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Spotlight: Obscura Burning by Suzanne van Rooyen (YA / LGBT)

Hey everyone, I’m back with another Spotlight post, this time focusing on a title from a South African author, Suzanne van Rooyen. 🙂

suzanne obscura

The Author

Suzanne is a tattooed story-teller and peanut-butter addict from South Africa. She currently lives in Finland and finds the cold, dark forests nothing if not inspiring. Although she has a Master’s degree in music, Suzanne prefers conjuring strange worlds and creating quirky characters. When not writing you can find her teaching dance and music to middle-schoolers or playing in the snow with her shiba inu.

Suzanne is represented by Jordy Albert of the Booker Albert Agency.
Suzanne is also Publicity Manager for Entranced Publishing.

Here’s the blurb:

Kyle Wolfe’s world is about to crash and burn. Just weeks away from graduation, a fire kills Kyle’s two best friends and leaves him permanently scarred. A fire that Kyle accidentally set the night he cheated on his boyfriend Danny with their female friend, Shira. That same day, a strange new planet, Obscura, appears in the sky. And suddenly Kyle’s friends aren’t all that dead anymore. Each time Kyle goes to sleep, he awakens to two different realities. In one, his boyfriend Danny is still alive, but Shira is dead. In the other, it’s Shira who’s alive…and now they’re friends with benefits.

Shifting between realities is slowly killing him, and he’s not the only one dying. The world is dying with him. He’s pretty sure Obscura has something to do with it, but with his parents’ marriage imploding and realities shifting each time he closes his eyes, Kyle has problems enough without being the one in charge of saving the world…

And here’s the Book Trailer:

And for your reading pleasure, an excerpt from the novel. 🙂

Enjoy!

***

1.

Cornflakes; scraps of yellow cardboard polluting perfectly good milk. I wash them down with orange juice, dribbling a little from the corner of my mouth where my lips no longer form a smooth crease. From his cross fixed to the kitchen wall, an emaciated Jesus glares at me, making the cardboard cereal even more difficult to swallow.

I drag the paper over and skim the headlines: Obscura panic despite government reassurances that the world probably won’t end. Department stores got ransacked in Albuquerque amid fears of price gouging. People are really starting to freak out. There’s a snippet on page two about the situation in Iraq, how a bunch of American soldiers are demanding flights home to see family before Armageddon. A picture of the Eiffel Tower lit up with candles and strewn with flowers; a phallic offering to whichever god tossed Obscura into the sky. There’s a whole segment on what Obscura might be doing to the weather. Meteorologists predict the worst hurricane season in centuries, increased seismic activity resulting in more tsunamis and volcanoes. The world might not end, but that doesn’t mean humans won’t get wiped out anyway.

“What are you doing today, son?” Dad asks around the edges of the sports section. He should be scouring the classifieds for a job, not that there’d be much point if the world ends.

“The usual.” There isn’t a hell of a lot to do in Coyote’s Luck. Last couple of summers, Danny and I passed the days out by the dam near the reservation with Shira, or worked odd jobs around town, sometimes even helping out at the ranches farther away. This year we’d both been set for working at Black Paw, an eatery sporting kitsch Indian decor and a Mexican menu. Then the fire happened.

“Didn’t you have a job lined up?” Dad folds the paper and looks at me. His gaze doesn’t linger too long on my face before he’s studying his checkered napkin. Mom usually mediates conversations like this one, but she worked the night shift and is still passed out upstairs.

“You really think they’re going to want me serving kids their tortillas?”

“Why not?” Dad still doesn’t look up.

“You can’t even look at me, Dad. How the hell do you think some kids are going to order food and not end up puking on the table when they see my face?” I smash my bowl in the sink and stomp out of the kitchen, slamming the screen door behind me. Dad calls after me, but I ignore him. Nothing he can say will change my scars.

2.

Scrabbling under my bed, I retrieve an A3 drawing book and bag of colored pens. The first few pages are half-finished comics, a story yet unfinished waiting for my imagination. Then there’s a multicolored map scrawled across several pages, denoting my life: pages filled with boxes, each dated and timed, connected by lines as I try to make sense of what’s happening to me.

With a ruler and green pen, I draw a new box, jotting down the details since waking up at Shira’s.

I glance at my watch just to be sure. Tuesday, 21:47, June 26.

The map is a spaghetti mess of interweaving lines and text boxes. I’m not sure when my life got so complicated. Maybe when I was bandaged in the hospital, delirious in an opiate-induced haze, or maybe in those first few days after Danny’s spinal fusion, days I spent pacing the halls waiting to find out if he’d ever walk again.

My starting point is marked in red. April 6. The night of the fire.

I stash the book under my bed and strip naked. The stink of sex clings to my skin. Girls smell different, ripe and cloying. It’s a smell that gets everywhere. Even my hair reeks of girl-musk.

The tiles are cool against my back as I stand beneath a jet of cold water. Although my burns have healed, the scars are still sensitive. If the water is warmer than tepid it feels like I’m on fire all over again.

Running a hand over my mangled flesh, it’s as if I’m feeling the strange surface of some weird planet. Caressing Obscura perhaps. Her cratered and shale-smeared crust probably looks a lot like my skin. At first it was terrifying, the bubbles and swaths of too smooth flesh, the pink knots and swollen ridges slithering down my belly. Now it’s fascinating, all the warped shapes and odd textures. Surreal really, like it’s not my body that got deep-fried.

Not sure what the big deal is about me not being able to have kids. My left ball only looks a little more wrinkled than before, less hairy and more like a prune. The plumbing works just fine. Sex doesn’t feel the same, but then with a girl, how could it?

***

To order copies of Obscura Burning, check out the following links: Amazon US, Barnes and Noble, OmniLit, The Book Depository. If you’re a member of Goodreads, make sure to add the title at this link.

Check out Suzanne’s website here, and you can also connect with her on Pinterest, Twitter and Facebook

There we go – another interesting title to add to your shelf! 🙂 And thanks to Suzanne for offering the excerpt of her novel. 🙂

Until Friday,

Be EPIC!

 
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Posted by on January 22, 2014 in Excerpt, Spotlight

 

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Spotlight: American Specter by Rasheedah Prioleau

Hi guys and girls, I’m back with another spotlight-post, including an excerpt of the book in question. 🙂 And so, having joined the virtual book tour promoting the novel, here it is!

american specter cover

 

Here’s the blurb:

FBI Agent Audra Wheeler has been haunted for the last thirteen years by a paranormal attack that left her sister, Kendra, in a coma. Mentored by FBI Assistant Director Jonathan Cordero to investigate crimes committed by specters, Audra believes she is on the trail of a ‘serial killer’ specter with a M.O. very similar to her sister’s attacker. The investigation takes her to a small town of Specter, Georgia; a haven for ghosts who exist among the living.

From a review on Goodreads:

American Specter, by Rasheedah Prioleau is full of shocking revelations, specters, mythology, and a conclusion the reader will not see coming. I give this book 5 well deserved stars!

Your interest should be suitably piqued, 😉 And just to get you really hooked, here’s an excerpt from the novel – enjoy!

***

Audra stepped into the four-room mobile home converted into a sheriff’s station
and looked around trying not to let her disappointment show. She let the briefcase in her hand rest on the edge of the sheriff’s desk that was no more than six feet from the front door. There were two other desks in the room marked for a secretary and a deputy, but no one else was there. The walls were decorated with various maps of the town and an ancient filing cabinet took up nearly half of the wall behind the sheriff’s desk.

She pointed to the empty desks questioningly. “Lunch break?”

“Actually we recently lost our deputy to the police academy,” he said. “I haven’t
gotten around to finding a replacement just yet. Things are usually too slow to justify a secretary.”

Audra nodded, taking in the small space and its proximity to the front door. “Is
there a more secure area we can talk and eat?” she asked, lifting her Bishop’s to-go plate.

He smiled and pointed her to the hallway. She followed it to the back meeting
room, a square table with eight seats nearly filling it, and took a seat opposite of the door.

Ethan sat across from her as she opened the briefcase and pulled out four separate files, lining them up in order from the first murder to the last.
She took a small breath as she set the briefcase aside and opened the first victim’s file.

“Amanda Price of Boston, Massachusetts,” she said and looked at the girl’s
postmortem mug shot. Laid out on the medical examiner’s slab her skin was grayish pale and her dark hair was pulled back off of her lean face. The bruising from her own fingernail scratching as well as the strange burn marks around her neck stood out in the photograph like a gruesome necklace.

Ethan took the file and flipped through the first few pages of the report. He put it
down and picked up the next, opening it.

“Jenifer Martin of Newark, New Jersey,” she cited as he took in an almost
identical image of a dark haired girl with graying skin, fingernail scars and burns around her neck.

