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CLAN WORLD

Title: Clan World

Series: The World Series, Book 2

Author: Jim Kochanoff

ISBN: 978-1-60975-229-3

Product Code: BK0154

Format: Trade Paperback

Pages: 332

Release Date: September 10, 2018

Cover Price: $20.95

Our Price: $20.95

 

 

Additional Formats Available: Coming Soon

 

 

 

 

 

Book Jacket

 

Pene escapes her home only to enter a world she thought she had imagined. A world where humans and prehistoric animals exist simultaneously as technology is falling apart, and the creatures are growing more intelligent and deadlier.

Alone in this strange land, she searches to find her mother and learn more about who created the drones. But bands of people will try to stop her from reaching the Cradle—the birthplace of this world’s civilization—where clans hunt her for a murder she did not commit.  To prove her innocence, Pene must solve a mystery that has puzzled civilization for centuries.

Conspire, Cooperate, or Collude.

What would you do to survive?

 


 

Book Excerpt

 

1

Entrance

  

The door opened with little resistance, and a blast of heat flowed over me. Whatever this world was, it was humid. Then I heard the call for help.

The girl’s voice was distant and out of sight. She seemed panicked, but not as if she was under attack. Yet.

I stepped farther, and my foot immediately sank into something squishy and warm. Please be mud. I looked down and realized that I did not want to meet the animal that created this. I pulled my boot off and scraped what I could on a nearby tree. The air was muggy, and I felt sweat beading on my forehead. I watched as water dripped from the tree canopy down a vine to the ground. The trees were immense, bigger than anything from home. They literally blocked out the sky; I could barely make out the sun. The door I had entered through had become a wall of trees, a barrier no one could cross. I noticed light reflecting off the water through to my right and headed toward it, hoping it would take me out of the heat.

I thought I could hear the girl’s voice again; this time her yells were louder.

A buzzing sailed overhead. I ducked, remembering the drones from my city that patrolled every inch of my home. This buzzing wasn’t mechanical however, but rather organic. A winged insect settled on a nearby tree, its size surpassing any bug I had ever seen. Its antenna shook as a clear purple flowed in its transparent abdomen. I wasn’t sure if it was its blood or something it had extracted from another animal. Either way, I didn’t intend to get too close.

The vegetation was thick, and I wished I had something sharp to cut a path. I passed by a large tree and came up to a small lake. In the distance I could see a girl around my age, standing by the edge. She appeared to be pulling at her leg like it was glued to the shore. A clump of trees blocked her from my view as I navigated closer.

The surface of the lake was calm, like shining glass, and stretched a distance away from me. I looked at my reflection and noticed how filthy I was. My hair was matted and my face dirty. Since I had left home, there had been no time to wash up. There had been no time even to think. I knew that my mother might still be alive and that I had to get through this world to find her, no matter how long it took. Her face that had stared back at me on the computer screen was the same age I had remembered as a kid. How was that possible? What did she look like now? Somehow I would cross this world to find her.

If only I knew about her when Dad was still alive. Maybe we could have escaped the city together. I sighed. I knew it wasn’t true, but somehow it felt better to believe that I could have saved my dad. I held the gold necklace in my hand, caressing the amber stone that hung from it. The necklace was the only thing I had left to remember him by.

I could see the girl more closely now. She was about my height, with short-cropped black hair and toned arms. Although I did not belong in this place, she obviously did, by her strength and attire.

The water rippled. I reached down and found a long branch. It looked like her leg was trapped in the mud, and she needed something to help prop herself out. I waved to her, and she smiled. But as the water gurgled in front of us, her expression changed to fear.

“Look out!” She pointed to the lake.

The water exploded, and a face full of teeth erupted into the air. I fell back as my weapon went sailing from my hand. My clumsiness probably saved my life. As I fell, the creature missed biting my neck and instead flew over my head and into the reeds behind me. I tried to stand, but my foot was stuck tight in the mud so I tried untying my shoe to pull my foot up. Before I could reach down, I was frozen in place by the weird sight.

