As September comes to a close, I am thankful.
My youngest daughter, Sophia Grace, has come through her second open-heart surgery with flying colors. Thanks to everyone who shared her story on Facebook and included her in their prayers. Thanks to the wonderful group of authors who lifted and supported my family through this emotional time. Sophia loved your gifts as we love and appreciate you all for your thoughtfulness.
As Sophia finishes her stay in the hospital in Charleston, SC, I’ve put the finishing touches on the sequel to Brightness. Into Darkness is through it’s second edit pass, and is now in the hands of my beta readers. My goal is to make this the first release of 2020, probably in late January or early February.
Surrogacy is still up for pre-order and will release on Oct 29, 2019. For those unfamiliar with Johnny and Crystal, Tanya, Iz, Gina, James, and a whole host of other heroes, feel free to check out Waking Light, Book 1 of the Chosen Cycle. It’s on sale on Kindle for 99 cents until Surrogacy releases.
Just because I have the first book of 2020 finished doesn’t mean I plan on taking a break. I’m halfway through the first draft of Ascendancy, Book 3 of the Chosen Cycle, as well as about the same through The Fall of Icarus, which is the sequel to The Dungeon.
I’ve also got a good start on something in the paranormal romance genre (more spooky than sticky, don’t worry), but I haven’t worked out a title for it yet.
And for the really big news…with its unmitigated success, Night Zero clamors for a sequel. Well, it’s begun. I’ve only managed about 20,000 words so far, and it will likely exceed 100,000 when all is said and done, but I wanted to leave a taste of how it will begin.
So, for all my readers, here’s the prologue to the as-yet untitled sequel to Night Zero, which I hope to release sometime in Summer 2020.
“All right, Willie, I’m inside.”
“Just follow the plan,” Willie said, his voice a tinny whisper in the micro-earbud.
“I know,” Michael replied, resisting the urge to push on the earbud with a finger; it wouldn’t make Willie’s voice any clearer. It looked cool when Tom Cruise did it in the Mission Impossible movies, but it wouldn’t do anything except draw attention. Thankfully, Michael’s hair was long enough that it covered his ears.
Shoving his hands into the deep pockets of his white lab coat to keep them from getting him in trouble, the tall man eased along the dark loading dock.
Six weeks of planning and almost sixty thousand dollars in bribes had secured him a working electromagnetic badge. The badge got him through the small employee entrance into the unmarked warehouse on the south side of Atlanta. The headshot on the badge would pass casual scrutiny, but he had to remain anonymous. This was a government facility with strict security protocols. Any indication he gave that he didn’t belong would be investigated by G-Men patrolling the building. And no amount of bribery or computer hackery could provide what Michael lacked.
“I’ve got the layout on my screen,” Willie breathed. “There are two doors leading out of the loading area. As you’re facing, it’ll be the door on your left.”
Easy for him to say, Michael thought. It’s black as Trump’s heart in here.
Pulling his smartphone from one of the pockets, he activated the flashlight.
The employee entrance was a regular-sized door next to one of the large roll-up garage doors. Both opened onto an empty space large enough for a good-sized truck to back into, though not so large that the entire vehicle would fit inside and allow the doors to be closed. The facility did most of its loading and unloading at night, so casual observers wouldn’t be able to see anything inside, nor remark on any company logos on the sides of the van. That most of the shipments came from the CDC and not Amazon might raise more than a little curiosity and concern.
But that’s why he was here.
Ever since Edward Jenner proved vaccinations could prevent disease, the government had partnered with the pharmaceutical companies to create one “miracle drug” after another, all to establish and affirm their control over an unwitting populace. Look how smart we are, the government thought. We are GovCo, and we know how to take care of you and your family better than you do. First Smallpox, then Polio, both of which were, admittedly, horrible afflictions with a high mortality rate and life-altering consequences when they didn’t kill outright.
Maybe things wouldn’t be so bad if the government stopped with the bad bugs.
But it didn’t.
After the killer diseases were all-but eradicated, the government went after less-dangerous illnesses.
