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Authors: Devon Monk

Crucible Zero

BOOK: Crucible Zero
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PRAISE FOR THE HOUSE IMMORTAL NOVELS

Infinity Bell

“Grit and adrenaline drive the action-filled, romance-tinged second novel in Monk's House Immortal SF/fantasy series. . . . Continuous action makes for a roller-coaster effect as the myriad twists and turns of politics and time travel slam together. Each sentence is crafted for maximum impact with exquisite storytelling and relatable, emotional characters.”

—
Publishers
Weekly

House Immortal

“Like Monk's Allie Beckstrom, Matilda has the misfortune to be sought after by powerful immoral men; she has been dealt a no-win hand, and the entertainment is in watching how she plays it out.”

—
Publishers Weekly

“I love Devon Monk's books. There is something about each story that sucks the reader in completely and doesn't let go . . . an excellent story. Devon Monk is incredible at weaving a tale that makes the reader excited, crazy, and astonished all at the same time.”

—Fiction Vixen

“Original and intriguing . . . [a] kick-ass heroine, powerful, near-immortal beings, fun sidekicks, and [an] original world.”

—All Things Urban Fantasy

“I didn't want to stop reading.
House Immortal
kept my interest every second.”

—Yummy Men & Kick Ass Chicks

“A fresh and unique world. . . . Devon Monk once again proves she's a powerhouse in the genre.”

—A Book Obsession


House Immortal
brings
Frankenstein
into a new world, and Devon Monk puts it together excellently!”

—Drey's Library

“[Tilly] is exactly the type of heroine I enjoy reading about: She's intelligent, independent, compassionate, and totally kick-ass . . . definitely one of my favorite reads this year.”

—Short & Sweet Reviews

“Monk has a way with putting a unique twist on a story . . . absolutely wonderful.”

—Bookworm Blues

“Monk has a way to create worlds that feel like our reality mixed with a kick of fantasy.”

—Seeing Night Book Reviews

“A unique, new series with intriguing characters, a power-hungry villain, and an original well-built world.”

—Urban Fantasy Investigations

“Interesting, well-developed characters, a kick-ass plot with more twists and turns than you can even guess, and incredible world building . . .
House Immortal
is the start of what looks to be a fantastic series.”

—Book Briefs

“I absolutely love the homage to Mary Shelley's
Frankenstein. . . .
Devon Monk has crafted a fine beginning to a new series with
House Immortal
.”

—Vampire Book Club

“A dystopian book like you've never seen before . . . amazing and brilliant . . .
House Immortal
might just end up being one of my favorite novels of 2014.”

—Team Tynga's Reviews

“Extraordinary. . . . The unique
House Immortal
delivers on multiple levels.”

—Bitten by Books

PRAISE FOR THE AGE OF STEAM NOVELS

“A must-read.”

—
New York Times
bestselling author Keri Arthur

“The action is superb, the stakes are sky-high, and the passion runs wild. . . . Devon Monk rocks—her unique setting and powerful characters aren't to be missed!”

—
New York Times
bestselling author Ilona Andrews

“Beautifully written and brilliantly imagined.”

—
New York Times
bestselling author Rachel Vincent

“Action and romance combine with a deft precision that will keep readers turning pages—and anxiously awaiting the next volume.”

—
Publishers Weekly

“Monk flawlessly blends fantasy, steampunk, and Western in this fantastic series.”

—SciFiChick.com

“An exhilarating adventure-thriller that grips the audience.”

—Genre Go Round Reviews

“Monk's entrance into steampunk is a tour de force.”

—
RT Book Reviews
(t
op pick)

PRAISE FOR THE ALLIE BECKSTROM NOVELS

“Loved it. Fiendishly original and a stay-up-all-night read. We're going to be hearing a lot more of Devon Monk.”

—#1
New York Times
bestselling author Patricia Briggs

“Gritty setting, compelling, fully realized characters, and a frightening system of magic-with-a-price that left me awed. Devon Monk's writing is addictive.”

—
New York Times
bestselling author Rachel Vincent

“Highly original and compulsively readable.”

—Jenna Black, author of
Resistance

“Breathtaking. . . . Monk is a storyteller extraordinaire!”

—
RT Book Reviews

“Urban fantasy at its finest. . . . Every book is packed with action, adventure, humor, battles, romance, drama, and suspense.”

—
Sacramento Book Review

“Dark and delicious. . . . Allie is one of urban fantasy's most entertaining heroines.”

