Thursday, 30 October 2014

Sun Dragon - Second Chapter Tease

There's only two days left until the Sun Dragon virtual launch party! Exciting times. I've received the proofs for the paperback and the few tweaks needed are done - so this should be ready in the next few weeks. The Kindle version will be released tomorrow and as little tease here's the second chapter:


SUN DRAGON
by Michael Brookes

Chapter 2
Mars Voyager


7th June 2022, 19:15 station time

The International Space Station’s crew pulled out all the stops for the Mars mission crew’s last meal in Earth orbit. It would be three years before they returned to Earth.

The ten astronauts squashed into the same module that the crew would be bunked in for that night. This was one of the new modules that they’d added to the station to accommodate the construction crew and was a little larger than the station’s older modules.

Without realising it, everyone steered the conversation clear of the subject on everyone’s minds – the mission to Mars. The reasons for doing so were complex. In part there was more than a little jealousy at the crew heading farther than any astronaut had ever gone before.

There was also an element of superstition. Like actors not mentioning the ‘Scottish Play’, they kept the talk clear of the impending mission. Instead they told anecdotes from their training, as despite their different nationalities they shared that common bond.

“It was the flight training that worried me the most,” Professor MacQuire told the eating crews. The Mars mission was unusual in that every crew member had to be flight qualified. For all space missions, skill redundancy formed standard procedure, but for the crew being so far away from Earth, the mission planners had determined that everyone should be able to fill any other team member’s role in case of an emergency.

“It wasn’t the flying. I’ve always loved flying. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t. Right?” A few grins of agreement from the others in the module. “No, my real worry was flying the plane. It took me ages to pass my driving test in my younger days. I had a terrible time. I imagined this would be the same. Thanks to Colette here,” he smiled at her, “I soon mastered the basics.”

Despite their national rivalries, the Englishman and the French woman had formed a quick friendship. They made an odd pair. At first glance he appeared the stereotypical bumbling professor. However, his intelligence matched his quick wit and fit physique. ‘Long walks in Welsh hills,’ he claimed with his usual self-deprecation.

He was also a prankster and had caught out Samantha, who hated practical jokes, a few times during training. He’d promised there would be none on the voyage, but no-one believed him.

As well as co-pilot, Colette was the crew’s medical doctor. She’d started her career as a pilot in the French Air Force. After giving up flying following a year-long deployment in French Guiana, she had trained to become a doctor. Colette had then stayed with the Air Force until joining the European Space Agency six years ago.

“For me it was the neutral buoyancy training.” Juliet Jakes entered the conversation. “I’d scuba qualified years ago, too many years ago. I love being in the water. But being in the water wearing that big old suit. Well, that was something different.”

The conversation flowed along with the tubes of food. At least on the ship they’d have some gravity, well, spin to be accurate, but it was almost the same thing. They’d at least be able to eat food in a somewhat civilised fashion.

As Ronald started telling an anecdote from his time with the Army Corp of Engineers, Samantha excused herself from the table. She headed to the Tranquillity module, intending to use the latrine. The cupola at the far end caught her eye. The segmented window enabled the ISS crew to observe Earth and provide a view when controlling the station’s robotic arm.

More than a few astronauts had made the view famous with their antics over the years. It was a glorious view of the Earth that kept the public and the astronauts entranced. Below her, Africa flowed towards the dawn. It was dark under the night sky except for a few cities which stood out with their glow in the shadow. She twisted her head to see if she could view the Mars Voyager vessel.

Everyone agreed that it was a silly name, but of all the negotiations this had proved to be the stickiest. A delicate multifaceted negotiation that had dragged out between several national space agencies and the three major space corporations involved in the mission.

Many industry commentators considered this mission to be the first step of the commercialisation of space. Samantha smiled at that thought. The commercialisation of space had started decades before, although in recent years private launch vehicles became busier that the national space agencies. That had been a tipping point and it hurt the pride of some of the nationalities in the programme.

Samantha found what she was looking for. A large cross shape, almost obscured by the space station’s shadow. This ship would be their home for the next three years. The modules had required nine launches to put them into orbit. They included three European Space Agency Arianne 5s, two Russian Protons and four launches from Chimera Industries’s own rockets.

Without the involvement of the fledgling space launch industries, the mission would have taken many more years to put together. Without their assistance, the mission would never have made it off the ground. In more ways than one, this mission was making history.

At the ship’s base was the first stage, comprised of three twelve-metre-tall fuel tanks that would power the vessel out of Earth orbit into its transfer trajectory. As well as providing thrust, the bimodal nuclear engines had a low-power mode to generate electricity for the ship and crew throughout the extended journey.

