SF Signal is pleased to present this exciting excerpt from Ex-heroes, a novel by Peter Clines, who we interviewed yesterday.

Here is the book synopsis for Ex-heroes:

Stealth. Gorgon. Regenerator. Cerberus. Zzzap. The Mighty Dragon. They were heroes, using their superhuman abilities to make Los Angeles a better place.

Then the plague of living death spread around the globe. Billions died, civilization fell, and the city of angels was left a desolate zombie wasteland.

Now, a year later, the Mighty Dragon and his companions protect a last few thousand survivors in their film-studio-turned-fortress, the Mount. Scarred and traumatized by the horrors they’ve endured, the heroes fight the armies of ravenous ex-humans at their citadel’s gates, lead teams out to scavenge for supplies—and struggle to be the symbols of strength and hope the survivors so desperately need.

But the hungry ex-humans aren’t the only threats the heroes face. Former allies, their powers and psyches hideously twisted, lurk in the city’s ruins. And just a few miles away, another group is slowly amassing power…led by an enemy with the most terrifying ability of all.

After the jump…the excerpt!

Ex-heroes
The Luckiest Girl in the World

by Peter Clines

I have to admit, it’s a little creepy when their necks snap. Stealth says they don’t feel any pain. It’s like breaking a toy more than killing something. Gorgon agrees with her. But it’s still such a creepy noise.

Kick. Back flip. Crouch. Sweep. Lunge. Springboard. Snap.

For the most part, it’s like shooting fish in a barrel. I’m two or three times faster than a normal person. When you consider these things move at maybe quarter-speed, it’s almost impossible for them to touch me. There was a scary minute a few days ago when I got surrounded by them, but once I calmed down I got out of it. Stealth was right—-she’s always right.

You can get out of anything with your brain first, your fists second.

Spin kick. Spin kick. Roundhouse. Snap. Flip up to the fire escape.

Hands down, the worst part of this whole crisis was telling Mom and Dad the truth about my “part-time tutoring job.” With martial law and a national quarantine, they weren’t going to buy my usual “off to the library, back late” excuse. Still, the whole country’s being overrun by zombies and I had to argue with them before they’d let me out of the house.

Swing. Launch. Bounce. Flip kick. Snap.

And what was the huge issue? Were they upset their oldest daughter was some kind of mutant? That I’d been risking my life and fighting crime since sophomore year of high school? That I’d lied to them?

“You can’t be Banzai!” cried Mom. “Banzai is a boy. It was in the paper.”

“Yeah, I know. It helps hide my identity.”

“That name,” shouted Dad. “How could you pick a Japanese name for yourself? You’re Korean!”

“It’s a word. It’s just a word.”

“Your grandfather died fighting the Japanese! He died at the hands of people who used that word as a battle cry, and now you use it like some sort of badge of honor.”

“But how could anyone think you were a man? My beautiful girl.”

“I wear a mask, Mom. And let’s face it, Sarah got the… she got your figure. She’s fourteen and she’s bigger than me.”

The discussion went on like that for an hour. I even had to prove it, showing them the costume, doing a couple jumps around the room. And then another hour convincing them I needed to go help out.

Vault. Flip. Split kick. Bounce. Snap. Bounce. Snap. Bounce. Snap.

God, it’s sick, I know, but I am still loving this. After a lifetime of being the quiet girl who sat off to the side, becoming the fastest, wildest, most colorful hero in the city was the best thing that had ever happened to me.

Half a dozen exes down and I swung up the fire escape to the roof. I needed to find the rest of my team.

Stealth had me, Gorgon, and the Mighty Dragon covering Beverly Hills and West Hollywood. She was downtown with Midknight and Blockbuster. ‘Genny was backing up cops in Hollywood proper. The demon-guy, Cairax, was over in Venice. I heard Zzzap had shot back to the east coast to help the Awesome Ape.

It’d really gone crazy this past week. No way to hide it or deny it. Ex-humans started showing up all over Los Angeles, doing all the things zombies do. By Wednesday I was hearing reports about them in New Mexico and Las Vegas. That Sunday the president declared martial law, but they were already in New York, Boston, and Washington. And he thought all he was going to have to deal with first term was the economy and the last guy’s screw-ups in the Middle East. This morning there were zombie outbreaks in Europe.

Gorgon–Nick–was waiting for me on the roof. No helmet for a change, just his goggles. I know this whole situation was making him feel useless. He hated not having his bike, but the rooftops were so much safer. And his eyes didn’t work on exes. Guess they didn’t have any life-energy for him to steal. Still, he knew how to fight, knew all our strengths and weaknesses, so he made a great field coordinator.

