Sunday, March 18, 2018

THE DARK THRESHOLD - Chapter One

Friends, I promised a surprise and I'm here to make good on the promise. Along with the selections I'm posting as I write, I decided to release the first chapter of THE DARK THRESHOLD in its entirety. This may be subject to change in the edit process, but here is Chapter One as it currently stands.

- ONE -



Lights stabbed through winter twilight, setting the raging blizzard ablaze with twin beams of shifting white fire. The matte-black Spyder assault vehicle crushed along through the storm with an urgency born of terror. Its driver blindly felt his way through swirling snow as he struggled to put miles between him and the gory scene he had left behind.

Night was falling, yet safety was nowhere to be found.

Mr. Vickers squinted hard out of the truck’s windshield as he drove, straining to see the street ahead in the gathering darkness. The pelting snow dizzied him. It felt as though a tunnel of spacetime had engulfed him and a frantic starfield rushed towards his face, hurtling to the side at the last moment with every flick of the windshield wipers. The autodrive and mapping function hung limp from a sheaf of ripped wires dangling from the dashboard, killing any chance of using the nav computer for guidance. Not like he’d want to do that. A working nav computer meant that Central Admin could track him, and that was the very last thing he needed.

The adrenaline that had flowed in his veins only ten minutes before had begun to recede, leaving tattered exhaustion and confusion in its wake. Explosions still rang in his ears and flashed behind his eyes. Disturbing images and impressions as well: the sight of a little girl smashing a full-grown man into a door, then blowing him away with automatic gunfire; the concussion of a grenade shattering glass, the stench of blood. His mind still refused to accept what he’d seen, although he knew that it was not only possible but true. He should have known all along that Sonya was capable of such violence. Because her father was too…

Mr. Vickers spared a short glance to the back seat where the curled-up form of that same little girl was barely visible in the dingy light. Drying blood caked her clothes and hands. Her breathing came in erratic, chaotic bursts. Her eyes were fixed wide open; two barely blinking stony orbs, staring at nothing. Her teeth chattered but not with the cold. A look of profound terror gripped her features. As Mr. Vickers turned to look at her she shied away behind her hands and her entire body tightened.
“Sonya,” the old priest breathed barely above a whisper. “Talk to me. Please.”

“NO!” the little girl screamed back, a violent, shrill sound. The sound of a mind without focus, a body that obeyed other powers. “Get the voices out! Make them stop! My head hurts!”

Mr. Vickers turned back and tried to keep an eye on the road while he glanced at her in the rear-view mirror. He ached with empathy as he listened to her. “I know it does, Sonya. But we have to get away from the men who tried to hurt you before I can help you.”

“Leave me alone! Shut up!” Sonya shrieked back at him. Her breathing went ragged, causing her whole body to twitch with the effort. “They're all dead, I made them die.” She slipped a thumb into her mouth and began to suck, the other hand pulling distractedly at her hair. Dried blood flaked from her fingers onto the seat as she fidgeted.

Mr. Vickers gave up on reasoning with her for the moment. It was useless. Her mind had snapped, some synapse in her tortured brain losing a vital connection to some other corner. If the grim data Verite had captured on the reactive computer bore out, Sonya would be facing massive problems very soon. But how soon? And what sorts of problems? Every person who’d been programmed via the reactive computer responded to its electronic violations differently.

He gritted his teeth and concentrated on the road again. There were a couple places they could go, none of them ideal but at this point nothing was ideal. His mind fixed on one in particular, a home in Arlington owned by a man whom he called friend. Doctor Harold Mann, a cardiovascular surgeon too timid to join Verite outright but not so timid that he refused outright to help when called upon. At least, Mr. Vickers hoped he could call upon the man now, if only for temporary relief. Going toward Central Admin made his stomach ill, but fleeing back west was out of the question now. Sonya had heard a second assault team approaching from the back yard, and the priest was sure that if Central Admin was coming from that direction, then they knew about the service road. They would know which direction he would flee.

In fact, it sounded like Central Admin knew the whole truth now.

Mr. Vickers’ heart convulsed with grief at the thought of Annalise. Annalise, that poor troubled woman, so strong and yet so weak, grasping for goodness but recoiling like a person burned when she found it. Annalise. Verite’s eyes and ears inside Central Admin. His reluctant but persistent pupil, an earnest soul asking all the right questions. His eyes burned with tears as he remembered their last interaction that morning in her kitchen. He’d held the loaded magazine for her gun in his hands, turning it over and over as he waited for her to descend the stairs on her way to work. He knew as soon as he’d seen her that she’d been crying all night long; that look of utter desperation and despair on her beautiful face haunted him. What would become of her now he could only imagine. No, he didn’t want to imagine. It was too ugly to contemplate.

