But I still had my mom. Not a lot of people could say that after the war, and she was a damn good mom.

So much had been lost, but Columbia was one of those cities that had been lucky. For the most part, it was virtually untouched by the invasion. Only some of the buildings had been damaged, mostly due to random fires that broke out, and I heard that there’d been riots here, but there had been riots everywhere.

Mom and I hadn’t been so lucky. We’d originally lived outside of Hagerstown, another city in Maryland, and nearly all the cities along the I81 corridor had been damaged during combat. There’d been ground fighting and airstrikes.

And there were other cities that had had it so much worse.

Some had been completely overrun by the Luxen, and those cities where the Luxen had rapidly assimilated the DNA of humans, basically replacing them, had been total losses. Alexandria. Houston. Los Angeles and Chicago. Nonnuclear electromagnetic pulse bombs had been dropped on those cities, effectively killing every Luxen while also rendering every piece of technology useless.

The newly formed Department of Restoration said that it would take decades to repair those cities, now referred to as zones. They were walled wastelands, empty of life and power. No one lived there. No one went there.

It was hard not to think of them when I looked in the rearview mirror and saw the skyscrapers stretching into the sky like steel fingers. It was hard to not think of those days and weeks after the invasion.

It was even harder for me to really process how it only had been four years and everything was almost normal. Mom had gone back to the work at the United States Army Medical Research and Material Compound at Fort Detrick in Frederick the moment it was okay to return to the area. Around two years ago, movies had started getting made again and TV stations stopped showing reruns. New episodes of my favorite shows started airing with some new cast members, and one day, life was just back to the way it was before.

At school, we’d just started meeting with college advisors on Tuesday. I was planning to enter University of Maryland next fall and would hopefully get into their nursing program, because even though I loved taking pictures, I knew I wasn’t good enough to make a career out of that. Though, after my reaction to the guy Luc was helping, I wondered if nursing was the right fit for me.

Anyway, life was happening again.

Some days it was like everyone made a conscious decision to move on from the war and all the death, from the knowledge we weren’t alone in this universe or on this planet. The world had exhausted itself on fear, and then said, Nope, no more.

Maybe that was for the better, because how could we keep living if all we feared was what the next second or minute would bring?

I didn’t have an answer for that.

My phone rang, pulling me out of my thoughts. I glanced at the screen and saw April’s name pop up. Did I want to answer the phone? It felt like it was too early to deal with her. Immediately, guilt churned. I hit the accept call button on the steering wheel. “Hey!”

“What are you doing right now?” she asked, her voice carrying through the speakers.

“Um . . . driving past Walkers.” My stomach grumbled. I could practically taste the greasy amazingness. “I really would love a burger right now.”

“It’s, like, eleven in the morning.”

“So? There is no bad time for a hamburger.”

“Well, maybe add some bacon and eggs to it, and you could call it breakfast.”

My stomach rumbled even louder. “God, now I’m really hungry.”

“You’re always hungry,” she commented. “Better keep an eye on that. Metabolism slows down as you get older.”

Rolling my eyes, I then scowled. “Thanks for the info, Dr. April.”

“You’re welcome,” she chirped back.

I stopped at a red light. “What are you doing?”

“Nothing really, but have you been online today?”

“No.” I tapped my fingers along the wheel. “Am I missing drama?”

“There is always drama online, no matter the time or day, whether it’s a holiday or an apocalypse,” she replied dryly. “But yeah, there’s drama online. Except it’s real deal. Oh wait. Is Heidi with you?”

“No. I’m heading home. Does this have to do with her?” Knowing April, if something horrible was circulating about Heidi online, April’s first call would be to everyone and anyone other than Heidi. Wasn’t anything personal. She’d do the same thing to any of us.

Sometimes I wondered why I was friends with April, but she was like two different people. There were times when she was the sweetest person, and then there was this other side of her that could be downright nasty. Then again, we weren’t exactly that close. She usually only called me when she had something she wanted to gossip about or needed a favor. Like now.

“It has nothing to do with Heidi,” she replied.

The light flipped green and I hit the gas pedal. “What’s going on?”

“You know Colleen Shultz, right? She was in our English class last year.”

As I slowed down to approach yet another stoplight, my stomach tumbled. Holy crap, I’d forgotten all about seeing Colleen at the club last night. “Yeah. What about her?”

“She’s missing.”

“What?” I slammed on the brakes, causing the seat belt to choke me. My gaze flew to the rearview mirror. Thank God no one was behind me. “What do you mean?”

“Supposedly she went out last night with some friends and they got separated. Doesn’t sound like a big deal, right?”

My grip tightened on the steering wheel. “Right.”

“Once everyone found each other later, Colleen never showed up. They went looking for her and ended up finding her purse and her shoes in this alley. Like you and I both know, that isn’t a good sign.” April’s voice heightened with excitement, because apparently there nothing was more exciting than a missing classmate. “But here’s the scandalicious part of it. Colleen was at that club last night. You know the one where supposedly all the aliens hang out? She was at Foretoken.”


Colleen’s disappearance was all I could think about the rest of the day, shoving aside everything that had happened with Luc and my stupid phone.

I knew why Colleen had gotten separated from her friends. Obviously. It must’ve happened during the raid, and I was pretty sure I knew what alley April was talking about. The same one I’d nearly face-planted into after scrambling out of the window. I hadn’t seen a purse or shoes, but I also hadn’t been paying attention to anything other than getting away from that club and finding Heidi.

April had insisted that Colleen’s friends had gone to her house and her parents hadn’t seen or heard from her either. It may be too soon to say she was truly missing, but no one knew where she was and April had been right about one thing, though. A purse and shoes left behind in an alley? That was bad news.

When people disappeared under those circumstances, their stories rarely had a happy ending.

But wasn’t that Luxen found in the same alley? The one who was horrifically beaten? That was what Archer had said. He’d found Chas by the dumpster. And how coincidental was that? Colleen’s belongings were found in the same alley where Chas had been nearly beaten to death?

That was what woke me up Sunday morning and stopped me from falling back to sleep. Had Colleen seen something at the club Friday night, something like what I’d seen? Luc had said . . . God, hadn’t he basically told me that people got hurt when they saw things they shouldn’t? Maybe not in those words exactly, but that was how they’d come across. And he was definitely hiding Luxen at Foretoken—unregistered Luxen.

Did that happen to Colleen? She saw them or something, and now she was simply gone? Did it have something to do with had happened to Chas? Maybe he knew something, and when he woke up, if he woke up, he’d be able to tell someone.

Then again, Chas was unregistered. Who would he tell who wouldn’t jeopardize his safety?

A shudder rocked me as I flipped onto my side. I wasn’t close to Colleen at all. With the exception of briefly speaking to her Friday night, we’d maybe exchanged a handful of sentences. Despite that and because of the reality of the situation, I really hoped she showed up.