Tag Archives: science fiction

Picher Perfect

The Lore:

Northeastern Oklahoma is often called “Green Country” due to the abundance of man made lakes and heavily treed, rolling hills. Tucked a few miles from the Kansas border lies Picher, a modern day ghost town described by one local news source as “The biggest environmental disaster you’ve never heard of”.

Picher is surrounded by huge piles of “chat” – white, chalky tailings – the aftermath of lead extraction from nearby mines. The small rock byproduct was used by local residents to fill their driveways. Children rode bicycles over the mounds. Picnics and family reunions were held there. The chat symbolized the town’s major employer and folks paid dutiful homage. They had no idea the towering mountains of rock concealed toxic hazards.

Nearly a hundred years of unrestricted subsurface excavation eventually destroyed Picher and left many adults and children with physical and developmental disabilities.

It all started in 1913 when zinc and lead were discovered in the area. The town sprang up overnight and was named after O. S. Picher, owner of the Picher Lead Company. By the 1920’s, the population neared 15,000 – with more workers commuting from other communities to labor in the mine or for service-related businesses. Lead and zinc mining consumed the tri-state corner consisting of Oklahoma, Missouri and Kansas – and Picher was the crown jewel, producing more than $20 billion in ore over a thirty-year span. Fifty percent of the bullets used by the U.S. military during World War I came from the Picher mine. Production surged again during World War II.

The mine waste, or chat mounds – some as high as 150 feet tall, were piled all over Picher. They shadowed residential neighborhoods, schools, churches, and businesses. Fine, toxic dust blew over the town – and residents breathed it on a daily basis.

Water runoff from rain polluted the area’s creeks and water supplies. When mining finally ceased around 1970, underground tunnels were no longer pumped out. They eventually filled with even more toxic wastewater, infiltrating trees and soil.

Perhaps the worst consequence of the mine operations was the subsurface excavations. The huge caverns were tunneled so close to the surface; tree roots were later discovered in the roof of some of the shafts. Parts of Picher began to collapse into deep sinkholes. The Army Corps of Engineers determined 86 percent of the town’s structures were in danger of caving in.

Creeks where residents had gathered for swimming and fishing were contaminated by cadmium and arsenic. The people didn’t know. They attributed their chaffed, red skin to sunburn, not realizing it was actually chemical burn. Cancer in residents skyrocketed.

The EPA finally labeled Picher as a Superfund site – which means it was too toxic to clean up. Federal buyouts began with the government paying people to relocate. Even then, a handful of residents refused to leave.

It wasn’t until a destructive tornado hit the area in 2009 that the town ceased municipal operations.

Today, Picher is a modern ghost town. Tar Creek continues to run red from metal contamination. Chat piles, though not as tall, still dot the landscape. The clean-up and reclamation project is moving at a snail’s pace. It could be twenty or thirty years before the area is habitable again.

Read more about Picher and other strange tales in ROAD TALES, Myth, Lore and Curiosities from America’s Back Roads. 

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The Story:

Picher Perfect

by Debra S. Sanders

“Oh, lawdy, I’m a dyin’ and ain’t nobody can save me.”

Dolly Mae Jarvis rocked back and forth, wrapping her arms across her stomach. The pain in her belly grew more intense with each breath, exacerbated by a thick, fetid salvia forming in her mouth. Her legs crumbled beneath her, sending her withering body to the floor.

It was the eighth attack in three months and the worse by far.

The first time, she thought premenstrual cramps had brought on the pain but it came at the wrong time of the month. A week later, it happened again – only this time it was so severe she spent the day in bed with a heating pad.

Her neighbor, a kindly old widow named Maude, tended to her with homemade soup and herbal tea. When that did little to ease her discomfort, Dolly went to the local clinic. Seventy-five dollars and a sympathetic smile later, she was told, “It’s stomach flu. Everybody’s got it. Just let it run its course.”

Dolly Mae went back to the clinic between attacks four and five. After extracting a vial of blood for tests, it was determined she was anemic. The doctor administered a B12 injection and sent her home.

During the seventh attack, the pain rendered Dolly unconscious. Maude called her mother, a woman devoid of parental instincts, and demanded she take the twins while Dolly Mae recuperated. It was a full week before the poor girl regained her strength, primarily due to Maude’s nurturing and home cooked meals.

But now she was back to square one, rolling from side to side, racked with pain and guilt. I’m dying. What will happen to my babies? They were only three. They needed her. She couldn’t die. Not yet. If anything happened to her, the state would surely send her children to foster care. Her mother wouldn’t take them and their daddy ran off a month after they were born. There was no one else but her to give them the love they deserved.

A tear trickled down her cheek.

“Dolly Mae! Oh dear, are you sick again?” Maude was at her side, smoothing the hair from her face. “C’mon, honey, let’s get you in bed.”

“Mama’s bringing the kids home tomorrow. How can I take care of them like this?” she sobbed.

“Tsk, tsk. Don’t you worry your pretty little head about those children. I’ll help you.”

“Who will raise them when I’m dead, Miss Maude?” The woman’s laughter irritated Dolly to the point that she rolled away in disgust.

“Look at me.” The sharp tone commanded obedience. Dolly rolled over, timidly meeting the woman’s stern expression. “You’re not going to die. Do you hear me?”

“The pain is awful. I can’t take much more.”

Maude’s face softened. “Do you want to get well? I can help but you must promise to follow my instructions without question.”

Dolly nodded. “I’ll do whatever you say.”

Maude placed her hands over Dolly’s stomach and closed her eyes. She began to hum a low, indistinct tune under her breath as she rotated the palms over her pelvic region then up to her sternum.

An intense heat flowed from the old woman’s hands even though they hovered a good four inches above the afflicted area. To Dolly’s amazement, the pain began to ebb. Minutes later, she sat up, feeling much better.

“Why ain’t you done that before?”

“You weren’t ready. This is only a temporary fix. You’re not healed yet. I need to get you on your feet for the next part. Are you sure you want to go through with this?”

“Yes, Miss Maude,” Dolly exclaimed enthusiastically. “Just tell me what to do.”

“Very well. I’ll have you in perfect health by tomorrow but you must do exactly what I say and not tell anyone about our plan. Do you promise?” The girl nodded. “I need a photograph from when you felt good. A time when you were smiling and happy. Then tonight, meet me at nine o’clock by the chat pile where the creek runs under the bridge. Bring a change of clothes. Something pretty.”

Dolly frowned. “I don’t understand. Why the chat pile? And why after dark?”

Maude tilted her head, shaking her finger. “No questions, remember?”

“Okay, sorry. I’ll be there and bring everything you said.”

“Good!” The older woman leaned in and kissed her cheek. “Not a word to anyone, dear.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

Dolly waited until her neighbor was gone before getting out of bed. None of the woman’s instructions made sense but it didn’t matter. Maude had made the pain go away. Dolly had heard stories of people laying hands on diseased folks. She reckoned Maude must be one of those gifted healers.

Fishing a shoebox from her closet, Dolly sorted through a stack of old photos until she found the one she wanted. She barely recognized the happy, smiling face. The picture was taken right after she met Ben . . . right before she became pregnant. At eighteen, she was the prettiest girl in Picher, Oklahoma and the photograph proved it. Black hair cascaded across slim shoulders, framing almond eyes and full lips.

Dolly always wondered if her dark, good looks was the reason for her mother’s hatred. She bore no resemblance to the blonde haired, blue eyed woman who gave her life, only to the man who drank himself to death and left his wife in a mountain of debt.

But on this day she basked in the glow of new love. Ben had just asked her to marry him and happiness shone in her face. It was exactly the kind of picture Maude wanted.

A few hours later, Dolly closed the small overnight bag on her bed and headed for the door. She’d carefully folded a pink floral dress and placed it inside. It was the only dress she owned but at least it was pretty.

At eight forty-five, she began the ten minute walk to the chat pile, using a flashlight to illuminate the darkened street. Half the residents of the small mining town had already moved away. More were planning to do the same because they believed the lies from a bunch of nosy environmentalists.

They said mining sludge had contaminated the water and ground. Ridiculous, Dolly sniffed, picking up her pace. It was because of them the mine closed down. People lost jobs. Those meddling no-gooders ruined the whole town.

She glanced at the glistening mountains to her right – mountains of tailing. They were a reminder what life had been like before the do-gooders showed up. Children played on those hills. Families gathered for picnics on Sunday afternoons. If taking a dip in the swimming hole at the end of a hot summer day was bad for folks, why hadn’t anyone complained before now?