He put all of that out of his mind and returned to the task at hand. Arlington lay somewhere beyond the swirling snow in front of him, but even reading street signs in this weather proved difficult. He strained to see the signs at the next intersection and his heart leaped when the marker for George Mason Drive came into view. George Mason Drive led directly to the Virginia Hospital Center, although that wasn’t quite where he wanted to go. Walking into any hospital within a fifteen-mile radius with a psychotic little girl in tow would get them both arrested on the spot. No, three blocks past the hospital was the real destination. Dr. Mann would be getting the surprise of his life tonight at his home.

But the first rule of the day: to ditch the Spyder. That had to be done before anything else. To continue toting it around was suicide. Perhaps Sonya could be persuaded to walk? Or perhaps Dr. Mann could help there too. The good doctor stood a foot taller than Mr. Vickers and had always been the one with the stronger back, if Sonya needed carrying.

Another ten minutes passed in relative silence, the only sounds being the swish of snow against the tires of the truck and the flick-flick of the wiper blades. Of the few cars that passed him, all gave him a wide berth as he hoped they would. The falling snow intensified, limiting his vision to only about fifty feet beyond the hood of the Spyder. He saw the hospital creep by on his left and began counting houses, paranoid that he would somehow not recognize the place. One, two, three blocks passed, and a familiar faux wrought-iron lamppost came into view on the left side. Beyond lay a two-story detached home in a dismal brown color, made all the more dismal by the ice that crusted it. It hunched on the top of a little hill like a shivering homeless man trying to fit between two trash cans.
Mr. Vickers hesitated, then sped up before turning left at the following corner. Parking a Spyder in the doctor’s driveway would be stupid. There was an alleyway down the side street here, he knew, which would conceal the vehicle long enough for him to alert Dr. Mann to the situation. He pulled into the alley and turned the truck’s systems off, then turned to Sonya again.

“I will be right back, Sonya,” he whispered into the back seat, pondering the girl’s sprawled form. “Sonya? Sonya?!”

There was no answer. Sonya’s eyes were closed, but she was not asleep in any normal sense of the word. Her body kept twitching, small but disturbing uncontrolled movements of her arms and legs. Her eyes moved behind the lids, quick and persistent. Her breathing had shallowed considerably since the last time she’d spoken.

“So it’s already begun,” Mr. Vickers murmured, his heart thudding in mild panic. There wasn’t much time.

He pushed the door open into a chilling breeze and slid down to the pavement, landing in almost a foot of snow. More snow still fell all around him, rasping lightly against the world as it settled down. With one last glance into the Spyder to make sure Sonya was going nowhere, the priest shuffled down the alley and up the steps into Dr. Mann’s side yard. The snow piled even deeper up here, away from the protective walls of the alley. He pushed his way to the side door of the drab brown house and knocked three times hard.

A long tense moment passed, a moment of hesitation and doubt that Dr. Mann would show his face. Mr. Vickers heard no movement, saw nothing through the thin gauzy curtains guarding the window of the door from prying eyes. Then, when he had determined to knock once more, he saw a shadow descend on the curtain and watched as a hand from inside pushed the fabric aside. A round face framed in long graying hair appeared in the gap, a sad expression on the ample mouth. The mouth opened in a small gape, then the doorknob rattled as the doctor unlocked the bolt.

“Edmund Vickers,” Dr. Mann exclaimed under his breath, looking the priest up and down with a sad appraising glance. “As I live and breathe. Although you tend to bring trouble my way. Will I be allowed to live and breathe for much longer, I wonder?”

“You gloomy old fool,” Mr. Vickers retorted, cracking a small smile and clasping hands with his friend. The smile faded in the next instant. “I need your help, and I need it now. I have no one else I can ask right now. Please tell me you can help.”

Dr. Mann withdrew his hand and cracked his knuckles nervously. “What sort of help?”

“A girl under my charge, no more than about eight years old. She’s slipping into a coma and she needs treatment.” Mr. Vickers stopped, then added with reluctance, “We’ve been found out, Harold. Central Admin is looking for us. I won’t lie to you about how much danger this puts you in.”

Dr. Mann rubbed his hands together, his breath steaming nervously into the frigid air. “Shit. I wish you had lied to me.”

Mr. Vickers shrugged as the smile returned for a moment. “I’m a priest, Harry. It wouldn’t be right.”

Dr. Mann snorted. “Sometimes I regret the day I met you, Ed.” He thrust his head out the door, glancing around. “Where is this girl?”