Audra opened her lunch and began to eat. She could not remember the last time
she’d allowed herself to indulge in barbeque with a side of macaroni and cheese and cornbread.

Ethan flipped the remaining files open and looked at the pictures of Linda Parker
of Charlotte, North Carolina and Regina Fowler of Savannah, Georgia.

“All were alone and in bed at the time of their murders, most likely asleep,”
Audra said.

“They all look alike,” Ethan said in a low voice.

“A serial killer with a type,” Audra agreed. “A type that looks a lot like my
sister.”

Ethan sat back as if a light bulb had gone off in his head. “Your sister was
attacked like this, right?”

Audra nodded.

“You think these are connected to your sister?” he asked, as if he had already
suspected as much.

“I do,” she finally said aloud for the first time.

“Okay, tell me again about your sister’s case.” Ethan turned stone cold serious.
His face was set in an intense yet calm pose that said he was listening to her words, reading between the lines, and watching her body language as she recited the details of her sister’s case.

“I ran to my sister’s room after hearing a crash. She was up in the air grabbing for
her throat. When I flipped on the light she fell back onto the bed. No one else was there. I called 9-1-1 and tried my best at CPR. She was almost nine months pregnant at the time.”

“How is she now?” he asked.

“She’s still in a coma,” Audra said. “Nothing has changed in the past thirteen
years.”

“It wasn’t declared to be specter related was it?” Ethan asked.

“No, specters weren’t known about then. It was labeled unexplained phenomena.”

“Where is she now?”

“My mother moved from New York back to Boston when dad died about a year
ago. She had Kendra transferred to a long-term care hospital,” Audra said.

“My condolences,” Ethan said quietly.

“Thank you.”

“Boston. The same city as the first victim,” Ethan observed. “Was your sister ever
in Newark or these other places?”

“For a time we lived in Newark and Boston when we were kids, before my father
was transferred to New York,” Audra said, unconsciously licking the barbeque from her fingers.

“Where are your sister’s husband and your niece now?” Ethan asked.

“They are in Boston with his new wife. I still see Kendra on occasion, especially
her birthday. But it’s painful,” Audra concluded.

“Oh, Rook,” Ethan whispered. It was the nickname he’d given her their first day
together as partners. “As far as you know there is no connection between your sister and this town?”

“The only thing that has any meaning to me here is you,” Audra said and she
could not hide the emotion in her eyes from him. “And once again, I have to say that I do not believe in coincidence.”

“Me neither,” he assured her. “Maybe we should get you checked into the B&B,”
Ethan said, standing and closing the files. He stacked them neatly and handed them her.

Audra took the time to wipe her hands with the single wet-nap supplied by Bishop’s takeout service and put the files back in the briefcase. She was relieved to finally have someone she trusted know what she was facing.

She packed up the remainder of her lunch and they left the station. She followed
Ethan’s truck to the B&B and checked into a room. He followed her to her room and closed the door behind him. He didn’t ask and he didn’t wait for her to ask, just pulled her into a hungry kiss and she felt herself melt against him. He pulled away looking deeply into her eyes. He smiled and she appreciated the kindness and emotion he showed.

It matched how she felt. He backed away from her, taking off his shirt and sitting on the edge of the bed.

His dark skin was pulled tight and rippled over his chest, arms, and abs. His low
key t-shirt had hidden all of the fine-tuning and strength of his upper body. Audra stayed close to the wall. Now that he was there, in the flesh, she felt nervous.

Sitting on her bed with his shirt off, she knew exactly where this was headed.

He smiled and reached a hand out to her. She walked closer to him, kicking her
shoes off, and took his hand. It was as smooth and warm as she remembered.He pulled her to him and seated her on the bed as he was looking into her eyes.

“I missed you Rook,” he said.

He reached a hand up and touched her cheek. She placed a hand over his and
brought it to her mouth, kissing the palm of it. He reached out with his other hand to bring her head down to kiss her lips.

“Ethan,” she whispered, her voice swallowed by the deep and electric kiss that
they shared.

She pulled off her suit jacket and he tugged her silk shirt over her head, dropping
it to the floor. She felt goose bumps travel up her spine as his hands roamed over her back then folded her into an embrace. His skin felt like magic against her. Audra wrapped her arms around him and kissed him deeply as he unfastened her bra and let both hands travel to cup her breasts. She worked to unfasten her gun belt, setting it gently on the floor, then took off her specter shield and tossed it on top of her jacket, unbuttoning her pants and pushing them to the floor.

Ethan smiled as she straddled his lap. She felt his hands trace her body and her
mind let go of everything. It was easy to be with him. Even though it had been such a long time, being in his arms again made it feel like only yesterday. He took his time and went slow, both of them savoring every moment together. She took note of a new scar on his right side, just above his hipbone. Touching it she looked him quizzically in the eye.

He smiled and shrugged, pulling her into another kiss that led to a much-needed release for both of them.

They lay together afterwards for several minutes looking at each other. Audra saw
him drifting off to sleep and let him. Rising from the bed, she was very careful not to wake him as she stepped into the bathroom and turned on the shower. She washed up slowly, recounting every moment of what had just happened, smiling as she blushed with the memories. Stepping from the shower to dry off, the reality of how bad it was that they slept together again began to sink in.

When she emerged from the bathroom she looked at the bedside clock. It was a
quarter past five and Ethan slept as if dead to the world. She didn’t want to wake him and didn’t know if she would be able to cover up her raw feelings with the same nonsense of it not having to mean anything, because it did mean something to her. It always had.

She dressed quickly and left a note with the address to the Daylight Candle Shop.

Strapping the specter shield onto her wrist, she thought that he might be pissed when he woke up, but she would cross that bridge when she came to it.

***

There we go! 🙂

American Specter will be published on the 4th of February by Rocket Press Publishing, so keep an eye out for it! And do go check out Rasheedah’s website here. 🙂

Until tomorrow,

Be EPIC!

 
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Posted by on January 16, 2014 in Excerpt, Spotlight

 

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Free SF Reading: Annihilation by Paul Byers – Part 3

Hi everyone, hope you’ve all had a great Friday so far. 🙂

I’m back with the third and last part of Paul Byer‘s excellent SF short story, Annihilation; so far (in part 1) we’ve met the crew of a sub that was tasked with finding and tracking a new and potentially dangerous Chinese sub, (in part 2) they were returning to base, unsuccessful in their mission, whereupon they discovered that Pearl Harbour had been wiped off the map (as well as some other, more mysterious discoveries), and now in Part 3 we get the conclusion. 🙂

Before that, though, I thought I’d post the last of Paul’s guest-blogs, and don’t worry, there’s aren’t any spoilers! 😉

***
I primarily writer action thrillers but Act of God is a return to my roots, so to speak. I started out writing science fiction and I enjoy the freedom that comes from writing this kind of genre. If I want to make the sky green, then it’s green. If I want to have a massive alien fleet of robotic creatures who want to attack earth because they need our oil, so be it.

Today’s sci-fi audience is much more sophisticated and educated, most having grown up on such sci-fi staples as Star Trek and Star Wars. Nowadays, a writer can take a lot for granted when telling their stories. Everyone has heard of hyperspace or warp drive, phasers, lasers and photon cannons and the concept of faster-than-light travel and beaming is no big deal and doesn’t need to be explained.

The genre of science fiction as evolved from its early beginnings of Buck Rogers and little green men invading earth. Today, the genre has grown and expanded to encompass so much more than just flights into deep space.

With new technologies, the stories have blended with the techno thriller and military themes have relied heavily on technologies and are often woven into sci-fi stories. Touches of fantasy as well as the ever popular use of robots and medical manipulation of DNA have also grown more prominent in today’s science fiction, making it the mainstay of the modern genre.

But whether as a writer you are drawing on proven and known technology or creating your own universe, and whether you boldly go where no man has gone before or create a theme park where no expense has been spared (where the attractions eat the guests) science fiction is a great way to tell great stories.
***

Annihilation – Part 3

“Officer of the Deck! I’m receiving a signal!” The radio operator called out.

“Locate and identify!” Hollis ordered. “And Collins, go get the Captain!”

Just then Captain Deacon strode into the control room. “No need,” he said. “I couldn’t sleep.” He walked over to the radio station and leaned over the operator. “What have we got?”

“It’s a simple message that’s being rotated on different frequencies in Morse code. Half of it is just random letters, but buried in the middle of all the jumble is a request for acknowledgment.”

“Acknowledge it then.” Deacon ordered.

“Aye sir, acknowledging.”

The entire control room waited for the reply. At last, they might have some answers. The radio operator scribbled down the reply, then turned to the captain.

