The Traveling Story: Part 5

Welcome to The Traveling Story Season 3!

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:
Jessica Brody
Marie Lu
Robin Benway
Megan Miranda
Kevin Emerson

*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!

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

And now... here is the conclusion!! (stay tuned for the giveaway at the bottom!)

Episode 5 by Kevin Emerson

“Don’t,” Sandie’s mother had said to her, that day in the canyon. “It’s dangerous.”
Sandie pulled back her small hand and regarded the half-coiled snake. It was like a string of jewels. She had seen a reptile man at school once and he’d draped the snakes around his neck. He’d said they felt neither cool nor warm, but exactly like you felt. Sandie had stood in line but the assembly had ended before she got to touch them.
Now was her chance. The little guy was right there between two sand-colored boulders. He had beautiful stripes: red, then yellow, then black, yellow again. “It’s pretty momma,” she said.
“It contains a lethal neurotoxin,” said her mother, and she lunged and stabbed the creature with her hiking stick.
“Jesus, Marie,” Sandie’s father had said. “You don’t have to—“
“We do,” said Sandie’s mother, slamming the stick down over and over, making little clouds of dust. At first the snake had squirmed but then it just flopped lifelessly with each strike. Tiny splashes of blood streaked the rocks.
Sandie fell back against her father, burying her face.
“Jesus,” he said again. “I think you got it.”
“We have to be thorough,” Sandie’s mom had said. That was something she always said Sandie’s father wasn’t. By middle school, he’d found another family.
“There.” Sandie’s mother breathed hard, her face red in the shade of her vented hat.
“I know you thought it was pretty,” she said a few minutes later as they walked up the trail. Her hand fell on Sandie’s shoulder and almost made her jump. Her mother didn’t touch her except to steer her places, but this pat seemed meant to comfort, or something.
“Yes,” was all Sandie could say. She wanted to cry now, but she still wasn’t sure it was allowed.
Sandie’s mother sighed. “I know everything looks beautiful to you,” she said, “but when you grow up, all you see is the danger. And I won’t have my loved ones in danger.”
It was weird to be thinking of that snake, now. Maybe it was the streaks of blood on the floors and walls around Sandie that had triggered the memory. It felt weirdly safe there, too. Traumatic as that moment had been, it had nothing on today’s events. And she’d had someone to protect her.
Sandie blinked, recognized the lab. She was sitting with her back against a wall, her legs out in front of her, and everything seemed to be quiet.
Had she blacked out? For how long?
Wait, no, there was some sound… one that she needed to pay attention to.
Someone was screaming, she realized.
A raw, grating pain in her throat.
“Aaa—“ Sandie clamped a hand over her mouth and held her breath. She squeezed her chest as tight as she could. Now she heard her pounding heart, felt the wild rapids of adrenaline coursing through her, and reality rushed back.
The drones. Max. The lab. The gun.
Oh god.
She’d fired, and the force of the gun had sent her careening into the wall. She’d slammed her head, blacked out briefly, but not before she’d seen the results of her shot.
Her head was still throbbing, making her neck ache and her thoughts feel slow.
Her eyes flicked around. Out the windows she saw dark sky lit up now and then by bursts of fire.
There was someone beside her. Shane, lying sidelong on the metal floor, hand extended toward her, mouth open like he was saying something. Lots of blood around his mouth. Eyes glazed.
His skin looked like wax. The blood like syrup. Sandie remembered catching his eye from the drink line at prom, him dancing with Haley, his date. Sandie remembered having the surprising thought that it should have been her.
Max had done that to Shane. What Sadie had done was in front of her. Those lumps, by the overturned table.
Closer to her feet, she saw the gun. Lying there.
The scream started to claw out of her throat again, but she swallowed a deep breath and clenched down tight. She thrust up onto her knees. As her hands scrambled to get the gun, her eyes flicked over the bodies and away, over and away.
Her mother’s voice.
“Mom!” She stumbled to her feet and careened forward only to fall again, sliding in a slick pool and arriving at the tangle of bodies. She saw the work that she’d done in the deafening explosion of that gun. She remembered how the sound had seemed to echo a thousand times over.
There was Max, his face twisted sideways above a neck torn in two. A formless red void in between his chin and his shoulders, the wellspring of a pool of blood so big it had dammed against the base of the smashed door. Glass chunks like icebergs in it. So much blood.