Above the first stage she saw the second stage. Smaller than the first, it would push the ship into the right orbit to rendezvous with Mars in ten months time.

The top of the cross comprised of two more modules. At the very top, with its single engine pointing into the sky, was the hanger module. Inside the hanger were two landers, which would take them to the surface of Mars and back into orbit. Below that was the Mars science observatory. This module would remain in orbit around Mars, acting as a base for the landing mission, but also for any future missions to Mars.

The two arms of the cross came from thin tubes which connected the two modules, one on each end. At a diameter of seventy metres, the arms would be spun at a fraction under four revolutions per minute. The spin would produce an effect almost the same as gravity, although to about a third equivalent of Earth gravity. This approximated the gravity they’d experience once on the surface of Mars.

One of the biggest dangers to human beings when living for extended periods in space was bone and muscle loss. This was especially true in zero gravity. The fake gravity created by the spin along with a specially designed exercise programme would aid in preventing that problem. An experimental drug treatment had also been developed, although everyone hoped that it wouldn’t be needed.

On the left arm was the habitation module. All six of the crew would live in that space. It would also act as their return craft, bringing them back home when the mission was completed. The other arm comprised the Mars science laboratory. The long trip provided an opportunity for a lot of experiments, both along the way and while they were in orbit.

A hand upon her shoulder startled Samantha from her thoughts. She glanced over the gnarled hand and saw Piotr’s smiling face. He wasn’t alone, the whole crew had joined her. They knew what she was looking at. Each of their faces also wore the same excited expressions as she felt in her heart.

The ISS crew floated in the background, they wanted to share the moment but knew that it wasn’t theirs and kept out of the way. Everyone who dreamed of going into space dreamed of going to Mars. This was the ultimate journey. And in just over a day’s time, they would be heading there.

Sun Dragon will be released on Friday October 31st and can be pre-ordered here:

Amazon (US): http://amzn.to/ZRrQ5v
Amazon (UK): http://amzn.to/12zV5eX

Follow on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TheCultofMe

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Win a Signed Copy of Sun Dragon

Everyone who has signed up to attend the Sun Dragon event for this coming Saturday 1st November will automatically be entered into a draw for a signed copy of Sun Dragon. If you haven't signed up yet then now is the time to do so as there are only a few days to go! Throughout the day there will be competitions and giveaways, not only from me but a an excellent line up of authors.

Join the Sun Dragon launch event here:

https://www.facebook.com/events/636804196432166/

Sun Dragon is also available for pre-order and will be released on Friday 31st October. See the details below:


2012: NASA's Curiosity Rover lands on Mars to search for signs of whether microbial life existed on the planet.

2018: The first alien lifeform, a simple wormlike creature is discovered, gripping the world's imagination.


2022: The first manned mission to Mars begins the longest and most dangerous journey ever undertaken by humankind.


From hundreds of potential candidates, six astronauts from countries around the world are selected to crew the historic mission. Led by Commander Samantha Collins, they must travel across the gulf of interplanetary space, over 150 million miles from home and help. Their mission is to investigate alien life, but what they discover is far beyond what anyone ever imagined...


Buy now from Amazon (US): http://amzn.to/ZRrQ5v
Buy now from Amazon (UK): http://amzn.to/12zV5eX

Follow on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TheCultofMe

Are You Afraid of the Dark?: #CoffinHop Day 6: Dark Drabble Wednesday

Are You Afraid of the Dark?: #CoffinHop Day 6: Dark Drabble Wednesday: I've lured my new Drabble Wednesday feature into the Coffin Hop, along with guest writer Michael Brookes , author of The Cult of Me , C...

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Tuesday Tease - The Northern Star: The Beginning by Mike Gullickson

We have a bit of a coincidence for this week's Tuesday Tease. Mike Gullicksen has provided an excerpt from his novel 'The Beginning' which is the first in his 'The Northern Star' series. I also started reading the second book in the series last night and I'm enjoying it so far. The series in a near future military sci-fi adventure with some cool tech and tense action - well worth checking out!

Click on image to buy from Amazon

The Northern Star
The Beginning

by Mike Gullickson


Prologue

- Chicago. February 21st 2048. 4:00 am-

Cynthia Revo hadn’t slept in three days. She and her team were close, very close. She’d imagined this day a thousand times over and the reality didn’t match the ideal. She had pictured herself awake, no bags under her eyes, her short red hair neatly combed. Fresh clothes without a wrinkle. Champagne. Smiles. Maybe a celebratory lay. That’s where her daydreams took her. But like all dreams, they were more fantasy than truth.

