New Book Sample: Barren

Hi all!

It’s been a while since I posted anything on this blog (8 months apparently, according to the welcome message from WordPress when I logged in). I’ve been working hard on my next book, the Barren series! I promised my readers (at least the ones who are interested) that I would provide an excerpt of Barren so people can see what it’s going to be about and figure out if they’re interested or not. I’m feeling particularly sick right now, so I’m going to stop trying to think of anything else to say and just get on with it. Below is the first chapter of Barren, for those who wish to check it out.

Bear in mind, though, this is all from the first draft. Some things may change, any errors will be fixed, you know how it goes. This is far from the final product for this chapter, it’s really just to introduce the story and give you guys a feel for how the story will be told.

So, that being said…

Enjoy!

 

1

Earth Year 2185

6.3 light years from Earth

Lieutenant Junior Stephen Miller woke suddenly to the sounds of gunfire and screams. While he had been sound asleep seconds earlier, he now sat bolt upright in his bed, his eyes wide and alert, staring towards the metal door of his quarters with scrutiny and trepidation.
Beside him, his wife stirred and carefully sat up, unconsciously placing her hands over her heavily pregnant belly.
“What’s going on, Stephen?” Harriet asked, fearfully eying the door.
“Just wait here,” Miller replied. “Don’t leave this room.”
While two more gunshots rang out, Miller quickly approached the door in his T-shirt and pyjama pants. He pushed his hand on the button on the wall beside the entrance to the hallway beyond and the door immediately slid smoothly open. Miller glanced out into the hall and was greeted with the usual sights of the gray, unglamorous, corridor of the interstellar ship. the Panspermia. The cold steel, the glowing lights, the painted lines indicating which direction to go for whatever needs you may have were all familiar sights. What was different now, however, was the sound of screams emanating down the hall to Miller’s left. To his right, he saw two privates dragging an officer along the floor by his arms, both calling for a medical officer. Miller saw that the officer’s face and chest were bloody and he was completely limp, his feet dragging uselessly on the floor. There was a long red line of blood snaking through the corridor that indicated how far the two privates had dragged the officer. Miller silently thought that no medic alive could help the poor bastard now.
Just as Miller stared in shock at the privates trying in vain to help the officer, he noticed a familiar face rush by.
“McLernon!” Miller hissed, glancing down the corridor as he heard more gunshots in rapid succession.
The young Ensign named Dexter McLernon skidded to a halt as he ran by, turning and looking at Miller with wide and wild eyes.
“What the hell is going on?” Miller asked.
Ensign McLernon didn’t respond, but instead quickly rushed into Miller’s quarters. Despite the fact that Miller outranked him, McLernon roughly shoved Miller out of the way and slammed his hand down on the button to seal the room, the door sliding shut behind him.
“Dammit!” McLernon panted, leaning back against the wall, wiping sweat from his brow. Miller suddenly noticed that there was blood spatter on McLernon’s shirt. “Damn, Miller! Damn!”
“McLernon, calm down and tell me what the bloody hell is going on,” Miller barked in his Oxfordshire accent. “Why are you covered in blood? What happened out there? Are those gunshots I keep hearing?”
“Gunshots?” Harriet repeated from the bed behind him, sounding timid.
“It’s Captain Willems!” McLernon cried. While Miller was from Britain, McLernon was from West Lothian in Scotland and his accent was rather prominent. Miller was glad to be able to understand him, as he hadn’t been able to when they had gone drinking before launching from Earth.
That seems so long ago, now, Miller thought. Then, aloud, he said, “Willems? What’s happened?”
“Willems has lost his bloody marbles, man!” McLernon panted. “He’s got a gun! He’s shot up the entire bridge crew, and now he’s gunning down any sod who comes in to stop him!”
Miller simply gaped at McLernon in shock for a few seconds before he was able to form a reply.
“Why?” Miller demanded incredulously. “Willems has been a Captain longer than you and I have served! You must be wrong.”
“I’m bloody not wrong!” McLernon hissed. “I just came from the bridge. See this?” McLernon grabbed his shirt and shook the patches of blood that were soaking into the fibres. “This is Halibi’s! She and I went to the bridge when we heard the shots, then Willems fed her a mouthful of lead! He took a shot at me, too, but he missed, thank Christ. I took off looking for help.”
“Where did he even get a gun?” Miller demanded, trying to shake the feeling of nausea as he thought about poor Halibi. “They’re all supposed to be stowed away in cargo, no one but the US Marines has access.”
“Beats me,” McLernon said. “But he’s got it and he’s killed every ranking officer on the bridge, and then some.”
“Shit,” Miller swore. “So Willems has to be relieved of his command. Who’s the remaining ranking officer?”
McLernon blinked at Miller thoughtfully for a moment, then leaned closer and said, “You are.”
Of course I bloody am, Miller thought, sighing internally.
“Well then,” Miller said sternly, trying not to look as freaked out as he felt. “I guess we better go deal with this.”
“Stephen, no!” Harriet suddenly cried.
Miller turned to face her, surprised for a moment. He had almost forgotten she was there, distracted as he was. She was covering herself with the bedsheets and was glaring at Miller with wide eyes.
“He’s got a gun, Stephen!” Harriet said. “He could kill you!”
“Harriet,” Miller began, sitting down on the side of the bed and taking his wife’s hand. “If the Captain has already killed the entire bridge crew, then he’s probably used all of the ammunition he got a hold of. He couldn’t have smuggled much out with being caught. He’s probably already out. McLernon and I will go detain him and sort this mess out.”
“And a right bloody mess it is, too!” McLernon added.
Miller ignored him.
Harriet fixed her husband with a steely glare. “You promised me this would be safe,” she accused. “You told me by taking this job, you wouldn’t be in situations like this anymore. This is space, Stephen, not war. You’re not a soldier now. We volunteered for this so people wouldn’t be shooting at you anymore.”
“This isn’t like the old days,” Miller assured her. “I’m not dying today. And I have to stop Willems from hurting anybody else. Think of our baby.”
Harriet placed her hands on her belly again.
“Don’t do anything stupid, hero,” Harriet sighed, reaching out and stroking Miller’s cheek.
Miller took her hand in his and kissed her knuckles.
“Yes, ma’am.”
Moments later, Miller was in uniform and jogging through the corridor with McLernon at his side.
“I haven’t heard a shot in a while,” Miller noted.
“Aye,” McLernon nodded. “Maybe he’s out of ammo?”
Miller didn’t reply, but he silently hoped it would be that easy.
Finally, they reached the doors to the bridge. The automatic doors stood wide open and Miller immediately saw why. The body of Commander Fleming was lying in the way, preventing the doors from closing. There was a large hole in the back of his head, blood pooling on the floor.
“Dammit,” Miller hissed through his teeth.
Sidling up to the side of the door, being sure to move as quietly as possible, Miller braved a quick glance around the frame and into the bridge. McLernon stayed behind him, flat against the wall.
Miller saw Willems right away. The Captain was in his fifties, but was still fit and athletic, his black uniform fitting snugly around his toned muscles. Willems had torn off his tie and the top few buttons of his shirt were undone, and Miller momentarily thought about how strange it was to see him presenting himself in a way that was any less than what was expected for meeting the Royal Family.
Willems was pacing around the bridge in a hurried frenzy, rushing from computer to computer, stepping over bodies as though they weren’t there. Miller saw the gun in his hand, which Willems seemed to be subconsciously tapping against his temple whenever he changed stations, his face grimacing in a distraught panic. There was sweat beading on his forehead, despite the computer moderated temperature of the entire ship never getting above 25 degrees celsius. Miller could also hear Willems muttering to himself, his voice sounding choked with despair.
“No more,” Willems muttered as he punched a few commands into one computer with his free hand, just loud enough for Miller to hear. “No more… No more…”
“Captain Willems!” Miller shouted.
At the sound of Miller’s voice, Willems whirled away from the computer and aimed the gun at the doorway where Miller was standing just out of the line of fire.
“Who’s there!?” Willems demanded, though his voice was uncharacteristically shaky. “Show yourself!”
