Woohoo! I am proud to say that I have finished not only the manuscript, but also the readthrough of Gen Codex: book 2 of my Savant Uprising series. Now, I am looking for beta readers for either this book only (keep in mind it’s a sequel to the previous novel, Anamnesis), or for both parts 1 and 2.
I am very excited to finally announce this because while I “finished” the draft initially in January of 2022, I really, really hated it. So, I floundered for a while, then sought out professional HALP, signing on with Max Gorlov at First Book Coaching. With their guidance, I worked through the horrible garbage pile of writing and proceeded to rewrite the whole thing a 2nd time.
WRITING TIP: Trust me when I say this, kids. It’s true that you can’t edit a blank page, but it’s also true that you can’t edit 500 horrible pages of writing if you have no structure behind it (OK, so the writing was probably fine but the structure was bad). So…PLOT OUT YOUR STUFF! (Click here to read about 7 story structures or here for the basics of outlining. You’ll thank me later.)
Anyway, while it was a lot of work (and more than a little money), I will tell you that it was 100% worth it! I actually have a manuscript now that I’m pleased with and happy to share. So, if you’d like to beta read for me, please reach out! I will send y’all stickers and a personalized thank you card. If you’re in my town, I’ll make you cocktails or dinner.
AND to entice you, here is a teaser of the Prologue and First chapter of Gen Codex for your reading pleasure.
* * * * *
– Prologue –
Gen [jen]: literally, “information” but also used as an abbreviation for “generation”.
-gen: A word-forming element technically meaning “something produced,” from Greek -genes “born of, produced by,” which is from the same source as genos “birth,” or genea “race, family.”
Codex [co-dex]: a book of laws. Invented by the ancient Romans, and literally meaning “tree trunk”, a codex signified the beginning of modern bookbinding.
* * * * *
Grant couldn’t move. Was he even breathing? He tried to expand his chest, taking desperate gulps of air, feeling like a fish out of water. Finally, the dizziness receded, and he began to take in his surroundings, flicking his eyes back and forth.
He was in a recovery room—like a hospital—with medical instruments beeping and a tray of tools beside his bed. A single blue bar light glowed above a far door, cold and otherworldly. The walls to his left and right seemed to be made of clear plexi, the ceiling a grid of shiny tiles.
He still couldn’t move or feel anything below his jaw. He remembered Query and talking about his dad then…nothing. Is this what being dead feels like? he asked himself, again trying to take a breath. It felt if he were fighting a crate of bricks set on his chest. He managed a small gasp.
Memories ran through his head: people, cries, gunshots and a cold, dark prison. Which ones were real? He wracked his brain for anything to grasp onto and a single face floated up through the jumble: Sam.
Oh yeah, Sam had come to rescue him from that horrible facility in California—or wait…was that the city before? What was its name?
“NYMC,” the face of Sam said to him, echoing his memories, “But I failed. I wasn’t good enough.”
“No…” Grant wanted to say, but his mouth worked without sound.
He heard someone tapping on one of the plexi walls. It echoed in the silence. “Who—?” he croaked.
“Hey,” someone said—a girl’s voice. “Hey you…”
Tap, tap, tap.
“Where are you?” Grant slurred. He strained his body, searching for any hint of feeling.
“Over here,” she said again. “You can do it!’
Move, damn you! He cursed at himself, forcing his jaw open and rocking his head. Something flipped in him. Heat poured down his neck and shoulders, the prickling sensation of a hundred tiny ant feet crossing his skin.
The young woman smiled at him. “Good start!” she said with a smile, bobbing her head so her shoulder-length hair bounced. She wore a fitted jumpsuit in metallic silver. Grant swallowed hard, flicking his eyes back to her face. The way the material clung to her curves left little to the imagination.
“Corine?” he asked as her face recalled more memories. She’d been one of the captured teens who had disappeared from the XCGen HQ months ago. “Last time I saw you, your hair was…a more natural color.”
“Yeah, I thought it was time for a change,” she giggled, flipping the purple locks behind her shoulders. “Hi, Grant.”
“When they took you, we all thought you were dead…Are we dead?”
She shook her head.
“Then, where are we?”
She leaned against the window and seemed to choose her next words carefully. “A hospital.”
A hospital? Oh yeah, he had gotten a surgery…something in his head—or had that even happened?
“What are you doing here?” he asked.
“Recovering. Just like you,” she smiled again, and Grant realized he’d been moving his arms, fingers buried into his hair—a common gesture of his when trying to figure out a problem.
Flexing the muscles in his stomach, he could now move everything down to his waist with the same tingle running throughout his body. Experimentally, he sat up, the blanket covering him sliding off. Cool air brushed against his shoulder, though he didn’t shiver. He moved his hands, studying them in the dim light. They were smooth and pale and so unlike the dirty, calloused things he was used to.
