Kristen Simmons, author of the Article 5 series, will release her next book — a YA fantasy novel called Metaltown — on Sept. 20. Metaltown follows Ty and Colin, two teens who work long, brutal hours in a factory for measly pay and barely any food, as their paths cross with a girl named Lena, whose family owns the factory. Lena is a ruthless commander, knowing she can’t let her family down, but meeting Colin starts to change her view.
EW presents your first look at Metaltown‘s cover and an exclusive peek at Chapter 1, below:
“Go halves with me—you want pigeon or rat?”
Ty swiped at her nose with the back of her hand, making the threadbare, fingerless glove bunch around her wrist. The cold had drawn bright blotches to the exposed skin between her hat and tattered scarf, and as the line to Hayak’s corner cart shortened and pulled them beneath the yellow glow of the streetlight, Colin could make out the hooked scar on her chin, and a fading brown bruise on her jaw.
“What’s the difference?” They all looked the same to Colin: charred fists of meat. He stamped his feet and shrugged deeper into his wool coat. It was too big—big enough to fit another sweater inside if he’d had one, which he didn’t. The bitter predawn wind clawed right up his stomach and back, freezeburning his skin.
Ty’s thick, straight brows lifted, but refused to arch. “One flies, Prep School. Surprised you didn’t know that.” She snorted, revealing a crooked front tooth.
Colin frowned. He hadn’t been to school since he was thirteen, more than four years ago. That life was in the past.
“Rat,” he said, because it was her least favorite of the two. “And I call the nose.”
“Course you do.” She spat on the ground, then rubbed it into the cracked sidewalk with the heel of her boot. “You talk. Hayak likes you better.”
“That’s ’cause I’m likable, Ty.” He grinned now, and she rolled her eyes.
Another customer served, and they moved to the front of the line.
Hayak, a greasy man three times their age with a shock of white hair and a peppered beard, looked up from his rotisserie and grimaced.
“No,” he said. “No, not you two. Not today. Hayak cannot feed you today. You go away.”
Colin flashed his best smile and pulled off his hat in an attempt to look less shifty. “Come on, Hayak. You said we could pay at the end of the week—”
“No.” He shook his finger at them sternly. “No, you say you pay at the end of the week. Hayak say you can pay now.”
Colin looked over his shoulder and winced at the grumbling line behind him. He stepped off to the side and cuffed the man’s burly shoulder. “You know I’m good for it, Hayak. You know I wouldn’t lie.”
He hid a smirk as Ty eased up against the cart behind him and stashed a handful of fry scraps up her coat sleeve. If he could just turn Hayak a little more, she could reach the black spit and the hunk of charred meat pierced on the end.
The man directly behind her was crowding up in line, making a quick circle with his hand for Ty to pass him some. She raised a silent fist, like she might punch him, and he fell back a step.
“Hayak, you’re right, I should have given you money last week. Only, I didn’t get paid, okay? So it wasn’t my fault.” That much was true. Hampton Industries was fat on green. So fat, it didn’t get off its lazy ass to pay its workers half the time.
As Hayak shouted back, his face turned progressively redder and his eyes began to bulge. It was just a matter of time before he went for the tongs to beat Colin upside the head. Colin pulled his hat back down over his ears, taking the lecture with a feigned look of shame. Shifting left drew the cart man’s gaze further away from Ty. She was just about to make a grab for the prize when motion behind her caught Colin’s eye.
A man approached, wearing clean trousers and a coat swollen with enough stuffing to make Colin shiver at his own lack of protection from the cold. He had that yellow, sunless skin, pockmarked at the tops of his cheekbones, and long hair, greased nice, and pulled into a tail at the back of his skull.
Jed Schultz. The People’s Man. The voice of the Brotherhood—the people who represented the workers’ rights at the steel mill where Colin’s ma was employed. He was flanked by a man twice his size but half as bright. A hammer, hired to watch Jed’s back so the greenback bosses couldn’t stick a knife in it. Colin thought his name was Imon, and had heard he’d come from somewhere in the mountains, North of the Tri-city. A place so cold your breath turned to ice before it left your mouth.
Colin coughed once, and Ty abandoned her mission without so much as a glance up.
“Morning, Hayak,” said Jed. He walked straight to the front of the line. Those who’d been waiting didn’t mind—Jed did right by the poor folks, so Jed got whatever he wanted in Metaltown.
“Mr. Schultz, good morning. Yes,” Hayak recovered, keeping Colin in his sight.
“How’s the bird?” Jed asked.
“Good, good. I give you my best one. Here.” Hayak stepped back behind the center of his cart, and rotated the rotisserie once over the flames to warm the round carcass Colin had been eyeing. His stomach grumbled. Saliva filled his mouth. He’d eaten yesterday, but it felt like longer.
He swallowed as Hayak wrapped the bird in paper and handed it to the People’s Man. Jed nodded, just slightly, cuing Imon to step forward and withdraw a wallet from the breast pocket of his coat. There was a stack of bills in the fold, and as he unfurled one after another, Colin’s eyes grew wide as dinner plates. Jed was flush as a greenback. There was a bite of jealousy, then a swell of admiration. He wondered what it would be like, just once, to walk up to Hayak’s cart and buy whatever he wanted.
“Your money’s no good here, Mr. Schultz,” said Hayak, a huge smile plastered across his face. Colin couldn’t help gagging, to which Hayak responded with a glare.
“Good man,” said Jed. Imon put his money away. Jed turned to Colin. “You like pigeon, Mr. Walter?”
Colin’s eyes went wide. He wiped his hands off on the front of his coat, aware of ten pairs of eyes that swung his way. They were surprised, Colin knew, that Jed knew his name. He was surprised himself.