Dolly arrived at the low bridge and turned right, following the uneven ground to the chat pile rimming the creek. She shone her flashlight near the pool of dark water and spied Maude standing at the edge.

“Hello, dear. You’re right on time.”

Dolly picked her way down the sloping bank. “I brought everything you asked. Here’s the picture.” She pulled the photograph from her pocket and handed it to the older woman.

Maude glanced at the glossy image and smiled. “It’s perfect!”

“So what now?”

She returned the photo. “Chew this up and swallow it.”

Dolly’s eyes widened. “I ain’t eating that.”

Maude arched a brow. “We discussed this, young lady. You promised to do exactly what I say. Don’t you want to feel better for your babies?”

Dolly nodded. Her shoulders rose and fell before tearing up the photograph and stuffing the remnants into her mouth. After a few minutes of vigorous chewing, she managed to swallow.

“Good girl. Now take off your clothes and step into the water. You can leave your underwear on.”

Dolly took a step back. “It’s cold! And I didn’t bring no towel.”

“You won’t need one. Trust me.”

After a moment of hesitation, Dolly began to undress. She’d come too far to stop now. The thought of those awful stomach pains spurred her into action. She dropped her jeans and sweater on the ground and stepped into the slow moving stream. “Brrrr, it’s freezing.”

An effervescent laugh trailed over the water. “Just wade in past your knees. That should be enough.”

Dolly did as the woman asked, moving her bare feet through the soft silt until the water lapped at her thighs. She wrapped her arms around a shivering torso, struggling to stay warm. Suddenly, something touched her ankle, slithering across her calf. Dolly squealed and twisted from side to side, searching the ripples. It had felt like a snake but Cottonmouths wouldn’t attack like that. She tried to step back. It was as if her feet had settled into quick sand.

“Miss Maude, help me! Something’s out here and I can’t move.”

“No worries, child. You’ll be fine.”

Her breath came in short spurts as she struggled to free herself. That thing was crawling up her leg, circling itself around her like a boa constrictor. Dolly thrashed her hands against the water, twisting violently until she lost balance and fell backwards. She went under. When she emerged, her feet came out of the water. They were covered in a black sludge.

Sputtering through a mouthful of water, she called out again. “Miss Maude . . . help me!”

“It’ll be over in a minute, dear. Try to stay calm.”

Dolly didn’t understand why the old woman just sat there. She managed to regain her footing and stood up. The sludge slid past her waist, climbing up her torso and arms . . . like it was alive. The pain in her stomach was back, ten times worse than it had ever been before. It was as if her insides were being shoved into her throat.

Dolly tried to scream but it was too late. The black substance covered her mouth, her nose, her eyes . . .

Maude hummed a little tune as she watched the sun rise above the chat pile. Another beautiful day. She glanced at the black cocoon near her feet. Oh, good. It’s almost ready.

A few minutes later the pod began to wiggle, much like an egg in the process of hatching.

This one went better than any of the others, she smiled brightly, running a hand over the top of the murky water. The oily black substance crawled up her arm to the elbow.

“Yes, yes. She’s almost ready. We’ll bring the twins to you soon. It will be the start of a new generation.” Maude giggled as the sludge rolled off and disappeared beneath the surface.

The mine unwittingly awakened the entity from a centuries old sleep. It was now her lord and master. Maude had been serving it for nearly three decades. Those silly government bureaucrats thought they could close down the town and make it go away but they were wrong.

She’d been transitioning hybrids into society for years. They were positioned in local politics where talk of reclamation and rebuilding the town were going surprisingly well. It was only a matter of time until they went national. And international. It would be a global transformation. A perfect world built from a perfect host.

The cocoon shuddered. A large piece fell into the water. Then another. And another . . . until Dolly Mae emerged looking exactly like her photograph. Young, flawless, happy.

Maude handed her the overnight bag. “Get dressed, dear. We have much to do.”

A few minutes later, Dolly twirled around, smiling at her benefactor. “Does this body look okay?”

Maude nodded as her eyes turned completely black. “It looks picture perfect.”

Author Interview: Nick Kelly & CONTEST!!!

 Catwalk Messiah Button 300 x 225

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INTERVIEW with author Nick Kelly:

Sometimes I meet talent and think, “Wow! This person has their s**t together. Look at everything they’ve accomplished.” And then they amaze me even more by adding to their growing list of achievements.

Nick Kelly is such a person.

I could say “author” Nick Kelly, since I’m focusing on his recently released novel, Catwalk: Messiah but that hardly covers the extent of this man’s ability.

Nick, your bio on the Horrorview.com website describes you as a musician and writer. Digging a little deeper, I discovered you are also a lifestyle coach/trainer and public speaker. How do you manage to juggle all your many hats? And what drives you to keep multi-tasking?

Thanks, Deb. I appreciate the kind words. I think everything I do is born from music. My love of the stage, and telling stories, and making people laugh…all of it goes back to spending half my life on stage as a musician. I’ve expanded that to coaching and training people on everything from entrepreneurship to online safety. I simply find something that I find fascinating and share it with as many people who will listen!

Your tag at Horrorview is “Catwalk”. How did you come up with the name? Should I assume the lead character in your book, Leon “Catwalk” Caliber, exhibits some of your personality traits?

The Catwalk character existed long before I joined the staff at Horrorview.com. I became the indie film (and book) guy over the last few years, so I get to view and read the works of many unknown authors and filmmakers. It’s a great gig.  Cat and I share a number of personality traits, though I’ve never been a hitman. We share a love of motorcycles and driving fast, loud music, cutting edge technology, and the Pandora’s box that is human potential. I think he’s some of my traits to the absolute extreme.

You’re published in comic books and other types of media. Why write a book? How does your approach to writing a book differ from a comic book?

I grew up on comics. Back in Philly, my grandfather (for whom I’m named) owned a trucking company and a recycling business. He would bring us tons of comics, including Star Wars, The Uncanny X-Men, and The Amazing Spider-Man, to name a few. Comics were a passion my whole life (and still are). Catwalk’s first appearance was in a comic titled Independent Voices 3 which launched on September 11, 2001. It failed miserably in the States, because it was a violent story made public at a time when we were all reeling from a violence we’ve never experienced before. The comic actually serves as a prequel to the book.

Writing a comic can be very different from writing a book. I find my process to writing a novel is very comic-like. I visualize everything. I storyboard. Even writing books, I still write as if the ultimate product will be a comic or a movie.

Catwalk: Messiah has been described by reviewers as dark, futuristic, sci-fi, dystopian, steampunk . . . even detective noir. How much research was involved in world building, and what made you decide on a cybernetically enhanced main character for your post-apocalyptic tale?

I think the universe introduced in the Catwalk stories is a distinct, if pessimistic, possibility. Think about everything we do with our smart phones – which are so much more than phones, let’s face it. Technology advancements in the next decade are bound to lead to expanded nanotechnology and potentially cybernetics, and that is an amazing thing. Think about how different life could be for a wounded veteran if the technology could replace a limb and give him back full use of an arm or a leg.

The Catwalk tone is all about telling the story set in that realm. He’s a super-charged private eye working in a realm where technology is not just acceptable, it’s stylish. Think Bionic Man meets Phillip Marlowe.

This is the first book in a series. How many installments do you envision? What can we expect from Book Two?

I actually wrote Book Two (“Catwalk: Lineage”) before Book One, but it wasn’t an acceptable origin story. It expanded the universe too much. So, I went back and wrote this one to introduce Cat to the world. I have the first four books basically finished up, with a skeleton in place for Book Five. Book Two is going to introduce some very fun new villains who I think fans will enjoy. One is based on my older brother. Is that dark and subliminal somehow? Is it wrong to put your anti-hero against a crime lord you based on your brother? I’ll let the readers comment on that.

You are currently co-authoring the Urban Samurai series with wife, Stacia, as “NS Kelly”. How does that work – two authors living under the same roof and contributing to the same project? How do you resolve creative differences?

Stacia has her own series, The Goddess Chronicles, beginning with “Phyxe: Goddess of Fire.” Her series are more fantasy and romance. With the Samurai series, starting with “Ichi”, we sort of meet in the middle. Her lead character is a 1,000 year old samurai, and my character is a homicide cop who needs to see everything in black and white, who believes nothing supernatural until he gets attacked by a demon.

Writing together has been a really fun experience. We approach the writing process very differently, but we challenge one another well, and the criticism is always constructive. We’ve worked together at a number of different jobs, so we know how to get along in a professional environment. Plus, the plotting sessions in the hot tub are a nice plus.

