Coming to Kindle and Smashwords

Coming to Kindle and Smashwords
November 2013

Jan 15, 2014

Full novel available on amazon kindle...

Chapter 1


Leslie lay on his back staring at the cracks in the ferrocrete ceiling. He shifted, causing the makeshift bunk to creak mournfully under his two hundred fifty plus kilo frame. The bunk (actually, three bunks welded together and reinforced in the prison workshop) was set in the middle of his cell with about a meter of clearance on each side. His feet overshot the edge of the bunk by about ten centimeters, resting on a copy of The Iliad that set atop the only other furnishing in the cell—a toilet.

His legs ached. The spots where they dug out the 50 cal slugs, filled in with tissue weld, healed tight and throbbed with each beat of his heart. He had picked up the slugs about six weeks ago in a meadow outside of Ottawa. He and two others had the bright idea (which Leslie had to admit wasn’t all that bright) to rob an armored transport which was transporting some data drops from a credit agency. The drops were small and movable and worth an astronomical price on the street for the data they held. The information was so precious that it could not be moved in the flow and was only accessed in-house via dead-end terminals. Harry, the mastermind behind the heist, had gotten the time and route as well as the guard complements (“Only two, plus the driver! Can you fucking believe it?”). So Harry, Leslie and another walking knuckle by the name of Spanner figured they’d hit it on a lonely stretch of road about twenty klicks outside Ottawa.




It was just getting dark as Leslie lay in the back seat with his knees jammed up under his chin, hugging the AR-19 with a full clip of 7.62 armor-piercing loads. Spanner was in the front holding a one shot anti-tank tube. Harry had the car’ access open, dicking with the fuel cell to make it appear they had broken down. He had two caseless Glocks strapped under his armpits and close proximity  neo-EMP in his front jacket pocket.

The transport rumbled down the open stretch, riding low under the composite armor. Harry stood up and waved. Then he tripped the EMP. Leslie heard the pop and felt Spanner kick the front door open. Leslie jumped up and out just in time to see the truck roll to a stop. Spanner ran around to the back and dropped to one knee, triggering the tube. The armor-piercing lancet reached just over Mach 2 in the ten meters between Spanner and the transport’s composite hatch. Its depleted uranium lancet tore it apart as if it was made of paper. Spanner was hopping up and down and grinning like an idiot when Leslie and Harry made it to the back of the transport. It was an open bay with integral racks. Leslie could see what was left of the two guards in the back. He moved forward through the connecting door to the driver’s cabin and poked the driver who was slumped over the wheel. His head rolled boneless on a broken neck, blood seeping from his eardrums.

“Whatcha got, Leslie?” Harry yelled forward.

“Nothing, his ticket is punched.”

“Well let’s grab this shit and di di mau.”

“Right,” Leslie replied, letting the guard drop back over the wheel.



Once back in the main compartment, all three were looking at the rack of data drops. There were six of them, built like kettle balls, round and about the size of a toaster with an integral handle built in.

Spanner picked one up remarking, “Shit! They’re fucking heavy.”

“Enough with the commentary, just grab two and get them into the car,” Harry grunted.

Harry and Spanner duck-walked them out of the armored car. Leslie scooped up two in his right hand and hopped out into the gathering darkness. He started toward the car when he heard a whirring noise that made his neck hackles rise.




Turning to face the sound, he couldn’t believe what he was seeing.

Out of the top of the truck arose a flattened disk with a rotor on top. It hovered at about five meters and rotated toward the three men. Two 50 cal muzzles dropped out from the underside. The click as the rounds were chambered was unmistakable. Leslie threw the data drops and took off across the field at a gallop. He heard the 50s open up. Looking back over his shoulder he saw Spanner and Harry come apart like rotten jack-o-lanterns, the slugs blowing huge gobbets of flesh into the cool night air. Leslie redoubled his efforts; each stride covered almost three meters at a clip. He heard the rotors change pitch and move in his direction, the slugs hit him before he even heard the shots. His legs shot out in front of him, flipping him on his back. The platform hovered directly above him as two spots clicked on.

“Freeze!” The command rang out from unseen speakers.

A little late for that, Leslie thought bitterly.




It was cold.

Not just cold, but an I wish I had on a heavier coat sort of cold. A some fucking lunatic dragged me out of a nice warm bed at four in the morning, at the end of Goddamn November in the motherfucking Catskills sort of cold.

Shadrach stomped his feet trying to get some life back into his toes. The stars stood out in a stark contrast against a matte black sky. His father was in the cab of a borrowed picker trying to coax the hydrogen cell to life. The method to bring the cell to life seemed to involve a lot of swearing, as well as carrying out a running narrative on what an unlucky man he was, adding at salient points that the added burden of an idiot son was only further proof of a cruel Universe against hard working men.




Shadrach wore a look of complete non-comprehension on his face. It was essentially his null state. When his father’s attention turned back to him, he would then become the focus of the aforementioned narrative. In addition, appearing to be too stupid to know what was happening gave the narrator the least amount of material to work with.




“Hey, numb nuts! Yeah you, Shifty. Any chance you giving me a hand here?”

Not being a cell tech or mechanic or even the least bit interested, he doubted it, but shuffled over to peer in the access. Yep, there was a cell in there.

His father looked at him with an expression he usually saved for questionable dairy products.

“You really are useless, aren’t you? What are you going to do? Who the hell is going to hire you?”

For the life of him Shadrach couldn’t have cared less, as long as it got him away from here. In fact, he was willing to go as far away as he could get, without actually winding up on his way back.

Shadrach’s father shook his head sadly. He was a small intense man with close cropped dark hair. He seemed on the verge of nervous movement even when standing still, notoriously bad in checkout lines; often leaving the item, he intended to purchase because the line wasn’t moving quickly enough. All in all a barrel of laughs. Shadrach was an echo of his father. At fifteen, he was a little taller and broader through the shoulders, but carried the same dark intensity. He was looking at his feet when he noticed an opened coupling underneath the picker’s frame. Bending down he snapped the two connections together.

“Now try it.”

His father sneered as he reached inside the cab and hit the power tab. The Telltales flickered to life as the cell came online.

“Well,” his father said, “even a stopped clock is right twice a day.”

Shadrach stared back with bovine indifference.




Climbing into the picker his father put it in drive and moved toward the pile of alloy transmission pylons. The power company had pulled them down to make room for a microwave transmitter they were building. One of his father’s friends who worked for the power company called him and said he could have them if he got them out before morning. Shadrach could not imagine what he could use them for, but if they were for free, his old man was all for them. Case in point, all the blankets on the beds at home had scorch marks on them. During a hospital fire the firefighters had been throwing them out the windows. To his father, they were manna from heaven.




Crawling forward the picker moved in articulated jerks as the hydraulics sluggishly came to life in the November cold. Moving the boom over the heap of pylons. His father lowered the claw, the machine lifted a mass of pylons like a child grasping a pile of pick-up sticks. Lifting and  swinging around, the picker placed the pylons in its rear payload area. As each new level of pylons was reached, Shadrach pushed a button activating the tethers which locked it down. This process went on for about fifteen minutes.




The old picker wheezed and clunked as his father loaded the last of the pylons. When the final one was in place Shadrach pushed the tether activation button. The tether would connect, but not lock, due to the overload of pylons. His father, in no small state of agitation, made repeated stabbing motions with his thumb indicating Shadrach should get the tether locked. Shadrach held the button down hard; the servos whined and released a thin acrid smell into the cold air. Shadrach heard the clunk as the tether locked. He turned and smiled at his father. His father shrugged, unimpressed.

Walking back Shadrach removed his gloves and put them in his front pocket. He was looking forward to climbing in to the warmth of the cab and heading home. Just then, a snap rang out like a gunshot. The tether broke free and recoiled, rubber band-like, slashing downward. The thin edge sliced down and caught Shadrach above his left eye cutting down, laying open a five centimeter gash. Falling back Shadrach  landed on his ass stunned, not really knowing what had happened. The blood flowed freely, shocking in its warmth, hugging his cheek before moving down to the space between his neck and tee shirt. His father stood above him, looking less concerned then annoyed.

“C’mon, brain surgeon, we are going to have to get that glued. Jesus, you could foul up a High Mass.”

Shadrach sighed, pressing one of his gloves to his face as he rose to follow his father.




The Qwik Fix was lit with an intensity that Shadrach suspected had an antibacterial quality. The small waiting room was devoid of shadows. The Qwik was a chain of what was known as “boo-boo bodegas.” They were cheap and quick, and if you had coverage they would perform any procedure short of reattaching a limb with varying degrees of success. They were staffed exclusively by a med tech who was invariably a “Stan.” A “Stan” was an immigrant from Turkistan, Uzbekistan or in his father’s lexicon “a who-the-fuck-knows-where a Stan”.

Shadrach’s father gave the tech the once over as he came out to exam the gash. He was short and corpulent with skin that glowed with a sheen that appeared to be the result of some sort of applied cosmetic. Shadrach winced as cool capable hands examined the wound. He cleaned it quickly, applied an organic sealant, and closed it with a pistol-shaped instrument of Israeli design.

Shadrach could feel his skin tighten and pull towards his one ear.

“There will most likely be some scarring without some surgical intervention,” the tech said softly. “But it will heal quickly and cleanly without infection.”

Shadrach knew the chance of any surgical intervention was unlikely. His best hope was that the scar would add some character to his face.

The tech policed up his disposable gear quickly and dropped it into a receptacle. He moved behind the counter to bring up the billing.

“Nice to see he took time from driving a cab to help us out,” Shadrach’s father mumbled, breaking out his chip. Shadrach knew his father was critical of all ethnic groups—except his own—which seemed too made up of exclusively of white, loud and ignorant malcontents.

The transaction completed, they moved outside into the cold dawn.

“Well, whatever I could have saved we lost on that little visit.”

Shadrach moved his hand over the scar feeling it throb along the adhesive.

“Sorry,” he offered.

“You sure are,” Shadrach’s father agreed.




The new shoes pinched right along the edge of his big toe.

They had absurdly large soles, almost two inches thick. The clerk at the store where he picked them up referred to them as “Frankensteins.”

For Gideon, that pretty much summed up the whole outfit—from the idiot ball cap to the faux cop uniform shirt, pegged straight-leg black utility pants, finished off with required white cotton socks and aforementioned Frankensteins. The only way he could feel any more absurd was if they required a propeller on top of the cap.




Gideon sat in a waiting room in the Archer Daniels Midland corporate headquarters in downtown Philadelphia. The room had an aggressive organic feel to it. There was nothing loose, nothing that could be moved: the chairs, tables, drink dispensers; waste receptacles all seemed to have sprouted directly from the floor. There were no sharp edges. Everything was a pale tan; the space had a feel as if it had been designed to withstand the antics of especially inquisitive chimps. As he looked around, he  had to admit that was a bit of inspired design. There were about thirty other men in the room, all within a ten year age range, all from the same economic spectrum. Gideon could see new patches of skin where gang tats had been freshly removed and replaced with derm analogs.




“Got a smoke?”

“Nah,” Gideon replied, patting down his pockets. “They don’t allow it in here.”

“Yeah, that isn’t all they don’t allow in here,” added the smokeless smoker.           

“What’s your name?”

“Gideon, yours?”

“Craig,” he answered, offering his hand. Gideon grasped it firmly. “You prior military?”

“Yep,” Gideon nodded. “You?”

“The Corps, mustered out about a year ago.” Craig rubbed his closely shorn scalp; he still carried the build of his hitch. A little shorter than average, his mass made him seem bigger. He was dressed in a mirror image of everyone else.

“ I did four in the Nav, got out about six months ago, that puts us atop of the food chain in here,” Gideon smiled. It fit easily on his face. About two inches taller than Craig, he carried none of the muscle. His dark brown eyes held an implied smile that seemed at home there. His well-shaped head was shaved close and he wore a carefully trimmed goatee around his generous mouth.

“Trouble finding work after ya mustered out?” Gideon inquired.

“Yeah, not much call for grunt work.”

“Did ya try Security?”

Craig shook his head. “Isn’t much use. Most private or corporate is all Special Forces.”

Gideon shrugged. “Can’t win for losing.”

“Word,” Craig replied.

The smart wall blinked twice as the next set of applicants’ names scrolled across. Gideon watched as his name appeared third from the bottom with the room routing number.

“Well, that’s me,” Gideon said, standing.

“Good luck bro,” Craig commented to Gideon’s back as he made his way to the interviewing cubicles.




If the waiting room was nondescript, the interview cubicle was a testament to understatement. It was a small square room with a chair, desk, and some sort of a chair lamp combination that looked as if it had grown from a large coerced mushroom. The woman on the other side of the desk held a small data plaque and managed to look both bored and annoyed at the same time. Her business suit was just a shade lighter than the room/chair/desk. Her skin tone suggested that she may have been issued along with the other furnishings.




“Mr. Gideon, have a seat.”

“Thank you.”

“How are you feeling today?”

“Right as rain thanks.”

“Let’s get down to business, shall we?”

“It’s your show,” Gideon smiled.

She glanced down at the plaque in her hand, her thumb hitting the scroll tab at irregular intervals.

“It says here you are a Veteran.”

“Four years, Navy.”

“And did you enjoy it?” she asked.

Gideon thought a moment, then answered, “Don’t really know if I enjoyed it. But it was something different, that’s for sure.”

“How do you mean?”

“I was stationed on a thirty five year old fast attack submarine. A dynamic situation at best.”

“I didn’t think there were any submarines in use any more,” she said, raising her eyebrows.

“That’s what I mean.”

She looked at Gideon. Gideon looked back.

“Anyway, what did you do?”

“Anything they told me.”

Again the eyebrows.

“Mainly, hydraulics, pump repair. Things of that nature.”

She nodded. “What makes you think you could do security work for ADM?”

“I have no idea. The ad said entry level. And if I am anything it is entry level.”

“Of that I am sure,” the interviewer agreed.

“Although this is the first gig where I ever had to buy the gear before I was hired,” Gideon said pulling at his shirt.

“We like to think it helps weed out the applicants who aren’t really interested.”

“I don’t get the job I keep the getup?”

“No.” She shook her head. “It becomes ADM property.”

“How do you get away with that?”

She tilted her head thoughtfully. “Today’s climate is very...friendly to the corporate world.”

“When hasn’t it been?” Gideon asked

“That,” she responded, “is not a good place to start a working relationship.”

Chapter 2


James Halbert gripped the cool porcelain of the sink and watched the green stomach bile puddle around the drain. Filling a cup from the faucet and he rinsed his mouth and spit washing the green stain from his sight. Standing looking around his small apartment he felt his stomach twist. He was a thin man, with a halo of gray hair that seemed to float about his head. Staring at his pinched features in the mirror he tried to remember the last time he felt good.



Moving back to his small single bed he crawled into sweat-soaked sheets.

“Time,” he said to the room.

“0438,” the room responded cheerfully.

“Great,” James muttered. Twenty minutes till he had to dress for work.




James had just turned 50 but looked 15 years older. He was a power board supervisor for Golden State Edison and it was slowly but surely killing him.

Pulling a can of Java Joe out of his cupboard, he stood looking at the empty space the can had left. Reaching up, he moved a can forward, making the row complete again. All five shelves of the cupboard were full of Java Joes. James lived on Java Joes and soy bars. It was the only thing that his body would tolerate anymore. Pushing the tab, he set it on the counter. Watching as the can warmed to the preset temperature. He knew that it was an oxidization process similar to rusting in the can liner that heated the coffee. He also knew that he actually didn’t give a shit…




Once in his combination bedroom-sitting area, he opened his closet and removed a shirt and pants. He didn’t turn on the lights. The only things in the closet were identical sets of white shirts and khaki pants. It was all he wore and as with the coffee, he truly didn’t give a shit.

Dressing quickly, he clipped his I.D. to his shirt pocket. Then back in the kitchen he grabbed a backpack and filled it with ten Java Joes and a handful of New Day soy bars. Looking at the label of the last bar as he placed into the backpack he read the label aloud.

“Make every day a new day to remember!!!” James said to the empty kitchen. The bars were the consistency of earwax, which funnily enough is exactly what they tasted like. James doubted if the three exclamation points were really necessary.




Stepping outside of his tiny apartment, he palm-locked the doorway behind him. The air was heavy with moisture and some sort of chemical byproducts from the fires in Oakland. A petroleum cracking plant had been blown up a week earlier by a militant Earth First! faction and was still smoldering.  Having been to Oakland once. The thought of destroying anything because of its environmental impact was sort of like arresting a politician for acting in his own self-interest; a pointless exercise at best. James walked up to his eight year old Honda Katana and spoke.

“Halbert, James.”

The Honda beeped in recognition, deactivating numerous interlocks and antitheft devices.

Opening the door he put the backpack in the space behind the seat. Being a one-seater, it was a little scarce on space. Climbing in, the car came online, showing the status of its power plant and other vitals. A blinking readout indicated that fuel was down to twenty percent. He would fuel up at work. All state vehicles ran on used vegetable oil collected at numerous fast food restaurants around the state.  He hit the warmup switch to heat and liquefy the solidified grease that had congealed overnight. The small car filled with the smell of fried food, causing James to power down both windows. The smell would adhere to his clothes. His whole workspace smelled like a chicken franchise from all the state employees jammed in the small space. James sighed. It was because of small absurdities like this he often thought about driving the Katana right into the Bay, leaving a only small French fry-smelling slick to mark his passing.




The  dash chronometer; read 05:02. He just had to turn out of Harbor Way, cross G Street, take a left on Railroad Avenue, then a right on Rickover to Poplar Avenue—a total of 2.3 miles. It would take him a little under two hours. He read somewhere that rush hour had once only occurred at peak hours like six to nine in the morning or four to seven in the afternoon. Now the line of traffic was never ending, like an exercise in perspective stretching to the horizon.




Ninety-three minutes later he pulled into the Power Authority’s parking structure and into his assigned slot. The structure was located about a kilometer from the actual building and was made from interlocking, meter-thick slabs of ferrocrete to minimize blast damage from overenthusiastic environmental zealots or any other yahoo able to jam a hundred kilos of explosive into their French fry-smelling personnel conveyance.