“I don’t think I’ll be doing that, sir,” Miller replied, staying behind the corner. “Not unless you put down the gun.”
“Then we seem to be at a stalemate,” Willems sniffed.
“Not quite, Captain,” Miller replied. “Word will have spread by now that you’ve murdered your crew. How long before the Marines come in looking to, ah… what’s the word they use? Neutralize the situation? They’ll gun you down, sir. If you cooperate with me, you might survive to face a trial.”
The gun shook once in Willems’ hand and his lip quivered. He ran his free hand over his short, wavy, gray hair.
“Let them kill me,” Willems said, his voice breaking once. “It doesn’t make a difference. Not anymore.”
Miller glanced to his right to arch an eyebrow at McLernon, who shrugged helplessly in response. Frowning, Miller turned back to the door.
“Captain Willems,” Miller called out. “I’m Lieutenant Junior Stephen Miller. I’ve served under you for the nine months we’ve been on this mission. You were trusted by a unanimous vote from the United Nations to captain the Panspermia and give the soldiers and civilians on this ship safe passage to our destination. Up until today, you’ve given no reason for anyone to suspect you might do something like this. Why now, sir? Why did you kill all these people?”
Willems didn’t reply at once. Instead, he glanced helplessly around the bridge, as though only now realizing that he had gunned down at least a dozen unarmed men and women.
“We received a message,” Willems finally replied.
“From Earth?” Miller asked, then realized it was a stupid question. Where the hell else would they have received a message from?
“Yes,” Willems answered flatly. “From Earth. It was… brief.”
Miller waited for more, but when Willems spoke again, it wasn’t to him.
“SALINA,” Willems said loudly, speaking to the ship’s artificially intelligent program, Sentient ALgorithm for INstantaneous Assistance.
“Yes, Captain,” came the autonomous female voice that was SALINA.
“Play the last received transmission from Earth received via laser relay.”
“Confirmed, Captain.”
Miller then heard a loud static noise fill the bridge. He swallowed nervously. Transmissions from Earth were rare, as they were difficult to transmit so far into deep space. Laser relay was reserved for emergencies and mission-vital intelligence.
“This can’t be good,” McLernon murmured, giving voice to Miller’s concerns.
“Attention Panspermia,” came a voice on the message, difficult to hear over the sound of static. “Earth preservation attempts… failed. Atmosphere breaking apart. Mission is scrapped, repeat, colonisation mission is scrapped. Mission time of twelve years no longer viable. Earth will be dead… by the time you receive this message. We have only days. It’s our suggestion that you proceed as planned to habitable planet E-dash-seven-niner-three-three-two, codenamed Novus, and settle the surviving members of humanity there as originally briefed, but… But don’t expect the rest of us to follow.”
There was a long pause as the speaker in the recorded message sighed audibly, possibly gathering their thoughts or taking a moment to let the information sink in.
“There’s nothing for you to come back to,” the speaker said despairingly. “Proceed as planned. Colonise Novus. You and your crew, and the passengers… you’re all that’s left.”
Then the message ended and silence filled the bridge.
“Jesus Christ,” McLernon whispered. He slowly slid to the floor and put his head between his knees. “I think I’m going to be sick.”
“Earth’s gone?” Miller asked, feeling cold all over. “How? We had time. The atmosphere was holding! We had another fifty years! The mission was going to work! We could have colonised Novus in time for global evac! What happened?”
“Your guess is as good as mine, Lieutenant,” Willems said, still holding the gun. “Maybe the eggheads who did the math forgot to carry the one. Point is, Earth’s gone. With no atmosphere, she’ll already be burned up by solar radiation. Humanity’s dead, son.”
McLernon groaned on the floor, his face visibly green. Miller scowled. Then he suddenly stepped out around the door and glared at Willems. The Captain trained the gun on him, but didn’t pull the trigger. Instead, he watched Miller with eyes that were full of loss.
“And that justifies you murdering all these people?” Miller demanded. “There are a quarter of a million people on this ship, who are apparently the last of mankind, and you just killed off a few more?”
“This is the way it has to be, son,” Willems replied sadly. “I left my kids behind, grandkids. They’re dead now. And I keep thinking, why would God do this to us? To the whole planet? Why would He let us all die? Then I realized. He wants us all to go home. He wants us with Him. Humanity had its run, Miller. It’s over.”
“It’s not over,” Miller snarled. “We’re still here! We’re still alive!”
“Are we?” Willems asked blankly. “Are we still alive? Floating through space in this giant coffin?”
“This ship was… is the last chance for humanity,” Miller insisted. “You’re talking like humanity is already extinct.”
Suddenly, Willems laughed humorlessly. He then fixed his cold and miserable eyes on Miller’s.
“Sure it is,” he said. “You just don’t know it yet.”
Then he pressed the gun against his own temple.
“No!” Miller cried.
The shot rang out and Willems’ brains splattered against the nearest computer monitor. His body fell to the floor in a heap.
“Dammit to hell!” Miller raged.
McLernon poked his head around the door and took in what had just happened.
“Well, I guess that’s that,” he said grimly.
“At least he can’t hurt anyone else, now,” Miller sighed.
Suddenly, SALINA began to speak. The suddenness of her flat tone made Miller jump.
“Captain Willems’ vitals have flatlined,” SALINA reported. “Searching manifest for surviving superior officer. Commander Jasper Fleming… Deceased. Lieutenant Commander Akina Goh… Deceased. Lieutenant Abdi Malik Osman… Deceased. Lieutenant Junior Stephen Miller… Surviving superior officer. Suitable replacement for Captain located.”
“Hell of a way to get promoted, mate,” McLernon said to Miller.
“Lieutenant Junior Stephen Miller,” SALINA said, addressing Miller directly now. “The Captain and other ranking officers are deceased. You are now the ranking officer on board this ship. Do you understand and accept this responsibility?”
Miller understood, but wasn’t sure if he wanted to accept. If that message he heard was true, then he was now responsible for the lives of the remaining members of the human race. The thought of it made him feel physically ill. He was barely ready to be responsible for one life, that of his unborn child. Now he was responsible for just under 250,000 lives?
Regardless of his own misgivings, Miller took a step farther into the bridge and said loudly, “Yes. I do, SALINA.”
“Security authorisation required,” SALINA replied. “Lieutenant Miller, place your hand on the scanner at the Captain’s station.”
Miller approached the chair and terminal that had once belonged to Willems. On the arm of the chair, there was a rectangular section that looked like white plastic, with green lights glowing softly around the edges. Miller placed his hand on the rectangle and waited as the green lights scanned his palm and fingerprints, confirming his identity.
“Identity confirmed,” SALINA said. “Emergency Override Code required to instate Lieutenant Junior Miller as acting Captain of the Panspermia.”
Miller had been trained in similar scenarios and had the code committed to memory, but he never once thought he would ever need to use it.
“Emergency Override Code, Foxtrot-Zulu-Golf-Bravo, seven-niner-three, Oscar-Echo-Sierra, zero-five-one-niner. Lieutenant Junior Stephen Miller, requesting override of security in response to multiple casualties of commanding officers. Requesting permission from ship’s intelligence to take command of the Panspermia.”
“Authorisation granted,” SALINA replied. “Captain Miller on deck.”
Miller sighed with a mix of relief and anxiety, taking his hand away from the scanner. “All that’s left now is to get these people to their new home,” he said to McLernon.
“Aye, Captain,” McLernon responded.
Miller felt strange being called Captain, but didn’t say anything. He was surveying the chaos that Willems had left behind after his psychotic break. The dead bodies were everywhere Miller looked. Officers, privates, even civilians, all gunned down without pity or mercy. Some had collapsed on the floor as they tried to flee the room or protect one another, perhaps even trying to restrain Willems. Other never even rose from their work stations, simply slumping over their screens, blood running over the desks and dripping to the floor.
“Bloody Willems,” McLernon sighed, surveying the scene beside Miller.
“I don’t get why he would do this,” Miller said. “He got the psych evaluation, just like everyone else. He was cleared.”
“I guess even shrinks can’t predict how someone will react if their whole planet gets wiped out,” McLernon replied.
