Dear readers,

I’m super-excited to share this preview of Chapter One from ALIEN MINDS, the first full novel in my Dimension Drift Series.

Thanks for taking a look and I hope you enjoy the sample!

Christina

In this moment, I know four things.

One, I just woke up in a hospital bed.

Two, I don’t remember anything about my life before today. Hello, amnesia!

Three, I want out of here now because … 

Four, there’s a creepy couple in my room—Luci and Josiah—who claim they’re my sponsor parents. According to them, I’m a seventeen-year-old science prodigy called Wisteria Roberts.

Huh. That name rings zero bells.

Plus, these two make my skin crawl.

“We sponsor you financially,” explains Josiah. “Then in the fall, we’ll fund your senior year of high school at ECHO Academy.” Josiah’s a lanky guy with slicked-back hair, a frayed suit, and an overly large Adam’s apple.

“Afterward, you’ll pay us back with interest,” adds Luci. “Forty percent. Compounded annually.”

Luci is tall and willowy with white-blonde tresses. By contrast, I’m a curvy girl with brown hair and green eyes. I’m also wrapped up mummy-style with bandages. According to Luci and Josiah, I took a spill on Newbury Street and lost my memory. So sketchy.

Some small voice in my head cries that I should be terrified right now. Instead, I just feel numb. Must be a happy side effect of having no memory. Like an amnesia bonus.

“You’ll love living in our dorm,” says Josiah. “In fact, think of me more as your sponsor friend than your sponsor parent.”

At this point, that small part of me screams how Josiah is a disgusting pig. But more of me is still happily numb, so the warnings go nowhere.

Screech, screech, screech! 

A chorus of alarm bells sound. Red lights flash in the outer hallway. An overly calm female voice drones through hidden speakers. “Cleansing search commencing … cleansing search commencing. All hail the Authority … All hail the Authority.”

With that, the inner cogs of my brain connect and whir. Feelings return. My blood chills over with fear. I may not recall my personal history, but I do remember how our evil government—what we call the Authority—conducts cleansing searches. They find the sick or poor, label them as undesirable, and slate them for cleansing. It’s a fancy word for murder.

The alarms wail louder. My heart rate skyrockets. If there’s a cleansing search, I’m a slam dunk to be undesirable.

A cat-like animal slinks into the room. My eyes almost bulge out of my head. This is one of the Horde, which are genetically altered attack animals. In this case, the creature has a feline body paired with the hide of a serpent and bat wings. A golden collar encircles its throat. The creature sniffs at me once before letting out a high-pitched howl.

Yee-oooow!

I grip my sheets and shiver. At this point, I’m only inches away from death. The way that cat-snake-bat yowls, the animal is calling for its master.

Sure enough, a warrior bursts through the door. He wears black body armor that’s patterned with charred-out bones and paired with a skull-like helmet. I know that particular uniform. This guy is one of the Merciless, warriors who specialize in cleansings.

I’m so dead. Literally.

“I’m Captain Vargas.” The Merciless gestures toward the cat-snake-bat. “This is Marro.” He then points straight at my nose. “My animal called me here because it scents you as undesirable.”

Bolts of worry move through my torso. This is not good news.

Vargas lifts a gash gun from the holster at his waistline. “Prepare to be cleansed.”

I look over to Luci and Josiah. In response to the threat to their supposed sponsor child, they gasp, pale, and retreat to a far corner. Thanks for nothing. 

Closing my eyes, I wait for the inevitable.

No blast sounds.

Instead, the alarms fall silent. Reopening my eyes, I see a wisp of a man stroll into the room. Tufts of gray hair encircle his balding head. Small round glasses sit atop his thin nose. The name tag on his loose lab coat reads Dr. Godwin.

My heart sinks.

Yup, it’s that Dr. Godwin, the guy who runs the attack Horde, of which Marro is only one example.

Things keep getting better and better.

Although Godwin stands far shorter than Vargas, the doctor swaggers toward the towering warrior.

“What are you doing here?” snaps Godwin.

“Routine visit,” replies Vargas.

“Then why are you holding your gash gun?” asks Godwin.

Vargas quickly reholsters his weapon. “No reason.”

I raise my hand. After all, Godwin looks on my side here. “He was totally about to cleanse me,” I state.

