Last fall, Kate published Oliver Invictus, a dystopia-lite adventure and the third installment of her Annals of Altair series. This novel follows Oliver Dunn, the antihero of the previous two books. In a world where gifted people can control the thoughts and emotions of others, Oliver is a “null-projector,” able to counteract such a dangerous, intrusive force.
Kept under tight control by government handlers, he awaits an uncertain fate. But when that fate sets into motion, chaos erupts. In this excerpt, Oliver learns just how far his influence extends.
Oliver Invictus, Chapter 2
1:24 p.m. MST, Prometheus Institute F Campus
The office of Principal Lucian Gates crawled with bodies. Most of the military personnel had gone, to be replaced by GCA agents and Prometheus administrators. Oliver slouched in a chair across from the principal’s desk. His handler Garrett, now restored to him, stood skittishly to his left. In the chair on his right sat Cedric, the miserable whelp.
Principal Gates banged his fist to draw some order from the company. “Is everyone accounted for? Have they caught everyone who tried to escape?”
One of the administrators spoke up. “Three are still missing, but they won’t get far on foot, especially in this weather.”
The whole school was on lockdown, with students confined to their dorm rooms, Oliver and Cedric excepted. It wasn’t simply the administrators’ neurotic impulse to keep null-projectors around them, either.
In the chaos during Oliver’s absence, Cedric’s classmates had bound and gagged him and left him in a basement supply closet. Had they thought to deactivate the electronic tracking chip embedded in his right hand, he might be down there still, so remote an area of the school it was.
They had been too busy with their own electronic chips, though. From the chatter around him, Oliver gleaned that somewhere around a third of the two-hundred students at the school had cut the marker right out of their hands before they bolted over the back fence of the property. Some had electrocuted the spot to overload the chip. Some had taken their chances and run.
And some had given up the possibility of physical escape and used their moments of freedom to collect as much information as they could from the Prometheus computer system.
As for their handlers and administrators, the whole lot had gathered together in the cafeteria, where they single-mindedly emailed a cryptic message to the same recipient over and over and over again, for almost two solid hours.
Button is here. Prometheus F.
It was like an alien projection. No one knew from whom the message had originated, only that their need to send it overrode any other logical thought. The receiving email address was based overseas, an anonymous account out of Iceland, with no personal information attached to it and no way of tracking its owner.
Most of the messages hadn’t even gotten past the computer system’s email filter, though. The sheer volume of mail had triggered a system-wide alarm that cut off electronic communications from the satellite campus. Only one administrator had a default override.
The crush of bodies parted to make way for a broad-shouldered military man. Principal Gates settled back in his chair, bitterness in his eyes as he glared up at the newcomer. The buzz of voices died to a stricken hush.
From behind, Oliver observed General Stone’s salt-and-pepper hair. The general hadn’t visited the F Campus in years, but his instinctive air of authority left no question that he was not a man to be crossed. Several of the administrators retreated out the office door as soon as they deemed it safe to slip away.
“Report. Now. Who was responsible?”
Principal Gates’s mouth pursed into a mulish line. “I told you not to take the null.”
General Stone’s palms slammed upon the desk. “If you had any idea—” he started, incensed, but Principal Gates didn’t let him get any further.
“Of course I had no idea! But I warned you. I told you Oliver has been here long enough that we might not know what some of the projectors were capable of.”
“You had Cedric.”
“Cedric is a Level 2 at best, and that’s being generous. A 10-foot-radius safe space won’t do much good against a Level 4 or 5 projector, especially when he’s in the midst of a bunch of malcontents who are more than happy to truss him up so the projection can run its course.”
Oliver watched this shouting match with interest. He already knew his null-projection was a broad scale. He had suspected that Cedric’s was narrower, but the administrators didn’t exactly give them opportunities to test their limits. He’d never heard any of the adults assign projectors or null-projectors a level for their ability, though.
“Who was the projector?” General Stone asked. “Which sniveling miscreant do I get to take back with me?”
Principal Gates immediately clammed up. Without another word, he plopped down into his chair and glared.
“You don’t know?” The general straightened, scorn thick on his voice.
“It was a mental projection, not a verbal one. And it’s not as though whoever did it walked up to us and announced their presence.”
General Stone turned his back on Principal Gates to face the two nulls. Oliver he ignored. “Who was it?” he demanded of Cedric.
The boy shrank into his chair, mouth agape as he stared up at the menace that towered over him.
General Stone grasped the chair’s armrests and leaned close, effectively blocking Cedric in. “Who was it?” he repeated, enunciating every word.
“He doesn’t know what you’re talking about.”
Oliver wasn’t entirely sure what made him speak up. He recognized his younger, more foolish self in the boy that sat next to him. Why he would take pity on that younger, more foolish self was a mystery.
The general turned malevolent eyes upon him.
“He doesn’t know what you’re talking about,” Oliver said again. “He’s probably never bothered to analyze how his null-projection works, and if he’s really only got a ten-foot range, the projection originated beyond his senses anyway. You’re barking up the wrong tree.”
Stone immediately shifted his stance to box in Oliver instead. “Am I barking up the right one now?” he asked, seething anger in his voice.
Oliver, far from cowering, twisted his mouth into a sarcastic little sneer. “I wasn’t here, remember?”
Of course General Stone would remember. He was the one who had given the orders for Oliver’s transfer in the first place.
“General,” Principal Gates said before the man could vent his spleen on his recalcitrant victim, “we have only a handful of possible culprits. Twenty or thirty at most.”
Oliver suppressed his instinctive shock that the number was so high. But it only made sense that Prom-F would have a higher share of projectors than the other campuses. Any who couldn’t be brainwashed into good little minions would need to be controlled somehow.
“And what if your instigator isn’t among the notable suspects?” General Stone asked. “As you were so quick to point out, if a Level 5 null has been here this long, you can’t really predict the capability of any of your students. What if it was a late bloomer? What if I leave here with the null and your twenty suspects, only to have a repeat of this morning’s debacle occur?”
The principal had nothing to say to this, so he glowered instead.
Stone resumed his interrogation of Oliver. “Who was it?”
“I wasn’t here,” Oliver reiterated. He fought not to let his smugness show on his face and didn’t quite succeed. But it really was too rich, them shipping him off to parts unknown and then expecting him to help sort out the mess that cropped up in his absence.
It was gratifying, too. His presence alone kept the whole of the Prom-F student body in check—not that he wanted to keep them in check, but to know that his influence extended that far, that he was ranked a Level 5 null. Oliver had too few triumphs in life to relish, so he savored this one.
The Annals of Altair Books 1 – 3 are available now on Amazon: