Black Friday is here and we’re discussing the season with Kate Corcino’s Lena Gracey from Spark Rising.
All that’s required to ignite a revolution is a single spark rising.
Two hundred years after the cataclysm that annihilated fossil fuels, Sparks keep electricity flowing through their control of energy-giving Dust. The Council of Nine rebuilt civilization on the backs of Sparks, offering citizens a comfortable life in a relo-city in exchange for power, particularly over the children able to fuel the future. The strongest of the boys are taken as Wards and raised to become elite agents, the Council’s enforcers and spies. Strong girls—those who could advance the rapidly-evolving matrilineal power—don’t exist. Not according to the Council.
Lena Gracey died as a child, mourned publicly by parents desperate to keep her from the Council. She was raised in hiding until she fled the relo-city for solitary freedom in the desert. Lena lives off the grid, selling her power on the black market.
Agent Alex Reyes was honed into a calculating weapon at the Ward School to do the Council’s dirty work. But Alex lives a double life. He’s leading the next generation of agents in a secret revolution to destroy those in power from within.
The life Lena built to escape her past ends the day Alex arrives looking for a renegade Spark.
Make sure you stick around to the end and earn another entry into the Black Friday $50 Amazon giftcard giveaway.
Can you believe the holiday season—with the crowds and the noise and the planning—is on us again? Somehow it sneaks up on me every year. Before I dive into the insanity of holiday planning for a Texas-size family, I wanted to say a huge “THANK YOU!” to Literary Escapism for giving a debut author like me the opportunity to participate in this amazing event. Not only did it give me an opportunity to travel in time to go back to my main character’s life before the novel, but it allows me to introduce her to all of you. I hope you’ll enjoy the peek into what motivates Lena Gracey in the months before hurricane Agent Alejandro Reyes blasts into her life. She’s a tough cookie—she’s had to be—but as Alex tells her late in Spark Rising, she’s the perfect blend of light and dark.
Sounds like exactly what’s needed for holiday shopping!
Thanks so much for reading. Have a wonderful holiday of your own!
“Merry. Freaking. Christmas.” Lena crouched on the jutting inside curve of the mostly collapsed balcony. After breathing the words to herself, she bit the inside of her cheek, tasting bitterness.
The men one level below were still unaware of her as she watched them reap the rewards of two and a half weeks of her skin-tearing, nail-ripping, muscle-pulling solo labor. She’d been determined to bring her best friend, her only friend, a gift that would curve a wide, surprised smile over his lips. She meant to bring Ace music. The jerk scavengers below her were taking it all.
You gonna just let ‘em?
Her smartass inner voice—the same one that had started taunting her as soon as she realized that men had moved in while she was gone overnight—started in on her again. But supplies ran low. If she wanted to eat, she had to hunt.
So go hunt up another gift for Ace. Or be ready to take what’s yours. Fight or flight, girl. Make a decision.
Across from her in the ruins of the shopping mall the shell of a store long stripped of anything useful taunted her. A scrap of moldering banner fluttered in the wind riding the weak winter sunshine through the gaping hole in the roof. All of the useful bits of rubble were long gone.
Below her patched boots there was only a faint shine that was the memory of broken glass. It had been scooped up and carried away years before to be made useful again somewhere far away. The mall had been stripped clean in the desperate, lean years of the Third Dark Age, before Sparks. The rest of the city was just as picked over, so empty that the wind moaned over its shattered windows and doors like the damned, day and night, calling out for lost life.
All that remained of the rebar that held up the shifting structure was so embedded in huge chunks of cement there’d be no way for her to yank a piece free. Even if she could, the noise would certainly betray her position. There wasn’t anything around to make into a quick weapon.
Nothing but herself.
If you can zap a rabbit, you can zap a man.
The concrete rubble that shaped the shadows she hid in had once been another level above. It had crushed the other staircase when it fell, but not the one beside her. She slipped her hand around the sloping end of the metal rail. This staircase had been one of the first things she’d cleared. She always made sure she had a way out. Or three.
Deep below the stairs, in the electric motor, Dust responded to her silent request. It stirred to life, though the stairs themselves remained still. The Dust that came along with the Great Disaster so long ago was on everything, in everything. And because she could talk to it, manipulate it, her life was infinitely easier than anyone else living on the edge of the world.
