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This Mortal Coil (This Mortal Coil #1)
Author:Emily Suvada

This Mortal Coil (This Mortal Coil #1)

Emily Suvada




About the Author


Emily Suvada was born in Australia, where she went on to study mathematics and astrophysics. Her interest in science and tech never waned, particularly in genetic engineering and the question of what it means to be human. She thought it would be fun to explore these interests through characters running for their lives in a futuristic hellscape, so she wrote This Mortal Coil. She now lives in Portland, Oregon, with her husband. When not writing, she can be found hiking, cycling, and conducting chemistry experiments in her kitchen.





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To Edward: my best friend,

my love, my inspiration.

You are the shining focus of

the locus of my heart.





CHAPTER 1


It’s sunset, and the sky is aflame, not with clouds or dust, but with the iridescent feathers of a million genehacked passenger pigeons. They soar across the sky like a live impressionist painting in brilliant swirling arcs of tangerine and gold. Their strange cries sound like pebbles tossed against a window, and they move in perfect unison, blocking out the sun.

Amateur coders in Nevada rebuilt the long-extinct pigeon’s DNA, then spliced it into something new and bold. Razor-tipped beaks. Metabolic hijacks. Colour-shifting feathers to signal danger to the flock with a single muscle twitch.

Through years of work, they crafted the pigeons to be stronger than their ancestors. They’re leaner, smarter, fiercer.

And they made them look like fire.

I lean out over the cabin’s porch railing, my hips pressed into the wood, squinting through the scope of my father’s rifle. Without magnification, the flock is just a blur of stippled colour, but through the scope, with my ocular tech sharpening my vision, the colours resolve into the wings and chests of individual birds.

‘Come on, little birdy,’ I breathe, squeezing the trigger. The shot echoes off the mountains, and the scent of gunpowder fills the air. That’s homemade powder. Low sulphur, fine grade, nanoprinted in the basement, rigged to fire a tranquillizer dart and bring me down a bird without killing it.

The dart whistles through the air, a mere blur even with my tech. My audio filters peg it at Mach 2, which is far too high. My calculations were wrong again. I look away too late and see the dart hit a pigeon, blowing it into a puff of coloured feathers.

‘Dammit,’ I snap, dropping the rifle, not bothering to flick on the safety. It’s now a thirty-pound paperweight, since I’m officially out of ammo. Well, not if you count the bullet swinging from the chain around my neck. But that’s my insurance bullet, and it only comes off as a last resort.

The dead bird drops like a stone, tumbling down to land on the rocky shore of the cabin’s tiny private lake. The flock shifts direction instantly, letting out a deafening warning cry that echoes off the steep mountain slopes like a hail of gunfire.

‘I know, I know,’ I mutter. The flock scatters angrily, their plumage twitching to crimson, telegraphing the attack. I didn’t want to hurt it. The bird was supposed to be a present. A little genehacked pet for my neighbour, Agnes, to keep her company. Now I’ll have to bury it, because I sure as hell won’t eat it. Barely anyone eats meat any more, not since the outbreak.

The last two years have taught us what we could not forget: that animals taste a lot like people.

The porch’s wooden railing squeaks as I launch myself over it and jog through the yard to the circle of feathers near the lake. A breeze dances through the knee-high grass, sweeping in across the water, carrying the cries of the pigeons, the chill of the evening and the rich, deep scent of the forest.

It’s wild out here. This secluded valley nestled deep in the Black Hills has been my home for the last three years and my sanctuary from the outbreak. Steep, forested mountains rise on either side of the lake, and my ramshackle log cabin sits just a short walk back from the shore. It’s so well-hidden that you almost have to know where it is to find it, but close enough to town that I can ride in on my bike. All things considered, it’s a perfect place to spend the apocalypse, with only one downside: the comm reception sucks.

‘Hey, Bobcat. This … Agnes …’

I tilt my head as Agnes’s elderly voice crackles in my ears, blasting through my subdermal comm-link. She checks up on me nearly every day but refuses to text me. Always calls, even though I can’t hear her. I close my eyes, drawing up the mental interface to send a text, but her voice breaks through in a burst of static.

‘Urgent … danger …’

Her voice cuts out. No static, nothing.

I spin round, bolting straight up the side of the mountain.

‘Agnes?’ I shout. Damn Russian satellites. They’re a century old, but they’re all we can use now that Cartaxus has taken over every other network on the planet. My comm-link can get texts in the cabin, but every time I want to take a call I have to run half a mile uphill.

Static fills my ears. ‘… reading me … Bobcat?’

‘Hang on!’ I yell, racing up the rocky slope. The path between the trees is still wet from last night’s rain. I skid as I race round a switchback, scrambling to keep myself upright.

She might be hurt. She’s all alone. The old girl is armed and tough as nails, but there are things in this world you can’t fight. Things that have no cure.

‘Almost there!’ I shout, forcing myself up the final stretch. I burst into the clearing at the summit and double over. ‘Agnes? Are you OK? Can you hear me?’

A beat of satellite-lag silence hangs in my ears, and then Agnes’s voice returns. ‘I’m fine, Bobcat. Didn’t mean to scare you.’

I drop to my knees in the grass, trying to catch my breath. ‘You nearly gave me a heart attack.’

‘Sorry. But I guess I figured out how to make you answer your comm.’

I roll my eyes and push the sweat-soaked hair from my face. ‘What’s so urgent?’

‘You up on your hill?’

‘Well, I am now.’

She chuckles, her voice popping with static. ‘I just got a call from one of the locals. They spotted a jeep out near your place. Big black thing. You see anything from up there?’

I push myself to my feet and scan the forest. From this outlook, on a clear day, I can see for miles. The Black Hills roll out before me, tumbling granite draped with pines, dotted with the flash of lakes and a web of leaf-strewn roads. This time of day two years ago, the highway to the east would have been lit up with a steady stream of headlights from the evening commute. There would have been planes flying into Rapid and the glow of houses through the trees, but instead the hills are dark, and the highway is an empty stretch of black.

All the houses are shuttered, and the land is dotted with craters. It always makes me sick to see it like this, but it’s the only place I can get reception.