She’d been aiming for his shoulder, because before the world ended this afternoon that was the extent of what she knew about guns: a nice clean shot to the shoulder would incapacitate your target but not kill them. Hell, they’d be back on their feet within the hour.
But Max had flinched, twisting to… that’s right… to move Sandie’s own mother in the way of the bullet.
“You bastard!” She coughed at him now. Max, that liar of a boyfriend, ruiner of proms. What had these last stupid months been? What the hell kind of complete bullshit joke of a life had she been living, worried about her super model’s schedule, getting fed up thinking that she was important too, and trying on prom dresses and wondering after the breakup why she wasn’t really loving being vegan when THE FUCKING WORLD’S END WAS IN PROCESS ALL AROUND HER?
And she hadn’t seen it. Not. One. Bit.
So she’d shot Max. Who shot Shane, who would have been a fine non-gun-wielding prom date oh jesus he’s dead too not to mention everyone in Los Angeles.
Dead because of her mom! Wait, maybe? She didn’t know yet. It had gotten very confusing there before the gunshot.
The plan had been to eliminate her ex-boyfriend actually-Mr.-Fucktard-Agent-of-S.H.I.E.L.D. or whoever he really was, and then get some answers from her actually-some-sort-of-terrorist mom.
Except bullets are like most plans. You imagine their straight trajectories, drawn in perfect dashed lines. Their outcomes obvious. But you can never quite predict how humans will react, and the next thing you know your bullet enters someone’s neck instead, where it happens to ricochet off the pinball machine angles of vertebrae, which send it careening in a new and unexpected direction.
Like into your mother’s chest.
Mom’s face had gone wide and the blood had already been spurting out as she and Max fell back. That was the last thing Sandie had seen before she went down.
“Mom. Jesus, Mom!”
Sandie scrambled over Max’s dead legs to where Mom had fallen. She’d taken down a workstation with her, the table pinning her to the floor at the waist.
Sandie shoved the table off and her hands came down on her mother’s soaked chest, the blood still warm.
There was a gurgling sound like a straw emptying a cup, and when Sandie saw Mom’s chest spasm and her throat click with an inhale, she fought back a wave of grief.
“Mom! You’re okay, I’m so sorry, I…” Her hands and the gun were now slick with blood and she pushed the weapon away and grabbed at her mother’s face, making bloody handprints on her still-clean cheeks.
Mom’s eyes tracked in stuttering movements until they found Sandie. Her mouth worked to speak, but there were only clicks of fluid and wheezing. No words.
“Mom, it’s okay. Have to…” She was about to say have to get you out of here, but where exactly were they going to go in the hellscape outside?
To that point, something exploded far in the distance, a dull concussion followed by the steady rumble of collapsing superstructure.
“Is there a medical kit somewhere? Can I—“
“Mom—“ but now Sandie realized that while that was definitely her mom’s voice speaking to her, it wasn’t actually coming from her mother. “What the—“
She felt a tremor, and looked down to see that her mother’s lovely teak-colored eyes were flicking sideways. Her arm was moving. Her phone was in her hand. The screen was smeared with bloody fingerprints but there was a notepad up, and something typed on it.
Sandy pried the phone loose. Mom’s convulsions weren’t stopping now. Like she was experiencing a private earthquake.
Her own fingers trembling, she wiped the phone on her shirt, getting enough blood off that she could read the message typed there:
Counted on Max to bring you here. So predictable. He and his team weren’t government. Igor thought global network. Operatives everywhere. Even U.S. government compromised.
Follow my voice
I lov
As she put down the phone, Sandie realized that her mother had stopped moving.
Sandie felt like she might explode from within… but she held tight. Stopped her breath. No. NO. Fuck no.
Get a grip.
Had to picture what she’d seen on the way here. The dead and screaming, the collapsing buildings and those drones. This couldn’t be about her apparently hopelessly messed up personal life, it couldn’t even be about her mother dying right here in front of her, or everyone in Los Angeles and maybe America and beyond would die.
Another shredding sound of laser fire outside the lab was testament to that.  
She stood on shaking legs, grabbed the blood soaked gun and turned away from the bodies.
“Where are you?” she shouted over the hissing and crackle of fires, the rumble of chaos through the walls.
“This way,” said her mother’s disembodied voice.
Sandie stumbled toward the back door, the one that led to the basement.
“Down here.”
