Seeds of Chaos Omnibus
Books 1 & 2
Leveling up would be amazing…
… if it weren’t so deadly.
They injected me with a VR chip, a GPS tracker, and my first Seed. They gave me unbelievable powers.
Then they sent me to fight.
The monsters here are alien and vicious. There is a second moon in the sky. I watched a tree start moving and kill someone. And the other Players…?
They’re even worse.
I’m alone. I’m weak. And I’m scared. But I will cling to life by the tips of my bloody fingernails.
Who is behind this twisted game? Where are they sending us? Is there anyone I can trust?
If I want to survive, I have to get stronger. But can I do it before the Game kills me?
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You may know of me, but you have no idea who I am.
— Eve Redding
The electrical immobilizers clamped on my wrists and ankles caused the areas around them to burn with a strangely tingling sensation. It felt like touching my tongue to the tip of a nine-volt battery.
I tried to arch my back and kick out, and the sensation spread violently, causing my muscles to go rigid-limp against my will. I whimpered against the rubber-tasting patch covering my mouth, and tried to imbue some rage into the glare I leveled at my captors. The masked woman chuckled at me. The other one, a man, placed a large metal case on the ground and unlocked it with the hissing sound of hydraulics.
“Please, you said I’d get a Seed. Can I have it now?” the boy said, desperation lacing his voice.
I turned my glare on their sniveling accomplice. How could I have been so stupid? I should have ignored his fake distress, like everyone else. I’d almost done so, but then he met my eyes, his own pitiful and full of fear. He’d mouthed, “help” at me. So I’d walked into the alley.
And here I was now, bound and gagged by two masked people. A large transport vehicle had pulled up to oh-so-conveniently hide the mouth of the alley, and thus my current predicament, from the people on the street. They probably wouldn’t have helped, anyway. Strangers would take one look at the girl being abducted by masked, vaguely military-looking people, and scurry on with their eyes firmly pointed to the grey pavement. Gotta get to work. Lucky to be among the steadily decreasing percentage with a job. No time to deal with other people’s problems.
The boy looked away from me and snatched eagerly at something in the silent man’s outstretched hand. “I’m sorry,” he mumbled to me. “I wish I was stronger.” Then he shuddered and unclenched his fist around a little glass ball, which dropped to the ground.
“What do you think you’re doing? Pick that up!” the woman hissed. “You can’t leave stuff like that just lying around. There can’t be any evidence we were here. None.”
The boy gulped and snatched it back up, then met my eyes again. “I had to. I didn’t have a choice. You don’t know what it’s like.” His voice dropped to a whisper, and his chin quivered a bit. “But you will.”
“Shut up,” the man spoke for the first time, drawing something from his metal case and stepping ominously over to me.
At that, I tried once more to move my useless body. My muscles locked themselves into a painful half-relaxation, and though the force of my scream burned my throat, it came out of my nose weak and muffled.
The man bent over me and jammed a pen-sized piece of metal into my leg. It pierced the skin, and a second later he withdrew it and handed it to the woman, who plugged the other end into the side of a clunky link pad.
My breath heaved out of my lungs, and my eyes opened painfully wide, but every attempt at movement only forced me to lie more and more still.
The screen of the pad popped up with my face, under my name, Eve Redding, and a slew of other data.
What the hell? It was me in a white hospital gown—the same picture I’d had taken a few months before, when people had come to do a surprise, school-wide medical examination. We’d been told it was to ensure none of the students had communicable diseases. Why did they have that picture?
I swallowed. In a situation like this, there could be no good reason.
“It’s her,” the woman said. “Hurry. We don’t have much time. We’ll have to leave her here.”
That didn’t sound good, either. But if they were leaving me, at least I wasn’t being kidnapped for human trafficking or something. I’d make a bad slave to some rich foreigner. Too rebellious, and not pretty enough to make up for it.
The man nodded and grabbed me by my arm, which was bound behind my back. He lifted my weight roughly. He turned me onto my stomach and lifted the hair off the nape of my neck. There was pressure, and then a sharp pain at the base of my skull.
I tried to jerk away, but I couldn’t even move an inch. Frustration, terror, and rage boiled up in me, pushing out any forced humor, and a tear slipped down my nose onto the painfully rough concrete pressed against my cheek.
Tears—the only outlet my body had. I hated crying.
Another pain, slightly lower down.
Another tear of rage.
