Excerpt – Rusted Wasteland Book 4 (Chapter 1)

Steel Guardian Pixel art

Steel Guardian (Rusted Wasteland Book 1) was a finalist in the 2021 Self-Published Science Fiction Competition #SPSFC

It finished 2nd overall out of 300 books!

Steel Guardian SPSFC
2nd place out of 300 books

I’m thrilled about the kind reception to Block’s adventures and am hard at work writing Book 4. Here’s a preview of Chapter 1.

Rusted Wasteland Book 4 – Chapter 1

The jet’s interior needed a good scrubbing. Block, rotating his wrists to suppress his programming urges, would have been happy to accommodate, but there were more urgent matters. At a cruising altitude of 20,000 feet, Maxwell piloted the plane after a bumpy takeoff from Chicago. Cybel Venatrix occupied the co-pilot chair, looking regal with her newly implanted SoldierBot legs that reached the floor. Block perched on the edge of his seat behind them in the first passenger row. His primary concern was getting the plane and everyone on board safely to New York City where Wally had been taken by Mach X’s SoldierBot army. How exactly to go about rescuing her was still a puzzle to his well-worn, humming circuitry.

Through the circular window next to him, the thin, night air stretched into black oblivion. Less than two hours ago, they’d waged a battle along Chicago’s abandoned O’Hare airport runways. With Nova’s help, they’d beaten Shane and his followers. She’d stayed behind, promising to win back the army of human rebels and to keep fighting against Mach X’s forces in Chicago. Block hoped Nova had a chance to get some sleep. He knew better than anyone how cranky she got when she missed out on her slumber.

A rattling like a train coming off its tracks came from the rear. Oxford’s massive Mech body stretched the limits of the 15-passenger seat jet that had once flown the members of the Beaky Breads Company as evidenced by the painted logo on the plane’s exterior. The cheery blue and yellow design was peeling off—remnants from the peaceful past—abandoned for over a year since the Uprising had destroyed modern society, killed most everyone, and sent surviving humans into hiding.

In the front, Maxwell slammed a fist against the plane’s dashboard. “I can’t see jack out there.”

For a moment, Block wondered who the heck Jack was and why on earth Maxwell would be looking for someone while they were flying, but then his hospitality module kicked in, rather late— “jack” was a slang expression used by humans, one that Maxwell had picked up from the workers at his former factory.

“You idiot.” Cybel flicked on a control gauge and pressed two buttons that illuminated a lit-up display dash that showed the plane’s relation to the terrain below. “You said you flew before.”

Maxwell’s square metal shoulder sockets squeaked as he shrugged. “A flight simulator that a couple of the Factory loaders rigged up. That counts, right?”

Flat on his back, with his twelve-foot-tall metal frame wedged between seats, Oxford grumbled. Block rose from his vinyl-covered seat—a horrendous shade of blue that showed dust—and crouched next to his large friend. “How are you doing?”

“Never mind.” Oxford swiveled his head to see Block. “Keep those two focused on landing us in one piece.”

“Roger that.” Block strode to the plane’s mid-section, pausing to check on the other passengers in his misfit crew. Across a long padded bench, his oldest friend, Vacuubot was perched next to G9—the SoldierBot that Block had hacked and succeeded in winning to their side. “Is everything—”

Vacuubot relayed an instantaneous reply to Block. The two-foot-wide disc-shaped flying robot’s pings could only be interpreted by Block, and no one was sure why. I’m monitoring G9 for any signs of reverting to Mach X’s control.

“Okay.” Block supposed that was a good idea, and it was one he hadn’t thought of himself. “Carry on.” For some reason, Oxford and the others had appointed Block the leader of the group. There was no logic proposed for the decision, no rationale provided, and Block couldn’t understand why they’d put the weakest link—a lowly CleanerBot such as he was—in charge of anything other than sweeping.

Beside the imposing SoldierBot and weaponized Vacuubot, two other robots rested on the long benches. Spoon was a Medical HelperBot that they’d found in Mach X’s Chicago tower. Spoon had overseen medical administration for the babies and children whom Mach X had abducted. Spoon was the last among them to have seen Wally. Then there was Forge—a robot they’d found abandoned and in need of help while navigating the El train tracks underneath the streets of Chicago.

Cybel flipped a lever and shifted in her seat toward Maxwell. “Listen up.” She pointed to a gauge on the dash. “That’s your altitude.” She pointed to another digital output. “That’s your speed, and that’s your engine power.” Maxwell tilted his head as if studying or recording the lesson. “Fuel level is there. Compass.” She pointed to two final readouts. “That’s your horizontal speed and vertical.” Easing back into her seat, she folded her titanium hands together. “The controls are simple.”

“Cool.” Maxwell grabbed a long handle that rose from the cockpit’s floor and jerked it back. The jet lurched, knocking everyone off balance.

Oxford’s hulking mass rocked and slammed against the seats across from him, folding them in half. “Hey. Give me a warning, will you?”

“Sorry.” Maxwell poked a screwdriver finger against one of the displays. “We’re dropping.”

