I’m super excited to share more of Meimi and Thorne’s story! Check out Chapters One and Two from ECHO Academy (Dimension Drift Book 4) and don’t miss the launch tour starting March 11th!
PS. Please note that ECHO ACADEMY begins with an expanded scene from the previous novel, ALIEN MINDS.
I stand on an almost-empty street of the planet Umbra.
This isn’t one of my science books or simulations either. I, Meimi Archer, have journeyed to a completely different planet, solar system, galaxy, blabbity blah. And it all went by in a flash. I left a party, stepped into a drift void, and—WHOOSH—now I’m here. Taking in a deep breath, I seek to truly process that fact.
So I check my outfit instead.
My frilly pink dress is ruined. Meh.
Clothing isn’t normally my thing. I’m more of a dark matter and quantum particles type gal. But in this moment? A trashed outfit feels super easy to face. The alien planet situation? Not so much. Plus, there’s an evil space cowboy lurking nearby who happens to be Emperor of the Omniverse.
I’m not even kidding.
And did I mention how his Imperial Dudeness wants to kill my boyfriend, Thorne, who’s the only other person around? Yup, that’s happening, too.
Ding, ding, ding!
An internal alert goes off in my noggin, saying it’s time to re-examine the seam of my gown again. Yup, still matted up with dirt and prairie grass. And is that a dead bug under the lace? Ick.
Get a grip, Meimi. You’re here to help Thorne.
It takes a force of will, but I sideline my clothing analysis and scan my surroundings. Ahead of me stretches a thin street flanked by wooden buildings. Names like saloon and sheriff are written on the facades in chipped paint. All the water troughs are rotted out. A broken shutter bangs in the wind. Basically, it’s your classic deserted town of the Old West variety.
Down the road stands Thorne, Prince of Umbra and general hottie in black body armor. He’s my age—around eighteen—with dark hair, brown eyes and a warrior’s build. Plus he has dimples. That’s an issue. In the end, I blame that smile for why I hauled my cookies across the universe to help fight Cole, the thug who’s more than Thorne’s attacker or emperor.
Cole also happens to be Thorne’s father.
I know. Twisted.
Speaking of the emperor, Cole towers seven feet tall, a mountain of a man with rough skin and cropped gray hair. Stetson, eye patch, leather pants and heavy boots… everything the emperor wears is black as midnight. No false packaging with this guy.
Cole narrows his eyes in my direction. “Welcome to Umbra.” He tips up his Stetson. With that movement, the hat bursts into a small dust cloud before disappearing back into Cole’s flesh. This isn’t a magic trick; Cole wields powerful nanoparticles called Crown Sentient. That’s the killer part of my killer cowboy situation. Regular sentient help all Umbrans travel through space, fight battles, see the future, you name it. But Crown Sentient do all that on steroids… and only for the emperor.
“Here’s where you’ll die,” Cole adds.
I roll my eyes. Like that idea didn’t occur to me already.
“No!” Thorne rounds on his father. “Keep your word. This is our fight. Meimi stays free.”
Cole snarls out a single word. “Maybe.”
No question what that means. Cole plans to murder us both. My stupor instantly vanishes. Obsessing about dresses? That was so forty seconds ago. Right now, I have a single thought.
Save the prince.
Hoisting up my skirts, I race toward Thorne.
Moving with impossible speed, Cole throws dozens of rapid punches at his son’s skull, ribs and kidneys. Thorne counters just as quickly, blocking each attack. Cole pauses, barely winded. Meanwhile Thorne braces his arms on his knees as he catches his breath.
Five yards away now.
“Son,” declares Cole. “This is getting on my nerves.” A cloud of particles appears around Cole’s right arm. The next instant, those dark sentient solidify into a long Winchester rifle. Fear prickles across my skin. Cole raises the weapon, aims at Thorne, and fires.
The bullet strikes Thorne squarely in the chest. My guy gets thrown across the street, through a glass window, and into a building marked saloon.
I do a double take.
The emperor’s super-powerful alien gun just blasted my boyfriend across a street. That’s not something you see every day, even on a movie feed. My pulse moves into hyper drive. Cole talks a big game about killing his son.
