(Archive of the Fives, #1)
Publication date: February 12th 2019
Genres: Science Fiction, Young Adult
Good luck and have a pleasant apocalypse.
The end of the world is coming. How or when, scientists can’t agree upon. For decades, Earth’s best line of defense has been a team of young soldiers known as the Apocalypse Five, forced into virtual reality simulations to train for Doom’s Day. But, this is no game. Death on the grid is brutally final and calls up the next in a long line of cadets.
Stationed aboard the AT-1-NS Starship, the A5 are celebrities thrust into the limelight by a calling they didn’t choose. All it takes is one unscheduled mission, showing seventeen-year-old team leader Detroit a harsh and unfathomable reality, to shake the A5’s belief in all they thought they knew. After questioning people with the power to destroy them, the team is framed for a crime they didn’t commit and marked for death. Now, the hunt is on.
Can the Apocalypse Five expose the truth the starship would kill to keep hidden? Or, will their bravery end in a public execution?
Adjusting his oxygen mask, Augusta eyed the structure. “You wouldn’t happen to have a rocket launcher under that Lycra, would you?”
“It just so happens that I do.” The corners of her eyes crinkling, Juneau pulled two vials from the utility belt slung around her hips, careful to keep them far from each other. “Of the chemical sort.”
Before any of them could question her further, Juneau palmed a vial in each hand and sprinted in the direction of the dam.
“Anyone else bothered by the fact that she keeps explosives on her like lip balm?” Reno’s face folded in frustration as he begrudgingly took off after her.
“So, we aren’t discussing these things anymore?” Augusta shouted after them, squinting to see through the billowing smoke. To the others, he mused, “The plan now is just to follow the suicidal redhead without question?”
“Oh, there will be a whole slew of questions. Count on that.” Jerking her head for the rest of the team to follow, Detroit darted after the twins.
Stone steps had been carved into the right side of the rocky elevation, leading up to the towering crest. Taking the stairs two at a time, the three elder team members sped to close the distance between them and their baby-faced counterparts. They caught up to the twins at the precipice. A descent to a fiery death loomed on one side, a watery grave on the other.
“You got us here. Now, what’s the plan, kids?” Houston demanded. Hands on his knees, he sucked in a greedy lungful from his oxygen pack.
Seated on the edge of the dam with her legs swinging carelessly against its face, Juneau clipped her grappling belt around her brother’s waist.
She said something, but what it was, Detroit couldn’t say. The team leader tuned out, lost in the scene splayed out before her. Not the rampaging flames, but all that lay beyond it. Beneath the water, enormous turbines churned energy back to the nearby civilizations. Detroit couldn’t help but wonder why simulation designers would put such detailed focus into a part of the mission they couldn’t be sure the team would even see. It played no real part in their scenario. Yet, there it was.
“Detroit!” Augusta’s shout snapped her from her reverie, whipping the team leader’s head around. “Would you please talk to her? Or kick her off the dam before she kills us all? Honestly, at this point I would settle for either.”
“No one is going to get killed!” Juneau batted the suggestion away like a bothersome insect. A beat of hesitation and she reconsidered, “Or, at least, we shouldn’t.”
Auggie tossed his hands up in the air, then let them slap to his sides in frustration. “That’s very reassuring. Thank you.”
Juneau’s stare swiveled in Detroit’s direction, the corners of her heart-shaped lips tugging downward. “It’s not that risky! I’m just going to rappel halfway down the dam, then mix this tube with the other one …” She demonstrated by holding up one vial then the other. “Together, they make a liquid explosive equal to TNT. It makes the dam go boom, the water gushes over the flames, and POOF! We have ourselves a successfully completed mission.”
Detroit cast her stare toward the blaze that was devouring the landscape with merciless intent. “What happens when you set that thing off with you dangling beside it? We watch you spiral into a backdraft of waiting flame?”
“That’s not how a backdraft works,” Houston chimed in. Squatting down, he double checked Juneau’s grappling hook.
“Not the point,” Detroit spat to silence him.