Miller frowned as he considered this, still slowly looking from body to body, work station to work station. He felt uneasy. Not because of all the death he was facing, his years in the Navy had shown him his fair share of death. Something else was nagging at him. A feeling, an instinct, an unexplainable sense of imminent danger.
“SALINA!” Miller shouted, startling McLernon with his sudden urgency. “I need a run down of all systems on the Panspermia. Life support, gravitational rotation of the ship, water supply, everything! Do it now!”
“Yes Captain,” SALINA replied calmly.
“What’s wrong?” McLernon asked, following Miller as he hurried to the nearest work station.
Miller used his hand to wipe away as much blood as possible from the screen that was embedded in the desk, smearing most of it but allowing just enough visibility to start typing away at the keyboard.
“When we came in,” Miller began in a hurry, “Willems was typing commands into the computers. He killed everyone in the room, scared everyone else away, and started going from computer to computer.”
“So?” McLernon asked, watching Miller typing hurriedly. “You think he compromised the ship? Wouldn’t SALINA know and stop him if he did that?”
Miller shook his head. “No, she couldn’t. SALINA isn’t designed to have access to the bridge terminals. And she’s also programmed to never question or disobey any order from the captain. Her engineers were worried about if she malfunctioned and commandeered the ship or something. They didn’t want to risk an AI take over on this mission. SALINA can access only what she needs to do her job, regulating life support systems, she can check the health of everyone on board via their spinal inserts, but that’s it. If Willems did anything to the ship, SALINA wouldn’t know until her regular systems check every 48 hours. By then, it could be too late to do anything about a problem.”
“If Willems did anything,” McLernon said, sounding hopeful. “I mean, he wouldn’t kill everyone, would he?”
“He said humanity is already extinct,” Miller said grimly, looking at the screen. “But we don’t know it yet. Look.”
Miller stood up straight and gestured to the screen. McLernon looked, studying the screen scrupulously while his face remained impassive. Suddenly, he registered what he was seeing and his eyes shot wide open as he straightened, stepping back from the computer as though it might explode.
“Willems accessed the reactor?” McLernon asked hoarsely.
Miller nodded, his lips pressed tightly together. The Panspermia’s reactor was the most advanced of its kind. A nuclear fusion power generator. At the rear of the miles-long ship, the propulsion system that had carried them this far into space was something that scientists had dreamed of since the 20th century. Powerful enough to propel the ship continuously through space, slowly reaching a top speed that was a quarter the speed of light. A journey that once would have taken 400 years suddenly took only 100, while their current destination was reachable from Earth in a little over 7. The propulsion system was powered by, quite literally, a miniature sun. It was suspended at the rear of the ship, feeding power to the engines and the other vital systems that kept them all alive. Without that miniature, man-made sun, humanity would never have been able to reach beyond its own solar system.
However, as vital as the nuclear fusion sun was, it was also as deadly as any natural sun. It emitted massive amounts of radiation, which was contained by a lead sphere casing, more than 20 feet thick, allowing it to support life on the ship instead of destroy it.
“What the bloody hell was he accessing the reactor for?” McLernon nearly shouted.
“Captain,” SALINA suddenly said. Miller thought he heard a sense of urgency in her computerized voice, but then dismissed it as his imagination. “Access hatches to the reactor have been opened. The fusion sun is leaking radiation through the sphere.”
“Fusion radiation dies out, though,” McLernon said quickly, glancing nervously between Miller and the computer. “Fusion isn’t like fission. The radioactive waste dies out fast. Even if it is leaking, it won’t stick around long enough to kill us all. Will it?”
“Not exactly,” Miller said, feeling like he wanted nothing more than to sit down somewhere dark and quiet and throw up. “The fusion sun is a near-limitless source of power, and a shelf life of ten-thousand years. It leaks radiation as fast as it produces energy. Even with the radiation dissipating, it’s producing it faster than it can die out. That’s why it’s cased in the lead sphere. Before long, radiation will flood the whole ship.”
“So…” McLernon began, looking pale. “We’re screwed?”
“Damn,” Miller hissed, though he felt like saying far worse. “SALINA, can you shut it down? Stop the leak?”
“Negative, Captain,” SALINA replied. “While that action is ordinarily well within my parameters, it appears that the late Captain Willems managed to recode a portion of my programming. I am unable to seal the leak until rebooting.”
“Can you reboot?” Miller asked. “How long will that take?”
“Too long, Captain,” SALINA said. “Approximately 18 hours is required to restore complete access to the ship.”
“And how long until we’re all poisoned and dying?”
“Approximately 10 hours, Captain.”
This time Miller did swear. He sighed and rubbed his hands over his face, thinking. He stared at the enormous screen at the front of the bridge which provided a digital view of the vast expanse of space ahead. He glanced down at a nearby computer, studying the mass of numbers and readings that were provided automatically. Miller then looked up to the large windows that offered a clear view into space. Only the solar blinds were down; thick steel used to seal the windows against the dangerous glare of nearby suns, comets, or other bright objects in space. They were also used as airtight seals in the event of a fracture in the glass, preventing decompression. Miller narrowed his eyes as he stared at the visors.
“Wait,” Miller said slowly. “Why are the solar blinds closed?”
“Captain,” McLernon began, “with all due respect, I think we have bigger problems right now.”
Miller ignored McLernon and looked down at the readouts on the screen in front of him. “We’re still on course,” he said thoughtfully, as though it surprised him.
“Miller!” McLernon growled. “There’s a never ending cloud of radiation seeping through the ship! What are we going to do about it?”
“SALINA,” Miller said, as though McLernon hadn’t spoken. “Open the solar blinds.”
The steel screens immediately began to open. They slid apart, slowly revealing what should have been an endless expanse of black nothingness. Instead, Miller saw a distant sphere amidst the background of space, slowly getting larger.
“What the…” Miller began. “There’s not supposed to be anything here! We’re off course!”
“SALINA should have picked up on this!” McLernon said angrily.
“Apologies, Captain,” SALINA said. “It appears that the late Captain Willems reprogrammed the navigational readouts as well as my parameters. The screens show our course as it should be, but we are millions of miles off course.”
“Can we course correct?” Miller demanded.
“Negative, sir,” SALINA replied. “Willems has severed my connections to the autopilot and disabled the ship’s controls. The course cannot be corrected.”
“He must have planned this weeks ago,” Miller cried. “He’s got us on a collision course with that planet!”
“That son of a bitch just killed the human race,” McLernon moaned.
“Where the hell are we, SALINA?” Miller demanded. “What planet is this?”
“The planet is designation J-dash-seven-six-three-seven,” SALINA recited. “Codename; Icarus.”
“What do we know about it?” Miller asked, his heart racing. “Can humans survive on the surface?”
“Little is known about Icarus, but survival is somewhat plausible,” SALINA replied. “At the time of Icarus’ discovery, the Earth was already deteriorating and resources were spread thin due to the concentrated efforts to ensure humanity could reach Novus, so no extensive research was undertaken. It is known that Icarus does have an atmosphere containing oxygen, nitrogen, argon, carbon dioxide, and other elements required to sustain human life. It is similar in size to Earth, the gravity being 1.1 times that of Earth’s gravity, meaning you will be able to survive on the surface. However, it is my duty to inform you that while the planet resides within the habitable zone around its parent star, it is very much on the line. It skims the edge of the habitable zone closest to the parent star and is hotter and drier than Earth. It is conceivable that your race can survive there, though not without great difficulty.”
“It’d be far easier to survive there than on this ship once it’s full of radiation,” Miller pointed out. “How long until we reach it?”
“Willems seems to have slowed propulsion to change our heading,” SALINA began, “but at our current velocity, the Panspermia will enter Icarus’ atmosphere in approximately 37 minutes.”
“You mean we’ll crash?” McLernon asked.
“Yes, Ensign,” SALINA replied patiently. “We will crash. And everyone on board will die.”