Godwin frowns. “We’ve been through this a hundred times, Vargas. You are forbidden from killing my patients.”

My eyes almost bug out of my head. I’m Godwin’s patient? Luci and Josiah said I’d gotten in an accident, but not who was treating my memory loss. Godwin’s on the government’s Star Council, which means he’s the nastiest of the nasties. Having him as my doctor will not end well.

“Did your animal bite her?” asks Godwin.

“Not yet,” replies Vargas.

“Good. Be sure to keep your beast away from my patient.” Godwin glares at Vargas. “And don’t you go near her again, either.”

For the record, I like the direction this conversation is taking. Not being killed by Vargas is a good plan, even if it does come from Godwin.

“Near or not, I’ll keep tabs on her.” Vargas pulls out a metal cuff from somewhere. A second later, he snaps the device on my wrist. Cool steel presses against my skin. I have to hand it to Vargas—the guy moves pretty quickly for a massive dude in heavy black armor.

Still gripping my forearm, Vargas lifts my wrist up for a closer examination. For the first time, I notice a small screen embedded into the metal. The display reads: Wisteria Roberts, private staff for Dr. Godwin, goal loading in process.

I try yanking my arm free from Vargas’s hold. The guy’s grip is like iron.

“I didn’t give permission for that,” snarls Godwin.

Vargas folds his arms over his chest. “Everyone gets a wrist cuff, even if they’re a legitimate citizen. If you don’t like it, take it up with Humboldt.” General Humboldt runs the Merciless; Dr. Godwin leads the Horde of genetically enhanced killer creatures. The two have a hate-hate relationship.

Turning away from Godwin, Vargas focuses on me once more. “Now I can track your every move,” he explains.

“Oh.” That numb feeling returns. It’s like I’m a mindless pawn on a chessboard—no idea what the real players are doing. I find myself staring at the cuff. “This says something about goals.”

“Soon you’ll receive updates on the Liberation Celebration.” Vargas sighs, as if simply saying the words Liberation Celebration were some kind of prayer.

His attitude is not a shocker. Every August, the Liberation Celebration commemorates the day the Authority took power. It’s a huge deal.

“This year, we’re adding a contest to the event,” adds Vargas. “It’s between the Merciless and the Horde.” Vargas nods in the doctor’s direction. “Godwin’s side is losing.”

“Leave,” orders Godwin.

Vargas winks. “As you command.”

With that, Vargas marches off down the outer hallway. Marro slinks along behind him, the little creature’s bat wings fluttering with each step. Poor Marro. If that golden collar were off, then he’d probably scamper away to chase mice. Horde animals aren’t naturally mean.

“Impossible man.” Godwin steps back to my bedside. As the doctor moves closer, my skin prickles with fear. This doctor is super familiar. Although I can’t remember where we met or anything, I know one fact.

Godwin is a dick and I hate him. 

“It’s true that I’m behind in terms of the competition,” continues Godwin. “But in order to take the lead, I need top scientists. You’re supposedly a prodigy, so I’ve spent weeks rescuing your mind. Now you owe me everything. Will you help me win?”

I pretend to consider this before replying. “It’s tempting, but no thanks. Just send me back to where I came from, and I’ll be fine.”

Under the bedsheets, I cross my fingers. Please send me back.

Godwin points toward Luci and Josiah. “You met your sponsor parents. Don’t you want to live in safety and comfort while attending ECHO Academy, the world’s greatest school for science? In return, all you need do is provide a little assistance for the celebration. Swear to help me and it’s all yours.”

I wince a bit, like I’m seriously thinking this through once more. “Nope. Still not interested. I’m just—” I pat my head bandages “—recovering from brain surgery and everything.”

Godwin rounds on Luci and Josiah. “You two. Out.”

“What do you mean?” Josiah’s mouth falls open. “Wisteria’s not our sponsor child anymore?”

Godwin’s thin nostrils flare with rage. “Wisteria will stay under my personal care. If I have need of you, I’ll let you know.”

Luci slumps. “But I thought—”

“Go!” orders Godwin.

In another display of fake-parent awesomeness, Luci and Josiah skitter from the room. A pang of disappointment fills my soul. It’s as if I knew Luci and Josiah, but expected more from them.