“Any problems?”

I grabbed him and kissed him hard. At least I didn’t have to tell my folks that part of my secret life. By the way, Mom and Dad, I have random, stress-relieving sex with another hero. The one called Gorgon, with the goggles. He’s twenty-nine, white, he took my virginity when I was seventeen, and we have to do it doggy-style most of the time to protect me from his eyes. I guess you could say we’re dating.

He pulled back. “What’s so funny?”

“Nothing. Just thinking of some of the things I could’ve told my parents when I confessed.”

He smirked. “Dragon’s cleaning around the Beverly Center again. We should head north, clean up anything we find, and meet up with him.”

I took a running jump and cleared the alley with a double flip. “Waiting on you, slowpoke,” I shouted.

Nick’d taken a hit off somebody. He was strong. Not full-strength strong, but definitely above normal human levels. What he called tier two. It took a little effort, but he leaped across to join me on the next rooftop. We headed north at a jog, watching the streets and alleys for movement.

People think alleys and streets would be the big worry running across rooftops, but really it’s just shoddy maintenance.

Loose bricks. Weak beams. I slipped on a sheet of tar paper once that wasn’t even fastened down. Leaping from building to building is the easy part.

We’d gone six blocks, almost to Santa Monica Boulevard, when Nick stopped. His hearing’s better than mine, and he waved me toward the cross-alley to the east. I bounced to the edge of the roof.

There were some homeless people cornered against a sagging chain link fence. One ex-human on the far side was trying to bite them through the links, two were staggering down the alley toward them.

“Should just take a minute,” I said.

“I’ll take the one. Focus on saving those people.”

“I can handle them–”

He was already sliding down an old metal drainpipe. I launched myself across the alley, did a Jackie Chan bounce from the brick wall to the fire escape, back, and into a zombie’s head. The ex tumbled and I rode him to the pavement, letting my weight and momentum crush his skull. The force rolled me into a crouch that put me in a perfect place to sweep the other one. He hit the ground with a nice crack.

“Get out of here!” I waved the people away. “You’re supposed to be in a shelter, so get going!”

They moved. One of them hugged his hand to his chest.

I grabbed his arm. “Let me see.”

He shook his head, but held it out anyway. I could see the teeth-marks, dark around flesh that was already turning pale.

He was crying into his thick whiskers.

“Tie your arm off tight,” I said. “Use your belt, a scarf, something. Make it hurt. Tell them you’ve been bitten as soon as you get to the shelter.” I turned to his friends. “He’s infected. Make sure the medics know.”

“Big B!” shouted Nick. “A little help.”

On the other side of the fence, Nick had dealt with his one zombie. We hadn’t seen all the others in the shadows. Almost a dozen. And more flowing in from the far end of the alley.

A running start sent me over the fence. I hammer-kicked the closest one, dragged him to the ground, and felt his neck break under my heel. “Over the fence or up the pipe,” I said. “Your choice.”

“You can’t fight this many.”

“Not going to. I’m covering you. Move that sexy ass.”

No time to think, just to move. Leap. Flip. Bounce. Snap. Back flip. Roll. Sweep. Spin kick.

A scream made me turn. I hadn’t killed the last ex on the other side of the fence. It had grabbed the last of the homeless, a black woman, and sunk its teeth into her leg. She was shrieking and trying to kick it off.

Nick had just made it up the pipe and out of reach. He was moving so slow. His strength was gone, used up. Damn it. He saw the woman and swung himself over the fence. Even without any power, I knew he could deal with one.

Something brushed my shoulder.

Vault. Back thrust kick. Roll. Too many of them to get distracted. A few steps gave me the momentum to bounce off the alley wall, up to head height. Kick. Flip. Split kick. Snap-snap. Crouch. Sweep. Leap. Spin kick. Snap.

Nick was safe with his ex. Time to get away from all of mine. I just needed an opening. The fire escape was in front of me.

Launch. Bounce. Flip kick. Snap. Bounce. Snap. Bottom rung of the ladder. Swing.

Slip.

The rung was coated with years of grime and oil and rust mixed into something that felt like slimy mud. It slipped out of my hand. I fell.

It wasn’t the first time I’d fallen. Not even the first time with enemies around. Heck, I even managed to scissor my legs as I dropped, knocking two of them down and getting my feet under me. But they were too close. I needed room to move.

I panicked. Just two seconds of panic. Three tops.

