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Based in Northeastern, PA, Melissa Koberlein publishes novels that explore the worlds of tech, aliens, and space with humor and heart.

Excerpt for Razers

As promised, here is an excerpt from Razers, Book 2 in the Fireflies trilogy. Razers is releasing on July 1st!  

Chapter 1 – Broken Glass

 

Marley

Summertime in the Appalachians is so humid you can almost see heat rising off the pavement into the air, like a spectral mist. Ghosts don’t exist, but aliens do, and they’re living inside my boyfriend. I stretch my arms and yawn, my bare legs sticking to the leather seat of Will’s sleek, black sports car, waiting for him to return from the large medical center stretched out before me. I’m not fond of hospitals, so I chose to stay in the car and watch the heat.

I jump as my phone rings and vibrates from inside the front pocket of my camo shorts. I reach for it and look down at the familiar name. “Hey, Mom, what’s up?”

“Marley, where are you? I thought you were going to stay home today and help me paint the downstairs. When I got back from the store, you were gone.”

I cringe and sink down into the seat. “I totally forgot. I’m out with Will on our way to go hiking. Can we please paint tomorrow?”

There’s a pause that seems to last forever considering my mom is never at a loss for words.  

“You know, Marley, you seem to forget a lot of things since you’ve been dating Will. Don’t get me wrong, I like him, but that doesn’t mean your responsibilities just go right out the window.”

I can’t deny that I’ve been a little forgetful since Will and I started dating last spring at the end of my junior year of high school. “Okay, Mom, I promise I’ll be more responsible in the future. I really did forget.”

“Well, last time I checked, you were very responsible. I also remember you complaining about a certain best friend not remembering things, and now it’s you who has a selective memory.”

This is also true. My best friend, Liz, is usually the forgetful one. I open my mouth to respond, but Mom’s on a roll. “Look, I try not to ask you for much, and I want you to have your own life, but the summer only lasts so long. I won’t see you for a while after next week because of your trip with Will and his family.”

Will and his family, who are all alien hosts, invited me to go to Arizona with them for some kind of alien convention called the Annual Host Gathering, where they show off their alien abilities and compete in games. I’m the first non-host ever to be invited. Needless to say, I can’t wait to go. Still, my mom’s right, I won’t be around for the remainder of the summer. I lean back against the seat, feeling dejected. I really wanted to go hiking. “I know, Mom. I’m sorry; I’ll come home now.”

The phone goes silent again. She’s thinking about it. I twirl one of the curls at the nape of my neck in anticipation of her response. 

“No…” She huffs, conceding. “It’s fine. Can you be home by three?”

I lean forward, excitedly. “Yes, I promise and I’ll be ready to paint!” I hold my breath, hoping to be let off the hook.

“I guess that will work. But you have got to start being more responsible, Marley. If I didn’t know better, I’d say that boy has some special power over you. See you at three, and not a minute later.”

“Okay, thanks. Love you.”

“Love you too. Stay hydrated, it’s a hot one.”

“I will, bye.”

I smile and exhale. If my mom only knew…

About fifty years ago, Will’s mom discovered a meteorite that contained aliens while hiking in the Appalachians. The aliens give humans special abilities and a longer lifespan. The only problem is that there aren’t many humans who are compatible with chondria. Humans who are compatible are called potential hosts and can choose to be like Will. Ordinary humans aren’t compatible and chondria kill them. Unfortunately, Will has placed me in the ordinary group.

I pull down the car visor, opening the mirror to check my face and hair. I can’t help but smile and laugh. While I tend to wear little in the way of makeup and don’t really feel the need for any, I do use a ton of product in my hair. I have no idea why I try, since my blonde hair is now a big cotton ball, poofy mess. Stupid humidity. I know Will loves when I wear it down, but I just can’t today. I pull the black hair band from my wrist and comb my curls back with my fingers into a high ponytail. It’s too hot anyway.

I flip the visor back into place and peer up at the medical center, wondering how much longer it will be. Dr. Arcanas, a host himself, requests blood donations from hosts in the area, and since Will hasn’t donated for a while, we had to make a ‘quick’ stop.  Every time I’ve seen blood in my life I’ve ended up flat on my back, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. Even thinking about Will with a needle in his arm right now makes me feel kinda dizzy. It’s also a family joke since my mom’s a nurse at Pine Grove General, the other medical center in Pine Grove. We’re a small town, so we don’t actually have a legitimate hospital.

I shift uncomfortably in my seat, bored, hoping it doesn’t take too much longer. We are parked at the back of the building where there is only a small entrance.  The door opens, but it’s not Will. Instead, a group of patients wearing blue scrubs, gowns, and robes is being led out into the grass. I can tell by their sluggish movements that they’re sedated or something. When the door finally closes, I count at least forty patients milling about on the lawn in front of the building. Some of the patients sit on benches, rocking back and forth while others just keep walking around. 

