Coming Into Fall

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 BrightnessInto 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.

Happy reading.

 

“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.

Why?

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.

Except.

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.

Michael smiled.

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.

“Five.”

He turned left at the main corridor, this time paying no attention to the mirrored globes high up on the corners.

“Four.”

Willie’s countdown instilled a primal fear in Michael’s gut. Why was he counting down like the seconds before a rocket launch?

“Three.”

Fear brought clarity, and Michael broke into a run.

“Two.”

It wasn’t some fancy electric gadget. It was a bomb!

“One.”

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.

 

2019 all wrapped up

Project: Heritage came out of the gates with a bang and I’m so grateful to everyone who pre-ordered it and are taking a chance with it. The story of Travis and Sherry will continue when I come around to writing it. Don’t worry, it won’t take me 20 years to bring a sequel.

My final book of 2019 is set and ready for pre-ordering. (Link below) Surrogacy, Book 2 of the Chosen Cycle, picks up immediately after Waking Light, following Johnny as he leaves the carnival with the strange force of soldiers and gifted people he met up with in the carnival. Who are these people? What’s the real story behind the demon infestation? The answers are there, but is Johnny ready to hear them? New characters, new locations, and new fantastic battles await as Johnny works to accomplish the only thing that matters to him: getting back to the carnival to rescue his friends. Surrogacy releases on Kindle, Kindle Unlimited, and paperback on October 29th, so you still have plenty of time to catch up with Waking Light if you haven’t read it yet.

Whew, what a lineup this year: Waking Light, Night Zero, The Dungeon, Project: Heritage, and Surrogacy.

Now, let’s talk future plans.

My first published baby was Brightness, a story about a nuclear family with 3 beautiful girls, one of whom suddenly begins seeing beings of light and darkness. Though the story centers solely around the father and his reaction to things he cannot see, there is a greater destiny in store for his children than this one episode. Brightness is a two-day snapshot of the beginning of an extraordinary journey.

Fast forward three years in time, and you have the setting for Into Darkness, another snapshot in time, another series of events that will forever change how the Richards’ family views the world and their place within it. It’s time for Sofie’s next heart surgery and a perfect opportunity for the demons of the world to make sure she doesn’t survive to fulfill her destiny. Into Darkness will be the first release of 2020, probably in February or March. To celebrate the forthcoming sequel, Brightness has been rereleased with a new cover, new typesetting, and a brand new preview at the end, featuring the first 3 chapters of Into Darkness.

Ascendancy, Book 3 of the Chosen Cycle, will also be released next year. I’m not going to tease any of its contents right now, because Book 2 hasn’t had its release yet.

The Fall of Icarus will also come next year as a direct sequel to The Dungeon.

Finally, watch for a fully stand-alone title next year which I’m putting the finishing touches on. No details right now, but it’s got action and romance and all those goose-bumpy things I like to write about.

I will continue to update as we get close to the release of Surrogacy, including chapter sneak peeks and further details about other projects. Feel free to click any of the links below if you’re interested in checking out my current works, or would just like to follow me on one of my various internet locations.

Amazon profile: http://www.amazon.com/author/robhorner

Brightness: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07J4B1H89/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_bibl_vppi_i2

Waking Light: https://www.amazon.com/Waking-Light-Book-Chosen-Cycle-ebook/dp/B07R82ZR9P/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=

Surrogacy (pre-order): https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07W8Y9T8Q/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_bibl_vppi_i6

The Dungeon: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07T3G5BB5/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_bibl_vppi_i3

Night Zero: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07SVTF4V8/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_bibl_vppi_i0

Project: Heritage: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07V5ZNZMJ/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_bibl_vppi_i1

Twitter: @RobHorner8

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/robhorner

Ahead of Schedule

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It was planned for middle summer, but The Dungeon made it out a little sooner than expected. Honestly, I’m not sure how I feel about having a book through a publisher. I can’t control pricing (except for the e-book version, which I insisted be set at $3.99 instead of $9.99). I also can’t see how it’s doing. It’s available on all e-readers and in all online bookstores, so if you’ve picked up a copy, please leave a review on Amazon, drop a response through the blog, or email me at fansofrobhorner@gmail.com.