Sandie stopped at the top of the stairs. They were lit in low red lights. She looked back into the lab. There was a flash like lightning through the windows. The scream of fighter jets.
“Shit,” said Sandie.
She descended the steps, her body trembling wickedly, and followed the narrow concrete hall that led to the supply room.
Only it wasn’t a supply room anymore. It looked like a bunker. There was a heavily reinforced door waiting to be closed behind her. A cot set up in the corner. Stacks of canned food. A workstation in the center. And the wall it faced was covered in computer screens.
They were all on, and all showing these bobbing views of the mayhem and destruction outside. Sandie realized that she was seeing out the eyes of the drones, seeing what the monsters saw.
“State your name,” said her mother’s voice. Sandie could hear the computer smoothing of it. This wasn’t some weird A.I. technology—her mom wasn’t uploaded or anything—it was just software programmed to sound like her.
“Sandie,” she said.
A small video appeared on the workstation. Sandie saw herself, dressed for prom, laughing at the camera, surrounded by the friends she’d gone dateless with, her hair so ridiculously fancy. She waved a gloved hand and said, “Okay already no more video! Who’s even going to watch it?”
A small status bar filled below that, a message blinking: Authenticating Voice.
“Identity verified. Welcome, Sandie.”
Mom had even put a prom video to use.
Of all the crazy fucked up things Sandie had seen today, this was the one that caused her to straight up sob. When was that world? Who was that silly girl with those gravity-defying curls? How did she fit with the last few hours?
“Sandie,” said her mother.
“Yes, momma,” she said through tears.
“You have been authorized to deliver the kill code. In order to disable the drones, simply utter the command, ‘stand down.’ Are you ready to proceed?”
So, there was a kill code, after all. And Sandie was it. She could stop all of this. Why the hell hadn’t her mother just done it before she died?
Well, for one thing, she couldn’t speak after I shot her.
Fair point. But she could’ve done it well before that. Like, as soon as things got out of hand. Hell, how about the first moment some innocent got killed? Why not shut them off then?
Because she didn’t want to.
Sandie’s phone started to buzz. The caller ID said ‘Max.’ Not likely it was Max. Part of his team? Probably. Shit.
One of the screens above was showing CNN. “We don’t have confirmation yet,” said a reporter to a packed and panicked room, “but we have been told the government is considering the use of nuclear weapons to eliminate the threat.”
“But what about the citizens still on the ground there?” someone shouted.
“At this point the government is concerned with minimizing the global loss.”
The Government, Sandy wondered, Or Max’s people?
“Are you ready to proceed?”
Sandie suddenly needed to sit down. She slumped into the task chair, placed the gun on the table. She reclined, and gazed at the screens.
Buildings being neatly bisected by searing lasers and crashing to the ground.
People fleeing. Driving cars directly at the drones only to be pulverized. Military helicopters and tanks and fighter jets and men with bazookas.
“Are you ready to proceed?”
The first mushroom cloud in Nashville.
And suddenly it dawned on her:
She wanted me to see this.
People crying and people killing other people in grocery store parking lots before the drones could silence them. Could vaporize the confusion and turmoil and anger. The drones brought peace.
Her phone buzzed again in her pocket.
The drones brought honesty.
Glass towers of privilege. Jealous spouses. Lying boyfriends and frivolous prom hair, all erased, all made clean by the drones’ work.
“Are you ready to proceed?”
Sandie felt herself calming down. The urge to sob, to scream, all of it gone. She barely felt herself breathing.
Sometime later, she noticed that a particularly thorough drone had arrived on her street. It took out her apartment building floor by floor, each window melting in a sunset glow as the laser swept by.
“Us,” Sandie had said, finally understanding. “The threat is us.”
“Yes,” her mother had said.
A pack of drones eventually made land in D.C. By then, they’d hacked the GPS satellites and figured out how to make commercial airlines fly automatically. By then, Sandie’s phone had stopped buzzing.
When you grow up, all you see is the danger, her mother had said, that day in the canyon. And I won’t have my loved ones in danger.
Even after the coral snake had been dead, she’d still wished she could’ve petted it, or hung it around her neck.
The imagery flashed across Sandie’s face, of wreckage and fire, of smoking ruins beneath the full moon. A snowfall of ash. Sunrises over wastelands.
And her mother kept asking:
“Are you ready to proceed?”



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