Welcome to The Traveling Story Season 3!
I’m totally psyched to participate in the Traveling Story this year. Talk about an exercise in creativity, especially if you’re (like me) coming in to continue someone else’s story! If you came here from Episode 1: mwehehe. If you don’t know what the Traveling Story is, read on below—Episode 1 is already out, and I’m contributing Episode 2 below! In short:
What is the Traveling Story?
5 Authors. 5 Days. 1 Story.
Each season of The Traveling Story will feature 5 well-known authors collaborating on one original, kick-ass story!
Follow the story as it’s revealed on each author’s blog over the course of a week!
How Does it Work?
There are only three rules for The Traveling Story:
1) No brainstorming, outlining, or discussion of plot ahead of time. The first author writes the first episode of ANY kind of story they want and the next author takes the story WHEREVER they want to go! The last author ends the story however they see fit!
2) An author cannot make changes to any previous episode. Each author has total creative control over their OWN episode only, but it has to continue where the last episode leaves off.
3) HAVE FUN! The Traveling Story is meant to be fun for the writers but especially for the readers!
Season 3 Authors:
*Don’t forget to LIKE The Traveling Story on Facebook and Follow us on Twitter so you never miss an episode!
And for some extra visual fun, follow our boards on Pinterest!
FOLLOW THE STORY AS IT TRAVELS:
Episode 1 – May 19 – Jessica Brody
Episode 2 – May 20 – Marie Lu
Episode 3 – May 21 – Robin Benway
Episode 4 – May 22 – Megan Miranda
Episode 5 – May 23 – Kevin Emerson
All right, folks. Without further ado, I give you……
Season 3, Episode 2
by Marie Lu
Later That Day
Sandie had barely stepped through the front door and turned on the TV when the news came in.
Nothing seemed out of the ordinary at first. She played roulette with the TV remote until she found the news channel, then threw her backpack down on the couch cushions and wandered into the kitchen for a snack. “Mom?” she yelled as she pulled the refrigerator door open. In the background, a news reporter’s shrill voice echoed from the den. Sandie let out a sigh of relief when she finally found what she was looking for. Leftover spaghetti and meatballs. Score. Her stomach rumbled violently, the consequence of skipping lunch again in her attempt to avoid all the gossip in the cafeteria. Just two weeks ago, she’d broken up with her model boyfriend—and ever since then, her friends had been giving her hell for it. Who in their right mind would break up with Max? I would, Sandie thought as she heaped the food onto a plate and shoved it in the microwave. The machine roared to life. What kind of boyfriend disappears off the face of the planet every week, for no reason? Even if he was the new face of Valentino?
As she waited, she wandered back into the den to check out the news. The reporter’s voice seemed to have turned even shriller than when Sandie was half-listening from the kitchen. As Sandie stepped into the den, her eyes went straight to the TV’s image of a flighty, raven-haired woman talking anxiously before a backdrop of downtown Los Angeles.
“Hmph,” Sandie grunted to herself. News stories about Los Angeles were a dime a dozen. An epic car chase, maybe? Then her stare shifted to the backdrop.
In the kitchen, the microwave finished with a ding.
Sandie blinked, hardly able to believe what she was seeing. Behind the raven-haired reporter, the normally peaceful view of downtown’s cityscape was instead completely shrouded in smoke. Fires raged, lit by hundreds of firefighter truck lights and police sirens.
“—have reported seeing an enormous shape in the aftermath of the first explosion,” the reporter was now saying. Her voice shook even as she tried to appear as calm and professional as possible. “We cannot confirm nor deny the rumors, only that earlier today, federal agents broke into the Washington, D.C. home of Igor Almondine, the man with a manifesto believed responsible—”
The reporter’s words suddenly cut off as an enormous ball of white light consumed the cityscape behind her. The explosion rocked the scene in the TV—and also the ground beneath Sandie’s feet. The entire room shuddered. Sandie gasped, then steadied herself against the back of the couch. Dust rained down from the ceiling. Her eyes darted to the windows. Even from here, she could see the orange ball of the explosion far on the horizon.
“Mom?” she yelled again, this time in rising panic. She whirled to look out the kitchen windows at the street and saw neighbors flooding outside, their expressions as terrified as her own. “Mom!” she shouted up at the stairs.
No answer. As Sandie stood frozen, shuddering in the explosion’s aftermath, her eyes fixed back on the TV for one last moment. The reporter was no longer trying to appear calm—she had run clear off the screen. The camera stayed focused on downtown, where a giant shape had materialized out of the ashes. A metallic shape. Sandie blinked, hardly able to believe what she was staring at. The machine stood on stilted metal legs, and an ominous red light on its head beamed through the smoke, setting it alight. It looked like an enormous alien robot, straight out of a science fiction movie. As she looked on, it let out a haunting siren that echoed across the city.
And all of a sudden, Sandie remembered that her mom had an afternoon coffee date with a friend in downtown today.