He flipped me back over and the woman came forward, another glass ball in her hand, but this one was filled with a creamy liquid. She knelt in front of me and pressed it to my neck. “I hope this one survives.”
There was one last quick, sharp pain.
She stripped off my electrical immobilizers and tapped the back of her wrist port against the patch on my mouth, causing it to disintegrate. I drew breath to scream, and tried to jerk away from her, but my body didn’t listen. The alley walls and the woman’s back as she stepped into the transport vehicle all spun crazily. I realized it was because my eyes were rolling back into my head as I passed out.
* * *
Consciousness came lurching back to me with a wave of sickness. I rolled to my hands and knees and heaved up bitter-apple bile onto the concrete. My dark brown hair hung unrestrained around my face, and my hands got splashed a little, but I barely noticed.
“Oh, God,” I moaned, heaving once again. I retched until nothing came out, then crawled to the alley wall and used it to pull myself up. My body shuddered uncontrollably. I looked up through the smoggy air to the sky above. The sun wasn’t overhead yet, but even in the shade of the towering buildings, the early summer heat made me feel like I was baking inside the city-stench all around me.
But I didn’t have time to stand there contemplating my own misery.
I needed to move right then, or I wouldn’t be able to.
I stumbled out onto the sidewalk, causing a businesswoman to rear back and sidestep to avoid colliding with me. She curled her lip at me in disgust and clacked away in her towering heels. Scag.
I stumbled on my way, using the walls to support myself when my legs couldn’t. The other people on the sidewalk veered out of my way, avoiding my eyes or throwing me the derisive glance reserved for homeless people and half-crazed addicts.
My brain was tingling.
What the hell had they done to me? Everything spun crazily, and every time I blinked random images and sounds flashed in my head. White walls, a frowning man in a lab coat, monitors blinking and beeping, shouting in a foreign language, a chest straining against restraints, a bright light…blindingly bright.
I opened my eyes and found myself leaning back against the side of a building, hot window glass against my back, and my head tilted toward the light of the rising sun. I jerked back and closed my lids against the white-hot heat starting to throb down from the orb. When I opened my eyes again, I saw a man looking suspiciously my way.
Fear gave me temporary mental clarity and the boost of adrenaline needed to straighten up. “Stupid,” I hissed to myself. “What the heck are you doing, on the street in broad daylight?” I took a deep breath of the dirty air and propelled myself forward, off the sidewalk and into the street. I raised my hand for a taxi pod and anxiously looked at the people around me out of the corner of my eye.
My attackers had left, but what if they were coming back? What if there were others? I stood out, obvious in the stupid uniform all high school students were forced to wear. I was spaced out on the streets, looking delirious, smelling of vomit, and in serious danger. I thought of filing a report with the enforcers, the military troops that policed us civilians after the attempted air strikes seven years ago, but everyone knew they were useless when it came to actually helping the civilians, unless you had money. I didn’t have money, but whoever my attackers were, they obviously did. The enforcers weren’t an option.
A taxi stopped in front of me. I opened the door and threw myself inside, blurting out my address to the computer-operated vehicle. It pulled leisurely away from the sidewalk and hurled itself full-speed into the flow of traffic. My stomach lurched, and I heaved onto the plastine seat. The computerized voice said something about financial responsibility, but I wasn’t paying attention.
My body started to vibrate, and when I looked down, I saw my pieces coming apart. Then I blinked, and I was normal again. “Must be hallucinating,” I mumbled. When I finally looked up from the fascinating myriad lines and crags in the skin of my palms, the taxi pod was stopped outside my building.
The automated voice was loud, and I don’t think I was imagining the irritation as it asked me once again, “Valued customer, we have arrived at the specified destination. The charge is three hundred twelve credits. Please swipe your identity link over the payment center and exit the vehicle promptly.” I looked out the pod window to my building. Thanks to my single mother’s workaholic nature, we lived in an area just far enough from the unemployment slums that it was safe enough to walk to school. Or should have been.
I swiped the sheath around my left forearm over the scanner in the center of the pod and climbed out. I couldn’t feel my legs, and had to look down to ensure they were still attached to my torso, but somehow I made it inside, through the doors, into the elevator, and then into our house.
The dark interior of my house was comfortably familiar. Safe.
“I hope this one survives,” rang through my head again. Perhaps not so safe after all.
“Please,” I whispered to the air. What was wrong with me? I was sick. Much too sick.