Night Zero is doing phenomenally well. It reached Best Seller status on Amazon in 4 days, and is consistently in or near the top 100 for Medical Thrillers. I’m proud to say it’s my best work so far, though I hope to top it with the next books coming out.

Waking Light is struggling to find its place. It’s billed as a young adult science fiction novel, but it’s meant for all ages. Set in 1991, it’s a wealth of culture throwbacks that should bring a smile of nostalgia to anyone who was alive and old enough to remember what the 90s were like. I wrote the first two parts in 1991, when I was 17, so the references are authentic. It’s been edited numerous times, and I’m proud to finally be bringing this saga to the public. Part 2, Surrogacy, will be out this fall. Part 3, Ascendancy, is currently under construction.

Brightness continues to hold a special place in the hearts of everyone who has read it, and I’m pleased to say that work on its sequel has begun. Expect Into Darkness some time next year, with Death Watch coming the year after.

The Fall of Icarus will complete the story begun in The Dungeon, though it won’t be the last time we see Lawson Bechtol or Detective Jackson. The two will feature prominently in an upcoming technothriller. My hope is to have The Fall of Icarus ready by late next year, with Virtuality coming the year after.

Finally, if The Chosen Cycle is my inner child refusing to grow up, then this next project is my white whale. Started in 1997 while out to sea on the USS Constitution, Project: Heritage had only been read by one person until recently. It’s been updated and edited to the hilt, and I’m excited to announce that it will be releasing on July 30th, 2019, 22 years after it was started.

Of course, all dates are subject to change if my mind veers off into other territory, but I think I can stick with the loose schedule described above.

Thanks again to everyone who supports my work through buying or reading on Kindle Unlimited (every book except The Dungeon is available on KU). I hope you’ve enjoyed what’s come so far, and are looking forward to what comes next as much as I am.

 

Emergency Room nights be like…

Night Zero cover

How would the providers, nurses, and support staff in an emergency room react when people start attacking each other, when the dead don’t stay down and the only way to win is to escape?

Experience a new nightmare from their perspective on the front lines, when saving lives means first protecting yourself and your friends.

I’m so proud to present Night Zero, available now on Kindle and paperback from Amazon.

In other news: I should have my promo copies of The Dungeon in a couple of weeks, and it’s release will be about a month later. I will update once I have a set date.

Surrogacy: Book 2 of the Chosen Cycle is complete and I’m shooting for a release in late summer or early Fall.

Book 3, Ascendancy, is in progress and will hopefully be ready by Christmas or early 2020.

If The Chosen Cycle is my child who won’t grow up, then Project: Heritage is the red-headed stepchild who won’t move out of the basement. This story has been completed for over 20 years, and I’ve finally updated it, modernized it, and am in the process of editing it for release. No date yet, but I would like to get it done in time to also enter it in the UK StoryTeller competition.

That’s all for now. Check out Night Zero and, if you haven’t done so already, give Waking Light and Brightness a look as well. All of them are available on Kindle (and are free to read with Kindle Unlimited). Paperbacks are always available if you, like me, prefer to have something solid to hold in your hands.

More to come. I’ll keep you posted.

Now available: Waking Light

First off, an update on The Dungeon.

I’d hoped to have a release date by now, but we (myself and the publisher) are having a little trouble tweaking the cover art. It’s a necessarily slow process, where their artists try things, I approve or disapprove, and then it goes back through their queue. We’re close, and hopefully by the next blog post, we’ll have a set release date.

Now for the big news of the day.

AmazonUK runs a StoryTeller contest. It began last year and is gearing up to be an annual event. Only never-before published works can be entered. Since Waking Light was finished (I’m actually about 70% through the sequel), Jill and I decided to enter it in the contest. Which means that Waking Light: Book 1 of the Chosen Cycle is now published and available through Amazon.com. It has to be exclusive to Kindle until the competition is over, which will be at least six months, but even if you don’t have a Kindle device, there will also be a paperback version available through the Amazon store.