Juneau offered her team leader a toothy grin. “That’s the part where you all are going to need to hurry and pull me up.”
Catching Juneau by the elbow, Detroit dragged her to her feet. “You need to stop this. We will find another way, or we’ll abort mission and suffer through a week of punishment exercises.”
“Yeah, that’ll be great. I haven’t run until I puked in quite a few moon cycles. I could use the cleanse.” Auggie nodded in mock exuberance, the tips of his short dreads bobbing with the motion. The A-5 helmets were fastened on with straps to allow their hair to always look its best. After all, what was the point of saving the world if you didn’t look fine as hell for the cameras?
“They’re right, June-bug.” Despite his argument, Reno held tight to the nylon rope his sister had thrust into his white-knuckled grip. “This is a stupid risk you don’t have to take.”
Shouts rang out in the distance, rising up in a nightmarish chorus coming from the village they were sworn to protect.
“Hear that?” Holding up one finger, Juneau’s head tilted as she listened. “Those people think otherwise.”
“Those people aren’t real!” Detroit countered, jamming her hand in the direction of the panicked ruckus. “All that’s out there is digital programming meant to train us or kill us. Don’t give them a chance on the second option. They will take it. I’ve watched it happen.”
Her eyes flashing with challenge, Juneau’s stare lobbed from one to the next of her teammates. “They may not be real, but tomorrow’s victims could be. That could be the day when we’re all called in for the real thing. It could be this exact type of situation, and we’ll have no idea what to do because we were too scared to try. On AT-1-NS, my special instruction has been in chemicals and explosives. Let me use what I’ve learned. Imagine this is real. Pretend it’s the one. The fate of the Earth lies with us. Isn’t a little risk worth the lives of all those trusting us to protect them? The mission before all else, right?”
Houston glared at the vials, resenting anything or anyone that dared threatened his team. He could practically hear their audience back on the starship hooting their approval for the selfless ginger. “What lesson are we teaching them if you die? If they watch you make a reckless choice, which gets you killed, it will shake their confidence in all of us.”
“Well, then I guess I’ll have to do my best not to die.” Taking a casual step back, Juneau threw her arms out wide and fell back in a reverse swan dive off the dam’s edge.
Sucking in a shocked gasp, Reno braced his footing and seized the rope tight. It skimmed over his skin, rubbing angry red gashes in his flesh until the grappling hook caught with a lurch.
The tendons of his neck bulging, Reno’s expression remained neutral. “Check on her.”
While Auggie grabbed the rope to take some of the strain off Reno, Houston and Detroit darted to the drop-off. Peering over the side, they found Juneau swinging back and forth mid-way down the dam’s stone face, beaming up with a victorious grin.
“I would stand back if I were you,” she called. She tapped a button on the side of her oxygen mask, and it hissed out into a full protection helmet.
Juneau didn’t wait for them to move before pouring one vial into the other. The chemicals reacted on contact, foaming and bubbling in an expanding eruption. Slapping it against the dam, she kicked herself off the concrete blockade, swinging at a sharp angle to the right. “Pull me up! Pull me up!”
“Oh, now she’s worried about her own well-being,” Detroit grumbled under her breath. Clasping a hand onto Juneau’s rope, she tugged her toward the stairs. “This way! Move!”
Footsteps pounded over trembling rock as the team bolted toward their escape. There was a high likelihood they were bouncing Juneau off the rock wall as they ran. Oddly enough, they were okay with that.
As if noticing that very same thing, Juneau’s voice wafted up from below. “Things are about to get really loud down here! Now would be the time to quicken pace!”
“Look who’s suddenly concerned about being close to the explosion,” Detroit barked in response.
The nylon rope snagged on the edge of a jutting rock, forcing them into an abrupt halt. It took the combined force of the entire team—four pulling, one throwing her weight—to pop it free.
“Don’t try to insert logic into her thought pattern,” Reno grunted, face reddening to match his hair. “It’s pointless. Like blowing up a dam while we’re standing on it!”
The first explosion furthered his point, ripping the ground from beneath their feet in a stomach-lurching buck. Stumbling to regain their footing, they bent their knees to absorb the shock and waited a beat. When no aftershocks followed, they sprang back to immediate action.