A sneaky look lights up Godwin’s bland face. “Since you aren’t willing to help, I must resort to more brutal motivations. I’ve found a private guard for you.” He snaps his fingers. “Enter.”

A boy stalks into the room. Wearing fitted black body armor, the guard looks about eighteen years old with broad shoulders and a lean, muscular body. His hair is cut short—military style—and sets off the heavy angles of his face. But what stuns me are his eyes.

Large.

Brown.

Soulful.

My breath catches. I definitely know this boy. He’s important. Every cell in my body wants to remember more. Stupid amnesia.

Godwin sets his hand on the guy’s shoulder. “Introduce yourself.”

If the boy recognizes me, he doesn’t show it. His eyes stay cold as his gaze locks with mine. “I’m Thorne Oxblood.”

My throat tightens with grief. I don’t remember this guy, so why does this moment feel like such a betrayal? After all, I handled waking up with amnesia no problem. I sailed past the Luci and Josiah Show like some part of me was expecting it.

But Thorne? His empty stare hits me like a body blow. Despite my best efforts, a whimper escapes my lips. This is horrible.

I glance over to Godwin. The word smug pretty much sums up the doctor’s face. “Now, that’s more the reaction I was expecting.” Godwin focuses on Thorne. “Tell her what I’ve hired you to do.”

“I’m here to ensure your compliance,” states Thorne. “Dr. Godwin requires your unique services to meet his goals for the Liberation Celebration. You will help him or die.”

All my sass melts through the floor. Something about Thorne tears at my soul in a deeper way than anything from Godwin, Luci, or Josiah.

This can’t be happening. 

Once more, Godwin claps his hand on Thorne’s shoulder. “Make sure the girl’s ready for testing first thing tomorrow morning. I must confirm her skills before moving forward.”

Thorne stiffens his stance. “Yes, sir.”

“Did you say testing?” I sit up straighter. “Don’t I need more time to recover?”

“Let me clarify a few things.” Godwin’s voice transforms into a sinister whisper. “I don’t want your help. If I weren’t so desperate for scientists, I wouldn’t even consider you. And if you’re any good, you’ll become nothing but a whisper and a shadow. Every success you achieve will be attributed to me. I trust we understand each other.”

Without waiting for a reply, Godwin presses a button on the wall. “Knock her out.”

A young woman’s voice sounds from hidden speakers. “Yes, Dr. Godwin.”

Blue fluid fills my IV tube. I frown. That particular shade of drug is familiar.

Tranquilizer. 

In this moment, one thing becomes clear. I’ll never help Godwin win at the Liberation Celebration. In fact, I’d love to explode the whole thing in his smarmy face.

Within seconds, my eyelids droop. A low whir sounds as the blinds auto-close on my bay windows. Godwin takes off. The door shuts behind him with a soft click, leaving me in shadows.

Thorne stands against the wall, silent and staring. He could be the cover boy for Cruel Killer magazine, the guy’s so intimidating.

As my consciousness fades, I focus on my wrist cuff. Words flash in a dim green glow.

Update Complete

Star Council Level Access: Godwin

Humboldt-Merciless Undesirables Tagged: 1,342,109

Godwin-Horde Undesirables Tagged: 443,808

Total To Be Announced At Liberation Celebration: 1,785,917

What in the ever-loving Darwin?

That’s what this is all about?

According to this readout, Godwin and Humboldt are racing to tag the most undesirables for death … with their grand totals to be broadcast at the Liberation Celebration. A sick taste crawls up my throat. President Hope has made a game from marking people for execution.

Maybe I don’t know who I am, but I must have family somewhere. A word appears in my mind: mother. I don’t know my mom’s name or where she is, but I feel certain of one fact. My mother’s an undesirable. To keep her safe, I must help the others as well. As my consciousness fades, my thoughts reel through options.

An idea appears.

Perhaps I can put Godwin in jail, escape this scary scene, ruin the Liberation Celebration, and save every undesirable—including my mother—all at once.

I just need a team.

As my eyes flutter closed, I notice how Thorne watches me with extra interest. Now that Godwin’s gone, my badass guard looks all things wide-eyed and sweet.

That settles it.

He’ll be my first team recruit.

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