“I’m sorry sir, but this doesn’t make any sense.”

“What doesn’t?”

“The reply. It says: Time: James Bond. Freq: Total inhabitants of Gilligan’s Island and length of cruise. Full count. And that’s it, the transmission has stopped.”

Everyone was puzzled by the riddle. Was someone playing games or was the sender just crazy. Suddenly Captain Deacon snapped his fingers.

“That’s it! It has to be!”

“What’s sir?”

“It’s a recognition code. A specific time and frequency. Something only we would know. During World War Two, if the G.I.’s suspected someone of being a German spy, they would ask them questions only an American would know. Something like who won the World Series or who a famous movie star was. These questions are something only we would know.

“But sir, James Bond and Gilligan’s Island are seen all over the world, not just in the U.S.”

“My point exactly. WE could figure it out because we’re from earth.”

“You mean E.T. sir?” The radio man asked looking at this captain with fear and confusion on his face.

“It’s just a theory, son,” Deacons said to the radio operator, “just a theory.”

Deacon clapped his hands and rubbed them together in anticipation. “Okay, let’s see what we have. James Bond is of course the indomitable 007, so broadcast will be at 0700 tomorrow morning.”

“And there were six castaways on Gilligan’s Island who were on a three-hour tour that stretched into four seasons.” Hollis joined in.

“Excuse me sir, but there were seven castaways.” The radio man said.

“I think the XO is right, there were only six.” One of the engineer mates piped in.

“Seven.”

“Six.”

Suddenly the control room of a United States Navy Nuclear Attack Submarine was filled with the sound of men humming the theme song from a 50-year-old television show.

Almost in unison a soft chorus broke out, “…the Professor and Mary Ann, here on Gilligan’s Isle.”

“You’re right Hollis said matter of factly. “I forgot about the Professor.”

Deacon burst out laughing.

“What?” Hollis said.

Deacon just shook his head. “Never mind. Okay, now that we have that settled, the only ‘full count’ I can think of is a three and two in baseball which make five, so the frequency must be 735.”

“Easy for us. But not so easy for whoever is listening.” Deacon said.

“I’m sorry sir, but I’m still having a hard time believing that someone other than inhabitants of good old Earth blew up Pearl.” Abe said.

“I hope I’m wrong too,” Deacon confessed. “It would make it a whole lot easier to deal with if I’m wrong.”

“Amen to that.”

At 0700 the next morning the control room was packed with every man who wasn’t on duty. Deacon thought about clearing the room, but decided against it. They were all in it together and they had a right to know. The room was silent; no one dared make a sound as they waited for the mysterious transmission. Suddenly the radio crackled, and as if scripted in a movie, everyone in the room held his breath.

“Do you copy?” Were the garbled words that came through the speakers.

Deacon picked up the microphone. “We read you. Please identify yourself.”

“Negative! And do not identify yourself. This will be a one minute transmission.”

“We have been out of circulation. Can you tell us what has happened?”

“You’re kidding right?” The voice said in astonishment.

“Negative,” Deacon thought for moment, “we’ve been visiting Dave Jones.”

There was a brief pause. “Understood. The earth is in complete shambles. Forty-three days ago the Ninjas arrived, catching our defenses completely off guard.”

“Ninjas?”

“Sorry, that’s the nickname we gave them because of the black suits they wear. We don’t know what they call themselves or where they came from. The Ninjas are an alien race that has devastated the planet. There are scattered pockets of resistance, but they are few and far between and falling fast.”

“What about the military? Couldn’t they do anything to stop them?”

“The Ninjas knew exactly where and what to hit; we didn’t have a chance. There were a few minor victories, but nothing to stem the flow of the Ninjas.”

“What do they want?” Hollis asked. “Have they made any demands?”

“Demands? Why? They’ve already beaten us. I suggest whoever you are that you find a place to hide and hope they don’t find you. Maybe they’ll take what they want and leave. I will not transmit again. It’s getting too risky for me. Good luck to you! Over and out.”

You could have heard the proverbial pin drop in the control room. Everyone was stunned. The Earth they had left just a few short months ago didn’t exist anymore.

“Chief of the Boat, make depth for 800 feet,” Deacon ordered.

“Aye sir, make depth for 800 feet.”

“Conn, sonar. I just picked up a surface contact! Bearing 287…range 10 miles. It’s a small craft, sir.”

“Belay the last. Helm, reduce speed to five knots, make depth 400 feet, heading 287. Any emissions from the contact?

“Negative sir. It appears to be dead in the water.”

“Very well then, we still need more information so I’m going to take the risk and board her. We’ll move under her at 100 feet then release two teams of divers to board her. You up for a little swim, Abe?” Deacon said looking at his XO.

Hollis smiled. “Yes sir.”

“Good. I want you to lead the boarding party. Pick three volunteers and prepare to depart in one hour.”

“Aye aye, sir!”

Fifty seven minutes later, Hollis led the team of four divers through the LOT (lock out trunk,) a way to enter and exit the submarine while still submerged, from the warmth and security of the Texas and into the unknown of the cold, murky waters of the Pacific. Each member of the team was armed with an M-16/M4 converted assault rifle and the Heckler & Koch HK45 as their sidearm, along with several clips of ammunition in water proof pouches.

Everything looked calm and peaceful as Hollis looked up from fifty feet below the hull, seeing the outline of the ship silhouetted against the surface; but he also knew looks were deceiving. He motioned for two of the divers to go to the starboard side, while he and his partner went up on the port.

As they surfaced, they could see that the ship was a 110 foot Island Class Coast Guard Cutter. Although it was built for the open ocean, Hollis thought it strange to find one this far out at sea, but then after the events of the last few days, nothing surprised him anymore. Seeing nothing out of the ordinary, the two teams slipped over the railing and quickly hid in the debris scattered on the deck.

The ship was listing to port and Hollis could see that it was in shambles, having taken quite a beating recently in a storm.

Hollis lay hidden behind the twisted remains of a Zodiac, watching, waiting, listening. Satisfied that the deck was clear and that they hadn’t been spotted, he signaled for two men to go up the starboard side while he covered them. His heart was pounding and his mouth dry as he rested his assault rifle on the Zodiac and watched his men make their way to the superstructure.

He had been in danger before, he had been in the belly of a steel beast, directing 7800 tons of muscle and machine in harm’s way, but this was different, this was personal combat. He was in the thick of it, no electronics, no early warning systems and no inky depths to hide in. Here, he was face to face with danger.

His men reached the stern of the cabin with no trouble and they signaled for him to join them. Taking a deep breath, he nodded to his partner and they made their way as quickly and quietly as they could up the other side of the ship. As he came running up he signaled and the first two members of the team opened the cabin door and Hollis rushed in.

Three steps into the cabin, they were stopped in their tracks by an overwhelming stench that none of them had ever experienced before. Immediately the man beside Hollis threw up, and it was all he could do to keep from doing the same. The room was in as bad a shape as the deck outside; papers, furniture, and other debris were scattered around with puddles of standing water everywhere from broken windows. The room was empty of any human crew but they found three figures lying on the floor, all dressed in black. Ninjas, Hollis thought as he shoved the barrel of his gun into each of the bodies, making sure they were dead.

With the room secured, they split up and searched the rest of the ship. After ten minutes, all reported back that the ship was deserted. No more bodies were found, human or alien.

The men gathered around as Hollis took out a small flashlight to examine the bodies.

They all wore black body suits including a head cover, looking very similar to black wet suits. He could see why the name “Ninjas” had stuck. There were no exposed portions of the alien’s skin except through tears in the suits. Prying up one of the tears, he could see that the skin underneath looked like it had been eaten away, as if acid had been poured onto the flesh.

When Hollis reached down to examine the body more closely, water from his suit trickled down his arm and into one of the tears. Immediately, a reddish-blue foam oozed out of the opening.

“Would you look at that.” Hollis exclaimed. “Brask, go take your mask and bring it back here full of water.”

Brask left the cabin and returned shortly with the full mask. Hollis took the mask and began pouring water into each of the tears on the suit, with the same results: a reddish-blue foam appearing as the water dissolved the alien flesh.

“What do you know?” Hollis said. Water must act as a corrosive on the alien flesh. No wonder they wear these full body suits. “I’m going to call the captain and have him surface the boat and get these bodies on board. They could prove useful later.” As he walked out of the cabin, he found a small case. He opened it and found sheaf’s of papers with what appeared to be alien writing on it. “This could prove to be interesting.” He said as he shoved them inside his wetsuit.

An hour later with the alien bodies in the boat’s freezer, Hollis was sitting with the captain in his cabin.

“That’s quite a report, Abe. Did you get anything from those files you found?”