Block rushed behind the cockpit. The view was clear from the front windows—the jet’s nose pointed down at a 45-degree angle. They were losing altitude and falling fast. “What happened?”

“I turned on the autopilot by mistake.” Maxwell’s hexagonal red eyes shifted from the instruments to the cockpit window. “Something must have gone wrong.”

“Silence, dummy.” Cybel’s digits danced across the dashboard’s many gauges. “The fuel gauge says we’ve got eleven minutes left. You said the tank read full!”

“It did.” Maxwell fumbled with the seatbelt straps and buckled himself in. “Maybe it sprung a leak?”

Block’s sensors were in overdrive. “How far to the city?”

“We’re nearing New Jersey,” Cybel said.

It was close enough. Block had to get Maxwell and Cybel to land the plane, and once on the ground, they could commandeer a vehicle to get them the rest of the way to Manhattan where Wally was being held. “Land this thing.” Block’s words triggered a warning on his personal display screen: ‘You didn’t say please.’ He was being direct—so direct that his human-placating software couldn’t handle it. He tapped Maxwell’s shoulder. “Please, Maxwell. You can land us, correct?”

Maxwell saluted. “Aye, Captain.”

It was a good enough answer for Block, and Cybel would keep their surly pilot in check. Block hurried into the rear as the others looked up at him, as if expecting answers. Why they would expect a CleanerBot to know anything about a plane was beyond him. “Oxford, we have a problem. I’ll update you as I—”

A loud pop came from the last row—a seat window exploded. The frame around the window sizzled as a red beam cut a hole through the fuselage, inches from where Oxford’s head was. The cabin lost pressure and the inside air blasted through the ripped metal opening.

Vacuubot’s message came to Block in an instant. Drones. Everyone down now.

Inside Block’s processors, something swelled like a tuning fork being struck. It was his fear module, a part of his programming that was the driving force that had kept him on course—and usually in hiding. He shouted at the others. “Stay low! Drone attack!”

Worse than a circling pack of crazed wild dogs, more drones began firing laser strikes at the Beaky Bread Company plane. Down the side of the jet, like a row of long, red teeth, a series of holes burned into the metal. A few more hits and they would rip the fuselage to shreds.

“Parachutes!” Maxwell sliced through his safety restraints, bolted out of his seat, and opened a storage compartment packed with escape chutes. A few seats behind, Forge and Spoon were crouched low on the floor, their hands covering their robotic heads. Cybel grasped the dashboard’s controls, adjusting something that appeared to be the jet’s throttle. In the rear, Oxford craned his neck around, trying to see the drones that fired on the jet.

Block fixed on Vacuubot. Being a drone itself, his powerful, yet small friend would know what to do—if there was any way out of the sky disaster.

They’ll destroy us. They don’t want to negotiate. I tried, the tiny disk-shaped robot said.

Block struggled to make sense of it. “What can we do?”

Send me out there. I’ll seek and destroy.

Block’s fear module flared brighter in his processors. He didn’t want to risk losing Vacuubot. Never again.

“Too dangerous,” he messaged the small bot.

A drone slammed into the side of the jet, splintering a window into a spiderweb of metal. Thick reams of smoke came from the tiny bathroom, and Block’s heat warning indicator flashed.

Ten feet up the aisle, Maxwell, Spoon, G5, and Forge fumbled with the parachutes, helping each other shimmy into the narrow people-sized backpacks. “Damn, humans have small shoulders,” Forge whined over the forceful wind whipping through the cabin.

Block retrieved the emergency email he’d written for Nova. The one for Wally was there too. He readied to transmit them—messages he never imagined actually having to send—but things didn’t look good.

Oxford’s massive metal hand pincers reached up and hooked onto the overhead luggage bins. He pulled himself to a seated position, thrust out his metal cannon arm, and fired through a person-sized hole in the fuselage. The round of ammunition tore through the air and struck one of the drones.

A spray of fire and white-orange sparks spewed from the drone’s armor. The drone’s circuits fizzled and sparked, then tumbled and spun to the earth in a burning, smoking wreck.

In the cockpit, Cybel’s fingers danced across the dash. “No fuel. They hit us.”

Let me out there, Block. Vacuubot wasn’t giving up. The little drone didn’t have to wait for Block’s approval, but it seemed to want it anyway. I’ve got an idea.

He wanted to keep his friend safe and out of the death arena airspace, but he also knew that Vacuubot was far more resourceful than any of them were. Block’s scenario processor shuffled thousands of what-if scenarios. Predictions of various explosions and the plane bursting into flames and hitting a town of people struck him all at once, forcing him to switch off the scenario module. The drones outside swooped in and out of the air, their bodies lit up with flashing red sensors as they dove at the plane as furious as a flock of attacking birds.

What are you waiting for? Send me! It’s our only chance to get to Wally.

It was right. Block had one purpose in the world—keep Wally safe. He messaged the tiny robot. “Go.”

Vacuubot’s aerodynamic midnight-black and green body hummed and flew through the window panel, out into the dark sky. Its robotic voice echoed in Block’s comm feed but was choppy as the little drone began to move away from the plane. Block, some of my night vision sensors got damaged. I can’t see as well, but I can still shoot.