—
Publishers Weekly
(starred review)

BOOKS BY DEVON MONK

The House Immortal Series

House Immortal

Infinity Bell

Crucible Zero

The Broken Magic Series

Hell Bent

Stone Cold

The Allie Beckstrom Series

Magic to the Bone

Magic in the Blood

Magic in the Shadows

Magic on the Storm

Magic at the Gate

Magic on the Hunt

Magic on the Line

Magic Without Mercy

Magic for a Price

The Age of Steam

Dead Iron

Tin Swift

Cold Copper

ROC

Published by New American Library,

an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC

375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014

This book is an original publication of New American Library.

First Printing, September 2015

Copyright © Devon Monk, 2015

Penguin Random House 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 Random House to continue to publish books for every reader.

Roc and the Roc colophon are registered trademarks of Penguin Random House LLC.

For more information about Penguin Random House, visit penguin.com.

ISBN 978-0-698-14024-0

PUBLISHER'S NOTE

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, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Version_1

For my family

ACKNOWL
EDGMENTS

This book wouldn't be nearly as shiny and strong without the excellent guidance from my editor, Anne Sowards. My gratitude to her, and all the many talented, hardworking people at Penguin who helped bring this book to fruition, knows no bounds. Thank you also and always to my agent, Miriam Kriss. To the wonderful artist Eric Williams—thank you for bringing Matilda to life and for giving her that great jacket.

An especially big thank-you to my wonderful first reader, Dean Woods, who not only helped me navigate the logic holes inherent in adding a component of time travel to a story, but also read through many, many drafts of the trilogy as a whole. Thank you also to Dejsha Knight, first reader and best friend extraordinaire, for all your support along the way. To my big, fabulous family—I love you. Thank you for sharing in the fun with me. And to my husband, Russ, and my sons, Kameron and Konner, thank you for being such great people. You are the best part of my life. I love you all dearly.

Finally, and most importantly, thank you, dear readers, for letting me share this twisty-turny adventure with you. I hope you have enjoyed this world, these people, and their stories.

Contents

Praise

Books by Devon Monk

Title Page

Copyright

Dedication

Acknowledgments

 

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

1

I'm not one to write my thoughts down. But the doctors say a journal is good for my mental state. So from this ruined and dying body, I cast my hello. If you're out there, Matilda, I'll find you.

—W.Y.

“T
his is a bad idea, Evelyn. A bad idea.” My brother, Quinten Case, paced the dirt patch just outside our farmhouse door, one hand stuck stiff-fingered in his dark, curled hair. His other hand kept drifting toward the gun holstered on his thigh, while his gaze flicked constantly toward the kitchen window. The flannel shirt and work boots he wore didn't disguise who I knew he really was: a restless genius and a brilliant stitcher of living things.

I should know. After all, I was one of the living things he'd stitched together.

“Matilda,” I corrected him gently. I was sitting on the top edge of a rain barrel,
thunk
ing my bootheels absently against the hollow side of it, and wondering what else about my farm and my world had changed since the Wings of Mercury experiment had broken and then mended time. “I'm not Evelyn anymore, Quinten.”

He pulled his fingers out of his hair and waved impatiently at me. I guess he was still trying to get used to the changes in his world too.

I understood why he was calling me Evelyn.

I was born his sister, and named Matilda Case. But when I was a little girl, I'd become deathly ill. Quinten and his genius mind had found a way to transfer my thoughts, my personality, my mind into the comatose body of a girl named Evelyn. A girl who had been asleep for more than three hundred years.

He stitched everything that made me
me
into her. It had been a desperate, risky thing to try. But he had succeeded. In my world, in my time, I'd woken up in her body as Matilda, and lived until I was twenty-six.

That was when we'd done something even more desperate: Quinten had sent me back in time to change the Wings of Mercury experiment. We didn't have much choice, really. If I hadn't gone back in time, billions of people would have died.

That was how I remembered it. That was what had happened in my time.

But in this world, in this time line, Evelyn had been the one who had woken up when my brother had tried to transfer my mind into her body.

She'd lived until today, just a few minutes ago when I'd found myself standing in the kitchen. I'd felt Evelyn in my mind with me for a moment. Then she had lifted, all her memories and thoughts fading like smoke on the wind.

My going back in time was supposed to save the world. And it had.

But it had also changed it in massive, chaotic ways.

So far, I'd been told there was a war going on between the Houses who ruled the resources in the world. House Brown, or House Earth, as Quinten had told me it was referred to now, was the house that used to be made up of a loosely connected network of people, each living on their own piece of land. Those people had rejected servitude to the other Houses to live free, and were now living in several walled strongholds scattered across the world.