Did he just murder Thorne?
Scanning the broken window, Cole rests his rifle on his shoulder. “Bet you didn’t know Crown Sentient could do that, eh?”
My body turns numb with shock. Everyone knows what guns can do. And super-charged Crown Sentient guns? It’s only logical that Cole’s weapon would pack more power. To me, the rifle isn’t what’s shocking… it’s the fact that Cole is Thorne’s father. And the emperor shows zero concern that Thorne may be hurt. Bands of worry twist through me.
Thorne could even be dead.
Cole speeds across the dirt road. I rush behind the emperor, following him into the empty saloon. Overturned tables and chairs cover the floor. A booze counter stands stocked with broken bottles. Wind tinkles random keys on a busted player piano. It’s creepy as all get out.
Thorne sits against the far wall. The wood behind him buckles from the force of his spine having slammed onto the panel. He twitches; I freeze.
Thorne’s alive. Yes!
What I see next makes my heart sink. With every breath, Thorne’s lungs gurgle ominously. Splatters of blood line the nearby wall and floor.
Oh, no. Thorne’s dying.
This can’t be happening.
Cole saunters over to Thorne and stops. Raising his right arm, the emperor points his rifle toward Thorne’s face. Cole then launches into a long list of my guy’s execution-worthy crimes. All the while, that rifle stays jammed against Thorne’s cheek.
No time to lose.
I’m so done watching Cole beat up my boyfriend. Time to take things into my own hands. Literally. Reaching into my dress pocket, I pull out a small container which contains swarm sentient, a variety that forms something far better than a shotgun. Not that this is a big space competition for who has the best stuff.
It’s more of a science fair.
In any case, I plan to win.
Swarm sentient can take a unified shape that includes a central consciousness. Basically, I’ve got more of a killer pet than a boring old gun. My particular swarm becomes a semi-transparent creature called the Lacerator. And it’s as badass as its name.
I open the container.
Sentient particles seep out of the tiny box, congealing into the shape of a semi-solid monster that towers seven feet tall. The Lacerator has a wide chest, stout legs, and empty holes serve as its eyes. Dinosaur-style spikes protrude from its spine. Razor-sharp teeth line its overly wide mouth.
Who cares if this swarm looks like a connect the dots dinosaur? My Lacerator is just the best.
Pictures appear in my mind—that’s how the Lacerator communicates with me. Based on the images, the monster clearly wants me to issue a command.
“Heal Thorne,” I order. “NOW.”
The Lacerator bursts into a cloud of particles. The sight reminds me of a miniature tornado as it whirls across the saloon floor. Broken chairs and tattered playing cards get caught in the motion. Bands of worry tighten around my rib cage. I just ordered the Lacerator to cure Thorne, but that’s more of a hope than anything else. I haven’t actually seen the Lacerator do anything but kill stuff. My breath catches.
Can a sentient swarm fix a bullet wound?
The swarm slams into Thorne’s chest. Dark particles swirl across my guy’s arms, neck and face, forming moving tattoos of pinwheel-type lines. The ink-like markings seep right into Thorne’s flesh, merging with his body. The scientist part of me thinks that’s cool tech. The girlfriend side just wants to be Thorne not-nearly-dead already.
What happens next takes place in seconds, but forever seems to eke by as color returns to Thorne’s skin. His bruises fade. Blood dries up and vanishes. After shaking his head, Thorne hops to his feet. Now that’s a recovery sign if I’ve ever seen one.
I exhale. Chalk up one for our side.
“Well done, Meimi,” says Thorne. Even his dimpled smile is back.
I give him a mock curtsey because one, I’m wearing a dress; and two, it’s never a bad time for sass.
Cole staggers backward, the sentient rifle vanishing from his hands. The emperor’s face pales with shock. “What?” Cole points at my nose. “Humans can’t order sentient around.”
“Well, I just did,” I retort. “Get used to it.”
Cole raises his arms. Once more, black particles swirl around his hands. This time, the Crown Sentient congeal into the shape of a lasso that’s held tightly in the emperor’s fist. With a snap of his wrist, the rope whips out from Cole’s grip.
And it heads in my direction.