Hollis shook his head. “A quick glance gave me nothing but I haven’t had any real time to study them yet. But what gets me is if water is so harmful to them, then why go after a planet that’s 75 percent water?”

“Maybe to them, the 25 percent land we do have is a lot, which gives me an idea. Militarily we have been defeated and there’s nothing we can do about that.”

“That’s what’s so frustrating. We have such tremendous firepower aboard this boat and there’s nothing we can do prevent these “Ninjas” from taking over our planet. Maybe we should have polluted it more so they wouldn’t have wanted it.” Hollis said in a faint attempt at humor.

“I’ve been thinking, and maybe there is something we can do.” Deacon replied.

“Sir?”

“There’s only one way we can get the Ninjas off our world, and that’s for there to be less of it.”

“Less of it? I don’t understand.”

“We have a full complement of Tomahawk cruise missiles on board, don’t we?”

Hollis nodded.

“We go to maximum range and launch one at the polar ice cap, then run like hell.”

“I don’t understand? What’s at the polar ice cap?”

“Ice. And when the heat of the nuclear explosion hits, it will melt it, thus raising the water level around the world. We’ll create our own global warming. With less land, more potential ‘acid,’ there’s less of a reason for them to stay.”

“That’s quite a gamble sir. Do you know how many people we may drown?”

“I know it’s a risk, but if we don’t do anything at all, I know exactly how many people will be left. None. It’s a gamble all right, a long shot at best, but a long shot is better than none at all. I’m going to take the boat deep and head north. Let’s both get some sleep and see how we feel about it in the morning.”

“Good idea, I’m beat. Good night sir,” Hollis said as he got up and returned to his cabin.

Deacon turned off his lamp and lay in his bunk, a thousand different thoughts running through his mind. He closed his eyes, and tried to relax and get some sleep, but he knew he wouldn’t tonight.

Early the next morning Deacon found his Executive Officer in the galley with a cup of coffee in hand. His eyes were tired and bloodshot and he looked like he hadn’t slept at all.

“You look how I feel,” Deacon said, grabbing a cup of coffee.

“Looked in the mirror lately?” Hollis replied.

“Not much sleep for you either, I see.” Deacon smiled.

“I was up half the night trying to decipher those plans we found. As a kid I always liked solving riddles and crossword puzzles. I even took a couple of classes at the academy in code deciphering. The other half of the night I was thinking about your plan. To tell you the truth I don’t much like it, but I couldn’t come up with a better one. I don’t know, maybe we’re moving too fast. Maybe we should try to raise COMSUBPAC or the civilian authorities first.”

“I’m not crazy about flooding the earth either, but it’s the only way to drive the Ninjas off our planet. The longer we wait the more of them there’ll be. We don’t have time to get confirmation. I did some rough figuring, and I’ll qualify all my answers right now by saying I’m no scientist, but if we melted all the ice at both caps that would raise the sea level between 200 and 250 feet. Even if we got half that amount, say around 100 feet, the results would be catastrophic. Hopefully that would be enough to get the Ninjas to leave.”

“When do we launch?”

“We’ll be in weapons range in about three hours.”

“I don’t have duty until the mid-watch, but I’ll be up when we launch. I think I’ll go back to my puzzle book and see if I can unlock the mysteries of the Ninjas. Don’t launch until I get there please.”

“Good luck.” Deacon nodded then poured himself some more coffee and wished he hadn’t eaten the last doughnut.

Hollis went back to his cabin and began working on the Ninjas’ log book. He really didn’t think he had a hope of deciphering it, but it would keep him busy, and that’s what he needed right now. He began by looking for any words in English, words that the Ninjas might have translated already. Then, he looked for words that were repeated often. He found the word “Earth” several times, followed by the same phrase or one very similar. After two hours he had made little progress. Seeing he had time before the launch, he decided to take a look at the Ninjas themselves, hoping their uniforms might provide a clue. He headed to the ship’s freezer where the bodies were kept.

He took out one of the bodies and slid it onto a service cart. He carefully examined the outside of the suit and found very little that would help him. Next, he cut away the suit to examine the body. He smiled. He felt like one of those CSI investigators on TV as he peeled back the suit. The skin was grayish and had a very coarse texture; it reminded him of the skin of a shark. Several years back he had been snorkeling and had scared a nurse shark off the bottom and it had brushed up against his leg. The shark’s sandpaper-like skin was so rough it had scraped off some of the skin on his leg. This Ninja’s skin felt like that.

He cut away the black suit to examine the rest of the body, but there was not much to see because of all the corrosion caused by the acid of the sea water. He couldn’t tell if it was male or female, with no recognizable organs. Next he tried to examine the hands and feet but they were the most badly corroded. Wanting to clear away some of the loose skin so he could examine the bones, he took a glass of water and poured it into the wound. Nothing happened.

Puzzled because there was no corrosive foam, he did it again, only this time pouring the entire glass on the wound. Still nothing.

Staring intently at the wound, he went to set the empty glass on the counter and it slipped off and fell to the floor. As he reached down to pick it up, his arm dragged across the body bag. When he stood back up, he noticed that there were traces of the reddish-blue foam seeping out of one of the wounds. He noticed that several drops of seawater had dripped from the bag into the wound.

Puzzled, Hollis took a sponge, mopped up some of the excess water then squeezed out over the wound: instantly, the reddish-blue foam appeared. Suddenly the passages in the log book became clear. They were talking about two kinds of water: salt water and fresh water.

A sickening feeling began forming in his stomach. He had noticed earlier some loose skin between the fingers of the Ninjas but thought nothing of it, thinking it was just flesh melted away by the water, but now…. Quickly he moved to tear open the other two body bags. This Ninja’s hands and feet were in worse shape than the first corpse but the third body still had its gloves on. He ripped off the gloves and stared at the hands. The stunning revelation was staring him in the face. That wasn’t just loose skin between its fingers, they were webbed, like a duck’s foot.

The Ninjas didn’t come to Earth because they wanted more land; they came because they wanted more water! Only they hadn’t realized that there was salt water here and that it would act as a corrosive to them. Suddenly a second and even more powerful realization hit him.

He felt faint; the polar ice was fresh water, not salt. If they melted it, it might dilute the salt water enough for the Ninjas to survive. He had to get to the control room and stop the launch. He looked at his watch; he still had a couple of minutes. He ran through the corridors, shouting to stop the launch. He rounded the last hatchway to the control room and tripped just as he entered, hitting his head hard on the metal deck.

Slowly Hollis opened his eyes. His head felt worse than any hangover he’d ever had. Suddenly he remembered. “We’ve got to abort the launch, we can’t launch that missile.”

“Why?” Deacon asked.

“The Ninjas aren’t here for the land; they’re here because we have so much water. They don’t have salt water on their planet so they didn’t know our oceans would be dangerous to them. They need fresh water. If we melt the ice cap the fresh water will dilute the salt water enough so they can survive. If we melt the ice, we will be dooming the earth instead of saving it.”

Deacon stumbled and fell back on the floor as if an unseen prize fighter had delivered a roundhouse punch. “You’ve been unconscious for the past half hour,” Deacon stammered; “we launched five minutes ago.”

End

🙂 What an ending, huh? I zipped through Annihilation when I received it from Paul; from the beginning I enjoyed the setting (thank Tom Clancy for that) and I knew that -considering where the story took place- there would be plenty of tension, and I wasn’t wrong – I like the way the tale builds, as Paul doles out the information piece by piece, gradually building an alarming picture, and I also liked the characters and how they interacted. The scene where Deacon is complaining about the apparent lack of donuts had me chuckling. 🙂 This tale also reminded me of the SF episodes of The Outer Limits in that it was well-balanced between the characters, the building tension, and the way it made me curious. If Annihilation is anything to go by -and I’m sure it is- then Paul’s collection, Act of God, will be highly enjoyable, surprising and imaginative. 🙂 Excellent tale!

To order your copies of Act of God, click here for Amazon US, and do check out Paul’s site for more info on him and his work. Since today is National Buy a Book Day (in the USA, at least, though I’m sure it’ll grow to be a world-wide event!)

Logo by Clifton Hill

go ahead and treat yourself (and Paul) to a copy of Act of God, or two or three (why not?) for SF-loving friends. 🙂

I’d like to sincerely thank Paul for allowing me to host and post Annihilation – it was well worth it! 🙂

Until next time,
Be EPIC!