The dew wet his pants cuffs while cutting  across the brown burned grass to the Power Authority’s entrance. There was only one entrance through which three hundred employees had to squeeze every twelve hour shift change. Each employee had to pass through an identity kiosk. This would scan, sniff and otherwise match to a profile for each employee. Any employee who came up wanting would quickly be sprayed with Stayputt—a semi-liquid goo which instantly hardened into a molasses-like epoxy, sticking the helpless employee to the spot. James had witnessed about a half dozen Stayputtings. It was usually caused by a new deodorant or perfume not listed in the Authority’s identification lexicon.

Patiently James queued and waited , moving through the scanner. Making it through without being glued to the floor; owing, he supposed, to the fact that he reeked of fried chicken. He made his way to the elevator and rode down the ten levels to the power board. The Power Authority was built like an inverted cone buried so only a small amount appeared above ground; the majority was buried encased in ferrocrete with a polyceramic cell impervious to all but a multi-megaton strike. The entirety of air, water and power generated for the facility were site-dedicated. The whole place could be sealed off and remain independent for weeks, an option that caused James to wake up in a cold sweat at least once a month. As he approached the portal he hit the palm scanner; the door granted him access.




The control room was a circular chamber set with displays on all visible wall surfaces. In the Center were gathered the techs and usage governors. Seated separately were four facilitators in pneumo-couches facing the main power loads. The four facilitators were wired directly via spinal jacks into the grid, constantly monitoring and shifting the billions of kilowatts flowing through the portion of grid that was their responsibility. Facilitators were contracted for four years and then given full retirement with an obscene compensation package. James had yet to meet one who made the entire four. Most ended up as disabilities taken out while seizing on the couch. Seizures and emboli were hallmarks of their professions.




“What’s up, Boss?” asked Sean, the p.m. power board operator.

“I’m here, for what’s it worth,” James offered tiredly.

“Dude, in this place that’s worth its weight in gold. ” Sean chuckled.

Sean was a homesteader out from Napa Valley. He did six shifts on and eight off. Long and lanky, he seemed to be made of rawhide and bleached bone. His long blond hair was pulled back and tied with a strip of worn leather; he was always in good humor, which simultaneously both amazed and worried James.




“Well Jimmy, everything is five by five just like you left it. No fires to be put out. Just the chaos and turmoil that passes for normality around here.”

“How long have the Bees been on?” James asked motioning toward the facilitators.

“This group’s fresh. The longest about two hours, all looking pretty mellow.”

They were known as Bees—short for zombies—due to their marked lack of interaction on and off the wire.

“Well, thanks, Sean. You off for eight now?”

Sean nodded. “Yeah, eight days with the wife and climbers. You should stop out, we’re putting up our first Riesling this month.”

James shrugged. “Yeah, maybe.”

Sean reached out and grabbed James’ shoulder, squeezing lightly. “Dude, you got to get out sometime. This place is killing ya.”

“Truer than you know,” James said softly. “You take care, Sean.”

“You too, hoss; stay frosty.”

James watched Sean make his way out of the power board wondering—not for the first time today—what the hell he was doing here.




Facing the main screens James said. “Initiate shift clock.” A numerical countdown from 12 hours started. The power room was now isolated until the start of the next shift. James’ chest started to burn from the stomach acid splashing into his esophagus. He tore open a soy bar and gnawed into it grimly.

“Chief, we’re getting spikes. It looks like we’re going to lose the Alcatraz feed from the wind farm,” barked one of the governors.

“Shit,” James whispered, switching swiftly to the relevant screen. He could see the megawatts draining away as the farm dropped off line. “Balance out the drain with Diablo Canyon’s surplus.”

“I don’t know Chief, it’s going to be close. Their grid is barely in the black.”

James nodded. “I know, just do it.”

The governor punched in the command. A moan came from the pneumo-couch closest to James. A young blond woman writhed in pain as the power feed and drain balanced out.

“Put the facilitator’s vitals up on screen,” James said. The usage governor brought up the woman’s vital signs, all were green except for the neurotransmitter levels which had moved into the red.

“See if you can shift some of her load onto one of the others.”

“No can do, Chief, all facilitators working at max load now.”

Grimacing, James sighed. “Four dedicated organics are pushing the envelope with this responsibility level; even with two more we would still be functioning at eighty percent capacity.”

The governor shrugged. “You’re preaching to the choir, but you know upstairs they are not going to allot any more than just less than ya need.”

This was not news to James. There was very little in this place that was news to him.

He sat for the next hour watching the boards. The feed and drain balanced precariously, staying just barely in a non-critical state.




Gulping down a Java Joe he looked up at the shift clock; it had just passed the halfway mark. Still 05.59.06 left on his shift. James massaged the back of his neck.



“We’re getting reports of a large warehouse fire in Oakland.”

“So, Oakland as a rule is always on fire.”

The governor keyed in the appropriate commands bringing up the readouts at a selected substation. “I’ve got a twenty degree Celsius ambient rise at critical two at transformer.”

“Shit, how close?” James asked, although he already knew.

“Close, I got it inside twenty meters from the reported fire site.”

“Is there a redundant at standby?”

“Not a chance, Chief.”

 Sighing James motioned. “Bring up the brownout cascade and start cutting all non-essentials.”

A scream rang through the power board as the blond facilitator seized, flopped off the couch and was torn free from her c1 coupling. The screens went crazy as the power grids controlled by the seizing facilitator went into automatic shutdown. Twenty square kilometers of some of the most expensive real estate in the country—two major airports and five major medical centers—fell from the grid. Icons began flashing on the screen as everyone from the state’s Chief Executive on down was now attempting to contact whoever was responsible for the shit storm that had just occurred.

“Unseal the power board and get medical in here, and call Personnel. We need a standby facilitator ASAP.”

The burning in his chest spread as he tore open another soy bar. James wished fervently that he could crawl up his own asshole.




The house sat back about three meters from Main Street. It was one of the oldest still standing in Yarmouth, Maine. Its shingles were faded to the requisite silver patina, giving it that authentic New England flavor. On the front porch was a lobster trap that someone had made into a table by nailing an old cabinet door on top. The screen door was so rusted, that when looking out it seemed like dusk even on the sunniest of summer days. Inside was a small living room piled with books and various pieces of sound-producing paraphernalia, from triangles and old wax tube phonographs to the latest ambient sponge emitters.

At the left corner of the living room was a hallway that ran to the kitchen at the back of the house. Along the hallway were two rooms. At the second doorway was a small mousy woman on her hands and knees. In the dim light she appeared much older than her thirty-three years. She was wearing a severe ankle length black smock with a black kerchief tied over her colorless hair. Her face, devoid of any makeup, was set in grim determination as she shoved handfuls of pamphlets beneath the locked door.




José Maganna was on the other side of that door watching the pamphlets appear one after the other as if by magic. He knew it was not magic. It was his wife Donna. Donna had gone crackers, one egg roll short of a combination plate, and one dwarf short of a full Snow White. José sighed. He could remember ten years ago when they had first married what a delight she had been: cheerful, open, carefree. But that was before Beverly, her sister, a former heroin addict, found religion and began the process of becoming a Catholic nun.




Now José Msc, PhD, Dsc(Manc), C. Eng, FIEE, FIEEE, FIPENZ, FRSNZ, Professor  Emeritus at Colby College, had nothing against religion, organized, disorganized or otherwise, but it had taken over his formerly happy wife to an unhealthy degree. It had begun gradually, at first. She was so overjoyed that her formerly useless sister had given up drugs, prostitution, and rumored armed robbery, and turned her life around. She started making trips to Portland to help her sister at the diocese and it was good. But soon the changes began. No more makeup. No more nice sundresses. No more laughing, and not insignificantly, no more sex.

A thirty year old woman had transformed into a sixty year old dowager. He had tried to approach her, to talk sensibly about what he saw as a dramatic change in their lives. She would hear none of it, Jesus had entered her life. Amen… As bad as that was then, it was about to get a whole lot worse.




Her sister The Nun had somehow ended up pregnant. Considering she resembled a well-worn Ernest Borgnine, José suspected Divine intervention. Unfortunately, that was also the story she sold to Donna who, to José’s horror and disbelief, bought it: hook, line and sinker. So on a sunny October afternoon, his wife and her sister the immaculately-knocked-up-proto-Nun were in Portland watching the placement of a statue of the Archangel Gabriel on the roof of a newly opened church. They had craned it up a hundred meters. The connecting pin on the hasp failed, sending four hundred kilos of polished granite screaming towards the newly-knocked-up-aforementioned-Borgnine-doppelganger. There was nothing left of her but a pair of size thirteen sensible shoes. This, along with the fact that the statue was of Gabriel, who appeared to the Virgin Mary to tell her she was pregnant with Jesus, was not lost on Donna. It sent her first class straight to wacky town, which brings us to today with the pamphlets being shoved under José’s door.




The timing could not have been worse. José rose from his chair, picking up the publications and putting them in a wicker basket which was already half full.

“Thanks hon, I’ll get right to these,” José said loudly.

The pamphlets ceased to appear as she went to pray or eat incense or see visions of the trinity in apple cores or any other way she now occupied her time. José went back to his desk and booted his home terminal to Colby’s mainframe. He held a professorship there but had no classes, or any students for that matter. He did purely research and he was on the verge of something big.




His specialty was harmonics. It was known that all matter vibrated or oscillated at a set frequency on the atomic level. His team had stumbled upon the frequency that triggered energetic reactions in a specific group of unstable elements. Elements such as weapons-grade uranium. The effect did not appear to be diminished by distance or shielding. He has been able to keep the discovery to himself, since he was the only one with access to all of the information. Acting as a Systems Analyst, he monitored and compiled all the data. Leaning back in his chair, he laced his fingers behind his head and closed his eyes. In repose he resembled more the lobsterman than college professor. He was short-limbed and thick, with skin roughened from hours spent on his whaler hugging the coast when not on campus. His hair was still County Cork red, he carried little else of his father except his temperament. The rest was all his mother: a McCrae whose tongue was as sharp as her wit, and to this day could make him sit a little straighter with nothing more than a glance.




Leaning forward he rubbed his eyes. He knew what he had. It had the potential to detonate any fissionable material at considerable distance. Point zero two micrograms of plutonium had been brought to critical mass by an old Verizon com sat in a geo-synch orbit a little over a week ago. The transmitter that was used was almost thirty years old and the signal had been splashed over almost seventeen square kilometers. The test had been monitored by Department of Energy. The sample was encased in a lead alloy, impact resistant fail-safe container, specifically designed to determine its ability to contain release of any radiation in case of accidental or deliberate detonation. It was at a ridiculously small scale, for obvious reasons. José had disabled the triggers while attaching the frequency monitors, which were part of a separate experiment. Then he then initiated the detonation using a signal from his laptop uploaded to the com sat.

There was a short delay which the primary team attributed to substandard tamper plugs; that was fine with José. Why now?, while he wrestled with this, was he dealing with his wife going full-out Piper Laurie in Carrie mode? He could be within spitting distance of making nuclear weapons obsolete while at the same time his wife was seeing the Virgin Mary in ceiling water stains.

“Nothing is ever fucking easy,” he said to an empty study.




The graduation ceremony moved with a glacial slowness. To Shadrach, the pace was identical to the rest of his unremarkable academic career. He didn’t think he would have even graduated if social promotion hadn’t come back in vogue. His parents were a no-show; the old man had remarked this morning that somebody else probably needed his seat. The ceremony dragged on with a fever-like quality. His classmates were buzzing with what they were going to do afterward and couldn’t wait for the fall, a road of promise stretching out before them. The only road for Shadrach was some shit job to pay for some shit life.




Clutching his diploma he hung back as the rest of the crowd went on to many parties and celebrations. He had not been invited to any of them.


 Startled from his self-absorption and noticed a man standing beside the walkway. He was dressed in a camo uniform and had the same molded appearance Shadrach had come to recognize as military.

“Can I help you?” Shadrach asked.

“No Son, but I think I can help you.”

Smiling sadly Shadrach shook his head. “I don’t think there is much you can do for me.”

It was the soldier’s turn to smile. “You got yourself a good school lined up for the fall?”


“Going to take some shit job? For shit pay?”

“Yeah, so?”

“Yeah, well my last reenlistment bonus was more credit that you’ll see in a year.”

Shadrach shrugged. “I didn’t exactly graduate in the top of my class.”

“Neither did I, but I was willing to work hard. Are you willing to work hard?”

“Sure, I guess.”

The soldier turned and grabbed Shadrach by the shoulders. “It is an exciting time, son. All the services are coming under one command, a unified defense force. Today’s warrior is the best trained, best equipped killing machine in history. Today’s grunt is equal to a platoon of soldiers twenty years ago. Isn’t that something you want to be part of?”

“Ahh...” Shadrach was a little overwhelmed.

“Well, here is a flow token, check it out.” The soldier handed Shadrach a round disk  that glowed softly with a green luminance. “It will work in any public link. Don’t miss a real opportunity.”

Shadrach watched the token glow in his palm as the soldier walked away.




The public access looked just like everything else used by the public. His father, a man never short of a bon mot, once told him that no one ever washed a rented car. Since Shadrach had no web access at home this was his only option.

The exterior was built like a old style phone booth, tall and cylindrical, and designed to withstand an artillery strike. It had no corners or seams in which to gain purchase in the event of any attempt at forced entry.

Shadrach swiped the token across the reader. The glow from the token faded as the access stirred to life. A section rolled back into itself allowing a meter-wide slit which Shadrach entered. He seated himself in a well-worn couch as the section rolled back into place sealing him in. It was pitch black for a moment until the screen came to life. Ventilation fans kicked in, removing some of the faint piss-sweat smell that permeated the space. The screen ran him through the start up process, which for anyone of his age group was second nature. He pulled a permeable prophylactic skull wrap from the dispenser and placed it on his head, sealing it at his brow line. He pulled the interface crown down, fitting it over his head where it slowly molded to his contours. The site was keyed in through the token. Leaning back and forcing himself into passivity, he pressed the Go switch located under his right index finger.

The crown released micro-thin filaments which passed through the wrap, into the skin, and slid through the cranial fissures directly into Shadrach’s brain. The transition was instantaneous. One moment piss-smelling public access, the next green field, blue sky overhead and sun on his face.




“Eyes forward recruit.”

There about two meters in front of him was the most impressive physical specimen Shadrach could ever remember seeing. Tall and blue eyed with a gleaming scalp shining through his high and tight. Every major muscle group was outlined in his spotless military fatigues.

“Err…” Shadrach offered.

“I said eyes front!”

Shadrach did the best estimation of whatever the fuck “eyes front” was.

“That’s better,” said the impossibly military, military man.

“So you think you got what it takes to be a soldier?’


“Well, good for you. Every soldier in today’s United Defense Forces is equivalent to a full platoon of soldiers twenty years ago in means of firepower and information gathering. They are also the best protected in history. This is the wet gear body armor with Paladin helm head protection with battle con information and targeting system.

A black battle harness with helmet appeared out of thin air, then disappeared, reappearing on Shadrach’s body.

“Notice how light and flexible it is.”

Shadrach bent and swung his arms. He had to admit it was awfully comfortable for armor.

“The Paladin battle helm has wireless neuron pickups which give the solider real-time tactical info on retinal display.”

Shadrach jumped as printed data appeared about a meter in front of his face.  He could see a compass heading, altitude, temperature, and a grid map indicating his position.

Shadrach blinked hard twice, and the readout disappeared.  He blinked hard twice again and brought the display back up.

“Cool,” Shadrach said.

“That’s a firm worm,” said the very military, military man.  “The standard close combat issued weapon is the Mark Two Energy Impeller.”

The weapon appeared in Shadrach’s hands, it was heavy but balanced.  There was a large tube like opening at the end of the barrel.

“Bring up your tactical display.”

“Take aim at one of those targets.”

Shadrach looked as five man-sized cutouts appeared at, according to his tac display, fifty meters. A second gun site appeared. Shadrach put the rifle to his shoulder and overlapped the sites. “Discharge the weapon” flashed in the corner of his vision. Shadrach depressed the trigger, it produced a slight kick followed by a barely audible oomph. A fist-sized ball of white fire rocketed out, impacting and incinerating the target simultaneously.

Shadrach stared at the target opened-mouthed.

The  very military, military man stepped in front of him almost nose to nose. “Do you have what it takes, recruit?”

The simulation blinked out abruptly leaving Shadrach sitting in the public access with a new feeling.


Chapter 3


James rubbed his eyes. They felt like they were covered in a fine grit.



“Most of the western grid is looking hairy, we’re going have to shift some load.”

James nodded. “We holding any surplus?”

Sean shrugged. “What do you think?”

James looked back up at the screens and noticed something he hadn’t noticed before.

“What’s that indicator?  It’s new.  The blue one up above Seattle?”

Sean looked up a little flustered. “That’s Vancouver. Another country altogether. Ain’t got nothing to do with us.”

“Ever been there?” James asked.

“What? Yeah sure, couple a times. Nice strip joints. Now about the grid.”

“Nice up there?”

“Yeah I guess. Plenty of juice. Dug a big geo thermal off of Vancouver Island. Even the homeless shelters got electric heat. Now about the grid.”

 James rubbed his face. “Pull five percent off anywhere that will tolerate it, see if it balances.”

“You’re the boss, boss.”






“Just lost two step-down transformers in Long Beach.”

“You know, I got family up there.”

Sean looked up at James. “Up where, Chief?”

“In Vancouver,” James pointed with his chin. “Up there.”

“Ah, yeah, Chief, the transformers?”

“Start the cascade; keep it local till the crews get out.”

“There is a primary care and two long term hospitals in that district.”

“Well,” James shrugged. “Hope their gennys are up to snuff.”




“Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!”

“My relatives left me some land up there.”


“Nice, farmland I believe.”


“Yes, what is it Sean?”

“We got incoming, the Montrose bead reactor just scrammed. A whole lot of real estate just went black.”

“Some vineyards maybe.”

“Chief, come back to me.”

James shook himself. “Feed in enough to the heavy urban areas for stoplights and traffic control. Get law enforcement up to speed. I’ll get on the horn with the Governor.”

“Yippee,” Sean said as the circus came to town.




He was on his fifth Java Joe and it was only two hours into the shift. His stomach sat like a rock in his gut pulling toward the floor. James felt steeped in hopelessness. He felt he could die where he was standing and it would be hours before anyone noticed. The Bees were real twitchy—there were just two of them—a gaunt teenager and a Malaysian double amputee whose vitals kept spiking.