Scanning up his arms, he rotated his palm toward the ceiling, then down to the ground. His skin didn’t quite wrinkle in the same way he remembered, and the tendons on the back of his hand didn’t pop out when he bent his wrist. His arms were hairless, too, and every scar and mole he had was just…gone.
“What the—?” he muttered looking down.
It also occurred to him that he didn’t feel things in the way he thought he should. Sure, he recognized the blanket laying over his legs and the fact that the bed was only minimally padded, but he couldn’t determine the texture of the sheets. It was an odd thing to think, but Grant had to know. He ran a finger along the edge of the mattress, focusing on the individual threads and eventually he found them.
Two-hundred thread count, he thought. “Well, that’s weirdly specific,” he muttered, turning his eyes toward his chest.
It was this view that caused him to choke, panic rising in his throat. He threw himself from the bed, finally able to feel his legs. Too soon, he thought immediately as his feet hit the floor and his knees buckled. He crumpled like a ragdoll to a heap. A groan escaped his lips until he realized he didn’t feel any pain. He rolled over on his back.
Corine chuckled across the plexi wall. He’d forgotten she was still there, probably watching the whole show with amusement.
“Takes some getting used to,” she laughed, “But you’ll figure it out.”
Grant looked at her. “What…?”
Then, seeing his smooth legs in the dim blue glow, he realized he was completely naked. He cursed, pulling the blanket from the bed to cover himself and Corine just laughed harder.
“Could you please just—?” he began. Just what? he thought. He had no idea what he was—or where he was. But at least he wasn’t alone.
“There are clothes on a rack behind you,” Corine helped, pointing to one side.
Grant saw them—a jumpsuit like hers, but black, and matching boots. He shook his head. Not his choice in fashion, but it was something at least.
Finally, he stood on shaky legs, wrapping the blanket around his waist. Taking a few tentative steps, he headed toward the rack and caught his reflection in the shiny side of a cooling chest. He breathed a sigh of relief. His face looked like his, though without the constant stubble he battled with every day. No matter how often he tried to shave, it always grew back too soon. He touched his smooth cheek with a satisfied smile. Not today.
Then, with trepidation, he looked at the rest of him. A man stared at him. No longer the bruised, malnourished kid from the slums of The Sink, this man had flawless skin, defined abs and pecs, and…no nipples.
“Dammit,” he muttered, though he’d expected that. He next ran a hand from his collarbone to his belly. No belly button either.
Oh no…A terrifying thought struck him. He unwrapped the blanket and looked down.
“No,” he breathed, head snapping up. “Are you kidding me?” he shouted louder, as if the guy in the reflection could help him. He turned to Corine. “This can’t be happening,” he pleaded, “Is this happening?”
She shrugged as if it was no big deal. “You’re a better version of yourself now. You don’t need it.”
“Don’t need it?” Grant railed, “I look like a fucking Ken doll!” He pulled on the jumpsuit, suddenly even more self-conscious, hoping that the next time he removed it, everything would go back to normal.
Corine giggled, but before she could answer, the door swished open. He heard the near-imperceptible noise and whirled. Despite the burn scars on his face and hands, Grant recognized the scientist who’d just entered—the man who’d put the control chip in his head, blocking his Skill.
My Skill, he thought suddenly, searching deep inside himself. Though faint, it was there, just out of reach. He tried again. Still, it slipped away like a breath of wind on his cheek.
“My, my,” the man said with a wide smile, “Subject Zwei came online much faster than we anticipated. This new method is impressive.”
A stocky mech guard followed the scientist, ocular device scanning the room. He emitted a gravelly chuckle while studying Grant and waved his mechanical arm. “You’re sticking with the numbering system, eh Weaver?” he asked, “Couldn’t get more creative?”
“Zwei?” Grant interrupted. “Is that all I am now? A number?”
“Hardly,” Weaver chuckled, “You are a great asset.” He appraised Grant up and down as if studying an animal and crossed the distance between them, reaching out a hand.
“Get away from me!” Grant snapped, sliding behind the bed with ease. “What did you do to me ?”
“All will be explained in time young man,” Weaver replied, undeterred. He lifted the device in his hand, small and black, like a handheld.
Grant recognized that device and dread washed over him. Someone had stuck him with a similar device just before his memories went blank. He hunched his shoulders, feeling like a cornered animal, and curled his fingers around the bed’s metal headrest. The man’s next words made him flinch.
“The conversion went well, don’t you think, Vox?”
“I’m not convinced the screaming was worth it, but he looks functional enough,” the mech man said without emotion. “I suppose as long as he works…”
An electric shock, originating at the base of Grant’s skull, rocked his head backward. A sharp pain sparked behind his eyes and the whole world went dark and starry. Anger bubbled up in Grant. These were the men who’d ruined his life—more than once. Electricity surged through him and something felt like it was skittering through his limbs. His whole body vibrated while he stood there, shaking, the metal deforming under his hands.
