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:
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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
Season 3, Episode 4
by Megan Miranda
“Reverse,” Sandie whispered, though she hadn’t meant her voice to come out so softly, so unsure. She worried Max hadn’t heard her, because he was still frozen—fingers gripping the steering wheel, knuckles blanching white—as he leaned toward the dashboard, staring at the black cloud of smoke billowing up over the skyline.
And Max, for all his supposed training, still wasn’t reversing.
“Reverse!” Sandie yelled this time. A line of red blinking lights had emerged from the darkness, spreading out in an arc, as if the drones were communicating with one another, assembling themselves into formation. Max slammed the car into reverse just as Sandie noticed a bright red laser beam shoot from the nearest drone, the ground smoking and simmering as it made contact.
“What the—” Max slammed on the brakes, and Sandie’s head bounced against the headrest. The drone—and the laser beam—was heading in their direction. No, it was racing toward them, tearing a path with its laser, splitting the pavement as it rapidly approached.
“Out!” Max yelled, but Sandie was one step ahead of him. She’d already flung herself from the passenger door and was now scrambling backward toward the concrete median. She felt the tremor as the pavement cracked and buckled just as she dove behind the median. Max crouched beside her a moment later, frantically dialing his phone. “Damnit,” he said, pressing his back against the concrete.
Max cursed at his phone, grabbing her elbow. “We need to get to your mother. Now.”
Sandie jerked her arm away. She needed to get to her mother. Alone. Her mom was not a traitor. Her mom would not have unleashed destructive drones over their city. And she certainly wouldn’t let this keep happening if she had the power to stop it. Max was mistaken. He had already established himself as a liar. Max is a traitor, she told herself. Sandie had to find her mother, yes. But first she had to escape.
Sandie peered over the ledge of the concrete, wondering if she could make it to her phone, which she’d left inside the car. But Max’s Audi was currently split in half, the metal still smoking and sizzling, the smell of tar and something burning carrying on the wind. And farther away, she could still see the line of drones, their red blinking lights in the dark sky, periodically shooting laser beams out toward the ground.
She needed a plan. She needed a chance. Max, she remembered, liked the sound of his voice almost as much as he liked the look of his own reflection. She hoped that was still true, apocalypse notwithstanding.
“A neurologist is a ridiculous cover!” Sandie yelled over the sound of the lasers tearing a path through the earth in the distance. “Why not a waitress, or a teacher, or something not so hard to fake?”
Max held his phone to the sky, frowning at it. “Sandie, she was working in the neurorobotics center. She was a spy, stealing their research, passing it along to Igor. It was just the cover. She hacked their system.” He gestured over his shoulder. “This is the result.”
“So you were on the same side!”
“No. We didn’t understand, at first. The lab your mom was placed in was developing synthetic neurons that could work hand-in-hand with a computer system, learning to become autonomous. It escalated too fast to control. Your mother knew. She had to have known.”
No, her mother was passionate. She cared about her research because she cared about people.
She’d never been with her mother to the hospital, but she’d been to her satellite lab many times. Sandie even worked in that lab in the summers and several afternoons a week during the school year, rotating schedules with the other intern, Shane. Shane. Shane would be there now. Shane would know if this…this chaos…. was the result of their research. He worked for her mother—he would know how to stop this, on the slim chance Max was telling some version of the truth.
Sandie noticed another drone heading their way, its laser scorching the earth as it approached. “Look!” Sandie said, and Max turned his head. Hoping to take advantage of the distraction, Sandie took off in a dead sprint down the cracked highway. She heard Max calling her name, but Sandie was fast, the state champion in the 400-meter—faster, she was betting, than Max. He may have been model-material, and government-operative-material, but this was Sandie’s strength. Nobody beat her. Nobody.
Besides, she knew exactly where she was going—she only had to beat Max to the corner before she slipped out of sight.
The satellite lab where her mother sometimes worked was only a few blocks away. Shane might have answers. Bonus: there was a basement—it was the safest place she could imagine. She could only hope her mother would meet her there as well.
Sandie zig-zagged through a row of homes, cutting through backyards. She thought she could hear Max calling her name, but if he was, it was from far behind.
Two more blocks, Sandie thought. Please be standing. Her lungs filled with ash and the scent of tar, and she pumped her arms harder. Relief surged through her as she rounded the last corner. There it was: the single-story building with the tinted windows and the brick facade—still standing.
Sandie almost smiled. She tried not to think of the drones, or the lasers, or her mother being a traitor, or the end of the world or anything like that. Instead, she barreled through the front door, past the empty reception desk, through the glass doors that should’ve been locked, hoping against hope for answers, for safety, for her mother.
But the only person she saw was a guy hunched over a keyboard at a lab-bench.
Shane spun around from the computer as she entered the room, his hands visibly shaking.
“Shane, oh my God, are you okay?” Sandie locked the doors behind her.