Before I could contemplate it any longer, my body was swept with a wave of heat. As soon as that passed, a wave of bone-creaking cold spread through me. My brain seemed to be tingling again, along with my spine, and when I took a step toward my room, my vision went dark and blurry. Then the cold floor smashed hard into the side of my head.
* * *
Voices seeped through my ears, as if from very far away.
“Got a call from the school saying she was absent…Can’t believe her!”
Some mumbling, and then louder, “Well, I don’t work to send her to school so she can become some delinquent and put us on the enforcers’ radar! Live quietly, I say…”
The door opened, and I tried to talk, to ask for help, but I couldn’t muster the strength to push the air out of my lungs.
“Oh my god. Eve, are you okay?” My mother shook my shoulder.
“Something’s wrong. Go get the medbot, Mom!” my brother said.
Someone rolled me over onto my back, and then the medbot’s cold sensors were being pushed into my armpits and mouth.
They were saying something else, but speaking in a man’s deep voice, and once again it wasn’t English. What? I didn’t remember them being bilingual. But in any case, the sound was quite soothing, and I found I didn’t care where it came from.
“Evaluation complete. Diagnosis unknown. Treatment unknown. Patient has fever of 105.4 degrees Fahrenheit. Please contact a medical professional immediately.” The robotic voice sounded next to my ear, loud enough to scramble my brains.
My mom’s voice on the phone, rapid-fire and shaking, grating, loud.
Hands on my skin, picking me up and pressing so hard the pain made me black out again. I woke up for a few seconds, in my own bed and staring up at Zed’s worried face.
He just barely squeezed my hand, and it felt like my bones would disintegrate, but I couldn’t move, couldn’t talk.
“You’re gonna be fine. The doctor’s on his way.”
I closed my eyes and drifted off to the sound of the other man’s voice, murmuring gently.
Mental Log of Captivity—Estimated Day: Two thousand, five hundred eighty-four.
I felt the initiation of a blood-covenant today. It was unlike the others, not another sordid violation. She is a Matrix, perhaps brought here in the exodus. I did not understand what was happening, at first, when I felt her. I fear that the stunted two-leg-maggots have captured her, and are using her for experimentation, like me. But if they are the cause of my blood-covenant being initiated, it shows only how ignorant they are. For the first time in many cycles, I feel hope.
He that dies pays all debts.
— William Shakespeare
I was dreaming. In my dream, I was a thousand little sparks of light, of life, of energy. I was sinking into the flowing expanse. As I settled, I started to reach out and connect to the other pieces of myself. Vibrations traveled through us, and I felt as if I was on the cusp, about to fall over the edge into understanding. Then I woke up.
I sat straight up in bed, gasping. My mind was reeling, dizzy, as if it had snapped back with the force of a once-taut rubber band. I found myself listening for something that wasn’t there.
I let some of the tension go and looked around. I was in my room, tucked under the covers of my bed, and wearing my favorite pajama set. My brother sat in a chair beside my bed, asleep. The room was still dark, just starting to grey with the approaching dawn.
I shivered and wrinkled my nose. My clothing was damp and my skin grungy from sweat. I really needed a shower. Badly. I peeled back the covers and sheets and crawled out of bed, careful not to wake Zed.
I noticed then that I was attached to an IV, the little needle piercing the flesh at the bend of my elbow. I’ve never been squeamish about needles, so I carefully pulled it back out of my skin and put pressure on the spot with my thumb for a while. My knees almost buckled when I tried to stand. By the time I’d made it to the bathroom, just around the corner from my room, I was panting, dizzy, and completely exhausted.
I turned on the sink and leaned against the counter for support while scooping water into my desert-dry mouth. I slurped too hard and started to cough, violently enough to hawk up a loogie. I spit the glob of mucus and dried blood into the sink, and the water carried it down the drain.
I looked at the bedraggled girl in the mirror. My dark, straight hair floated around my head in a tangled halo, my lips were dry and cracked in bloody lines, skin deathly pale, and the bags underneath my eyes looked bruised. Literally. My jaw was sharper, my cheekbones more defined, and I must have lost ten pounds. Just what I’d always wanted. Except not.
I met my pale blue eyes in the mirror. “You look like crap,” I croaked out, and then started coughing again.
