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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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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!

 
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Posted by on March 2, 2011 in Excerpt

 

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I Am Number Four by Pittacus Lore: Excerpts – Chapter 2 and Chapter 3

Before you start reading this, follow this link to read the prologue and first chapter of I Am Number Four. 🙂

Read it? Then let’s carry on, shall we?

The events in this book are real.
Names and places have been changed to protect the lorien six, who remain in hiding.
Take this as your first warning.
Other civilizations do exist.
Some of them seek to destroy you.

CHAPTER TWO

I stand in the middle of the drive and stare up at the house. It is light pink, almost like cake frosting, sitting ten feet above the ground on wooden stilts. A palm tree sways in the front. In the back of the house a pier extends twenty yards into the Gulf of Mexico. If the house were a mile to the south, the pier would be in the Atlantic Ocean.

Henri walks out of the house carrying the last of the boxes, some of which were never unpacked from our last move. He locks the door, then leaves the keys in the mail slot beside it. It is two o’clock in the morning. He is wearing khaki shorts and a black polo. He is very tan, with an unshaven face that seems downcast. He is also sad to be leaving. He tosses the final boxes into the back of the truck with the rest of our things.

“That’s it,” he says.

I nod. We stand and stare up at the house and listen to the wind come through the palm fronds. I am holding a bag of celery in my hand.

“I’ll miss this place,” I say. “Even more than the others.”
“Me too.”
“Time for the burn?”
“Yes. You want to do it, or you want me to?”
“I’ll do it.”

Henri pulls out his wallet and drops it on the ground. I pull out mine and do the same. He walks to our truck and comes back with passports, birth certificates, social security cards, checkbooks, credit cards and bank cards, and drops them on the ground. All of the documents and materials related to our identities here, all of them forged and manu-factured. I grab from the truck a small gas can we keep for emergencies. I pour the gas over the small pile. My current name is Daniel Jones. My story is that I grew up in California and moved here because of my dad’s job as a computer programmer. Daniel Jones is about to disappear. I light a match and drop it, and the pile ignites. Another one of my lives, gone. As we always do, Henri and I stand and watch the fire. Bye, Daniel, I think, it was nice knowing you. When the fi re burns down, Henri looks over at me.

“We gotta go.”
“I know.”
“These islands were never safe. They’re too hard to leave quickly, too hard to escape from. It was foolish of us to come here.”

I nod. He is right, and I know it. But I’m still reluctant to leave. We came here because I wanted to, and for the fi rst time, Henri let me choose where we were going. We’ve been here nine months, and it’s the longest we have stayed in any one place since leaving Lorien. I’ll miss the sun and the warmth. I’ll miss the gecko that watched from the wall each morning as I ate breakfast. Though there are literally millions of geckos in south Florida, I swear this one follows me to school and seems to be everywhere I am. I’ll miss the thunderstorms that seem to come from out of nowhere, the way everything is still and quiet in the early-morning hours before the terns arrive. I’ll miss the dolphins that some-times feed when the sun sets. I’ll even miss the smell of sulfur from the rotting seaweed at the base of the shore, the way that it fills the house and penetrates our dreams while we sleep.

“Get rid of the celery and I’ll wait in the truck,” Henri says. “Then it’s time.”

I enter a thicket of trees off to the right of the truck. There are three Key deer already waiting. I dump the bag of celery out at their feet and crouch down and pet each of them in turn. They allow me to, having long gotten over their skittishness. One of them raises his head and looks at me. Dark, blank eyes staring back. It almost feels as though he passes something to me. A shudder runs up my spine. He drops his head and continues eating.

“Good luck, little friends,” I say, and walk to the truck and climb into the passenger seat.

We watch the house grow smaller in the side mirrors until Henri pulls onto the main road and the house disappears. It’s a Saturday. I wonder what’s happening at the party without me. What they’re saying about the way that I left and what they’ll say on Monday when I’m not at school. I wish I could have said good-bye. I’ll never see anyone I knew here ever again. I’ll never speak to any of them. And they’ll never know what I am or why I left. After a few months, or maybe a few weeks, none of them will probably ever think of me again.

Before we get on the highway, Henri pulls over to gas up the truck. As he works the pump, I start looking through an atlas he keeps on the middle of the seat. We’ve had the atlas since we arrived on this planet. It has lines drawn to and from every place we’ve ever lived. At this point, there are lines crisscrossing all of the United States. We know we should get rid of it, but it’s really the only piece of our life together that we have. Normal people have photos and videos and journals; we have the atlas. Picking it up and looking through it, I can see Henri has drawn a new line from Florida to Ohio. When I think of Ohio, I think of cows and corn and nice people. I know the license plate says
THE HEART OF IT ALL. What “All” is, I don’t know, but I guess I’ll find out.