Block inched his way to the gaping hole that the enemy had blasted through. He clamped onto the metal seat backs to keep himself from being sucked out. He reached the edge of the hole and Oxford extended his non-cannon arm and wrapped it around Block’s torso to hold him steady. Vacuubot circled the plane, closing in on one of the drones, and set its sights for a kill shot. Vacuubot’s blaster emitted a red beam and struck the triangular V-shaped drone in its middle, exploding it. Another drone launched an attack on Vacuubot, but the little bot dodged the attempt, and returned fire, nicking it with a laser hit. The target drone teetered and spun, emitting laser, but the beam came out in rapid, stuttering bursts. The drone’s external sensors flashed red, then in a brilliant flash, the drone exploded into a fiery ball of sparks and metal like a comet scuttling to earth thousands of feet below.

“How many others?” Block shouted at Oxford to be heard over the roaring wind streaming through the plane and past every inch of their robot bodies.

“I counted three more.”

Cybel’s voice boomed from the cockpit. “Nine-thousand feet and dropping! Maxwell, get over and help me right this flying hunk of shrapnel.”

But Maxwell had a parachute on. He handed one to Cybel, thrusting it onto her lap. “There’s no point. This sucker’s going down.” Maxwell, Forge, Spoon, and G5 all had chutes on their backs. Maxwell lurched toward Block and Oxford with two more packs. “Here, put them on.”

Block clutched the parachute against his chest to keep it from blowing out of the Swiss cheese jet. Vacuubot would be okay since it could fly wherever it wanted. Block shrank back as Maxwell offered a parachute pack to Oxford that was the size of a wristwatch on the giant Mech. As Oxford refused it, the emergency exit door popped open and peeled away as easy as a pop tab on a soda can.

Cybel stormed over and shoved Maxwell aside. “Idiot, you think a human parachute can support Oxford?” She grabbed the chute Maxwell had given her and flung it out the window. “I’m landing this metal tube, and anyone who leaves is abandoning the crew.”

Oxford twisted his torso where he sat in the aisle, tracking Vacuubot and the assassin drones outside. “Don’t be a hero, Cybel. The best plan is for you all to jump, and I’ll go down. My armor will protect me. I was built for far worse than a plane crash.”

Cybel spun on her new legs. “I’m not leaving you.” The others watched in silence. “You’re the only one of these crank jobs who has any common sense.”

The plane lurched and knocked Block to his knees. He climbed up, struggling for a hold on one of the seat backs. A tray flopped down and snapped off, hurtling past Cybel’s head, through a hole, and into the night air.

Oxford’s voice boomed. “Get down!” He yanked Cybel to the floor. Near the front, Forge crouched and pulled G5 and Spoon down with him.

Block sank onto his knees and sent a message to Vacuubot. “You okay?”

A laser ripped through the side of the plane nearest Block, puncturing the metal and sending jagged shards of razor sharp, burning-hot metal ricocheting through the cabin. The plane’s structural integrity crumpled like an accordion that had been stomped on.

As the jet plummeted to earth, Vacuubot messaged Block. Two drones destroyed. One— The connection cut out.

Block held the compressed parachute in his hands. Maxwell, Spoon, and G5 all tumbled toward the emergency door and jumped out. Don’t die. Wally needs me. Block examined the pack as best he could while the sky was whizzing by. The parachute was a simple object, but one he was unfamiliar with. He unzipped the edges, then pulled the straps around his shoulders as Maxwell and the others had done. An orange cord hung from the side that, by process of elimination, had to be the mechanism that triggered the chute.

Block hoped Vacuubot was waiting outside and was still in one piece. He edged toward the exit door. Oxford and Cybel remained where they sat, clutching onto the jet’s metal supports. Block turned back. “There must be more parachutes. Come—”

Oxford reached over and pulled Block to him by the neck. “You’ve got no time for this, Block. Jump. You’re the only one that can save Wally.”

Oxford released him and he staggered backward, sucked by the air. Block clamped onto a seat armrest that was somehow still intact. “Jump with me. Our chances are better—”

But Oxford leaned forward, his massive body squeezing through the aisle, smashing out the remaining chairs. Tray tables and seat backs ejected from the plane’s tattered fuselage like confetti. With his massive, clamping hands, he grabbed Cybel and shoved her against Block. “Hang on!” Oxford tossed them out the exit door as if they were flimsy plastic dolls.

Block tumbled into darkness, spinning so fast it was impossible to tell up from down. His positional module was thrown so far off balance, warnings beeped and flashed in his internal feed. His first thought was Cybel. She clung to his left leg.

Vacuubot’s message came from somewhere nearby. Open the chute!

He grabbed at his chest, searching for the cord. He messaged Vacuubot, “Help Oxford, please!” Block didn’t need his scenario module to tell him there was one chance in a million that Oxford would survive a plane crash, but if there was a tiny, infinitesimal chance Vacuubot could think of something fast, then he had to take that chance.