Her team of researchers had forced her to take a break. She dragged herself down the hall to her office and collapsed at her desk. Twenty foam coffee cups littered its surface, each with different levels of the fuel that had kept her upright. Five large computer monitors were mounted on the wall. The keyboard and mouse were lost somewhere in the maze of cups. A lab rat could find them, but it would take Cynthia a second or so. She was out in an instant.

The door crashed open and she shot her hands out, clearing the desk. Days old coffee splattered against the monitors and spilled onto the carpet. It took her a moment to realize where she was.

Harold Renki, one of her top programmers, looked like he’d seen a ghost.

“It’s working! It’s working!”

She looked at him like he was speaking another language. Not until he yanked her out of her chair did she understand completely. He dragged her towards the door until she got her legs moving to match his.

“When?!” she asked. She was still bleary and nauseous from the abrupt wakening.

“Just now, a minute, maybe. Tom’s burning through the test. It was what you thought.”

“Thousands?” she asked.

“Five thousand at this point.”

Five thousand micro-frequencies, to penetrate the brain and read the synapses as they fired. They had started with two, now they were up to five thousand. They had started with four meager servers. Now six hundred of the best supercomputers money could buy were in a machine room cooled to -50 degrees Celsius.

They rushed down the dull white hallway with its fluorescent lights and cheap decorations. An unremarkable place for the greatest invention the world had ever seen.

They slammed through the doors onto a landing above the testing floor. Thirty other scientists were below them - some biologists, some programmers, some physicists, some doctors - and they all turned with smiles that said it was worth it. That the five years were not in vain, not a dead end like some pundits opined. For visionaries, showing the rightness of their vision was always the most difficult, because the vast majority of people look in front of their feet, but rarely ahead. When the visionary was right, then the masses nod and line up, happy to be a part of it. Happy to think that they would have thought of it too - it was so obvious, after all.

Cynthia pushed past Harold and ran down the stairs. The crowd parted like the Red Sea and she saw the twenty by twenty Plexiglas cage where they kept Tom & Jerry.

Tom saw the short redheaded person press herself up against the clear wall. He was eating a banana and he understood that if he kept doing this thing the hairless monkeys wanted, he would keep getting bananas.

Jerry was bummed. Tom was eating bananas and he wasn’t. Jerry held a keypad. On it were four buttons: one green, one red, one yellow, one purple. In front of him was a computer monitor and at the bottom was a mirrored image of each button. When a picture appeared above one of them, he was supposed to press the corresponding button. Easy. He could do six per minute.

Tom didn’t have a keyboard. He wore a metal helmet on his head. Attached to it was a wire that ran outside the clear cage to another place and then back. Tom wanted more bananas and with the red headed pale ape watching, he knew this was his chance. He looked at the screen and played the game. His images flashed by at one per second.

Cynthia’s mouth was wide open. She watched Tom, the test chimp, tear through the image choices on screen using nothing but his mind. Jerry, the control, slapped at the keyboard every ten seconds or so.

The mind was finally free from its prison. Cynthia Revo closed her mouth and watched as Tom the chimp performed a miracle. This would change the world forever.

Chapter 1

-Iran. 2058-

“Man, you’re lucky to be black,” Eric Janis said to the hulking soldier in front of him. They were off duty and in line to Mindlink with their families. It was summer in Iran. Sweat poured down the soldiers’ faces. They used every ounce of shade they could find, even each other. They had long since torn down the analog thermometer outside their barracks, but the soldiers stationed there could guess the afternoon temperature within a degree. Eric guessed right on the money: 125 degrees.

“I don’t think I’ve ever heard that.” John Raimey said. He was dark skinned, with grey eyes that stuck out like a wolf’s. A hooked scar curled around his right eye from a shrapnel blast. He and Eric had met in basic training almost twenty years before. Like most soldiers, they came from one of two places: Raimey, the ghetto. Janis, a microscopic town in the middle of Nebraska. The military is the true melting pot and despite their disparate backgrounds, they bonded immediately. In Chicago, their homes were within walking distance. Together they had served in various special operations units. First as Green Berets, then Detachment Delta, and now small clandestine units without official designations.

“I just mean here. I don’t mean, like, anywhere else,” Eric joked. “You don’t burn, right? Because I’m fucking getting fried.”

“Your Irish skin isn’t meant for this.” Raimey looked up into the sky and wagged his head as if he were soaking it in.

“How much longer d’you guess?” Janis asked.

“Two weeks, maybe more. We need to get the rest of the family out.”