(Stacia and I actually joined fellow authors Phillipa Ballentine and Tee Morris to discuss this topic. Check out the podcast: http://www.theshareddesk.com/2013/07/23/episode-24-collaborating-couples-wbtr/)

And now, what can you tell us about “coaching those new to the entrepreneur’s lifestyle?” How did coaching and speaking evolve from the many facets of your world? Also, please feel free to include websites, contact information, etc for any readers who wish to learn more about your services.

Most of us have been educated on what it takes to be a great employee, but not to be a successful business owner. Stacia and I not only write together, but we also are business partners in a health and wellness business. She is a holistic health coach with a Ph.D. I jumped on board when our product line added a healthy, all natural energy drink (see: exhibit A. “musician”).  As we’ve grown our business, I’ve embraced training folks on what it takes to build a business, gain self-confidence, and help build their brand.  I’m scheduled to speak for a “Steps to Success” event on September 28th in Fredericksburg, VA. Anyone can attend and simply reach out to me for an invite. I’m happy to do virtual one-on-one coaching also via Skype (Nicholas.a.kelly). My site is www.nickkelly.com, I’m @Nick_Kelly on twitter, and I’m on Facebook as facebook.com/NickKellyAuthor. I love meeting new friends in the virtual world, so please don’t hesitate to hit me up!

Thank you, Nick, for joining me today. It’s been such a pleasure!

NOTE TO READERS:  I’ve included a Spotlight on Catwalk:Messiah following this interview. Also, Horror fans will enjoy the musings from this witty, talented and profound man at http://www.horrorview.com/. I encourage you to check it out!

 

Catwalk_messiah_coverart_AmazonCatwalk: Messiah
Leon “Catwalk” Caliber Series

Book One
Nick Kelly

Genre: Sci-Fi

ISBN: 978-0-9852837-5-9 

Number of pages: 249

Word Count: 70,266 

Cover Artist: Heidi Sutherlin 

Amazon

 

Book Description:

Nitro City, 2033.

Leon “Catwalk” Caliber left his cop job in DC behind, heading to the City of Angels to earn a living off the grid. He took a few odd jobs that called for his particular skill set – extortion, espionage, and the occasional hit – and managed to carve out a niche for himself among the Downtown dwellers.

All the changed when a new breed of MetaHuman cyborg appeared on the streets with explosive violence. Cat’s quiet existence is sent into turmoil when he finds himself right in the crosshairs. He must evade the assassin squads sent by a vengeful pimp, uncover the origin of these mysterious new mechs, and keep the cops off of his tail. Simple enough, except that the cybernetic technology that powers his body threatens to sever his humanity at any moment. Can the killer with a conscience find a cure, solve the case, get the girl, and live to see another day?

Short Excerpt:

“Okay, Sweetie, open your eyes.”

Leon “Catwalk” Caliber takes a long drag off of his cigarette. The voice on the vidscreen triggers the same sick taste in his throat as the first time he pressed the play button. The series of events on-screen remains the same: the awkward smile of the girl in the frame, the sweet and self-absorbed tone with which the man just off-camera delivers his dialogue, the slight, excited shaking of the camera as she looks up at him. Once again he asks the young girl which hand holds the coin, even though only his left hand is extended. She’s nervous. Her shoulders are pulled up, and her arms are tight to her body. She shifts to accommodate the tight fit of her school uniform. She blushes, the ghost of Shirley Temple, complete with pigtails and storybook innocence. She giggles and touches the back of the man’s gloved hand with a finger. She’s correct.

It’s the right hand that wields the bone saw.

Catwalk stops the recording. The glass next to him is empty, the bottle of bourbon almost the same. The dull glow of the paused recording is the only light in the loft, save a few blinking sensors from the bay that hosts his motorcycle and gear. He stares mutely at the image on the screen. He already has the rest of it memorized. The girl survives for another two minutes and 17 seconds. She doesn’t suffer long. Thank whatever God she believes in that she doesn’t feel what happens next. This killer doesn’t keep his victims alive along. He saves the mutilation and sex acts until after they’re dead. He doesn’t get off on torture, just the rush of ending a life … even that of an eight-year-old girl.

Cat takes a hold of his whiskey tumbler, mindlessly raising it to his lips. The lack of liquid distracts him from the screen. The video was an unexpected test. Someone hoping to remain anonymous had paid a deposit for his services. The instructions were simple. Watch the video. Find the killer. Get vengeance for the victims. Get proof. Get paid.

His yellow eyes return to the screen. His lips curl into a sneer. After watching the recording once, he was willing to do the job for free. That feeling amplified each time he watched the girl die. Cat chuckles out loud. He’s curious at his reaction. This chit never bothered him before. Why now? Why her?

He stands and walks away from the screen. He needs a break. He stands and stretches. The muscles along his arms and sides are sore. His legs and spine don’t protest. They’re hard-wired into his nervous system. Thanks to modern cybernetic technology, he can leap from the sidewalk to the top of an apartment complex, and outrun most of the commercial vehicles on the market.

The benefits aren’t without a curse. His immune system has never quite solved the riddle of his experimental cybernetics. Treatment is painful and expensive. He could use the money this job would bring in.

Catwalk stands in front of one of the windows, listening to the endless clamor of sirens, screams and gunfire in the distance. He’s chosen a nasty part of Downtown. It’s dangerous, but it’s very private. As a professional hitman, that’s worth the risk.

Running his hands through his jet black hair, he ties it into its customary ponytail. He looks over his shoulder at the custom-crafted, armored helmet resting on the counter. The triangular yellow cat’s eyes stare back at him. Cursing under his breath, Cat walks toward the helmet and the armored motorcycle behind it with cold intent.

There’s work to be done.

About the Author:

Nick KellyNick grew up on sci-fi, horror flicks, Dungeons and Dragons, good music, and recycled comic books. He has been published internationally as a comic book author and musician. He’s spent over half his life on stage from New York to Las Vegas. He is outspoken, supportive, and willing to take a good kick to the ribs for the right cause. When not touring the world, Nick lives at home with his blushing bride (and co-author), Dr. Stacia Kelly, their son, and a rotating roster of cats and dogs.

www.nickkelly.com

www.facebook.com/NickKellyAuthor

twitter @Nick_Kelly

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B00BQD7J2W

“The Photo Traveler” – A Novel You’ll Read Time After Time

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photo_traveler_blkREVIEW:

“The Photo Traveler” by Arthur J.Gonzalez takes a unique spin on time travel and wraps it up in a fast moving, action packed novel that hooks you from the first page.  

I was a little off put by a YA novel but then I thought, “look how many mature women read and fell in love with the Twilight series.” The premise of time travel by looking at a photo was intriguing enough for me to give it a try. I’m so glad I did. And I’m so glad this is Book One of a series because I’m primed and ready for Book Two!

Gonzalez sets the stage by introducing us to 17 year old Gaven Hillstone, a young man surviving an abusive foster home after his parents are suddenly killed. While the dialogue in the beginning seems a little short and disjointed, I quickly realized this is exactly how a teenager would think. It didn’t take long to morph from a critiquer into a fascinated reader and I stayed in that mode for the rest of the book.

There is so much action going on in the first few chapters that I found myself engrossed in the story line, turning pages as fast as i could read. As we learn more about Gavin, we discover that he’s not an orphan at all. His grandparents are alive and living in Washington D.C. Gavin hops a bus in search of his biological family. Once he arrives, he realizes they gave up rights after his parents were killed to protect him. Gavin comes from a long line of Photo Travelers and there are unsavory characters who believe he has something of importance. They’ll stop at nothing to get it. (I know it’s vague but I can’t bring myself to fill in too many details. This is a book you should read without knowing the plot. It will make it much more interesting.)

As Gavin hones his photo travelling skills, he meets his parents, visits different events throughout history and meets a girl he soon learns to care for.

Gonzalez nails the time periods with great research. Not just a gloss over, he provides intricate details that made me sure I was right there beside Gavin during the Great Depression and the Salem Witch trials. He applies the same care with developing his cast of characters, making them realistic and believable.

Gavin soon finds himself treading water in a new world that reminds me of the movie, “Jumper” but offers a much more intriguing tale. As he struggles to protect his new found family from “Peace Keepers”, two devious travelers who are determined to steal the family’s hidden crystal vials, Gavin sets out on a series of exciting and at times, heartbreaking adventures that sucked this reader in with each page.

