Equality Award
Book Cover Image
Logline or Premise
A modern-day American soldier fighting to live as a civilian.
A secret time-travel experiment gone wrong.
Just like that, Blanca is back in a war.
First 10 Pages

Chapter 1

When you reach the end of your rope, tie a knot in it and hang on.

—Franklin D. Roosevelt

Damn, it’s hot.

Blanca’s eyes ticked over the large group of people waiting nearby. Most of them were disgruntled parents waiting on their kids, the moms in heavy costume jewelry and the dads in caps and sandals. Some of the women looked like they were trying to pass for college students, wearing too-tight blouses or heavy makeup that was already starting to melt and clump in the stifling Texas heat. Blanca watched disinterestedly, fingers twitching without something to do. She pulled out a large pocketknife and began toying with it.

One of the women standing nearby watched her for a few seconds, features twisted. “Knives aren’t allowed on campus.”

Blanca paused, knife blade on her fingertip. She clicked her tongue, but didn’t say anything.

The woman—who almost certainly spent her days arguing with helpless cashiers over expired coupons— huffed and shifted closer, as if the new and improved proximity might make her point clearer. “The orientation leaders explicitly stated—”

“Are you security?” interrupted Blanca.

“Well, no—”

“Then mind your own damn business.”

The woman bristled, but at that moment, the doors to the building opened and the newly minted college freshmen poured out in droves, separating the group of tired and cranky parents into tired and cranky families. With a huff, the woman left, and Blanca stretched up on her tiptoes to look into the crowd so she could watch for her brother.

Soon enough, a gangly eighteen-year-old shuffled over wearing the same unenthusiastic grimace he’d had all morning. Mateo was taller than his sister, able to see over the hordes of people, but stick-thin and with a floppy mess of black hair he refused to cut. A thick strand of it was stuck to his forehead with perspiration. He nudged it with his shoulder and scowled. “It’s ho-o-o-t,” he complained.

“Suck it up.” Blanca pulled out a paper map and studied it. “Damn, I didn’t know college campuses were this big. Okay, so if A Building is there, and the library is here, then – “

“Blanca,” Mateo groaned, “let’s just go, we’ve seen enough—”

“No, we’re supposed to figure out where all your classes are!”

“I can find them later—”

“So logically, B Building should be…at least nearby, right? Wait, here it is. What the hell, it’s on the other side of campus!”

“Can I just go buy my textbooks now?” Mateo cut in irritably. Blanca rolled her eyes and dropped the map.

“Yeah, sure, let’s go and we can—”

“I can go by myself, god.” He turned swiftly and marched off.

Blanca rolled her eyes. Teenagers. At twenty-three, Blanca wasn’t far from her own adolescent years, but Mateo still seemed particularly young and immature for his age. Blanca worried for him constantly.

He’d fallen in with a bad crowd during school. It hadn’t seemed too serious at first; there were a few detention visits, some skipped classes. Then it turned into smoking weed behind the cafeteria and mouthing off to teachers. When Mateo got arrested for stealing from a convenience store, Blanca finally had enough. She’d talked to his foster parents, and he’d finished his senior year online.

A few minutes later, Mateo reappeared, looking no less sullen than before. “These are heavy,” he groaned.

“Did you get ‘em all?” Blanca peeked in his hefty backpack.

“Just the English, Algebra, and History. All the others are back ordered,” he explained wearily. “Can we go now?”

“One more building.” Blanca pulled out the map again. “Your first class is in the…uh, let’s see…science lab. You’re taking Biology, so—shut up, stop complaining— let’s go in with those people there.”

The duo quickly joined a large group being led by a student worker. The poor guy was drenched in sweat and looked like he’d rather be anywhere else on the planet. Mateo will fit right in around here, Blanca thought wryly.

Moving along in a shuffling herd, the families followed the guide down a hallway and into the various labs. Most of the soon-to-be college students were on their cell phones, tapping away, but Mateo was staring dully out a window, a blank look on his face.

Blanca noticed some movement in the hallway. A small group of men in lab coats hurried by, and barely a minute later, two more followed, looking anxious.

Curious, Blanca shifted away from the group and peered out. Another cluster of people appeared, looking no less jittery than the first. They quickly vanished behind a set of double doors locked with a key card. Blanca narrowed her eyes. She didn’t like people bustling around, looking nervous.

The last person to appear was a freckled man in his thirties with sandy-colored hair and a blue button-up shirt. Blanca caught a quick look at his face before he, too, vanished down a set of stairs. Unnerved, she rejoined the group just as the student worker finished up his toneless monologue.