“Yes, sir.” Colin’s mouth gaped like a fish when Jed handed him the steaming, charred meat. White bubbles of fat had already begun to congeal against the puckered skin in the cold; a good sign the bird was thick, not hollow. “Whoa. Thank you, Mr. Schultz.”
“How’s Cherish, Colin?” His eyes were dark and piercing. Powerful, Colin thought. He wondered if he was capable of such a commanding stare himself. Jed and Imon had stepped in front of Ty, and she was slowly backing into the line opposite them, head down, hat pulled over her ears. Colin gave her a puzzled look—it wasn’t like Ty to back away from anyone, famous or not.
“She’s okay. The money you sent helped, thank you, sir. The doc said she needs clean water for drinking. That’s what we bought.” Colin had stiffened at the mention of family but tried to play it cool. Jed didn’t need to be bothered with all the details.
“Good boy,” said Jed, nodding with interest. Colin relaxed. “So Colin, Hayden was supposed to meet me this morning. He say anything to you about it?” Jed reached for another hunk of meat—rat or pigeon, Colin couldn’t tell—and returned Hayak’s smile.
Colin tensed again. His brother had grown unpredictable these last few years. Hayden was three years older than Colin, but had never adjusted to Metaltown the way Colin had. Ma said it was because he’d gotten his heart broken when they’d pulled him out of school. She didn’t know the half of it.
Colin’s fingers were beginning to thaw beneath the crinkling paper holding the bird. Dawn was coming, turning the darkness to the chronic steely haze that burned off the chem plant across the bridge in thick, white plumes. The air had a sweet, heady odor that would only grow stronger as the day plowed on.
“He’s been sick,” said Colin. “He did say he was going to meet you, but I guess he fell behind. He was up puking all night.” Which was probably true, wherever he was. Colin hadn’t seen him in two days. Ty’s chin lifted in surprise before digging back into her scarf.
Jed scowled. “Not the flu, I hope.”
“No sir, just ate something rotten.” He was going to punch Hayden square in the face when he surfaced.
“Well, that’s okay then,” said Jed. “Since he’s indisposed, maybe you can do me a favor.” Jed leaned against the cart, tearing a hunk out of the meat in his grip with his chew-stained teeth.
Colin took Jed’s lead, and bit straight into the wing. It was tough and gamey, but warm. He felt Ty’s glare from behind Jed.
“Yeah. Sure, okay,” said Colin. Jed eyed him appraisingly.
“A friend of mine lost his girl to the corn flu a few weeks past. He’s been missing work, and I’d hate to see them lose their place over it.”
Colin nodded. Jed did this kind of stuff a lot. Just two weeks prior, Colin’s ma hadn’t made her quota at the mill and the foreman had refused to pay her. Their cupboards were already bare, and just before the heat was shut off, Hayden came home with a wad of cash, courtesy of the People’s Man. It had been enough to keep their lights on, and put food in their bellies for days.
Jed stepped away from the cart, and the people in line tentatively resumed their shuffle.
“They live in Bakerstown, by the Cat’s Tale, you know where that is?”
“Sure,” said Colin, taking another bite. He used to live in Bakerstown before he’d left school.
Imon removed the wallet again, this time taking out a stash of green bills half an inch thick. Colin had to remind himself to keep chewing. Just one of those bills could fill six jugs with clean drinking water. Another could pay the power at his apartment through the next month. One more could mean food, real food—bread and beans and salted pork—for dinner, not just broth like they had every night.
“Can you take this down to him this morning? One-fourteen Fifth Street.”
Colin waffled, glancing at Ty. She was shaking her head no, but when Jed followed his gaze she immediately fixed her eyes on a hole in her shirtsleeve.
He faced Colin again. “I can count on you, right Colin?”
“Yeah. Of course, Mr. Schultz. It’s just that I’ve got work in an hour, and Bakerstown is way up Fifth Street. I mean, I’ll do it, it’s just . . . You know how the foreman gets if you’re late.” Colin couldn’t afford to push his luck with Minnick. The man had fired two workers just last week for getting sick on the job—something that happened a lot on account of the hazardous materials they dealt with. But he didn’t want to get on Jed’s bad side either, not after how good Jed had been to his family.
Jed smiled. “I’ll talk to your foreman. You’re in Small Parts labor, right?”
“Yes, sir,” said Colin.
“Good. Go ahead and take your pal.” He stuck a thumb behind him in Ty’s direction.
The concern that had come into Jed’s face while he’d been talking about the family dissipated. He slung a hand around the back of Colin’s neck and gave a companionable squeeze. “You’re a good kid, aren’t you? Remind me of me when I was your age. Man of the house.”
Colin grinned, and felt his ears grow warm under his hat. Technically, Hayden was the man of the house, but Hayden wasn’t here, was he? Colin wasn’t so irritated that his brother had blown off Jed anymore. In fact, Hayden could go right ahead and stay gone as long as he liked.
Imon handed him the stack of money, and Colin, fighting the urge to count it, folded it into the front pocket of his trousers.
“Say hello to Cherish for me.” Jed turned back the way he’d come, disappearing into the gray smog.
Colin felt ten feet tall. Breakfast, a personal hello from the biggest man in Metaltown, and the morning off work? It couldn’t get much better than that.
“Wipe that grin off your ugly face.” Ty snatched the remainder of the bird from his loose grasp. He pulled his hat back, smoothed one gloved hand over his buzzed head, and winked at her.
“Ugly,” Ty repeated. Then they turned the opposite way, toward Bakerstown and the rising sun.