“We are picking up coms out of San Fernando. Their entire grid is in a flux; they have lost all of their facilitators,” said Wendell.

James looked down. “Who the hell are you?”

“I’m Wendell.”

“Where the hell is Sean?”

“Burning Man I think,” responded Wendell.

“Good for him,” grumbled  James.

Audibles rang out in the enclosed space. “Boss we just lost the girl,” one of the governors shouted, “and if we don’t pull the other one out of the flow he’s  going to go tits up sure as shit.”

James felt a sharp spike of pain behind his eyes. He swayed on his feet for a long moment. Taking a deep breath and opened his eyes. He looked at the blue light that was Vancouver and said, “My family left me some property in Vancouver; I better see how it’s doing.”

With that James pulled off his I.D.,  dropped it on his desk and moved to an exit, hit the palm ident and left the power board. Open-mouthed employees watched in stunned disbelief.




The sun was warm on James’ face as he walked into the parking area. Along the edge of the lot was a homeless man feeding a cat and her kittens. He was breaking off pieces of day-old bread, dipping them in a jar of clam juice and tossing them to the furry multitude. James walked over a little closer.


The homeless man jumped a little. “Uh, hi.”

James took a closer look and determined the man was probably twenty years younger than he initially appeared. Along both cheeks were strips of  hospital tape covering some blackened skin tissue. The sun was not as kind as it used to be.

“Nice cats,” James offered.

“Yeah, thanks,” replied the homeless dude.

“She just have kittens?” James asked.

“Yeah, I guess,” said the homeless dude.

James stood there smiling at him in a way that made the homeless dude a little nervous.

“You want to sell one of those kittens?”

The homeless guy’s eyes narrowed. “For what? You’re not going to eat ’em, are you?”

“No, no,” James  grinned. “To have as a pet.”

The homeless guy mulled this over. “How much?”

“Can you drive?”

The homeless guy nodded. “Sure, but got no license.”

James shrugged. “That’s the great state of California’s problem, not mine. Step over here.”

The homeless guy stood and walked over to the Katana. James opened it up and grabbed some stuff out of the glove box. “Change voice print ident,” he said to the car.

“Standing by,” the car responded cheerfully.

“What’s your name?” James asked.

“You’re kidding right?”

“Nope, serious as an audit...”

“Okay, Ruben, ah, Ruben Smith.”

“New voice ident now,” James told the car.

“State name following the tone,” the car said.

The sharp tone sounded. James motioned to Ruben. “Ruben Smith,” the homeless dude said uncertainly.

“Ruben Smith. New voice ident on file and accepted.”

James walked over and pointed at the kittens. “I’ll take the tortoiseshell one.”

The homeless dude looked a little stunned. “Sure thing buddy, rock on.”

James nodded, picked up the kitten and headed home on foot.




He got to his apartment about ten minutes faster than if he had driven. Letting himself in, he poured some milk for the kitten and went to his bedroom closet. He reached for his favorite light jacket and changed into his best walking shoes. Taking his credit chip he dumped both his accounts off his terminal, closing them both. From his cupboard he pulled down three packets of tuna then grabbed an old ammo bag and put a towel in it before setting the kitten into it. He put this over his shoulder, put the tuna in his jacket pocket and opened the door. He blanked the I.D. plate allowing anyone access and walked down the steps, leaving the door open behind him.




Moving toward the coast he worked his way toward old Route One. The coastal highway had been impassable to vehicle traffic for years and was considered a no-go zone. This would have been a grave concern at one time. Now it just seemed interesting. It was a twenty kilometer stroll to the outside of Inverness. Inverness had been gradually taken over by Cambodian oyster farmers to the extent that all signage was non English. The town border was gated off and you to enter you had to prove liquidity .




James smiled broadly as the gate sentry extended a scanner. The sentry smiled back, exposing gums stained dark from beetle nuts. James produced a chip and waved it over the scanner. The readout caused the sentry to smile even broader and pet the cat that rode on his shoulder.




James had named him Charles H. Littlefellow after a one-eyed hamster he once owned. He was a tiny tortoiseshell tabby who rode easily on his shoulder and was strangely content to sit at his perch and watch events unfold. James moved through the turnstile and made his way down the main drag. The houses were all built on stilts, allowing the fluctuations of the greenhouse encouraged ocean tides to go where they may. It was a happy town full of laughing running children which were almost outnumbered by a surprising number of Jack Russell terriers. Moving closer to the town’s center, James was assaulted by delicious smells coming from a clump of gaily colored restaurants. Picking one at random, he climbed up and seated himself at one of the outdoor tables. Looking around he noticed that nearly all of the tables were full; mostly brown faces and a sprinkling of obvious tourists. A small black and white terrier hopped up on the bench opposite him regarding him with strangely intelligent eyes. Charles H. Littlefellow puffed up against his neck giving a low growl.

“Shoo, shoo!” said a pale fleshy man, waving the terrier away. He squeezed onto the bench across from James, smiling and wiping his sweaty face with a wash faded bandana.

“Edward Thompson, at your service.”

“James at yours.”

“Yes, yes very well. Here for the food are you?” he said in a surprisingly high voice.

“Sure, good enough reason as any. Why all the dogs?”

“Dogs, dogs, yes, yes, place is filthy with them. But great ratters. Keeps all the rats down.”

James looked around nervously. “Are you in charge of rat control?”

“No, no. Biologist. Help with the oysters and mussels. Place is all mussel and oyster farms. Help keep them healthy. Whole local economy based on them.”

A pretty young woman with striking dark eyes walked up and handed them menus painted on smooth pieces of driftwood. “Thank you,” James said. She nodded, flashed a brilliant smile and left.

“Most of them don’t speak English. A point of pride with them really, makes it a little hard to work with, but one soldiers on.”

James scrutinized the menu closely; it clearly was written in some language other than English.

“Can you?” James asked.

“Yes, yes of course.” He waved the girl over and said something quickly in a sing-song dialect that sounded strangely melodious coming out of his fleshy face.

“My Cambodian is dreadful but passable.”

“Thanks. What did you order?”

“Mussels in green curry for you and oysters in saffron sauce for myself, both top notch, top notch. What be your purpose here if I may ask?”

“Just passing through, headed north to see family.”

“On foot?”


“Well good luck. Godspeed. Yes, yes.”




The mains arrived, both in huge deep hand carved wooden bowls piled high. James’ was steeped in a green curry sauce that was pungent and sweet. His companion attacked his in a manner that would lead James to believe it may be his last meal.

“So you’re a farmer? Growing these in pots? With dirt?”

“No, no. No dirt. Mussels on rafts with ropes hanging down with pegs every few feet; mussels attached like crystals on a string. Oysters a little more complicated. Three steps. Start on upweller rafts on wires in clusters then moved to a nursery, finally to Japanese lantern nets. All to a good effect as you can see.”

James nodded. He was pulling a few of the mussels apart, rinsing the meat in his water glass and feeding them to Mr. Littlefellow who daintily scooped it with his paw and ate it heartily.

“No dirt, huh?”

“Yes, yes no dirt at all.”




A smile now settled comfortably on James’ face; wearing it seemed as natural as putting on his shoes; something he would need to start his day. He had been making good progress up the coast. Fourteen days on the road had put him in Ferndale just outside Eureka.

Then things got a little spooky. The closer he got to Eureka the more disturbing things began to pop up along the roadside. First cryptic bible passages on billboards along with crude religious statuary portraying Jesus or the Virgin Mary, often put together with what appeared to be animal bones (James hoped). On the outskirts of Ferndale he saw his first cross tree. On it he saw an ill-used man tied to it by an over-abundance of barbed wire. As he got closer he could see the man was dead, and from the looks of it, had been for some time. At the base in a camp chair was a small elderly woman who had seen better days as well.

“Hello, are you alright?” James asked.

She looked up slowly; her right eye was completely swollen shut.

“Yes, no not alright, not really,” she said softly.

“Can I do anything for you? Do you need something to eat or drink?” James rummaged around in his backpack. “I got some pizza Slims Jims.”

She shook her head. “No, I think I’m done eating. Or anything else for that matter.”

James looked up at the man. “Did you know him?”

“For forty three years. My husband.”

“What happened?”

“Didn’t keep the Sabbath holy. They caught him using his roto tiller on Sunday.”

“Who caught him?”

“The Brothers of the Sanctified Wormwood, they pretty much run Eureka. Showed up about ten years ago, bunch of long hairs, barefoot and screaming about Jesus. Everybody laughed at them. Nobody laughing now.”

James put the Slim Jims back in his backpack. Digging through the outside pockets he found his multi tool. “Come, I’ll help you cut him down.”

“I wouldn’t. They find him down; one of us will go up.”

“Do you want to come with me?”

“Where you headed?”

“North to Vancouver, family left me property there.”

“Have you found Jesus?”

James thought for a minute. “Didn’t know he was missing.”

She smiled. “I’d head east to Burnt Ranch then north. Nothing good for you or anybody in Eureka.”

“Sorry about your husband.”

“Yeah, well sorry describes just about everything nowadays.”

At that moment the cat poked his head out of James’ jacket pocket and peered sleepily at the woman.

“Well, hello kitty.”

James smiled. “That’s Mr. Littlefellow. He’s a good kitty.”

“I’m sure he is. You and Mr. Littlefellow keep safe now. Head east then north. It’ll be the smart thing.”

“We will. And thank you.”

“Stay safe and God Bless, for what it’s worth.”

James walked away slowly. He turned and looked back a couple of times. The woman just sat with her head down; she grew smaller with every glance. The image of that cross remained with James longer than he would have liked.




Burnt Ranch was, as it turned out, an inspired destination. Lush verdant fields spread to the horizon filled to bursting with all manner of agricultural foodstuffs. The colors were almost cartoon-like in vibrancy. As James walked down the middle of the two-lane highway his shoulders were brushed by overhanging sunflowers with heads as large as trash can lids. He heard grunting and laughter in the distance, turning the corner he saw a well kept homestead in a small clearing. It was a neat little geodesic dome with each panel painted a primary color. There was a grouping of solar panels near an outbuilding and a scattering of farm equipment. The grunting was coming from a pretty young woman in overalls trying to hitch a wagon to a small tractor. Her long sun-streaked hair hung down, falling over one shoulder as she tried to muscle the cup onto the ball of the tractor’s hitch. The laughter came from two small children, a girl and boy who were pushing on the wheels trying to help. James stood and watched, a smile returned to his face.




“Hey Sonny Jim, you going to gawk or help?” she said, noticing James standing there.

“Ah, sure,” James said, quickly dropping his pack and hurrying over.

He grabbed the tongue and lifted up hard. The woman and the two children pushed on the wheels and the ball slipped into the cup with a metallic thunk.

“There,” said James.

“Faith,” said the woman.

“When warranted,” said James

“No, no my name is Faith. That is Hope.” The little girl smiled. “And that is Redemption.” The boy stuck out his tongue.

James looked a little blank.

“I know, I know. It seemed like a good idea at the time. The boy also answers to Demp.”

“Hiya, Demp,” James winked. From the boy the tongue again.

“What’s your name?” asked Hope.

“My name is James.”

“Well, hello James, where you headed?” asked Faith.

“North to Vancouver.”

“Vancouver Canada?”



“So far.”

“Brave man—or stupid. Want to earn yourself a meal?”


“Good. We’re harvesting and could use the help.”

They all got into the wagon with Faith at the wheel and rode out into one of the fields. To the delight of the children, James pulled Mr. Littlefellow out and put him on his shoulder. They came to a patch filled with some of the strangest looking vegetables James had ever seen. They hopped out of the wagon. The cat jumped down and went exploring with the children in tow.

“What are these?” James asked pointing at the red spheres on long vines littered the landscape as far as the eye could see.



“Hybrids; an experimental boutique strand by Burpee, of tomatoes and pumpkins.”

“Are they good to eat?”

“Naw.” She shook her head. “A mixture of tomatoes and pumpkins. Taste like shit but goats love um and grow like weeds on um. And we got almost as many goats as Tonkins.”

“Here.” Faith handed James a pair of clippers. “Cut them about six inches from the tops.”

“Okee dokee.” James bent over, snipped through the tough vine, and picked up the heavy fruit. It had a strange texture, the skin felt leathery and thick with a squishy base underneath. The wagon filled quickly. They made several trips to the barn loading and unloading the Tonkins. They were dense and heavy; it was hard work.  Removing his jacket James rolled up his sleeves. Sweat matted his hair to his forehead. Looking over at Faith he noticed that she seemed as fresh as when they started. He had to admit the real work felt good. The last couple of years all his work centered around anxiety. Good honest labor was just the tonic his body needed.

Littlefellow scooted by with the squealing children not far behind. Faith stood and stretched. “Come on, I’ll give you that meal I promised.”




Inside the dome was surprisingly cool. The interior was a riot of colors and jumbles of toys and books. Faith shooed the children toward the bathroom and showed James to the kitchen to wash up. A moaning sound came drifting out of a room just off the kitchen. James startled, peered in and saw a young man with long dirty blond hair tangled in bed sheets; he was tied down with padded restraints and appeared to be having a seizure.

“That’s Gerald.” A voice came from over James’ shoulder. “My husband.”

Faith went to the bedside and wiped his brow with a wet cloth. The man stopped struggling and slumped back into the pillow. Faith smoothed out the bedclothes, kissed him and moved quietly out of the room, shutting the door behind her.

Back in the kitchen she took two glasses from the drying rack and set them on the chopping block.

“Wine?” Faith offered.

James nodded.

“He built this place you know. Dug the vertical shafts for the geothermal heat pump himself. Place stays at a constant 68 degrees year round.”

“Is he sick?”

Faith shook her head a look of disgust passed over her face. “He’s a geothermic engineer. Or was anyway. He worked on the project up on Vancouver Island. Got hooked on thrust. The rest is history. We lost our insurance six months after he came back. Now he pretty much just seizes the day away. We had him on the wire till we lost coverage. That at least gave him periods of rest.”

“How did he start?” James asked. 

Faith pulled out an earthenware jug from under the counter and pulled the rubber stopper. “Currant wine, tart but good. How’d he start?” She shrugged.  “Who the hell knows, he was always a little impulsive. They were working crazy shifts, digging the shafts. It sure didn’t take long. About a month. He was home and fine. A couple weeks later a mess.”

“I’m sorry.”

She smiled. “Don’t be. No one to blame but him.”




The children, tow-headed echoes of each other, swarmed the kitchen. They were brimming with energy and delight. James slipped slowly at the wine and watched dinner come together around him. The children set a rough-hewn table with blue enameled plates and hand-hammered silverware. Faith started a fragrant hickory fire in a grill underneath a metal vent hood. She took out large skewered goat kabobs and put them on the grill. The kabobs cried out in a delightful hiss as the flames met the meat, releasing an aroma that brought James’ appetite to full awareness.




They all set down. Along with the kabobs Faith had made a huge herb salad with a balsamic honey dressing and artery-clogging chunks of goat cheese. Before she sat down she tore a slab of goat apart, placing it in a bowl on the floor for Littlefellow.

The two children chattered gleefully about their day and any other thing that entered their tiny delightful minds. Faith smiled and nodded, encouraging the exchange. James said little, soaking it all in, feeding a need for family that he did not know he had.

“You had enough to eat?”

James nodded, barely able to move. “Wonderful all of it, thank you.”

He helped clear and washed the dishes in a deep slate sink. The sun was dropping behind the low hills, casting the house’s interior in warm pinks and russets. James was sweeping the kitchen when Hope and Demp came to say goodnight.

“Goodnight,” they sang in unison.

“Goodnight and sleep well,” James sang back.

They skittered toward the bedrooms followed by Faith, with Littlefellow scampering behind. James poured himself another glass of wine and sat on the couch, letting the day drain from him at his leisure.




“Well they’re down, both exhausted. Your cat curled right up on Hope’s pillow. Needless to say she’s overjoyed.” A loud moan came from her husband’s bedroom. “I’ll be right back, have another glass of wine. We trade meat and cheese for it,  got gallons.”

James nodded. She returned a short time later. Her hair was wet and she had changed out of her work cloths into a pair of cutoffs and an oversized man’s t-shirt. She sat across from him, folding her legs underneath in a fashion that James always found disconcerting.

“So, what do you do, James?”

“Now? Nothing.”

“How do you afford nothing?”

James shrugged. “I used to work, a lot. Saved some. Just going to wander for awhile. Live a little bit…for a change.”

Faith smiled a sad smile. “Living ain’t a bad idea. Been surviving so long sort of forgot how to live.”

A silence stretched out like a long note. James broke the quiet with a question.

“A drug did that to your husband?”

Faith swept a stray lank of wet hair back from her face. “Yeah, thrust breaks down the myelin sheath; mimics MS that way. As long as they use they’re functional. When they stop…well you see what happens.”

“And being on the wire stops it?”

“Stops the shaking and the seizures. He was on it till the insurance ran out. He could at least sleep then.”

“What does it cost?”

“You got to buy the unit outright.” She told James how much. It was a lot. Almost all of the credit on James’ chip.

She leaned forward with her elbows on her knees. “You ever get lonely James?”

“Yeah, sometimes.”

“Yeah me too, sometimes. Sometimes so much it’s killing me.” She got up and grabbed some blankets along with a pillow from a cupboard and handed them to James.

“You sleep well, James.”

“You too.”




James woke to soft sounds. Opening his eyes he saw Faith standing over him. She was painted from a palette of shadows and half light. He knew she was naked from the sound of her breathing.

“You want some company, James?”

James had to admit he did. It had been a long time. And it was better than he remembered.




Waking early he dressed quietly. Faith had gone back to her room. James gathered his things, checked on the children and saw Littlefellow still curled up on the pillow. The data port was next to the screen. Finding the household account number written on a fertilizer receipt he dumped both his credit chips into Faith’s account. Standing in the cool morning he moved down the driveway and turned north. He felt good.

In retrospect, he had spent a lot more money on a lot less.

Chapter 4


The barracks were long and narrow on the second deck of a structure that was old when the Hun was advancing. Shadrach was one of sixty lined up in front of bunks. They were a representative demographic of lower income classes. Whoever put forth that populist fantasy that only the best of the best was drawn to the volunteer military had never in fact set foot in the volunteer military.