He found the cord and pulled hard. The chute unfurled and jerked his body. As the chute caught wind, he looked down to find Cybel with her arms wrapped around both of his legs. They slowed, and the wind whistled past. Block’s night vision processors kicked on, and the world came first into pixelated, then sharp focus.

The ground moving toward them was a patchwork of midnight, charcoal, and navy darkness. Here and there, tiny dots of light flickered in and out. Signs of robot or human life far below, it was anyone’s guess. Block and Cybel soared through the air, buoyed by gusts.

A few hundred feet below, the Beaky Breads jet hit New Jersey ground and exploded into a ball of fire.


I hope you enjoyed the preview! If you need to catch up on Books 1 – 3 in the series, here they are:

Steel Guardian – Award finalist!
Steel Defender
Steel Protector

(Note – these are my affiliate links, meaning if you buy through these links, I get a tiny fraction at no extra cost to you)


Shhh! Secret Fun Thing Coming…

I’ve been busy! I’m working on a new secret co-writing project with 5 other authors. It’s an entire series that I’ll be able to announce later this year.

There’s not much I can say other than it has to do with water… It’s been the most challenging and exhilarating work of my life!


Steel Defender – Chapter 2

Steel Defender is Book 2 in the Rusted Wasteland seriesClick here to buy. I’m excited to share Block’s next adventure!

Chapter 2

Block followed Nova outside into the daylight, adjusting his visual sensors to account for the bright rays that slowly warmed the surrounding forest. The school stood in a grassy clearing, and in the woods, among a shelter of trees, the camp’s occupants sheltered in tents. There were a few camper vans and small trailers that housed families with children, elderly, and sick people who needed more warmth than a nylon tent and sleeping bags could provide. The treetops provided coverage in case aerial drones passed over. One of the Hemlock engineers had figured out how to broadcast a jamming signal which effectively cast a dead zone around the camp. Any drones surveying the countryside would bypass the area. The camp had been spared from attacks by Mach X’s forces.

It was morning, and a few people surrounded small campfires. They cooked food or heated up water to wash clothes and fill the makeshift showers. Every able-bodied person at Hemlock had a job. Life at the camp differed from The Drake. There, humans had experienced every convenience—electricity, instant hot water, hundreds of channels of entertainment television, phones, and gadgets. But after the Uprising, life had changed drastically. Millions of lives had been lost in the fighting. Mach X’s forces had overtaken the large cities, leaving people to scramble for refuge. Hemlock was just one of many human survivor camps across the former U.S. Shane’s military background meant he could assemble and train fighters to defend themselves.

There were no luxuries at camp. The elementary school had no power. Water was heated by fire. A few scavenged generators fed the equipment they used: offline computers and radios to communicate with other human rebel camps.

Gone were the connected devices that hooked everyone up to MachNet, the communications network that had been created by Mach X and later manipulated to lock humans out and topple their infrastructure. People now communicated via walkie-talkie devices. “Good, old-fashioned tech,” Nova called it.

Block was the only robot intelligence at camp, and Shane only tolerated him because Nova insisted on it. Block would have been scrapped for his metal and Central Processing Unit if Shane had his way.

Nova and Block discreetly traveled a winding side path that veered away from the main gathering area where most people were cooking and going about their daily chores. After a minute, they ended up behind Helen’s trailer.

“Stay here.” Nova rounded the corner and rapped on the front door. After half a minute, she appeared and jerked her head. “Come on. Quickly.”

Block followed her up two small steps into the camper trailer where Helen and Wally lived. Nova shut the door behind them.

Helen sat beside Wally on the bed. The little girl was just over a year old and had changed in the scant two months since Block had last seen her.

Her face lit up when she saw him. “Bock!” she said and reached out her arms.

But Block hesitated. He glanced at Nova, waiting for permission. If he angered Nova, he was in trouble.

“Go on,” she said, nodding slightly.

“Hello, Helen,” he said.

Helen smoothed back her wavy red hair and arched a lone, dark eyebrow. She lifted Wally down to the floor, which caused the toddler to squeal, “Wheeee!” Dressed in a yellow T-shirt and pink pants, her plump little legs wobbled as she raced over, stumbled, then crawled to Block and wrapped her arms around his leg, pulling herself up to stand.

“Hello, little Wally.” Block bent over to peer at her.

“Bock, bock.” She giggled.

Helen fidgeted, seeming nervous.

“We’ll be gone in just a few minutes,” Nova said. “He just really wanted to see her.”

“Sure,” Helen said, but she kept her eyes glued on Wally.

Nova tugged the shade and glanced out the window.

Block gently peeled Wally’s arms from his leg and lowered himself down to kneel on the floor. The hydraulics behind his knees let out a small hiss.

Wally bobbed up and down, then leaned into his chest for a closer hug. Block wrapped his arms around her, noting her weight had increased by 2.3 pounds. He still accessed the log he’d kept of her weight, height and fecal matter from when they had traveled together. He supposed he didn’t really need to keep Wally’s log, but he enjoyed reviewing it from time to time.

“Ba wub you,” Wally said.