Um, what? You had to spend your childhood in hiding and then run away to survive.
She grinned. True, she told herself, but there were benefits to being a Spark. Yeah, you had to run away to find freedom away from the comfortable life of forced energy production in the relo-cities. But you could make the Dust that coated the new world do exactly what you needed.
Trap set, she pulled her knit cap from her head and secured it under the rough, multi-purpose cord wound around her waist like a sash. Then she rose.
She moved into the light streaming down, counting on it to set her red hair to glowing bright enough to draw attention. Sure enough, the leader noticed her before she even spoke, hissing a warning to his men as they loaded a hand cart below her.
“Hey, boys,” she called out to the five of them, “Maybe in the spirit of the season, you could not be greedy dogs? Maybe leave some salvage for the rest of us. You know, since it’s almost Christmas and all.”
Especially since I’m the one who did all the heavy lifting to clear the damn store of rubble.
Below her, on what had been the lowest level of the shopping mall, the men who’d been moving in and out of the ancient music store stood frozen. The troop of scavengers had been the bane of her existence for the last five years, since they had moved in to claim the territory of what had been northern Albuquerque. They were making it so that it wasn’t worth the effort of the three day hike to the city for salvage.
But she wanted the wide, flat records they were piling into the carts. She needed them. Ace had long admired her old salvaged player, but had refused it when she’d tried to give it to him. Every rare trip he made out to see her in the desert, he put one of her two records on and listened, head cocked, grinning like a fool. Ace loved music, and there was precious little of it left in the world.
She had found another ancient record player and spent weeks getting it back into working shape. But a working turntable was nothing without the music disks. When she’d remembered the picture of a record on the twisted frame of a door in the collapsed section of the mall, she’d devoted the necessary time to clearing it. It was dangerous, hard enough work that she’d never have done it just for herself. But for Ace? For Ace she’d been hauling rubble to uncover hidden treasure.
And the scavs thought they’d just move in and take the fruit of her labor?
The leader had moved away from the others. “Spirit of the season, huh? Why don’t you come on down here, Red, and we’ll all have a happy holiday.”
One of the men behind him slurred something about a client who’d pay pretty for red hair.
And there it was. These weren’t just scavengers. They were Scavengers, men who preyed on the weak to bring the wealthy what they wanted—long-buried goods, the cargo of legal traders moving steam caravans between Zones, even human beings.
The disgusting man below was a slaver. The fact alone made him dangerous enough, even when all he saw was a young woman alone. If he knew she was more? There was a market for unregistered, illegal Sparks like Lena, and the scum who hired Scavengers were willing to pay well. She’d have to go carefully. She needed to distract them, disable them, but not in a way that they’d know the full extent of what she could do. Not so they’d want to hunt her. The desert was big, but even someone as good as she was could be tracked.
“There’s plenty of profit to go around.” His gaze moved between her and the staircase beside her.
Lena pretended to have just noticed it and edged away. As he smirked and muttered instructions to his men, she sidestepped more quickly.
“I-It’s okay!” She shouted down at them, tingeing her voice with a hint of fear. “You can have it all!”
“We intend to.”
They moved as one, swarming over bricks and beams to the metal stairs.
Lena ran, darting away into the darkness where the half-hearted sunlight of December was held at bay by still-intact roof. She moved quickly, sidestepping a gaping hole. She used the spot where the flooring buckled and a wall leaned out—it was darker here where the ceiling sagged—to slide to a stop and look back into the light.
The men had reached the stairs and were ranged over it, one of them nearly to the top. Their leader followed.
When he was several steps up, she whispered her command to the Dust. The ancient motor started. With a grinding whine, the stairs shuddered into motion, moving the men down.
Two of them fell, yelping their surprise and pain as they made contact with the sharp metal edges. The others hopped to stay in place, staring down without understanding.
“She’s a damn Spark,” their leader shouted. “An extra week’s rations and choice of the women to the man who brings her back!”
It was a carrot that made them scramble to overcome the unfamiliar rhythm of the moving stairs.
She didn’t have long. But she didn’t need long.