The exertion drained me, and I sat down on the toilet for a few minutes of rest. After I relieved myself—which was indeed a relief—I stayed on the toilet for a few minutes, resting. My body felt strange in a way that I’d never felt before, even after being sick. Something was…different. And my hands and feet ached around the faint scars that still remained from having my extra fingers and toes removed as a baby. I rubbed at the skin where my sixth finger had been absentmindedly.
I remembered strange, crazy things. Nightmares. People had grabbed me when I tried to help some random guy. They’d injected me with something.
I lifted my hand to the back of my neck and pressed around at the base of my skull, then the spot an inch below that, then ran my finger over the skin of my throat where the woman had held the marble-injector-thing. There was no pain, no nicks or cuts that I could feel. I’d miraculously made it home, after they’d left me passed out in the alley.
And then what? I remembered flashes of a sterile room, strange machines, doctors, and some deep and soothing sound. I frowned and shook my head with a sigh. I couldn’t remember. I’d been way too out of it. Sick.
What had they done to me? Injected me with some sort of disease, perhaps. We were always hearing about terrorism on the news. That was one of the main reasons for the establishment of the enforcers a few years ago. Maybe I’d just been unlucky enough to meet some terrorists.
But, no, that didn’t make sense. They knew who I was. They’d said, “It’s her.” If they’d injected me with something infectious, I wouldn’t be here, in my room, with Zed not even wearing a mask. I would be quarantined. So maybe it had been some sort of poison?
I groaned. I couldn’t think. Maybe Zed would be able to tell me what my diagnosis was. If the doctor had come, my brother would know the result, since he’d obviously been at my bedside since the day before.
I went back into my room, sat down on my bed, and gently shook Zed’s shoulder.
He jerked awake, eyes wide and bleary, and looked around. “I’m up, I’m up! What’s wrong?” His eyes focused on me, and then his lips parted in a relieved smile. “Oh, thank goodness. I’m so glad you finally woke up. I mean, the doctor did say we should expect you to sleep for a long time as your body fought off the virus, but when you didn’t wake up for three days, I started to wonder—”
“Whoa, whoa,” I said, holding out my hand to stop him. “Three days? I’ve been sleeping all this time?”
“Well, yeah. I mean, mostly. I think so.” He looked uncomfortable, awkward, which was rare.
I frowned suspiciously. “What do you mean, ‘mostly?’ ”
He grimaced. “You were having nightmares. Or hallucinations, maybe. The doctor said…”
“Mom really did pay for a doctor?”
“Well, yeah. Of course. I mean, she wanted to take you to the hospital, but you know we don’t have that kind of money. What do you remember?”
I narrowed my eyes. “I got attacked on the street, and they injected me with something. People in masks. I was trying to get home, and I thought maybe they were watching, and there were doctors and machines in a small room. I was tied down…” I trailed off, frowning. “I guess I did get quarantined or something? I thought you said I didn’t go to the hospital.”
Zed bit his lip. “Umm, okay. So the doctor said this might be a side effect. All of that stuff didn’t happen. You were probably hallucinating, or maybe just dreaming. He said that in most cases, patients experience paranoid hallucinations during the fever, and possibly afterward, too, and that we should keep an eye on you, and he gave me some sedatives because he said sometimes they continue for a little while after the fever’s over and that if you get too worked up you should take one…” he rambled.
I let myself tune out his voice as he went on. Hallucinations. Is that what everything had been? Just my stressed out, overheated brain creating imaginary terrors? “But they seemed so real,” I murmured, cutting off his explanation of the sedatives. But maybe I was wrong. “What could cause something like that?”
“He said it’s a new strand of virus. Usually not deadly, but there’s no treatment for it yet, so he said to just give you lots of fluids and rest and to try to make sure you stayed grounded in reality.” His fingers tapped nervously on his knees, full of nervous energy and the need to help.
They were testing out some sort of bioterrorism, then? “Zed, I could have gotten you sick!”
“No. The doc said it’s not very contagious, and isn’t normally translated through anything except blood. Do you know what may have happened?”
“I don’t remember anything like that. And I promise I haven’t stuck myself with any used needles lately.” I smirked, then met Zed’s concerned eyes and changed it to a softer smile. “Do you think you could get me something to eat? I’m feeling a bit empty.”
He grinned. “Not eating in three days will do that to you, I hear. I’ll go get something. Be right back.”
As soon as he was gone, I picked up my ID sheath link and looked up my most recent transaction. Three hundred twelve credits, transportation and sanitation fee.