This is truly a unique concept and wonderful story that blends many genres to provide something for everyone. Read it! I give it 5 stars.

The Photo Travler Button 300 x 225The Photo Traveler

The Photo Traveler Series

Book One

Arthur J. Gonzalez

Genre: Young Adult Science Fiction

Publisher: Fahrenheit Publishing

Date of Publication: Feb 20, 2013

ISBN: 978-0988891630

ASIN: B00BI4KEQC

Number of pages: 420 pages

Word Count: 87K

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Book Description:

Seventeen-year-old Gavin Hillstone is resigned to being miserable for the rest of his life. Left alone in the world after his parents died in a fire when he was four, he was placed in foster care, which for him meant ending up in an abusive home with an alcoholic adoptive father. Gavin’s only escape is in taking and creating images. His camera is his refuge from the unending torture and isolation of daily life in his “family.” Until he learns by accident that he isn’t alone in the world after all. His father’s parents are still alive and living in Washington DC.

When he takes the plunge and travels 3,000 miles to find his grandparents, he learns that they—and he—are part of something much bigger, and more dangerous, than he could ever have imagined. Something that has always put his family at risk and that will now threaten his own life, while forever changing it. He learns that he is one of the last descendants of a small group of Photo Travelers—people who can travel through time and space through images.

But his initial excitement turns to fear, when he soon discovers that he and his grandparents are being pursued by the fierce remnants of a radical European Photo Traveler cult, the Peace Hunters. What Gavin has, they want! His adventure will take him to past eras, like The Great Depression and the Salem Witch Trials.

Gavin will have to discover who he really is and must make choices that spell the difference between life and death for himself, for the relatives he now knows and loves, and for the girl he will come to love. For Gavin, life will never be the same.

Excerpt:

CHAPTER ONE:

The walk home is brutal. I was hoping that the sun would have begun its descent by now, but it’s still as blazing hot as ever. I remember them saying on the news that this was going to be one of the hottest summers ever. Though I feel like they’ve been saying that for the past five years. Global warming or something.

I know that nothing good is going to be waiting for me when I get to the house. For sure, Mel’s already gotten back and is showing Jet what I did to the car and batting her lashes and blaming it all on me. Equipped with her fake tears, she’s probably made up a lie about how I “blew up” on her and refused to go back with her even though she “begged” me to get in. It wouldn’t be the first time her lies have gotten me into trouble. And no doubt he’s now in a violent rage and shouting about how I’m going to “get my ass kicked” and how “useless” I am.

I trudge along trying to prepare myself for the tempest that’s going to hit me when I finally get back. I don’t even need to close my eyes to envision the fury in his bloodshot eyes and smell his liquor breath and see his large, flaring nostrils.

If only Leyla were still alive. God, I miss her. Because of her, Jet actually used to be a decent father. He always had a short fuse, but he wasn’t the angry, pathetic drunk he turned into after she died and he got serious about drinking. Looking at him today, with his beer belly lapping over his belt and the patches of thinning hair on his scalp, I find it hard to remember that he actually used to be a handsome, well-groomed guy. And not a bad foster father, either. I remember him getting home early from the construction site with a smile and he’d sometimes even have a toy for me. Things really do change, I guess.

I was four when my real parents died in a house fire while I was at daycare. I ended up in foster care because I had no other relatives to claim me.

I’ve never quite known how Leyla and Jet took me on, but after a year of fostering they legally adopted me. And until I was about eight, I was a generally happy kid even though Mel and I never really got along. I think she always felt threatened by me, and my guess is that she was jealous because Leyla and Jet had brought this random kid into her home and she had to share their attention with me.

I guess it would’ve bothered me, too, if I’d been in her place. But it’s not like it was my fault. I wasn’t intentionally trying to steal them from her or something. I would never do that.

That day, Leyla took me and Mel to the convenience store two blocks from our place. I was whining nonstop because I wanted sour bear gummies, and I wasn’t going to let up until I had them. But while I was happily grabbing my bag of candy, two masked men with guns barged in and ordered the clerk to hand over all the cash in the register.

I had no idea what was happening, but I was so scared that I started crying. One of the guys pointed his gun at me and shouted, “Shut up, kid!” That made me cry even louder and harder.

“I said shut up!” he repeated, and took a step toward me.

“Leave him alone!” Leyla shouted. She grabbed me and put me behind her, shielding me with her body. Mel was crouched in a corner near the Slurpee cooler with tears running down her cheeks.

“Hey!” the guy said. “Whaddya got in that purse?” He made a grab for it. She backed away from him, but he grabbed her and threw her to the filthy, sawdust-covered floor. His buddy ran over, held her down, grabbed her purse, and tore it open.

“You can’t take our money!” I yelled. I ran over and kicked him in the shin to try to get him away from her. He swung the gun around at me and Leyla sprang up from the floor and lunged in front of me as the gun went off.

It hit her in the neck, and seconds later she was gone.

Before I could even process what had happened, the gunmen ran out of the store. I’ll never forget leaning over Leyla’s body and staring at the pool of blood spreading over the floor. Her jungle-green eyes—Mel’s exact eye color—were wide open, but I somehow knew that she couldn’t see me even though her tears never seemed to stop.

“MOM!” I screamed. “Mom! Mom! Mom, I’m sorry!”

I kept calling her name over and over and over even though I knew she would never answer me again. Finally I knelt down in all the blood and laid my head on her stomach until Mariela, the Mexican clerk who’d been working at the store ever since I could remember, hurried over and peeled me away from Leyla’s body.

“Dios Mio! Mijito!” she sobbed, “Ven conmigo.” And as I started to hear the police sirens in the distance but getting louder every second, she led me into the stockroom so I wouldn’t see any more. Then she went back out to Mel, who was still huddled on the floor rocking back and forth in shock. She didn’t talk for almost a month. I’ve never eaten sour bears again.

Even worse, the next day Jet told us that Leyla was pregnant and that they’d been planning to surprise us with the news that night at dinner. So I’d been the cause of two deaths. A double loss. Go me.

Jet never stopped holding it against me. And Mel’s jealousy turned into outright hatred.

I’m not sure either of them hated me more than I hated myself.

Jet turned to alcohol. He spent his days binge-drinking on the couch that he and Leyla had chosen together. He stopped taking construction jobs and finally took a temporary leave of absence that somehow turned into a permanent one. Two years later he married Dina, who not only puts up with his brutal attacks and constant verbal assaults, but for some unknown reason actually defends him.

She’s as pathetic as he is, and that bothers me because she’s actually a sweet woman. It’s like she’s under some kind of spell. What kind of woman puts up with a man who bruises her constantly and hurls hateful remarks? Last night he called her a “filthy pig”. And he’s always calling her a “fat ass”, which I don’t understand because she’s not even pudgy in the least! And trust me—I know chunky. I was a size Hefty for most of my childhood.

In all honesty, I think she feels she has no choice. She doesn’t have enough education to get a good-paying job, so Jet supports her—although I’ve always wondered how, since he hasn’t really worked for years now. I figure that Leyla had some sort of insurance policy.

On top of everything else, Dina was Leyla’s best friend. Maybe she feels guilty about marrying Leyla’s husband and inheriting her family. I don’t know. From my understanding, Jet and Dina became each other’s “support” after Leyla died, and eventually the feelings “just happened”.

I call BS on the whole thing. I think they just found it convenient and used all the other stuff as excuses.

In any case, all three of them hold me accountable. It’s been almost ten years and they’re still holding it against me. They never let it rest. Not a week goes by that Jet doesn’t snarl at me. Usually while he’s beating me. “Adopting you was my biggest mistake! If it wasn’t for you, she’d still be alive!” The hate in his words when he says it…I know he means it every time.

The worst part is, I accept everything he says because I’m still pretty much blaming myself too. I know that if they hadn’t taken me in, Leyla probably would still be alive. And so would their second kid, the little brother or sister who never got a chance to be born.

That hurts to think about, because Leyla was a great mom. If more people had a mom like her, there’d probably be less crazies in the world. She read to me every morning. Sang to me every night. I can still hear her humming lullabies to me whenever I had nightmares about the fire. I remember drifting off to sleep with my fingers wrapped around a strand of her curly blonde hair. I loved her curls.

“Mom, they’re just like Slinkies!” I used to tell her. I would tug at them to straighten them out and then let them go to spring back into curls. Slinkies were my favorite childhood toy. Now I can’t stand the sight of them. Especially the neon-green ones, because they remind me of the one she brought me one day as a joke.

