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       Strike, p.1

           D. J. MacHale
slower 1  faster
Strike


  A division of Penguin Young Readers Group

  Published by the Penguin Group

  Penguin Group (USA) LLC

  345 Hudson Street

  New York, New York 10014

  USA / Canada / UK / Ireland / Australia / New Zealand / India / South Africa / China

  Penguin.com

  A Penguin Random House Company

  Copyright © 2014 D.J. MacHale

  Penguin supports copyright. Copyright fuels creativity, encourages diverse voices, promotes free speech, and creates a vibrant culture. Thank you for buying an authorized edition of this book and for complying with copyright laws by not reproducing, scanning, or distributing any part of it in any form without permission. You are supporting writers and allowing Penguin to continue to publish books for every reader.

  ISBN: 978-1-101-60078-8

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

  Version_1

  For Bobby “Jake” Russell.

  I hope you got the silk shirts.

  Contents

  Copyright

  Dedication

  Foreword

  One

  Two

  Three

  Four

  Five

  Six

  Seven

  Eight

  Nine

  Ten

  Eleven

  Twelve

  Thirteen

  Fourteen

  Fifteen

  Sixteen

  Seventeen

  Eighteen

  Nineteen

  Twenty

  Twenty-one

  Twenty-two

  Twenty-three

  Twenty-four

  Twenty-five

  Twenty-six

  Twenty-seven

  Twenty-eight

  FOREWORD

  We are rapidly approaching the end.

  No, I’m not talking about the “imminent destruction of the world as we know it” kind of end. I mean “the end” of another adventure. (Though I’m not making any promises about the possibility of world-destruction.)

  I’m particularly excited about wrapping up the SYLO Chronicles because, well, I’ve been getting grief from a lot of readers. Seems as though the endings of SYLO and STORM were, shall we say, a big tease. Guilty. I admit it. As much as each of those books had a definite conclusion, both times I added one of those pesky last chapters that throw you over that proverbial cliff and give you a maddeningly slender thread to hang on to. I know, I know, the more I revealed about the plight of Tucker and friends, the deeper the mystery became. Again, guilty. What can I say? I love that stuff.

  So that’s why I am very happy to submit for your approval, the conclusion of the SYLO Chronicles. There are no more cliffhangers. No more unanswered questions. No more “To be continued . . . ” And yes, it WAS freakin’ Uncle Press who gave Bobby Pendragon his journals in that last chapter of The Soldiers of Halla. There! I said it. How could you not have gotten that? It was so obvious! (If you have no idea what I’m talking about, it’s okay. We won’t hold it against you. Much.)

  Okay, I feel better now. Moving on.

  We’re here to talk about SYLO and learn the fate of our brave refugees from Pemberwick Island. But before heading back into the sky, as tradition dictates, I’d like to offer some acknowledgements. I sound a bit like a broken record with these but, as you might imagine, it takes a number of people to bring a book to publication and ultimately into your hands. An author is the beneficiary of a lot of hard work and support from many people. That doesn’t change from book to book and I want them all to know how much they are appreciated each and every time.

  Thank you to all of my friends at Razorbill, especially Ben Schrank and Caroline Donofrio. Caroline took up the SYLO reins and did a wonderful job editing STRIKE with Ben’s wise guidance. Thanks to both of you for making this a grand conclusion.

  Richard Curtis, Peter Nelson, and Mark Wetzstein have been in my corner looking out for my best interests for many years now. Thank you guys.

  I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and working with many school and public librarians from all over the country. You all hold the keys to an incredible kingdom and I thank you for encouraging us all to enter.

  One of the great joys in travelling the country to talk about my books is getting the chance to meet booksellers. Whether they are from tiny “mom and pop” shops or giant mega-stores, they all have one thing in common: they love books, and they encour-age readers. Getting the right book into the hands of the right reader is an art, and these guys are the best. We all thank you for that.