The fish that had flown into the reeds was now walking through the mud. Walking. Like on four legs. It was almost cute with its body shifting back and forth on its legs. If only its mouth didn’t have a pile of razor-sharp teeth. They clicked over and over as its eyes focused on taking a chunk out of my arm. I looked around for a weapon. a rock, a piece of wood, anything. I ripped something from the ground to my right, but I was unable to take my gaze off this walking fish. I pulled my weapon forward. A cattail? Great — I’ll beat it with the brown fuzz, I thought sarcastically.

Five minutes after entering this world, and I was already going to die. The fish lowered itself to the ground, looking to pounce, readying itself to leap at my throat.

A foot kicked the fish in the side, sending it sailing back into the lake.

“Nasty little things, aren’t they? Hope you don’t mind. You looked like you could use a hand or a foot.” She giggled. “I’m Jinn.” She reached for me. Her hands were rough and calloused.

“Thanks. I’m Pene. I would have been in a lot of trouble if you hadn’t arrived.” She pulled me, and it loosened my foot out from the mud. It felt heavy, and I scraped it again on the nearby grass.

“I’m the one who should be thanking you. I went to get water for my canteen. I got stuck in the sinking mud. Thanks to the branch that you tossed, I could pry myself out. Ten minutes from now and I would have sunk under and suffocated. No thanks to my brother. I must have yelled his name a dozen times for help.” She smiled, and I immediately took a liking to her. Her eyes were dark, like her hair.

“Sounds like we’re even. We both needed each other.”

Jinn nodded. “What are you doing out here? We tend to avoid this area. It’s on the outermost boundaries.” She looked at my dirty clothes. “Let’s get you cleaned up.” We walked to rock adjacent to the lake, which avoided the mud. I wiped cool water on my face to remove a layer of grime. Jinn watched me closely. “Are you from a village from the west?” She pointed in the direction I had entered in.

“Far west,” I replied, but truthfully, my home was likely different than anything in this place.

“Are you on your own?” Then, without waiting for my answer, she said, “You can join us, if you want. After all, you helped save my life. We’re making our trek to the Cradle for the annual pilgrimage.” She looked at me with welcoming eyes. Although I had no idea what she was talking about, I figured my best bet was to follow her. She had already saved me once; I would likely need her help again as I tried to figure out her world.

“I’d like that.” I hoisted my pack on my shoulder and followed behind her. We crossed around the lake and walked up toward a trail that fed into a clearing.

“We’re going meet a lot of people over the next few days. The trek is popular with a lot of clans. This will be my second visit. Have you ever been?”

“I haven’t,” I answered truthfully. “What is it like?” I asked, hoping to draw a blueprint of what this world was like. It seemed so organic after my home’s sterile mechanical environment. This world seemed very foreign and primal. I wanted to get through it as quickly as possible.

“The Cradle is vast, while its history is shrouded in mystery. No one knows who or when it was created. Just that our birthplace was more advanced than what it is now.” Jinn became animated as she continued with her story.

“More advanced? What do you mean?”

“The Cradle’s tall tower reaches into the sky. There is a sealed door at the base that has never been opened. The elders believe that the interior must contain the origin of our existence.”

“Why don’t you just break in and find out what is behind the door?” I asked.

Jinn tilted her head with a puzzled grin. “Wow, I thought everyone as they grew up was told the story of the Cradle.” She looked at me strangely, and I realized I had better keep my questions to a minimum. I didn’t want to elicit too much attention.

“Listen, I’ve heard the stories,” I lied, “I just wanted to hear your version.”

“Okay. That’s fine.” Jinn seemed relieved. “Everyone learns that the Cradle is made of a strange material that prevents any physical force from prying open the entrance door. It seems to absorb any motion used against it. No code will open the entry. They’ve tried everything from cars to weapons. They even used explosives, and it had absolutely no effect. The doors are unmoved, the same as when the Cradle was first discovered. People have tried to scale it to find a weakness higher up. Nothing will stick to it, you can’t nail into the material to allow someone to scale upward. Whatever secrets it holds, no one has been able to get inside.” It sounded like this world had plenty of secrets, not so different from mine. We ascended a small rise, and the lake disappeared behind us.