Miller rubbed both hands over his face, making a frustrated noise of helplessness. He had been Captain for less than 10 minutes and already everything was falling apart. There was only one thing he could think to do, but it was enormously risky. However, he felt that they were still somehow lucky, in a sense. If Willems hadn’t changed their course to crash the ship into this planet, then they would have had no chance at survival. Now though… Likelihood of survival just flopped from zero to slim.
“Issue an evacuation,” Miller said firmly. “Abandon ship. Make sure everyone is in their sections. We’re going to land on Icarus.”
“You can’t be serious?” McLernon said incredulously. “Can’t we just manually seal the lead sphere?”
“That’s what Willems was counting on us to try,” Miller realized aloud. “He altered the readouts to show we were on course, then lowered the flare blinds to hide the planet we’re about to crash into. He wanted us to waste time focusing on the radiation leak while we ran headlong into this planet without even realizing. Our only chance is to land there.”
“We don’t know the first thing about that planet!”
“We know we have a chance to survive!” Miller shouted. “And the odds of that are a hell of a lot better than if we stay on this ship. We have radiation leaking behind us and a fiery crash in front of us. The only chance anyone has right now is to evacuate the ship and land safely on this planet! Now, Ensign, I’m ordering that we evacuate the ship!”
“Aye, Captain,” McLernon said begrudgingly.
“SALINA,” Miller said. “Sound the alarm. Announce for all crew and passengers to remain in their evac stations. We’re abandoning ship.”
“Yes, Captain,” SALINA replied. Then, as sirens wailed through the ship and her voice ordered people to their stations, she added, “Captain, it appears that there is a problem.”
“Oh God, what now?” Miller sighed.
“The automatic release of the evac sections is not responding,” SALINA explained. “I believe Captain Willems’ sabotage has reached a third front.”
“We can’t evacuate now?” McLernon cried.
Miller closed his eyes in despair. He thought of his wife, Harriet, waiting for him in their cabin, scared by the alarms and the call for evacuation. He thought of his unborn child, whose future was now so uncertain. The moment SALINA told him what Willems had done, he knew what he had to do. But even though he knew it was the only option, he wished there was someone else who could do it.
“Dexter,” Miller began, surprising himself with how calm he sounded. “Get to an evac station. Make sure Harriet goes, too. She might want to wait for me, but don’t let her. You get her out, you hear me? Make sure she gets out.”
“Miller, what are you talking about?” McLernon asked, his voice quivering. Miller knew McLernon wasn’t a fool. The Scot knew exactly what Miller was thinking. He just didn’t want to admit it.
“I’m giving you a direct order, Dexter,” Miller said, a little more firmly. “Evacuate. Now.”
McLernon was shaking his head. “No. No, Stephen, I can’t. Not like this.”
“This is the only way, Dexter,” Miller insisted. “It’s my life versus 250,000 others. Including my wife. I have to stay back. I have to manually disengage the evac stations.”
“Can’t SALINA do it?” McLernon asked desperately, already knowing the answer.
“No,” Miller said. “Only the Captain can authorize an emergency evacuation before reaching the destination. This is the only way.”
“No!” McLernon snapped. “Let me stay! I’ll do it! You’ve got Harriet, your baby… You can’t do this.”
“Manual authorization requires a hand recognition scan to proceed,” Miller replied, waving his left hand at McLernon gently. “Besides, how could I ask you to do something like this?”
“This isn’t right!” McLernon cried, beside himself with despair. “Willems did this! It should be him strapped to that damn scanner!”
“A lot of things should have happened,” Miller smiled humorlessly. “But this is what’s actually happening. Come on, there isn’t much time left. You have to go. You, er… you take care of Harriet for me, yeah? Can you tell her I love her? That I will always love her. And my child… make sure they know who their father was. Make sure they’re okay. That they… that…”
McLernon was nodding. “Yeah. Of course. I promise.”
“Okay then,” Miller sighed. He then reached out a hand to McLernon, who took it after a moment of hesitation. The two shook hands, saying farewell. Then, unable to think of another argument, and determined to keep his promise, McLernon left the bridge.
Miller sighed heavily and sat down in the Captain’s chair.
“Well,” he said. “I guess it’s just you and me now, SALINA.”
“Captain,” SALINA began. “It is my duty to inform you that there is a zero percent chance of surviving this. Are you certain you want to proceed?”
“No,” Miller replied. “But it has to be done. Our only directive right now is to ensure the survival of the human race. Do you understand?”
“Yes, Captain.”
Throughout the ship, people were shouting and running, on the verge of a panic. They knew they shouldn’t be at Novus yet. This was not in the plan. It was too soon. But they all quickly moved to the enormous evacuation stations. Thousands upon thousands of people, filing into cavernous rooms full of chairs, strapping themselves in. Supplies of all kinds were already stored in the lower levels of the stations, full of food, water, tools, all the things they were going to need once they reached Novus. Now they hoped that they could use them still, wherever they were going instead.
McLernon helped a distraught Harriet Miller to a seat and strapped her in, her silent tears breaking his heart. He felt guilty looking at her, but he had made a promise. It was one he was determined to keep.
Harriet understood why her husband was doing this, but it didn’t ease her pain. She closed her eyes as she waited for everyone to strap in and she let the tears roll down her face, her hands unconsciously holding her belly.
In the bridge, Miller checked the screens to see the progress of the evac. They’d made good time. 90 percent completion in 20 minutes, less than 5 minutes estimated until 100 percent evac readiness. Leaving him with 10 minutes and change.
“SALINA,” Miller began. “Give me a report on the radiation leak.”
“Radiation has leaked into the rear four sections of the ship,” SALINA reported. “Radiation poisoning is a strong likelihood.”
“What are their chances of survival?”
“At this moment, irreversible damage has been done,” SALINA said almost sadly. “The people in those four sections will be developing tumors, there will be defects to the unborn children currently in gestation, similar to the aftereffects in Japan after the United States dropped their nuclear bomb on Hiroshima. Then there is the concern for the safety of those currently unaffected. Should those exposed to radiation come into contact with anyone not exposed, they run the risk of spreading the contamination.”
“It sounds like you’re suggesting I write them off, SALINA,” Miller observed calmly.
“No, Captain. Merely pointing out the facts. As you said, our sole directive is the survival of the human race.”
Despite the situation, Miller smiled. Though it was half-hearted and grim. Then it was gone and Miller sighed heavily.
“Jettison the four contaminated sections,” Miller ordered, placing his hand down on the scanner. “Let them make it to Icarus, but far away from the others. Let them live whatever lives they have left.”
“Yes, Captain.”
Miller couldn’t see it, and the ship was far too large for him to feel it, but four enormous capsules, each one the size of a football field, detached themselves from the ship and immediately began to burn their thrusters and head towards the sulphur colored planet in the distance. Miller wished them all Godspeed.
“On my count,” Miller began, watching the planet Icarus looming through the windows. “Release the remaining evac stations. Three… Two… One… Release!”
Before long, Miller was the only human remaining on the Panspermia. The evac stations were left behind, as the large ship was moving much faster. The planet grew larger and larger in the windows, now taking up the entire view. Everywhere Miller looked, he saw brown and red and decaying yellow.
“Oh God, please let them make it,” Miller prayed. “Please let them survive.”
A short time later, the ship began to vibrate violently as it entered Icarus’ atmosphere. The windows began to glow red as the planet’s atmosphere burned at the cold ship. Fire licked against the glass and steel, plunging Miller’s view into something far more hellish than space.
“You with me SALINA?” Miller asked, feeling fear grip him.
“I’m here, Captain.”
“You remember our directive?” Miller asked, holding tightly to the seat.
“Of course, Captain.”
“Do you think we succeeded?”
SALINA was silent for a moment before responding.
“Only time will tell, sir.”
Finally, the Panspermia struck the brown and red surface of Icarus. Stephen Miller served as the Captain for the briefest amount of time, but was remembered as its greatest hero.