The Kindle version is available now, and the paperback will be orderable by this Saturday (May 4th).

Here’s the back copy:

A day at the carnival turns to a war for the planet as John Wilson stumbles into what he believes is a demonic summoning. At the same time, a multitude of white lights strike the Earth, granting supernatural abilities to hundreds of people.

Armed with an amazing power to project force and allied with a telekinetic and a girl who can literally see who is gifted and who is a monster, John and his friends decide to strike back at the hordes invading their world.

Check it out and let me know what you think.

Finally, here’s a first chapter of something new. The work is untitled as of yet. I’m kicking around several ideas but none of them feel just right. The book is complete through a first draft, and I’ll be attacking with my red pen over the next couple of weeks, rearranging sentences and making sure everything works and makes sense.

Unlike Brightness and Waking Light, the following is not for a young adult audience, as it contains violence and adult language. As always, your feedback is welcomed.

 

Chapter 1

Bad things don’t happen in daylight.

Bad things especially don’t happen on the sidewalks of the popular and well-populated Outlet Mall in Gaffney, South Carolina, with families of haggard adults escorting hordes of chattering children, businessmen rushing into the Rockport store for a pair of comfortable-but-business-acceptable shoes, and tweens exclaiming over the latest trends in strategically-ripped jeans or scandalously-skimpy blouses and skirts.

There shouldn’t be any bad on a ninety-degree, early summer day under a cloudless blue sky, certainly not with a parking lot full of Nissans, Toyotas, Dodge Rams, and Hondas which collectively transported the thousand or so shoppers to the mall-wide summer fashion sale.

Last, but definitely not least, bad things don’t happen to Joseph Davis. Buck to his friends. He wasn’t Buck until the last year of high school, when a two-hundred-pound strong safety thought to stop him on the one-yard line, with time expired and his hometown Gaffney Indians trailing the visiting Spartanburg Vikings 40-35. Head lowered, smelling the game-winning touchdown, Joseph never saw the safety plant himself like a human wall, arms out to wrap him and up and pull him down. Joseph bowed under the sudden pressure, but he didn’t drop. His knee didn’t go down. Instead, he pushed up, somehow slinging the safety sideways, before gaining that last, precious yard.

His back ached for a week after, but he graduated a hero. Buck Daniels, the tight end who saved a perfect season.

That was the first time Tiffany Richards let him slip a hand inside her underwear. It was also the last time, because the next day she caught him slipping a lot more than a hand into Naomi O’Connor.

He didn’t complain. Naomi was prettier, more experienced and, most importantly, more willing to commit and not about to lead him on. He’d scored a touchdown one night and a home run the next. Meatloaf would be proud.

No, bad luck stayed away from Buck. He was big and likable, the kind of guy you wanted to go drinking with and who didn’t make an ass of himself so you regretted it. He made it out of high school with a diploma, without an arrest record, and without getting anyone pregnant. For a black guy in South Carolina, those were all things to celebrate, please and thank you.

Everybody knew Buck and he knew just about everyone. If it wasn’t from his youth in the area, or his time as a local newspaper hero—he still had the full-page Gazette cover photo hanging on the wall, bent almost double with another man trying to climb his back like a confused drunk at a gay bar—it was because of his job. Buck was a registered paramedic, responding to calls throughout the county. His big smile was often the first one seen by people having the worst day of their lives, his deep voice resonating with concern and reassurance in equal measure. He never lost his cool, whether dealing with a cardiac arrest or trying to talk someone down from a methamphetamine high.

Even on a day like today, saddled with a fresh EMT trainee, caught between fear of touching a living patient and goggle-eyed wonder at the ease and efficiency with which Buck tackled the job, he still maintained his calm.

“Truck One, on scene at the Outlet Mall,” Buck called in to the station.

“Roger that. South side near the Interstate. Caucasian male, mid-thirties, DFO in the parking lot.”