The Imperial Royal family. There were a lot of them. Second cousins, third cousins twice removed. It had been their only task while the rest of the Coalition Forces cordoned off the population for “oil sanctions.” It was a group effort in the Middle East. China’s camp was ocean side and the EU was north to the U.S.’s west, but in other oil-rich lands, sometimes it was one, two, or all of them that occupied. The oil was almost gone.

Off in the distances tendrils of black smoke rose into the air. The terrorists had lit an oil field.

Not terrorists. Locals. Raimey reminded himself.

“Raimey, you’re up. Five minutes,” a soldier called, referencing a tablet.

“Tell Tiffany and Vanessa ‘hi,’” Janis said.

Inside the tent were what looked like ten dentist chairs. Eight were already occupied and the soldiers in them looked asleep. A thick wire ran from the head of each to a terminal outside the tent that had a satellite dish pointing to the sky. Two large fans uselessly blew hot air, turning the tent into a convection oven.

“You’re on the number 2 Mindlink,” a woman inside said. Raimey walked over, sat down and the woman handed him a machined aluminum headpiece that had glowing LED’s on the inside where it touched the head. He leaned back fully in the chair and put the Mindlink on.

As he did, the smell of burnt shit and sweat, and the scorching heat, vanished from top to bottom. He was in his living room. Some soldiers chose outlandish backdrops when they connected in, he knew a guy who always met his family on Mars for some reason. Janis - who didn’t have family - had bribed the head tech with booze to go to virtual Filipino hooker dens, “it’s not real, but damn, it feels real,” he nudged while detailing his exploits at the mess hall. But Raimey preferred seeing his home. It gave him an anchor to what was truly important. It reminded him why he had to make it back.

His wife Tiffany sat across from him on the couch. Caramel skin, long wavy black hair. She looked ten years younger than forty. Raimey sat across from her and he immediately jumped over to the couch and they kissed.

“How are you holding up?” Tiffany asked.

“It’s fine. Janis says ‘hi.’”

“Are you safe?”

“As safe as I can be. It’s pretty bad over here. It’s the worst at the refineries and the wells.” A red light appeared in the air and flashed slowly. It reminded him that the military was listening. No mission details. “We’re . . . off mission.” The light vanished from the air like a mirage.

Concern washed over her dark brown eyes.

“Hon, it’s fine. We only have a few more missions and I’ll be back.”

“Vanessa!” Tiffany yelled. She looked around; there was no sign of their daughter. Tiffany’s body vanished down-to-up and then almost immediately popped back into existence. “She’s using the bathroom.”

“When you gotta go, you gotta go,” Raimey smiled.

“There was another terrorist attack in Chicago,” Tiffany said.

“I heard. We may be re-assigned there. I might actually be home for once.”

“New York had three last week. Just yesterday, a train blew up over one of MindCorp’s Data Nodes right in the center of the city.”

“That’s why I moved us out to the suburbs,” Raimey said. “It’s going to get worse before it gets better. Just Mindlink, don’t go into the city.”

A 10-year-old girl appeared near the fireplace. Other than having her father’s dark skin, she was a mirror of her mother’s beauty. She wore pink pajamas.

“Daddy!” she hugged John. He hugged her back, pressing his cheek against hers.

“Hey, love,” John said. He held her away and looked her up and down.

“What time is it there?”

“Two.”

“And you’re still wearing pajamas?”

“I’m just on-line.” Tiffany shrugged.

“Alright . . . but when I get home, pajamas are for nights and mornings, that’s it. Tell me about school.”

Vanessa did and John listened intently. A soft ping like a wind chime filled the air a few minutes later signaling his time was almost up. He kissed Tiffany on the lips and snuggled with Vanessa one more time.

“All right my lovely ladies. I’ll see you next week.”

He disappeared from the room, as did they soon after.

-New York-

The founder of MindCorp, Cynthia Revo, followed her bodyguard through the surface debris of the New York Data Node. Sabot could have been a linebacker; he was half black and Samoan, six-five and thick. His dreaded hair hung past his shoulders. Cynthia was tiny, five foot, and thin boned. Her bobbed red hair had become her trademark. A ‘Cynthia’ was in vogue now. Behind them trailed an army man in his 60’s, wide and fit with a plate of medals on his jacket and a small, soft man with square rimmed glasses and a weak chin hidden behind fuzz.

“This is why we need to work together, Cynthia,” Secretary of Defense, Donald “WarDon” Richards said as they picked their path through the office wreckage. Ahead of them, a tank revved up and dragged away a subway car. It was clear that anyone in it hadn’t survived. Construction workers and firemen cleared the wreckage. Above them two cranes raised new rail to replace what had fallen down.

“They didn’t take us off-line. We routed to the other Data Nodes in the region out of protocol. This is cosmetic. The Data Core was unharmed,” Cynthia said.