Henri gets back into the truck. He has bought a couple of sodas and a bag of chips. He pulls away and starts heading toward U.S. 1, which will take us north. He reaches for the atlas.

“Do you think there are people in Ohio?” I joke.
He chuckles. “I would imagine there are a few. And we might even get lucky and fi nd cars and TV there, too.”
I nod. Maybe it won’t be as bad as I think.
“What do you think of the name ‘John Smith’?” I ask.
“Is that what you’ve settled on?”
“I think so,” I say. I’ve never been a John before, or a Smith.
“It doesn’t get any more common than that. I would say it’s a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Smith.”
I smile. “Yeah, I think I like ‘John Smith.’”
“I’ll create your forms when we stop.”

A mile later we are off the island and cruising across the bridge. The waters pass below us. They are calm and the moonlight is shimmering on the small waves, creating dapples of white in the crests. On the right is the ocean, on the left is the gulf; it is, in essence, the same water, but with two different names. I have the urge to cry, but I don’t. It’s not that
I’m necessarily sad to leave Florida, but I’m tired of running. I’m tired of dreaming up a new name every six months. Tired of new houses, new schools. I wonder if it’ll ever be possible for us to stop.

CHAPTER THREE

We pull off for food and gas and new phones. We go to a truck stop, where we eat meat loaf and macaroni and cheese, which is one of the few things Henri acknowledges as being superior to anything we had on Lorien. As we eat, he creates new documents on his
laptop, using our new names. He’ll print them when we arrive, and as far as anyone will know, we’ll be who we say we are.

“You’re sure about John Smith?” he says.
“Yeah.”
“You were born in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.”
I laugh. “How did you come up with that?”

He smiles and motions towards two women sitting a few booths away. Both of them are extremely hot. One of them is wearing a T-shirt that reads WE DO IT BETTER IN TUSCALOOSA.

“And that’s where we’re going next,” he says.
“As weird as it may sound, I hope we stay in Ohio for a long time.”
“Really. You like the idea of Ohio?”
“I like the idea of making some friends, of going to the same school for more than a few months, of maybe actually having a life. I started to do it in Florida. It was sort of great, and for the first time since we’ve been on Earth, I felt almost normal. I want to find somewhere and stay somewhere.”

Henri looks thoughtful. “Have you looked at your scars today?”
“No, why?”
“Because this isn’t about you. This is about the survival of our race, which was almost entirely obliterated, and about keeping you alive. Every time one of us dies—every time one of you, the Garde, dies—our chances diminish. You’re Number Four; you’re next in line. You have an entire race of vicious murderers hunting you. We’re leaving at the first sign of trouble, and I’m not going to debate it with you.”

Henri drives the entire time. Between breaks and the creation of the new documents, it takes about thirty hours. I spend most of the time napping or playing video games. Because of my reflexes, I can master most of the games quickly. The longest it has taken me to beat any of them is about a day. I like the alien war and space games the best. I pretend I’m back on Lorien, fighting Mogadorians, cutting them down, turning them to ash. Henri thinks it’s weird and tries to discourage me from doing it. He says we need to live in the real world, where war and death are a reality, not pretend. As I finish my latest game, I look up. I’m tired of sitting in the truck. The clock on the dash reads 7:58. I yawn, wipe my eyes.

“How much farther?”
“We’re almost there,” Henri says.

It is dark out, but there is a pale glow to the west. We pass by farms with horses and cattle, then barren fields, and beyond those, it’s trees as far as the eye can see. This is exactly what Henri wanted, a quiet place to go unnoticed. Once a week he scours the internet for six, seven, eight hours at a time to update a list of available homes around the country that fit his criteria: isolated, rural, immediate availability. He told me it took four tries—one call to South Dakota, one to New Mexico, one to Arkansas—until he had the rental where we’re going to live now.

A few minutes later we see scattered lights that announce the town. We pass a sign that reads:

WELCOME TO PARADISE, OHIO,
POPULATION 5,243

“Wow,” I say. “This place is even smaller than where we stayed in Montana.”
Henri is smiling. “Who do you think it’s paradise for?”
“Cows, maybe? Scarecrows?”