“So how did you get here?” I asked. Rather than answer me, Jinn just pointed to her right. I looked at an old convertible which reminded me of a vehicle that my grandfather had driven when my father was a kid. Fossil fuels probably ran the engine. How backward this world must be! This old technology would have looked out of place in my world.

“Where did you find her?”

I turned to the voice. He was tall, with long black hair and some grease under his right eye. He was thin, but the wrench he held was big, so I knew he was strong. His eyes were penetrating, as if they could see right through me. He made me shiver. I took an immediate dislike to him.

“Tuko, this is Pene. Pene, this is Tuko, my brother.” I stuck my hand out, but he left it hanging and waved me off.

“Whatever. She just appeared?” He wiggled his fingers as if I had appeared out of thin air.

“No,” I answered defensively. “I’m travelling. Your sister saved me from a…?” I looked at Jinn.

“Piscice,” she replied.

“They’re a nasty piece of work,” Tuko replied. Funny, I was thinking the exact same thing about him. “Just be glad you didn’t meet a large dinosaur.”

Dinosaur. What was he talking about? My thoughts drifted back to a bank of video cameras I had watched previously. Had I already seen this place?

Jinn interrupted my train of thought. “Pene is going to hitch a ride with us to the Cradle.”

“Really? We don’t need another passenger. Is she going to pay her way?” Tuko gave an annoying head tilt that swung his hair around. I had no idea what was valuable here, and I doubted anything in my backpack would be worth something to him. Jinn punched Tuko on the arm.

“She saved my life. I got stuck in the mud and would have drowned. No thanks to you — I must have called you over and over.”

“Are you being serious?” Tuko looked concerned.

 “Yes!” She leaned in closer to Tuko. “We’re going the same way, and we have room.”

“Chill. I’m just joking around.” Tuko relaxed and wiped the grease off his face with a rag. “I’m driving. Hope you can handle riding in the back, Pene.”

“No problem,” I answered quickly. Better to have him in front of me, where I could watch him.

“Good,” Jinn answered. “I was afraid we weren’t going to make Trall when we had car trouble. If we gun it now, we should get there by dusk.”

“What’s in Trall?” I immediately broke my rule of not asking too many questions. I leaned back in the seat, trying to like casual.

“The Gathering,” Tuko answered as he turned the engine and eased the car out into a dirt trail. “Before clans drive to the Cradle, there is one town selected each year for speeches and discussions. People listen to the experts and their guesses about who created the Cradle. I think it’s an excuse for the adults to get drunk.”

“It’s the usual crackpots,” Jinn commented, her hand trailing in the breeze from the front passenger seat. “The clan leaders will go on about aliens or about a comet or about an upheaval from under the ground. Everyone will say their theory is the right one, and no one will agree because there is no way to prove who’s right. I find it interesting to listen to everyone’s theories about what created the Cradle. Maybe we have figured out the answer and just don’t know it yet.

If only they knew what existed outside of their world. The mystery of the Cradle might be insignificant compared to the real secrets. Tuko stared at me as if he was trying to read my mind.

“What’s with the look? You think you understand the Cradle’s puzzle?” he asked.

“No,” I answered, clearing my thoughts. I wasn’t sure if he would believe me anyway. I was too afraid that I would change things in this world by telling them what was really going on. “I’m just tired of all the theories. We don’t know anything.” I slumped back into my seat, trying to look disinterested. Tuko looked at me and didn’t seem too convinced.

“You talk a good game, but I think you are hiding something. Why did we find you in the middle of nowhere with no vehicle? Were you looking for someone?” His deep, penetrating eyes burrowed into my mind. I became uncomfortable until he glanced back to the road.

“Don’t mind him. He’s suspicious of everyone.” Jinn looked back, trying to reassure me, but I could tell she had questions of her own. “Why are you alone? Where is your clan?”

Again with the clan thing. I must keep to the truth. Harder to remember lies. I felt like this had become my mantra.