 
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Posted by on September 7, 2012 in Excerpt, Fiction Post

 

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Free SF Reading: Annihilation by Paul Byers – Part 2

Hey Everyone, welcome back! 🙂

I’m pretty sure that you’re all itching to get back to Annihilation, so let’s get to it, shall we? 🙂

Annihilation by Paul Byers (Part 2)

***
“Captain’s personal log: This has been an extremely disappointing deployment. We were on station for 87 days with no sign of the new Chinese sub so I used my discretion and we left early and are heading home. I really think Naval Intelligence dropped the ball on this one; I just hope they didn’t waste too much of the taxpayers’ money for this faulty information. On the way home I thought about ordering a series of ‘angles and dangles’ exercises to get the crew back in shape, but decided against it. I know how much the crew ‘loves’ it when we drive the sub like a roller coaster up and down at 28 degree angles at 35 knots. ”

Just then the executive officer stuck his head in the door. “Excuse me Captain, but you wanted to know when we were about eighty miles out from Pearl.”

“Very good, Abe. Bring her up to sixty feet and radio Pearl; tell’em to put out the welcome mat, we’re almost home.”

“Aye sir.”

“Is it going to be the usual again this time?” The captain asked.

Abe Hollis, smiled. “Yes sir! Who am I to mess with tradition? Besides, it’s your turn to buy.”

“Duke’s?”

“I was hoping you’d say that. I could sure use a piece of hula pie.”

“Very well then, carry on.”

“Yes sir!” Hollis smiled and saluted then disappeared, heading back to the conn.

Deacon leaned back in his chair and smiled. Abe had been his XO and friend for the past two years and the two of them had formed a sort of tradition when they returned from a deployment. They would get themselves the biggest, thickest steaks they could find then go and eat it either under the sun or stars, rain or shine, whatever the time of day. The point was to enjoy it in the freedom of the open air. In this case, since they were in Pearl, Duke’s Waikiki would be the restaurant of choice. The open-air dining right on the beach would be perfect and the passing scenery would certainly be an improvement on their blue overalls and khakis.

The smile slowly faded into a bittersweet crescent on his face. This was probably going to be their last “tradition” meal together. Abe had worked hard and had put in his time and he would recommend to Admiral Martin that Abe was ready for his own boat.

He also had to start thinking about how to finish his own career. With twenty-plus years in the Navy, he could retire anytime. Or, he could stay in and push for Rear Admiral but he just couldn’t see himself commanding from behind a desk. He knew he could do it, but what would be the point? And as much as he loved his job, and being a sailor, he still missed the land; especially the forests. He had grown up in the tall fir trees of Oregon and had often thought about getting a house at the base of the Cascades near Portland. There he could enjoy the tress but only be only a few hours away from his parents who still lived in his childhood home on the Columbia River.

Lost in his daydream, he could almost smell the fir and pine trees when Hollis stuck his head back in the door. The happy smile that had left his quarters a few minutes ago on his XO’s face was now replaced with a grim and concerned expression.

“Captain, we can’t raise Pearl. We’ve tried on all frequencies and all our equipment checks out.”

Deacon didn’t say a word as he got up and followed his XO back to the conn.

“Bring the boat up to periscope depth and raise the antenna. Normal procedure was to do a complete 360-degree sweep with the scope to search for any surface ships; Captain Deacon only made it a quarter of the way around before he stopped.

“Oh my God.” He stammered. “Helm, what’s our present course?”

“Course 090 degrees, sir, due east.”

“Take a look.” He motioned to Hollis.

Hollis looked through the periscope and echoed his captain’s words. “Oh my God…is that…”

“Pearl Harbor.” Deacon said as he stepped back up to the scope. The entire eastern sky was filled with plumes of dark, billowing smoke, all originating where the Hawaiian Islands were supposed to be. He flipped to thermo imaging and even from this distance could see the bright orange and red images of the intense heat of the fires. One of the innovations that the Texas had was that she didn’t have the traditional line-of-site periscope. Instead she had a photonics mast, which contained high-resolution cameras, along with light-intensification and infrared sensors. It was like watching through a TV screen rather than a lens.

“Conn, sonar. I’ve got a contact bearing 015 degrees heading due west at 270, range 35,000 yards at 950 feet.” Every head in the control snapped around and starred at the sonar operator. The young crewman stared intently at his scope and pressed his headset against his ear.

“It’s a Graney class Russian sub, sir.” he said, still oblivious to the fact that he was now the center of attention of the entire boat.

“Confirmed sir; her screw sounds match our records. It’s the K-329, the Severodvinsk, Russia’s newest fast attack nuke sir, and she is hauling ass.”

The young sonar operator stopped himself, life on a submarine was less rigid than on a surface ship, but protocols were still enforced. “Sorry sir, I meant if she had wings she’d be flying. She’s rated at 35 knots but she’s pushing 41 and then some.”

“Do you think she nuked Pearl Harbor?” Hollis asked.

Deacon didn’t reply as he continued to stare into the periscope. Suddenly he spun around. “Lower scope. Chief of the Boat, take us down to 800 feet, make tubes one and two ready in all aspects including opening outer doors.”

“Aye sir! Depth 800 feet, tubes one and two ready in all aspects including opening outer doors.”

“Sonar, conn, range to target?”

“Conn, sonar, target has closed to 29,000 yards. At present course and speed she’ll pass within 8,000 yards on our port side.”

“I want a targeting solution for when the 329 is abreast of us.” Deacon said to Hollis, “I want our fish coming up on her backside, I don’t want her to hear them coming.

“Does she know we’re here?” Deacon asked, turning to the sonar operator.

“I don’t think so, sir, and with as much noise as she’s making, I don’t think they care.”

With quiet and trained efficiency, the crew of the Texas set about their task of preparing to exact revenge on the Russian submarine. Hollis studied the read-outs from the Fire Control station, checked and re-checked the calculations. He wanted to make sure their torpedoes found their mark. Captain Deacon, however, stood by silently, as if in a state of shock.

“Target is reaching optimum firing solution, sir,” Hollis reported.

Deacon just stood there.

“Sir, we need to fire or we’ll lose the solution and have to recalibrate.”

“Stand down. Do not fire.”

“Sir! That sub out there just wiped Pearl off the face of the map and you want to let it go?”

“Something’s not right here. All stop! Rig the ship for silent running.”

“Sir?”

“You heard my orders, Mr. Hollis.”

“Aye sir! Chief of the Boat, all stop. Rig the boat for silent running.”

“Sonar, conn, range to target?”

“Conn, sonar, range is 22,000 and decreasing. Sir! I’m picking up something else.”

“Another contact?”

“Negative. I don’t know how to describe it. It’s like a vibration.”

“In the water?”

“No sir.”

“Then a surface contact?”

“It’s not that either, sir.”

Both Hollis and Deacon looked at each other at that reply.

“Then what or where is it?” Hollis asked.

“It’s like it’s in the air, hovering just above the surface. I know that sounds ridiculous, sir, but I don’t know how else to describe it…. wait a minute…splashes… two objects, big ones just entered the water. They’ve acquired the Russian sub, tacking and closing at an incredible rate, almost like underwater missiles.”

Suddenly the sonar operator screamed and ripped off his headphones. A moment later, the Texas pitched down and rolled onto her side as powerful shock waves shook her from nearly five miles away.

Despite the violence of the wave, the Texas slowly righted herself and no damage was reported other than the day’s lunch was now all over the deck.

“What was that?” Hollis shouted.”

“Bearing on the K-329?” Deacon asked

“The “hovering” sound is gone… and so is the Russian submarine.” The sonar operator said, looking up at the captain in surprise.

“Reacquire it,” Deacon ordered.

He readjusted his headset and equipment and listened intently for a moment. “There’s nothing to reacquire sir, the sub is just gone. I don’t hear the usual sounds of groaning metal as it twists in the pressure of the deep water as it descends. I don’t think there are any pieces big enough left to collapse into each other.”

The control room on the Texas was silent, stunned by the sudden and complete destruction of the Russian boat.

“Even several direct hits from our Mk 48 torpedoes would leave some of the hull sections intact. We don’t have any weapons that would produce the kind of destructive power we’ve just witnessed.”

“Then who has?” Hollis asked. “The Chinese?”

“Chief of the Boat, you have the conn. Maintain current position and stand the crew down from battle stations. Mr. Hollis, you’re with me,” Deacon ordered then went straight to his cabin.

“The question, Abe, may not be who, but perhaps what, sank the Russians,” Deacon said sitting at his desk in his cabin.

The First Officer just looked at the captain. “Sir?”

Deacon held up his hand. “I know what you’re thinking, but I haven’t lost my mind and I didn’t bang my head against the bulkhead. Humor me and just hear me out. We have no contact with anybody on any channels, Pearl Harbor looks to be completely destroyed and we’ve just seen a Russian sub blown out of the water with the likes of something we have never seen before.”

“You’re not talking about…aliens, are you sir?” Hollis shook his head and sat down. “I don’t know, Brett, I’m not quite ready to believe in little green men yet.”