Thorne races toward me. “Get down, Meimi!”
There isn’t time. One moment, I’m standing free. The next, a line of rope encircles my throat. I try to gulp in fresh air. Useless. The rough lasso bites into my skin.
Yet it also calls to my soul.
What happens next is pure instinct. Seconds ago, I communicated with the Lacerator using mental images. Now I send out a new command to the Crown Sentient around my neck. With all my focus, I imagine the lasso merging into my body.
I writhe to get free. The skin on my throat chafes and bleeds. My lungs ache for air. Once again, I picture the lasso melting into the same swirling markings I just saw on Thorne. Nothing happens.
Will the Crown Sentient ever respond?
Suddenly the emperor’s lasso bursts into a haze of particles. Hope sparks in my chest. It’s working! There’s a tickling sensation as markings appear on my throat, followed by a zing of electricity against my skin. No doubt, the Crown Sentient just merged into my body, the same as they did to Thorne.
Power thrums through my nervous system. Every corner of my soul vibrates with energy. Pain sears into my skull. It strikes me that I’m experiencing the worst ice cream headache of my life, times ten. The agony ends as quickly as it began. No question about it. I’ve taken in Crown Sentient.
Feels pretty good, as a matter of fact.
“How can this be?” Cole staggers backward. “You’re not Umbran. And even if you were, no one but the emperor can take in Crown Sentient.”
I bob my brows. “Oh, say it’s impossible again. I love it.” An idea appears. “How about this?”
For my next feat of amazingness, I imagine Thorne taking in Crown Sentient as well. With the picture firmly in mind, I raise my hand. Sure enough, Crown Sentient rise from my palm and race across the room. Fast as a whip, the sentient encompass Thorne in what looks like a dust cloud before turning into the same swirly markings as before. Those inky lines quickly seep into Thorne’s chest, hands and mouth.
“This isn’t happening,” thunders Cole. “That boy is too weak.”
“Maybe you need to expand your definition of what it means to be strong,” counters Thorne.
I shoot him a thumbs-up. Good point there, alien boyfriend.
Cole forms his Winchester again. I suppose he thinks that’s a menacing move, but I have another thought entirely.
More Crown Sentient for us, yum yum.
Reaching forward, I summon those particles to me as well. The rifle instantly dissolves into dark specks that fly across the saloon and soak directly into my body. Fresh waves of energy flow though my nervous system. The ice cream headache returns for a few seconds, but I can ignore it better this time.
The emperor scowls at Thorne. “I don’t need sentient to fight you.” Cole lunges for his son. This time, when the emperor attacks his child, Thorne does more than just block the blows.
He hits back.
With Thorne’s last punch, Cole flies across the room. The emperor lands against the back panel with an ear-splitting thunk. It occurs to me that Cole has the same position Throne did a few minutes ago—sitting against the wall with the panel behind hi all busted up. The emperor looks unconscious, but you never know. I send out my own sentient to tie him up, just to be sure.
For a long second, I can only stare at the bound-up emperor. “Did we really do it?”
“Looks like,” says Thorne. “I’ve never seen him knocked out before.”
Some small part of me says this is too easy. But I decide to ignore that part, mostly because Thorne is taking off for me at a run. Soon our bodies press together in the mother of all hugs. Thorne’s hand slides up the side of my torso and neck, ending with a firm grip on my chin.
I know what’s coming next, and I love this idea.
Sometimes, it’s good to be me.
“When you love someone across multiple realities, that connection can seep into your home world.
Earthers call this finding your soul mate.
On the planet Umbra, we say you discover your transcendent.”
– Empress Ophelia, author of The Lost Book of Transcendence
At last, Meimi Archer is in my arms. For a moment, I soak in her perfection. Brown hair frames her heart-shaped face. Sixteen beloved freckles scatter across the bridge of her nose. The twin fires of intelligence and courage burn in her wide emerald eyes. She’s seventeen and an immortal beauty, all at once.
Meimi’s my transcendent—the woman I love in so many realities, it bleeds through into this one. Growing up, I thought transcendence was a myth.
Then I met Meimi.
I’m one lucky prince.