“Her name is Sonya. She’s immobile in the back of my vehicle. I wondered if you could carry her inside while I ditch the truck.”

The surgeon’s eyebrows shot up. “Whose car did you use?”

“Long story.” Mr. Vickers hesitated again. “And … don’t mind the blood. It’s not hers, although she’s covered in it.”

“Fuck this,” Dr. Mann grumbled, snatching his coat off a hook by the door and following Mr. Vickers outside. “Next time this happens you fucking lie to me, Ed. I don’t want to know why or what you’re doing.”


“If there even is a next time,” Mr. Vickers shot back ruefully.


Thursday, January 25, 2018

Opening Quote for THE DARK THRESHOLD

Cowards die many times before their deaths;

The valiant never taste of death but once.

Of all the wonders that I yet have heard,

It seems to me most strange that men should fear;

Seeing that death, a necessary end,

Will come when it will come.


-- William Shakespeare

Saturday, January 20, 2018

THE DARK THRESHOLD, Excerpt #2

An excerpt from Chapter 3 of The Dark Threshold. Enjoy.

____________________

     The moment Sandra first heard gunshots, she’d crouched back down on the porch where she and Luis had taken up station and sighted her rifle on Mr. Vickers’ house. When she couldn’t see anything in that direction, she turned her weapon back up the street towards the approaching trouble. “Luis, give me ranging info and speed on the lead Spyder.”
     Luis brought his binoculars to his face. “Not sure you can penetrate the powertrain of a Spyder from here,” he worried out loud.
     “I’m not going for the powertrain,” Sandra responded shortly. “Range, please.”
     Luis squinted into the binoculars. “One hundred fifteen yards, traveling at twenty miles per hour.” He slipped his hearing protection over his ears. “How does the windshield look to you?”
     “No deflection glass, these rounds will penetrate.”
     The radio crackled in her ear and she heard Daniel’s desperate voice, but the words he spoke didn’t even register in the moment before she pulled the trigger. The giant rifle exploded with power, sending its round streaking downrange in the blink of an eye. The lead Spyder’s windshield spiderwebbed and a gout of blood doused the glass from the inside. The vehicle abruptly swerved to its right, clipped a parked car, then spun out on the icy road in front of the autotank that rumbled along behind it. All three vehicles came to a messy stop in the middle of the road eighty yards away.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

THE DARK THRESHOLD, Excerpt #1

At long last, it is my pleasure to bring you all your first glimpse at the final book of the SubVersion Trilogy, THE DARK THRESHOLD. Enjoy trying to figure out what the hell is going on!


EXCERPT #1


The resounding thud of rockets impacting on the tank was dwarfed by the double sonic boom that crashed over Daniel and his men, huddled on the ground while the two fighters screamed overhead and arced upward into the overcast sky. Daniel heard windows shatter in the buildings behind him. He gingerly raised his head and looked down the bridge towards the tank.

All that was left of the once fearsome machine was a pile of twisted black wreckage, the carcass of some giant fighting beetle squashed by an even more giant boot. Its remains sparked and burned, shooting off a metallic pinging noise as unfired rounds in its destroyed magazine cooked off and detonated.

And that's how we do that,” the comm announced, with more than a hint of pride. “Those tanks are a bitch to take out.”

Daniel tapped the comm button. “It's good to have you in my sky again, Benaras. You keep on blowing shit up.” He stood and shouted to his men. “Into the trucks! We're running out of time!”

As the group rushed back into their assault vehicles Daniel's comm crackled again. It was Cooke this time. “What else do you need destroyed?” he asked in his sonorous voice. “Our sensors are picking up at least two more autotanks in your immediate area, and a lot of movement on the street beyond your bridge. Looks like it might be your SubVersion army.”

Daniel swung into the lead truck's passenger seat. “If you can, buzz the whole lot of them. Clear us a path to Central Admin's front door. That's where we're going.”

Roger that.”

Feel free to soften up Central Admin's security perimeter too, while you're at it.”

Roger that too.”

And Cooke?” Daniel hesitated, his stomach and his heart sinking. “Don't hit Central Admin itself. There's someone inside that we have to get out, alive.”

We'll make it happen. Out.”


Daniel slammed the door shut and leaned to the driver. “Go! Get us over this damn bridge!”

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

THE DEMON MAELSTROM is now live and available for purchase in paperback, for your Kindle device, or your smartphone Kindle app. I hope you all enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it for you.
Please leave a review on Amazon when you're done, reviews are one of the best things you can give me as a writer! (Just don't post any spoilers in the reviews, this book is rather heavy on surprises.)
Again, enjoy.