“And neither am I, but right now that’s the only explanation that seems to fit. But what I do know is that we are in a state of war and we need answers. We’ll make our way to Pearl, listening all the way and drop a shore party to investigate.”

The Texas quietly arrived off Pearl Harbor early the next day but stayed submerged, listening for any signs of life or hints of threats. Deacon sent two teams of four divers each to scout the harbor and surrounding area at nightfall.

Early the next morning when the teams returned, Deacon met them in the recovery room, not even giving them a chance to change out of their wetsuits before he got their report.

“What do you have, Lieutenant?” Deacon asked, barley giving the man a chance to take off his facemask.

“It’s bad sir. It’s like a ghost town up there sir, both on and off base, we couldn’t find any people…alive that is. The entire base at Pearl has been destroyed and most of the surrounding city, but it’s funny, parts of the city are untouched, looking like something out of a travel brochure. There’s no sign of radiation so no nukes were used, but the extent of the destruction is unimaginable. We found this,” he said, handing the captain a satchel, “in what looked like some sort of aircraft, but it was like nothing I have ever seen before.”

Thank you, Lieutenant, I’ll want a full report on my desk in an hour.”

Deacon sat in his tiny cabin with his first officer reading the scouts’ reports and drinking coffee. Hollis noticed Deacon take something out of his desk drawer. “You’re not seriously going to eat that are you? It’s got to be what, at least three months old?”

Deacon carefully unwrapped a powdered doughnut and dunked it into his coffee. “I put it in the freezer on our second day out and was saving it. Now seems to be as good a time as any to eat it. Who knows?” He said shrugging his shoulders. “This could be the last one I get for a very long time.”

Deacon took a bite then set it on a napkin. “I don’t think we have much choice here, Abe. The information we got from the shore parties has brought up more questions than answers. I think we need to go to the West Coast.”

“That’s a pretty big risk sir.”

“I know, but I don’t think we have any other choice. We’ve got to know what’s going on. Pearl may be an isolated incident, a specific case of terrorism, but I really don’t think so. Besides, we’re going to be running out of supplies pretty soon and I think we’ll have a better chance of getting what we need and a better chance of collecting useful information if we head for the mainland.

“Aye sir. I’ll get us underway immediately. You want to head to Bangor or San Diego?”

“Take us south, I don’t want to be caught in the shallows of the Puget Sound.”

“California, here we come.”

Tension on the Texas was at an all-time high. Deacon had never seen his crew so worried, but then again, they had never been in a situation like this before. None of their training could have prepared them for this. But he also knew that they weren’t worried for themselves so much as they were for their families. The utter destruction of Pearl Harbor made everyone wonder who or what they were facing. He knew his crew were trained professionals and would handle themselves accordingly; still this unknown threat was weighing heavily on everyone’s mind. Right now he knew the Texas was his country’s best hope, but he refused to believe that they were its only hope. They couldn’t be alone…could they?

That day the boat was unusually quiet, and the somber mood carried over into the mid- watch. But at 2100 hours the silence was shattered.
***

Pretty cool so far, right? 🙂 You’ll just have to wait until Friday for the conclusion!

And now here’s the second of Paul’s guest-blogs, giving us some more insight into the writing of and research behind Annihilation. 🙂

***
When writing a story, whether long or short, research is always very important. I love digging and poking around, finding little tidbits of information to throw into a story. For me, the hard part is deciding how much to put in and how much to leave out, what is necessary for the story and what I think is just plain cool.

Annihilation, is a story about a United States nuclear powered submarines and I came across some interesting facts about the history of submarines.
The first US Navy submarine was purchased in 1900 for around $150,000 ($4 million today.) it had a crew of 6, was 53 feet long, weighed 63 tons (a modern Abrams battle tank weighs 67 tons) and could dive to a depth of 75 feet and travel at 6 knots.

Forty years later, the WWII Gato class submarine was the backbone of the US Pacific Fleet. It weighed 1500 tons, had a crew of 60 and was 311 feet long. It had a test depth of 300 feet and had 10 torpedo tubes and could make 21 knots on the surface and 9 knots submerged.

In the story, the USS Texas is a Virginia class attack submarine. It weighs in at a whopping 7800 tons, is 377 feet long with a crew of 135. Test depth is 800 feet and she can do more than 25 knots and breaks the bank at $1.8 billion and is armed with nuclear weapons. But one of the innovations I found most interesting is the fact that it does not have a traditional periscope.

Instead of mirrors and lenses, the sub utilizes a pair of telescoping masts with each mast containing high-resolution cameras, infrared sensors and infrared laser rangefinder. All the information is displayed on more than a dozen LCD screens throughout the control center. Talk about your ultimate video game!

As you can see there is a lot of information to be had, but just how much is really needed for the story? It’s a constant battle for me to choose what the reader needs to know for the story and what is interesting, cool, but unnecessary clutter. You be the judge.
There are some other interesting facts in the story, but I can’t mention them here as I would have to make a spoiler alert, so you’ll just have to keep reading.
***

Don’t forget to check out Paul’s website, and for those who would rather finish Annihilation (and the rest of the tales in the Act of God collection) on their eReaders, follow this link to purchase your copies at Amazon US. 🙂

Until Friday’s EPIC conclusion,

Be (well, er) EPIC!

 
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Posted by on September 5, 2012 in Excerpt, Fiction Post

 

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Free SF Reading: Annihilation by Paul Byers – Part One

I’ve got some great Free Reading for you today, courtesy of Paul Byers . 🙂

Today, Wednesday and Friday I’ll be posting the story, Annihilation, one of the tales in Paul’s Science Fiction short story collection, Act of God. I’ll leave my review of the tale until Friday, when everyone’s had a chance to read it, but I guess the fact that I’m posting Annihilation says enough, doesn’t it? 🙂

As well as posting the tale for you to read, Paul has also contributed three guest-posts, which I’ll attach at the end of every tale-section. 🙂

So, let’s get to it, shall we?

Annihilation by Paul Byers (Part One)

“The last of the shore support crew has disembarked and all provisions have been stowed below.”

“Thank you XO,” The Captain said. “You know,” he continued, “I really hate taking on this many supplies and having to stack boxes in the passageways. Having to walk on our dinner just isn’t very appetizing. It looks like a sidewalk sale at K-mart down there. And whose bright idea was it to stuff that bag of oranges up in the piping outside the officers’ quarters anyway?” I’ve nearly hit my head on that bag twice.

“No doubt an enlisted man sir,” the XO replied with a straight face.

Captain Brett Deacon smiled at his Executive Officer, Lieutenant Commander Abe Hollis.

“One hundred days’ worth of food, ten more than normal, for 130 men is a lot of chow sir. “ Hollis replied.

“True. Just tell the crew to tread lightly on my dinner; I want grill marks on my steak, not footprints. Oh, and take that sack of oranges down before someone gets hurt. I’d hate to have to sign a report from sickbay about a crewman who couldn’t report for duty because of a sack of fruit.”

Hollis smiled. “Yes sir. Any idea where we’re going? It’s highly unusual not to have our orders before we leave port.”

Deacon shook his head. “I know. I hate all this cloak and dagger stuff myself. Go west, is the only thing I know right now. I couldn’t say much as Admiral Martin himself gave me the orders. Our operational orders are down in my safe and to add to the mystery, I’m not to open them until we’re ten miles out and 300 feet down. You’ll know as soon as I do.”

“Madman Martin himself gave you the orders?”

“Yup,” Deacon nodded.

“Is it true how he got his nickname? That when he was shot down over Vietnam and captured, that he acted insane and was able to overpower two guards and escape because the VC didn’t think he was dangerous?”

Deacon nodded again, then added, “That’s what I hear, but if you ever want to get a boat of your own, I wouldn’t be calling him ‘Madman’ to his face.”

“True,” Hollis reflected, then continued, “but they’re still damn odd orders.”

“That they are XO, that they are.”

Deacon inhaled deeply, drawing in the fresh air, enjoying the earthy smells of the island itself and the gentle fragrance of its famous orchids. Like the warmth of the sun, the smell and taste of fresh air would soon be a fading memory.

“Cast off bow and stern lines.” Deacon called down from the bridge in the sail, his mind back on business. “Ahead slow until we clear the mooring then five knots through the channel.”

“Aye sir.” Hollis responded, then echoed the orders to the helm.

The USS Texas slipped from her berth at Pearl Harbor and glided gently through the channel, heading for the open waters of the blue Pacific.

“Attention starboard.” Deacon commanded. “Render honors.”