Little by little, I guide Meimi’s lips toward mine. Once our mouths almost touch, I pause. Nothing compares to Meimi’s kisses; I wish to commit every scintilla of this moment to memory. There’s the way her lips glisten with a liquid beauty. How Meimi’s soft curves press against my firm body. And the quick breaths which mean she wants this as much as I do.
For the hundredth time, I imagine our future. Such mental pictures kept me sane all those months when Meimi couldn’t remember me. Now those cherished images come back. There’s Meimi and I riding hoverbikes across Umbra’s prairies… waltzing on our wedding day… and cradling our newborn. I even see grey-haired versions of us cuddling on a porch swing, our faces wrinkled and happy.
Meimi goes up on her tiptoes. Our lips meet in a gentle kiss that’s all things loving and grateful. But this isn’t the time for much intimacy. My father won’t stay passed out forever.
Meimi breaks the kiss. “What happens next?”
I let out a long breath. There’s no question what Meimi refers to here.
Fresh images flip through my brain. These aren’t hoped-for futures; they’re two types of memories from a painful past. First come recollections of Father, a kind man who never treated me as less just because I didn’t wield much sentient. Second follows thoughts of Cole, the emperor who rages and strikes. Crown Sentient ate away at Father’s mind, transforming a good man into an angry demon. For years, Mother asked me to put Cole out of his misery. But I couldn’t. There are still signs of the good man who is my father.
Even now, I just can’t give up on Father yet. How do I explain that to Meimi?
“It’s a good question,” I begin.
“Why do I get the feeling this is a complex situation?”
“Because you’d be right. You should know the true choices here.”
For a few seconds, Meimi stares at Cole. When her gaze meets mine again, my girl is all steely resolve. “Tell me everything.”
“We could kill my father, take all his Crown Sentient, and become rulers of the omniverse. That’s how my father got the job.”
“Honestly? I’m not a fan of becoming an alien emperor and empress right now.”
“Same here. But I wanted to be honest. And there is another option.”
“Let’s hear it.”
“I could take Cole back to my family’s home at Fort Derringer. That’s on the other side of the planet. Now that I can wield some of my father’s Crown Sentient, maybe I can help him.” I huff out a breath. “I have to try.”
Meimi gently rests her palm against my cheek. “I understand.”
Pure adoration pulses through my veins. This girl.
I sigh. “I should get back then, I suppose.”
My mind races. Truth is, I’d love to take Meimi to Fort Derringer, but it would be a big risk. For my people, knowing transcendents exist would be a major revelation. Then there’s the fact that Meimi and I could be the next emperor and empress—that’s not what people are expecting. And when the unexpected happens, that can end in violence. Just because my family rules, doesn’t mean we’re without enemies.
“I would love to bring you to Fort Derringer one day,” I say solemnly. “But when that happens, I want to be sure you’ll be safe and welcomed. That might take some time.”
“So to be together, we must be apart?” She shakes her head yet smiles. “That sounds like my luck.”
“It won’t be long. Soon you’ll wield your sentient like a pro. We’ll visit each other’s worlds often.” I glance over to Cole. “But that’s the future. Right now, he could wake up any moment. It’s time for us both to go home.”
Just saying those words tears at my soul, but it’s the truth. Meimi always deserves honesty.
“I’m not worried,” says Meimi bravely. “I’ll track you down in no time.”
“Looking forward to it.” Leaning forward, I rest my forehead against hers. A weight of sorrow hangs about us, heavy as the threat of rain.
Best to get this over with.
We step apart. Raising my right hand, I call upon the regular sentient power inside me. Silver particles lift from my palm as I create a circular transport portal called a drift void. Within seconds, a plate of gray specks hangs in the air.
Somehow, I force out the next five words. “You can step through now.”
Meimi sighs. “Right.”
My transcendent sets her fingers against the silver plate. Inch by inch, she glides her right arm into the whirl of gray. The sentient panel expands, ready to accept her entire body. Meimi steps in half-way. All the while, emotions pour through our transcendent bond.
I sense Meimi’s bone-deep chill of despair.
The heat of her frustration.
And a shock of fear.