Another huge change I was still trying to wrap my mind around was that the galvanized, people like me who had survived the original Wings of Mercury experiment and whose brains and bodies were more than three hundred years old and stitched, were some kind of wanted criminals.

Back in my time, the galvanized had done a lot of good for the world, and for people and human rights.

“You have a price on your head,” Quinten said, back to pulling at his hair again. “They—those killers in our kitchen—shouldn't even be here.”

“I know.” In my time, I'd had a price on my head too. That, unfortunately, hadn't changed. One of these days I'd figure out how to avoid such trouble in my life.

“How can that even be possible?” he demanded. “No one, except Neds and Grandma, knows you exist.”

“Someone knows,” I said, waiting for him to turn and start pacing back the other way.

“No. You can't be a wanted criminal if no one knows you're alive.”

“I take it you registered my death when I was young?” It was a weird thing to ask, but, then, I'd led a weird life.

He nodded, his palm resting on the top of his head so his elbow jutted out. “We never registered Evelyn as alive, since she wasn't technically or medically supposed to be alive. She was just a forgotten medical experiment Dad got his hands on before things really went to hell. There is no Matilda Case alive on record.”

“Still, you couldn't have kept Evelyn in the basement all her life,” I said, hoping to lighten things up a bit. “We must have neighbors or friends who saw her and maybe thought she was me.”

“Yes, we have friends. But they think Matilda died. And we told them Evelyn was a child our parents took in after the One-three plague killed her parents.”

“One-three plague?”

He stopped, lowering his hand finally. Stared at me, his eyes flicking across my face as if looking for a lie there. “It's . . . eerie,” he said. “Knowing you're not you.”

“I am me,” I said softly. “I'm just not her.”

He nodded, and sorrow darkened his eyes. “For the past fifty years, we've had a plague hit each decade. One-three spread widely enough, it wiped out millions.”

“Oh,” I said. “Oh.” There had been no widespread plague in my time. I was still reeling with the changes of this world, and I knew Quinten had his own things to get his brain around.

But in my time, Quinten had died from a terrible explosion. We had been hunted by the Houses who chased us to our farmhouse. The House soldiers had killed Quinten; our farmhand, Neds Harris; and the galvanized Abraham and Foster. They'd killed the others who had helped us too—Welton, who was head of House Yellow, and House Brown's doctor, Gloria.

Even though this news of plague wasn't exactly welcome, so far I preferred this time and this world, in which my brother and the people I loved were alive.

Whatever else was wrong here, we'd make right. This was the only world left to us. That time-travel trick had been a one-shot deal.

“Could it be the stitching?” I asked. “If someone had seen my stitching, they'd know I was galvanized, right? And galvanized are . . . criminals?”

He pulled up the sleeve of his flannel, his eyes locked on mine.

I glanced down at his tanned forearm. Muscular, a few lines of scars that had healed too white against his tanned skin. A row of neat, small stitches ran at an angle below his elbow.

Everything in me chilled.

“Everyone is stitched, Ev— Matilda,” he said. “At most times, anyway.”

I couldn't take my eyes off that tidy row of thin gray thread piercing my brother's arm. “Why?”

“The One-one plague made healing slower and more difficult. Things go necrotic more often than not. Especially open wounds. If you want a cut to heal, you need to stitch and keep it as clean as possible.”

“So those stitches aren't permanent?”

He shook his head and rolled his sleeve back down. “I'll take them out at the end of the month if everything looks okay.”

“Are mine permanent?” I asked, a small hope catching in my heart.

“Yes. You are galvanized. But since nearly everyone goes around with stitches, spotting a galvanized isn't easy. And no one I know thinks you are a galvanized.”

“So people just assume I'm recovering from injuries,” I said.

He nodded. “You— I mean, Evelyn keeps her stitches covered when anyone from House Earth stops by.”

“I thought you said no one knew I was alive.”

“No one except the people in House Earth whom I trust implicitly. Well, and the Grubens.”

I shook my head. “The what?”

“Family down a ways. Closest we Cases have to relatives. They're an . . . energetic bunch, but loyal to the grave.”

“So stitches aren't rare, and my being galvanized isn't why someone wants me dead. That's different.”

“Are the galvanized the only stitched where— I mean,
when
you came from?” he asked.

“Yes. Twelve of them, plus me. They were owned by the Houses. They were celebrities, in a way. World changers. Heroes. They did a lot of good, Quinten. We did a lot of good. I knew Abraham. I knew Foster.” I pointed toward our house, where both Abraham and Foster were drinking tea at our kitchen table, probably at gunpoint. “We trusted them then with our lives, and they died trying to protect us.”

