Steelheart – Chapters 2 and 3

SteelheartWe’ve very excited about the upcoming release of Steelheart, the first book in an epic (no pun intended) new series from bestselling author Brandon Sanderson, out at the end of September. If you missed the prologue and the first chapter, you can catch up on both here, and all you up-to-date Sanderson fans can continue with chapter two and three below…

Chapter 2

 I hustled down the dark street on a steel sidewalk, passing in and out of pockets of light.

I might have just decided to do something very,  very stupid. Like eating-meat-sold-by-shady-understreet-vendors stupid.  Maybe even stupider. The Reckoners planned their assassinations with extreme care. It hadn’t been my intention to interfere—only to watch, then try to get them to take me on. By stepping out of that alleyway, I changed things. Interfered with the plan, whatever it was. There was a chance that everything was going just as it was supposed to— that Curveball was accounted for.

But maybe not. No plan was perfect, and even the Reckoners failed. Sometimes they pulled out, their target left alive. It was better to retreat than risk capture.

I didn’t know which situation this was, but I had to at least try to help. If I missed this opportunity, I’d curse myself for years.

All three people—Fortuity, Curveball, and the beauty with the dangerous air—turned toward me as I ran up. “Donny!” I said. “We need you back at the Reeve!”

Curveball frowned at me, eyeing my rifle. He reached under his jacket for his gun, but didn’t pull it out. Fortuity, in his red suit and deep red cape, raised an eyebrow at me. If I’d been a dan- ger, his powers would have warned him. I wasn’t planning to do anything  to him in the next  few minutes, though,  so he got no warning.

“Who are you?” Curveball demanded.

I stopped. “Who am I? Sparks, Donny! I’ve worked for Spritzer for three years now. Would it kill you to try remembering people’s names once in a while?”

My heart was thumping, but I tried not to show it. Spritzer was the guy who ran the Reeve Playhouse. Spritz wasn’t an Epic, but he was in Steelheart’s pay—pretty  much anyone with any influence in the city was.

Curveball studied  me suspiciously, but  I knew he didn’t  give much mind to the lowlife thugs around him. In fact, he probably would have been shocked by how much I knew about him, along with most of the Epics in Newcago.

“Well?” I demanded. “You coming?”

“You don’t give lip to me, boy. What are you, a door guard?”

“I went on the Idolin raid last summer,” I said, crossing my arms. “I’m moving up, Donny.”

“You call me sir, idiot,” Curveball snapped, lowering his hand from his jacket. “If you were ‘moving up,’ you wouldn’t be running messages. What’s this nonsense about going back? He said he needed Fortuity to run some odds for him.”

I shrugged. “He didn’t tell me why; he just sent me to get you. Said to say that he’d been wrong, and you weren’t to bother Fortuity.” I looked to Fortuity. “I don’t think the Spritz knew about . . . er . . . that you had plans, sir.” I nodded to the woman.

There was a long, uncomfortable pause. I was so nervous, you could have scratched off a lottery ticket by holding it against my knuckles.  Finally, Fortuity sniffed. “Tell Spritz that he’s forgiven, this time. He should know better—I’m not his personal calculator.” He turned, sticking out his elbow to the woman and walking away, obviously assuming that she’d jump at his whim.

As she turned to follow, she glanced at me, long lashes fluttering above deep blue eyes. I found myself smiling.

Then I realized that if I’d fooled Fortuity, I’d probably fooled her too. That meant she—and the Reckoners—now thought I was one of Steelheart’s lackeys. They were always careful not to endanger civil- ians, but they had nothing at all against taking out a few hit men or thugs.

Aw, sparks, I thought. I should have winked at her! Why didn’t I wink at her?

Would that have looked stupid? I’d never really practiced winking. Could you do it the wrong way, though? It was a simple thing.

“Something wrong with your eye?” Curveball asked.

“Er, got a lash in it,” I said. “Sir. Sorry. Um, we should get back.” The thought  of the Reckoners setting off their trap in time to take out Curveball—and me—as a nice side effect suddenly  made me very, very nervous.

I hurried down the sidewalk, splashing through some puddles. Rain didn’t evaporate quickly in the darkness, and with the steel ground, there wasn’t anywhere for it to go. The Diggers had created some drainage, along with pipes to circulate air in the understreets, but  their eventual madness had disrupted  those plans and they’d never finished.