That was the big question, wasn’t it?
It’s to minimize sickness and prolong life expectancy.
It was bullshit.
Once you kill all the things that need killing, how do you retain control? How do you keep making money? How do you keep a populace dependent upon your guidance?
You find more things to kill. You over-report the threat of something to gen up support for killing it.
Don’t like the fact that marijuana and cocaine sales don’t bring in money to the all-mighty government? Oversell their danger and make their use and sale illegal. Declare a war on drugs, because language has power, and war must mean something is serious.
Don’t like the fact that a large percentage of the world doesn’t believe the same way you do? Fly a couple of drones into some buildings then set off timed explosions in their bases. Target the support struts. Bring down the buildings. And BAM! You get to declare war on a religion.
Got rid of the bad things like Smallpox and Polio? No problem. We don’t like Measles either, and Chicken Pox is just so nineteenth century. Let’s oversell their danger and continue making money hand-over-fist while we “work” to eradicate them.
Unlike Smallpox and Polio, the war on other diseases showed no signs of stopping. We aren’t any closer to eradicating them in the twenty-first century than when the charade started.
Why was that?
Because the government and its pharmaceutical allies figured out there’s no profit in winning a war, only in waging it.
In the meantime, population has boomed to unsustainable levels because the “small percentage” of people too weak to fight off disease has been protected and allowed to live and propagate beyond their allotted time.
It was the same way with bicycle helmets, the elimination of Lawn Darts, the push for seat belt use, the ban on texting while driving, the stigma of cigarette smoking, and the thousand other little things the government decided to insert its fingers into.
Put simply: Darwin wasn’t being allowed to work.
So stupid people who by nature would do stupid things and thus remove themselves from the gene pool were instead allowed to live and reproduce, making more stupid people more and more dependent upon the government to tell them how to live their lives.
It was a never-ending cycle with no hope of correction.
And when one man dared to raise his hand against the push for control by an oppressive government, he was slapped down, silenced, and disgraced.
That man pointed out an unintended side effect of vaccinations, specifically the Measles, Mumps, and Rubella cocktail jabbed into the legs of toddlers all over the world.
A thousand researchers had spent millions of hours and billions of dollars trying to repudiate the conclusion of the good doctor from England. In the end, the best they could offer was “there is no proof that vaccines cause autism.”
No proof that vaccines cause autism was not the same as being able to say, unequivocally, that vaccines do not cause autism.
It was the same way with Global Warming. And it was the same sheep-people who pushed that specious argument.
There was no proof that man’s actions harmed the environment, just a bunch of theories. Yet governments around the world were enacting laws to control and restrict man’s forward progress all in order to maintain control over their people.
As in all things in America’s history. It was his right, all the people’s right, to stand up to government when it became oppressive.
Beyond the poured concrete area where trucks could sit and be unloaded were racks of shelves running to both sides. Cardboard boxed lined the shelves, their sides emblazoned with names like McKesson, Becton Dickenson, Henry Schein, Baxter, and Medtronic, a who’s who of pharmaceutical and medical equipment suppliers from all parts of the country.
Of course, everyone with a hand in the government cookie jar would want a piece of the action going on in this facility.
Michael was under no illusions about the place. It was a CDC operation, through and through. Only, instead of studying some new disease like Ebola, or working on a cure for cancer, they were engaged in something far more nefarious. Working under a cloud of secrecy, this installation played with dangerous bacteria in order to find a new vaccine delivery mechanism. Not a new vaccine. For all that Michael and his friends hated the pro-vaccine agenda, a place working on something new wouldn’t be a first-line target. Not so long as people still had the right to decline vaccinations.
No, this unnamed building was developing a way to negate the right of refusal.
And that work couldn’t be allowed to continue.
Beyond the shelves were a couple of desks with simple computer workstations, binders of paper, and a couple logbooks—all the accoutrements any good shipping and receiving department might need to track the things coming and going.