We pass by an old gas station, a car wash, a cemetery. Then the houses begin, clapboard houses spaced thirty or so feet apart. Halloween decorations hang in the windows of most of them. A sidewalk cuts through small yards leading to the front doors. A traffic circle sits in the center of town, and in the middle of it is a statue of a man on horseback holding a sword. Henri stops. We both look at it and laugh, though we’re laughing because we hope no one else with swords ever shows up here. He continues around the circle and once we’re through it, the dashboard GPS system tells us to make a turn. We begin heading west, out of town.

We drive for four miles before turning left onto a gravel road, then pass open cut fields that are probably full of corn in the summer, then through a dense forest for about a mile. And then we fi nd it, tucked away in overgrown vegetation, a rusted silver mailbox with black lettering painted on the side of it that reads 17 OLD MILL RD.

“The closest house is two miles away,” he says, turning in. Weeds grow throughout the gravel drive, which is littered with potholes fi lled with tawny water. He comes to a stop and turns the truck off.

“Whose car is that?” I ask, nodding to the black SUV Henri has just parked behind.
“I’m assuming the real-estate agent’s.”

The house stands silhouetted by trees. In the dark there is an eerie look to it, like whoever last lived in it was scared away, or was driven away, or ran away. I get out of the truck. The engine ticks and I can feel the heat coming off of it. I grab my bag from the bed and stand there holding it.

“What do you think?” Henri asks.

The house is one story. Wooden clapboard. Most of the white paint has been chipped away. One of the front windows is broken. The roof is covered with black shingles
that look warped and brittle. Three wooden stairs lead to a small porch covered with rickety chairs. The yard itself is long and shaggy. It’s been a very long time since the grass was last mowed.

“It looks like Paradise,” I say.

We walk up together. As we do, a well-dressed blond woman around Henri’s age comes out of the doorway. She’s wearing a business suit and is holding a clipboard and folder; a BlackBerry is clipped to the waist of her skirt. She smiles.

“Mr. Smith?”
“Yes,” says Henri.
“I’m Annie Hart, the agent from Paradise Realty. We spoke on the phone. I tried calling you earlier but your phone seemed to be turned off.”
“Yes, of course. The battery unfortunately died on the way here.”
“Ah, I just hate when that happens,” she says, and walks towards us and shakes Henri’s hand. She asks me my name and I tell her, though I am tempted, as I always am, to just say “Four.” As Henri signs the lease she asks me how old I am and tells me she has a daughter at the local high school about my age. She’s very warm, friendly, and clearly loves to chat. Henri hands the lease back and the three of us walk into the house.

Inside most of the furniture is covered with white sheets. Those that aren’t covered are coated with a thick layer of dust and dead insects. The screens in the windows look brittle to the touch, and the walls are covered with cheap plywood paneling. There are two bedrooms, a modest-sized kitchen with lime green linoleum, one bathroom. The living room is large and rectangular, situated at the front of the house. There’s a fireplace in the far corner. I walk through and toss my bag on the bed of the smaller room. There is a huge faded poster of a football player wearing a bright orange uniform. He’s in the middle of throwing a pass, and it looks like he’s about to get crushed by a massive man in
a black and gold uniform. It says BERNIE KOSAR, QUARTERBACK, CLEVELAND BROWNS.

“Come say good-bye to Mrs. Hart,” Henri yells from the living room.

Mrs. Hart is standing at the door with Henri. She tells me I should look for her daughter at school, that maybe we could be friends. I smile and say yes, that would be nice. After she leaves we immediately start unpacking the truck. Depending on how quickly we leave a place, we either travel very lightly—meaning the clothes on our back, Henri’s laptop and the intricately carved Loric Chest that goes everywhere with us—or we bring a few things—usually Henri’s extra computers and equipment, which he uses to set up a security perimeter and search the web for news and events that might be related to us. This time we have the Chest, the two high-powered computers, four TV monitors, and
four cameras. We also have some clothes, though not many of the clothes we wore in Florida are appropriate for life in Ohio. Henri carries the Chest to his room, and we lug all of the equipment into the basement, where he’ll set it up so no visitors will see it. Once everything is inside, he starts placing the cameras and turning on the monitors.

“We won’t have the internet here until the morning. But if you want to go to school tomorrow, I can print all of your new documents for you.”
“If I stay will I have to help you clean this place and finish the setup?”
“Yes.”
“I’ll go to school,” I say.
“Then you better get a good night’s sleep.”

Check back tomorrow for Chapter Four and Chapter Five. 🙂 Until then,

Be EPIC!

 
8 Comments

Posted by on July 30, 2010 in Fiction Post

 

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