There were sixty of them. Thirty male and thirty female. The military was indeed a truly integrated equal opportunity employer. If you couldn’t find gainful employment or had the desire to travel to foreign lands and meet interesting and exotic peoples and blow them to small unrecognizable meaty chunks for the furthering of corporate interests, think military.




“Good morning splittails, and you too ladies.”

This was Senior Chief Anderson. He is their drill instructor. He appeared to not have been born, but molded from some semi-precious resinous substance. He was just under 180 centimeters tall and not a gram of fat visible. His jaw in perpetual thrust shined as if just shaved moments before. Shadrach doubted that he ever shaved. He was pretty sure the stubble came to attention every morning and fell off in a military fashion. Ice blue eyes blazed out from under a geometrical high and tight fade. Military readiness oozed out of every pore.

He went down each aisle and pulled out all of the folded fatigues and skivvies and scattered them the length and breadth of the barracks.

“Terrible, like a bunch of clap-infested orangutans. Why me Lord, why me? What did I do to you to warrant such a burden?” He raised his eyes heavenward.


Sixty of them dropped to their bellies and “sharked.” Sharking involved lying on your belly, raising both arms and both legs up and waving them up and down. It was uncomfortable and stressful.

“Shark! You motherfuckers and ladies! Shark! Welcome to the United States Defense Force. No more Army, no more Navy, no more Air force, no more Marines. The ships sail themselves. The planes fly themselves. You ladies and girls are what are needed now. Grunts. Bullet soaking, IED eating, standard issue grunt. They ain’t going to pay you shit. And be assured ladies and gents, you will get the shit. The sooner you come to grips with this the better off you will be. On your feet!”

They all jumped up and came to attention. Across from Shadrach stood Summorald, a fleshy redhead from Odessa, Texas. For reasons beyond Shadrach’s understanding he began to snicker.

Senior Chief walked up and stared at him; a look of utter disbelief on his chiseled features.

“Is there something funny, recruit?” Senior Chief asked in a barely audible whisper.

“No Sir, nothing funny at all Sir,” responded Summorald.

“Then please stop laughing.”

Summorald, through a great effort of will, stopped. For a moment silence reigned in the barracks. Then Summorald began to struggle. His pale face started to turn beet red. Sweat began to trickle down from his fire engine red brush cut.

Senior Chief leaned forward as if the recruit was a new species of insect that had appeared on his breakfast plate. His nose was a bare centimeter from Summorald’s. Summorald, at this point, was engaged in a titanic struggle, his face stretched and pulled to unnatural contours. His body, as taut as a bow string, vibrated in place. Sweat now poured freely, soaking his fatigues and running down his pants legs, pooling around the toes of his Kevlar combat boots.




“Anything to say, recruit?” The Senior Chief asked sinisterly.

Summorald held for a second longer, then let go. Shadrach noted with some respect that he had managed to bite down on the bark of laughter that rose out of his throat. This unfortunately led to an explosive blast of air out of his nose, an unnaturally copious amount of gelatinous mucous blasted forth from Summorald’s nostrils. Shadrach for a fleeting moment saw in profile, the gob as if frozen in time, golden and glistening, amorphous and shifting  It crossed the minute distance, impacting with an audible splat. It hung tenaciously to the Senior Chief’s nose before losing purchase and falling to the deck. The barracks gasped as one.

It became unspeakable.




Sam White sat in his office at The Pit. The office was shabby as was its proprietor.  Sitting leaning back against the wall looking out a third story window on what was without question the seedier part of Bayonne (which was like arguing about virtue in a whore house). Sam was the sole owner of what once had been the premier cage fighting franchise in the United States.

That was ten years ago. Now with over fifty different leagues and organizations he was holding on to a very tiny market share, which he was now in danger in losing. He still held broadcast deals on the three major web outlets. He was due to renew next week. He knew he didn’t have the credit and more importantly, they knew he didn’t have the credit.

Sighing, he looked at the posters lining the walls. Back then he was King Shit of Turd Island. In retrospect he supposed he should have stashed some of that income.




“Sam, ya got company.”

That was Kelly. Kelly was his last employee. They had a thing going about two years ago. Now, no credit, no Kelly.

“Who the hell is it?”

“I think I better send them in.”

“Go ahead, who the fuck cares.”

The door opened and to Sam’s amazement, in walked Sir Walter Reid, Australian billionaire promoter, publicity hound and all around rake.


Sam just sat there with his mouth hanging open in amazement.

“What’s wrong, mate? A bad bit a vegemite?”

“Ah, no,” Sam managed.

“Well good. I have an offer that may interest you.”

Sam just nodded. Anything at this point would strike him as interesting.

Sir Walter pulled up a well-patched chair and sat across from Sam, lighting up what appeared to be a factory rolled marijuana cigarillo.

“Want some?” Sam just dumbly shook his head. “Cheers.” Sir Walter smiled, taking a long hit.

“What can we do for you?” Sam asked.

“I want to stage a contest under the Pit banner.”

“Really? You?” Sam asked incuriously.

“No, no mate. My special project so to speak,” Sir Walter said while adjusting his silver mane of hair. He was tanned a deep mahogany, which made his brilliant white teeth stand out in stark contrast. To Sam he appeared as to have never had a moment of doubt in his life. Sam, on the other hand, radiated doubt like a leaky breeder reactor.




“Your project?”

“Indeed. You know a fighter by the name of Frank Palmer?”

The air went out of Sam’s sails at this point. Frank was a muscle-bound human growth hormone addict who, though monstrous in appearance, couldn’t fight off a cold, much less a trained fighter. Steroids and other substances were pretty well the norm in the fight game now but it did not make the fighter. It would make you bigger or stronger or recover faster. But it wouldn’t make you quicker or smarter or able to take a punch. Frank had been put to sleep so many times that he was likely to die from bed sores.




“Frank, huh?”

Sir Walter smiled. “You haven’t seen Mr. Palmer lately?”

“No,” Sam admitted tiredly. “I haven’t.”

Sir Walter stood and opened the door. “Mr. Palmer, if you would, please?”

Sam was not prepared for what walked in. Palmer had been big before. In truth, huge was a better word. But now, he stood in the middle of the office, dressed in a pair of slacks and a black t -shirt. Kilos of muscle were layered on his chest and upper body. His head and jaw bulged in almost comic proportions hiding his eyes under a shelf of bone.

“What the fuck is this?”

“That, Mr. White, is the future of combat sports and you are lucky enough to be on the ground floor.”

Sam snickered. “Sir Walter, no matter how you dress up a pig, it still is just a pig. No offense, Frank.”

Frank grunted.

“Things are not exactly all sunshine and daisies eh, mate?” Sir Walter’s eyes sparkled mischievously. “Not exactly no worries? Eh? To tell the truth Son, if it weren’t for the access to those three outlets of yours, we would not be darkening your rather threadbare doorstep. But, opportunity doesn’t always come in through the front door, eh?”

Sam couldn’t, for the life of him, see where this was going. “So what’s your sell, Sir Walter?”

A smile broke across Sir Walter’s features like a blazing sun on an azure morning.

“ Burt Iron.”

Sam White was stunned. Iron held five separate heavyweight belts and was as close to a human wrecking machine as ever strode God’s green earth. “You’re fucking kidding right?  Iron won’t even return my calls. And he would eat our friend here for breakfast. No offense, Frank.”

Again the grunt.

“My friend, my dear, dear friend,” Sir Walter said, spreading his arms wide. “It is a brand new day. Mr. Palmer is not the man he was a year ago. Nay, he is not the man he was a mere month ago. Daresay he is not the man he was a week ago. It is a brave new world. Indeed a brave new time.”

White shrugged. “I don’t care how much ya juiced him out, Iron will take him apart.”

Sir Walter crossed the room. Pulling a collapsible pointer from his blazer pocket he pulled it to its full length and tapped the bulging right bicep of Frank Palmer.

“Attend please. Advances in immune suppression as well as neurotransmitter analogs have made available improvements to our Mr. Palmer here undreamt of as recently as a year ago. Grafted in here are groupings of synthetic fast-twitch fibers which almost triple his reaction times. HRT in the new parlance. His new HRT is HRTx3; which stands for human reaction times three.”

He moved the pointer to the knobby growths on his knuckles as well as the bulging jaw and forehead. “Here we have an example of an aggressive application of Wolff’s Law. The bone density at these points rivals stone.” He collapsed the pointer and moved in, leaning with both hands on White’s desk. “That, together with an augmented dura to cushion the brain to help avoid knockouts, and adrenaline analogs in permeable ceramic disks planted along his spine. All these make our Mr. Palmer a fighter not seen in today’s arenas.”

White had to admit he was impressed. “Yeah, but Iron.”

Smirking Sir Walter walked over to the door jamb running his thumb over the faded oak veneer.

“Mr. Palmer, if you would?”

Palmer moved over in two long nimble strides to stand in front of the door . Pulling back a tomato juice can-sized fist he swung his shoulders, powering the blow from his feet, sending it whistling toward the door. It exploded in a shower of splinters producing a basketball-sized gouge where the fist impacted. A lipless smile stretched across Palmer’s features as he warmed to the task. He struck the door two more times, smashing it completely away from the steel reinforced frame. The room fell quiet as the dust settled. The only sound was the squeak of White’s chair as he stood up. He walked over and examined the man-sized hole in what had been a alloy reinforced door seconds earlier.

“I only hold the licenses till next week. I don’t have the credit to renew them.”

Sir Walter smiled “I’ll have the credits transferred before the end of business today.”

“We’ll have to promote hard. All the outlets legit and pirate.”

“Not a problem.”

“You got a confirmation from Iron?”

“He’s under contract for one fight only. A ridiculous purse to go against a fighter to be named later. He thinks it’s to promote a new venture I’m unveiling.”

White rubbed his head in wonderment. Kelly was pensively peeking through the ruined doorway.

“Can I look at the hand?” White asked.

Palmer stretched it out. Sam turned it over inspecting it for damage. It was pristine.

“You got a title for this little shindig?”

Sir Walter made quotation marks with his thumbs and index fingers. “Demolition.”

“Perfect.” Shaking his head, Sam moved toward the phone.




Father Woolsey sat in his study studying the light passing through a glass of Jameson’s. It cast an amber glow across a letter on his desktop. The letter was from a parishioner requesting that her sister be buried as a nun. The sister in question was well known to Father Woolsey. She was a novice, and not a very good one at that. There were reports of substance abuse and fighting at the convent. In fact, she was on her way out for pregnancy when, according to eyewitness accounts, she threw herself under a falling piece of statuary, killing herself.

Sighing, Father Woolsey finished his drink, rinsed out his glass and placed it in the drying rack. He was due to meet with Mrs. Maganna momentarily.

Opening a closet he checked his hair in a mirror, and smoothed an errant strand. Still dark and full at fifty. He had gotten the calling late, only entering the priesthood after his wife died at forty. He had taught college physics for twenty years and enjoyed it. His brother was a top researcher at Los Alamos and was well aware (and impressed with) the work of Mrs. Maganna’s husband who was involved with some groundbreaking work with harmonics.




To Father Woolsey, his work seemed to involve mostly putting out small fires such as this and very little spreading The Word. He had to admit the Church was in decline. The last survey had the number of the faithful down over twenty percent.

Well, no one said it was going to be easy, he thought grimly.

There was a soft rap at his door. He opened it, stepping aside, to let the diminutive woman enter. She seemed smaller than she actually was, almost folded into herself. Father Woolsey steered her to a chair across from his desk. Moving to his seat he smiled one of his best “I’m just here to help” smiles. He recognized the look in her eyes. Reason would not win the day today.




“Mrs. Maganna, how nice to see you, how are you feeling?”

She twisted a handkerchief in her hands and stared at a space just above the Father’s head.

“I’m here about my sister, the Sister.”

“Yes, well…that may be a problem.”

At this she leaned forward, staring intently into the Father’s face. “What could be the problem?”

“Well, she wasn’t really a Sister, was she? Just a novice really, and with all due respect Mrs. Maganna, not a very good one.”

“She was touched by God.”

Flustered Father Woolsey rubbed his face with his hands. “That may be, but she wasn’t really a nun, was she?”

“I would like her to become a nun.”

“Well dear, there is nothing I can do, nothing anyone can do really.”

She came to her feet and brought up a large purse onto his desk. She opened the clasp and pulled out a data tab.

“This is very important.”

Father Woolsey reached over and took the tab. Putting it in his reader, he opened and scanned the face page. The office was quiet for long moments as Father Woolsey continued to read the document, his eyes getting wider by the second. He finished, crossed over and poured himself a large scotch which he downed in one swallow. His normally ruddy features were pale and his hands shook noticeably as he seated himself.

“Do you know what you have here?”

She nodded her head vigorously. “I know it’s important.”

“Does your husband know it’s here?  That you have it?”

“That’s not really important.”

Father Woolsey shook his head. “It is very important. What would you have me do with this?”

“Give it to the Church. Something this important should be in God’s hands.”

“That may be true, but it is not yours to give. I’m afraid we will have to speak to your husband.”

“Don’t worry. He will agree. This is God’s will and it will be carried out.” Standing she shook her fist. “As with my Sister, this is God’s desire manifest and it will happen!”

Amazed, Woolsey could just stare. He was wishing for the moment just a few short minutes ago when there were only small fires.




Sitting for a time he stared at the tab on his desk. He had been out of the loop for a couple years. And even at his best he was an academic, teaching the principles, helping build the foundation for students to start their journey into the wonders of the hard sciences. Still he knew enough even at a cursory glance that what he had on his desk was of earth-shattering importance. Quickly transferring it to a storage node he then locked it in his desk and placed a call to his brother.




“Call Tom.”

A hiss filled the study as the search took place. A few muted clicks followed and then his brother’s familiar baritone filled the study.

“Tom Woolsey, it’s your dime on my time.”

“Tommy it’s Wayne, how you doing bud?”

A laugh escaped from the speakers. “Wayne! Good to hear from you. How’s the soul saving business?”

“They’re dying to get in”

“I’m sure. What gives me the honor for this rare contact?”

“Well…” Woolsey hesitated. “Something just came across my desk that you might be very interested in.”


“Stand by, I’ll squirt it to your node.”

He keyed in his brother’s database, accessed the node and transferred the information.

“Got it, it’s coming up on my screen… Holy Shit!”

“My thoughts exactly.”

“Is this legit? Where did you get it?”

“His wife dropped it on my desk two minutes ago.”

“His wife? Does he know it’s gone?”

“I’m not sure. Is it what I think it is?”

“Well, it’s just a summary. I’ve heard of some research in this area. I’ve even heard Maganna doing some work at Colby, but preliminary at best. According to what I see here he has had a reproducible result.”

“What would be the real world applications?”

“If it’s legit?  Whoever controlled this technology would make any nuclear arsenal obsolete. It would shift the global power structure. It is almost beyond my comprehension.”

Father Woolsey leaned back in his chair and closed  his eyes. “What should be my next move?”

“Well, I would do two things immediately. One, contact Maganna directly. Is the wife crackers?”

“That is a description that could be applied safely.”

“Two, get a hold of someone in your legal and see what rights you have on something like this.”

“Yeah, that’s just about what I figured. Thanks a lot Tom. I appreciate it.”

“No problem bro. Any other world changing bequests from crazy women you get your paws on don’t be afraid to call.”

Father Woolsey smiled. “No problem, Tom. Thanks again—and call Ma.”

“You bet, fight the good fight.”

Father Woolsey broke the connection. He sat in his chair and stared out his window watching dark clouds gathering above the horizon.

That is an apt metaphor if I ever saw one,” he thought. He had been craving relevance for years. It was the reason he entered the priesthood after his wife died. It turned out, as with most anything else, it was just a play. Just going through the motions of a half-remembered dance. Now it seems things were on the verge of becoming very relevant. Relevancy of historical proportions.




In the seminary his roommate, a very slight and effeminate young man from Groton, Connecticut, used to do needlepoint as a hobby. Beautiful detailed work such as a poster-sized replica of the Sistine Chapel. His roommate would listen as he wailed on about how he needed to be relevant. The day they left for their assigned parishes, he handed him a small package wrapped in brown paper. Inside was a small needlepoint in a simple wooden frame. It said: Be careful what you wish for. You just may get it.




Gideon hopped up and down attempting to get the feeling back into his feet. The ferrocrete leached the warmth right out of them, turning his toes into numb blocks ten minutes into his shift. He was at the non second gen seed storage facility outside Allentown, Pennsylvania. He was in full paramilitary mufti, tech vest, bead com link, battle helm and full auto barely obsolete assault rifle, complete with two fifty round clips of armor-piercing-Teflon-tipped-sub-sonic marauder ammo. Gideon thought it was a bit of overkill for a bunch of seeds. ADM didn’t think so.




“Fuck, it’s cold.” That was Dick Fentes, Gideon’s co-worker and the only blond haired blue eyed Mexican Gideon had ever met.

“Dude, it’s always cold.”

“It’s not the cold, it’s the humidity.” Snickers followed. Dick was one of the funniest guys Dick had ever met. He was always cracking himself up. Gideon and Dick walked the perimeter around twenty fortified hundred-ton storage bunkers of ADM’s finest seed technology. The seeds were of super yield hybrids of basics foodstuffs such as wheat and rice. They were very expensive, very effective and only one generation. So you had to have new seeds every season. This made a lot of hungry poor people very angry. Which Gideon supposed explained the bunkers and the paramilitary trappings. It wasn’t a bad gig. The pay was good as were the benefits and the chances of getting attacked outside Allentown was remote at best. The downside was it was a long twelve hours, duller than dishwater. But it made for interesting conversations.




“For a billion?”

“Yep clear, tax free.”

Fentes pondered this.

“Broadband, huh?”

“Yep,” Gideon  nodded. “All media. Prime viewing time. Saturday night.”

Intense concentration contorted Fentes’s light features. He stopped at a bunker to pass an I.D. chip embedded in his wrist under a scanner to log their scheduled round.

“Just let me make sure that I got the particulars. I get banged up the ass on live video Broadband on all outlets for a billion credits? Tax free? I heard tax free. For how long?”

Gideon thought for a moment. “To a satisfying conclusion, of course.”

“No mask or hood? Face obscured digitally?”

Gideon looked at him with disdain. “No, in fact your name would be at the bottom of the shot in large letters. In Britannic bold font no less.”