A loud ringtone jingled from her backpack. She jumped—then lunged for it. She dug the phone out of a side pocket and looked at it with shaking hands. Mom? But the number was one she didn’t recognize.
“Hello?” Sandie shouted into the phone.
The word had barely come out of her mouth when the other end started shouting back at her. It took her a moment to realize that the person talking was Max. Her ex.
“Sandie!” he yelled. Chaos on his end threatened to drown his words. “Are you safe?”
“Ye—yeah,” she stammered back, unused to his voice. She thought he was in Italy, on another fashion shoot or something. Her eyes stayed glued on the TV, which had started to blur with static. The machine was moving. “What the hell is going on? Where are you?”
“Not far from downtown. Where are you?”
“At home, but—”
“Stay put. You hear me? They’ve—”
A sudden burst of rage hit her. “Do you know what’s going on?” she snapped impatiently. “I felt the explosion! I—”
“There’s no time!” he snapped back. Screams sounded out behind him. “Okay, listen—they found some guy this morning, uploading illegal software into the servers of top military bases.”
A surge of nausea washed through Sandie’s stomach. “They? The feds?”
“They shot him—but they were too late.”
Sandie swallowed hard. “What kind of software?”
“Sandie, he’s unleashed the Pentagon’s entire army of experimental drones on the country. They’re sentient—they’re attacking everything in sight.”
More screams. This time, Max’s voice blurred in and out. “Stay put, you hear me? They’re focusing on city centers—”
A loud boom echoed on Max’s end, and then the call went dead.
Sandie spit out a string of curses and shoved the phone back in her pocket. Then she tried dialing her mom. It went straight to voicemail. The TV had gone dark already—nothing but static. Sandie trembled in place, unsure what to do next. This can’t be real. Apocalypses happened in movies and TV shows. They happened in fucking War of the Worlds.
Off in the distance, something rumbled, shaking the ground. Then—another earsplitting explosion. A ball of orange fire on the horizon. Overhead, fighter jets screamed by, leaving white trails in the sky.
Stay put. Don’t go anywhere. Max’s words echoed in her mind, empty and useless. Who was he, anyway, to tell her what to do? His words never meant much in the past—why should they matter now? Besides, her mom was somewhere out there, where that crazy machine was wreaking havoc on the streets of downtown. If Max thought she would stay put here and just wait for Mom to walk back in the door …
That sealed the deal. Sandie grabbed her backpack again and shoved her phone into her pocket. She started for the kitchen to grab the car keys—then thought against it. It would probably be impossible to get anywhere on the roads. Bicycle it is. She raced out to open the garage door. As she hopped on her bike and pedaled off, several of her neighbors called out to her. They were shouting the same thing Max told her: Where are you going! Stay here, it’s dangerous! But she ignored their calls and just pedaled faster.
She managed to travel a total of ten blocks before a black Audi screeched to a stop in the middle of the road, blocking her path. The door swung open before she could react. It was Max.
“I thought I told you to stay put,” he snapped at her.
Max? “Where’d—what—” she stammered, before she found her voice. “Where’d you get a ride like that?”
“Nevermind.” He gestured for her to get in. “Hurry up. I told you to stay put because I was on my way to get you.”
“I don’t need your help,” Sandie shot back. “My mom’s out there in downtown, and I’m not about to sit around and wait—”
“Your mom’s in downtown?” Max rubbed a hand across his face. “Shit.” He glanced at her and gestured again. “Okay, get in. We’ll go together.”
“I told you—I don’t need your help.”
“Look, can we not argue about this? You do need my help, because I know way more about this fiasco than you realize.”
“Oh?” Sandie put her hands on her hips. “Then you better start explaining some things, or there’s no way in hell I’m going anywhere with you.”
Max sighed and cursed at his steering wheel. “Fine.” Then he said, “The guy they shot today. Igor Almondine. I was working with him. Sandie—” He paused here to give her a pointed look. “—being a model is my cover. I work for the government, and up until this morning, I was part of Igor’s team, working on a way to install a new intelligence system in the military’s experimental drones. When we realized the sentience program we were working on had a fatal flaw that would take our control of the drones away, we tried to abort. But Igor wasn’t ready to let his life’s work go. I was trying to call him for days and talk him out of it.” He took a deep breath. “He went ahead and uploaded it anyway.”
Sandie shook her head, numb. Wait. This couldn’t be right. Was Max really saying that he was … some secret government operative? Nothing made sense anymore. “You’re a male model,” she said numbly. “You—you were supposed to be in Italy on a Valentino catwalk.”
Max raised an eyebrow and gave her a wry grin. “Let’s just say it was a side job. And now it’s about to come in handy. So get in the damn car already, unless you really want to bike to downtown.”
Hope you enjoyed that—and continue on to Robin’s blog tomorrow to see where the story will go!
And lastly, but certainly not leastly, the giveaway:
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