“Wow, she really wants to talk,” Nova said.

“What does that mean? What’s wub?” Block asked.

“Love,” Nova said, enunciating. “Little ones can’t pronounce words as well, so you have to try to decipher.”

Wally loved him? Nobody had ever said that to Block before. He didn’t even know how to respond. Nothing in his etiquette modules or housekeeping programming had ever trained him for such an event.

Wally pulled away, looked at Block, then curled one hand into a chubby fist. She knocked on his chest plate. “Knock, ock,” she said.

“That’s my torso. Tor-so,” he enunciated for her edification.

Nova burst out laughing. “You’re supposed to say, ‘Who’s there?’”

Block was not computing. “Who is supposed to say that? Me?” He looked at Wally. “Who’s there?”

“My kack, bye-ba.” He didn’t understand one word of what she was saying.

Helen came over and crouched, smoothing back wisps of light brown hair sticking up from Wally’s head. “We’re just starting to learn knock-knock jokes.”

“Knock knock?” Block said. He would have to research the strange human expression later. Then he remembered the little gift he had for Wally. He opened his thigh compartment and removed the odd-looking square with the many colored tiles. “I have something for you.” He hid the cube inside his palms and then offered it to Wally.

She squealed and tried to open his palms with her soft, tiny little fingers. After five seconds, Block relented and revealed the object.

Wally stared at the cube, then grinned, looking up at Block.

“A Rubik’s Cube!” Nova said. “I haven’t seen one of those in ages. Where did you find it?”

“In the school,” Block said. “I was cleaning out an old desk and happened across it. I thought Wally might like it.”

“How does it work?” Helen asked.

“See, all the colors are scattered,” Nova said while Wally grabbed the cube, shook it, and pointed at the tiles. “You’re supposed to move all the same colors onto one side, on each side. It’s actually really hard.”

Wally furrowed her brows and studied the cube. She continued to poke at the tiles.

“She really seems to like it, Block. Good job,” Nova said.

“Thank you. I’ll try to find more little presents.”

The trailer sank a few inches as someone climbed the stairs, then banged on the door. “Nova? Are you in there?”

It was Shane.


If you haven’t read Book 1 yet, here is the link to buy Steel Guardian.

Click here to read Steel Defender (Book 2).

*Heads up – the links on this page are Amazon affiliate links, meaning if you choose to buy my book, I earn a small commission. It costs you nothing extra and it helps out this independent author. 

Steel Defender – Chapter 1

Steel Defender is Book 2 in the Rusted Wasteland series.  I’m excited to share Block’s next adventure with you! Click here to start reading.

Chapter 1

Block enjoyed a gritty, grimy baseboard. The point where floor met wall collected the most dust and filth, especially when the dirt-encrusted boots of soldiers were constantly stomping around. Black sediment collected in the crevices and cracks—remnants of shoe grease, soil, glass bits, and sharp pebbles. Though baseboards were often overlooked, Block made sure to keep them clean. He ran the edge of his mop along the corridor in the neglected former elementary school that now served as Hemlock’s command station.

Block tried his best to keep the olive green linoleum floors polished, but it was tough. Nova had told him to stay out of their way—out of everybody’s way—which was challenging because men and women came in and out of the gymnasium at all times of the day. At first, the human soldiers had been frightened of Block’s presence, recoiling from him or casting narrow-eyed looks while muttering slurs. They called him things like rust bucket, scrapper, and sheetmetal. Those were the nicer names.

Until one day Nova gathered them all together and told them Block was a friendly robot, that she vouched for him, and that he’d saved her life. Nova was Shane’s girlfriend, so they looked up to her. They had to. Shane was in charge of the Hemlock survivor camp.

The soldiers were actually soldiers-in-training, people who had survived the SoldierBot raids on cities. Any women and men in decent shape between the ages of sixteen and sixty-five trained for combat and defense. There was no choice after the AI Uprising.

The troops relaxed a bit after her speech. They stared Block down and smirked. The name calling didn’t stop, but they were less obvious about it. And then, after a few weeks of such treatment, they’d let their guard down and just ignored him. That was fine with Block. He didn’t like to be the center of attention anyway.

Sunlight filtered in and cast a speckled glare on a yellowing concrete wall. Dust motes drifted through the air, rendered brilliant in the sunbeam’s arc.

“That won’t do.” He whipped out his vacuum extension—a long hose through which he sucked in particles that fed into his microbial fuel cell chamber. There, his digestive enzymes devoured dirt, grime, oils, and petroleum, fueling his mechanical body. Block strolled forward, still unsteady on his modified feet. He’d lost his original sole, heel, and ankle parts three months ago when Cybel Venatrix had fired upon his legs. That had been the second worst day of his life.

Strangely—and Block had thought about this many times—it had also been the second best day of his life because Wally and Nova had been kept safe. Alive. That a day could be both awful and joyful didn’t compute in his logic module. He couldn’t explain it, and there were no other robots around to discuss it with.

