by at a breakneck pace. He passed the town’s outskirts and escaped into the desert at a full gallop. The destroyed landscape rushed by in a dusty blur. After three minutes, he still couldn’t ease back in the saddle, still wouldn’t think of how close a call it had been—and then something smashed into him with crushing force, tearing his left side open, bowling the wild-eyed horse over and trapping him on the ground underneath it. Warm, sticky blood, both his and the animal’s, washed over him as he kicked his legs, trying to free himself.

The Lacerta had lain in wait behind a boulder, striking with precision as Orion flew past. Now, the giant crocodilian loomed over him, standing on two legs. A scaly green-black hide covered the alien, but its reptilian face lacked the cold impassiveness of an earthly lizard. Instead, its features boiled with fiery hatred and rage, leaning its body forward to hiss through a triangular toothy maw. Orion’s pain and fear blended into a rising tide of panic as the monster prepared for the merciless second, and final, blow.

The burning wound in Orion’s side raked his concentration, and he fought to control himself. The monster appeared to be at the end of a dark tunnel... There were only seconds left in the scavenger’s life, seconds with which to act. Orion’s fingers, slippery with blood, closed around the pistol in his holster, and he jerked it out, aiming it at the face of the alien as it bent toward him. He pumped the trigger over and over like the kick-start valve on a dirt bike. Hot bullets tore into the open mouth of the thing, and it gargled black blood amid its unworldly shrieks. Orion emptied the clip of the gun before the reptile fell backward at last, collapsing into a twisted heap.

Without pausing, which would only weaken his resolve, Orion jammed the pistol’s hot muzzle against his side. He stifled a yelp in his dry throat as the gun sizzled and cauterized the bloody flesh. Coughing and choking, he slid out from under the dead horse. In agony, he struggled to stay on his feet, weaving and stumbling through the desert. He needed someone to fix him, to make him all better again. He limped through the wasteland, a graveyard of useless things. If he stopped moving, if he let himself fall, he would become just another discarded piece of junk. Ahead, the wind eddied and curled over an object on the ground. He almost fell over it. It was the bandito from before, now clawed to gory ribbons next to the stolen dirt bike. Orion hefted the bike upright and winced as he kick-started it. Then he was racing along toward the glittering spires on the horizon. Still so far, he thought with the hot desert wind drying his tears into clean streaks on his dusty face. Still so much farther to go.

Scavenged will be released on Febraury 18, 2019, and is available for pre-order now!