“My father is dead. My mother disappeared when I was young, but I think—” I thought of the computer monitor in the command center “—that she is still alive. I’m trying to find her.” Jinn immediately looked uncomfortable, as if she wasn’t expecting my answer.

“Wow. Sorry, didn’t need to pry. I was only expecting a fight with your parents, which made you run away from home,” Jinn replied.

I gazed into the rear-view mirror, and Tuko’s face looked sympathetic. Almost.

“It’s okay. I’ve learned a lot about her over the last few days,” I answered truthfully.

“Do you know where your mother is?” Jinn asked. I shook my head. I didn’t know where she was, but I would cross this world until I found her.

“Who is your clan?” I asked, changing the subject to take the focus off me. The two of them looked at each other but remained silent. Hey, they started this. “Don’t feel like you have to share on my account,” I said a little roughly. Tuko shook his head at Jinn, as if to withhold his permission. She disregarded him and leaned back to me.

“We are Armor clan. Our clan has a lineage — a lot of the elders, uncles, aunts, grandparents, and parents have served on the council. Our clan is currently in charge of the agricultural committee. Our land is fed by the decisions that our dad makes. We are considered protectors.”

“That’s good then, your dad has power to help.”

“And it puts a lot of pressure on the two of us to follow in our parents’ footsteps,” Jinn added. “There is an expectation that when we become of age we replace them on council.”

“Like that’s ever going to happen.” Tuko swirled his hand to mock the idea.

“Bet a lot of your friends would like to be in your shoes,” I added enthusiastically.

“Hardly,” Tuko sneered, “it’s a life-killer. All responsibility, no fun. People die if you make the wrong choices. I want no part of it.”

“The two of us are not traveling with our parents to the Cradle. This trip is kind of our time alone to decide whether we want our futures to be with the council or to make a different choice,” Jinn offered.

“Which would be?”

“Not a clue. Pretty much anything but the council,” Tuko replied.

“I’m not as sure as my brother, Pene, but I do have reservations about what my choice should be. Having your future predetermined for you feels forced. I’m hoping our road trip will give me some perspective to make my decision.”

“While I have already decided,” Tuko added.

In a way, despite their lack of technology, their choices weren’t so different from mine. Before my dad died, he made me promise to follow the order and security that the drones provided. My home was controlled by adults that decided our decisions. In this place, the adults controlled your choices as well. Maybe Jinn and Tuko needed this opportunity to decide what was right for them.

“I hope you figure out what to do,” I said to Jinn.

“So do I,” she responded, and her body shook as we drove through a pothole in the road. She looked at the sky. “It will be dark soon. I’m glad we’re close to Trall.”

“Sounds exciting.” But I wasn’t sure if it would be. I was worried about how I’d blend in a crowd. I felt like I was pushing it now with two people.

“It is if you like long, boring speeches about how our choices can change the world.” Tuko gave a kingly wave, if he was speaking to the masses.

“Keep your eyes on the road, loser. Before you hit a bump and knock us into a ditch,” Jinn warned. Then he did hit a bump, and she almost fell back onto me.

“Watch out, hate to see you fall out of the car,” he mocked.

I rolled my eyes. This guy thinks he’s all that. I’m surprised his inflated ego doesn’t weigh him down. How could someone as sweet as Jinn have such a jerk brother?

 “Are we there yet?” I asked and realized that we were approaching a large wooden wall.

“Look in front of us.”

“Is it.…?” I started to ask. Before they could answer, the ground shook, almost upending the car off the road. A flash of fire and smoke exploded from the ground far to our right and extended to the sky. Tuko gave me a crooked smile as he regained control.

“This is Trall. If you haven’t been to a Gathering before, prepare to see the spectacle of a lifetime!”


 

 

 

2

The Gathering

  

As I stared up, dozens of leering faces peered down at me. None of them looked friendly. There was a wooden railing along the top of the wall where the guards walked along the platform. Past the faces, guards with weapons marched in both directions.