  I have to give a big thanks to the guys who have been helping me with my DJMACHALEBOOKS.COM website . . . especially Jason and Geoff. You have no idea how much easier you make my life by keeping a watchful eye on things for me.

  My two girls are the most important people in the world to me. I’m often asked where I draw inspiration from, and that’s never an easy answer because inspiration comes from everywhere. But if I were to narrow it down, I would have to say that most everything I write about comes from real life, and my girls are my real life. I love you guys.

  Of course I can’t name each and every one of the hundreds of other people who had a hand in bringing this book to you, though I’d like to. Please know that I am grateful to all of them for their talent, support, and dedication.

  The final “thank you” has to go to you, the person holding this book. Yes, you. Don’t look over your shoulder, I’m talking to you. Whether you’ve read every last one of my novels (and seen all of my TV shows) or if you just so happened to have picked this book up because you thought the cover looked cool, thank you. (BTW . . . if you DID randomly pick this book up, close it, put it down, and pick up SYLO first. Seriously. Go. Hurry.)

  Okay, is that it? I think so.

  Time to launch.

  Where were we? Oh yeah, the cliffhanger.

  We left Tucker and his friends hovering in a SYLO helicopter over the mysterious dome in the middle of the Mojave Desert. Below them were the wrecks of hundreds of SYLO planes that had been shot out of the sky while trying to destroy that structure. Tucker and Tori believed they had finally defeated the Air Force by blowing away their entire fleet of marauding drones, but while flying over the dome they discovered plenty more of those nasty little planes were still around . . . and they were taking off to attack.

  Oops.

  Turned out “the end” of that story was really just the beginning of this one.

  At least their cliffhanger is about to be resolved.

  And so is yours.

  Turn the page and brace for the boom.

  Hobey ho,

  D.J. MACHALE

  ONE

  “Strap in, this is going to get bumpy.”

  Not words you wanted to hear from a pilot who has your life in his hands.

  Six of us were trapped in a military helicopter that was under attack, spinning out of control and headed for the ground. Fast.

  I sat shoulder to shoulder with Tori Sleeper on one side of the craft. On the other side sat Kent Berringer and my mother, Stacy Pierce. None of us wanted to be there. Reaching to my right I grabbed hold of Tori’s leg. Her good leg. The other one had a bullet in it. She clutched my arm for whatever comfort it might give.

  It was too dark outside to see what our altitude was, or when the impact might come. All we could do was hu
ddle together and brace for the inevitable.

  “It can’t end like this,” Tori said with surprising calm.

  Well, yeah it could.

  I suddenly felt pressure on my chest. It was as if a heavy weight had been dropped into my lap and was pushing me back into the seat. We were gaining altitude. The wild spinning stopped a moment later. The pilot was back in control.

  “Get us outta here!” Captain Granger screamed at him through our headphones.

  “Gee, you think?” Kent Berringer said sarcastically.

  “Hold the chatter!” Granger scolded.

  The helicopter’s rotors whined as we lifted back into the sky. I looked across the cabin to my mother. I didn’t think for a second that she wasn’t as terrified as the rest of us, but her expression seemed to be one of, I don’t know, resignation? It was almost as though she had accepted the fact that the Retro forces on the ground would shoot us out of the sky and there was no use stressing about it.

  Kent, on the other hand, looked wide-eyed and frantic. He clutched the straps of his safety harness as if that would do any good if we slammed into the ground. He twisted left and right, struggling to look out of the window and get a glimpse of . . . what? The ground? The Retro forces down below that were shooting at us? A miracle swooping in from the heavens?

  All four of us wore headphones that connected us with the cockpit where Captain Granger, the SYLO commander, sat strapped into the copilot’s seat. At the controls was the marine commando named Cutter, who was doing his best to keep us flying.

  “Help is incoming,” Cutter announced casually as if he had just said, “Looks like rain.”

  Was a miracle about to arrive after all?

  The helicopter was buffeted by another shot fired from the ground. And another.

  Tori yelped. Kent did too.