She had come a long way from the day that Tom beat Jerry choosing images with his mind. The Mindlink arrived when the last of the accessible oil disappeared. There were articles and books (digital anyway) that stated she had saved the modern world. They were wrong. She had made the modern world obsolete. She had erased national borders. She had turned the earth into an apartment by creating a better one on-line. She had kept the company private and her personal worth was well into one trillion dollars. Ninety-five percent of the civilized world, including government, including military, used her technology to function. “We’ve had this happen before, Donald.”

“But not this successfully,” the pudgy man said. “Their weapons are the same, but they’re getting more strategic. They used C4 and long range detonators.”

Cynthia stopped and Sabot was immediately her shadow, scanning all entry points. There was a military perimeter around the wreckage, but bullets could thread the needle. He had recommended against her coming here.

“Who is he?” Cynthia asked WarDon.

“This is Dr. Lindo,” WarDon said. “I should have introduced you, sorry. He’s my advisor.”

“I’ve heard of you. You developed the analytics program for the military,” Cynthia said.

“Yes.” Evan had come out of nowhere at the age of twenty-two when he created an artificial intelligence software that recognized trends in seemingly unrelated data and predicted future patterns based on this data with incredible accuracy. At its root, “Nostradamus” was a bit-torrent application, but instead of taking known bits of a file from registered locations to create a replica, it took pieces of data that had no recognizable relation and formed a hypothesis of action. Technology had always been the U.S. military’s greatest weapon and Nostradamus was considered revolutionary for strategic warfare. At its best, it put them in the mind of their enemy. At its worst, it stacked the deck in their favor. It had won battles, saved lives, and predicted seeds of unrest. Evan was thirty-one now and the army’s prodigal son.

“Why didn’t your software predict this?” Cynthia teased. Lindo bristled and then composed himself. While he was soft shouldered and round, his eyes burnt with intelligence. She thought it was odd that he wore glasses given how cheap corrective eye surgery was. An affect.

“That’s why we’re here, Cynthia,” WarDon said. They made it to a construction elevator that had been quickly installed to replace the crushed one. The elevator shaft was undamaged.

“I’ve given the U.S. its own network,” Cynthia said. “How much cooperation do I need to provide?”

They stepped into the elevator.

“Any more dead?” WarDon asked.

Cynthia sighed, but it felt forced. Her mind was racing.

“They found one. Our receptionist,” Cynthia said. “Sabot, be sure to compensate the family.”

“Yes.”

They went down. For one hundred feet they stared at solid concrete and then it opened up into a cavernous space. It reminded Evan of an airplane hanger. The MindCorp technology was client-server. The Mindlink that a customer used at home was an interface, a glorified keyboard. All of the computer processing was done offsite at the Data Nodes. This was one of Cynthia’s brilliant maneuvers. The technology was proprietary and extremely well protected. Even the government didn’t know exactly how it all worked.

The style of the space was industrial: exposed beams around the perimeter, metal walkways throughout, snaked with ventilation. At the center was a giant black tube over twenty stories tall. WarDon whistled.

“You’ve never seen one?” Cynthia asked.

“No, just pictures.”

“This is a Colossal Core, there are five of them in the U.S. It can handle over forty million users.”

“And all of that got offloaded to the other Cores?” Evan asked. Cynthia nodded with pride.

“We keep headroom on all of our Data Cores. The re-routing was completely transparent to the user.”

As they descended, the ants turned into hundreds of workers. There were metal beds surrounding the Core like petals of a flower. Evan counted fifty. Men and women sat on the beds and waited for technicians in lab coats to go through a checklist with them. Afterwards, the person put on a Mindlink and laid down. Other techs manned controls near the base of the Core.

“Are those the Sleepers?” WarDon asked, pointing to the people in the beds. Cynthia nodded.

“They program and maintain the system,” she said. Evan and WarDon exchanged glances and Evan nodded.

“I’ve heard they can do more. Quite a lot more.”

“The theoretical is different than the practical, General,” Cynthia said. “We’ve capped their bandwidth to 300 mb/s, only spiking it for specific projects.”

They got to the ground floor. A man so obese he couldn’t walk rode a scooter over to them. The tires on his Rascal cried for help as he approached.

“Dr. Marin,” Cynthia said.

“Great timing, Cynthia. We’re about to fire it back up.”

“Any issues?”

“A fiber line was damaged, but we’ve routed around it. We should be 100% in another 24 hours.”

They followed Dr. Marin to the control deck right at the Core. It was an immense structure, more so because the giant tube was so dark. It was like a black hole caught in a bottle. Dr. Marin nodded to a group of technicians and two pulled down levers while the others typed quickly on keyboards. A sound erupted from the Core like a cold engine turning.