As soon as they were all on the top level, chasing her into darkness, she’d shimmy down the pole a few feet away like the monkey her brother claimed she was, snag a few albums from the cart, and be away through the ventilation tunnel the men were too big to follow through.
Handicapped by the darkness that cloaked her, she turned to move by feel to the pole she knew was there. One more glance back to check that they were all where she wanted them—
Smoke rose from the lower metal plate of the stairs. They lurched, once, then twice, rocking the men on them. The movement stopped.
Lena reached for the Dust, mentally shouting her panic, relying upon the Dust to help.
The men barely had a chance to do more than cast startled glances at each other before their bodies arched, faces contorted in agony. Current flowed from the metal they touched with hands and feet through their bodies and back into the metal plates in a loop of electricity and pain.
After several long moments of shock, she sent a silent order to the Dust coating men and metal to return to dormancy. The men collapsed.
Lena stared at the Scavengers, biting her lip.
Well, that was overkill.
She should have known the staircase wouldn’t last long, even though she’d worked on it herself as a safety precaution. She could repair wiring and use the Dust to help with the electrical components. The animal fats she had to smear over long-corroded mechanical parts weren’t ideal, though.
She hadn’t meant to hurt them. Just delay them.
They’re bad men, Lena. They’d have used you then sold you without another thought.
She wrapped her legs around the pole and slid down to the bottom, where she strode back into the light toward what had been a music store. In front of it, the cart was filled with the dusty carton-covered squares that held the records. The names and images meant nothing to her. She quickly rooted through the pile and pulled out several that seemed the least damaged by time and water and the cave-in that had covered them for so many years.
As she tucked them in her pack, the feet of the Scavenger’s leader protruding from the bottom of the staircase caught her eye. She could see one man slumped at the top. The others were hidden by the metal side of the contraption.
Should she check on them?
Her gaze turned to the central space lit by the shaft of sunlight through the opening in the roof. The frame of an over-sized chair, long blackened and moldering, was bent and crushed beneath a fallen beam. Long-faded red and green stains peeked out from beneath the rubble, marking where fabrics or carpeting had once been.
Lena knew what it was. Before her parents had hidden her away, before her “official death” as a child, they’d taken her every year to the market square of Azcon, the relo-city where she’d been born. She’d stood in line with the other children while her mother complained about the Christmas crowds. At the end, they’d perched Lena on a large man’s lap to whisper what she’d like for Christmas. In the new era of prosperity and safety, parents were happy to give their children what they could—trinkets and toys made of wood and wool. If they were Council families, as hers once was, they might be gifted with a more elaborate toy.
Lena’s breath hitched as she stared at the crumpled form of the chair. Why hadn’t anyone taken it? Someone should have taken the ridiculous thing. They’d taken everything else.
Everyone knew the Great Disaster had happened just before the holidays. Len struggled to imagine life in the world before, even here in the city, surrounded by its skeleton. The children that had whispered to this Santa would go on to live through horrors of a dying world. If they lived through the season at all. Peace on Earth and goodwill toward men?
The world was different. These men were different. If you were lucky enough to find peace on this earth, you protected it from men like these.
But should you become them?
Lena swallowed. She swung the pack around and shrugged it onto her shoulders for ease of movement and edged toward the metal stairs, stepping carefully around piles of rubble. When she came within throwing distance, she reached down and picked up a fist-sized piece of concrete. The leader was face down on the metal stairs. She weighed the rock in her hand.
She tossed it as his back. It made contact with a dull thunk, then tumbled away. He remained still. Not even a flinch. It didn’t necessarily mean he was still out, but it was likely.
She slid closer. A few feet away, she stopped. The Dust whispered at her. It was always there, but this close to the machinery she’d just sparked, it was active. It wanted her attention, and it had awakened the Dust living within the men.
She checked them, one by one, asking the Dust their condition. They were alive, with varying degrees of burns on hands and feet. She had the Dust heal them by swarming over the charred areas and boosting the electrical energy in flesh and skin.
At the leader, she paused. The Dust whispered at the back of her mind.
He was dying.
Not from the burns she’d caused to be inflicted on him. Not from the face plant on the cold metal of the stairs.