At night when I have trouble sleeping I can still hear her sweet voice reaching out to me and crooning, “Let the night take all your fear… Let my voice be all you hear…”

 About the Author:16 small

THE PHOTO TRAVELER is young adult author Arthur J. Gonzalez’s first novel. Arthur was born and raised in Miami surrounded by his loud Cuban family. He graduated from the University of Florida, where he acquired his coffee obsession and his chocolate hoarding antics. He’s the proud father of one baby girl, Sookie–his miniature schnoodle dog. Arthur is a self-professed goofball who spends 98% of his life laughing. He’s now working on his second novel.

www.thephototravelerbook.com

www.facebook.com/thephototraveler

www.twitter.com/arthurjgonzalez

www.arthurjgonzalez.com

http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/17254840-the-photo-traveler

Author Maria Hammarblad: On Writing Sci-Fi

I admire any author who blends science fiction and romance. The task of combining research and technology with a character driven story is not for the faint of heart . So today, it is with great appreciation and a bit of wide eyed awe that I present a talented author from the science fiction genre. Maria Hammarblad has graciously agreed to guest blog on  the art of researching and writing sci-fi. Read on and prepare to be fascinated. Afterwards, you’ll find information about her new release, “High Gravity”, the second novella in the Embarkment 2577 series.

Research and Science Fiction Reports
by Maria Hammarblad

I’ve always loved science fiction. The future, space, and technology hold an irresistible allure, turning me into a little kid in a candy store. The genre is convenient too; there’s plenty of room to make stuff up. I do however believe that every story, no matter how fantastic, needs to be anchored in reality in some way. A book needs to give readers something they can relate to, and larger and more detailed snippets of truth lead to a more believable story.

Writing science fiction takes a good deal of imagination and the science portion might be a small part of the finished book, but it’s important. Many readers have an excellent grasp on science – much better than I. For example, how does gravity really work? (Thus far, no one knows.) What would the solar system look like if you approached it in a spaceship? How far away is the nearest star?

Google supplies many answers, and I tend to stumble over interesting articles in the most unexpected places. When working on my recent re-write of the Embarkment 2577 novellas, my eyes fell on an interesting piece regarding how long a human can survive in space. I always imagined imminent death, but one would have a long time to process the experience. Needless to say, this information does not soothe the heroine of the Embarkment books…

When I wrote on my novel Kidnapped, I needed to fill out some gaps in my knowledge, and boldly enrolled in a college course in astrobiology. Astrobiology is a big and intimidating word. Back in high school, chemistry was my worst subject, and I expected this class to contain a lot of molecular bindings, carbon, silicon, and periodic system. I approached the classroom carefully, wondering why I insisted on straying outside my own comfort zone.

It was a very interesting experience, with a minimum of chemistry. The teacher was really cool, and devoted to space. At times, he wore a NASA uniform to class, and told us how his wife rolled her eyes when he wore it to Kennedy Space Center and pretended to be a real astronaut. Other visitors would see him and ask if he worked there, and he’d say, “Sure!” He also built scale models of spaceships, and they hung from the classroom ceiling. The model of the Saturn V was too big to hang; made in a scale that made other crafts seem reasonable, this one was still gigantic.

We had a stargazing event, and seeing the rings of Saturn and the moons of Jupiter with my own eyes was breathtaking. We drove a simulated Mars rover, talked about planet and suns, and experimented with testing for life in samples of sand. I have to admit my science papers turned into science fiction papers, but the teacher was a good sport about it. He didn’t mind reading an imaginative description of how the little rovers Spirit and Opportunity rolled on the red sand of Mars with the moons slowly orbiting the planet – as long as I got the actual science right.

Maria Hammarblad_2

The class wasn’t just fun; it has also proven useful. Before I took it, I would never have realized a spaceship that just went through the atmosphere of a planet would be hot. It’s logical when thinking about it… Well, at least after someone points it out.

Before taking the class, I didn’t realize just how similar DNA has to be for two beings to be genetically compatible. After taking the class, all my aliens in romantic relationship with humans are basically human.

Science gets distorted in the books, of course; it’s fiction. I like making things up, and I like creating theories around how things might work. Most of my theories never make it to the books. I try to keep long explanations of how I think stuff works out of the stories and focus on people and their relations instead, but when I do write something sciency, I like to have thought it through. =)

 

About The Author:

Born in Sweden in the early 1970’s, Maria showed a large interest for books at an early age. Even before she was able to read or write, she made her mom staple papers together into booklets she filled with drawings of suns and planets. She proudly declared them, “The Sun Book.” They were all about the sun. She also claimed, to her mother’s horror, that her being on Earth was a big mistake and that her alien family would come and bring her home at any moment. This never happened, but both the interest in space and the passion for bookmaking stayed with her.

As an adult Maria’s creativity got an outlet through playing bass in a number of rock bands, and through writing technical manuals and making web pages for various companies and organizations. She did write drafts for a few novels, but the storytelling muse was mostly satisfied through role playing online on Myspace. It was here, while writing stories together with people from around the globe, she stumbled onto Mike. They started talking out of character, and she moved over to Florida to him late 2008. Today the two are married and live in the Tampa Bay area with three rescue dogs.
Besides writing and playing bass, Maria enjoys driving off-road, archery, and Tameshigiri.
Upcoming releases
Flashback, to be released by Desert Breeze Publishing June 2013
Operation Earth, to be released by Desert Breeze Publishing August 2013
Borealis XII, to be released by Desert Breeze Publishing November 2013
Fun Facts
Favorite color:              Blue
Favorite food:               Chicken with cashew nuts
Doesn’t eat:                     Mammals
Favorite TV Show:       Star Trek TNG and Leverage
Favorite animal:           Border Collie
Quotes:            “Full Speed Ahead” and “Caffeine is good for you”
Find Maria on the web
Website:                          http://www.hammarblad.com
Facebook:                      https://www.facebook.com/mariahammarblad
Blog:                                 http://www.scifiromance.info
Twitter:                           @mariahammarblad
Publisher’s website    http://www.desertbreezepublishing.com

 

 

High Gravity Button

High Gravity

Embarkment 2577, Novella 2

Maria Hammarblad

Genre: Sci-fi Romance

ISBN: 1456515128
ISBN-13: 978-1456515126
ASIN: B004HO673O

Number of pages: 131

Word Count: 28566

Book Trailer:  http://youtu.be/FWMObuBulXc

Purchase Links: http://amzn.com/B004HO673O

Book Description:

In this second novella in the “Embarkment 2577” series, the story picks up shortly after it left off in “Brand New World.” The main character Alex has come to terms with her new life on a starship in the year 2577, and reluctantly won both respect and admiration for her actions during an alien attempt to conquer the ship.

Little does she know a number of new trials are about to shake her world. Besides encounters with alien species and an unexpected relative surfacing, a fatal navigation error will test her relationships with both her android lover and her friends.

Excerpt:

“Joshen Martinez is an old friend of mine, a mentor, he wouldn’t hurt you. He just wants to connect you to a machine that will tap out your memories. Your knowledge is valuable, and everyone would be able to see what you know. Sort of… like watching a movie.”

Having people watch all my memories? Intrusion of privacy, much?

I got to my feet. “I’ve heard enough of this. I have other things to do.”

Kevin stood up too. “Yes you do. Go pack your bags. This joke is over and you’re coming with me to the Kentucky.”

I took a step towards the door. “In your dreams.”

Blake said, “Sit down. Both of you.”

He didn’t raise his voice, but it was impossible not to obey. Kevin opened his mouth and my Captain made a dismissive gesture. “You’ve already said too much. Sit down and be quiet.”

Watching the scientist sink down, carefully keeping his mouth shut, filled me with glee. Blake pressed a button on his desk. “Commander Adam, could you come to my office for a minute, please.”

My husband’s voice filled the room. “Right away, Sir.”

I didn’t realize how tense I was until he stood in the doorway and I dared relax. He glanced between me and Kevin and crossed his arms over his chest. Adam was tall, strong, intimidating, and mine.

“What’s going on?”

Once again, Kevin opened his mouth. Blake snapped, “Silence.”

Kevin leaned back in his chair and rolled his eyes.

“Adam, this is Kevin. He has come to retrieve your wife.”

“Not happening, Sir.”

I wanted to squirm. “Can I move now?”

Blake smirked. “Yes Alex, you may move.”

I bounced to my feet and threw my arms around Adam. He hugged me back and murmured, “Don’t worry.”