“D.F.O.?” the rookie mouthed.

Buck ignored him. If the rookie lasted a month, the numerous acronyms would become second-nature, from the official ones like ACLS (Advanced Cardiac Life Support) to the more colloquial DFO (Done Fell Out) to the colorful FOS (Full Of Shit).

“Expect a crowd on scene,” the dispatcher continued. “John Doe was raising a fuss before he collapsed.”

“Any other vics?

“Zero collateral. Plenty of witnesses though.”

“Any back up?”

“GPD just arrived and are establishing a perimeter. They’ve confirmed life, patient is unresponsive and breathing.”

“Roger that,” Buck said, turning left into the Outlet Mall parking area, following the feeder lane from the north lots, past the easternmost store, a Tommy Hilfiger anchor, and to the south lots, which stretched from the back side storefronts a hundred yards or more to the Frontage Road that paralleled this stretch of Interstate 85 between exits 90 and 92.

Turning right, Buck cruised past the southern stores, mostly shoe outlets like Reebok, Nike, and Adidas, giving little chirps of the siren whenever a car looked likely to pull out of the lots, or before a pedestrian could step off the sidewalk, bags in one hand and smartphone in the other, oblivious to the world around them because of a phone conversation that couldn’t wait. Buck hated those phones. Every advancement in technology was accompanied by an equal increase in the motor vehicle accidents, falls down a set of stairs or, as made famous by a viral Youtube video, people falling into mall water fountains.

It had gotten so bad that he recently had to respond to a 9-1-1 call placed by a pissed off phone owner whose service was cut off due to non-payment. 9-1-1 still worked though, so the guy called, hoping whoever showed up could get his phone working again, because not having access to some social media app was causing him to have chest pains.

The flashing lights of the Gaffney Police Department cruiser guided them the last fifty feet, one of the uniforms waving his arms, exhorting the crowd of rubbernecking shoppers to back up, open a hole, let the ambulance through. Easing the truck as close as he dared, Buck lay on the horn and sirens for a full five seconds, rending the air with a full-volume blast that got asses moving aside a lot faster than the cop could manage.

The road was a two-lane, allowing traffic to weave in and out of the parking aisles. After easing through the crowd, Buck pulled the truck at an angle to the left, taking up most of a handicapped spot and a good bit of the left side of the road, but placing him and his partner in a great position to aid the victim.

Slipping the gearshift into Park, Buck and the rookie jumped out of the cab. “Grab one of the blue bags,” Buck said, leaving the younger man to retrieve the basic bag from the back of the truck. There were two of the small blue bags packed with identical equipment, good for the vast majority of EMS calls. There was also a red bag, which contained a battery-powered Lifepac defibrillator and all the drugs and access devices necessary for a field cardiac resuscitation, a to-go crash cart.

Rounding the truck, Buck got his first look at the victim.

Laid out supine (Supine, on the spine), the man looked like he was simply sleeping off a good drunk or was caught in the middle of a heroin high. Approximately thirty-five, with a days’ growth of gray-speckled brown facial hair that matched the untidy mop on his head, the man wore a maroon Polo-style shirt half-tucked into khaki cargo shorts. Both shirt and shorts looked like they hadn’t been worn too many times, if color and texture were any indication, but showed signs of recent hard wear. Dark sweat circles stained the armpits, and darker-than-the-fabric splotches stained the shirt around the three-button collar, smaller spots like dripped grease tracking over the abdomen, collecting at the waistband of the shorts, where it took on a decidedly-rusty color. There was no visible blood on any of the exposed skin, but long years on the job told Buck there weren’t many other liquids that could create such a stain.

Buck went into automatic assessment mode as he slipped on a pair of blue nitrile gloves before kneeling by the patient’s right side, noting smooth, even respirations and a strong radial pulse. Thumbing back the guy’s eyelids revealed wild, gyrating pupils, like he was frantically scanning a McDonald’s fast food menu in his sleep, trying to decide if he wanted a burger or a salad. The pupils were pinpoint and unresponsive to light or shadow, which immediately ruled out some drugs like LSD, while making others more likely, like heroin.