“Uh, Doctor,” the Vox said, “He looks a bit volatile, maybe you should let me…”
But it was too late. Grant lifted the bed, flinging it into the air. “I will not be your lab experiment!” he shouted, kicking out with a bare foot and sending the bed careening toward the pair.
The Vox shoved his shoulder into Weaver, pushing the old man out of the way. The mass of aluminum barreled into them, crumpling against the guard. The device skittered from Weaver’s hand and across the floor. Grant felt the sensation drain away.
He stared in shock at what he’d just done. He’d always been strong for his size, but the bed wasn’t that light. And his foot…No pain. Weaver crawled toward the device on hands and knees, and Grant felt a new sensation.
Fueled by his anger, whatever creatures were in his blood—or, rather, his body, for he didn’t think he had blood anymore—gathered at the base of his skull shielding him from…something. Whatever it was, in its absence, Grant could reach his Skill.
With a wave of his hand, he lifted the remote with his AuraNet, sending it through the air. It exploded when it hit the wall, falling to the ground amid the tinkle of broken glass.
Weaver’s chuckle threaded the silent room. He looked at Grant with something like admiration. “You are a strong one,” he said. “I can help you get even stronger…”
But Grant didn’t want to be stronger. He wanted to go home. “No,” he growled. “Put me back. Make me me again.”
“But…I’ve already made you better.”
Reaching into himself again, Grant pulled his AuraNet out into a thin string, wrapping it around Weaver’s neck. Raising an arm, he lifted the man by his throat without ever touching him.
“Not good enough,” he growled. Weaver gagged.
Something solid slammed into him and he staggered. He’d lost track of the Vox in his anger and watched the man’s mechanical fist pull back for another punch. The things in his skull dispersed, flowing toward the new injury. Without their protection, Grant lost the hold on his AuraNet.
Weaver dropped to the ground. The T-SEC general punched out again, hitting Grant in the sternum. Air whooshed from his lungs and he found himself choking. With stars sparkling his his vision, he didn’t see the backhand to his face. He staggered, something like pain rocking through his temples. A million tinny voices screamed in his head.
I will not be a lab experiment, he thought again, stumbling away from the Vox and somehow avoiding his grasp.
He searched for his Skill once more but couldn’t get to it before The Vox tackled him. The man’s superior weight bore him to the floor. He struggled and rolled, getting a knee between himself and The Vox. He reached for his Skill one more time, the resulting burst of power exploding his limbs outward. The Vox sailed through the air and tumbled a few feet away. Grant scrambled to his feet.
Corine watched them, an unreadable expression on her face. That gave Grant an idea. If they’d made her into the same thing as him…He raced toward the plexi wall, throwing himself into it. The wall exploded into silvery-blue shards. Corine danced out of the way as he rolled across the floor, the broken pieces barely phasing him.
“What are you doing?” she asked in a whisper, crouching beside him.
“If we work together, maybe we can get out of here!”
She nodded, gripping his arm and helping him up.
“Ready?” he asked, stepping slightly in front of her. The Vox was already on his feet. “We don’t have a lot of time.”
“Ready,” Corine said, “On three.”
The phrase sent Grant back to that night in the warehouse. The night the Vox took him and a score of other teens. The night he managed to save Sam. I’m gonna find you, he thought, As soon as I get out of here.
Suddenly Corine screamed, “Three!” and encircled her arms around his neck, throwing him to the ground. Pressing down on his back, she held him in a headlock as Weaver and the Vox approached. He struggled, but she was easily twice as strong as the Vox and Grant couldn’t get up.
“Why?” he croaked through a tight throat.
“Because, young man,” Weaver said, stepping aside for two techs in white coats, each holding one of those black devices. “You need to understand the blessing I have given you. But for now…” he glanced at the techs, “Activate him.”
Another spark shot through Grant’s head, once again blinding him. This time, however, his mind went completely blank. He couldn’t even remember his own name.
“Better?” Weaver asked, “Will you listen now, Zwei?”
“Yes sir,” he said. His voice felt thin and far away—as if it belonged to someone else. “I will do as you say.”
– 1 –
Six stars to remember those we lost.
For Trentino, the father, dead when needed most.
From “Starkill” Verse 1
A poem by Quentin VonBuren
“Check,” Trent said with a grin.
Sam squinted at the old chess set and grunted. Pieces of red and white bled together, a liquid swirl in the dim light of the abandoned metro station. He scrunched his eyes closed, then opened them. Pawns, rooks, and bishops presented themselves in a grainy image like that of an old television screen. His head hurt. He couldn’t concentrate.
“You okay?” Trent asked, his voice drifting as if from far away.
“I’m fine,” Sam muttered.