“Britannic bold font huh? I dunno, a lot of people calling me queer.”

Gideon shrugged “A lot of poor people.”




They walked in silence for a time. They turned the corner and started down the east side of the compound. Gideon stopped at the scanner to log in his chip.

“A billion credits.”

Gideon looked up. “O.K. I’ll bite. A billion credits.”

“To beat your grandmother to death with a stick.”

“Live? Broadband? Can’t spend it if you’re incarcerated awaiting permanent  chemical rehabilitation.”

“No.” Fentes shook his head. “In the privacy of your own home. Following a light meal. You can even wait till the old girl is dozing. So she doesn’t see it coming.”

Now it was Gideon’s turn to quietly ponder. The two men continued to walk down the east side. The bright overhead high intensity lamps cast elongated shadows that pantomimed their steady progress.

“You left out a very integral detail. One the decision would hinge on.”

“Really? I don’t see where?”

“Think about it. What is the pivotal question?”

Fentes’s brow furled in concentration. “Got me, bro.”

Gideon stopped and stomped his feet to get some feeling back in his numb toes, then turned to face Fentes.

“How big is the stick?”




The Yvon Robert arena was a steel and glass monstrosity that crouched in downtown Quebec City like a fragment from a delirium dream. It was named for a popular wrestler who showcased in the area from the 1930s through the 1950s. The arena had also been the headquarters of a short-lived uprising that attempted to break away from Canada and form an Independent Quebec. It was put down brutally by the Canadian military. A fact not forgotten by the local populace.




Sam White had flown in that morning in a tilt from Portland, Maine. As he made his way to the arena he pulled his handkerchief from his breast pocket to wipe the sweat that had collected under his limp collar. He moved dazedly through the empty parking lot to the main entrance. It had been only six weeks since Sir Walter had walked into his office. It had been an interesting six weeks.




“Sir, lean in and keep yours eyes open.” The guard said politely

Sam leaned in and placed his chin on the padded lip of the retinal scanner. The disposable covering crackled as the scanner matched the pattern of the blood vessels in the back of his eye to the pattern on file.

“You’re free to enter, Sir.”


Sam moved in to the arena, working his way through the maze of hallways to his temporary office. Outside his door was the events poster. Demolition was sprawled across it in huge blood-red letters. It was the most hyped event since Houdini made an Asian elephant disappear in front of five thousand gaping theater-goers at the New York Hippodrome almost a century and a half ago. The arena held over twenty thousand. Sir Walter had posted the tickets for free on a first-come, first-served basis. Ten thousand in the States, ten thousand in Canada. There had been riots at the ticket kiosks. Sir Walter was also was providing free buses from the States to the arena. This almost guaranteed all manner of hammered assholes by the time the gates opened. If the bout didn’t live up to the hype, Sam was sure they would pull this place apart with their bare hands.





Sam looked up. Sir Walter stood grinning down at him looking for all the world like an ad for rejuvenation therapy. His Caribbean blue eyes sparkled under his fashionable tousled mane. He was dressed in a suburban version of safari gear. Sam had to suppress a strong impulse to strangle him.

“Sir Walter, I hope you know what you are doing.”

Sam unlocked his office door, stepped inside and flicked on the lights. It was a small space containing just a chipped steel desk and two chairs. Sam stepped around and collapsed in the chair behind the desk. Sir Walter literally hopped, landing lightly in the remaining chair, grinning all the while.

“Why the long face mate? All a go. The fight of the century and all that; sit back and enjoy the show.”

Sam pulled a damp handkerchief across his face to wipe away the sweat. “I dunno. No gate receipts. All the merchandizing given over to the arena. You got credit to burn? If this falls through I’m done.”

Sir Walter turned up his famous smile another megawatt. “Son, you were done six weeks ago. This is a lifeline. If I were you I would grab it and not worry about what it’s attached to.” He stood and waved Sam out from behind the desk. “Let’s have a look at the fighters. Shall we?”




Iron’s dressing room like the fighter was a Spartan affair. It was just him, his trainer and his cut man. Burt was a deceivingly pedestrian looking figure. Average height, a little build up in the shoulders, his face was tight with scar tissue. He looked bored. He was famous throughout the fight community for his supercilious nature. The only time he looked interested was when in the cage. He was fifty one and zero. All by knockouts, all within the first round, he was impossible to take down and very few even tried.





“Sam, how are you doing?”

“Fine you feeling good?”

“Right as rain.”

“Burt, you know Sir Walter?”

The fighter shook his head. “Don’t know him, know of him. How are you doing?”

Sir Walter grasped the outstretched hand. “No worries mate. You ready to scrap?”

Burt smiled. “For what you’re paying there ain’t much I wouldn’t do with an attitude of enthusiasm.”

Sir Walter beamed back. “Well done.”

“But I ain’t going to carry him. First opportunity, I’m putting him to sleep. I know he’s juiced to the gills. A big strong boy, but you can’t muscle up a jaw. Just so it’s understood first chance I get he’s out.”

Sir Walter reached out and clasped the fighter on the shoulder. “I would expect no less. Good luck.”

Burt nodded. “Thanks, he’ll need it.”




Palmer’s dressing room was something different altogether. Sam had to squeeze into the room sideways. Palmer sat on the dressing table in the middle of the room. The table seemed to bow in the middle from the burden it held. The room was stuffed full of men in lab coats. Sam sensed more of an air of technicians than medical personnel.

“Who are these guys?”

Sir Walter shrugged. “Support personnel.”

“Support personnel?”

“Blokes who keep everything up and running.”

Sam scratched his head. “He’s not a piece of machinery.”

Sir Walter shook his head. “Oh, but he is. He is a literal piece of fighting machinery. He has been designed to smash, rend and break. He is state of the art.”




Palmer was stripped to the waist. He was vaguely human in outline. His arms and shoulders bulged with kilos of muscle. Faint tracings of white scarring ran up and down his arms and across his trunk. His forehead and jaw were built up to almost comic proportions. He resembled a nightmare. There was a fine mesh net draped across him with cables leading to a console. Technicians were consulting the readouts and preparing dose pistols. The hisses of various pharmaceuticals being injected into Palmer filled the small space.




“Have you tested this? Are you sure it’s going to work? I mean that’s Iron we’re talking about.”

Sir Walter smirked. “He’ll wade into Iron like a warm bath. Believe it.”

A technician walked over with a hand readout. “Sir Walter?”

“Yes Robert. How are things looking?”

The small pinched man looked at the readout in his hand. “Things are looking optimal, Sir. The analogs read at good pre-fight levels. We are getting one hundred and five percent responses from both fast and slow twitch fibers. The density at strike points are textbook. The wetware chips for targeting and execution are all coming back green. One moment, Sir.”

Robert walked over to Palmer. “Could you please stand, Sir, and trigger a fight loop?”

The huge man stood. He towered over everyone else in the room by at least a head.

“OK gentlemen; let’s get this on all five inputs for the data sync. Mr. Palmer, if you would.”

The fighter began to breathe deeply, his skin flushed and veins protruded from all visible parts of his musculature. His respiratory rate increased and sweat broke out, falling to the floor in dime-sized drops.

“Fantastic. Larry what do you got on adrenal secretion?”

“Looks five by five. Endorphins also at combat levels.”

“Cardiac also optimal. Ninety-five percent of target rate. Good preload and stroke volume. Pulmonary also a go, gas exchange right on marks, spo2 a little high but blowing off right on the curve for pco2.”

“Give us a snap, Mr. Palmer.”

Palmer threw out a punch and pulled it back in a smooth liquid motion. Sam jerked at the snap it made. He could only make out a blur.

“Neurotransmitters are dead on. You got yourself a go, Sir Walter.”

Sir Walter grinned. “By all means, let’s go.”




The crowd noise rose and fell in a tidal pattern. It was near high tide as Iron made his way to the cage. Normally, as the titleholder, he would have entered last, but part of the contract stated he would enter first, and for what Sir Walter was paying, the sequence was of little concern to him. He entered the cage to the music of Bury Me With My Boots On, an old country favorite of his. There had been a couple of prelims so the canvas was littered with blood-based ideograms. He hopped up and down in place, rolling his head side to side to loosen his muscles. He felt good. No, scratch that, he felt fantastic. He figured he had two or three more fights in him and he was out. No reason not to go out on top.




The lights in the arena went black. The crowd, well lubricated with Labatts Blue, howled like the damned. A red spot picked out an entrance on the north side of the arena. A jarring buzz came over the arena’s sound system followed by a mechanical strumming Welcome My Son, Welcome to the Machine. Iron smiled; it had been years since he had heard this particular tune. The curtains parted as a hooded figure in an ankle length robe made its way to the cage. The crowd went crazy, screaming chants of “Machine! Machine!” Iron watched the figure grow larger as it got closer; he had to admit Palmer looked a lot bigger than he remembered. Since this was both a heavyweight and a non-title match, there had been no weigh-in. This was the first time he had laid eyes on him since a card two years ago when a Japanese savate fighter had taken Palmer apart in two rounds.




Palmer stepped in the cage followed by a small crowd of handlers, half of them in lab coats. Iron smirked; he hoped Palmer was feeling well. Palmer walked to the center of the cage and undid the belt of his robe. His corner man pulled the robe off him. A gasp ran through the arena. Oiled under the lights Palmer looked like something from a horror flick. His skin appeared parchment thin, absurd masses of muscle twitched and writhed, revealing every fiber and striation. His head appeared to sit almost on top of his collarbones; his shoulders coming almost to his ears. Turning he  looked at Iron. The lantern jaw and overhanging forehead gave him a sinister cast.

Iron started to not feel good about this.




The announcer stepped into the cage.

“Welcome to Demolition!”

The crowd roared.

“On my right, undisputed World Champ with fifty one wins and zero losses, Burt The Done Deal Iron!”

“On my left, with a record of four wins and seven losses, Frank Palmer the Archangel!”

Burt was a little surprised by Archangel moniker. He was pretty sure Palmer couldn’t spell Archangel.

The fighters took the center of the cage. The referee gave them their instructions. Stepping back, he yelled. “Engage!”




Sam White watched the footage over a dozen times.

It all started innocently enough. Iron circling toward his right, looking to throw an overhand. Palmer stood hands down, turning, not attacking, and not advancing. Iron  jabs with a left and follows with a hard right to Palmer’s jaw. Palmer didn’t even blink.




Sam slows it down to frame by frame at this point. And it’s still a blur. Palmer pistons out his left then pivots, throwing the right from his waist. The impact snaps Iron’s head to his left. The force of the blow tears Iron’s mandible from his skull. Blood falls in a large gout, painting Iron’s chest as his jaw spins across the cage, impacting and sticking into the mesh. Iron, with his tongue hanging down like an absurd necktie, stands still for a moment before falling flat on his back, going into shock before he even hits the mat.

The count was foregone to make room for medical personnel. Sam had gotten the report today that after fusing a couple of vertebrae Iron would walk again; solid food, on the other hand, was another question. The Qs were through the roof. It was almost in constant loop on all outlets.

Sir Walter had been right. Palmer was indeed state of the art.

Chapter 5


José Maganna had a full scale warm fuzzy on. He felt so good he had to admit it made him a little paranoid. He and Donna had it out the night before over his project. He had expressed to her that he was making overtures to the Danish government to begin large scale development. He felt the Danes were one of the saner governments and least likely to use it for a military advantage. Donna naturally thought it should be turned over to the Church. José expressed with little room for doubt that he would eat his research dry, before he would turn it over to that bunch of bead-rolling lunatics.




“What did you make?”

Donna smiled coyly, “Shrimp Diablo.”


“Yes, really. It’s your favorite.”

“I know.”

His wife brought a huge pile of angel hair pasta piled high with shrimp swiming in a spicy red sauce. She hadn’t made it since her religious mania hit full stride. And she was serving it wearing a nice tan knee-length skirt, her hair falling down around her shoulders. Considering her usual mode of dress, she might as well be in a G-string and pasties. José was savoring the spicy aroma when she set a vodka martini with lemon peel at his hand.



It was like she was a different woman. Overnight. Like when they had first been married. He sipped  the martini and shivered as the ice cold vodka hit the back of his throat.





“Glad you like it, honey.”

“Thank you, honey.”

She smiled broadly and sat down to her plate of pasta.

Well, José thought. I might even get laid tonight.

Dinner went smoothly. José had four martinis and had to be helped to the bed. Donna gently lowered him and took off his shoes and socks.

“Thanks Babe,” José slurred.

“No problem honey,” Donna replied, watching her husband drop into a martini fueled slumber.




Donna quickly cleaned up the kitchen, rinsing the pots and plates. She wiped the stove down, humming a toneless tune just underneath her breath. Then she went room to room in their small house shutting all the heat vents. Going quietly into their bedroom careful not to wake her sleeping husband, she opened both vents in there to their widest.




Before meeting José she had worked in a library in a small teaching college. She worked mostly on the weekends, so with the exception of midterms and finals she had the place to herself. It was a good job. She enjoyed reading and read just about anything that came across her desk. It was part of her job to stamp and put out the new magazines. She was putting out a medical journal called Chest. She thought that was a rather cryptic title so she sat down on the quiet second floor as the late autumn sun streamed weakly through the leaf-spattered skylights.




The title still stuck in her mind. Killing With Kindness. Capital Punishment By Nitrogen Asphyxiation. A man named Stanley Dore had published an article theorizing that putting someone to death with nitrogen was painless. He wrote that when a person inhales odorless and tasteless nitrogen without added oxygen, no suffocating effect would be experienced by the subject; he would simply lose consciousness and die a short time later. And since it didn’t involve a degree or medical skill to open a tank valve, he felt it would be more merciful at both ends.




The basement was a surprisingly neat space. José had a workbench and some woodworking tools. Donna reached under the bench and pulled out a parcel that she had received via the mail a week ago. On the packing label was her sister’s name and address. Her sister’s rent had been paid until the end of the month and mail was still piling up. She took a box cutter from the toolbox and slit open the top. The return address was to an ice cream fountain supply store. She reached in and pulled out an E cylinder of nitrogen.

Unfolding a small stepladder she reached up and pulled apart the duct under their bedroom. She sealed off the duct with tape and some plastic they’d used for insulating the porch windows. Then reaching for a two meter length of garden hose she had already cut. With the plastic and tape she made another seal around the regulator and the end of the hose then climbing back on the stepladder, cutting another hole in the plastic around the duct and fed some hose through, and sealed it back up with the tape. She cracked the valve just enough so the plastic puffed out as the gas flowed;  but not too much so the valve wouldn’t freeze.

Then, she went to the movies.




James sat near a fire hydrant and pulled his Land’s End all-weather all-terrain weekenders off and inspected the sorry state of his poor pitiful feet. He had to admit they’d seen better days. He little resembled the man who walked out of the power board a few short weeks ago. Ten kilos had dropped off his frame revealing a bone structure under his face he had not seen in years. More than the physical change was the mental. His eyes reflected the peace that now resided within. People responded to the kindness they saw within and reacted openly with friendship. Considering all he had were the clothes on his back, he couldn’t remember ever feeling better.




Sitting on the outskirts of Vancouver he was a little surprised to see that it actually existed. The sun was warm on his face and the air felt good on his feet as he leaned back in the grass. He owned nothing, had nowhere to be and had not a care in the world.


James looked up to see a small blond girl standing at the roadside; she was carrying a purse at least as large as she was.


“Are you alright?”

James smiled. “Yep. Thanks for asking.”

She sat down and started to dig through the purse. She was in up to her armpit hard at work looking for something. A look of triumph spread across her small features.

“Would you like one?’

She held out two picture-perfect Granny Smith apples. They shone as if they had been polished. James reached and chose the smaller. As he bit in, the crisp tart fruit flooded his mouth. It was delightful.

“That has to be the best apple I’ve ever had. Thank you.”

The young girl smiled prettily. “My grandmother gave them to me.”

“Well be sure to thank your grandmother for me.”

“I will. My grandmother loves me.”

James grinned “I’m sure she does. What’s your name?’

“My name is Bethany. What’s yours?’

“James. You live near here?’

“In that blue house across the street. Where do you live?”

James thought for a minute. “Nowhere.”

“You don’t have anywhere to live?”

“I guess I live anywhere I’m at.”

Bethany’s face screwed up in concentration. “At our church there are people who have nowhere to live. Father Gilbert helps them.”

“Really? Where does Father Gilbert live?”

“At the Episcopal Church downtown.”

“Why, thanks again, Bethany.”

“No problem, Mr. James.”




A blond woman stepped through the door of the blue house and did a quick look around. Spying her daughter talking to the strange poorly dressed disheveled man, she yelled, “Bethany! Get your butt in this house now!”

“Oh ohh,” said Bethany.

“Oh ohh,” agreed James.

He watched the small girl beat feet to her house; the oversized purse dragging behind her almost an afterthought. The blond woman scooped her up, gave James a dirty look and ducked back into the house. He couldn’t blame her. James supposed his appearance was enough reason for the term “stranger danger.” Brushing off the dirt, he wedged his ill-used feet into his shoes and went to find downtown Vancouver.




The biodiesel delivery truck reminded James of his mother’s black fry pan, the smell it gave off heating up on cold mornings when he was a kid. James smiled and Butch smiled back. Butch was in charge of all the pick ups from the U.S. border to downtown Vancouver. Butch was dressed in a pair of cut off denim overalls and little else. From a distance he appeared to be wearing neck-to-ankle brown long johns. It was in fact a pelt-like covering of body hair. Butch was the hairiest man he had ever seen. The only parts without hair were his upper cheeks, eyeballs and teeth. And you saw a lot of teeth. He was always grinning.




“You a blessed man, brother James?”

James thought about it for a minute. “I don’t really know, Butch.”

“Well, if you were you would know. I’m a blessed man James. It is evident from the time I wake till my head hits the pillow at night. You see those drums behind us?” Butch hooked a finger over his hairy shoulder. “Those drums are filled with grease from diners from all over. The remains of food that gave joy and comfort to thousands of people, I in turn pack it up. Stuff that people would have thrown away, I turn it into fuel to help people who would otherwise not have any way to power their cars or cook or whatever.” Butch grinned, flashing his non-hairy teeth. “Waste not, want not.”

James settled back into the heavily taped seat and sipped the plastic cup of herbal tea that Butch poured from a big red thermos. Butch asked where James was headed.