The entire tube crackled blue . . . then black . . . the engine turning . . . electric blue . . . black . . . the engine turning . . . BOOM! The entire tube filled with a coursing, electric blue. Lightning in a bottle. It was hard to look at directly. Everyone’s hair stood on end and arcs of static electricity danced between the Core and the electronics at its base. Dr. Marin saw the concern on WarDon’s face.

“It’s completely safe. Everything’s grounded.”

WarDon nodded, but he was unconvinced. He took a few discrete steps back. Evan did the opposite: he walked around the Core as if it were an alien artifact. He immediately recognized its components. A huge bundle of fiber lines - tens of millions - ran the length of the Core. At its center was a thin metal plate that separated the two segments. That thin plate was the Data Crusher and how Sleepers could do what Evan had told WarDon they could. That benign piece of metal blotted out in the sea of pulsing blue was the key to Nostradamus and beyond.

“Very impressive,” WarDon said. They were now at a conference table adjunct from the Core. Sabot poured water for them. Evan noticed that his forearm was as big as his own thigh.

Cynthia pulled out a joint. “Do you mind? I’m losing focus.”

It was the opposite. Cynthia was, in fact, gaining focus. Without medication, she had almost uncontrollable obsessive-compulsive disorder. For programming and research, it was an incredible strength. She would get off the pills, get off the weed, and her genius would be paired with laser-like focus. But day-to-day it was crippling and without medication she had extreme difficulty communicating effectively. Sometimes she would speak in English and computer code, as if they were one.

WarDon put on his best, I’m-fine-with-it, smile. “Of course.”

She sparked up.

“Why are you really here, General?” Cynthia asked.

“I guess we can cut to it. The U.S. is losing on two fronts right now, Cynthia, and both have major consequences that exacerbate the other,” WarDon stood up and paced the room. “I was going to come to Chicago before this happened but it emphasizes our failure at home.”

“The Terror War is getting worse and the Coalition is falling apart. We thought one of the few benefits with the oil shortage would be that our enemies couldn’t get over here. But we were wrong. As soon as we invaded, many of them traveled to Canada and down. We have no proof, but we think some of our national enemies may have funded this emigration. There were also cells already planted in the U.S. that we didn’t know about.”

“I know these things. What does it have to do with me?”

“Nostradamus,” Evan said. “Because we have no access to your software, we can’t implement it effectively.”

“The software is mine,” Cynthia said flatly. “As is the technology behind it.”

WarDon put his hands up.

“We’re not saying it’s not, quite the contrary. It’s yours, Cynthia. MindCorp saved the modern world. Who knows where we’d be without you. Worse, for sure. But if we had access, true access, this software could follow trends. It could save lives.”

“It’s an invasion of privacy,” Cynthia said.

“So are your Sleepers,” Evan replied, coolly.

“Sleepers are programmers, simple as that. They maintain the system,” Cynthia replied.

“Evan seems to think otherwise,” WarDon said. It was clear they had pulled their trump card.

“Theoretically, yes. Early on we tested quite a few theories with government involvement. You should know that, Don. But they were deemed unethical, unnecessary, and dangerous. We cap the bandwidth on the Mindlinks so that doesn’t happen.”

Evan interrupted.

“There are five Sleepers in Chicago you don’t restrict and they are gathering information that is privy only to you.”

Cynthia turned to WarDon. “You’re spying on me?”

WarDon shrugged.

“You haven’t been forthright, Cynthia, and the world relies way too much on your technology without understanding how it even works. You’re a privately held corporation and you are doing espionage. I have the list, I can show you,” WarDon pulled it out and Cynthia waved it away. “This information would not be good public. We are in dire times.”

WarDon sat down.

“I’m not asking you to stop. In fact, we are providing you a tool to do more. We’re asking you to do more.”

The room was quiet. Cynthia finally spoke up.

“I understand how granting access to Nostradamus on our network could help with the Terror War, but what does this have to do with the Coalition?”

“There’s never been a true oil shortage, Cynthia. As much as we’ve hemmed and hawed in the past, we’ve always found more. But those days are gone. If there’s only enough food for two people, and three people are eating, sooner or later, two of ‘em are going to realize that it can’t go on . . . and every one of them wants to survive. Contrary to popular belief, I like peace. I want peace. But my job’s to prepare for the worst. No one acts rationally when they’re hungry and scared. Not people, sure as hell not nations. That’s where your untethered Sleepers come into play. I need to know what our Coalition partners are thinking.”

“If they found out, it could destroy my business.”

“So would World War III.”