He walked down the narrow corridor, noting the sagging ceiling tiles—very grimy! He added them to his cleaning checklist for later. Extending the mouth of the vacuum before him, he sucked in dust, weaving the hose back and forth as if conducting an orchestra. The floating specks first spread, then clustered together as if finding protection in staying close to one another. Block was like a dust predator, sucking them in, feasting on them.

He supposed there was something interesting in this chain of events. A lot of skin particles fell off of humans—over a million cells every day. He sucked in their leavings and used the human bits to feed himself. Nothing was wasted. He was helping, in his way, even if nobody realized it.

A gruff voice came from behind. “Move it.”

Block had stepped into the middle of the hallway, lost in the frenzy of dust collection. He spun quickly and was nearly knocked over as Shane brushed past him.

If Block could physically cringe, he would have. Shane was the one person Nova had especially warned him to steer clear of. Block backed against the wall, pointing his vacuum tube down. He even turned the suction off.

Nova walked a few feet behind Shane and lingered after he kept going. She held a thermos in her hand from which little wisps of steam rose. “Hey, Block,” she said, half smiling.

“Hi. I tried to stay out of his way, but he came upon me so fast.”

“I know. He’s just…” She sighed, arched her head back, then rolled it around on her neck. Block had only seen her do that when she was exhausted.

“Are you having trouble sleeping again?”

She nodded.

“You could come by this evening, and I’ll help if you would like.” When he’d worked at The Drake hotel in Chicago, Block had learned to manipulate certain pressure points that helped people relax. He hadn’t been allowed to practice on the hotel guests, but he’d helped the human employees often. Twice before, he’d helped Nova fall asleep by pressing points on her spine and neck.

She looked sideways in the direction Shane had gone. “I don’t think that’s such a good idea right now.” She sipped her hot drink and strode toward the gymnasium.

“Okay.” Block tucked away his vacuum hose, grasped the handle of the broom, and started pushing it along the baseboard edges. Then he stopped, remembering something. “Nova?”

She turned back.

In his second to lowest voice setting, barely audible, he asked, “May I visit?”

She frowned. “Also not a good idea.” She moved closer, confiding in him. “Shane’s been in a foul mood. Things aren’t going well. Now isn’t a great time.”

“I see.”

Block had only visited Wally twice in the five months he’d been at the Hemlock camp in Colorado. The child was in good care. That much he knew. She lived with a woman named Helen who had lost her young son in the fighting between AI and humans. But Shane didn’t like Block to have any interaction with Wally. Nova had explained that, according to Shane, a robot and human relationship was unnatural. Shane—and most humans—harbored resentment and fear against robots since the supercomputer Mach X had overtaken the world’s computer systems, caused the AI Uprising, and declared war on humans.

The humans had reason to be suspicious. After the Uprising, many robots had become unpredictable. He’d witnessed SoldierBots execute his former boss and fifty hotel guests.

Still, not all robots were dangerous.

Block hung his head and pushed the mop a few inches. He stepped forward, his cobbled-together soles awkwardly clanking against the linoleum. Nova had welded them herself from scavenged metal from rust-speckled pupil desks, claiming they were temporary until they could find stronger material.

A tattered old bulletin board hung on the wall. The red construction paper background had faded to a dull pink. Most of the children’s decorations had been torn down, but one remained: a child’s handprint, stamped in yellow paint. Block paused and stared at it, then reached out his hand and placed his steel digits on top. His was much larger than the small child’s print, of course.

He wished there were more tiny humans around. They weren’t as frightened of him as the adults.

“Jesus,” Nova said behind him.

He began mopping, but she came over and touched his arm. “Five minutes,” she whispered. “But we have to be quick and avoid anyone seeing us.”

Five minutes with Wally didn’t seem like much at all, but he could play back the memory as often as he wanted. Maybe if he was quiet and polite, Nova could finally convince Shane to let him spend time with Wally. Humans changed their views on occasion. It was rare, but it happened.

But would Shane ever believe that robots and humans could be friends?


If you haven’t read Book 1 yet, here is the link to buy Steel Guardian.

Here’s the link to start Steel Defender (Book 2) now. 

Beyond the Galaxy Space Opera Anthology

Do you love space opera such as Firefly, Star Wars, and Battlestar Galactica? Well, I have a treat for you! I wrote a story for the new anthology Beyond the Galaxy.

Last September, I traveled to Seattle for an epic writer’s retreat hosted by J. Thorn and Zach Bohannon. For 2 days we hung out in a private room at the Museum of Pop Culture, and together, we built a sci-fi world in which we would each write our own story.

We built this incredible universe that has two warring alien entities: the Teku and the Krad. They arrive on Earth every 2,000 years to harvest people… You will have to read this entire email to find out what happens to us humans. (Spoiler alert, they are due for a 2020 arrival! Anything could happen in the next 6 months.) 👽

Out of that effort came Botched. It’s the first story in the anthology! Read on for an excerpt.

The book is available on Kindle Unlimited or you can buy the e-book or paperback. It’s 372 pages, so it’s a larger size book.

Proceeds from all sales go to Tech Bridge Girls, a nonprofit that excites, educates, and equips girls from low income communities with STEM programming that empowers girls to achieve economic mobility and better life chances.