After kissing me tenderly, he put his hands on my shoulders and turned me around so I faced Kevin. Then, he wrapped his arms around me from behind. “This is my wife. She means more to me than my life. She definitely means more to me than your life. If I were you, I’d choose my next words wisely.”

I glanced up at him. “I love you too.”

He smiled and brushed his lips over my temple.

Blake leaned his elbows on the desk and tapped his fingers together. “Mr Nolan, have we satisfied your curiosity, or do you wish to continue the discussion with the commander? I’m sure he’d be more than happy to demonstrate his… abilities. Would you like to see him fold a spare piece of hull plating a couple of times?”

“We’re good.”

Sci Fi Fans: Double Helix series

DoubleHelixCovers

Bewitching B&W

Check out this great series of Dystopian Sci-Fi by Jade Kerrion. The first book, PERFECTION UNLEASHED, is offered at .99 cents for the duration of the book tour. Read the excerpt below.

Perfection Unleashed
Genre: Science fiction (Dystopian)

ISBN: Perfection Unleashed 1469980355

ASIN: Perfection Unleashed B008E98YFM

Number of pages: 212

Word Count: 87,000 words

Cover Artist: Jason Alexander

Two men, one face. One man seeks to embrace destiny, the other to escape it.

Danyael Sabre spent sixteen years clawing out of the ruins of his childhood and finally has everything he wanted–a career, a home, and a trusted friend. To hold on to them, he keeps his head down and plays by the rules. An alpha empath, he is powerful in a world transformed by the Genetic Revolution, yet his experience has taught him to avoid attention.

When the perfect human being, Galahad, escapes from Pioneer Laboratories, the illusory peace between humans and their derivatives–the in vitros, clones, and mutants–collapses into social upheaval. The abominations, deformed and distorted mirrors of humanity, created unintentionally in Pioneer Lab’s search for perfection, descend upon Washington, D.C. The first era of the Genetic Revolution was peaceful. The second is headed for open war.

Although the genetic future of the human race pivots on Galahad, Danyael does not feel compelled to get involved and risk his cover of anonymity, until he finds out that the perfect human being looks just like him.

Kindle  Print

Perfect Betrayal
Don’t fear the army of genetically engineered perfect killers. Fear the cripple who leads them.

An alpha empath, Danyael Sabre is powerful, rare, and coveted, even among the alpha mutants who dominate the Genetic Revolution. Betrayed by his friends and abandoned to a life sentence in a maximum-security prison, Danyael receives freedom and sanctuary from an unlikely quarter—the Mutant Assault Group, an elite mutant task force within the US military. Physically crippled and emotionally vulnerable, Danyael succumbs to the warmth of friendships and the promise of love he finds within their ranks.

Friendship and love, however, demand his loyalty, and Danyael rises to the challenge of training and leading the assault group’s genetically modified super soldier army. The super soldiers are faster and stronger than the military’s human soldiers; their animal instincts spur ferocity and fearlessness in battle. But who is the perfect weapon—the super soldiers or Danyael, the alpha empath, who can, with a touch, heal or kill?

Adversaries swarm, like vultures around carrion; the pawn is once again in play. The threads of betrayal that sent Danyael to prison spin into a web, ensnaring him. When a terrorist group strikes Washington, D.C., how far will Danyael go to defend a government that sent him to prison to die?

PERFECT BETRAYAL is the second novel in the award-winning Double Helix series.

Perfect Weapon
You can defeat your enemies, but can you defeat your friends?

Danyael Sabre, an object of desire, would much rather not be. An alpha empath by birth, a doctor by training, and an empathic healer by calling, he is stalked by the military that covets his ability to kill, not heal. He finds himself on the run under the protection of an assassin, Zara Itani.

Bereft of two days of memories, the more he uncovers of his lost hours, the more he doubts everything that once anchored him. He knows only that he endangers those around him and that he is falling in love with Zara, who hates him for reasons he no longer remembers.

As forces—both powerful and ruthless—threaten those he cares for, Danyael has only two options. He can betray his values and abandon the path of the healer, or he can wait to be betrayed, not by enemies, but by his friends.

PERFECT WEAPON is the third novel in the award-winning Double Helix series.

Except from PERFECTION UNLEASHED

On another Friday night, she might have been out at a Georgetown bar, accepting drinks from attractive men and allowing them to delude themselves into imagining that they might be the lucky one to take her home.

Tonight, she had work to do.

The hem of the white lab coat brushed about her legs as she strode toward the double doors that barred entry to the western wing. No one paid her any attention. Scientists and lab technicians scurried past her, nodding at her with absent-minded politeness. On Friday evening, with the weekend beckoning, no one thought about security.

Where men faltered, technology kept going.

The corridor seemed endlessly long, and the security cameras that pivoted on their ceiling-mounted frames bore into her back. She knew that her image likely featured on one or more of the many monitors at the security desk, but a combination of training and nerves of steel steadied her. She resisted the urge to twitch or to hurry her pace.

Each step brought her closer to an ominously glowing red eye on the security panel beside the door. Undeterred, she waved her badge over the panel. Moments later, the security panel flashed to green and a heavy lock slid back. Another small triumph. It usually took a series of them to make a victory.

She lowered her head, ostensibly to look down at the tablet in her hand. Her long, dark hair fell forward, concealing the lower half of her face from the security camera as she walked through the open door. “Entering the western wing,” she murmured, trusting the concealed microphone to pick up on her whisper.

“Good luck,” Carlos’s voice responded through the tiny earpiece inserted in her right ear. “All’s clear out here.”

“I’m really glad the security pass I programmed for you actually worked,” Xin added, a whimsical tone in her voice.

Zara was glad, too. She had a solid plan. Two of her finest associates backed her up—Carlos Sanchez waiting in the car concealed off road outside Pioneer Labs, and Mu Xin poised in front of a computer in her Alexandria home—but she could come up with a list of a half-dozen things that could still go wrong.

“I’ve finished checking the employee log against the National Mutant Registry,” Xin continued. “You’ve lucked out, Zara. Apparently Pioneer Labs isn’t big into hiring mutants. You won’t have to contend with any telepaths or telekinetics tonight.”

Good. That was one thing she could strike off her list.

Another long hallway stretched in front of her, but the glass-enclosed research station on the left drew her attention. Two lab technicians huddled around a network of computers, their attention focused on the output pouring from the whirling terminals. Her gaze drifted over the lab technicians and focused on Roland Rakehell and Michael Cochran, the famous co-creators of “Galahad”, the perfect human. The two scientists stood in contemplative discussion in front of a liquid-filled fiberglass chamber.

The man floating within the sensory deprivation tank, his head encased in a metallic hood and his face covered by breathing apparatus, writhed in agony. Wires monitoring heart rate and brain waves trailed from his naked body. Jagged edges leaped hysterically off the computer readouts as mind and body convulsed, shuddering with madness and pain.

One of the lab technicians spoke up, “Professor, his brain waves indicate that he is waking.”

Roland Rakehell glanced at his watch. “Right on time,” he noted, his voice tinged with disappointment. “I guess the miracles can’t come thick and fast every single day.”

“We made him human, not superhuman,” Michael Cochran said. “Besides, we don’t really have time to record a miracle today.” He glanced at the two technicians. “Roland and I are meeting investors for dinner, and we have to leave now. Take Galahad back to his room. Make sure he gets something to eat.”

Silently she pushed away from the viewing area and continued down the corridor. Her violet eyes betrayed the faintest flicker of confusion and consternation.

Galahad.

She would never have imagined it, but apparently the scientists had no qualms treating their prized creation like a common lab animal.

“Xin?” she murmured quietly.

“Right here,” was the immediate response.

“Approaching the suite.”

“I’m one step ahead of you,” Xin said. “I’ve gotten through the security system and rerouted all the cameras in the suite to a static video feed. You’re clear to enter.”

The second door opened into a large suite pressed up against the western wall of the laboratory complex. No gentle ambient lighting there, just harsh pools of unforgiving white light blazing over the bed and table, leaving the rest of the large suite in muted shadows.

Was it through deliberate design or neglectful oversight that no attempt had been made to humanize Galahad’s living quarters? Empty shelves lined the wall. The small metal table and matching chair were severe, the narrow bed unwelcoming. She had seen third-world hospital wards offer far more comfort to its occupants.

Footsteps echoed, drawing closer, and then paused outside the door. There was no time to waste. She strode across the room, slipping into the shadows that obscured the far side of the suite moments before the door slid open again.