Focus, he berated himself, trying to force his sluggish brain into some semblance of coherent thoughts. This was just a chess game, after all, not rocket surgery. Yet, he still could not make sense of the board.
A miserable week had passed after the XCGen bombing. The New York Metro Complex crawled with T-SEC soldiers and the two of them, along with Mara, hunkered down in the Lower City’s underground network of damp tunnels and abandoned metro stations. They hadn’t stayed more than a night in any one place, fearing discovery. But the number of safe shelters were dwindling as T-SEC’s patrols broadened their reach. It reminded Sam all too closely of his year on the streets, dodging cartel security and corporate goons.
But this time, just surviving took all of his will, so he tried to put the patrols out of his mind. Despite the injuries from his fall down a set of stairs, he’d managed to keep himself upright—if not sane—with a cocktail of painkillers and energy drinks. The broken ribs hurt the worst, but the concussion was the most frustrating. He didn’t have time for this! They had to find Grant.
Suddenly, all the pain and anguish came flooding back and he slumped. He missed Karl—the doctor always had a remedy for his pain—but more than that, he missed Grant. A sharp stab of longing twisted in his belly.
Focus, he berated himself, forcing his sluggish brain back to the task at hand. This was just a chess game, after all, not rocket surgery.
“Sam…” A voice came through his concentration, but he ignored it. Something else tickled at the back of his mind… “Sam!” Trent snapped again.
He jerked upright, wincing at his sore back. “What?!”
“You gonna make your move? You’ve been staring into space for forever.”
Trent nodded and pointed at the board.
Sam looked down. “I don’t remember this layout. Did you screw with the board?” he asked.
“No,” Trent sighed with annoyance, “Why would I cheat?”
“Well, it looks different.”
His friend shrugged and gestured with his hands. “You took my rook, then I moved my knight. You moved that pawn and that one. And I did this, and this,” he said pointing to each piece. “You sure you don’t want to quit?”
“No…” Sam muttered, seeing what he had been going for, though having no memory of the game. I can still make this work, he thought, sliding his bishop to take Trent’s knight. Crisis averted. He rubbed his tired eyes, then pulled a small bottle from his pocket.
“You sure that’s a good idea?” Trent asked, placing a finger on his rook. His gaze remained on Sam’s bishop, save for a brief moment where he flicked his eyes to the pill bottle. Even with a concussion, Sam knew what his friend was implying. He scowled.
“You got a better one?” Sam snapped, looking again at the board. This is the best move, he told himself, unsure whether he was talking about the game or the drugs. When his friend didn’t reply, he dumped out a handful of capsules and shoved them into his mouth. He swallowed without water—they’d run out that morning—gagging at the bitterness scraping along his dry tongue.
“Okay…” Trent mumbled and moved his rook close to Sam’s king. “Check.”
But Sam was prepared this time. He took Trent’s rook with his bishop. “Check back,” he tried to chuckle, though with his dry throat it came out as more of a croak.
Trent’s queen intercepted Sam’s bishop. His friend’s lips twitched as he tried to hold back a smile. “Checkmate…” he drawled, so slow that it took Sam a moment to realize what had happened.
“What—?” he said, studying the board.
Sure enough, Trent had put his queen in line with Sam’s king. What made it worse was that Sam couldn’t move forward or risk capture by one of Trent’s few remaining pawns. Nor could he move back, because there was the knight. That asshole had planted a trap and he’d fallen for it!
“Dammit!” Sam swore, swiping his hand across the board. Pieces scattered over the floor.
Trent made a sound of frustration. “What was that for?” he snapped, slipping into the Irish accent of his father like he did when angry, “You dinna have to make hames of the board!”
Sam growled. “I can’t believe I didn’t see that!” He knew Trent had been playing by the rules, but he couldn’t help being angry.
“Well, sometimes people miss stuff,” Trent replied, dropping down to pick up the pieces.
“But I don’t!” Sam shouted. He had only ever lost one game, to Grant, who’d taught him how to play. Charger’s Balls, how Sam missed him! “I’m going to bed,” he said, a sharp pain lancing through his residual limb as he stood.
“Thanks for the help cleaning up,” Trent said dryly to Sam’s turned back. “But I guess I shouldn’t expect much from a kid with a concussion…”
Sam winced but didn’t respond, Trent’s words piling atop his ever-growing mountain of self-loathing. He hated that Trent had been right. His friend won that game fair and square. And Sam had screwed it all up—the game and his friendship. Just liked he’d screwed up Grant’s rescue.
Stop it! he chided himself. They would never get out of here and he would never find Grant if he continued to wallow in self pity. “I just need sleep,” Sam mumbled into the empty air of the station’s maintenance closet they’d been using as a bedroom.
Tomorrow was another day and Sam was going to get a grip on himself. He was sure of it.