Shane shook his head, and blew a stray piece of hair out of his eyes. “Drones are taking over the city, Sandie. I think it’s safe to say I’m not okay.”
In a lot of ways, Shane was the exact opposite of Max. He was skinny, and his hair never fell right, and he was definitely not operative material, since she could always tell exactly what he was thinking. But he made her laugh, whether he meant to or not, and she always had the urge to reach out and move a piece of his disheveled hair. His eyes glanced nervously to the side, and he took a step closer. “Sandie, your—”
“Shane? Who are you talking to?” The voice came from the open door in the back of the room, and Sandie rushed forward as her mother walked up from the basement.
“Mom!” Everything would be okay now. Everything would be fine.
Sandie’s mother’s face froze in surprise, which she quickly twisted into a smile. “Oh Thank God,” she said, pulling Sandie into her embrace. “I’ve been so worried, but none of the phone lines are working…”
Sandie pulled back just as she heard another explosion, close enough to make the ground rattle.
“Underground,” her mother said, gesturing toward Shane. “The both of you. Come on.”
But Sandie pulled away. “Mom? What’s going on? Max said… he said this was your research. That…” she cut her eyes to Shane, deciding what to say. She settled on the simplest explanation. “That this is your fault.”
“My fault? My fault? I’m the one trying to regain control.”
“It is true?” Sandie asked. “Did you unleash these drones?”
“It’s not that simple. My colleague and I, we were trying to show the danger of this project. These drones, they’re supposed to defend us! But they’re dangerous in the wrong hands. Anyone can hack a computer system. Igor and I, we needed to show that. If we can control a machine, then so can someone else…. But we’ve lost control! Igor was supposed to man the controls. But they killed him—they killed him. And now they’re looking for someone to blame.”
“Why are they doing this? Why are the drones destroying the city? I thought they were programmed to defend us!”
“They’re autonomous now,” her mother explained. “They’re functioning based on the world around them. They’re reacting. Imagine, Sandie. They woke up with no understanding of the world, and what did they see? Where’s the threat?”
Men with guns, Sandie thought. Fighter jets heading toward them, humans in the pilot seats, aiming to destroy them. Chaos. People fighting, looting, screaming.
“Us,” Sandie said, finally understanding. “The threat is us.”
“Yes,” her mother said.
“Then give them the codes!” Sandie shouted. “Get this to stop!”
Sandie’s mother shook her head. “They don’t want the codes to stop this, Sandie. There’s something bigger going on here….”
Her mother’s voice trailed off as her gaze shifted to somewhere beyond Sandie. Sandie turned her head slowly toward the glass doors.
He had a gun out, pointed at the glass doors. No, the gun was pointed at them.
“The codes,” Max called, his voice muffled through the glass. He shot the corner, and Sandie jumped as the fragments of glass rained down. Max stepped through the empty doorframe.
Shane inched closer, reaching for Sandie. He was always so dependable. He cared. He was, Sandie admitted to herself, mostly adorable. And what had Sandie done with that? Broken his heart, that’s what.
“The codes,” Max said to Sandie’s mom. “Or she dies.” The gun, Sandie realized, was pointed at her head.
“No,” her mother said. “Think about what you’re doing. Just….” she held her hands out in surrender, even as she stepped closer. “Just, wait a second.”
“Your daughter’s life, for the codes,” Max repeated.
Sandie had a direct line of sight down the barrel of the gun, and she couldn’t believe she ever fell for Max, ever. “I hate you,” she gritted through her teeth, just so she wouldn’t regret never getting the chance to say it.
And in that moment, Shane rushed Max from the side, knocking the gun from his hand, as a shot rang out. Both men were on the ground, and the gun skittered across the floor. Blood was pouring from Shane’s shoulder, and he stared at the wound in surprise. “No!” Sandie shouted, but her mother held her back as Max pushed himself to his feet once more.
Not Shane. Sandie closed her eyes. In another life, Max never comes on the scene, and when Shane asks her to prom, Sandie says yes. But it’s all too messed up now. For one, she’d said yes to Max instead, and Shane had already gone ahead and asked someone else by the time she broke up with Max. For the second thing, the apocalypse was upon them. And thirdly, Shane was currently bleeding out on the pristine, white floor.
Sandie’s mother ran at Max with a metallic blade—one of the razors from the lab—but Max caught her wrist. Sandie dove for the gun, trying to focus on Max. She held the gun in both hands, straight in front of her with her legs planted, moving it slightly from side to side as Max and her mother struggled against each other. Left, right, left…..
“Do something!” Shane shouted from the floor.
In hindsight, Sandie thought that maybe, possibly, Shane was asking her for help with the bleeding. That his plea to do something might’ve been a request to stop the blood, or call 9-1-1, or drag him to the basement and block the door.
But Sandie thought none of those things in that moment.
Do something! he yelled.
And she fired.
Tomorrow, the story concludes on Kevin Emerson's blog!
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