“You can’t be serious,” Cynthia replied.

WarDon raised his eyebrow and his face was stone. He was.

“Let me think about it.”

WarDon sat up and Evan followed.

“Of course.”

= = =

That night on their private train back to Chicago, Cynthia lay naked next to Sabot, pondering the meeting with WarDon. Sabot had been her bodyguard for five years and her lover for six months. He was the anchor that kept her reasonable in a sea that bent to her every whim, around people that would ‘yes’ her off a cliff and follow after her, just to be in her good stead.

As her influence overshadowed governments and changed the global culture, death threats would surface in the bowels of extremist blogs. A stalker was arrested and sentenced. Abduction attempts thwarted. And Cynthia knew she had high level enemies around her - both government and corporate - that sought her opinion and joked with her, that complimented her. But when she turned away their smiles vanished and they glared at her with emotionless, chestnut eyes: the eyes of the hungry and jealous and wanting.

She lit a joint and pulled. She held the smoke until it burned and let it go. The smoke rolled over itself into the moonlight.

“What’s up?” Sabot said. He had woken. He pushed himself up on his elbows.

“My mind’s racing. How dangerous is WarDon?” Cynthia asked. While Sabot never said it straight out, he had hinted they had crossed paths during his service.

“Politically?”

“Everything. Political, military, any way he could hurt me.”

Sabot didn’t hesitate.

“If things get dire, they’ll do to MindCorp what they did to the Middle East and Venezuela.”

“No. They couldn’t.”

Sabot let out a short laugh.

“So you think they’ll invade countries but not take over a corporation?” he said.

“Without me, it would fail.”

Sabot raised an eyebrow. Cynthia realized that Sabot thought they would abduct her.

“No, they wouldn’t. I’m too high profile!”

“Who would know anymore, Cynthia? MindCorp controls all the information. If they controlled it and you, they could say you moved to Antarctica to study penguins. They would rationalize it for the greater good. Things are easy for governments to justify.”

“Really,” she said, less surprised than she should be and not nearly scared enough. This was good weed.

“I’m glad you’re taking it well,” Sabot said. He rolled over and fell back asleep.

Cynthia almost turned in, thought ‘fuck it’ and smoked the rest of the joint. Sabot was right. WarDon was dangerous. He and the other politicians and officers put up brave fronts, but they were scared, fanatical in their fear of unimportance. Cynthia’s invention had helped solve a global crisis among the developed nations with the dwindling oil reserves. But it didn’t solve the national crisis. It, in fact, accelerated what policy had begun one hundred years before. Free trade. Global conglomerates. U.S. companies with their factories in China. German companies with their manufacturing in Mexico. Shoes made in sweatshops across Asia. Countries bailing out other countries, because each relied so much on the other. Nations had become states. And each of theses states was governed by the global economy. The Mindlink caused further withering of nation relevance because in the digital space, location meant nothing. MindCorp created a better world, without pollution, that offered limitless choices, and they controlled it completely.

Cynthia put out her joint and pulled the blankets up. She watched Sabot sleep until her eyes grew heavy. She knew she came with baggage and she loved him for carrying it.

The governments had become landlords and nothing more. But they still had guns. And they still had bombs. And they still had soldiers. They would not go quietly into the night. She decided to play along. If they were to become enemies, it would be better that they were close.


-Venezuela-

Hugo was being hunted. They all were. When the Coalition had invaded Venezuela five years before, the military aristocracy and the politicians surrendered for amnesty. They handed over Venezuela to save their hides. But Hugo, a General, and a few hundred other soldiers did not. They took to the mountains near the oil fields. That was what it was about, after all, the oil. In the years that followed they had grown in number. The Coalition had cordoned off cities and didn’t allow travel. But Hugo and his renegades broke out many, and their numbers climbed to almost five hundred.

The refineries were heavily guarded, but the rebels knocked one out for a month. Battleships surrounded the oil pipeline to the sea, but they still blew it up. And the mountains were theirs. The U.S. had its fill of guerilla warfare and wanted none of it. The intruders kept their crosshairs on the mountains from the comfort of their citadels, but they didn’t come hunt. It was not their land.

Except for him. Twelve Coalition soldiers had been dropped at the top of the mountain to find and assassinate Hugo. In a two-week span, Hugo and his patriots had killed all but one. He had kept their bodies cool. He wanted to make a statement. He wanted to unite his people. Hugo spread his army out like a net in search of the final soldier. They were high in the mountains, too high for the Coalition to send reinforcements and he knew the soldier was on his own.