Curveball followed me at a moderate speed. I slowed down, matching his pace, worried he might come up with a reason to go back for Fortuity.

“What’s your hurry, kid?” he growled.

In the distance, the woman and Fortuity had stopped beneath a streetlight, where they had taken to searching one another’s mouths with their tongues.

“Stop staring,” Curveball said, walking past. “He could gun us down without even looking and nobody would care.”

It was true. Fortuity was a powerful enough Epic that—so long as he didn’t interfere with one of Steelheart’s plans—he could do whatever he pleased. Curveball himself didn’t have that kind of immunity. You still had to be careful when you were at his level. Steelheart wouldn’t care if a minor Epic like Curveball got himself stabbed in the back.

I tore my eyes away and joined Curveball. He lit up a cigarette as he walked, a flash of light in the dark, followed by the coal-red sizzle of the tip hanging in the air before him. “Sparks, Spritz,” he said. “Could have sent one of you lackeys out after Fortuity in the first place. I hate looking like a slontze.”

“You know how Spritz is,” I said absently. “He figured that send- ing you would be less offensive to Fortuity, since you’re an Epic.”

“Suppose that’s  right.”  Curveball took a pull on his cigarette. “Whose team are you in?”

“Eddie Macano’s,” I said, naming one of the underlings in Spritz’s organization. I glanced over my shoulder. They were still going at it. “He was the one who made me run after you. Didn’t want to do it himself. Too busy trying to pick up one of those girls Fortuity left behind. Whatta slontze, eh?”

“Eddie Macano?” Curveball said, turning  toward me. The red tip of his cigarette lit his perplexed face a scarlet orange. “He died in that skirmish with the underbloods two days back. I was there. . . .”

I froze. Whoops.

Curveball reached for his gun.

 Chapter 3

 HANDGUNS  have one distinct advantage over rifles—they’re fast. I didn’t even try to beat him to the draw. I ducked to the side, running as fast as I could toward an alleyway.

In the near distance, somebody screamed. Fortuity, I thought. Did he see me run? But I’m not standing in the light, and he wasn’t watching. This is something else. The trap must have— Curveball opened fire on me.

The thing about handguns is that they’re blasted difficult to aim. Even trained, practiced professionals miss more often than they hit. And if you level the gun out in front of you sideways—like you think you’re in some stupid action movie—you’ll hit even less often.

That was exactly  what  Curveball did,  flashes from the  front of his gun lighting the darkness. A bullet hit the ground near me, spraying sparks as it ricocheted off the steel pavement. I skidded into an alleyway and pressed myself back against the wall, out of Curveball’s direct line of sight.

Bullets continued  to spray against the wall. I didn’t dare look out, but I could hear Curveball cursing and yelling. I was too panicked to count shots. A magazine like his couldn’t hold more than a dozen or so bullets—

Oh, right, I thought. His Epic power. The man could keep blast- ing away and never run out of bullets. Eventually he’d round the corner and get a direct shot.

Only one thing to do. I took a deep breath, letting my rifle slide off my shoulder and catching it with my hand. I dropped to one knee in the mouth of the alleyway, putting myself at risk, and raised the rifle. The burning cigarette gave me a sight on Curveball’s face.

A bullet hit the wall above me. I prepared to squeeze the trigger. “Stop it, you slontze!” a voice called, interrupting Curveball.

A figure moved between us in the dim light just as I fired. The shot missed. That was Fortuity.

I lowered my gun as another shot rang out from high above. The sniper. A bullet struck the ground nearby, almost hitting Fortuity— but he jerked sideways at just the right moment. His danger sense.

Fortuity ran awkwardly, and as he got closer to a lantern, I saw why. He was handcuffed. Still, he was escaping; whatever the Reckoners’ plan was, it looked like it had fallen apart.

Curveball and I glanced at each other, then he took off following Fortuity, firing a few stray shots in my direction. Having infinite bullets didn’t  make him any better  a shot, however, and they all went wide.

I climbed to my feet and looked the other  direction,  toward where the woman had been. Was she all right?

A loud crack sounded in the air, and Curveball screamed, dropping to the ground. I smiled, right until a second shot fired and a spray of sparks exploded from the wall beside me. I cursed, ducking back into my alleyway. A second later the woman in the sleek red dress spun into the alleyway, holding a tiny  derringer  pistol and pointing it directly at my face.