The flash of his phone rendered everything in washed out hues and humps of shadow. But it was enough to show the doors. The one on the right was of plain wood. It led to the front offices, a handy facade in case anyone wandered in from outside. Michael had been there once a few weeks ago. Motivational posters on the walls and unremarkable furniture ordered out of a Staples catalogue gave no indication to the building’s true design. A beveled sliding glass window showed a secretary hard at work typing nothing and answering phone calls. If asked, she said this was a warehouse for a local contractor. There were even business cards on display. Go ahead, take one. Calling the number on the card got him a different secretary for a legitimate storage contracting firm, one of dozens who’d sold their souls to GovCo and gladly allowed this edifice to the downfall of personal freedom to advertise for them.
The door on the left led into the laboratory spaces and was secured with a badge reader.
Holding his breath, Michael pulled his laminated badge on its nylon lanyard away from his chest and swiped it through the reader. The little red light turned green and the door unlocked with an audible click. The badge slapped back against his chest as he released it and pushed open the door.
Like a rat’s nest the lab spaces opened in front of him. White tiled walls, floor, and ceiling ran ahead and to the left, long hallways which interconnected at various places and opened into small rooms, each serving a specific function. Windows gave views of white gowned, gloved, and masked fascists hard at work inside the rooms. Million-dollar equipment hummed, spun, and genetically spliced bits of one thing with bobs of another, all of which would be fed into a witch’s cauldron whose sole purpose was the eradication of free will.
Michael smiled at his thoughts, visualizing the headlines in tomorrow’s paper. It would never happen, of course. For all their antagonism to the current administration, the media were as much puppets of the government machine as were the drug developers, medical suppliers, and even people like the contractor whose cards sat in the fake lobby.
“Remember, Michael,” Willie said, “all you have to do is place the box on a wall near any large piece of machinery. Even if it’s on the other side of the wall, the disruptor will do its job.”
For all his education, Michael had no idea how the little box clipped to his belt would do what it was supposed to do. He was a researcher, an activist, and all-around concerned citizen; he had no interest in, or experience with, advanced electronics. He didn’t need to know how a computer worked in order to use it to reach out to similarly minded people all over the country. How the hybrid engine in his Prius worked didn’t concern him, so long as it turned on when he pushed the button and moved when he pressed the accelerator. Tell him the little square clipped to the back of his pants would cause a breakdown in the covalent bonds in any nearby electronic device, uncoupling resonators and reverse-polarizing transformers, and he took it for granted it would work as advertised.
To the far left, near the end of the hall, two men in the ubiquitous long white lab coats stood huddled together. In the various labs and clinical workspaces, more people bent over machines, or handled tubes inside sealed vats, no doubt playing God with any of a dozen nasty microbes. Straight ahead, down the corridor leading to the back of the facility, more doors led to even more labs where pieces of equipment that no doubt cost more than Michael would make in any ten year period hummed, chugged, and turned pharmaceutical wet dreams into real-life nightmares for the good people of the country who just wanted to be left to their own devices, to vaccinate or not as they chose.
“Straight ahead,” Willie said. “All the way to the back of the main hall.”
“What am I looking for?” Michael asked.
“A door that’ll say ‘utility,’ or, ‘engineering,’ or might not be labeled at all.”
Michael moved forward, hoping he looked like a new employee getting his bearings rather than an activist trying to shut down a testament to government fascism.
The hall ran for fifty yards. The number of labs opening to each side made him doubt, for the first time, that the building was wholly devoted to the singular goal of mass vaccination. With so much space, they must be working on other projects. Not that it mattered. As far as he was concerned, the CDC might as well stand for Centers for Domination and Control.
Other hallways began intersecting in a crosshatch pattern. Little mirrors appeared along the ceiling at the corners, a way for fast-walking people to see if there was any cross traffic approaching and avoid an embarrassing collision.
Probably video cameras hidden behind the mirrored globes, he thought. Michael smiled up at the next mirror, hoping they got a good look at his face. Let the power mad bastards know who fucked their world up.