The wall that surrounded the town was almost a hundred feet tall. No person or animal was going to climb up without being discovered. The wall was made of timbers lashed tightly together with rope, with cloth or wood chips stuffed into the gaps. Tuko waved his hand, and the gates opened to let his car in. The earth in front of the main gate had a huge hole in it, like an underground bomb had exploded. The town was a fortress: wire fences protected the upper edges while the walls were guarded by dirty teenagers. I wasn’t sure if they were trying to keep people in or something big out.

“What caused the explosion?” I asked as we entered.

“Probably an animal — they have explosives around the wall in random places to keep the dinosaurs out. Some unlucky beast must have met its maker,” answered Tuko.

Again with the dinosaur reference. Did this place take a step back in time? How do these teenagers actually know what a dinosaur would look like? Maybe humans aren’t the most dangerous animal here?

As the car drove forward, the town looked bleak and uninviting. Long buildings lined the street and graffiti screamed out across several walls. One building had a huge hole, and the interior looked pillaged and empty. People turned and looked at us as we passed. Most eyed us suspiciously. Suddenly I could see the benefits of a drone-watched city. My face must have given me away, because Tuko looked at me and laughed.

“Guess this is your first visit?”

“That apparent?” I nodded.

“You look scared, like these guys,” Tuko waved his hand to the crowd, “are going to eat you.”

“Well, they are not very welcoming. Did we do something to make them angry?”

“No. They treat all visitors the same. They’re nervous. It’s unusual to have so many clans in one place. Although a lot of the clans are allies, there are plenty that don’t get along. They’re just worried there will be trouble tonight at the Gathering.” I listened and tried to fight back my questions. There was so much of this world that I just didn’t know.

“We never asked you, Pene, which clan are you with?” Jinn asked innocently. My heart skipped and my mind raced. If I didn’t respond quickly, they would think I was lying or had something to hide.

“Droniums,” I answered; the first image that came to mind was the thousands of drones that had watched my city daily.

“Never heard of them,” Jinn answered, but Tuko gave me a weird look. I had to distract them.

“What’s that?” I pointed to a large field and amphitheater. There were thousands of people and hundreds of vehicles swarming around this area.

“Our destination,” Jinn pointed. “Tonight, there will be clan leaders who will talk about our origins and what we hope to find during our pilgrimage to the Cradle. Kids will yell and scream behind the leaders they like and boo the ones they think are full of crap.”

“And lots of people will get drunk, there will be fights, and someone always gets hurt,” Tuko added. “It’s a big party…”

“That no one wants to miss,” Jinn finished. As our car got closer, we began to slow down as traffic got worse. There was a huge field of vehicles. Some adults tried to direct cars to park, but it was mostly disorganized. We slowed down as our car passed a group of motorcycles. They were mostly teenage boys, screaming and yelling. The party had obviously begun for them.

“Hey ladies, why don’t you ditch the loser—” pointing to Tuko “—and come party with some real boys.” Jinn made a hand gesture that I wasn’t familiar with, but it sent the boys into a laughing fit.

“The Chycle clan are usually pigs,” Jinn commented. “I’m surprised those gearheads look at anything besides their motorcycles.” I scanned the group. The bikes were in various stages of repair; some were well maintained while others looked like they might fall apart on the next pothole. None of the riders were people I would want to hang with.

A heavy truck drove by with a long trailer bed; boys and girls sat silently on its edges. Each clan member had their faces painted white with black markings. Some were painted scars, stitches, or ghastly skull faces. Their wordless demeanor made them seem more dangerous than the rowdy boys before them.

“Who are they?” I asked as they stared back at me.

“Zombie clan,” Jinn answered. “They don’t say much, and part of their membership includes the stipulation that once you join the clan, you never leave. I’d stay clear of them.”

I nodded and then squinted at the group beyond Zombie clan. These clan members rode in wagons pulled by fierce beasts. The animals had a tiger’s head and legs but a hippo’s body. They were strong beasts and I would not want to anger one. Other clans gave them a wide berth as they marched by.

“They own the place,” Tuko said with reverence.