When I was young, science and technology played a big role in my life and influenced much of my writing today. Helping girls learn more about science means a lot to me.

I’m proud to be featured with authors such as Lindsay Pogue, Heather Lee Dyer, Jay Key, Chris Yee, Tory Element, Christopher Wills, and more.

Here’s an excerpt from my story. I hope you enjoy it. If you feel like downloading or purchasing the book, thank you!


by Cameron Coral

My titanium fingers tapped against the surface of the cockpit’s dashboard. I always got a case of nerves while waiting for the green light to signal the all-clear. The massive twenty-foot-high airlock doors were the only thing separating me and my shuttle from the vast emptiness of space.

My breath came in rapid spurts. I’d been waiting for five minutes. The clearance light stayed off.

What was the problem?

I glanced behind my pilot seat. Twelve passengers sat buckled into their jump seats inside the cabin. They were known as Botched—humans who were no longer useful. I was flying them to their new home on the surface of a nearby planet, Arae, where they would join the other humans already deposited there.

I turned back to the dashboard. The damn light still hadn’t turned on. My eyelid spasmed. A glitch? I’d go to the med lab when I returned, see if they could do something about my uncontrollable reflex. I was 70% Kevlar-titanium steel and 30% organic flesh. My people, the Krad, took the best parts from the humans, those traits that would help our evolution. We wanted human senses—taste, smell, and touch—to enhance our AI auditory and visual processing.

But now, odor was annoying me. I grabbed my tiny container of cinnamon oil and dabbed it below my nostrils to hide the smell of sweat and human gases coming from the cabin.

I sighed and glanced at the clearance light. Still dark. What in the name of Kradonovan the Mighty?

I grabbed the comm. “Control room, what’s causing this delay?”

Someone giggled on the other end, and laughter erupted from the cockpit’s speaker.

“Hey, what’s going on?”

A familiar, irritating voice replied. Gemini. “Hello, Mercuria. I just thought you’d like to sit for a while with your precious Botched. I know how much you love them.”

I clenched my jaw. He wasn’t supposed to be in the command room, but he’d probably charmed his way in, just to taunt me.

“Control room”—my voice trembled—“clear my shuttle for takeoff.” I disengaged the comm, not wanting to hear Gemini’s cackles. I would inform Supervisor Dex upon my return. Gemini was violating safety protocols.

I glanced behind me, and my gaze landed on a man in the first row. He watched me with curious eyes, a frown plastered on his face. Next to him, a woman pressed her hands together in front of her chest. Eyes closed, her lips moved in a soft chant.

I cleared my throat. “Sorry for the delay. We’ll be taking off shortly.”


The humans were afraid of the Krad and they had good reason to be. Our kind had harvested them from their home planet thousands of years ago and had given them a new life aboard our fleet. Their species had a biomarker—a complex spiraled DNA sequence unique to anything we’d ever encountered before in the universe. Homo sapiens’ genetic mutations allowed us to harness bacteria that increased our lifespan by a full century.

Humans were pretty important to my people, so we took them and traveled with them everywhere we went. This might have been going on for at least a thousand years. Nobody really knew for sure.

It was a symbiotic relationship. Krad fed and sheltered the humans, and in return, they supplied their biomass, which fed our ship’s harvester. But after so many years, a human’s biomarker—what we called their essence—dried up. When that happened, they were assigned Botched status, meaning they no longer served a purpose on our ship, the Aragonite.

In the cabin, a woman sobbed. It wasn’t unusual for some of the Botched to overreact. They were leaving the only life they had known—in the bowels of our ship—where they’d kept sleep quarters and communal areas. The humans governed themselves, preferring to keep their society closed. As long as they hooked into the tubes inside their sleep bunks and provided us with their daily biosamples, we were fine with that arrangement.

And yet, they still feared us. Other Krad were often cruel. If a few teenage Krad imbibed too much petrol fluid, their drunkenness would cause them to wander into the human zone and cause trouble.

Some of the humans trusted me because I was around more than the other Krad. I resided in a narrow room close to the shuttle dock. It made my job easier. Usually, my orders had me making shuttle runs to drop groups of Botched several times a week. Sometimes, there were only four people, but once, there had been twenty—my biggest load. There were only seats for sixteen on the shuttle, so that had been awkward. Mostly, I was isolated from other Krad, except for when I ventured to the upper levels to visit Supervisor Dex and eat in the food hall.

The green light flipped on. “Finally,” I muttered and engaged the thruster engines. The shuttle vibrated as the glider track rose and hooked in. The automated countdown began. I didn’t need the info, but it helped to prepare the humans.

“Ten, nine, eight,” said an automated feminine voice. I leaned back in my seat, bracing myself for the rush of entering the dark void of space.

“Seven, six…”

That part never got old.

“Five, four…”

In the back, a woman wailed.


It’ll be okay, I wanted to tell her. She sounded so scared.

“Two, one.”

The shuttle lurched forward, careening along the glider track. Our bodies pressed against our seats as the shuttle launched out of the narrow tunnel. In three seconds, we were clear of the Aragonite.