The sorrow of our farewell vanishes. Every muscle in my body goes on alert. Something’s scaring Meimi. Sure enough, a presence looms behind me. No question who it is, either.
Cole has awoken.
“Goodbye,” snarls the emperor. “Enjoy your exile.”
The sentient surrounding Meimi do something I’ve never seen before.
Particles of gray become tiny points of crimson. I blink, not believing what I’m seeing. Red sentient. These are illegal—even to the emperor—because they don’t just transport someone to another part of the universe. They block both sides of that void, eternally.
No, no, no.
Cole is permanently separating Earth from Umbra… and me from Meimi.
On reflex, I reach out to my transcendent. Our fingertips almost brush. With the barest flash of crimson light, the red sentient disappear. Then Meimi vanishes as well. My mind blanks with shock. I reach out to Meimi through our bond. No flow of emotion pulses through. We’re severed.
Yet my transcendent can’t be gone. I won’t allow it.
Minutes ago, Cole wanted to kill us both. Now he’s fine with an exile void? Father is a rage machine, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t an expert schemer. And this situation positively howls with secret plans. No question about it. The first step in connecting with Meimi is understanding why Father did this in the first place.
I turn to Cole. “You could have killed Meimi, or at least tried to. But you played possum against the wall, waiting for your chance. Then you sent Meimi to exile on Earth. That keeps her safe away from anyone on Umbra, including you. Why?”
Father sneers. “Don’t ask questions where you won’t like the answers. With the girl gone, you can’t take in any more Crown Sentient. That makes you vulnerable, son.”
An idea sparks. Father brings up a good point. My new Crown Sentient could be very useful here. I picture them opening the exile void. Nothing. So I imagine more of them leaving Cole. Again, there’s no response.
The emperor chuckles. “Checking if I’m right, are you? Like I said, you can’t take in any more Crown Sentient.”
“Why?” I repeat.
Cole waves his hand in a casual motion. “Lost my temper.” There’s no real heat in his words, though. When Cole is actually angry, you can’t miss it.
Lost his temper, my ass.
“It’s like this,” Cole continues. “The moment that girl took in my Crown Sentient, I knew she wasn’t any more human than I am. She’s Umbran and a conduit for my Crown Sentient. But now she’s gone forever. You need to accept that.”
I narrow my eyes. “Out with it, Cole. You’ve been planning something. Just tell me what you want.”
“If you insist.” Cole slaps on a forced smile. “I’m a generous man. You can keep the Crown Sentient you just stole. All I ask is that you don’t cause trouble. Forget about that girl.”
Frustration heats my veins. “She has a name. Meimi. And she’s my transcendent, not some girl.”
“On that we agree, son. Miss Meimi is indeed a transcendent. But we differ on a single point.” Next Father says two words that blow apart my world.
Father’s false smile stays firmly in place. “Took in my Crown Sentient, didn’t she? What do you think that makes her?”
“Being emperor ain’t an easy job, son. Crown Sentient mess with your head.” Father’s eyes take on a strange gleam as he says the mess with your head part. “A transcendent will share my load. This is a gift from the omniverse—the very universe of parallel universes—and it’s not for a weak boy without the sense of a newborn piglet. Now, do you agree with me on that, or must I get nasty?”
Electric jolts of pure rage careen through my nervous system. Father wants to take on Meimi as his empress. That’s upsetting on so many levels, it’s hard to keep track. Yet much as I want to throttle my Father, that won’t help anything right now. Leaning into all my warrior training, I force my mind to calm.
And I round on Cole once more.
“Please,” I state. “The fact that you’re not attacking me? You know I’m Meimi’s transcendent. If I’m dead, I can’t be used to control her. I can see it now. Marry me or Thorne goes into prison. Take the crown or he dies.”
A muscles tick on Father’s neck. “You should have lied. You should have said you’d be a good little prince.”
“So I’m right.” I lower my voice. “Tell me. How do you plan to get around the exile void? You must have something.”
In reply, Cole raises his fist. Before today, this strike would have appeared whip-fast, too quick to catch. Now I can dissect every aspect of the emperor’s strike, from the way his muscles ripple to the barely-detectable breeze as his arm closes in. No question what to do next.
Use it to my advantage.