That was a month ago and now that soldier haunted them. Camps would wake up to ten dead. Scout parties would never come back. And then he’d pick one off, two off - be quiet for days and then strike again. He avoided the mines. He avoided the snares. He avoided feints to lure him out. They called him ‘el fantasma.’ The ghost. And it had begun to feel like he was a part of the forest and not a man.

Within the last two weeks, three hundred of Hugo’s men had defected. They didn’t ask, they just disappeared in the night and while Hugo knew they had left, others attributed it to the ghost. The ghost (quit calling him that, he said to himself), the MAN, he was a MAN, had killed fifty men since they had chased him up into the mountains.

Hugo was now down to twenty men. As quickly as his power hard risen, Hugo saw that the movement was over. The Coalition had won. They would think it was their battleships and tanks and helicopters, but for Hugo, it was this one man that had done it.

“Carlos has been gone too long,” a lieutenant whispered. It was night and they sat around a small campfire at the mouth of a cave.

“Go find him,” Hugo said, absently.

“No,” the lieutenant replied. Hugo looked into his eyes and he saw the fear. The ghost.

“He’s just a man, hermano.”

“Maybe we did kill him . . .” the lieutenant said. A few pair of wide eyes nodded in agreement.

So this is what happens. Hugo thought. We lose our country, we lose our dignity, and then we lose our minds.

Hugo stood up.

“Where are you going?”

“To find Carlos.”

The lieutenant stood up.

“I’ll go with you!”

“And what, have you shoot me in the back when you hear an owl?”

The men around the fire laughed uncomfortably.

“I’ll go alone, thank you. It’s late, he may just be asleep.”

Hugo walked out and around the cave. He made his way up the mountain. The view from here was spectacular. At night, nothing was wrong. The city lights twinkled, the shadows hid the sins. But in daylight, the land was carved into boroughs, the dust trail of the tanks easily spotted. Ahead, he saw Carlos asleep against a tree. He could hear him snoring. Hugo took a stick and threw it at him.

“Carlos!” he hissed.

Carlos shifted around in his sleep. Hugo rolled his eyes. Carlos was the laziest of his soldiers, but also his bravest. He was drunk much of the time. Hugo stood over him.

“Carlos!” Carlos rose up and then slunk back to the ground. It took Hugo a second to see that the tree behind Carlos was looking at him. Mike Glass, in full ghillie suit, separated from the pine. He aimed a silenced .22 Ruger at Hugo’s head. The subsonic rounds were as quiet as a BB gun.

“El Fantasma,” Hugo said. And then the bullet entered his eye.

Click here to buy The Beginning from Amazon US / Amazon UK (and it's a fun read!)

Book Review - The Book of Abominations by Conrad Jones

This is a collection of satanism themed stories from Conrad Jones. My first forays into horror wre the Dennis Wheatley books like 'To the Devil a Daughter' and since that tender age I've had a soft spot for occult themed horror. It's something that has faded a bit but it's good to see modern versions on these old fears.

For me the first two stories were the highlight of the book (partly because I'd already read the included novel). Both stories share a common character and I would have enjoyed reading more about the Librarian. While the stories are well written and stand up well on their own as a combination to represent his life I think more could have been done.

The collection includes the full novel 'A Child for the Devil' which I had read before. It's a good story about a writer who finds himself caught in the world of a satanic cult. I enjoyed reading it a second time as much as the first time. It tries a little too hard to establish the authenticity of its existence early on, but once it gets settled it's a fine read.

The final story is a cross over with another author's character and provided a nice taste of something wider, but wasn't really satisfying on its own.

It's an odd collection, if you haven't read the novel then this is worthwhile as it's enough to carry the book on it's own. If you've read it then the extras may not be worth it. Although it is reasonably priced and I did enjoy it - one for fans of occult horror to take a look at.

Click on image to buy from Amazon

A collection of horror stories, including the terrifying best seller A Child for the Devil

The Librarian
When a man's body is found in an empty property, butchered, lying in the centre of a Satanic Sigil, Detective Inspector Annie Jones has to investigate. A blood soaked male found at the scene is the obvious suspect but something far more sinister is at work.

La Luna
A couple's holiday is ruined when they realise something else is sharing their room.

A Child for the Devil (full length novel)

When an author helps the police to identify symbols carved into two dead bodies, he becomes the focus of a murderous cult. He has to become the hunter to survive.

Amazon Clicks Readers’ Book of the Month Winner; Conrad Jones, is nominated for a 'Gold Dagger' award 2014

Conrad Jones has done it again with his horror series that will have you chewing your fingers as you read! ; Review

Number 1 International Crime Thriller

 Click here to pay The Book of Abominations from Amazon US / Amazon UK (and it's a decent horror read)

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