The rookie stumbled over, lugging the heavy blue bag.

“Guy have an ID?” Buck yelled to the nearest police officer, a big ol’ white boy named Chip. He was good people, Buck thought, always ready to pay his turn down at The Stoplight.

“Yeah, wallet, driver’s license, credit cards, the whole nine,” Chip replied. “Name is Austin Wallace, age 32, out of Alpharetta, Georgia.”

Buck did a quick pat-search of the Austin’s pockets, noticing the tackiness of the stains around the waistband, how they tried to adhere to the pads of his nitrile gloves. “He have any keys on him?”

“Just the wallet, Buck.”

“What d’ya need?” the rookie asked.

“Full set of vitals and an IV start kit. Get a line on him before we try to rouse him.”

“You gonna stick him?” the rookie asked, his tone hopeful.

Buck sighed. There was a mentality among EMTs and paramedics, the good ones anyway, that told you more than anything if a guy or gal was cut out for this line of work. The same mentality defined the nurses and providers in the emergency room, giving a good indication whether they belonged in that environment. It was Me first, a drive to be the guy in the room ready to do anything, learn everything. It was the difference between You gonna do it and Let me get it.

The rookie set to work wrapping a cuff around the guy’s left upper arm. He fit his stethoscope to his ears and Buck though that at least he looked to be doing something right. Buck grabbed the pre-packaged, sterile IV start kit, selected an 18-Gauge catheter needle from the blue bag, and started applying a tourniquet over the right biceps. The guy was lean, several prominent veins visible on the forearm and in the antecubital fossa, ripe for the sticking. The man would have been a perfect cherry-popper for the rookie, and Buck could have pushed the issue, but he’d already decided there was enough wrong with the kid that he probably wouldn’t pass his orientation period. It was far easier, considering South Carolina’s labor laws, to keep an unqualified person out than it was to try to get rid of them later.

An audible popping sound accompanied the activation of the Chloro-Prep site swab. The man showed no reaction to the cold foam touching his skin, providing Buck a small, sterile place to insert his needed.

“BPs 132 over 77. Pulse is racing, 144. O-2 sat is 99 percent. Wish we had a thermometer, Buck. Feels like he’s burning up.”

The guy did feel warm, Buck thought. A fever would explain the pulse. But lying out here on the asphalt under the summer sun would also make his skin warm. If he’d walked any distance or was under the influence of something that turned off the natural drive to hydrate, he could be dehydrated, which would also explain the tachycardia. They didn’t have enough information yet, and it wasn’t their job to diagnose. Once the IV was established, they’d administer some fluids en route to the hospital, maybe try some Narcan to see if they could get a change in his mental state.

“Make sure he doesn’t jump,” Buck cautioned, holding the man’s right shoulder down while the rookie placed a similar pressure on the left. Lining up the IV catheter tip a good inch below the antecubital fossa, he pushed the needle into the skin.

The man’s eyes snapped open, no longer roving but fixed and staring straight at Buck. His upper torso lunged forward, going from flat on his back to pushing up and forward so fast and with such ferocity that both Buck and the rookie couldn’t hold him. He said nothing. No expletives, no questions, though both of the EMS workers let out a few choice words. Then he kept coming, shaking the rookie off his left side like a rusher stiff-arming a tackler, bearing Buck backward. The paramedic had enough presence of mind to pull the needle away, out from in between their bodies, as the suddenly-all-too-conscious guy drove him to his back. Now I’m supine on the spine.

A stray scream of surprise came from the watching crowd.

A second later, as he felt the guy’s teeth latch onto his right ear, his own screams of sudden pain and fear tore out of him. He started flailing with the only weapon available to him, stabbing with the large-bore IV needle again and again at whatever part of the man he could hit, shoulder, arm, side.

The hot agony on the side of his head was bad enough, but the grinding crackle of crushed cartilage that he could feel inside his head, a sound transmitted through the small bones rather than heard through the ear, was somehow even worse.