The paperback is available here.


The Kindle version is available here.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

The Demon Maelstrom, Excerpt #10

It was the same feeling as when Miriam was torn from him.

All around him, the world spun in a free-fall bedlam of noise and smoke and death. Everywhere he looked he saw the dead, and the ones doing the butchering, and heard the rush of jellied gasoline that preceded the scorching blast of fire that erupted behind him. His tenuous control of the mayhem had finally slipped free of his fingers. The order of the day was now to survive, to get out at all costs with anyone left alive.

The devil-masked SubVersion soldiers had surmounted the outer sandbagged defense and now swarmed towards the rear inside the original defensive line, bodily smashing through the remainder of Daniel's forward squad. Every shot they fired hit flesh, and when they got too close to fire they drew knives and hacked their way through. As they coursed around the conference center from both sides, Daniel spotted several racing across the roof carrying flame throwers. They stabbed the flame throwers through the cavity in the roof and lit them up, engulfing the building in a blast of roiling flame.


Get them out! Go! Move!” Daniel shouted into his mic, waving a hand to the second-to-last assault vehicle sitting at the top of the hill. Its occupants crouched in the cover of its open doors, laying down a blistering barrage of fire with their assault rifles. Simon spotted Daniel at the same time he heard his voice over the radio, and he nodded to Daniel. His face was a mask of despair, but he didn't waver. He shouted to his men and they shut themselves into the vehicle. Simon jumped into the driver's seat and mashed the accelerator pedal, sending the truck speeding down the hill towards the cover of the surrounding woods.

Daniel glanced back to the building and saw another SubVersion soldier rush to the edge of the roof, cradling a rocket launcher on his shoulder. Daniel whipped his rifle around and took aim, but was caught sideways when a grenade rolled into the dirt nearby and exploded. The shock and flying mud punched him off balance and sent him reeling to the ground. Out of the corner of his eye he saw the flash of a rocket igniting, and a trail of white smoke as said rocket streaked downhill towards its target.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

A Release Date and an Excerpt

I already made an announcement about it on Facebook, but I shall now make it official on the blog as well. The Demon Maelstrom will make its debut in print and Kindle ebook editions on the 31st of December of this year. That's right, there is now a timetable! Woohoo!

And to celebrate the announcement, here is one of the last excerpts that I will be posting before the book is released.

EXCERPT

The vehicle arrived in two minutes, and when Amanda saw the headlights approaching she rushed to it and hopped into the passenger's side of the warm interior. Kahua sat in the driver's seat and he flashed her a grin. “Where to, my lady?” he inquired cheerfully, putting the car into reverse and backing out into the street.

“My home,” she replied distantly. “I need sleep, and I need it now.”

“Bad operation? Dr. Charles said it would be complex, no?”

“Something like that,” Amanda replied. “No, not bad … just … melancholy.”

Kahua glanced over at her lap briefly before returning his eyes to the road ahead. “What's in the package?” he asked conversationally.

Amanda jumped a little at the question. “Oh, just Charles trying to buy back my affection,” she said, fingering the case. “A brain scanner he scrounged for us to use with the SubVersions. I'll take it over right away after our meeting tonight.”

Kahua raised his eyebrows. “Some men…” he remarked almost to himself.

Yeah,” Amanda breathed, her stomach knotting with an unknown feeling. “Some men.” She pulled the envelope free from the brain scanner case and turned it over in her hands. Her name was scrawled on the front in a masculine cursive hand, Amanda. She bit her lip at Charles' handwriting, a flood of memories rushing back and threatening to carry her away on their rising tide. Shaking her head, she slid a finger into the top of the envelope and ripped it open, pulling out the card inside.

A cartoon man stared at her from the front of the card, an apologetic grin on his face and his hands holding a wrapped gift which he held out to the viewer. Amanda smiled at the words “Let's Be Friends?” arcing over the cartoon man's head in puffy red letters. She flipped the card open…

and her heart stopped.

Inside were a few short sentences written in black pen:

Dear Amanda,

Remember what you are, a snitch and a liar. Central Admin has not forgotten Project Wraith.

The brain scanner you carry must go to where Vérité is keeping the SubVersions they stole, and it must be placed near a window. If both of these conditions are not met in the next twenty-four hours, Dr. Charles Wallace will be tortured to death. If you reveal any of this to anyone, especially your Vérité friends, I will expose Project Wraith and you will hang, either from Vérité's gibbet or Central Admin's.

You decide.

Have a good night, Mandy.


Love, Maelstrom