A New Chapter

Hi, everybody! (If you read that in the voice of Doctor Nick from The Simpson’s, you’re awesome)

As I announced earlier this week on my Facebook page, I’ve been in the middle of a hard edit on the Reaper Series to fix a few minor errors that made it through the initial editing stages. Like I said on my Facebook page, as an independent author, I don’t have the time, money, nor the team to publish a book the way that a professional publishing firm can. BUT the good thing about it is that if mistakes are made, I can fix them whenever I want. Publishing houses would have to recall thousands of book units if they wanted to fix a printing error in their publication, but not me! I can just click a button.

Anyway, while the hard editing I’m doing is just for those minor little grammatical errors that slipped through, and the story itself doesn’t change at all, I also wrote a new first chapter for Angel of Death. So I’m going to share that with everyone now, so that the people who have already bought and read Angel of Death can enjoy (hopefully) the extra chapter without having to mess around trying to either update their current ebook version or download a new one, and maybe it will even encourage those of you who haven’t read it to go and give it a try. Remember, Angel of Death is free forever, people!

So without any further ramblings, here it is. The brand new first chapter to Angel of Death. If you have feedback you’d like to share with me, please do, I love hearing what my readers have to say. 😀

 

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THE FINAL SUNRISE

The prisoner never raised his head all night, not until he felt the warmth of the sun on the back of his neck. As he sat on the edge of the bed and peered out the barred windows, he saw the sun beginning to rise, the light peeking back through the iron bars at him. He knew it was the last dawn he would ever see.

He never thought before that this was how his life would end. It was 1775, he was still a young man, and his life was to be suddenly cut short, just because of one foolish evening.

When the American colonies decided to go to war with England for independence, he had thought it was only a concern for those who called themselves his owners. But then those same people had “donated” him to the cause, making him a soldier, fighting to defeat the oppressors of his oppressors. So then he had thought his life would end with him lying facedown on some blood soaked battlefield, having died fighting for a cause that was never going to be extended to him.

Freedom.

Darius clenched his fists to stifle his fear as he felt it swelling inside once more. He stared at the irons they had locked around his wrists and slowly counted to ten to calm down. He remembered when they had put the irons on him. He remembered he had never struggled, never argued, just stood there and allowed himself to be imprisoned. As a slave in Boston, he was used to wearing chains. He had worn them his entire life, both literally and metaphorically.

Darius turned his ear to the door of his cell when he suddenly heard footsteps approaching and a tense conversation.

“Do we have to shoot him?” asked a soft, nervous, voice.

“What’s wrong, Thomas?” an older, gruffer, voice replied. “You never shot a colored boy before?”

“Darius took a deep intake of air and slowly exhaled. They were coming for him. It was almost time.

“I just mean,” Thomas began, “that wouldn’t it be better to hang him? Isn’t that more… traditional?”

The older one, who Darius could now identify by he gravelly voice as being named Raymond, snorted with derision.

“Hangings are for thieves and common crooks,” Raymond growled. “Traitors, though, you gotta shoot ‘em. Firing squad. No less than they deserve.”

At that moment, Darius saw Thomas and Raymond appear on the other side of the cell door. They were both dressed plainly, but Darius could see their muskets on their backs and their pistols at their hips. The two militia soldiers glared in at him, both judging him, both condemning him. Though Darius noted that Raymond looked at him with far more contempt than young Thomas did. Thomas had always been one of the nicer ones. Not exactly nice, but nicer, which was always the best Darius could ever hope for.

Raymond unlocked the heavy door and pushed it open, sill glaring at Darius with disdain.

“On your feet, boy,” Raymond barked. “It’s time.”

Without saying a word, Darius slowly rose from the side of the small bed he had been sitting on, his chains jangling at his wrists. Without argument, without struggle, he allowed the two militia soldiers to lead him out of the cell.

Once outside, with Raymond and Thomas standing on either side of him, Darius came face to face with the rest of the small militia squad, all staring at him furiously, looking as though they longed to draw their pistols and shoot him in the head right there and then. Darius almost wished that they would just get on with it already, but his fear of what was to come was close to overwhelming. It was a struggle just to keep his hands from shaking and he felt as though he might be sick. However, he kept himself composed. He didn’t want these men to know his fear. He wouldn’t give them that. They could take everything else, had taken everything else, but they couldn’t take his pride.

“Let’s go,” Raymond grunted to everyone.

They all then began marching out of the small town. Darius refused to look around, but he could feel the eyes of the locals on him. Watching him march away. No one spoke up for him; no one tried to defend him, which Darius had known from the beginning that they wouldn’t. It wasn’t the way the world worked. Not his world, anyway. But the stoic faces of the locals were soon left behind and Darius found himself, all too soon, standing before a small forest just on the outskirts of the town.

“This is it,” Raymond said.

He then grabbed Darius’ shoulders and forced him to turn around and face him, then shoving his back against the nearest tree.

“Any last words, boy?” Raymond growled.

Darius remained silent and looked past Raymond at a point far in the distance. He focused on the sunrise and swallowed his fear, taking in the glowing pink and gold of the sky.

“When you get to Hell,” Raymond sneered, “tell Myles we sent you. I’m sure he’ll be real glad to see you again.”

Raymond stepped back and stood with the other men, spitting on the ground at Darius’ feet.

“Ready!” Raymond shouted.

The other soldiers all drew their muskets.

“Aim!” Raymond boomed.

The soldiers took aim and Darius offered a silent prayer to God, but didn’t hold much hope. He knew Hell awaited him for the things he had done. So instead of more prayer, Darius just set his eyes on the horizon, taking in the colors of the morning, and lifted his chin slightly, almost in defiance of the men about to end his life.

“Fire!”

The sunrise was the last thing Darius saw in his life.

For My Awesome Fans

The following is the first chapter (1st draft version) of my new book that I am writing, City Of Crows. It is a supernatural thriller, with maybe a little bit of horror thrown in to the mix. I’m sharing it now so that my readers, who are completely awesome and always give their support and encouragement and show so much enthusiasm for everything I do, can get an idea of what the book will be like, as it’s a little different from the last four books I’ve written. For those of you who read this, you are amazing! Enough talk, on to the story!

 

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CITY OF CROWS

Ana Velasco’s feet pounded hard against the earth as she sprinted through the woods. Her heart was pounding loudly in her ears, the only sounds she could hear now being the fearful thump-THUMP of her beating heart, and her own panting breath. She was struggling for air, struggling to keep breathing, she had been running as fast as she could for so long. She had to, though, if she stopped… she died.

Ana raised her arms and shielded her face as she ran though a low hanging thicket of tree branches, sending leaves flying everywhere as she ploughed through. She heard the branches snap under the force of her momentum, but she just kept running, too afraid to even slow down, too terrified to even look back. She knew they were back there. She knew they were following her. Chasing her. Pursuing her.

Hunting her.

Continuing to run as fast as she could, Ana felt her foot catch on something sticking up out of the ground. She cried out as she fell, throwing her hands forward to try and stop herself from falling. She hit the ground hard, her face crashing into the dirt and fallen leaves. Even though her arms and hands were now chafed and scratched and bloody, and her head throbbed painfully, Ana pushed herself up to her feet, sobbing gently as she gasped for air, twigs and dried leaves now caught in her long black hair, and kept running.

Finally, Ana saw up ahead the place she was heading. It was a small cabin, desolate and seemingly abandoned. The cabin looked ancient, like it had been built hundreds of years ago out of nothing but what the builder had found on the forest floor. Long lengths of wood packed in tightly together, the gaps sealed with mud. But there was safety in that cabin. Behind its rickety door and uneven windows, Ana knew there was her only hope.