“What's your point, Ev?” he asked.

“Matilda,” I said. “We should trust them now.”

“That would be suicide.”

“Because they're galvanized?”

“Because they are here to collect on that price on your head,” he said.

“Abraham said he came to warn us that there was a price on our heads.”

The crease between his lowered eyebrows deepened. “They're mercenaries, Matilda. All galvanized are mercenaries. Guns for hire. No loyalties to anything other than money. No loyalties to Houses, people, or each other. It's what they do.”

Oh.

“Well, that's not what they're going to do here. We should at least get as much information out of them as we can, don't you think?”

“There's nothing they know that I want or will pay for,” he said flatly. “I do not do business with galvanized.”

“Well, I do.” I hopped down off the water barrel, my boots landing with a crunchy
thud
in the dirt and gravel. I dusted my hands.

“They came to our farm looking for me and for
you,
” I said. “I'm not the only one someone wants dead. We don't know why someone wants me dead, since no one should know I'm alive. But from the way you're acting all nervous and hair-pully, I think you know exactly why your head is worth hunting.”

“It's a mistake,” he scoffed.

“No, I don't think it is. What did you do that has made someone want to kill you, Quinten?”

He pulled his shoulders back and tipped his head up, as if I'd just punched him in the chest. It took him a moment or two before he answered.

“You are not at all like Evelyn,” he said slowly. “Do you know that? She was kind. Trusting. She was the sweetest girl I'd ever known. And she would never have accused me of doing something worth being killed over.”

His words stung. Quinten and I had been close. Hell, I practically worshiped the ground his boots trod upon. It hurt to hear him tell me I wasn't as good as the sister he loved more than me. A girl I could never live up to. A girl I could never be.

But I knew him. He had a habit of striking out when people got too close to the things he didn't want to talk about. I refused to back down on this.

I lifted my chin and stared him in the eyes. “I'm sorry I'm not her. Really, I am. I'm sorry you've lost her. I'm sorry she's gone. But you haven't answered the question I asked,” I said calmly. “Tell me what you did, Quinten. If I don't know why someone wants to kill you, I can't help you stay alive.”

“No.”

It was my turn to study him, looking for clues. His body language said he wasn't going to budge on his silence. His eyes had gone all sharp and judgy. Closed off.

Fine. He wasn't the only person on the property who had information.

There were three mercenaries at my kitchen table. They must know who had put the hit out on us. Someone had to be paying them. Maybe they'd have a clue as to why we had suddenly become such hot property.

“I may not be as sweet as Evelyn,” I said, unable to be angry at him. “But you, brother, haven't changed a bit. You are just as stubborn, smart, and insufferably righteous as you've always been. And I wouldn't want you any other way.” I took a few steps and dropped a quick kiss on his cheek. “I missed you.” I patted his arm. “But you're being an idiot.”

I strode off toward the corner of the house, and the kitchen door beyond.

*   *   *

The twisting sensation of an elevator suddenly plunging down flights of a building hit me. I stumbled, but caught myself before I fell. The sharp scent of roses filled my nose and mouth as I gasped, and my ears rang with the distance echo of a bell.

My vision blurred, and I blinked hard to clear it. The house in front of me dissolved into nothing but a pile of rubble, as if an explosion had reduced it to smoldering dirt and timbers. Men in black uniforms milled around it.

My heart raced. Something was wrong. Something was very wrong. I looked behind me, and Quinten was no longer there. But it wasn't just Quinten that was missing. This world had changed.

No. The world had shifted. This world, this property with the broken, burning house, was the property and world from my original time.

But I didn't want to be in my time. In my time, my brother was dead.

I must have made a sound.

One of the men looked over at me. “Hey. What are you doing? This location is under House Black lockdown. There's been an explosion. It isn't safe to be here.”

I heard him—honestly I did. But all I could see was the destroyed farmhouse on the very familiar land where I had grown up. All of it exactly as I remembered, and not the different world I'd woken up in recently.

If this was the time I remembered and had grown up in, that meant my brother was currently dead, buried under that pile of rubble that used to be our home.

“Matilda?”

I turned to that familiar voice. John Black, head of House Black, wore a black uniform like the other men, but carried himself with a manner of authority and bulldog strength. He had just come around the corner of the rubble field and looked as startled as I felt.

“Were you in the explosion?” he asked striding my way. “Were there any other survivors? Welton Yellow, or your brother, Quinten? Have you seen Abraham?”

I shook my head and pressed my hand over my mouth, words stuck somewhere in the clot of panicked silence filling my brain.

BOOK: Crucible Zero
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