Then I see the one person I had hoped never to set eyes on again. My heart skips a beat and my jaw drops. These people aren’t from the psych ward—they are Dr. Arcanas’s patients.

Directly in front of Will’s car, about ten feet away, is none other than Sam Wyatt. I recognize his light brown hair, intimidating height and build, and purple listless glowing eyes as he stares in my direction. The hair on the back of my neck stands up.

Sam and I have a history of sorts, none of it good. He’s what Will’s kind call a razer, a potential host bonded with chondria against his or her will, which means he’s in a perpetual vegetative state only able to follow the directions of the host who bonded him.

I’m not sure if it’s fortunate or unfortunate, but I killed that host. Of course, I didn’t have a choice in the matter—Malcolm Durst was about to end my life or turn me into a razer like Sam. So I did what I had to do to survive. It was hard to think about afterwards—killing someone, I mean—but I realized that sometimes life doesn’t give you choices. Afterwards, Will’s sister, Anna, whose special ability is telekinesis, transferred all of Malcolm’s chondria to Sam so they wouldn’t die too. What that means, I haven’t a clue. If Malcolm’s chondria remember what I did, that wouldn’t be good news for me. Based on the way he’s looking at me right now, he knows exactly who I am.

All I want to do is slide into the driver’s seat and get the hell out of here, but I can’t seem to make my legs move. Instead they’re firmly stuck to the seat, getting slick on the leather as I begin to sweat, adrenaline flooding my limbs. Sam tilts his head, his eyes still fixed on mine. He lifts his face toward the sky, sniffing the air as if trying to detect a scent, like a wolf searching for prey. I’ve seen him do this before when he abducted me from the junior prom just a month ago. The same strangling, heart-wrenching fear I felt then seeps back into my chest now. 

A few more patients stop dead in their tracks; their mouths drop open, and their hands twitch—no, convulse. The tremors seem to spread up their arms and into their chest and shoulders, finally shaking their heads. Slowly, one by one, their heads turn toward me. As soon as I see their eyes, I know—these aren’t ordinary patients, they’re razers. It’s like a domino effect spreading outward. One by one, each patient turns their head in my direction. At the center is Sam. I cover my mouth, shocked by their behavior. Finally, every single razer on the lawn is motionless and staring at me. Two orderlies wearing white uniforms are telling jokes and smoking cigarettes by the door, completely unaware of what the patients are doing.

The razers slowly begin moving again, but now they are all moving in the same direction—toward me. Intuitively, I lock the doors. What the hell is going on? What’s happening to them? What do they want? Is it Sam making them do this? I can’t breathe. Okay, slow down. I’ve got to get a grip. I close my eyes.

Deep breaths. It’s just your imagination. You had a bad experience. Sam is not after you. They are not after you. You’re fine, and safe inside Will’s car. It’s all in your head. You’re fine. Will is going to be here in just a minute. We’ll go hiking, and it’ll be a beautiful day. There’s nothing to worry about. In and out, slow, breathe.

Without warning, the sound of glass breaking next to my head blasts me back to the present. Shards of glass fall on my lap. I scream and look at the passenger side window. The glass is gone, leaving a few slivers sticking up around the frame. Razers are everywhere. They have surrounded the car. Some are even climbing on the hood, making strangled, moaning sounds.

“Help!” I yell.

A middle-aged male razer with bluish glowing eyes and a dark buzz cut, receding on the top, reaches in and cuts his wrist on the broken glass. His wrist spurts warm, metallic-smelling red on my face, hair, and shirt. I scream some more while he groans and grabs my arm. Oh my God, he’s trying to pull me out of the car! I slap at him a few times, but he won’t let go. Damn, he’s clamped on me tight for someone who is supposed to be in a vegetative state!

I reach for the onyx stone hanging around my neck, not only a gift from Will, but a pager of sorts if I ever need him. “No! Stop it! Let me go! Help! Someone! Please help me!”

 The next thing I hear is Will’s voice in my head; a gift afforded to all alien hosts. “Marley! I’m coming, hang on!”

The orderlies finally show up and begin pulling razers off the hood of the car. The one who has a death grip on my arm stops pulling but doesn’t let go. He leans in and stares at me, his face right next to mine. I cringe, bracing for whatever is to come next. But instead of violence, his pupils focus, the eerie blue glow subsiding to reveal one tiny blue chondria swimming in a circle around his left iris. I can’t look away. I’m transfixed. It’s as if that one blue chondria is trying to tell me something. What? What is it? What do you want?

There’s a banging coming from the driver’s side. Slowly, surreally, I turn my head toward Will. I reach the electronic unlock button on my side, and the driver’s side door opens.

Through a haze, I hear Will’s voice. “Marley! Jesus, you’re covered in blood!”

I turn back toward the razer and catch a glimpse of Agent Rushmore behind him, pulling him away. I hear a strange voice in my head, “Need you,” and the razer is gone.

A Word on Endings...

NaNoWriMo!!!!