“Where were you?” Mateo whispered.

She shrugged. “Just scoping some things out.”

“Relax. Everything is fine.”

The group moved to leave, but their progress was halted by a loud mechanical hiss. Blanca and Mateo—now at the front of the retreating group—paused. The group leader urged them to keep moving, but the hissing rang out again, this time followed by a loud POP and CLANK.

The building shuddered, and the lights flickered before they turned off completely. Blanca’s eyes shot up to the ceiling, where the light fixtures rattled and swayed.

“Uh, let’s just go outside,” the student worker said uncertainly. “There must be a short—a lot of these buildings are old—”

Just then, the building trembled violently. Beakers and tubes fell from the shelves and crashed to the floor, creating a carpet of broken glass. Blanca snatched the corner of a table and gripped Mateo as people shrieked behind them.

“Earthquake!” someone shouted, but that didn’t make any sense, not in Texas—

A loud metal crack sounded, and Blanca’s heart stopped as she looked down to see the linoleum floor splitting beneath their feet. In the growing crevice, there was a heated glow, followed by a humming noise, loud and mechanical. It sent shockwaves up their legs and locked their knees. Then the floor began to rise and fall with a throbbing pulse.

“Get out!” Blanca shouted, snatching Mateo’s shirtsleeve and shoving him toward the door. The walls cracked and crumbled, and the ceiling fractured under the strain of the vibrations below. Debris fell around their heads, crashing to the floor in huge chunks of stone and metal. The floor groaned and split apart completely, and screams rang out as people fell into the glowing light, which had swollen into an angry red fissure.

In the distance, sirens blared in a sudden, keening wail.

The sound hit Blanca like a punch to the gut, and she froze. Mateo was yelling at her, but she could only see the movement of his mouth. She was, in that moment, deaf to everything except the sirens. They invaded her senses like a poison.

Mateo leaped forward to grab for the door, but the floor heaved as if taking a deep breath, and the last thing Blanca saw right before it exploded was Mateo’s face, stricken with fear, as the entire building burst around them in a hellish blaze of energy.

“MATEO!” she screamed, jaw finally unlocking in a last moment of panic. Heat blasted her stomach, and the world around her became a pitch-black void. The air was ripped from her lungs, and her body lurched painfully as she tumbled out of control. In the very next moment, the world snapped back into place, and a flood of light engulfed her.

Then came a single, blinding moment in which she was flying.

She hit the ground and skipped like a stone on water, bouncing once, twice, and then a third time before colliding with a thin tree, which snapped under her weight. The ground rushed up to meet her, and Blanca crashed into the dirt under a storm of wooden shards. For a few agonizing seconds, she didn’t have the strength to open her eyes. When she finally managed to inhale, regret quickly followed.

“Argh, damnit,” she groaned, rolling over and clutching her side.

With a tight swallow, she pulled up her t-shirt and investigated a long, deep scrape that stretched across her ribs. Blood mingled unpleasantly with dark dirt and a few stray pine needles.

“What in the hell…” She dropped her shirt and forced her elbows into the dirt so she could push herself up. The scene around her slowly came into focus. She was outside.

Blanca’s eyes widened.


She struggled to a stand and looked around wildly. Distantly, she registered people moving around her. Some looked as haggard as Blanca did; others looked far worse. A few feet away, a young girl cried hysterically as she tried to stir her motionless dad. Blanca looked away. She couldn’t worry about them just yet.

“MATEO!” she called out as she fumbled forward, hair stuck to her face and a smear of dirt on her cheek from the fall. “MATEO!” She stumbled into a tree and used it to hold herself up. “MAT—”


Blanca turned sharply and let out a cry of relief as Mateo appeared from behind a group of hysterical teens.

He quickly jumped into her arms. “Oh my god, Blanca! What—What’s going on, what happened…”

Slowly, the pair turned in a circle, mouths gaping as they took in their surroundings. The campus they’d been on moments before was gone; now they were surrounded by a dark forest crowded with towering trees and damp undergrowth. Between the heavy branches, they could see glimpses of a dark-gray sky. The air, Blanca noticed at last, was quite cold. The sweat on her back from the sweltering July heat now felt ice-cold as it trickled down her spine. A lump formed in her throat.

“Your – your phone, Mateo.”

Mateo snatched his phone out of his pocket, but his trembling hands quickly froze. “It’s not working. There’s no signal.”

Around them, others were discovering the same thing.

“Call 9-1-1!” shouted a desperate mother whose son was sobbing and holding his ribs. Blanca gripped her head in frustration before forcing herself to take a deep breath.