“With animals like that, they probably should,” I commented to no one in particular. A beast stared at me as we passed, and I could feel its intentions as it licked its lips. The rider pulled on its reins, and the clan passed by us on their way to the stadium. Jinn pulled the car into a row and parked. We got out and started following the crowd on the long walk to the stadium.

There were kids, adults, families everywhere. For the most part, everyone seemed in a good mood, although I could see some jostling between certain clans. Ahead of us, I could see a group of tall spears with some type of crest at the top. Tuko seemed to recognize the emblem and raced ahead. I could see him tapping the shoulder of someone tall and lean.

“Friends of his?” I asked Jinn.

“Tuko wishes they were his friends. He idolizes the Hunter clan. They control those animals we just passed. Their emblem stands for the strength of the land.” She spoke in a deep voice that told me she was mocking them. “They are full of themselves. They kill for sport and not for food.” I watched as Tuko put his arm around the taller teen and motioned toward us. The guy had a sharp, angular face with dirty red hair. I had a feeling I was going to like him even less than I liked Tuko.

“Abraham, you know my sister.” Tuko pointed. Jinn waved and moved off to the side, not interested in talking to him. “And this is my sister’s friend, Pene.” I smiled while Abraham frowned at me.

“Who’s she with?” he grunted.

“Hello, I’m right here,” I answered, not appreciating being ignored.

“Droniums,” Tuko replied as if he didn’t hear me.

“Never heard of them. Must be a minor clan,” Abraham said, already dismissing me.

“Guess we all can’t have big heads like you,” I mocked. What did it matter what these stupid boys thought? All they cared about was themselves.

“What did you say?” he asked with rage entering his voice.

“I said,” forgetting that I should not draw attention, “that you seem very full of yourself.”

“Who do you think you are?” Abraham came at me, getting too close into my personal space. That infuriated me, and I shoved him back.

“I’m someone who doesn’t like you in my face. And I don’t need a wild animal to prove how important I am.”

Abraham’s face turned red. “Watch what you say around me. I’d hate for one of my animals to get loose and hurt you.” He pointed at one of the creatures.

“I’d rather deal with that animal. It at least has some brains,” I countered. I realized that each time I opened my mouth, I was making it worse for myself. But I just couldn’t stop. My mouth had a mind of its own and I had pushed too far. A hand came in between us.

“Isn’t your father calling you?” Jinn motioned behind us. A large, stern man was watching us. Abraham glared at me and then walked back to his clan. He spoke to his father, pointed at me, and then they moved toward the coliseum.

“Nice move, Pene. He’s the son of one of the most powerful clans. You got skill,” Tuko jeered.

“Shut up, Tuko. Abraham is a jerk and you know it,” Jinn interrupted. “Why don’t you go ahead of us and we’ll join you inside?”

“Whatever.” He dismissed us and walked on ahead.

“Thanks.” I smiled. “I don’t know why I let him get under my skin. Maybe I just can’t stand authority.”

“Or guys with huge egos.” We laughed, and for the first time while in this world, I felt like I had made a friend. As we walked on, the sea of people became more congested. The excitement was palpable. As we entered the coliseum, I looked up and saw thousands of people in the stands. There were flags everywhere, waving in the night breeze: emblems of Shields, Tigers, Dragons, and other creatures I didn’t recognize (and hoped I’d never meet), which must symbolize the different clans. A large stage was in the center of the stadium and several adults in robes were milling around.

“That’s the elders,” Jinn pointed, “getting ready to tell us about their stories of creation.” She looked around, and her eyes stopped on one of flags. “Did you want to sit with us, or do you see your clan emblem?”

I pretended to look around. “Nah, I’ll come sit with you.” I acted like I couldn’t see my family flag.

Jinn grabbed my hand, and we climbed to the top of the stands. All around us people were talking, some excited but almost all engaged in conversation. Most spoke while facing the stage in anticipation of the clan leaders arriving. We reached the stands where Jinn’s family crest of armor moved in the breeze. She waved to several people, and I saw Tuko a couple of rows lower, talking to another boy. The noise was deafening, so I couldn’t talk to Jinn without screaming. Instead I used my time to survey the crowd.