“Father Gilbert’s,” He said.

It turns out that the biodiesel co-op was part of the Episcopal church that Father Gilbert headed.

“Ain’t that some shit?” Butch declared. “You’re looking for Father Gilbert. I’m wheeling for him. Kismet dude, I’m telling ya.”

James shrugged. He didn’t know much about kismet. Things just seemed to be fitting together more and more.




East Hastings Street ran parallel to the water. Butch dropped him off at the corner and gave him directions to the church. Moving down the street, he delighted in the sights and the sounds of a vibrant growing community. It wasn’t like California at all. Everything seemed more planned out. There was room given for green spaces, mini parks and flower gardens. People moved at a more leisurely clip, not hell-bent on a destination but enjoying the bright sunshine. Further down the sidewalk James noticed a children’s karate class in a storefront across the way. The small robed students went through their katas in uncanny precision. He was enjoying the exhibition when a delicious aroma caught his attention. Following his nose, he turned down an alley and found a small square two story building. It was open on all four sides with stools set under the wraparound counter.

He saw a large man wearing a white tee shirt and checked pants stirring several large pots. The man was dark with a large round face topped by a shock of jet black hair. James moved up to the counter and stood quietly until the man noticed him.




“Can I help you, Sir?”

“Sure smells good.”

“Not just smells but tastes good too. Can I get you a bowl?”

He shifted from foot to foot a little uncomfortably. “I’m sort of short on funds.”

“Ain’t we all friend? You sober?”

“As a judge.”

“You afraid of work?”

“Fear a few things, work ain’t one of them.”

“The door’s around the other side. Got some pots need scrubbing. You knock them out I’ll toss you a big bowl and some bread to sop it up with.”




Johnny Thai had opened Noodle World about ten years ago. He sold soup exclusively but when he first opened his English was limited; but he knew “noodle” and “world.” So, Johnny Thai’s Noodle World. It wasn’t the best location, set back off East Hastings, but word of mouth spread quickly. He was open three hundred and sixty five days a year rain or shine. He lived in a small apartment upstairs and was married to his business. And that was just fine with him.

Soup, he thought, was a song, a song about life. From every pot he made he saved a cup to start the next one. The Thai coconut he was stirring now had ingredients going back from the first pot he put on the burner ten years ago. It had a history, a life, a memory that shaped and lent it character. It was Johnny’s job to nurture it and help it grow, a job that Johnny took very seriously.




Finding the door James stepped into the cooking area. The interior was spotless. All surfaces were stainless steel and shined. The floor was covered with thick black rubber mats. A huge eight burner Viking stove stood menacingly in one corner. Each burner had a large soup pot on it bubbling away. Against the far wall was a four-bay sink piled high with pots and pans. Taking off his jacket, James rolled up his sleeves and moved toward the sink.

“Hey, friend.” The owner tapped a framed sign by his head said that read “All employees must wash their hands.”

“Sorry.” James went to a small sink and scrubbed vigorously, not missing the humor of having to wash his hands before putting them into hot soapy water.

“Paper towels underneath, you looking for Father Gilbert?”

“Yea, how did you know?”

“Ain’t brain surgery, you’re hungry, you’re looking for Father Gilbert.”

James grabbed a green scrubbie and went to work on the pots. The morning trade started to pick up. The owner tended to customers as James tended to the pots. It was early afternoon before they both sat down. After the pots James grabbed a broom, kept the counters wiped down and cleaned up the empty bowls and cups.




The large man ladled out two huge bowls and placed them on the counter. He waved James over and put down two glasses of iced green tea then reaching over and opening up a paper sack he tore off a couple chunks of  Russian pumpernickel.

James leaned over and took a long inhale. “Yes sir, that’s the one I smelled in street. What is it?”

“Thai coconut. Dip some of that bread in it, it’s still a little hot.”

James tore off a piece and dipped it in. He blew on it before popping it inyo his mouth. It was sweet, hot and spicy. “Wonderful.”

“Thanks.” The large man reached over and grasped James hand. “Johnny Thai.”

“James Halbert. Thanks for the soup.”

“No problem, thanks for the help.”

James grabbed the spoon and started ladling it in. Johnny watched with amusement as James downed the bowl in two minutes. Sweat beaded his face as he sat back.

“That was wonderful.”

“Want some more?”


Johnny refilled the bowl. “Why you here, James?”

He shrugged. “Seemed like a good place to go.”

“That’s what I thought too. Picked it out on a map.”

“I picked it out on a large power board.”

“Power board?”

James shook his head. “Never mind.”

Johnny pulled out a large hand rolled cigarette. He lit it and the air filled with a sweet pungent smoke. “Want some?”

James held up a hand. “Not a tobacco user.”

“Not tobacco, friend. A little more.”

James’ eyebrows raised. “Really?”

“No lie.”

James grabbed the joint and took in a deep lungful. His head felt like a band had been released, allowing the skin surrounding his skull to slide freely. “So soup, huh?”

“You know why soup?”


“Because when the revolution starts, and it will, they’ll come for the lawyers, the politicians, the teachers; but do you know who they won’t come for?”

James had to admit he had no idea.

“The dude who makes the good soup. An asset in any political climate.”

“From your mouth to God’s ear my friend. From your mouth to God’s ear,” James said as he passed back the joint.

Chapter 6


The Supermax was located in Sainte-Anne-des-Plaines, Quebec. Leslie’s new home. He lasted about a week in general pop, and not for lack of trying. He kept to himself and it seemed to work initially. Most of the other guests of the state cut him a wide berth, which was fine with him. But on the third day in the yard he could see trouble starting across the dusty basketball court. Some Black inmates had gathered together, pointing and snickering. One of them, the biggest by at least a head, was giving him the stare. Leslie just closed his eyes and leaned back against the cell block wall feeling the weak sun on his face. He was in no hurry, it would come his way soon enough.




The gen pop cafeteria was large by institution standards. The prison had been originally a grade school that had been refitted sometime in the distant past to serve as a correctional facility. Its walls, doorways and hallways were made from a full meter of poured concrete. It had been designed to be dually used for education and a fallout shelter during the cold war. The tables folded down from the walls like a Murphy bed with benches attached. Both table and benches were made from steel with a laminate coating.

Leslie slid in with some difficulty into a bench at the empty table. They had finally found a jumpsuit that would fit him. It was still a little tight in the shoulders and chest and rode up to his calves like knickers, but Leslie had endured worse.

Lunch was Sloppy Joes, and as far as the food was concerned Leslie had to admit it wasn’t that bad. One of the servers on the line had taken a shine to Leslie, giggling and blushing while batting fake eyelashes he had made himself from some frayed vinyl attached with sticky juice residue. Leslie just stood expressionless while the smitten con carried on how huge and handsome he was while piling his tray to Herculean heights with whatever was the special for that day. Back at his table, he took a sawed off plastic serving spoon from his coveralls and looked down at the red glistening mass gleaming wantonly under the bright fluorescents




As if by magic, a mass of white granules appeared in the midst of Leslies Sloppy Joes.

“How’s that, cracker?”

Leslie looked up and saw the black con from the yard with an empty salt shaker in his hand.

“That looked a little bland. Not so much now.” The con smiled. His teeth gleamed a solid band of gold. He was tall, almost as tall as Leslie, wrapped in layers of muscle from countless hours spent working out as a guest of the Canadian penal system. He took the top and slowly screwed it back on the shaker and then overhanded it, quickly bouncing it off Leslie’s brow. Leslie knew the space was monitored by closed circuit so it would be filthy with bulls in moments.

Exploding with a speed that belied his bulk, Leslie reached under the table and grabbed the con by his belt. The man just had enough time for a guttural “Urk” before Leslie jerked him back through causing his legs to hit the bench at his knees as the underside of his jaw smashed into the table’s edge. He hung up for a moment, his body bowing to form a “U.” Leslie braced his feet against the floor and twisted hard at his shoulders, pulling the unfortunate con all the way through, snapping his neck and spine almost simultaneously.




Standing up slowly and deliberately grabbing a paper napkin from the dispenser, Leslie wiped his spoon free of salt and approached the table where the con had originated from. The table was silent; the formerly jeering compatriots of the now-folded con sat respectively with hands folded so as to allow for no misunderstandings. Leslie walked behind them, picked up each tray and dumped the Sloppy Joes onto one tray. Alarms were now sounding and the prisoners were all dropping face down so the guards fumbling with the gate would not misinterpret any actions.

Leslie sat down, removed his sawed off serving spoon and went to work on the tray of Sloppy Joes.

“O.K. fuckhead! Grab some fucking floor now!”

Leslie continued to spoon at a leisurely pace enjoying each bite.

“Alright Frank, zap him.”

Leslie bit the serving spoon in two as fifty thousand volts coursed through him, plunging him into the awaiting darkness.




Shadrach lay in the damp moss heavy with morning dew. From a meter away he was invisible. He and his spotter had advanced only fifty meters in two days, bringing them to the edge of a clearing. The mimetic sniper camo they were wearing reproduced the moss and leaf ground cover, making Shadrach and Danny small humps in the terrain. After eighteen months in the United Defense Forces Shadrach was a trained sniper. Little had changed in the art of sniping since the Revolutionary War. The main skill essential in being an effective sniper was one that could not be taught. You could be taught to shoot; hell, with the AR 19 Shadrach carried, if it was visible in the scope and within a thousand meters, it was a one-shot kill. The woodcraft and survival skills were teachable. But the ability to lay motionless for days on end was something one was either born with or not. Shadrach and Danny had it in spades.

They were dropped in a week ago on the Transylvania plateau twenty five kilometers outside of Cluj-Napoca in the Carpathian mountains. There was a problem with a paramilitary group calling themselves The Secularists; a second generation group of renegade biologists that had come over from Berkley twenty years ago.

What had started as an agricultural compound experimenting in ways to improve milk output and egg production had morphed into a bioweapon think tank, specializing in aggressive organic modifications. They had existed below the radar and were pretty much left alone until the “War Dog” incident in the Balkans. Six months before, an urban pacification squad went to break up a black market shoulder launched missile stash. They met no resistance and found the suspect building abandoned.

Moving down into the basement to confiscate the contraband is when the problem presented itself. The squad moved down on night vision to secure the space. One of the team found the switch and kicked on the lighting. Out of the corners came two low growling shapes moving fast . Before weapons could be brought to bear the dogs were on them.




Each weighed in at close to ninety kilos. They had once been mastiffs.

They now were that—and a lot more.

Both were wrapped in organic Kevlar making all vital organs impervious to standard caseless rounds. Adrenal analogs flooded their systems, supercharging unnaturally dense muscle, rocketing them across the floor. Their brains were altered to allow them to exist in two states, passive docility or unreasoning, unrelenting savagery. The black marketers had injected the two with a time-release hormone which would turn on the dogs, who would now fight till they were dead.




The first hit the solider chest level, knocking him from his feet. Shoving his muzzle forward the dog opened his jaw to an unnatural width and tore out the victim’s throat with triple rows of razor sharp teeth. One of the squad opened up, followed by the others a split second later. The small space filled with the acrid smell of propellants and the rattle of close quarter arms fire. The bullets scored along the dogs’ hide, unable to penetrate the organic Kevlar while bouncing off the calcified alloy skulls. This drove the dogs to new levels of mayhem and they tore into the soldiers with renewed ferocity. The roar of gunfire was replaced by screams and the sounds of blood painting the walls and floors. The dogs moved through the squad with a frightening intensity. The com tech saw the op coming apart. He broke for the stairs, sliding, and slipped in the gore-covered floor. One of the mastiffs raised its misshapen head and caught the movement. It covered the three meter distance in a single leap.

The com tech was on his hands and knees scrambling up the steps when the dog slammed down on top of him. The dog crunched down, tearing into the sat com rig, ripping it from the soldier’s back. The tech grabbed the edge of the door and heaved himself from under the dog onto the first floor. He kicked it shut with his left foot and toed the deadbolt home with his right.




Laying on his back, his breath coming in ragged gasps he tried to figure out how a simple smash and secure went tits up. A huge bang and the door rattled on its hinges. The tech rolled over to his feet and went to the transport to get just what the fucking dogs needed. The night was cool and silent. There was not a light to be seen. He pulled out his flashlight,  powered up the coms and radioed back to base.




“Eyrie this is Razorback do you copy?”

A static hiss filled the transport.

“Razorback this is Eyrie we have you five by five what is sit rep?”

“The squad is down. Dogs tore them to pieces. I got just what those fuckers need.”

A squawk rang out. “Say again Razorback. Repeat from squad down.”




The solider ignored the radio, pulling out gear from the back of the transport until he found what he was searching for. The satchel charge was a two by two solid brick of concentrated Simtex with an integral fuse. Pull the tab, toss it; ten seconds later the offending bunker or safe house was a memory. The solider returned and moved to the door, listening for movement. He heard nothing, put his hand on the door and pushed. Feeling no resistance, he pushed the tab on the satchel activating the timer. The readout started at ten. He slowly pulled back the deadbolt with his right hand, gripping the satchel by the handle in his left preparing to crack the door, toss the satchel and withdraw before the house goes.

The door cracked, the readout was at eight when the dogs hit the door. The impact slammed the com tech back against the wall. The dogs were on him. One bit into his leg pulling off his calf in a snap. The second dog was at his chest snapping for his throat. Screaming, the solider jammed the satchel into his jaws. The dog bit down and pulled it from his grasp. The dog then lifted his blood-drenched muzzle and shook his head side to side to free the Simtex from its jaws.

The blast reduced the house to its foundation.




The three men broke from cover slowly. Danny saw them before Shadrach did. Shadrach could feel the stillness and concentration coming from Danny and turned to looked in the direction of the men. They were the other elements of their team they had been waiting for. Shadrach and Danny stood, slowly allowing blood flow back into their stiff muscles. The three men were the rest of the team. Shadrach and Danny hit the camo tabs in their cuffs, shutting down the smart fabric which acted to mirror their immediate surroundings.




“Ladies!” Master Chief Wallace said, walking up and shaking Shadrach’s and Danny’s hands.

“Master Chief” they responded in unison.

“Any eyes on the target?”

Shadrach brought up the tac screen sewn into his sleeve. “Twice yesterday at 0935 and 1610. Both times no clear shot. Both times moving in and out of the compound. Out from under cover for maybe five-ten seconds at the time.”

“Good I.D.s?”

Danny nodded. “Both match up on biometric index. Ninety eight percent match on scope profiles.”

“Good enough.” The Master Chief grinned under his camo paint. A sturdy stocky man well into his fifties, he had originally been a SEAL before the armed forces consolidation. He was the only Veteran on the team. He trained the teams and took them out on shakedowns to weed out any problems. He was probably the most competent man Shadrach had ever met. Edward and Louis stood at his shoulder. Cousins, they were as identical as twins. Louis was coms, Edward was demolitions. Both notoriously tight lipped; Shadrach couldn’t remember hearing two words from them in six months.




“O.K. girls, hunker down.” Master Chief pulled out a smart screen and smoothed it out on the grass. The fabric came to life, bringing into view a fuzzy indistinct overhead shot from a sat pass of the compound. “This is the main compound where you saw the targets moving in and out from?”

Shadrach pointed at the screen. “This large five sided building is where the targets entered and exited from.”

“Why so fuzzy Chief?” Danny asked.

Mater Chief shrugged. “They are using some sort of scrambler. That’s why we can’t get a lock on it. That’s why were going to have to paint it for the drop. The ordnance will key in on the laser for the hit.”

Edward squatted down and peered at the display. “Why no grab?”

The Chief rubbed his close shorn scalp. “We are actually the second team in. The first was an eight man snatch and grab. The last coms were two hours before the scheduled grab. That was the last known contact. No coms, so no risks this time. We confirm targets and light up the building, guide the munitions in, then di di. Sweet and easy.




The Master Chief rolled up the screen and stored it away in his rucksack. As he stood, up, he squinted at the horizon. “How far to target?”

Shadrach peered at his tech screen. “Nine point five klicks from this point. We come in from the east. The compound is set in a bowl. We will be above and out of line of sight until directly on it.”

The Chief grunted. He didn’t like the sound of it. The first team disappeared too easy, too neat.

“No sign of any patrols? Nothing?  Any perimeter screen?”

Danny shook his head. “We circled it from a klick out, nothing. I had my sniffer out and not a twitch. No transmissions at any level. No power signature, even at passive levels. There weren’t even broken trails from foot patrols. The place looks residential, a couple of living quarters, common hall and school, some outbuildings, a ball diamond and the research facility.”

“It’s all pretty close, Chief. The research facility is right on top of the other buildings. At most twenty meters between structures.” Shadrach added.

The Chief grinned. “No sweat. Coming in with a cellulose shell high altitude penetrator. The engine drops off at twenty thousand, guides in on the laser. No fragmentation. The only non-organic components are the explosive and the guidance package. It will break through the top two floors and explode at ground level. Minimum projectile profile.”




The five stood in silence. Shadows were starting to lengthen as the sun fell behind the high mountains. Across the field coming down from the ridgeline was a large shambling shape moving along on all fours.

“What the fuck is that?” Eddie asked raising his weapon.

Danny pulled out his spotting scope and dialed it in. “I don’t know. Take a look Shad.”

Shadrach took a long look. “I think it’s a bear.”

Louis shook his head. “No way, not in Europe. No fucking bears.”

“Actually,”  The Chief offered, “this is one of the few areas in Europe where there are bears.”

“You’re sure it ain’t a War Dog, Chief?”

At this they all dropped silent. The large brown shape stood on its hind legs, sniffed then turned and rumbled back to the tree line. There was a collective sigh.

“Like I said, a bear. Let’s get a move to the target point. I want us in by midnight with perimeters set. We guide the munitions in following target confirmation.”

They moved out single file into the gathering darkness.




James settled into the worn easy chair with something like relief. It had been a long day. The old Airstream had seemed a little small at first but he was warming to it. Father Gilbert was just what James needed. A good happy man, he treated James like long lost family. Old and wizened, Father Gilbert barely topped James’ shoulder. But for what he lacked in size he made up for in enthusiasm. His church was a beehive of eclectic activity. At any time of the day or night it resembled a cross between the Berlin Airlift and the Woodstock music festival. James had wandered in during a food drive. The main chapel had been piled almost to the rafters with all manner of foodstuffs. Bags of rice spilling over into open bags of lentils and onions. Leaning pyramids of canned goods stacked up against cases of donated water. Father Gilbert’s gift was inspiring people to give. His organizational skills, on the other hand, were somewhat lacking.