“Okay,” she managed after a moment, “Mateo, keep trying to find a way to call for help. I’m going to see what I can do.” Blanca wiped at her face before dropping to her knees next to the boy with the broken ribs. “Okay, we need to get him here… I need something to wrap him with.

Take this…”

One by one, Blanca moved between those with serious injuries, doing what she could. After nearly twenty minutes, nothing else had happened and all anyone had done was suffer.

Blanca wiped her bloody hands on her jeans and scanned the treetops listlessly. In that moment of pause, a terrible realization hit her: she couldn’t hear anything except the people from their group. There was no clatter of traffic, no far-off hum of civilization. Only the occasional distant chirp of a bird or shifting tree limb stirred around them. Everything else was unnaturally quiet.

Unnerved, she jogged away from the bleeding teenager and found Mateo. “Anything?” she asked quietly.

“No one can get any calls out, and no one’s gotten any messages either,” he reported grimly. “Where the hell are we, Blanca…”

Blanca put her hands on her hips and looked around. “No freakin’ idea,” she admitted at last, rubbing at her face with a dirty hand. “Do you think this is everyone who was with us in the lab?”

Mateo scanned the frightened group. “Most of them, I think.”

Blanca nodded. “Okay, stay here with the others. I’m going to go look around, see if I can figure out where we are.”

Mateo frowned. “Don’t go far.”

“I won’t,” she promised. Seeing Mateo’s worried look, she smiled and placed a hand on the back of his head, lightly ruffling his hair. “No worries, kid. We’re good.” Mateo relaxed a little. “Okay,” he said softly.

She managed a tiny smile in return, then walked off and left the group behind, careful to note where the sun’s rays pushed through the misty clouds overhead. As she walked, pine needles and twigs crunched underfoot. A breeze stirred, and as she turned her head up at the sky to check her direction again, unease settled deep within her chest. No matter how she strained to listen, there were no sounds of civilization nearby.

The further she went, the heavier the pit of dread in her stomach became. Where are we? What the hell brought us here?

At last, she saw a break in the tree line. There didn’t seem to be any movement beyond the forest, but she reached for her knife anyway and flicked it open with a jerk of her thumb. After taking a deep breath, she edged away from the cover of the foliage and peeked out into the clearing.

In front of her was a dirt road, wide enough for just one vehicle and with recent tire marks near its edges. Anxiety swelled in her chest. They’d been in the city just minutes before. What could have brought them to such an isolated area? Texas had its fair share of dirt roads, but for whatever reason, Blanca didn’t find much comfort in that. This didn’t feel like home.

Unsettled, she looked around slowly, brows furrowed and knife in hand. She peered in one direction and saw where the road twisted and went further into the forest. Shifting on the loose gravel, she looked in the other direction and spotted what appeared to be the tail end of an overturned truck.

Blanca’s jaw locked, and her dark eyes darted around as she remained stock-still in her spot, unwilling to move. Distantly, she registered the flapping of fabric in the breeze.

The truck had the look of a military vehicle. Blanca’s eyes flickered up to the top, wondering what emblem was on the side that she couldn’t see. She moved a little closer, careful to watch for any signs of movement. There didn’t seem to be anyone around, but as Blanca approached the truck, she saw something that made her freeze once more.

This was a military barricade.

Heavy splatters of blood, partially obscured by debris and loose paper, came into view. More blood, faded to the color of rust, decorated the barricade itself. Some of the temporary panels were riddled with bullets. The gate, smashed to the ground, bore track marks from heavy truck wheels.

Blanca turned in a slow circle and looked for bodies, but she didn’t see any.

The wind picked up once more, and the flapping sound returned. Blanca’s eyes snapped to the canvascovered truck bed, but that wasn’t the source of the noise. Finally, she caught sight of a metal pole next to the barricade railing.

Her eyes traveled up, up to the top, where a flag billowed in the wind.

Blanca stepped closer and squinted to see the flag in the dying afternoon light. This should, at the very least, tell her what kind of military detail was nearby. This could be their chance to get help.

But as the wind gripped the flag and unfurled it to its full length, stark and bright against the colorless sky, Blanca felt her heart sink. For a moment, her mind refused to register what she was seeing. And then it hit her all at once.

The waving banner above her was the flag of Nazi Germany.

This is impossible.

Blanca took a step back and reached up to grip her hair and look around, as if someone else might appear to tell her this was all some sick joke. Her throat felt dry, and she tried to swallow, but the effort only left a painful bubble in her chest. She looked back at the dark forest. No, she thought with conviction. There has to be some kind of mistake. There’s a reason for all this.