I wasn’t hallucinating everything. So how could I tell what had actually happened?
* * *
The back of my neck tingled, and then pulsed out a little shock that felt like static electricity. Unlike static electricity, it caused me to go blind for a second, and then my vision sputtered back to life like an old car’s engine.
Except now, a paper-thin, translucent screen hung in front of my face. I let out a stifled shriek and scrambled backward, shoving my covers into a pile in my haste to place myself as far away from it as possible. I stopped once my back was pressed firmly against the wall and I could go no further.
The screen floated unperturbed, the same distance from my face.
My eyes read the words on it without conscious thought.
WARNING: DO NOT DISCUSS THE GAME OR YOUR STATUS AS A PLAYER TO CIVILIANS.
I reached out and tentatively hovered my hands over and around the edges of the screen, careful not to touch it. There were no wires, no strings holding it in place. I slipped my hand behind it and watched my slightly blurred fingers wiggle back at me.
“This is not good.” I hesitated, then reached out and poked it with a finger. It reacted to my touch, though I felt nothing, and it popped out of existence as if I’d burst a bubble. Another one replaced it a second later.
EVE REDDING, CONGRATULATIONS ON YOUR INITIATION TO THE GAME.
That one faded away on its own, and was replaced by another.
YOU HAVE REACHED LEVEL ONE!
YOU HAVE GAINED ONE SEED!
PLEASE EXTEND YOUR HAND PALM UP TO RECEIVE YOUR SEED.
“Oh, hell,” I croaked. “This isn’t real. It’s not real.” Even so, I couldn’t help but hold my hand out, facing upward in shaky supplication. I was screaming inside, wondering what the hell was wrong with me. Resisting insanity was a much better idea, but my curiosity got the best of me. It seemed too real.
Over my hand the air rippled strangely, like a heat wave rushing out from my palm, distorting my vision. It was similar to the mirage of distant water on the ground that you can see on a really hot day.
Then it was gone, and where the air had once been, one of those glass balls my captors and the boy had used sat in my palm.
I closed my eyes and took a deep breath, so freaked out I felt I might start sputtering gibberish and banging my head against the wall. My heart beat like a subwoofer inside my chest as I opened my eyes and brought the ball closer to my face for inspection.
The early morning sunlight angled through my window and glinted off the marble-like sphere. A branching, maze-like pattern was etched into the clear glass in spidery, metallic lines. Inside the glass shell some sort of shimmering liquid swirled slowly around. Across the face of the marble, a string of letters rose to the surface and flowed past my eyes. The words read “MAKE A WISH.”
That was too much for me. “Zed!” I screamed.
He came rushing into the room, still holding a piece of bread in his hand and looking around frantically. “What’s wrong?”
“Do you see this?” I held up the ball, my hand shuddering. “Tell me!”
“Yes, I see it. Calm down, what’s wrong?” He held his hands in up a calming motion and pushed my arm down. “What’s the matter?”
I pulled my hand free and shook the marble. “Look closer. What do you see?”
He frowned and peered at it. “It’s a marble, Eve. Probably from a street vendor. Are you feeling all right?” He placed his hand on my forehead to test my temperature, and I brushed it away in irritation.
“What about that?” I pointed to the screen hanging in front of my face. “Do you see that?”
His eyebrows scrunched together further and his voice grew tight. “See what, Eve? What am I supposed to be seeing?”
I shook my head and pressed the palms of my hands hard to my eyes. “You’d know what I was talking about if you could see it. It’s hanging in the air, dammit!”
“I’m going to get you one of those sedative pills. You stay right there, Eve. Don’t move, and try to calm down. Just stay there, okay?”
Where would I go to get away from my own head? Besides, I barely had the strength to get to the bathroom. Did he think I’d run away? Jump out the window?
I took my hands away from my face and nodded, and he bolted away, the piece of bread now squished in his fist, forgotten.
The bread was so ludicrous, so removed from everything my crazy brain was trying to smash me with that I couldn’t help but laugh.
I was still giggling when another window popped up, different than the others.
—Eve, you’re perilously close to breaking the rule about disclosing Game information to non-Players. You really don’t want to do that.—
My laughter died in my chest, and I froze.
—When he comes back, you better realize that you’re feeling sick and feverish, and had another hallucination, if you care for his or your own safety.
Oh, and by the way…nice to meet you. :P—
“Who are you?”
—I’m Bunny, your Game Moderator.—