James came in, threading himself through the chaos and made his way toward the small smiling man in the priest’s collar.

“Father Gilbert?”

He turned and hit James with a huge toothy smile. His gray hair was styled in a shaggy brush cut and his faded blue eyes were sunken in a nest of laugh lines.

“Good morning, how are you?”

“I’m fine, Father.”

“Fantastic. How’s the family?”

“Ahhhh, don’t have any family to speak of.”

This caught Father Gilbert’s attention. “Really? I have no idea who you are. Do I?”

James shook his head.

“And you don’t know me, do you?”

James shrugged.

“Fantastic. I love starting with no one at an advantage. So are you here to help or be helped?”

James thought for a moment. “Both.”

“Fantastic! Give before you receive and all that, come I’ll show you what you need to do.”




The Father led James to a pair of tables covered in canned goods. He pulled a large cardboard box from under the tables. Making two sweeps with his arms, he emptied the lion’s share into the box and pushed it back under the tables.

“This is your station. Were you a military man?”


“Good. Useless profession. Anyway you take one of these.” He reached under the tables and found a large plastic bag filled with smaller plastic bags. “Take a bag and go around and fill it with enough foodstuffs for two days. Two cans meat, two starches, two veggies. You get the idea?”


“Fantastic!” Father Gilbert beamed. We open the doors in ten, good luck.”

He walked off towards the tumult and turned back suddenly. “Oh, how can we help you?”

“Food and a place to sleep.”

“That’s it? You’re in luck. Sam just moved out of the Airstream. He’s going to school to be a taxidermist. And as for food,” he swept his arms, “the Lord provides.’”




The doors opened and the multitudes flooded in. To James it resembled a fire sale. What looked like a good portion of Vancouver’s unfortunates had gotten the word. At the beginning James attempted to fill bags according to the Father’s directions. It was like trying to hold back the ocean with a broom.  After about 15 minutes he just handed the bags out and let them have a go. It took less than two hours for them to clean the place out to its corners. And then they left as quickly as they came.




Father Gilbert walked over looking a little disheveled but otherwise none the worse for wear.

“Well done, James isn’t it?”


“We helped a lot of people. Even if it’s just for a day or two. No greater good than feeding the hungry, don’t you agree?”


“Speaking of which, are you hungry?”

James had to admit he was.

“Fantastic, this way.”




James followed the Father out of the chapel and through some double doors into a large kitchen. Four of the other parishioners who worked the food pantry were seated around a table drinking coffee and eating soup. A large pot sat on one of the burners bubbling slowly. The smell made James’s mouth water.

Father Gilbert produced two bowls and ladled them to the brim. “Here you go James. Enjoy.”

“Thanks. What is it?’

“White bean and sausage.”

“From Johnny Thai’s Noodle World?”

“None other. You know Johnny?”

James nodded. “A good man.”
        “Indeed” Father Gilbert agreed. “And a good man makes a good soup.”

“That’s what he told me. And I would have to agree.”

They both sat down and pulled pieces off a big loaf of black pumpernickel. James dipped his into the soup and pushed it steaming into his mouth.


“Indeed,” Father Gilbert nodded. “Have you met the girls?”

The four women looked up and smiled. They then returned to their soup with relish.

“And they work cheap. For nothing, God bless.”

The four looked back up. “No, God bless you, Father,” they said in unison and returned their attention to the aforementioned soup.

“When you finish up here I’ll show you your new digs.”

“Sounds great.”




They moved to the back of the rectory. From the state of disarray, James could see that the chaos of the food pantry was not an isolated event. It seemed to be the hallmark of Father’s Gilbert’s life. Moving some chairs and a broken wardrobe gave Father Gilbert access to the door he was seeking. Putting his shoulder to it, he forced it open exposing the church’s backyard, which had seen better days. Overgrown with milkweed and honeysuckle, it more resembled a pasture than a lawn. In the far corner of the lot sat a rust-pitted Airstream; against it leaned a ancient push mower.

Digging in his front trouser pocket Father Gilbert produced a fistful of keys. He selected one, seemingly at random, then put it in the lock and opened the door.




“It’s not much but Sam liked it,” Father Gilbert said climbing in. “It’s got a small kitchenette with a working toilet and shower.”

James followed him in. It was surprisingly spacious and clean. There was a small bunk, a well-worn easy chair with end table topped by a consignment shop light with a sailing ship printed parchment shade.  James smiled. It felt perfect.

“So James, what brings you to Vancouver?”

James shrugged. “Saw it on a map.”

“Really? Well, good for you. You shovel in the winter, lawn work in the summer, and what ever the other seasons call for.”

James nodded. He’d seen the state of the yard. It didn’t seem a very high bar.

“What did you do before you found Vancouver on a map?”

“Not much. Pretty well practiced not eating or sleeping and being miserable.”

The Father scratched his head. “Well, you eat well. Whatever you choose to practice is your business. Welcome aboard, Son.”

James grinned and reached out his hand. “Thank you Father.”

The Father grasped it firmly then pointed a index finger skyward. “Don’t thank me. Thank God.”




Moving over James switched on the electric heater. It was in the design of a small fireplace. The faux flames flickered to life pretending to consume the imaginary log. James sat back and soaked in the real warmth. It was starting to feel cool at night. Soon James would be raking. He hoped you could burn leaves in Vancouver. Some of his fondest memories were of the fall. He had grown up in the Northeast. On the Vermont/New Hampshire border along the Connecticut river. His grandfather was a dairy farmer, or had been. James can’t ever remember seeing any cows. He did remember that the barn had a severe western tilt and everyone was warned against going in it. It was a time when summer stretched for months. Days seemed to linger and nights hung on grimly till morning.

In late August the trees would start to blaze at the edges. The progress became tangible almost to the naked eye. James remembered standing there with the toes of his sneakers soaked, waiting for the sun to chase the chill that found him first in his grandmother’s kitchen in the morning, shivering in front of the stand-alone gas heater. He tried to absorb the warm air into his body while fighting mightily the urge to pee which had pulled him from his warm bed.

Breakfast would be a huge pile of scrambled eggs hidden under strips of bacon that his grandmother cooked only enough to get the grease popping. They would bend in the middle as James folded them into his mouth.

After breakfast he and his grandfather would spend the mornings raking the leaves into huge piles. Sweat would lie thick under his shirt as the sun rose high in the sky. Lunch would be on the porch with the cracked stone underneath. Dinner would drag with the weight of anticipation for what he knew was coming.

Then at dusk his grandfather would set the piles alight. It seemed to James the flames would reach high into the sky. His face would be stuck in a grin, cemented to his features with a mixture of sweat and soot.




The small electric heater brought all this back in a moment. James could feel himself fall back into the body of a grown man, leaving the nostalgic balm that had enveloped him. He crossed over to the small bunk, removed and folded his clothing carefully. Climbing in between worn but clean sheets he switched off the light. The sounds of a busy nighttime Vancouver filtered through the travel trailer’s thin metal walls. Sleep found him as it had forty two years earlier and pulled him into a deep untroubled slumber.

Chapter 7


Gideon was on the verge of screaming out of sheer frustration. He was attempting to move a almost three meter ridiculously heavy cardboard tube up a very tight flight of stairs. Helping him was Dick from work who was now also, much to Gideon’s chagrin, his roommate. A good natured and well meaning gentleman with one drawback. He was baked. When Dick was not at work he was fried at the first opportunity. He smoked genetically modified humbolt which possessed the paralyzing effect of its natural cousin but would not show up on drug screens. So although he was helpful, he was as dumb as a bowl of pudding.




“Dude, ya got to listen. It won’t go up straight. We can’t bend it. It gets a crack in it we are out a month’s pay. Do you understand?”

“You bet.” Dick assured him.”

“Well, stop pushing it fuckhead.” Gideon set it down carefully motioning to Dick to do the same. They were at a company housing outside Allentown. It turned out to be surprisingly well maintained, and they could take the maglev right from the seed storage. When relieved you switched out of your kit, signed the weapons over to the armory and you were on the lev and home within ten minutes. The rent was taken out of their pay before they saw it so they hardly missed it. At their pay grade there were two to an apartment. Each had his own bedroom with small full bath. There was a common room-slash-kitchen which they shared. The complex had over a thousand units so it resembled a small city. He and Dick had decided to spring for a wall monitor. The apartment had multi feed hookups. So how hard could it be?

Pretty fucking hard it turned out.




“Why don’t we just pass it up through the window?” Fentes asked.

“What floor do we live on you wingnut?”

“Ah, third.”

“Ah. That’s right. The third. And how do we hand up a cardboard tube ten meters which by the way is so fucking heavy it takes two to lift it?”


“Yeah, fucking ‘oh’ is right.”

Gideon looked at the overhead, at a total loss as to how to continue. Then the elevator opened. Diane stepped out. Diane worked in advertising. She was blond and perky and just glowed with health and sexuality. She sort of intimidated Gideon. She sort of made Dick crazy with lust.




“Gentlemen,” she said.

“Diane,” they responded in unison.

“What ya got there?” she asked.

“A wall screen,” they answered again in unison.

“Can’t get it up the stairs, huh?”

They both shook their heads no.

“Well, I’ll show you a trick.”

This had Dick’s undivided attention. She pulled a security tab out of her very tight gym shorts, stepped into the elevator and hit the button for the basement. The door shut and the elevator indicators changed from the first floor to the basement. Diane then took the security tab and put it into a slot and the elevator door slid open. The shaft was empty; the top of the car could be seen a floor below.

“Fireman key,” she smiled. “The car will stay as long as the door’s open. I’ll go the next floor up, open that door and we’ll pull it up to the next floor. Then I’ll go to the next floor and open it and we’ll pull it up one more to your floor. Got it?”

“Yea, that’s pretty sharp, Diane,” Gideon said, impressed. Dick, who was  mightly impressed with her shorts luckily said nothing.

Ten minutes later, that awkward daisy chain had the screen outside their door. Diane, after some pulling and grunting, removed her sweat top, leaving her just in shorts and a crop top.

This made Dick pretty much useless for the remainder of the screen move. Luckily Diane was as strong as she was attractive.




“C’mon fuzznuts, grab a side, we are almost done.”

Dick redoubled his effort. Gideon grabbed the opposite side and they pulled the screen upright against the wall. The material was malleable but would stiffen once the power was turned on.

“O.K. Is it level on your side? Good, I’m going to hit the juice.” Gideon thumbed a tab and the composite material became stiff. Both of them stood back and looked.

“Look good to you?”

Dick shrugged.

“Alright, here we go.” Gideon pushed the adhere tab and the screen became soft where it made contact with the wall. It spread from the contact points, pulling itself onto the wall surface to finally adhere to it like a coat of paint. In a few moments it became indistinguishable from the wall itself.

“Man that is freaky.”

“Got to agree with you there, Brother Fentes. That was a neat piece of technology. Now let’s see if it works.” Gideon walked over to the router and switched it on. The screen went to a test pattern. Solid bars of primary color marched across the screen, then dissolved into an outdoor scene of a large snow capped vista.

“Nice mountain.” Dick muttered.

“Let’s see if we can bring up the menu.” Gideon faced the screen and said clearly, “Bring up menu.”

The menu sprang up on the screen displaying a cornucopia of video or audio choices.

“Bring up live feed menu.” The screen switched to listings of over twelve hundred available shows and broadcasts.

“Whoa!” Dick said feeling overwhelmed.

“I agree. You got anything in mind?”

Dick thought for a moment. Then a blissful smile broke. “Things I Regret.”

Gideon sighed. He should have known better. It was a show consisting of college aged girls doing things on camera that they were sure to regret once they sobered up or got gainful employment.

“Show Things I Regret.” The screen switched to a shot of a young, drunk and heroically busty young woman who was attempting to untangle herself from her t-shirt while being sprayed by a hose off camera.

“Fantastic,” Dick muttered, pulling up one of the two neo-Scandinavian loungers. All the furniture was neo-Scandinavian, which meant it was all minimal in design and as well as minimal in comfort.  Dick had retrieved his power hitter and was vaporizing small amounts of humbolt and stoking the embers of his failing high. Gideon went to the refrigerator and searched for something edible. He located some sweet and sour tuna and spiced rice crackers. Shutting the door he tapped out an order on the fridge’s touch screen that would be delivered the following morning.

“Dude, dude! You got to see this.”

Gideon went over and pulled up his neo-Scandinavian lounger. On screen was another busty naked young woman, this time blindfolded. She was being wrapped in doubled sided tape. Then she rolled around on the floor doing her best to pick up as many of the yellow feathers that were scattered about. The purpose of this eluded Gideon as much as it delighted Dick.

“Are you happy, man?” Gideon asked.

“Fucking ecstatic.”

Gideon shook his head. “I don’t mean right now, I mean in general.”

This caught Dick off guard. “You mean on an existential level?”


This caused Dick’s normally un-furrowed brow to furrow.

“Dude, I’m not even sure what existential means.”

“You know, happy with your station in life?”

“Station in life?”

Gideon sighed. “Is this what you wanted to do?”

“Dude, I don’t want to do anything except get stoned or laid or both. If ADM is bad there are lots of worse gigs than walking around guarding seeds. I mean seeds don’t exactly bitch.”

“You got a point there. But I just can’t see myself doing this for years. Getting in the pipeline. Ya know, company man, like a Japanese corporation, a zaibatsu. Getting up and singing the company anthem and all that.”

Dick raised his hands. “Dude I work so when I’m not working I can do this.”

“Yeah I guess.”

An icon flashed on the wall screen. A priority message was in Gideon’s mailbox.

“Open, please.” Gideon said as he watched the contents of the message scrolled across the screen.

“Well dude, looks like you got an appointment at medical for a screen. Been doing anything I should know about?”

Gideon shook his head.

“Then don’t sweat it.”




The office was a shrine to dark oak. The only light came from a data screen that was in sleep mode. The heavy baroque door swung open suddenly, driving the knob with enough force to gouge a chunk of wood out of the wainscoting behind it. Chief of Staff Stone stalked in with thunderclouds on his brow. A short broad man, he radiated menace from every pore. He was dressed in a black sweatshirt and slacks, eyes puffy from sleep. He had been awoken from a deep sleep at four in the morning by a courier with a DNA tab receipt.

Stone had taken possession, dismissing the messenger with a growl. Inside the satchel was a data tab that could only be read by a secure console which was at the office. Stone sat behind his desk bringing the system online. His large head was covered with dark stubble that covered his face as well.




Stone was formerly auxiliary Bishop under former Archbishop of New York Edward Fegan, who was now the junior Senator form the Great State of New York. Stone was a “cleaner.” As an auxiliary Bishop he handled any delicate matters that popped up in the Archdiocese Neo-Eboracensis (Latin for the Archdiocese of New York) which mostly involved taking care of cases of inappropriately amorous priests. Now he was involved in the even less tasteful matters of government. He was questioning his role in the Church. He thought the Archbishop’s move into government would advance the Church’s cause.

That did not seem to be the case. It seemed, as much as he did not want to admit it, that the Church was on the decline. Once the most populous religion in the world it now ranked a distant third behind Moslems and the Evangelicals and at par with God help him the Mormons.

With the system now online, Stone leaned forward, allowing his retinas to be scanned for the I.D. database. He slid the data tab into the reader. The system flashed an Alpha priority. This caused Stone’s eyebrows to rise. In his entire service to the Church he had never seen an Alpha priority. He called up the Alpha Authenticate procedure which involved a serum scan.

How the hell do you do a serum scan at five in the morning?

The answer came with a whirr which caused him to jerk his elbows off the desk. A slot appeared in which arose a serum scanner. Stone place his thumb firmly in the depression and winced as the unseen needle pricked his finger and drew his blood for analysis. A moment passed as unseen machinery matched the blood’s composite makeup with Stone’s on the Church’s database.

He matched; the database released the data tab’s information to his monitor.

“Jesus Wept.”

Stone was stunned. What was on his screen defied belief. He read the summary quickly and then reread it. The implications were astounding. If it had not come from the Vatican himself he would have disregarded it as a hoax. He sat with his chin on his fist as he pondered his next move.




One, he would bring Woolsey here under his direct supervision. Stick him in a retreat up in the Catskills and put him under a security envelope so he can’t take a shit without asking permission.

Two, find the woman and bring her under his control immediately.

Three, bring in Church lawyers and academics to confirm the data and the Church’s ownership.

And most important how to use this to his direct advantage. Fegan, though dedicated and pious, was a dolt. He would have to be removed and isolated at the earliest opportunity. His own contacts within Rome were scarce but no matter. Fegan was a favorite. He had even been mentioned as being on the short list when the current Pontiff shrugged of his mortal coil.




“Call Father Woolsey.”

The office was silent as the system sought out the number in question.

“Calling,” the room responded.

“Ah hello?” A sleep-fogged voice came online.

“Woolsey, Stone here.”


“Bishop Stone out of the New York Archdiocese.”


Stone glowered at the empty room. “Listen closely. This is Bishop Stone out of the Archdiocese of New York. This call is about the package you sent. Are we on the same screen?”

Silence came across the line. “Yes Bishop.”

“Now this woman who gave you this information, is it hers to give?”

“Her husband passed away suddenly.”


“In his sleep apparently.”

“And what does this pious young lady want for this gift to the Church?”

“She wants her sister declared a nun and buried in a Church cemetery.”

Stone was nonplussed. “Does the sister want to be a nun?”

“She’s dead.”

Stone sighed.

“Did she want to be a nun while alive?”

“She was on track, but was being asked to leave. She was with child.”

“At the Convent? Who was the father?”

“She claimed God.”

Stone gripped his head. “How did she die?”

“Killed actually.”


“A statue of the Archangel Gabriel fell on her at the opening of a new Parish in Portland.”

“Of course it did. And all her sister wants is for her to be declared a nun and buried in a Church sanctioned cemetery?”

“That’s the gist of it.”

Well if this information is legit I’ll declare her sister Pope and bury her with red slippers. I want you and her on the first tilt out of Portland in the morning. Tickets will be waiting. Capish?”

“Tomorrow first thing. Got it.”