The guy was chewing on him!

Then more voices yelling, calls to stop, threats of imminent use of force. A set of strong hands grabbed his, preventing him from wielding the needle, not that it had been doing any good. More hands grabbed at the crazy man, trying to wrestle him off of Buck, but the more they moved and shifted him, the greater the pain became on the side of Buck’s head. The man’s teeth held, pulling his ear this way and that like a dog worrying a bone.

Buck couldn’t stop screaming, his whole worldview shrinking to a single spot on the side of his head. It was worse because someone was holding him down, preventing him from fighting back. How did a day like this turn so bad so fast?

“Sorry about this, Buck,” Chip’s voice said a second ahead of a force like a punch to his whole body slammed into him, a wracking pain that started at his ear. The man bucked as his mouth snapped closed, teeth meeting and tearing away a portion of Buck’s ear on the diagonal.

Then the teeth were gone and the man was being rolled off of him, still twitching from the Taser.

“Sonuva—” the rookie swore, shaking numb hands. He’d gotten a mild shock, third hand as it were, from his contact with Buck.

Buck lurched to his hands and knees, unable to tolerate the thought of being vulnerable on his back like one of those stink bugs any longer. The world swam and his stomach did a crazy twist and lurch and his ear—my fuckin’ ear—was positively on fire.

“Holy fuck,” one of the cops said. The rookie rushed in with a handful of gauze. Buck batted him away, forcing himself forward, crawling/lunging toward the guy, unconscious again and face down now, hands linked behind his back by silver bracelets and a length of chain, a half-dozen bleeding holes in the right side of his shirt and upper arm. There was something pink and gristly by his mouth, sitting in a small puddle of bright red blood, looking for all the world like a chewed-up piece of fruit his wife might put in a bowl of red Jell-o.

He wanted to punch the Yuppy bastard with his sixty-dollar shorts. He thought about, really thought about what might happen to his career and decided Fuck it! If they don’t fire me over stabbing the asshole with an IV needle, then one extra punch won’t seal the deal. He rose up, pushing himself upright, one big hand clenched into a fist and arm cocked, but then his lunch decided it had enough of this fucked up merry-go-round and it wanted off now and up it came, tiny chunks of carrot and potato from half-digested beef stew, still swimming in brown greasy broth that felt hotter now than it had when he ate it. It poured out of his mouth, streamed in twin rivulets out his nostrils.

And finally the rookie got his gauze on the side of Buck’s head, wrapping brown Coban once, then twice, around his skull to hold it in place. “I got you, Buck,” the little pissant said. Maybe that wasn’t fair. Maybe he wasn’t that bad.

He held me down—yeah, which was the right thing to do. Paid the price for it too, if his hand-wringing was any indication. He was quick with the gauze too.

“I’m gonna call for another team, get you outta here,” he added.

“No, load him in the back,” Buck said. “We’re too understaffed to waste another truck out here.”

“But you—”

“I’ll drive, let you ride in the back. The docs will give me a once-over in the ED.”

“You gonna be pressing charges, Buck?” Chip asked, brown eyes showing the genuine concern for a friend overshadowed by his duty as a cop.

“I dunno yet, Chip,” he said. “Depends on if he does.”

How many times did he stab the guy? “He breathing okay?”

“Yeah, I don’t think you stuck him too deep.”

The clatter of the stretcher rolling out of the truck reached them. “Listen, help the kid load the guy, willya?”

“Sure thing.”

“I’ll be in the truck. Think I got some Motrin in there.”

That glistening pink something bugged him, a chewed up and spat out piece of his meat.

“Tell the kid to bag that.”

Buck walked slowly back to the ambulance, one hand to the side of his head, thoughts ranging from frustrated anger that this happened to wondering if he would need stitches.

He thought this was as bad as a day could get, especially for him.

He was wrong.