Arms wrapped around me from behind and grabbed my almost non-existent boobs. It was the way guys copped a feel in school—-a back-hug gone wrong. On top of falling on my ass in front of my sort-of-boyfriend, I was getting felt up by a zombie.

And then it bit my shoulder. The teeth ground down through the heavy cotton of my costume, breaking the skin, tearing at the muscle. Blood gushed down my arm. My blood was very hot.

I twisted free. Like Nick and the Dragon and my self-defense teacher all said, I spun and used my momentum to drive the heel of my hand at the ex. It was an Indian woman. She was beautiful. I shattered her nose and drove the bone into her brain. She staggered back and dropped.

My balance was shot. Too much pain to bounce. I swept the three nearest exes and used their bodies for extra height, throwing myself at the fire escape’s ladder again. I swung my legs up, wrapped my knees over the rungs, and pulled myself away from their clawing hands.

Nick met me halfway down the fire escape, helped me to the roof. Then he tore open the top of my costume. I didn’t want to look, but he swore and I couldn’t help it.

It was as bad as I thought. The ex had bitten through the shoulder of my sports bra. A chunk of skin—-a chunk of me—-the size of a half-dollar hung loose, floating on a river of blood that just kept flowing. My fingertips were sticky. I was babbling. Terrified. I knew what the bite meant. I didn’t want to be dead at eighteen. I didn’t want to be one of them.
I don’t know what I was saying, but Nick kept shouting “You are not going to die!” until I stopped. His goggles hid a lot of his face. I wanted to see his eyes so bad right then. He poured something clear on the bite that sizzled, then some powder that burned. The bleeding stopped. He poured the last of the clear liquid and wiped away a lot of the blood. I could see my skin getting pale on the edges. “I’m going to get in touch with Regenerator,” he said. He pulled my hand up and had me press down on it. “He can fix this, babe. He can heal you.”

“He can’t,” I said. “Stealth said so.”

Nick shook his head. “He can’t help people who’ve changed. You’ve just got a bite. He can heal it. Remember when he healed your broken leg? My gunshot?”

“Do we have enough time?”

“We’ve got plenty, babe. Plenty of time. A couple hours, at least. And he’s just over in Hollywood. Not even two miles from here.” He slid a phone from his belt.

“You sure?”

“I am so sure.” Then, to his phone, “It’s Gorgon. Where are you? Banzai’s been bitten.”

He was listening when I heard the screams. Two voices. Man and a woman. West of us. It took my mind off my shoulder.

“No, it was just a minute ago. I cleaned it out.”

“Nick,” I said. “Did you hear that?” The male voice was shouting orders. A warning? I couldn’t make out the words, but I could tell he was slipping into fear. I’d heard that edge on a lot of voices lately.

Nick nodded at the phone. “Hollywood and Cahuenga? We can meet you there in twenty minutes.”

I swung my arm a few times. Not stiff, not too weak. The shoulder was already getting numb. I knew that was a bad sign, but it also meant I could start using it again. I pulled my top shut and retied the sash.

The cell vanished back into his belt. “He’s waiting for us there. The National Guard has an emergency medical center set up. You’re getting top priority.”

I finished the knot and shook my head. “The people first.” The bloody shoulder ruined the colors of my outfit, but I didn’t think anyone we met was going to complain. I headed west. “You coming?”

“Damn it, Kathy!”

“We can’t leave them. Plenty of time, remember?”

Down on Fairfax there were nine exes. Three people. Two girls and a guy. One of the women was already down. The exes were closing in, but still wide.

Plenty of room. Just the way I liked it.

Nick caught up with me. Without the helmet he looks so hot in his Gorgon outfit. I kissed him on the cheek. “We help them,” I said, “and then we go meet up with ‘Genny.”

I hurled myself off the rooftop. Spun on a lamp post. Double flip. Split kick. Snap. Crouch. Sweep. Hammer kick. Snap.

God, I love this.


Peter Clines is the author of Ex-heroes, Ex-patriots, The Eerie Adventures Of The Lycanthrope Robinson Crusoe, and numerous pieces of short fiction. He grew up in the Stephen King fallout zone of Maine and started writing science fiction and fantasy stories at the age of eight. He made his first writing sale at age seventeen and the first screenplay he wrote got him an open door to pitch story ideas at Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Voyager. After working in the film and television industry for almost fifteen years, he currently writes articles and reviews for Creative Screenwriting Magazine, where he has interviewed dozens of Hollywood’s biggest screenwriters and upcoming stars. He currently lives and writes somewhere in southern California. If anyone knows exactly where, he would appreciate a few hints.

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