A muffled sound was heard as legs slapped together as the crew of the Texas went from parade rest and snapped crisply to attention and saluted. The crew lined the narrow deck of the sleek submarine, standing in reverent silence; all eyes focused on the oblong white building that came into view as they glided by.

The 184-foot-long building sat quietly above the calm harbor waters just off Ford Island in what used to be called Battleship Row. The unassuming building is visited by more than a million people each year who come to pay their respects to the final resting place of 1102 sailors, the memorial to the USS Arizona.

As soon as they had passed the famous WWII battleship, Deacon dismissed the crew to go below. They continued slowly on, now passing the USS Missouri on whose deck Japan surrendered, ending WWII. Deacon thought it rather fitting that two of the most famous ships in the Navy, representing both the beginning and ending of WWII, were moored so close to each other.

The seas were calm as the Texas cleared the harbor entrance and made her way into the vastness of the Pacific. Deacon watched as the water rolled up and over the graceful curves of the hull. He always thought that it was more natural for a submarine to move through the water rather than slice through it like the bow of a ship. He felt a tap on his shoulder and looked over to see Abe pointing to their starboard side. A school of about twelve dolphins were swimming beside them, darting in and out of the water, splashing like kids at the local swimming hole.

Deacon smiled; it was not only fun to watch as they played leapfrog with each other but it had always been seen by sailors, both modern and ancient as a good omen, and he was no exception. He watched them for another few minutes but knew the time had come. With one more glance at the sun to hold its memory and drawing in a deep breath, he turned to Abe.

“Take her down XO.”

“Aye sir.” Hollis reached over and hit the alarm. “Dive, dive, dive!” The klaxon sounded and the two lookouts who had been on the bridge quickly disappeared down the hatchway, followed by the XO. Just before Deacon pulled the hatch closed to seal them in, he heard a cry of a lone sea gull, as if it were saying good bye.

He smiled as he closed the hatch and the Texas disappeared under the waves into her true element. The Texas was a Virginia Class fast attack boat and was a far cry from the first US submarine, the USS Holland, that first sailed in 1900. From a crew of seven, a top speed of 6 knots and armed with one 18-inch torpedo tube to a 377-foot-long, 7800-ton nuclear vessel capable of striking targets on 75% of the earth’s land masses. Her only limitation was the amount of food she could carry for her crew.

“Conn, set course 270 degrees, set depth at 300 feet.”

“Course 270 degrees, aye sir. Depth 300 feet, aye.” the helmsman echoed.

“XO, you have the conn, I’ll be in my cabin.”

“I have the conn.” Hollis replied, casting a quick, knowing glance at his captain.

With great anticipation, Deacon entered his cabin, locked the door and opened his safe. Twenty minutes later, he called for a meeting with his Executive Officer and the Chief of the Boat in the submarine’s tiny ward room. Deacon poured himself a cup of coffee, then poured one for each of his men.

“Is this about our orders sir?” the Chief said, grabbing a couple of sugar packets.

“What are you talking about Chief?”

“Scuttlebutt has it that this is some kind of top secret mission and that even you didn’t know what our orders were until you went to your safe a few minutes ago.”

Deacon started to say something but the Chief continued, not giving him the chance to speak. “And don’t even try to deny it sir; I saw the glance that the XO gave you.”

Deacon smiled. “You don’t miss much do you, Chief?”

“No sir I don’t, after all, this is my boat.”

Deacon laughed, “And I thought it was mine.”

“No sir.”

Deacon laughed even harder. “We’ll arm wrestle for her later. But it’s for that very reason of scuttlebutt that, yes, we did receive our orders while we were underway.” He took a sip of his coffee then continued. “Naval Intelligence has learned than China has completed a new fast attack boat.”

“What’s new about that skipper?” Hollis asked. “China or Russia or somebody is always coming up with something new.”

“True, but Intel thinks they have some new propulsion design that’s supposed to make it quieter than our boats. And since we have the quietest boats in the world, that could pose a major threat. We’re to wait for her to slip out of the Yulin Naval base on Hainan Island and track her once she hits the open sea.

“If their new boat is quieter than we are, then the information we gather would be invaluable. COMSUBPAC wants to make sure we aren’t followed in either direction, so we’re to take an indirect rout, both going in and coming home. We don’t want to give the Chinese or the Russians, who you know we might run into, any idea of what we’re up to. That’s why we have all the extra stores. Mission length is expected to be right around the 100 day mark.”

Deacon paused and got up and looked in one of the pantries and a frown creased his brow. It turned into a major scowl when he opened a second cupboard door and didn’t find what he was looking for.

“No doughnuts? One hundred days at sea and no doughnuts? What’s this?” he said as he pulled out a small box and read the label. “Decadent Chocolate Biscotti, less than 100 calories per bar, individually wrapped, all natural. What is this junk? Who brought this aboard my boat?”

“Some of the crew wanted something a little healthier, sir.” Hollis began but was cut off as the captain continued ranting.

“Healthy? I’ll give them healthy. Chief of the Boat!” He said in his command voice. “Effective immediately, I want you to begin a new, intensive regimen of PT for the entire crew.”

“Yes sir!” the Chief barked back, doing his best to hide a smile.

“Healthy, I’ll show them healthy.” Deacon muttered as he threw the box back on the shelf.

“Sir,” Hollis began, “the doughnuts are on the other side.”

“They are?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Chief of the Boat!”

“Yes sir!”

“Belay that last order.”

“Yes sir!”

Deacon grabbed his favorite, an apple fritter, refilled his coffee, and then sat back down and continued. “This mission should prove to be both exciting and tedious at the same time. We will be playing cat-and-mouse with a new and unknown menace and it is an honor for our boat to be selected to gather this vital information.

“Secrecy is paramount for our mission so we will maintain radio silence for the entire duration of the mission. We don’t want a stray communication to be intercepted and tip our hand to the Chinese. Any questions? Good, let’s go track us a submarine.”

End of Part One

And here’s the first of Paul’s guest-posts:

***
Here are a few thoughts and comments I’ve put together about, Annihilation, one of the stories from my collection of sci-fi shorts, Act of God. These comments are about how writing short stories differs from writing full length novels,about research that went into this particular story and about writing science fiction.

There are pros and cons,similarities and differences between writing short stories and full length novels, and as a writer, I enjoy both. Both must have a good storylines and both should be built around honest, believable characters.

For me, I find that one of the biggest draws as a writer for the short story is that you can take greater risks with the story and get a greater pay off at the end. With the short, you can built it up relatively quickly and at the last possible moment, hang a sharp right with a surprise ending that you couldn’t do in a full length story. In a novel, you would either see the twist coming a mile away or else it would lose most of its punch.
While as I said earlier, good characters are important to both types of stories, the novel gives you the room and freedom to fully develop your characters with backstories and motivations while shorts, as a general rule, are more story driven.

From the practical standpoint, short stories are popular for our busy lifestyles, allowing the reader to enjoy themselves without the commitment of a novel. As a writer, it is quicker to write, though not necessarily easier, plus it gives us a chance to break out of our usual genre and try something new.
***

To order your copies of Acts of God, featuring Annihilation and much more, click here for Amazon US. 🙂 That’s it for today – come back on Wednesday for Part 2 of Annihilation and the second of Paul’s guest-blogs. 🙂

Until then,
Be EPIC!

 
1 Comment

Posted by on September 3, 2012 in Excerpt, Fiction Post

 

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Excerpt: Deadlands by Lily Herne

Hey Everyone! 🙂

I’ve got permission from Penguin Books SA to post an excerpt of Deadlands by Lily Herne for you! In case you missed the review which I posted yesterday, read it here. 🙂

Deadlands should be on the shelves in practically every good bookshop across South Africa, and if it isn’t, give ’em a piece of your mind! 😉

Without further a-do, here’s the excerpt:

 

(This excerpt is from Chapter Eight)

When I arrived home, brain buzzing with the day’s events, Dad was on his way out of the house. It was strange to see him without the Mantis hovering behind him.

‘Lele.’ He nodded at me as if we were just acquaintances instead of father and daughter. ‘School okay?’

I shrugged. ‘Dad, can I ask you a question?’

‘Sure.’

‘Do you really believe life is better now?’

‘What do you mean?’

‘Was life really so bad before the Rotters came?’

He shrugged. ‘There were problems, yes. Violence, of course. HIV. Unemployment. Drugs. Poverty.’

He sounded like one of the crap pamphlets the Resurrectionists handed out at their rallies. ‘So you’re saying that you really believe we’re better off? I mean, even though we can’t leave the enclave, and with the Lottery and everything?’

He plucked at the empty arm of his jacket. ‘In some ways, yes.’

‘But how can you say that after Mom . . . And after what the Guardians did to Jobe!’

He sighed. ‘There is always a price to pay, Lele.’