Ana didn’t spare a glance upward as a shadow passed over her face. Instead, it seemed as though the passing shadow urged her to run faster.  Her long black hair trailed out behind her as she fled, like the tail of a comet, until Ana reached the door to her cabin and pushed her way inside. Panting and wheezing, Ana immediately turned and slammed the door shut. As she leaned against it and looked around the inside of the small, one room, cabin, Ana wished that the door had a lock. Although, she knew that a lock would serve her no purpose now. If they wanted to come in, they would. And she didn’t have much time.

Still panting, trying to ignore the excruciating stitch that was twisting like a hot knife in her side, Ana hurried around the cabin and began pulling open the cabinets and snatching out numerous objects, not caring when she knocked other items to the floor in her hurry.

“Quick, quick, quick!” Ana muttered to herself fearfully.

Ana swept numerous items out of her cabinets in a hurry, carelessly tossing them to the floor as she searched. Blue candles and bottles of incense all thumped against the wooden floor and rolled away, but Ana paid them no attention. She thrust her arms deep inside the cabinets above her head and finally found what she was looking for. Still panting in her exhaustion and fear, Ana retrieved a compact mirror and a tall, thick, white, candle. Clutching them both tightly in her hands, Ana turned around and hurried towards the corner of the large rug that covered the majority of the tiny cabin floor. Clutching the mirror and candle in one hand, Ana bent down and grasped the corner of the rug in her free hand and yanked it backwards, tossing the whole rug aside in one fling.

Beneath the rug was a symbol marked on the floor in white paint. It was large, taking up the entire space that the rug had covered. It was a wide circle, but within the circle was a five pointed star, painted as though in one continuous stroke, the line never breaking. One point of the star was pointing directly at the door through which Ana had rushed only moments ago.

This star was known as a pentagram.

Ana quickly set the compact mirror down on the floor above the point of the star that faced the door, opening the mirror and placing it carefully outside of the pentagram’s circle, the reflective glass facing the only way in or out. Ana then put the thick candle down on the floor, directly on top of the tip of the pentagram’s point closest to the door, right behind the compact mirror. Her hands shaking, Ana then took a book of matches from her pocket and tried to strike a match, but her hands were too unsteady.

“Dammit, come on,” Ana pleaded through gritted teeth, not sure if she wanted to yell in anger or sob in fear.

Finally she managed to strike a match and a small flame began to flicker at the end of the stick pinched in her fingers. Ana lit the candle and then blew out the match, falling to her knees in the center of the pentagram, facing the burning candle. Somewhere outside, she heard the distinct call of a crow, which was then answered by another crow.

Caw! Caw! Caw!

Forcing herself to ignore them, Ana focused on the burning fire of the candle, poured all of her attention into it, and stared at it without blinking. When she spoke, it was in a hurried whisper, as though in a single breath that she couldn’t wait to exhale, speaking words as fast and quietly as she could.

Craft the spell in the fire, 

Craft it well, weave it higher,

Weave it now of shining flame, 

None shall come to hurt or maim. 

None shall pass this fiery wall, 

None shall pass, no, none at all.

Having spent all of her breath, Ana puffed for a moment, then drew in another deep breath and repeated the chant, even faster than before.

Craft the spell in the fire, 

Craft it well, weave it higher, 

Weave it now of shining flame, 

None shall come to hurt or maim. 

None shall pass this fiery wall, 

None shall pass, no, none at all.

Ana jumped when she heard the scuttling noise on the roof of her cabin. She instinctively wanted to look up toward the noise, but knew that she needed to keep focus on the burning flame on the white candle. Ana then heard the call of a crow once more, this time from the roof of her cabin. It must have landed there. Ana swallowed hard, her throat dry and sore, but repeated the chant again, this time louder than a whisper.

Craft the spell in the fire, 

Craft it well, weave it higher, 

Weave it now of shining flame, 

None shall come to hurt or maim. 

None shall pass this fiery wall, 

None shall pass, no, none at all.

Then the fire on the candle suddenly began to burn brighter. It seemed to intensify, growing taller as Ana spoke her words, staring unblinkingly into the center of the flame. Ana could hear the wind outside suddenly growing stronger, banging the shutters outside her windows. The wind now howled through the forest, wailing and moaning, while the sound of cawing crows could still be heard outside. Ana said the words again, louder still, almost shouting them. By the time Ana had finished the chant once more, the flame on the candle was now towering from the floor to Ana’s eye level, a good three feet as she kneeled before it. Ana began the chant once more, this time yelling the words at the candle.

“CRAFT THE SPELL IN THE FIRE,

CRAFT IT WELL, WEAVE IT HI-“

Suddenly, the door to the cabin burst open and a powerful gust of wind pushed its way inside, sending pages of books flipping rapidly and discarded candles rolling across the floor. The small mirror was knocked over in the wind and fell closed on itself, no longer reflecting the door. The sudden blast of wind surprised Ana and she turned her face away from the door, shielding her eyes with her arm, breaking eye contact with the candle flame for the first time since she lit it. The instant Ana looked away, the towering flame suddenly died.

“No!” Ana cried as she realized what she had done.

Before she was able to do anything about what had happened, Ana looked up and saw the shadowy shapes approaching through her door, descending upon her.

All she could do was scream.

Life After Death: A Glance At Things To Come

“Okay, class,” Darius began, switching the projector to the next slide, which consisted of a list of textbook titles and chapters. “We’ll leave our discussion there for now. I’d like you all to read these before next week, and we’ll continue our discussion on-”

“Hey!”

Darius stopped short as the angry shout from the back of the lecture hall interrupted him and caused every student to turn their heads in surprise and curiosity. Storming down the aisle between the seats was a heavyset man with not a single hair on his head. Darius watched, perplexed, as the man stomped angrily to the front of the lecture hall and stopped just short of running into Darius and jabbed a finger into his chest.

“You’ve got a lot of nerve, pal,” the man growled, poking Darius’ chest a couple more times.

“Dad!” a female student cried out, sounding horrified and humiliated. “What the Hell are you doing?”

The man poked his thick finger into Darius’ chest once more, ignoring his daughter, and said, “Just what’s your game, huh? You get a kick out of brainwashing kids with your fairytales?”

“Sir, please calm down,” Darius frowned, resisting the urge to grab the man’s poking finger and break it. “Let’s step outside and discuss what’s bothering you. Everyone, you can go to your next classes.”

“No way, pal,” the man snapped, shaking his head. “These kids stay right where they are and hear some truth for a change. What gives you the right to fill my daughter’s head with your nonsense? This is supposed to be a school! But here you are, every damn day, telling her and the others about God and Angels and ‘the truth about religion,’ what gives you the right? My daughter is smarter than that, she doesn’t need you confusing her with talk like God is actually real.”

“Sir, if you insist on talking about this in front of the students, fine,” Darius scowled. “I’ve never been so bold as to force the students to believe any particular thing. They each have their own faiths and I wouldn’t dream of belittling them or trying to change their beliefs in any way. But you’re right. This is a school. And I teach facts. This is Religious Education. Not a church. I don’t preach and I don’t proselytize. I teach about the history of religion and we discuss aspects of theology from many faiths. Nothing more. Now, if you have a complaint about my teaching style, you’re more than welcome to take it up with the Dean.”

“I have,” the man snapped. “He shut me down. I guess you got him brainwashed, too. So I’m here to talk to you and make you stop making my kid think that there’s actually a God.”

“Oh, is that what this is about?” Darius asked, suddenly amused. “You don’t believe in God, so no one else should either?”

“That’s not what I said,” the man growled. “Just not my daughter. She’s smarter than that.”

“Oh my God, Dad, just go home!” the apparent daughter shouted.

“Stay out of this, Bella,” the man snapped. Then, turning back to Darius, said, “I’ll be making a formal complaint about you. You’re not being respectful to the beliefs of these students.”