There was nothing but pitch-black space punctuated by distant stars. We lost gravity, and the passengers grew silent.

I let my arms float up and admired my silver and orange metal coating, my elegant titanium fingers. After a minute, I pressed the button to turn on the announcement system.

A familiar recorded message began to play, one I’d heard a thousand times by now. “Dear Humans, you’ll soon be arriving on Planet Arae. The shuttle carrying you will dock at a location called Base Point. You’ll each receive a pack containing water filtration tablets, protein packs, blankets, and other necessities. It is important that you seek shelter quickly as weather conditions on Arae change drastically at night.”

The computer’s voice had a warm, cheerful tone, meant to comfort.

“You should expect to encounter other humans who have been dropped off previously. However, the Krad have no idea if those humans are friendly. In fact, we don’t know the survivability conditions on the planet as the Krad have cut ties with the humans on Arae.”

I paused the recording and let that information sink in. This is where the Botched usually lost it. If they were going to cry or scream or shout profanities, this would be the point where it happened.

The chatter of human voices sounded behind me, but I couldn’t make out what they were saying. People were talking over each other. I tilted my head and watched with my enhanced peripheral vision.

The man in front, the one with the calm, curious eyes, hushed the others. “Stay strong, we’re going down there and nothing can change that fact. We must stay strong and stay together. Just like I told you. Just like we rehearsed.”

I started the recording again.

“The Krad appreciate your service onboard our ship. Generations of Krad are grateful for your contributions. Please note, we will not be returning to retrieve you. Arae is your new home. Going forward, do not approach the shuttles or attempt contact. There will be turbulence as we enter the planet’s atmosphere. Please make sure your belt straps are buckled. Thank you and have a wonderful day.”

The entry into the planet’s atmosphere shook the vessel and rattled my calcium-tipped Kevlar teeth, along with the bits of hardware and ligaments that connected metal to tissue. I had to visit med lab and tighten up after about every third shuttle ride.

Usually, I let the shuttle’s AI handle the flying, but today, I felt like enabling the manual controls, so I lowered our altitude and soared through the clouds. As we flew 10,000 feet above sea level, I blinked in awe. Cerulean-blue sky and bright, clear sunshine from a nearby star stretched before me. The temperature gauge displayed 28° Celsius.

Conditions were prime for a drop.

The shuttle passed over a blue-green lake—the vast source of fresh water was why I’d picked out this location for the humans. Those who outgrew their usefulness to the Krad settled here and had been doing so for several decades as our ship orbited above. I spied the outcropping that stretched out from the shore and nudged the shuttle in that direction. After banking, I gently rested the shuttle onto the platform.

Then I powered down the thrusters, unbuckled from my seat, and rose to face the passengers.

A weird thing happened.

I don’t know why, but for some reason, I touched the energy weapon that rested in a holster at my left hip. I’d been flying these shuttle trips, dropping off Botched for six years now and had never drawn my gun even once.

A nervous little flutter happened inside my chest. My right eye twitched again. Please, don’t let me glitch.

Then I said—I always felt awkward about this part—“Does anybody have any questions?”

The humans regarded me with frowns. The man who was their leader unbuckled and stood to face me with narrowed eyes.

He didn’t say anything. Perhaps he hadn’t heard me.

“Do you have a question?” Then I remembered him. He lived near my sleep cube with his family.

“You’re a monster.” He clenched his fists and veins stood out on his temples, looking as if they would burst.

My hand went to my gun again. Weirdest thing. I didn’t even realize I was reaching for it. Must have been a glitch in my circuitry. I really needed a med lab visit.

The chanting woman next to him grabbed his arm. “Royne, no. Don’t endanger yourself.”

But Royne just kept staring at me with icy eyes. “What you’re doing is wrong. Your kind—the Krad—are enslaving our people, using us up, and then tossing us away like trash on this planet.”

I shook my head. “I don’t understand why you’re angry. You and the others are going free. You can live on this planet with other humans like you, away from Krad.”

The others rose from their seats. I entered the code to open the shuttle door and lower the ramp. As it descended, I waved at the people to file out.

But Royne stood in place, his gaze fixed on me. “And what kind of life is this? A planet that isn’t ours. A life we didn’t ask for, trapped here with no hope of ever finding our real home. Your people have hijacked the human species. You’ve destroyed us.”

I didn’t know what to say. A few of the people started filing off the shuttle.

The woman touched his arm. “Come on, Royne. I never want to see one of these creatures again.”

Still, he stared me down for another half-minute—it was intense—until an off-kilter smile crept across his face. “You’re right, Lana.” He pointed at me. “I never want to lay eyes on your ugly Krad face ever again.”

Then he and Lana walked off the shuttle.

As I lifted off, I breathed a sigh of relief to be rid of them. They should be thanking me. On other Krad ships, humans got shoved out of the airlock or jettisoned in pods onto dangerous planets.

I switched on autopilot for the ride back to the Aragonite.

As I tapped my fingers, I noticed my hands shaking.


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