A large bonfire was burning on the ground to the right of us. From the smoke, I smelled sage. Jinn watched me suck in the air.

“They are going overboard with the incense tonight — trying to make us all remember our old clan members. Armor clan uses a strong charcoal incense, what about yours?”

“Metallic,” I answered, absently thinking of all the drones that flew around my home. I almost regretted my answer, but Jinn didn’t seem concerned with my response.

Below us, many teenagers and adults were in attendance, but I didn’t see any young kids. I assumed tonight’s topics were not for the very young. Some groups looked alike as if entire families were sitting together.

Down below us, I thought I could see Abraham having a heated conversation with his father. His temper didn’t just go off on me; he gestured wildly as if trying to make a point. Then they stopped talking and Abraham scanned the crowd as if he was looking for someone or something. As he gazed toward our area, I ducked.

I’m so stupid. I’m sure he can’t see me in the crowd, and even if he could, who cares?

“Can you hear me?” A deep voice boomed through a loudspeaker. His voice resonated, and all the voices around us went silent. “I said — CAN YOU HEAR ME!” The stadium erupted with a resounding “YES!” Cheers filled the air and drowned out all conversations. The speaker was tall and bald, and the video screens flicked on to show his smiling face. He thrived on the energy of the audience as he let the crowd chant for a few more seconds before beckoning for everyone to fall silent.

“When I was a boy,” he began to sermonize, “I came to this very stadium. I listened to many great men and women who explained their theories of the creation of the Cradle. And I said to myself, Self,” the crowd erupted with laughter, “you need to learn from these people. You need to study their theories, make your own decisions, and then teach your beliefs to your children. These ideas must live on!” The crowd roared its approval. He paced on the stage and soaked up the crowd’s cheers. I looked around and a flash of red made me blink for a second.

I marveled at how focused the crowd was on the speaker. I wanted to nudge Jinn to ask who he was but decided against it. It would create more doubt with her if I didn’t know.

“I am here to tell you that this year you will hear a new theory on the creation of the Cradle. It will challenge your beliefs, stretch your imagination, and make you wonder if everything you believed was wrong. Are you ready to hear it?”

“Yes!” the crowd yelled in unison.

“I can’t hear you. ARE. YOU. READY?” he yelled again.

“Luther! Luther! Luther!” the crowd chanted. He had them hanging on his every word.

“Isn’t he amazing?” Jinn poked me. I smiled back and watched a crowd enamored with his every word. Whoever this Luther was, he knew how to work a room. I watched the Hunter clan below, beating their chests and trying to make the most noise.

Whoever this man was, he had an impact on these people. They listened. Back home, no one had the charisma to hold thousands and thousands of people’s attention. You did what the drones directed because you thought it was the right thing to do. You believed that whoever was controlling the drones had your best interests at heart. Well, we had been wrong about that.

“I now share with you this new theory of creation and let you make your own decisions.” He brought his hands down and everyone took this motion to mean they should be quiet. I was distracted by a red light dancing along the stage. Everyone leaned forward, hanging on his every word.

“I have waited a long time to share this news with you. Many of your leaders have told me not to talk about this tonight.” Some in the audience booed. “But knowledge is not meant to be hidden, locked away. It is meant to be shared, to make you think in new and interesting ways. Tonight, I will challenge each and every one of you!” He pointed and each one of us felt he was motioning just at us. “Are you ready to change the world?”

An enthusiastic “Yes” rocked the stadium and even I was caught up in the moment. What secret would he share? The red light flashed again, and when I turned I could see nothing behind me but a few other clans.

A shot roared out and brought my attention to the front. Luther stared up at the audience, his voice silent for the first time. His eyes were unblinking, and even from this distance I could see a red stream of blood dripping down his chest. He fell backward, his sightless eyes looking up into the sky.

The crowd was shocked into silence, unable to believe what they had seen. I could hear sobbing in front of me.

“The shot came from that direction!” a teenager pointed up at us as all heads turned in unison.

“I think it was her!” I looked down and saw Abraham pointing behind me. I looked around, but no one was there. I turned back to him. He was pointing to me.

 


 

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