A hard tumor spread through his abdomen. Even if the Scav found a Council surgeon willing to operate on a man like him, it was a death sentence. Medicine had changed, just like music. No one could save him from this fate.
No one but her.
She tucked her hair behind her ears, staring down, aware of the Dust healing his burns.
No one can ever know, Magdalena. No one can ever know what you can do. It was her dead father’s voice that whispered to her now, a memory of his caution. His fear. She was different from other Sparks. It was why she’d fled the city, made her own home deep in the desert, built of found scrap and the remnants of a gas station.
No one would blame her for walking away now. She’d fixed what she’d done. And she owed this Scavenger nothing.
She crossed the short distance to him and grunted as she shoved him over onto his back, she had no idea why she bothered.
Why are you doing this? What has he done with his life to earn this?
She didn’t have an answer. She shook her hands and extended her fingers over the filthy wool sweater covering his abdomen. Healing skin deep could be done with a thought. It was trickier to reach deep inside another.
She eased out a breath and focused, reaching out to the Dust within him, settling down into him with it. She showed it what she wanted and it swarmed to answer her. The heat radiating from his skin discharged the energy being used within, and it grew in intensity until it pained her to keep her shaking hands over him.
After several more long minutes, Lena sagged to the side. Her eyes closed. It was done. She had no idea what the man would do with the rest of his life, but it wouldn’t be cut short by disease. Not this disease.
The Dust pulsed a warning, movement and shouting in her head.
Lena snapped open her eyes and stiffened. Too late.
His hand flashed out and held her wrist in a manacle grip. His gaze, filled with pale indignation, bored into hers.
“What did you do to me, girl?” His voice rasped with pain.
Heat still radiated off his abdomen. It couldn’t be remotely comfortable.
“I healed you.” The flatness of her voice brooked no argument. At the disbelief that flared in his angry eyes, she offered up proof. “The cancer that was eating you? It’s gone.”
Yep. How’d I know? Good question. Think on it.
She could see that he was asking himself the same question. There was no way she could have known he was sick, unless she could see it. Unless she’d chosen to heal it. When he spoke, it appeared he’d come to the same conclusion because he moved on.
“Alive. But they’re not available right now.”
He digested that, his gaze shifting to cool calculation as it flicked over her. “You’re what they’re looking for. The Council. Special kind of girl Spark.”
She didn’t answer. She leaned away, preparing to spark herself loose. And he could deal with the burns she’d leave on his hand all by himself.
His grip tightened at her slight movement, then loosened. A second later, his hand fell to his side. “Why’d you heal me?”
Lena shrugged. “Some people would argue I’d have done the world a favor leaving you be. Leaving you to die. Kind of man you are? The things you’ve done with your life?” She shook her head. “Honestly, I don’t know why.”
His lips thinned. He stared back at her, but he made no move to reach for her again.
Finally, she eased back, slid her legs around under her and rose. “Merry Christmas, I guess. Don’t waste your gift.”
He sat up, sliding his back against the wall of the staircase. His gaze followed the tumbled forms of his men up the stairs. Then he lowered his eyes.
“Merry Christmas.” He muttered the words. “Now run away, Red. ‘Cause you’re worth a fortune.”
Lena lifted her chin, then turned away and strode back into the dark. The safety of the ventilation shaft exit and the long trek back to the solitary home she’d made for herself in the desert were ahead of her. There was peace there, and safety.
For the first time in a long time, there was peace inside her, too. Who’d have thought?
She smiled. See, Mama? Fighting Christmas crowds isn’t all bad.
Meet Kate Corcino!
Kate Corcino is a reformed shy girl who found her voice (and uses it…a lot). She believes in magic, coffee, Starburst candies, genre fiction, descriptive profanity, and cackling over wine with good friends. She’s been a legal videographer, a teacher, and a law student, and believes in chasing dreams. She also believes in the transformative power of screwing up and second chances. Cheers to works-in-progress of the literary and lifelong variety!
She is currently gearing up for the dual releases of Ignition Point and Spark Rising, the first books in the Progenitor Saga, a near future post-apocalyptic dystopian adventure series with romantic elements, science, magic, and plenty of action.
She lives in her beloved desert in the southwestern United States with her husband, several children, three dogs, two cats, and a fat, happy guinea pig.
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