Mid-stride, the second strike hit. Rock cracked with a thunderous boom, water spraying from a divot webbing through the foundation.
“Get off the rubble, or become the rubble.” The muscles of his chest rippling with strain, Houston gave Juneau’s tether a forceful yank. Hooking the slack around his elbow, he sprinted toward salvation.
Like a sand castle caught in the rising tide, the middle of the dam washed away, exploding out in a gush of rushing water and rock. The ledge lurched, threatening to topple under the weight of the A-5. Pumping their legs for all they were worth, the team got within range and dove for the stairs.
When a second rockslide claimed more of the dam, it took the braided nylon line with it. The force ripped the cable from their hands, bulleting its reckless passenger toward the ground.
“Oh, hell no,” Houston grunted through his teeth. He threw himself at the plummeting line, sliding on his stomach to catch it. It hissed through his hands, burning through layers of flesh without slowing. A scream tore from his throat as his upper body disappeared over the ledge. Hooking his feet on the top stair was all that prevented Houston from doing a nose dive into the torrential storm below.
Augusta unclipped the grappling hook at his waist and fastened it to Houston’s belt. He held tight to the line, assuming a wide-legged stance to brace them both. “I’ve got him. Help pull her up.” The flare of his nostrils was the only outward sign of his struggle.
Scrambling on their hands and knees, Detroit and Reno edged up alongside Houston. All that remained of the ledge of the dam was the roughly three by three perch they stood on, leading down the teetering stairs. Tendons of his neck strained in thick ropes beneath his purpling skin, Houston bellowed a potent war cry. Using every ounce of strength he possessed, he lifted the rope battling against him. Catching hold, Reno and Detroit bared their teeth and joined the fight. Palms bloodied in a matter of seconds, their feet scraped against their narrow pedestal in a hunt for traction.
Inch by torturous inch they raised dead weight. The line swung like a pendulum counting down to heartache.
“Juneau, I need you to talk to me!” Houston demanded, his tone tight with equal parts concern and exertion.
Silence. Not so much as a whimper floated up from below.
“She’s okay, right?” The panic in Reno’s voice dialed up a few desperate octaves. Blood dripped from the folds of his fist, yet his grip didn’t loosen. “She has to be!”
His face paling, the skin of Houston’s hands hung in flayed ribbons as he continued to pull. “There’s too much dust and debris. I can’t see anything.”
“She could be under water! Keep pulling!” Throwing his slight frame into the task, Reno leaned back against the rope and pulled in a steady hand over hand rhythm.
Knowing Houston would need time in the regeneration tube before he would ever be able to squeeze anything again, Detroit picked up his slack and joined Reno’s efforts. “Houston, we’ve got this. Let go of the rope and just watch for her.”
He needed no second invitation to release his battered hands from the bite of the rope. “Nothing yet. Just a thick cloud of dust.”
Her gaze drifting to the landscape, Detroit watched as the freed water squelched what was left of the spreading blaze. Their mission would officially be labeled a success, but at what cost?
“There’s still weight on the rope,” Auggie whispered, primarily for Reno’s benefit. “Had it broken, we would know.”
A slight nod was the only response the fretting boy could manage.
“Wait!” Hopping to his feet, Houston pointed down. “She’s there! I can see her!”
RONE Award Winner for Best YA Paranormal Work of 2012 for Embrace, a Gryphon Series Novel,
Young Adult and Teen Reader voted Author of the Year 2012 Turning Pages Magazine Winner for Best YA book of 2013 & Best Teen Book of 2013 Readers’ Favorite Silver Medal Winner for Crane 2015.
Stacey Rourke is the author of the award winning YA Gryphon Series, the chillingly suspenseful Legends Saga, and the romantic comedy Reel Romance Series. She lives in Michigan with her husband, two beautiful daughters, and two giant dogs. She loves to travel, has an unhealthy shoe addiction, and considers herself blessed to make a career out of talking to the imaginary people that live in her head.
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