‘What kind of answer is that?’

‘I have to go,’ he said.

‘Where to?’

‘I’m on fence patrol tonight.’

I shivered. News of the city’s Rotter break-in four years earlier had reached the Agriculturals, and the thought of it had given me nightmares ever since. A pack of Rotters had slipped through a hole in the fence at the far reaches of the city and gone on a killing spree before the Guardians finally showed up and stopped them.

‘Checking to see the Rotters don’t break in?’ I said.

Dad sighed. ‘Don’t let your mother hear you calling them that, Lele.’

‘She’s not my mother.’

He sighed again. ‘I must go. I’m going to be late.’

I watched him walk away, shoulders hunched like a far older man, before heading for my room.

Jobe and Chinwag were already snoozing on my bed, curled up together, Jobe’s hand lightly clasping the kitten’s front paw. Carefully, so as not to wake them, I got down on my hands and knees and rummaged under the bed for Gran’s old leather suitcase. It was filled with the stuff she’d managed to salvage during the War. Unzipping it, I lifted out the dress that was folded on top – the one Mom had worn when she and Dad had gone to their Matric dance a million years earlier. It was made of shiny emerald green material that caught the light and seemed to shimmer like a reflection on water. It was no longer wearable, the fabric had given way to time in places, but it still smelled very faintly of perfume and smoke – my mother’s scent. That was all I had of her. No memories; I couldn’t remember her at all, not even a little bit. I didn’t even have a photograph of her as they’d all been destroyed in the fire that had ravaged the city.

I dug out my old history book, and climbed onto the bed next to Jobe. He muttered something in his sleep, but I couldn’t make out the words clearly. Then he snuggled closer to Chinwag, and his eyelids flickered as if he was dreaming.

I paged through to my favourite section – the first-person anecdotes. The first one was the story of Jacob White, the guy who had worked in the city morgue. He’d been one of the first to discover the reanimated corpses. No one had believed Jacob at first, thought he was on drugs and seeing things, and he’d only managed to get away at the last minute, climbing through the narrow window in the morgue toilets after being trapped in a stall for hours. Next there was the account of a rich businesswoman who’d evaded the dead for two weeks, sealed in the living room of her Camps Bay mansion, living off tins of asparagus and packets of cashew nuts, the reanimated corpses of her chauffeur and housekeeper moaning at her from outside the locked door. Some were too awful to read again, like the eyewitness account of someone who had seen a group of religious fanatics rushing out to greet the dead, convinced that this was the coming of the Rapture, only to be turned into more walking corpses. Or the stories of the mass suicides that had taken place in the wealthy suburbs and the unstoppable fires that had raged through Langa and Gugulethu, destroying the dead and living alike.

I flipped through to my favourite story.

Name: Levi Sole

Occupation: Schoolchild

Age: 14

Nationality: Malawian

NOTE: Levi was questioned three months after he and his father were relocated to the Cape Town city enclave. His story begins after they were rescued from the informal settlement fires that raged through the city two days after the dead started rising.

After the fire started, we escaped to the big soccer stadium. All around us the city burned; even the mountain was on fire. The smoke was so thick in the air that many of us were struggling to breathe. And the air was hot, like it was the middle of summer. But the heavy smoke meant that we did not have to see the horrible things on the roads. I mean, I was trying to be brave. I was too old to be scared, but I was glad for the smoke. Already I had seen my neighbour struck down, her stomach spilling from between her fingers, and then, as she stood up again, her eyes rolled back in her head as if she was mad. And with her guts outside her body, she walked away. Impossible things were happening.

When we arrived at the stadium my father and I spent many hours looking around for my brother, but he had been taken away on one of the other buses, and we could not find him.

We never found him.

There were so many of us! Most, like me, came from Khayelitsha; others from all over Cape Town. There were white people, black people, coloured people, refugees like us from Zimbabwe, the DRC and Malawi, rich tourists who had come out here for the World Cup soccer, old people, children, babies (some without mothers), sick people and the dying. We stayed there for three weeks, fighting off the Dead Ones who managed to break in. Many of us died. But the Dead Ones weren’t our only problem. We had very little food and water, and the smell of the toilets was terrible. It was bad, and many got sick. And then, just when we thought we would starve to death, just when some were saying that they would kill themselves, the first of the Guardians came to us. We didn’t know what to think of them at first. Whether to trust them or not. We knew, in our hearts, that they were not people like us, but they did not try to kill us like the Dead Ones. They wore robes like priests and did not speak to us. But they brought us food. There were many fights at first over the food, but those who caused trouble were taken away quickly. At first people called them the Shepherds, as they would guard us from the Dead Ones, as if we were sheep. But then people started to call them the Guardians.

Then we were moved out of the city, and the stadium was destroyed. Some were taken far away, to the agricultural enclaves, but me and my father, we were brought to what was to become the city enclave. At first we did not recognise where we were. The ground was black and burned, the buildings and many of the trees were gone. Then we realised! We were back in Khayelitsha! The first thing we did was try to find our old house, but nothing was the same.

At first life was like being back in the refugee camps, like the one my father and I came to when we left Malawi for the first time, and where we were sent for a short time in Messina. We all had to camp together in these very large army tents and those who were not injured were sent to work. I was sent to work building the fence – which was small at first, not like it is today. After all this time, I do not know if the fence was created to keep us in, or to keep the dead out. But either way, I was helping to build a prison, of that I am sure.

Some say it is aliens that made the dead wake up. Or maybe it was an angry god or demons. Just like some say that it is God who sent the Guardians to save us. Like I have said, I have seen many terrible things during this time and life will never be as it was. You see –

My door creaked open, and I quickly shoved the book under my pillow.

‘Are you awake, Leletia?’ The Mantis entered the room.

‘Yeah,’ I said.

‘Were you reading something?’ she asked. She never missed a trick.

‘Just history homework,’ I said.

‘I see. And why would you want to hide that?’

Crap. I had to think fast. ‘I thought you’d be angry if you saw I was still awake?’

‘But it’s still early. And you didn’t eat supper.’

‘Not hungry.’

‘Everything okay at school?’

‘Fine.’

She was looking slightly antsy about something, which wasn’t like her at all. ‘The embassy is showing a film tomorrow evening,’ she said. ‘I thought it would be nice if all of us went together.’

What she meant was that it would look weird if I didn’t show my face – I knew she wanted everyone to think we were some sort of happy family.

‘Okay,’ I said. The thought of seeing a movie again was too much of a temptation to resist.

‘Wonderful!’ she smiled at me. She didn’t look like such a bitch when she smiled.

‘Is that it?’ I asked.

‘Leletia, it would mean so much to your father if we could just get along.’

‘Okay,’ I said, remembering Thabo’s advice from earlier in the day to ‘play their game’. ‘That’s fine by me.’

The look of shocked surprise on her face almost made the lie worth it. But now there was something else on my mind. The thought of Thabo had made my stomach do that swooping thing. I remembered the feel of his breath on my cheek and his cute lopsided grin. And sometimes, I wasn’t absolutely sure, but sometimes I thought I could sense him looking at me.

‘Cleo? Can I ask you a question?’

‘Sure.’

This was embarrassing. ‘How do you know if someone likes you?’

‘What do you mean, Lele? You mean, like a boy?’

‘Or a girl.’

She started slightly, but her smile didn’t slip. ‘I think the question you should ask yourself is if you like . . . this person,’ she said. She touched the area just below her ribs. ‘You feel it here. Your stomach dances, and if it lasts for more than a week, then you could have something special.’

‘Okaaaay,’ I said. ‘But what if he – or she – likes you. How can you tell?’

‘You can see it in their eyes. They flicker. Like a light going on.’ The Mantis’s voice had become almost dreamy, and for a couple of seconds I thought I could actually see what it was Dad saw in her.

‘Is that how you felt when you met Dad?’ I asked.

‘Yes,’ she said simply.

‘Thanks,’ I said, faking a yawn. There was no way we were going to get all pally-pally suddenly. She could forget that idea. ‘I should get some sleep.’

‘Sure,’ she said. ‘Good night, Leletia – Lele.’

She crept out, closing the door softly behind her. As soon as she was gone I pulled the book out from underneath the pillow and turned back to the page I had been reading. One day, I thought, I’d like to meet the guy who wrote this story. Go up to him and say, thanks. Thanks for being honest and not messing with the truth.

Hope you enjoyed that! You can read another excerpt of Deadlands over at Book SA – just follow this link. 🙂

Remember, Deadlands is available right now, so make sure you get your copy ASAP; you can also order your copy from Exclusive Books’ through their website at this link.

Be EPIC!

 
3 Comments

Posted by on March 2, 2011 in Excerpt

 

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