People firing handguns missed, on average, from over ten paces— but I wasn’t sure of the statistics when the pistol was fifteen inches from your face. Probably not so good for the target.

“Wait!” I said, holding up my hands, letting my rifle fall in its strap on my shoulder. “I’m trying to help! Didn’t you see Curveball firing at me?”

“Who do you work for?” the woman demanded.

“Havendark Factory,” I said. “I used to drive a cab, though I—” “Slontze,” she said. Gun still trained on me, she raised her hand to her head, touching one finger to her ear. I could see an earring there that was probably tethered to her mobile. “Megan here. Tia. Blow it.”

An explosion sounded nearby and I jumped. “What was that!” “The Reeve Playhouse.”

“You blew up the Reeve?” I said. “I thought the Reckoners didn’t hurt innocents!”

That froze her, gun still pointed at me. “How do you know who we are?”

“You’re hunting Epics. Who else would you be?”

“But—” She cut off, cursing softly, raising her finger again. “No time. Abraham. Where is the mark?”

I couldn’t hear the reply, but it obviously satisfied her. A few more explosions sounded in the distance.

She eyed me, but my hands were still raised, and she must have seen Curveball firing on me. She apparently decided I wasn’t a threat. She lowered her gun and hurriedly reached down, breaking the stiletto heels off her shoes. Then she grabbed the side of her dress and ripped it off.

I gaped.

I normally consider myself somewhat levelheaded, but it’s not every day that you find yourself in a darkened alleyway with a gorgeous woman who rips off most of her clothing. Underneath she wore a low-cut tank top and a pair of spandex biker shorts. I was pleased to note that the gun holster was, indeed, strapped  to her right thigh. Her mobile was hooked to the outside of the sheath.

She tossed the dress aside—it had been designed to come off easily. Her arms were lean and firm, and the wide-eyed naivety she’d shown earlier was completely gone, replaced with a hard edge and a determined expression.

I took a step, and in a heartbeat her pistol was trained on my forehead again. I froze.

“Out of the alleyway,” she said, gesturing.

I nervously did as asked, walking back onto the street. “On your knees, hands on head.”

“I don’t really—” “Down!”

I got down on my knees, feeling stupid, raising my hands to my head.

“Hardman,” she said, finger to her ear. “If Knees here so much as sneezes, put a slug through his neck.” “But—” I began.

She took off at a run down the street, moving much more quickly now that she’d removed the heels and the dress. That left me alone. I felt like an idiot kneeling there, hairs on my neck prickling as I thought of the sniper who had his weapon trained on me.

How many agents did the Reckoners have here? I couldn’t imag- ine them trying anything like this without at least two dozen. Another explosion shook the ground. Why the blasts? They’d alert Enforcement, Steelheart’s soldiers. Lackeys and thugs were bad enough; Enforcement wielded advanced guns and the occasional ar- mor unit—twelve-foot-tall robotic suits of power armor.

The next explosion was closer, just down the block. Something must have gone wrong  in their  original plan, otherwise Fortuity wouldn’t have gotten away from the woman in red. Megan? Was that what she’d said her name was?

This was one of their contingency plans. But what were they trying to do?

A figure burst out of an alleyway nearby, almost making me jump. I held still, cursing that sniper, but I did turn my head slightly to look. The figure wore red, and still had handcuffs on. Fortuity.

The explosions, I realized. They were to scare him back this way!

He crossed the street, then turned to run in my direction. Megan—if that was really her name—burst from the same road he’d appeared out of. She turned this way, trying to chase him down, but behind her—in the distance—another group of figures rushed out from a different street.

They were four of Spritz’s thugs, in suits and carrying sub-machine guns. They pointed at Megan.

I watched from the other side of the street as Megan and Fortuity passed me. The thugs were approaching from my right, and Megan and Fortuity were running to my left, all of us on the same darkened street.

Come on! I thought at the sniper up above. She doesn’t see them! They’ll gun her down. Take them out!

Nothing. The thugs leveled their guns. I felt sweat trickle down the back of my neck. Then, teeth clenched, I rolled to the side, whip- ping my rifle out and drawing a bead on one of them.

I took a deep breath,  concentrated,  and squeezed the trigger, fully expecting to be shot in the head from above.