THE RIFT

BOOK TWO OF ROOTLESS

CHRIS HOWARD

For the forests

“There’s a brilliant madness to this deadly post-apocalyptic world, filled with complex characters, shifting loyalties, and layers of mystery… a nonstop adventure” – Publishers Weekly, starred review of Rootless

Banyan was once a tree builder, creating scrap-metal forests for rich clients in a barren burned-out world. Now he’s traded his scaffolds for lookouts, his tools for guns. On a stolen boat, surrounded by a mutinous crew, Banyan has escaped from Promise Island with the last living trees on earth, and he’s desperate to smuggle them to safety.

But powerful enemies are in pursuit, seeking to claim the trees for themselves. To reach a safe haven, Banyan will need the help of the pirate girl he loves, Alpha, his broken friend, Crow, and his troubled sister, Zee. Only together can they cross the mysterious molten wasteland of THE RIFT. And when Banyan discovers a new threat to Alpha’s life, he fears he’ll lose not only the trees they sacrificed so much to find, but the girl who inspires him and gives him hope.

Howard’s “gift for the phantasmagoric” (Kirkus) is on full display in this thrilling second book of the Rootless trilogy.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

PART ONE

CHAPTER ONE • CHAPTER TWO • CHAPTER THREE • CHAPTER FOUR • CHAPTER FIVE • CHAPTER SIX • CHAPTER SEVEN • CHAPTER EIGHT • CHAPTER NINE • CHAPTER TEN • CHAPTER ELEVEN • CHAPTER TWELVE • CHAPTER THIRTEEN • CHAPTER FOURTEEN

PART TWO

CHAPTER FIFTEEN • CHAPTER SIXTEEN • CHAPTER SEVENTEEN • CHAPTER EIGHTEEN • CHAPTER NINETEEN • CHAPTER TWENTY • CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE • CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO • CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE • CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR • CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE • CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX • CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN • CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT

PART THREE

CHAPTER TWENTY-NINE • CHAPTER THIRTY • CHAPTER THIRTY-ONE • CHAPTER THIRTY-TWO • CHAPTER THIRTY-THREE • CHAPTER THIRTY-FOUR • CHAPTER THIRTY-FIVE • CHAPTER THIRTY-SIX • CHAPTER THIRTY-SEVEN • CHAPTER THIRTY-EIGHT • CHAPTER THIRTY-NINE • CHAPTER FORTY • CHAPTER FORTY-ONE • CHAPTER FORTY-TWO • CHAPTER FORTY-THREE • CHAPTER FORTY-FOUR • CHAPTER FORTY-FIVE • CHAPTER FORTY-SIX

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

OTHER TITLES BY CHRIS HOWARD

PART ONE

The Rift - _1.jpg

CHAPTER ONE

They’d figured me to be some sort of savior. After I’d rescued them on Promise Island, put guns in their hands, and busted them free. But as the strugglers glared at me through the neon gloom of the cargo hold, anger bubbled beneath their faces like they were pots ready to boil, and I had no words to cool them.

They scowled at Alpha as she paced before them with her shotgun on her shoulder. They sneered at Zee, soon as she attempted to speak. And the whole Banyan being a savior thing seemed a long time gone, I reckon, after sixteen days pushing south on this lake, one sunrise after another, with still no sign of land.

The boat lurched through the water, turning things more sour with each side-to-side sway. Me and the girls had come in here to talk reason, but these strugglers didn’t want to know how lost we were, or how close to starving we’d gotten. They just wanted out of the cargo hold. They wanted to piss in the wind instead of in a bucket in the corner, breathe the cold air as it wailed over the lake. And that would have been just dandy, except for who the hell were they? Sure, I’d saved them from GenTech, but they were still strangers. Nothing more. And that meant I’d be a fool to trust them.

“We fought our way off that island,” said some dude with green eyes and a crop of red hair. “We fought our way free, same as you did. Left agents in pools of blood on the snow. And for what? For this?”

When he pointed at the walls of the cargo hold, I saw his left arm had its hand missing—was just a stump below the elbow. And I reckoned GenTech could have grown him a new hand to fix that for him, if they had been in the fixing people business. But GenTech was more in the use people to grow trees and control every last thing that grows business. And my own parents had been tangled up at the heart of it all.

“You think you can just lock us in here and we’ll keep quiet? You think we’ll cower in fear, on account of that shotgun you’re wielding?” The redhead flicked his gaze at Alpha, his words shaking the crowd into a mutter and jeer.

“Damn right, Kade. You tell them, Kade.” The strugglers jabbered on behind him, their voices pushing him forward, puffing him up.

And I could think of no right thing to say to them. Weren’t my fault this lake stretched so damn far. And these folk didn’t know the first thing about what I’d spared them, so they could stare daggers at me all day long—least they weren’t being shipped back to the mainland as part of Project Zion. Least they weren’t the start of GenTech’s new crop of trees, covered in bark and shrubby with branches.

I pictured it for a second—all of them changing. Their human cells being used to grow a whole new species, forming the twisted beginnings of a forest, built for a world that hadn’t seen trees in more than one hundred years. And you think they’d have believed me if I told them? No. Only way they’d believe me is if I showed them, and that secret had to stay in the hull.

“It’s for your own safety,” Zee called out, trying to make some sort of peace.

“A sweet sentiment,” said this Kade guy. “If only it were true.”

He couldn’t have been much older than I was, but was the sort who acts like he’s got a lifetime on everyone, taking deep breaths instead of just speaking, leaving big gaps for the words left behind. And considering he’d been dragged north by GenTech and drugged unconscious and almost never woke up, I reckon you’d have to admire the guy’s spirit for still showing some fight. Gumption is what my old man would have called it. I called it a major pain in the ass.

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