  “Why aren’t we shooting back?” Mom said calmly into her microphone.

  “Skyhawks aren’t attack birds,” Granger replied sharply. “No weapons on board. We leave that up to the Cobras.”

  The chopper shuddered and we were thrown violently against our harnesses as the craft pitched to our right, but we stayed airborne and under control. At least, I think we were under control. The Retro forces weren’t shooting conventional missiles. Their weapons fired invisible yet powerful bursts of energy that worked silently but with no less destructive force than a rocket-propelled explosive. The blasts were only one example of the impossible technology the Air Force possessed . . . and that the Navy, SYLO, didn’t. Though they were both branches of the United States military, the Air Force had a serious technological advantage. The civil war that had these two forces going at each other was definitely an unfair fight.

  “Evade,” Granger commanded.

  “Trying, sir,” Cutter replied. The guy remained cool, but not that cool. The tension in his voice proved that he was flying his ass off to try to keep us alive.

  Cutter banked hard to the right and nosedived, intentionally. The last thing he wanted to do was travel in a straight line, allowing the ground cannons to anticipate our course. The move pulled me out of my seat, straining the harness. My head spun and my stomach twisted, but I wasn’t complaining.

  Kent was.

  “Losing it,” he announced. His head was pressed against the fuselage in a desperate attempt to maintain his equilibrium. “Fighting the puke.”

  Mom leaned back with her head pressed into her seat to try to keep herself stable. When she saw that I was looking her way, she lifted her right hand and held out her index finger. It was a gesture we had done with my dad for as long as I could remember. We would touch index fingers as a way to say “I love you.” It was very E.T., but it meant a lot to me when I was a kid. I don’t remember the last time we had done it, or at least the last time I acknowledged my mother when she did it. A fourteen-year-old doesn’t do that kind of stuff . . . especially one who has been through as many battles as I had.

  Then again, maybe facing the imminent end of the world made me the exact kind of fourteen-year-old who should be doing that kind of stuff.

  I raised my hand and pointed my finger toward her. Though our fingers were several feet apart, the contact was made. I hadn’t yet forgiven my mother and father for the lies they told me about why we had moved to Pemberwick Island, but I was open to try to understand. Besides, no matter what had happened, she was still my mom.

  She gave me a little smile and dropped her hand.

  “Now we’re talking!” Granger exclaimed with his slight southern accent.

  “What do you mean?” Kent asked.

  The answer came in the form of double streaks of white light that flew past us, headed for the ground. A second later we heard two explosions. Our miracle had arrived. Two SYLO gunship choppers flashed past, one on either side of us, headed for the Retro base. The clatter of machine gun fire was a welcome addition to the tortured whine of our engine.

  “Those would be the Cobras,” Granger announced.

  Cutter banked hard to the right, which gave me a perfect view of the two SYLO attack helicopters as they streaked toward the Retro base, unleashing rockets one after the other. The spray of missiles they shot toward the ground left thin trails of smoke that eventually led to multiple eruptions on the surface. I hoped they were finding targets.

  “They’re going to save us,” Tori said in a small but confident voice.

  For the record, I thought they were going to save us too.

  I was wrong.

  A second later, one of the Cobras exploded. It was a spectacularly horrifying sight as the flying gunship burst into a brilliant fireball that lit up the ground, revealing dozens of the antiaircraft cannons that were all pointed to the sky. Toward us. The burning mass that just moments ago was a chopper with pilots on board fell like a molten brick and crashed to the sandy surface of the Mojave desert.

  “We’re not out of this yet,” Granger cautioned.

  Our chopper made another sudden lurch. I thought it was Cutter making an evasive maneuver until . . .

  “I’ve lost lateral stability,” he announced. “Our tail rotor must have taken a hit.”

  “What?” Kent shouted with panic. “We’ve been hit?”

  The chopper started spinning, much more violently this time.