A pair of scientists exited one of the labs, turning toward him. Resisting the urge to duck his head and hide his face, Michael strolled unconcernedly past them, noting a petite Asian woman and a taller, bustier blond. Both were beautiful and he checked a sigh that such beauty was wasted on people whose minds were so corrupt they would be a part of this project. Lost in their own conversation, neither woman so much as glanced at him.
The hallway ended at the fourth crossing corridor, and his only options were to turn left or right.
“There should be a maintenance door somewhere near you,” Willie said.
“All the doors are white,” Michael hissed.
“I never said the door would look different,” Willie responded patiently. “Only that it might be labeled.”
Stifling a curse, Michael looked both right and left. To the right were doors on the right, opening onto rooms back in direction he’d come from. The same to the left—there were doors on the left. The wall he faced had to be the side of the building. There were no doors along it that he could…
Wait. To the right was a single inconsistency in the wall, what might be a badge scanner without a reason for one, near invisible from his perspective.
“I think I see something,” he said, and turned to the right.
Twenty feet in that direction was a badge reader, though whatever it opened wasn’t easily discernible.
Here goes nothing. Michael reached out with his badge and heard a click. A door appeared in the outer wall, sliding sideways on a cleverly concealed track. The room beyond was dark, but lights came on as he stepped within.
A large room full of generators and breaker boxes greeted him, only ten feet deep but running away to right and left probably to the ends of the building.
A chill struck him as blasts of air from industrial cooling units riffled his hair.
Server racks reaching to the ceiling surrounded a massive computer workstation at one end, probably the point where all data generated within the building was stored in some form of hard copy. The facility probably had some kind of secure transmission line to the main CDC headquarters, something uninterruptible in case of a power or Internet outage.
“I’m in some kind of server farm,” he whispered. “There are generators and breakers, and it’s cold in here.”
“Sounds like the place,” Willie said. “Go place your stuff near one of the generators and get on out of there.”
Michael nodded, then chided himself. Willie couldn’t see head motions. Willie also wouldn’t know what Michael planned to do after placing the disruptor. Everyone wanted him to leave after placing the box and its power packs. They’d expressed concern that he not be caught and sent to prison.
While Michael had no desire to experience prison, he also had no intention of missing the show after the holier-than-thou lab rats saw their work fall apart. All his life people had told him what to do. His parents played Russian Roulette with his mind when they went along like good little sheep and tortured him with vaccinations every year until he was old enough to decide for himself. The government told him to pay taxes every year for services he didn’t use. And now his friends, in their concern for his freedom, thought to tell him how to keep himself free. It was the same argument GovCo used about vaccines, and while he hadn’t called them out on their hypocrisy, he had no intention of letting anyone tell him what to do for his own good.
Shaking his head—he needed these people for their funding and intelligence as much as they needed him for his willingness to tackle such a risky endeavor—Michael moved to an area between the large server farm and the first buzzing generator. The hidden door whisked back into place, blocking out any chance of a passing scientist or security guard seeing him from the hallway.
He reached under his lab coat and found the black box clipped to his belt. A quick yank freed it and he pulled it out.
About the size of an iPhone X and four times as thick, the box was exactly what the name implied-a black plastic case with no visible means of opening it. Three small plugs like headphone jacks marred the otherwise unremarkable surface. Each was labeled with the name of a color in small white letters. Red. Green. Black. These jacks matched the small plugs on three other black boxes, smaller brothers to the big one in his hands, each with a long, thin cable wrapped around it.
Michael remembered the instructions.
Place the big box on a flat surface near a generator. Each of the smaller boxes had a foot-long cord, and it didn’t matter where they were placed so long as their cords would reach to their respective jacks. The smaller boxes were about the size of a standard deck of cards, though they had a heft to them which exceeded their apparent size. Removing them from his belt relieved the constant drag of having them attached, something he’d grown accustomed to during the drive from his modest apartment to the facility and the ten minutes he’d spent inside.
It took less than thirty seconds to place the big box on a flat shelf near the generator and connect the three smaller boxes, placing them on the same shelf.