The two technicians she had seen earlier half-dragged, half-carried Galahad into the room. It staggered with exhaustion, trying to stand on its own. The technicians hauled Galahad up and dumped it unceremoniously in a wet, shivering heap on the bed.

One of the technicians cast a backward glance at the unmoving figure on the bed. “Pete, are you sure he’s going to be okay?” he asked the other.

“Eventually. It usually takes him a while to recover,” Pete assured the younger man. He pulled out two sealed nutrient bars from his pocket and tossed them onto the table. “Let’s go.”

“I think we should at least get him a towel or put him under the sheets.”

Pete snapped. “How many times do I have to say it? Let him be, Jack. He doesn’t want to be helped, though God knows I’ve tried often enough. He wants to be able to do things for himself, at least here, in this room. It’s the only dignity he has left; let’s leave that to him.”

“It was bad today.”

The older man inhaled deeply, sparing a quick glance back. Galahad trembled so hard it seemed as if it would shatter. It curled into a fetal ball, perhaps to protect itself from further violation. “I know. And the best thing we can do for him right now is leave him alone,” Pete said as he stepped out of the room and allowed the door to seal shut behind them.

The impact was thunderous—not audibly—but she felt it nonetheless. It was the sealing of a prison cell.

Zara had wondered what kind of luxuries and privileges the incomparable Galahad—the pinnacle of genetic perfection—enjoyed. Now she knew the answer.

She watched in silence as Galahad stirred, slowly standing and leaning on the wall for support as it staggered toward the bathroom. She had yet to get a good look at its face, but the blazing light did not leave much of its body to imagination. It was slender but well muscled, powerful and graceful, in spite of its obvious exhaustion—the promise of perfection come into fruition.

She waited through the sound of running water. Patience had never been easy for her, but she possessed the instincts of a hunter closing in on its quarry. Her patience was rewarded when it finally returned to the room, dressed simply in loose-fitting white cotton drawstring pants and a tunic of the same material. As it stepped into the blazing circle of light, her eyes narrowed briefly, and then a faint smile of easy appreciation curved her lips.

She had studied the surveillance video feed Xin had hacked from the central computers of Pioneer Labs the day before, but the wide-angle lenses had not captured anything approximating the full impact of Galahad’s beauty. Its rare and lovely color—pale blond hair paired with dark eyes—stood out and attracted immediate attention, but the longer she looked, the more beauty she saw in its exquisitely chiseled features, as flawless as a Michelangelo masterpiece. Galahad was stunningly beautiful—would be stunningly beautiful, whatever the color of its hair or eyes. The scientists had certainly done well; more than well.

Galahad made its way over to a rattan chair, moving with greater ease. It was regaining its strength, though she did not think that it was anywhere near optimal form, not when it had almost collapsed with exhaustion on the way to the bathroom ten minutes earlier. It curled up in the chair and closed its eyes, looking oddly content, despite the fact that it did not fit very well into the chair. Within a minute, she realized from the even rise and fall of its chest with every breath, that it had fallen asleep.

It was time to get to work.

Galahad did not stir as she silently crossed the room. A*STAR had demanded fresh DNA samples obtained as directly from the source as possible. Hair or skin samples would be acceptable, and both were typically abundant in a bathroom. She pulled test tube and tweezers from the pocket of her lab coat and knelt to examine the bathroom counter.

Something flickered in the corner of her vision.

Instinct and trained reflexes took over. In a flash, her dagger was in her hand. She spun, the black serrated blade slicing outward.

Galahad reacted with uncanny speed. It dove to the side, dropping into a roll and coming up in a battle crouch. Her dagger slashed through the air where Galahad had been standing a moment before. Galahad’s dark eyes narrowed as it assessed her. Its body shifted into motion, preparing to defend itself.

She too reassessed, readjusted. Her attack should not have missed. Galahad’s battle instincts had been trained and polished to perfection. Apparently it was more than a common lab animal.

Her dagger lashed out once again in a graceful, snake-like motion, and Galahad evaded by dodging to one side. The blade sliced harmlessly through the air so close to Galahad that it must have felt the chill breath of the dagger’s passing against its skin.

Galahad’s silent and sinuously graceful movements were driven by so much speed and agility that strength—although abundant—was superfluous. It matched her, step for step, dodging each attack with a grace that made their deadly waltz seem choreographed. There was no doubt that Galahad was good, far better than anyone she had ever contended with. In spite of its obvious fatigue after a long and difficult day, Galahad possessed flawless timing and impeccable spatial precision, allowing it to escape injury by fractions of a second and a hairsbreadth. It had nerves of steel. It taunted her with its proximity and tempted the kiss of her blade, never straying too far as it sought an opening.

She saw the dark eyes glitter dangerously and knew that something in it had shifted, had changed. She thrust her blade at its face.

In less than a heartbeat, it was over.

With a swiftness that left her stunned, Galahad twisted its hand to catch her wrist in an iron grip. It sidestepped, yanked her forward, and drove its knee into her thigh. Her leg weakened and collapsed. Its superior weight drove her to the ground and kept her there without any visible effort.

A perfectly sequenced attack, executed with flawless precision and stunning speed.

Gritting her teeth against the pain, she recognized the inevitable outcome as it eased the dagger from between her nerveless fingers. She cursed soundlessly. She had underestimated its skill, perhaps to her folly. It suddenly released her, pulled her to her feet, and then stepped away from her. Some emotion she could not decipher rippled over its flawless features, and to her amazement, it flipped the dagger over in its hand and held it out, hilt first, to her. “I don’t know why I’m fighting you. You came to kill me; I should thank you for your kindness.”

She reached out and accepted the dagger from Galahad as her mind raced to understand the incomprehensible. Galahad held her gaze only for a moment before it lowered its eyes and looked away. She saw its throat work as it fought an internal battle to suppress its survival instincts, and then it turned its back on her deliberately and walked out of the bathroom.

She could have struck the fatal blow. Galahad was offering her the chance. She could pull Galahad’s head back and apply the faintest pressure to the dagger’s blade across its jugular. She could extract the tissue sample she had been sent to collect, and then leave, her mission completed.

She could not bring herself to do it. Oddly enough, something in her wanted it—wanted him—to live.

“Zara?” she heard Xin’s voice softly inquiring in her ear, her tone concerned.

“I’m all right,” she murmured. “Give me a minute.” She paused by the bathroom door and watched him make his way toward the wide windows. He kept his back to her as he stared out at the manicured lawns around Pioneer Labs. Was he waiting for her to strike?

Well, she could play the waiting game too. She followed him and then turned, casually leaning against the window as she looked up at him, her gaze coolly challenging.

Several moments passed.

Finally he broke the silence. “Who sent you?” he asked quietly without looking at her.

She had expected the question, but not the calm, neutral tone in which it was asked. No anger. No hatred. No fear. Just a simple question, driven more by politeness than by any real need to know. “Does it matter?”

He inhaled deeply and released his breath in a soft sigh as she neatly evaded his inquiry. He tried another question. “Are you from around here?”

“Washington, D.C.”

“I’ve seen media clips of that city. It’s beautiful.”

She offered a nonchalant shrug as a response to his statement. “It’s pretty enough, I suppose. I take it you’ve never been there.”

“I don’t get out much, and the last time was a good while ago.” He shrugged, a graceful motion that belied the bitterness in his voice. “I’ve seen media clips endorsed by Purest Humanity and other pro-humanist groups. There is no place for me in your world.”

It was pointless to deny the obvious, but before she could open her mouth to toss out the retort on the edge of her tongue, an animal-like cry resonated through the complex. It was a ghastly sound, starting at a low pitch akin to the sound a lost puppy might make and then rising until it was a banshee’s scream. “What was that?”

“It’s an experiment in another part of the building.”

“It doesn’t sound like anything I recognize. What is it?”

He tossed her question back at her: “Does it matter?”

“Not if you don’t care.”

“It’s been going on for as long as I can remember.”

His matter-of-fact statement was like fuel to fire. Her eyes flashed. “And you feel nothing? No anger? No pity? You’re inhuman.”

“I thought you’d already decided that,” was his mild rejoinder. “Isn’t that why the pro-humanist groups want me killed?”

She hesitated. Somewhere along the way—she was not even sure when—she had stopped thinking of Galahad as an “it” and had started relating to it as a “he”. She had attributed to him all the responsibilities of being human, but none of its rights or privileges, in effect placing him in the worst possible no-win situation. She recalled his anguished convulsions in the sensory deprivation chamber. How much pity did she expect him to dredge up for another creature in a position no different from his own? Very little. In fact, none at all.