The emperor’s swing draws closer. Once Cole’s knuckles brush my forehead, I crouch down and dodge the punch. Twisting my torso, I land a strike of my own, straight to Cole’s chest.
That sound is unmistakable. My hit snapped some ribs. The emperor clutches his torso, his gaze shifting between his injured chest and my raised fists. Little by little, Cole lifts his hand from his torso. His fingertips glisten with the barest trace of blood.
“You caught me off guard there, boy.” Cole eyes me from head to toe. “Whatever trick you’re pulling, it won’t last.” He wipes his hand off on his thigh. “You’re mine, too. Just like her.”
The words ricochet through me in odd ways. You’re mine, too. Just like her. Deep inside, some kind of switch flips on. Fresh energy streams through my body. The static hiss in my head turns deafening. Everything in the saloon transforms to stark shades of black and white. Even more connections form within my soul. Whatever is happening, my new Crown Sentient are at it again.
And I thought things were strange before.
Suddenly, my body alters. My shoulders grow broader. Each bone stretches. Muscles bulge. One moment, I’m the runt prince to a behemoth emperor. The next thing I know, I stare at Cole dead on. We’re the same size now. The Crown Sentient changed everything.
A realization appears. This will be more than one solid strike against Cole. For the first time in my life, I’ll have a full and fair fight with Cole. One on one.
“Don’t underestimate me,” snarls Cole. “I’ll use you to control Meimi just from a dungeon, son.”
“You have to lock me up first.”
“I’m working on that.” The emperor summons fresh Crown Sentient. The black particles swirl around his hands, only to solidify into the shape of a double barrel shotgun. My breath catches. The last time Cole made that particular weapon, I almost died.
What happens next is pure reflex.
Lifting my arm, I picture my own Crown Sentient encompassing my first. The dark particles instantly rise from my skin, creating a black glove around my hand. Slamming my arm forward, I aim straight for the barrel of Cole’s gun. All the while, I focus on a single image: shattering the weapon.
What happens next only lasts a second. Still my mind soaks in everything as if all it takes hours to complete. Inch by inch, my fist pushes forward as the shotgun disintegrates. Once I get within a breath of my father’s actual hand, my knuckles strike onto metal. I pull away.
I don’t wait to see what he’ll do next.
Jumping high, I lock my shins around Cole’s neck. Twisting my body, I flip the emperor through the air.
Cole lands on his head with a smack. Floorboards shatter with the impact. Splinters and dust erupt into the air. Father hops back onto his feet, ready to return the strike with a kick of his own. His hit lands on my stomach. I stagger back from the force of the blow, absorbing the impact. Normally, I’d be winded from that strike. Not this time. Leaping forward, I slam my elbow into Cole’s throat before kicking in the back of his knees.
My father lands on his back with a thud. I stalk closer, ready for the knock-out.
Voices echo in from the street. I glance toward noise. That’s all the distraction Father needs. A dagger of sentient forms in Cole’s hand; he pummels me against the wall and presses the weapon against my throat. “Do you want an extra mouth?”
Quick as lightning, I summon a blade of my own and shove my new blade against his kidneys. “Only if you want an open gut.”
Father glances down. “It appears we’re at an impasse. How about I give you some time to think? Remember, it’s a good offer. Keep the Crown Sentient. Find yourself a new girl—there are plenty of princesses running around. Just give up on Miss Meimi. And one more thing. No matter what you do, say nothing of this to your mother.”
I frown. “What?”
“Fooled you, don’t she? I don’t pretend anything. I’m a good man and a bad one, both rolled into the same patch of real estate. But Janais is something else. If you value Miss Meimi, you’ll keep the fact she’s Umbran a secret.”
I tilt my head, trying to understand. Just when I thought I had it worked out, there’s another twist. Outside, the rumble of voices echo in from the street grows louder.
The saloon door whips open. Mother enters.
And inside my soul, my life derails. As long as I can remember, I’ve worked to save the good man that was my father. Now a line has been crossed. Cole wants to make Meimi his empress. If the choice is between my family of origin and my future with Meimi, there really is no decision to make.
No one hurts Meimi, ever.
–End Of Sample–