 

A time to write

Update Time:

Brightness is still going strong on Amazon and Kindle. If you’ve read it, thank you for your support and please leave feedback on Amazon, or just talk about it with your friends, on Facebook, wherever. Feel free to point anyone who wants to know more to the blog; sometimes there is more information available here than anywhere else.

The Dungeon is still on track for an early summer release. We are through the editing process and are now working on making it pretty: page design, cover art, all those things that grab your attention in Barnes and Noble.

I’ve changed a few things around with the YA series. Its overall title has changed, and the first book has had a minor word swap in the title. Waking Light, Book 1 in The Chosen Cycle is complete through a first and second edit. I’ve turned it over to my unpaid but very-much-appreciated critical reader wife for her to apply the red pen of doom, and once it’s passed her criteria, I’ll begin looking for representation for it. With any luck, that will begin around the end of March.

I’m about 28,000 words into Depths of Darkness, which will be the second book in The Chosen Cycle.

The Labyrinth (working title), the sequel to The Dungeon, is about half-way finished, and I would like to have it complete by the end of the summer, so that we can start the process of getting it on the market for a release next year.

Project: Heritage is sitting complete and awaiting the loving pen-stroke of Jill as well. Once that’s done, I can see about finding it a publisher. I may wait a bit to dive into it fully, since it will be the first part of a trilogy.

What else?

The Richards’ story–Michael, Nicole, Sarah, Karie, and Sophie will be continued. That’s an absolute promise. But as many of my friends and family know, those three girls are based off my own precious children. I like to think being with them, seeing how they interact and hearing how they think makes me better at describing them believably in a book. The next part of their story takes place a couple of years after the events of Brightness, so while I’m working on plans and the storyline, I don’t expect to really jump back in to their world until 2020 or so. They won’t be forgotten, I can promise you that. I have big plans for little Sophie and her sisters that go far beyond what Azazel hinted at toward the end of Brightness. Their story will run through four books, though the fourth will be a stand-alone novel called Death Watch, which will provide a finale to the Richards’ story, as well as (hopefully) provide a good story that gives new meaning to the concept of how the sins of the father are carried down through the generations. For the record, Death Watch has been started, but don’t expect to see it for a while.

Plans within plans, so many plans.

We’ll all be introduced to a new multinational cooperation in The Dungeon whose tendrils will extend far beyond the scope of that book and its sequel. Virtuality (working title) will continue exploring the bounds of what is possible with an unlimited budget and no moral compass in a bid to increase power and influence. Expect to see some familiar faces from The Dungeon and The Labyrinth return to continue their efforts to stop Ian Magellan.

There are other ideas floating around in my head. Some have made it onto my laptop and have concrete writing around them, others are nagging gnats buzzing in my ear that won’t stop until I put some effort into them. Gotta love those gnats though. Those ideas that won’t go away make the best stories later.

Look for the next update towards the end of March/early April. Hopefully by then I’ll have a concrete date of release for The Dungeon, and can maybe include a preview of other upcoming works.

Thank you for your support.

 

 

New Year, new plans

I’ve got exciting news. Covenant Books will publish The Dungeon! (cue fanfare).

Right now, the planned timeline is to have the book out sometime this summer (between May and August, depending upon how long editing takes.)

Project: Heritage is through re-write, and I just want to make one more pass through it before I start shopping it around.

And…(louder fanfare)…Lightning Wakes, the first book in what I’m calling The Surrogates series, is complete through a first draft. This is my first attempt at YA writing, and it was a lot of fun. I’ve got plans out the wazoo that should take this to four or five books. We’ll see. It’ll take a while to go back through it, clean it up, and make it pretty before I start looking for represenation for it. I might even try to have the second book finished as well before doing anything with it, as that will only strengthen its case as a series worth finishing.

As if that wasn’t enough, I’m 30% (give or take) through a follow-up to The Dungeon, and I’ve got outlines for a half-dozen other projects just waiting for my attenion.

And I know there are a lot of people who want to see the story of the Richards family continued. It will be, I promise. There’s still so much that Sarah, Karie, and Sofie need to accomplish.

2019 is going to be a busy year.

Happy New Year!