She closed her eyes and inhaled deeply. The anger subsided. “Do they conduct experiments on you too?” she asked softly.

He stiffened. Without meeting her gaze, he answered the question, choosing his words with care. “I…yes, they do, sometimes.”

“What did they do to you today?”

He averted his gaze and bit down hard on his lower lip. He shook his head, said nothing.

“You looked like hell when they brought you back. I want to know, please.”

He was silent for so long she thought he was never going to answer the question, but then he spoke in a measured, neutral tone. “They gave me a highly concentrated sleeping pill and then injected a hallucinogen, to induce nightmares. They wanted to see if I could overcome the effects of the sleeping pill to wake up.”

“Did you?’

Another long pause. His reply was a softly anguished whisper. “No.”

“How long did the experiment last?”

“About eight hours, perhaps nine.” He laughed, low and melodic, but it was a humorless sound. “I slept all day, and I’m exhausted.”

“Why do they do that?”

“It’s simple; because they can. Humans and their derivatives, the clones and in vitros, have rights. I’m considered non-human, in large part because of the successful lobbying of pro-humanist groups, and I don’t have rights.” Galahad released his breath in a soft sigh. Long eyelashes closed over dark, pain-filled orbs as he inhaled deeply. He opened his eyes and met her gaze directly, holding it for a long, silent moment. The corner of his lips tugged up again in a bittersweet half smile. “I’m tired. I need to lie down. You can do what you need to do whenever you want.”

“Wait!” She grabbed his arm as he turned away from her. “You want me to kill you?”

“Isn’t that what you came to do?”

“Do you actually want to die?”

He waved his hand to encompass the breadth and width of the impersonal and deliberately dehumanizing room. “I’m not sure this should count as living.”

“But you’re not human.”

“No,” he agreed, his voice even. “No, but I am alive…just like any other human. This isolation drives me crazy. I know this is not the way others live. This isn’t living.”

He looked away. His pain was real, his anger compelling. In spite of it, she had seen him smile a few times and wondered whether his twisted half-smile could ever be coaxed into becoming something more. In silence, she watched as he turned his back on her and walked to his rattan chair. He seemed tired, emotional weariness draining his physical strength. Slowly he settled into the chair, drawing his legs up and curling into a vaguely comfortable position. Apparently he had chosen to deliberately ignore her. He was tuning her out and was once again trying to find solace in the few things he had left, such as a worn chair and his own company, trying to get through each cheerless day and lonely night.

Outside, a rabbit, safe from predators in the falling dusk, emerged from its burrow and hopped across the small patch of grass in front of the large windows of the suite. Zara watched as a faint smile touched his face, briefly transforming it. His personality seemed wrapped around a core that was equal parts weary indifference and tightly controlled bitterness, but there was still enough left in him to savor the small crumbs that life saw fit to throw his way. If his quiet strength had amazed her, his enduring courage humbled her. As she watched him, she knew he had won the battle he had wanted, so badly, to lose. He had proved his right to live, even though there was no purpose in living in a place like this. He knew that fact intimately, and so did she.

Her eyes narrowed thoughtfully.

“Zara, we’ve got trouble.” Carlos’s voice cut through the silence of her thoughts, his habitual calmness edged with tension. “Lots of vehicles incoming. Purest Humanity logos. Could be a protest forming; they look seriously pissed.”

She took a few steps away from Galahad. Annoyance disguised flickers of anxiety in her voice. “They’re about two days too early. They’ve been gathering on Christmas Eve each year.”

“Well, looks like someone had a change of plans. I’m estimating about forty…fifty cars, at least twice as many people.”

“They won’t get through the gate,” Xin said. “It was designed to keep out APCs.”

“Uh…The gate just opened…Por dios…They’re driving in!”

“What?”

“No kidding, I swear to God.” The tension in Carlos’s voice escalated. “Someone must be screwing around with the security system.”

Zara suppressed a hiss of irritation. “Find that person, Xin, and disable his access. I don’t want to have to fight my way out of here.”

“I’m on it, but I can’t guarantee they won’t get to you. If they’re already through the gate, they’ll be pounding on the front door in seconds. You don’t have time; get moving. And Zara, if you don’t take Galahad with you, he’s as good as dead.”

Zara’s mind raced through the options available to her, the possibilities. She shrugged, dismissing the many logical reasons why she should not do what she was about to do, and took her first step down her path with a terse and coolly decisive order. “He’s coming with me. I’ll get us out of the building. Carlos, stand by for an extraction.”

“Copy that.”

She stepped toward Galahad. “You need to change into something else.” The thin cotton tunic and pants he wore would not provide sufficient protection from the chilly night air. Besides, his clothes looked like something issued to long-term residents of mental hospitals. Something with fewer negative institutional implications would work better at keeping him as inconspicuous as possible.

He blinked in surprise, her voice jerking him back to reality, and he looked up at her. “There is nothing else to wear,” he said. He released his breath in a soft sigh, his gaze drifting away from her to the rabbit outside the window.

Nothing else? A quick search of the suite confirmed his words. The only pieces of clothing in the suite’s large and mostly empty walk-in closet were several pieces of identical white cotton tunics and pants, a subtle but highly effective dehumanizing strategy. “We’re leaving anyway,” she told him as she returned into the living area of the suite. “Get up. We’re going.”

He stared at her in bewilderment. “Going?”

Zara exercised exquisite politeness and reminded herself to be patient with him. “I’m getting you out of here.”

A glimmer of understanding tinged with wary hope swirled through the confusion in his sin-black eyes, but he still did not move from the chair. “I thought you came to kill me.”

Not precisely, but perhaps it wasn’t a bad thing if he kept believing it, especially if it would make him more tractable. Things were complicated enough; an uncooperative captive would heighten the stakes and the danger of their situation. “I’ve changed my mind.”

“Changed your mind?”

“It’s a woman’s prerogative,” she told him, a wicked smile curving her lips. Her tone softened slightly. As huge as this step seemed for her, it must seem even larger for him. “I want to help you. Will you come with me?”

He met her gaze, held it for a long moment, and then finally smiled. “Yes.”

The simplicity of his answer staggered her, to say nothing of the heart-stopping power of his smile. It was a smile that could melt iron. “You trust me,” she said, “but you don’t even know my name.”

“It would be ungracious not to trust someone who has already passed up on several opportunities to kill me.” He uncurled from his chair and stood. His manners were at least as exquisite as his looks. He made no mention of the fact that he had beaten her in a fair fight and then refused to follow up on his advantage.

Maybe he considered it irrelevant. The important point was that she did not. The fight she had lost had, after all, been the critical turning point. She smiled up at him, suddenly realizing that his dark, fathomless eyes did not seem nearly as distant and empty as they had several minutes earlier. “I’m Zara Itani.”

He smiled faintly, the warmth from his smile briefly lighting up his eyes. “Zara, I’m Galahad.”

About the Author:

JadeKerrion

Jade Kerrion, author of the award-winning science-fiction/dystopian series, DOUBLE HELIX, first developed a loyal reader base with her fan fiction series based on the MMORPG Guild Wars. She was accused of keeping her readers up at night, distracting them from work, housework, homework, and (far worse), from actually playing Guild Wars. And then she wondered why just screw up the time management skills of gamers? Why not aspire to screw everyone else up too? So here she is, writing books that aspire to keep you from doing anything else useful with your time. She lives in Fort Lauderdale, Florida with her wonderfully supportive husband and her two young sons, Saint and Angel, (no, those aren’t their real names, but they are like saints and angels, except when they’re not.)

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/JadeKerrion

Website: http://www.jadekerrion.com

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Robot Video – Scary or Cool?

Tech Videos – Yahoo! News.

Saw this video clip from Yahoo! News and  wanted to share. It’s both fascinating and repulsive. But it’s also cool.  And creepy. A technological gem. Would I want to share space with one? I don’t think my comfort level is there yet.

That being said, wouldn’t this be a great storyline for a Paranormal/Sci-Fi? Oh yeah…it’s been done. I, Robot. Bicentennial Man. Terminator. Look back at the classic science fiction books of fifty years ago, penned by authors such as Isaac Asimov and Ray Bradbury. Many of their novels have become reality. Twilight Zone. Another great source for far-fetched tales with roots in the future.

What science fiction have you read or watched lately that you think is ground zero for the future?

I’ll start…”Aliens vs. Cowboys”. They’re heeere….. (Cowboys. Not Aliens. Yet.)