Darius just smirked. Then, leaning slightly to the side so as to see around the large berth of the angry man, said to the class, “Does anyone here think that I have brainwashed them in any way?”

No one said a word. Darius could see heads shaking and others were snickering and smirking at one another.

“No one?” Darius pressed. “Well, does anyone else think that I’ve been disrespectful toward their faith?”

Again, no one responded in the affirmative.

“What about you, Bella?” Darius asked, looking at the angry man’s daughter. “I don’t mean to single you out, but do you agree with your father? Am I a disgrace to teaching?”

Bella looked directly at her father, her face bright red from embarrassment, but her expression one of intense rage. “Absolutely not, sir.”

“You’re filling their heads with garbage!” the man shouted, apparently ignoring his daughter and all of the other students. “You need to stop talking to them like God is real, or I’ll make sure you never teach again.”

“So even after the Global Revelation,” Darius began, “you still don’t believe there’s a God? No Heaven? Nothing after life at all?”

“Of course not, it’s ridiculous! And anyone who thinks otherwise is either stupid or kidding themselves.”

“Dad, what about the Angels?” Bella demanded angrily. “Doesn’t that prove anything?”

“They weren’t Angels, I’ve told you that already,” the man argued. “They were soldiers from some government agency testing new weapons or something. I don’t know for sure, but I do know they weren’t Angels!”

“Okay, let’s say you’re right,” Darius began calmly. “Let’s say they weren’t Angels, despite all the eyewitness accounts. What about all the people who died and were then resurrected? What about how they claim to have seen parts of Heaven?”

“Well, I’ve never seen proof of any of that,” the man huffed. “They’re probably just making it all up for attention. And who says they died at all? They could have just been drugged or something.”

“Oh my God,” Bella moaned, hiding her face behind her hands.

“So even after all of the things that happened only a few years ago, you still don’t believe in God?” Darius asked.

“There is no scientific evidence at all that there is a God!”

“Oh, science?” Darius grinned. “So you’re a man of science?”

“Yes, I am,” the man said defiantly, puffing his broad chest out.

“And why do you think science and God can’t coexist?” Darius asked simply.

“Because science is real and about fact,” the man snapped. “It’s not some imaginary, magical, sky daddy!”

Darius barked a laugh. “Magical sky daddy? I have to remember that one, that’s creative.”

“Laugh all you want, pal, but science proves that there is no God,” the man snapped, jabbing a finger at Darius once more. “Now are you going to stop confusing these kids or what?”

“Okay, sir,” Darius said firmly. “Poke me again and we’ll have something completely different to discuss. But if you want to keep talking about science versus God, let me rebut in terms that, as a man of science, you’ll understand.”

Darius paused for a moment and gathered his thoughts, aware that every student was now going to be late for their next class, but they didn’t seem to care. What they were witnessing was far more interesting.

“Before you judge anyone, or go ahead and claim that everything you say is truth, consider these scientific facts. You can see less than 1 percent of the electromagnetic spectrum, and the acoustic spectrum, meaning that there are things that exist that you can’t see or hear at all times. As I speak, we’re all traveling at 220 kilometers per second across the galaxy, the speed of which we can’t feel. 90 percent of the cells in your body carry their own microbial DNA, making them technically not ‘you.’ The atoms in your body are more than 99 percent empty space, none of them are the ones you were born with, and every single one of them was born inside of a star. Human beings have 46 chromosomes, which is two less than the common potato. And finally, the existence of a rainbow depends entirely on the conical photoreceptors in your eyes. For any animal that doesn’t possess those conical photoreceptors, the rainbow doesn’t exist. So you don’t really look at a rainbow, you create it. Now, that’s pretty amazing, considering the scientific fact that all the colors you can see represent less than 1 percent of the electromagnetic spectrum. Now, ask yourself, just how much are you missing?”

To this, the man didn’t seem to have a response. He merely gawked at Darius for a few seconds longer, completely lost for words. But then the angry expression returned to his face and he began to storm towards the exit without saying a word to Darius at all. However, he did pause just long enough to bark at his daughter, “Come on, Bella, let’s go. You’re not taking this class anymore.”

“I’m staying, Dad,” Bella replied curtly. “I like this class. And I don’t have to agree with everything you believe.”

The man glared at his daughter for a moment, gave Darius one last contemptuous look, then stormed out.

A short while later, Darius was tidying up his papers and getting ready to clear out of the lecture hall. After the students had begun to leave, Bella had rushed over to Darius and apologized roughly a thousand times, each times with Darius responding “It’s okay, don’t worry about it.” Darius had almost entirely put the encounter with the angry man out of his mind when he heard someone speak behind him.

“You handled that quite well.”

Darius turned at the sound of the male voice and came face to face with an unfamiliar man. Although, face to face was probably not the most accurate phrase. The man was so tall, it was more like face to chest. Darius looked up at the man and saw a kind, handsome, and smiling face.

“The man who insisted on poking you continuously,” the stranger smiled. “You dealt with the situation honorably. And addressing the issue in scientific terms to prove your point was nothing short of inspired. I am impressed.”

“Um, thank you,” Darius replied, taken aback and confused. “Can I help you with something?”

The stranger grinned. “Perhaps. I am in need of some rather specific knowledge. I have recently come to the conclusion that the one who would be best suited to aid me in my search for understanding is a man such as yourself. A former Reaper.”

Darius nearly fell over in his shock.

“What?” he blurted. “Reaper? What do you mean?”

“I believe you know perfectly well what I mean, Darius,” the stranger replied softly. “You were a Reaper for over two hundred years before Elohim restored your humanity as a reward for purging the world of the scourge formally known as Abzu, and his sadistic army. Do you deny this?”

Darius didn’t know how to reply. He stared up at the stranger, who stood at roughly seven feet tall, but then Darius noticed something about him. His eyes. They were a brilliant shade of green.

“You’re an Angel,” Darius realized aloud.

“Very observant,” the stranger replied kindly. “Yes, I am an Angel. My name is Sandalphon. I am here to seek your guidance.”

Life After Death: Darius

Darius stood at the front of the lecture hall, the projector screen towering behind him as he looked out at the hundreds of young faces staring back at him expectantly. Each student sitting with their fingers poised over the keys to their laptops. Darius cleared his throat nervously. This was the first lecture he was speaking at and, despite Peyton’s assurances that he would do great, Darius was still terrified of sounding foolish.

“Good morning, everyone,” Darius finally said loudly. “This is Religious Studies and I’m Professor Freeman.”

Darius paused and let the name he had adopted upon regaining his humanity sink in. After a moment, he continued.

“In this class, we will be discussing the history and philosophy of many religions, including Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and many other ancient pagan religions. Before we get started, though, are there any questions?”

Darius expected no one to raise their hand, that everyone would be lost in their own thoughts as they counted the minutes before they could escape his boring, droning, voice, but to his surprise a hand in the front row rose up into the air.

“Yes?” Darius asked. “What’s your name?”

The young girl with the brown ponytail that seemed pulled far too tight lowered her hand.

“Alisha, Professor.”

Darius nodded. “Okay, Alisha. What’s your question?”

Alisha glanced around nervously, apparently hesitant to speak up.

“I was just wondering, sir,” she began. “With all the problems in the world, why is religion important? Why do we keep it around when people start wars and bomb schools over it? Shouldn’t the government just outlaw religion? At least, public displays of it, anyway. If no one was trying to change what other people believed, because they didn’t know, then wouldn’t the world be more peaceful?”

Darius felt every set of eyes in the room turn and lock onto him, waiting for his response. He thought for a moment, carefully considering Alisha’s question before answering.

“Would you say that it’s religion’s fault that women are often oppressed?” Darius asked.

Alisha, still hesitant to speak up, simply shrugged a little and then nodded. “Um, maybe. Yes?”

“Does anyone else agree?” Darius asked, louder, looking around the lecture hall. “Is religion to blame for terrorism? For segregation? Homophobia? Racism?”