  I heard Cutter’s heavy breathing through the headphones. He was struggling to fight gravity and control a hurtling machine. “I’ll put us down as softly as I can but I can’t control where—”

  The front windshield shattered.

  “Look out!” Granger screamed . . . too late.

  Glass sprayed everywhere. Cutter was hit with a wave of razor-sharp shards and instantly went limp in his seat. I couldn’t tell if he was unconscious or dead. Either way he wasn’t flying the helicopter anymore. Granger went for the stick but Cutter had fallen onto the controls, making it impossible for Granger to take over.

  The spinning picked up and we started dropping again.

  I quickly unlatched my straps.

  “Tucker, stop!” Mom called, no longer calm.

  I ignored her. If we slammed into the ground it wouldn’t matter if I was held in by safety straps or not.

  I threw off my headphones and climbed forward to where Cutter was slumped forward in his seat.

  “Pull him back,” Granger yelled. “Keep him off of the instruments.”

  Cutter’s straps hadn’t been snugged tight and he was a big, muscular guy. It took all of my strength to pull him back into his seat.

  “Can you fly this thing?” I yelled at Granger.

  My headphones and mic were gone so he couldn’t hear me. Didn’t matter. I would find out soon enough.

  Granger struggled with the copilot’s stick but it didn’t stop the spinning. The SYLO commander had always come across as supremely confidant. Not anymore. He looked as terrified as I was, but th
at didn’t stop him from doing all he could to try to save us.

  “Prepare to crash!” Granger called. He gestured with his head for me to go back to my seat.

  There was nothing more we could do.

  I turned to scramble for the rear of the chopper when . . .

  Boom!

  The side door blew in with a force so violent it was torn off its track. The metal door bounced around the interior like a whirling buzz saw. If I had moved to the back a second sooner it probably would have killed me. As it was, I was launched off of my feet and sent careening to the far side of the chopper, where I hit hard and fell to the deck. I looked up in a daze to catch a brief glimpse of the terrified expressions of my mother, Tori, and Kent as debris swirled everywhere. The engine whined, desperate to provide enough power to keep us airborne. I heard someone scream but the roar of the engine and the explosions outside were enough to drown it out before I could tell who had lost it.

  Boom!

  The chopper was hit again. The entire craft lurched forward, throwing me to the deck.

  I hit my head.

  The sound stopped.

  The spinning ended.

  The chaos was over.

  Everything went black.

  I found myself lying flat on my back as a cool breeze blew over me. It was a welcome relief from the violent mayhem of a few moments before.

  I moved my hand to feel the ground beneath me. I wasn’t in the helicopter anymore. I was lying on sand. Cautiously, I opened my eyes to see a bright, blazing sun overhead. How long had I been here? What had happened? Without moving, I strained to hear anything that would give me a clue. What I heard was the unmistakable far-off cry of a lonesome seagull.

  What? In the desert? It was followed by another sound that made even less sense.

  It was the crashing of a wave.

  I got my wits together and sat up to see . . . the ocean. I was lying on a sandy beach not twenty yards from the waterline. That explained the cool breeze, but it didn’t begin to tell me how I had gotten here . . . wherever here was.

  Sailboats cut through the sea out beyond the break, running with the wind as they were pulled along by colorful jibs. The waves weren’t big enough to surf, but plenty good for boogie-boarding and bodysurfing. The water was full of kids splashing and playing inside the break. The beach to either side of me was dotted with brightly colored sun umbrellas. Families were staked out everywhere, lying on their blankets to sunbathe, read, and snack. A couple of guys tossed a football around. There was a high-pitched squeal as one of the kids picked up a girl and tossed her into the surf. She was kicking her legs while shrieking in protest, but she wasn’t kidding anybody. She loved it. Young kids used neon-colored shovels and pails to build sand castles. A guy jogged by with a golden retriever trotting at his heels. Radios played a mix of hit songs. A single-engine plane flew by over the water, parallel to the shoreline and dragging a banner that advertised two for one lobster dinner at the Lighthouse Inn.

 
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