“All right, it’s plugged in,” Michael reported.
Nothing happened that he could see, but Willie’s voice was filled with a sudden urgency. “The countdown is automatic, Michael. You’ve got two minutes to get out of there before the disruptor activates.”
“On my way out,” Michael said, turning from the generator and ambling over to the computer workstation.
“Let me know when you’re away,” Willie said.
Michael didn’t bother replying. The computer was on, but the screen was locked. There were several folders open beside it, but nothing which looked incriminating. If anything, they looked like instructions for maintaining the temperature in the server room, or how to reset a breaker if one tripped.
A shame, he thought. How perfect would it have been if someone left a folder titled, “The CDC’s Secret Plan to Vaccinate the World?”
Seeing nothing else of interest, Michael settled back to see what the disruptor would do.
“Thirty seconds,” Willie informed him. “Tell me you’re out of there.”
Something in his friend’s voice worried Michael. Willie was being awfully insistent. Feeling a little guilty at deceiving his fellow activist, Michael moved to the sliding door, which was clearly marked on this side, a white rectangle in an otherwise gray wall. The same type of badge reader waited for him, and a swipe of his badge opened the door again. Stepping into the hallway, Michael turned right, figuring to leave the same way he arrived, through the loading dock. He had no intention of coming out behind the glass windows where the secretary slash decoy no doubt sat waiting to exercise her panic button and summon all the armed G-Men in the building.
He turned left at the main corridor, this time paying no attention to the mirrored globes high up on the corners.
Willie’s countdown instilled a primal fear in Michael’s gut. Why was he counting down like the seconds before a rocket launch?
Fear brought clarity, and Michael broke into a run.
It wasn’t some fancy electric gadget. It was a bomb!
Oh God, he’d planted a bomb!
Michael launched himself forward, a scream just beginning, of warning, of fear, of…
The three blocks of C-4 he’d placed and armed exploded behind him. Ear-shattering noise chased him, blowing doors off hinges, sending a fireball roaring along the narrow halls as ceiling tiles began raining down. A blast of air like the fist of a giant picked him up and threw him forward and to the right. His shoulder slammed into one of the glass windows looking into a lab where started scientists looked up with identical expressions of shock and fear painted on faces visible beneath masks of clear polyurethane. Something snapped high on his chest as the glass cracked but held, throwing him back to the floor. Plaster, chunks of drywall, and wisps of pink insulation like poisonous cotton candy fell into his face as the giant’s fist became a dragon’s breath of heat. Turning his face to the side in an effort to avoid the stuff falling from above, Michael saw a wall of fire racing toward him from the back hall.
He drew in a breath to scream, already scrabbling like an upended cockroach, trying to rise.
Hot air reached into his throat, crisping his lungs, choking off his scream. The wall of fire roared over him. His eyes boiled in their sockets, an unimaginable pain stabbing into his brain, before everything shut down, casting him into the cool relief of death.
The scientists screamed in their temperature-controlled and environmentally sealed rooms, the sight of a wave of fire racing down the hall far beyond anything they’d ever imagined. The environmental safeguards—water sprinklers outside and Halon systems inside—never engaged. Their controls were gone in the initial explosion.
Generators overheated as secondary explosions followed the first, fuel reserves going up like firecrackers stuffed under a tin can. Jets of flame followed lines of oxygen feeding the sealed rooms, setting scientists afire inside their suits, dancing figures of flame reaching out, staggering from wall to table to floor. Glass windows shattered, tongues of flame reaching into labs. Test tubes exploded, their toxic contents joining the racing air currents seeking escape from the increased pressure inside the building. The final fail safes built into the building by the CDC engineers didn’t live up to their names. Steel core doors designed to prevent the escape of a biological agent into the surrounding atmosphere failed to descend, the last casualty of a terrorist attack aimed at the controlling mechanisms for the entire facility.
The tremors of the explosion were felt as far away as the international airport, where a stunned Austin Wallace stood in the same-day parking lot and watched plumes of black smoke rising into the sky.