Darius saw a few people nodding, while others simply shifted uncomfortably in their seats. Darius turned back to Alisha.

“Here’s a hypothetical question, Alisha,” Darius began. “Let’s say the young man sitting behind you took out a knife and stabbed you with it. Will you blame him? Or the knife?”

Alisha looked surprised and confused, as did the boy seated behind her.

“Um, I’d blame him,” Alisha replied, still confused. “I mean, he was the one who stabbed me. But what does that have to do with religion?”

“It’s the same concept if you think about it,” Darius replied, smirking. “The knife in our hypothetical situation was just a tool. And so is any religion. If wielded by the wrong people, yes, it can be dangerous, used to justify numerous acts of cruelty and oppression. People have, and do, use religion as a scapegoat for their own actions. But religion cannot be held accountable for how people use it. People interpret the texts, and then decide how to apply them. The texts were written by men, and then handed out as though God had faxed them to us. So to answer your question, no. The world would not be better off without religion, because if all religious institutions suddenly disbanded and declared themselves to be completely full of it, what then? The people who used religion to justify their cruelty would only find other means to defend what they do. The cruelty would remain, but the comfort that religion brings to just as many good people would be gone. The world has had to drastically reevaluate itself after those Angels attacked, but all the religious denominations have found solace and comfort in their faiths. What would the world be like right now if humanity had not had the guidance of religion to turn to?”

Alisha was nodding, but then the boy seated behind her raised his hand and asked a question of his own.

“So, which one’s right? I mean, we know Angels are real now, so we have a pretty good idea that God is real, too. So… Which religion has it right? And if God’s real, just how powerful is he? And where is he? Which religion is right?”

Darius smiled, a cheeky smile that looked like he had a secret he wasn’t about to share.

“All of them,” Darius replied. “Which is why we should study them. To get past the theology and find the history that’s hidden away within. And once we all understand each other’s faith, that’s when we can have the peace that Alisha was asking about. Now… Let’s get started.”

Plagiarism and the Indie Opinion of the Indie Author

As some of you might know, I’m relatively new to the whole independent author world, and there have been a couple of things that I’ve learned. The first thing I learned was:

I freaking LOVE it!

The second thing, however, is that there seems to be a stigma attached to indie authors. Over the past couple of years, I’ve found that a lot of readers don’t trust that an independently published book can actually be good and entertaining. As well as a lot of “officially” published authors don’t think of indie authors in the highest regard. I read one interview with a particular, widely-known, author who referred to indies as “bottom feeders.” Only slightly insulting, but let’s move on.

The reason I began thinking about the opinion people have of indie authors lately is because it was brought to my attention on my Facebook page that there is another indie author out there who has written something I’m told is remarkably similar to my own Reaper Series. One of my readers picked up this ebook on Amazon as a recommended book, having just completed the Reaper Series. They told me they couldn’t even finish reading the sample chapter because they found it to be so similar to my own story.

So I went and checked out this book, which was written by another indie author. I initially imagined it to be a coincidence, but even the description of their book sounded a lot like the premise for the Reaper Series. This author had even titled their own series, Reaper Series! Still, I didn’t want to pass judgement until I read it. And I quickly learned one thing while reading the first book in their series.

No wonder indie authors have a bad name. Seriously, if people like this are the standard, it’s no surprise at all that indie authors are looked down on. I’m not saying at all that all indie authors are like this person, because I am an indie author, why would I insult myself? I seriously hope this type of author isn’t the standard of indie authors, but if this was the first book someone read from an indie, I couldn’t blame them if they were hesitant the next time they saw an independent book.

I was shocked at the similarities this story had to my own. Not to mention that it was released about six months after mine, giving the “author” plenty of time to read and rip-off my own story premise. I had a look at this author’s online presence, checked out their social media, their web page, their Amazon author page, all of it. And my immediate impression is that they have no original concepts, just stuff that they steal from successful books and movies and then jam them all together into one poorly written book. I started reading one book that, based on the description, sounded like a patchwork quilt of Armageddon, Cowboys VS Aliens, and The Terminator. The series that seems strangely similar to my own was mixed with Mortal Instruments, the Fallen Series, and maybe a little Twilight.

What I took to be particularly awful about this author wasn’t just how they took concepts from successful art forms and twisted them to use as their own stories, though. What really annoyed me was how blatantly obvious it was that they were only writing because they thought they could make money out of it. That’s all they cared about, the money and the attention. They would constantly blog about how quickly they wrote and published a book (less than a month), they would post screenshots of their Amazon sales charts, even post how much money they made in a month. It was like a child standing on top of a slide screaming at her parents, “LOOK AT ME, LOOK AT ME!”

I don’t want to just complain about this author, who I won’t name, but seriously, here’s a little advice about what to look out for in the indie world of books. Firstly, be wary of books that have lots of reviews, but only 4 and 5 stars. Even the greatest books of all time have negative reviews, just go and look up Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings, I guarantee there’ll be a bunch of 1 star reviews of them. I don’t do this, because I refuse to sink to that level, but many indie authors will buy positive reviews. There are plenty of blogs and websites that will honestly review your book in exchange for a free copy or a small fee, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but there are just as many who will guarantee a positive review for some money. I view that as false advertising. With X amount of 5 star reviews, people who are looking for a good book would see that rating and think that it must be a good book, only to then part with their hard-earned money to buy a book they most likely won’t finish, because it’s just too God-awful! That’s clearly what this author has done, as all of the reviews on their Amazon page are about as long as this blog.

On the other hand, though, don’t assume that because someone is independently published, they’re a bad writer. Some big name authors actually started out as indie authors. Matthew Reilly self published in 1996. Mark Twain started his own publishing press because no one else would take his work.

Really, don’t just think because you had one bad experience with an indie author that all indie authors are the same. Because as authors, we’re all different, just like “officially” published authors. Some are great, others not so good, some have expensive marketing backing up their work, others rely solely on reviews and word of mouth.

Oh, and if you’re an indie author, DON’T plagiarise! Seriously, what the hell is that author thinking?

UPDATES!!!!

I capitalised the heading because, based on a lot of messages I’ve been getting through Facebook and Twitter, people are DYING for intel. Specifically in regards to the third Reaper book, Angel of Judgement, and when it will be released.

So here it is. At this point, I am expecting/hoping for Angel of Judgement to be released in July of this year (2015). I really hope this doesn’t change, because I don’t want to disappoint anyone. I mean, look at how annoyed everyone is at the delays in the PC release of GTA V! It’s just not worth the hassle. So, that’s the deadline, I plan on sticking to it, but I’m putting it out there as a precaution that nothing is a guarantee in life, so don’t be too upset if the date changes. Hell, for all I know, it could end up being sooner! Best thing to do is just follow my social medias and wait for intel.

ANYWAY… all that aside, sorry for the huge gap in posts. I know, I said previously that I’d post more regularly, but what can I say? I’m an author. I get distracted. I do have some big news, though. Book one of the Reaper series, Angel of Death, is doing really well in the United Kingdom. In fact, it is now the number one free epic fantasy novel on Amazon UK! I know, it sounds like I’m bragging, but as amazing as this news is, I’m just relieved people actually like the damn book at all! And Angel of Vengeance is still selling more and more every day, so thank you everyone! Special shout out to my Twitter and Facebook followers who have been tweeting me their enthusiasm and sending me really nice and positive comments. You guys will be the first to know when Angel of Judgement is ready. Hell, I’ll even make you some cookies! I mean, you’re all from overseas, and cookies wouldn’t make the trip… They’d probably break in transit… Might even get lost. You know what? I’ll just keep them for myself, but I’ll think of you when I eat the cookies.

So, that’s basically it. No major developments, as of yet. Just still writing away. Oh, but Angel of Judgement, in case you don’t know, is going to be the LAST book in the Reaper series. Hopefully that doesn’t gut too many people. Don’t worry, though, because I have a lot more books in mind that I’ll be writing once Reaper gets the send off it deserves.