“Very well.”




Stone broke the connection and sat very still in his chair. Things that had been embryonic in his mind a few minutes earlier were now advancing rapidly toward maturation. Once this became general knowledge among the Church hierarchy it would become hard for Stone to hang on to his advantage. He would see to it that this would not happen. Stone stood and looked out the large bay window, watching the gray dawn creep into the awakening New York. He stood stock-still and waited. The answer would present itself. It always did.

For he was Stone and the Lord would provide.




“Man I don’t know, it could be too freaky even for our venue.” Sam White watched the footage of a fighter sent in by a French biotech firm. The gentleman in question appeared grotesque. According to the specs on the bottom of the screen, he was almost two and a half meters tall and weighed in at close to three hundred kilos. They must have altered his spine in some fashion because his head seemed to sit directly on his chest. The bone built up around the eyes and jaw gave him a barely human profile. Sprouting from a barrel-like chest sprang two huge arms that were jointed in three places. The multi-jointed arms ended in mallet-like fists in which the fingers were fused, forming a sledgehammer-like appendage.




“Yeah, yeah, I’m sure he is formidable. But we have to draw a line somewhere. I mean Jesus, what if someone decides to graft a rhino horn or a huge parrot’s beak on some slub’s face? With the new spectrum of immunosuppressives anything is fucking possible. Yes, yes, I realize the time and expense you went through but we can’t use them. Please stick to the guidelines set up for fighters’ adaptations on Cage Incorporated fighter application. Thanks for your interest.”

Sam broke the connection and stared at the ceiling. Things were sort of spinning out of control. The interest since Demolition had been off the charts. He had been dealing with offers from private and corporate interests. Stables of augmented fighters were popping up like mushrooms in a damp crawl space.




He was struggling to keep showcases down to one a month. Sir Walter had copyrighted augmented contests. Any martial contest between any combatants augmented in any fashion not sponsored by Cage Inc. would be in direct copyright violation. Not that it was slowing down the underground traffic, but above board it was his ball game. He tabbed up new footage under Monsanto’s logo. The fighter came out. quickly taking the center of the cage. He was tall and well muscled. Any enhancements were subtle—nothing running to the obvious. He circled his opponent feinting with a jab. Then quicker than Sam could follow, the Monsanto fighter spun around, coming off his left foot, he caught his opponent flush with a spinning back kick. The impact took his opponent off his feet, dropping him in a lifeless heap.

Sam backed up the footage and ran it again at one tenth speed. Very impressive, nice and clean and controlled. He made a note on the footage and the fighter’s designation, weight class, etc.

He let out a sigh as he fumbled through his desk and located the new telepresence rig Sir Walter had sent out. He did not like it. The whole telepresence experience made him uncomfortable. The rapid transition from reality to null space always made him queasy. He had to be sitting. He had tried it a couple of times standing and had fallen over on his face because of the vertigo.




He found the tiara in one of the bottom drawers of his new desk it. Like his office the desk was all streamlined metal with chromed Art Deco angels. The whole office looked like a nineteen thirties version of Tomorrowland. The new office was located in one of Sir Walter’s high stacks in Battery Park at the southern tip of Manhattan. “The birthplace of New York,” Sir Walter liked to say—and did often.

He looked at his watch and realized he was due to be on in two minutes. Taking the tiara, he wiped his forehead with some pads impregnated with conductive gel. The tiara was fifth generation. It worked on skin conductivity, which was fine with Sam. The idea of anything, even micro filaments, drilling into his head made him uneasy. He fit the tiara on, making sure the pickup pads made maximum contact. Then he hit the switch cradled in his palm.

The room fell away abruptly leaving him in a dark horizonless space. He hung there for what seemed like an eternity until he found himself sitting in a chair in Sir Walter’s spacious kitchen overlooking Sydney’s harbor.




“Well, you wanker. What’s the good word eh?”

It was Sir Walter dressed in stylish tennis whites. He was holding a large fish and a strangely shaped knife.

“Been fishing?” Sam asked.

“Bloody obvious that is.” He flapped the fish on the cutting block. Sam could see with some discomfort that it was still alive.

“What are you going to do?”

“About sharp as a marble today, huh, Sammie? I’m going take this nice khurku here,” he said pointing at the wicked curved knife, “and I’m going to slice old Tommie the tuna here into sashimi.”


Sir Walter attacked the unfortunate fish with a vigor and lack of knowledge that made Sam glad he was only witnessing a construct.

“There.” There was little left of the fish that was recognizable. It certainly didn’t resemble any of the neatly cut and arranged sushi Sam was familiar with.

“That looks great,” Sam offered.

Sir Walter looked up, his tennis whites dripping in blood. He picked up a towel and wiped some of it from his face.

“Don’t be a bloody idiot. That was a bloody massacre that was. Luckily the wife got some vegemite around somewhere.” He began to bang through the cabinets.

“Sir Walter, I have some ideas about Cage.”

“Really?” He looked up with half a stick of pepperoni in his mouth.

“I think we should stick to strictly Corporate stables.”

Sir Walter looked thoughtful for a moment. “You may have a point. I saw the footage that frog bio tech sent in. That was an ugly wanker, heh?”

“My feelings exactly. We should stick to the big multinationals. Less freak more performance.”

“Well, there is an upside and a downside to that. The upside is that at least for now, you’re getting a better product. The downside is if something goes balls up they’d be off faster than a prom dress. But I’m a silent partner mate. Cage is your baby, it’s your show.”

“I realize that, Sir Walter. I just wanted to give ya a heads up.”

Sir Walter tore off a big chunk of pepperoni and mumbled around it. “We’ll I’m going to hop in the shower, eh? No worries.”

Sam White found himself sitting back in his office, stiff from sitting in the same position for so long. He couldn’t shake the feeling that he was just told it was his show and he was on his own.




The Supermax cell was just a little wider than Leslie as he lay back on his bunk. They had him here in little less than two hours following his little show at gen pop. He had woken up in four point restraints in a rapid deployment helicopter. He was groggy from the stun but could still feel the rise and fall of the aircraft. On landing, it was full dark in the Supermax yard. They rolled up a forklift and connected it to the reinforced carbonfiber board he was shackled to. There was a scraping sound as he was pulled out of the copter and swung free in the cool night air.




“Well, well. Isn’t it our playful little friend.”

Leslie moved his eyes (the only thing not restrained) and saw the speaker. A tall drink of water with long graying hair pulled back in a ponytail. His chin was covered with a wispy goatee. Peering through gold rimmed granny glasses, he seemed on the verge of telling a humorous story. He had his hands in the pockets of an old sweat jacket.




“So friend, how’s it going to be?”

Leslie, gagged, just looked at him.

“Sorry man. You can’t really answer, can you? Paul if you would be so kind?”

A bull separated himself from the other guards and unbuckled the leather gag. The large rubber bite block was pulled roughly from Leslie’s mouth leaving his lips stinging.

“So what’s it going to be, Tiny?”

“Just wanted to eat my Sloppy Joe.”

The Warden took off his glasses and unzipped his sweater jacket. Pulling out the tail of his wash-faded CBGBs t-shirt he polished the lenses. “You just wanted to eat your Sloppy Joe, huh? And that gentleman you stomped to death with your size twenty sevens somehow impeded that?”

Leslie gave an abbreviated shrug. “Wasn’t bothering nobody, just trying to get my feed.”

“Well I can dig that. A little enthusiastic but I can dig it .That won’t be a problem here of course. Twenty three hours a day you will be in your cell. One hour each day you will be let into a small exercise yard depending on your behavior. This will be my call, after all.” He spread his hands palms up. “This is my house.”




Leslie said nothing.

“Quiet type huh? All the better. Oh, there is one other thing. Doc?”

A small man dressed in a white lab coat came forward dragging a step ladder behind him. He put the bottom of the ladder at Leslie’s feet and rested the top on his chest. Then climbing up and he pulled a disturbingly large gun looking apparatus from his bag and fitted a magazine to it. He then placed the muzzle behind Leslies left ear. There was a loud pop, a sharp pain followed. The procedure was repeated on the right. He then clambered down the ladder and walked back to the group.

“Remove the restraints.”

The guards moved on him and in short work released him. Leslie stood and rubbed his wrists. The Warden walked forward and offered his hand. Leslie stood dumbly for a moment and took it.

“Warden Gool. You can call me Goolie, everyone else does. I don’t have any trouble here; it’s a pretty mellow place actually. And I’ll show you why.”

He let go and stood back about a meter. “It’s called a subcutaneous capacitor. Hit him Paulie. High range, he’s a big boy.”




The guard was fidgeting with something Leslie couldn’t make out; then it didn’t matter. It hit him hard starting just behind his ears and traveling down his spine and into his legs in an instant. It dropped him to his knees with his mouth spread wide in a silent scream. His lungs burned as if filled with acid, his eyes felt like they were about to burst. Each individual tooth sang in its socket as if the nerves were exposed. Then it stopped as quickly as it had started.

“Sorry about that. But we give every one a taste at the start, saves a lot of time, really.”

Leslie pulled himself to his feet. The pain that was so all encompassing was now all gone without a trace.

“Nerve induction, no real damage. But you can’t tell while it’s happening. But then, I’m not O.K., you’re not O.K. But hey…” The Warden made a gun with his hand and moved his thumb forward like a trigger. “That’s O.K,” he nodded toward the guard. “Put ’em in C sixteen.” 




The small television was a six centimeter screen set flush in the bulkhead next to the slab of ferrocrete that served as his bunk. It was black and white and only got one channel that Leslie had no control over. It seemed to be a Catholic channel out of Montréal; it featured a priest in long robes and a skull cap. Leslie thought he bore an uncomfortable resemblance to Dracula.

Leslie was nothing if not patient. Not a bright man, he possessed the ability to completely empty his mind and think of nothing creating almost a Zen level of emptiness or a reptilian void of waiting.




“Yo, Tiny.”

Leslie startled to awareness. Paulie was standing in his open cell door. In his hand he held a small remote. “You remember this, right?”

Leslie nodded.

“Good; ’cause you even twitch, it’s bad dreams for a week. Now this must be your lucky day. I’ve been here for six years and have never seen anyone get a visitor. I don’t get how you rate and I don’t care. You walk in front. Step when I step and when you sit put your hands on the table and await further instructions. Now go.”




Leslie stepped out into the hallway and moved deliberately ahead of the guard. He passed other cells indicated by the monitor screens located by the keypads which gave the guards a full view of the inmates. The hallway ended in a thick door secured with a mag lock.

“Stop and stand back against the wall. You move, you drop.”

Leslie stood back as the guard keyed in the sequence. The thick door disengaged with a thunk and swung open slowly. Leslie stepped into the room and sat in the one of the two chairs at the table.

“The chair and table are keyed to this remote.” He pushed a button. “Both are now armed. You break contact with either the chair or table it triggers the capacitors. So behave.”




Opening the door the guard left. Leslie heard a snatch of conversation. In walked a well-dressed man carrying a slim attaché. He took a seat across the table and placed the briefcase in front of him. He then looked up as if noticing Leslie for the first time.

“I am a representative of Marcus Tonald.”

Leslie looked at him blankly.

“The CEO of John Deere North America.”

Again nothing.

“He is very interested in you.”

“Does he want a date?”

“No, he wants to make you an offer.” The well-dressed gentleman opened the briefcase and removed a slim data plate. He turned and placed it in front of Leslie and waited.

Leslie looked at him. The gentleman looked back. Leslie looked at him. The gentleman looked back.

“Hey, sweetheart, if I pick my hands up from the table I will get the shit shocked out of me.”

“Oh, sorry.” He reached across and turned it back in front of him. He activated it and read it for Leslie’s benefit. “All charges will be dropped and all penalties waived if you agree to enter the employ of John Deere for no less than five years, starting at the point of agreement, which will be transmitted via web with biometric conformation.” He smiled. “That of course, is a brief summary.”

“Do I look like I make riding tractors for fuck sake?”

The well-dressed man smiled. “I don’t think Mr. Tonald had lawn care in mind.”

Leslie rolled his tiny red eyes. “Then what does he fucking want?”

“He wants you to enter his stable as an augmented combatant.”

“What the fuck does that mean?”

The well-dressed removed a invisible piece of lint from his lapel then leaned forward. “He wants you to have some work done so you can smash the shit out of someone.”

A large smile split Leslie’s face revealing shot glass sized teeth that had not been kept up to the best of dental standards. “Where do I sign?”




Shadrach was the last man in the group following slowly. They made little sound as they moved through the sparse undergrowth to the observation point. The five of them dropped to the ground and moved up on their bellies until the buildings were visible at the bottom of the small valley. Master Chief pulled a pair of combat glasses from his thigh pocket and focused in on the compound building in question.

“That’s it huh? The one with the green metal roof?”

Danny nodded. “That’s the one, Master Chief.”

“Eddie, hand me up the Targeter.”

Shouldering off his pack Eddie rummaged through it and handed the laser forward to the Master Chief. Taking the flashlight-sized tube he hit the power stud, bringing it online then aimed it down at the compound building of interest.

“Lou, bring up your slave screen and tell me if you’re getting a good read on this.”

Nodding Lou pulled out his screen and unrolled it in front of him. He then took a small lead and plugged it into a module. The screen snapped to life, it mirrored what the Chief was seeing through the viewfinder of the targeting laser. Lou adjusted some of the tuners on the module, bringing the screen into sharper focus.

“I’m getting a good read Chief, with some breakup along the edges.”

“What do you get for distance to target?”

“I’m getting twelve five five to target.”

“Twelve five five to target. Any interference from the jamming?”

Lou broadened out the gain to cover an increased area. A little fuzzy on a larger gain, but the laser is burning right through.”

Master Chief grinned. “That’s a roger. Bring up the bird, see what you got for a read?”

Lou unfolded a small keyboard on the module and typed in the command. The readout on the screen changed abruptly to an overhead satellite view. In it the compound was a fuzzy blur, unlike the surrounding area which was crystal clear. The Master Chief moved over to peer at the screen. “Yeah, they got that jammed pretty good. We’re lucky the laser burns through. Bring up our FOF tags.”

Lou typed again, five tiny blinking indicators pulsed on the left side of the screen. They represented the friend or foe indicators of the team.

“What’s that?” The Chief pointed at a dull blur that pulsed under the jamming.

Lou fiddled with the pickups. “I can’t clear it. I’ll run a diagnostic.”

“It could be the FOF from the snatch team,” Shadrach said looking at the screen.

The Chief shook his head. “I doubt it. They went off line two hours before scheduled grab. Lost telemetry and everything, not looking good.”

Edward pulled off his boonie hat and ran his hand through his hair. “They could have pulled out the telemetry pickups.”

“I don’t think so. Why bother? To pull them out involves major surgery. Why go through the trouble and not pull out the FOFS? I’m afraid the snatch team is history.” Pulling back his sleeve the Chief looked at his chronometer. “And so will they be in fifty two minutes. Everyone move into position. Shadrach, you patrol the perimeter. Everyone stay frosty.”




Belly-crawling back from the edge Shadrach made his way from the lip of the canyon to slightly higher ground that gave him both a view of the target and his team. He brought up the tech screen woven into the forearm of his uniform. The four FOF stood out in stark relief on the simple screen; his FOF was indicated about twenty meters behind. The resolution on the fabric screens was notoriously primitive.

Shadrach moved further up their right flank and took a position under some thick growth, in solid cover and with a good lane of fire to cover his team. He relaxed for a moment, took an energy bar from his breast pocket and began to chew it into submission. It was gritty and tasted faintly of almonds. It held everything he would need short of hydration for twelve hours. He was on the jittery edge of hyperawareness. The mission would go for good or ill in the next hour. Shadrach’s fervent and only hope was that when it came down to it he would not fuck up his end.




They came fast.

The team had no coms, only passive systems with the exception of the targeting laser. Command figured it was the transmissions that had alerted the Secularists with the first team. No reason had been given till Master Chief had them on site. Shadrach had thought it strange at the time he was being outfitted, but was assured he would find out when it was time.

He had just finishing walking the perimeter. It was five minutes till they would paint the target when Eddie caught something on his screen.




“Chief, I got something weird here. I got eight FOF breaking out of the jamming and headed toward us.”

The Master Chief studied the screen. “Yeah, the signal’s getting stronger the farther they move from the compound. Anybody eyeball anything?”

All of them scanned the area with their combat scopes and came up empty.

“I got them at a thousand meters Chief,” Eddie said, his voice cracking with tension. “They got to be within sight real soon.”

Using the scope on his rifle, Shadrach saw them first, breaking cover at the bottom of the hill, around five hundred meters . Shadrach counted eight figures dressed in some sort of shiny black material moving fast. Too fast, and there was something wrong with their faces, something Shadrach could not make out at this distance.




“Chief, I got them moving up at seven o’clock, and closing. You see it.”

“I got em. Everybody weapons hot! We’ll peg em coming up then move back to the pick up point. This fucker’s blown and we’re out of here by the numbers. Shadrach, drop back to the rally point and pick off any that get past us.” Shadrach looked at him dumbly. “Move!”

Shadrach ran back to the rally point giving him a good view of the team and the approach up the hill. The eight came into a view a lot sooner than they should have. Their faces were becoming clearer. They appeared to have no lips. Through his scope Shadrach could make out mouths, huge with teeth. It made no sense.

The team opened up at fifty meters. The caseless ammo let go in a piercing scree. From where he stood Shadrach could see the hits sparking off the shiny material on their chests, flipping them over on their backs. They bounced right back up and kept coming. The whole team was on full auto. Shadrach was frozen, his rifle hanging in his hands. The first one they reached was Danny. He was switching out clips fumbling in haste. The attacker reached toward Danny, a large fat blue spark leaped from its outstretched hand knocking him flat as if pole-axed. Two of them jumped on him and began to tear at his neck and face with their teeth. All eight were now in the midst of the team. Muzzle flashes captured the manic tableau in a jittering of flashes. Every one that was hit popped right back up like vicious Jack-in-the-Boxes.




“Head shots! They got armor! Head shots!” the Master Chief roared, pulling his sidearm and blasting one of the attackers full in the face. It’s head exploded like an overripe melon. One stepped over Eddie and reached for the Chief. The discharge knocked him over, twitching, where two attackers’ faces dripping gore tore into him.

This broke Shadrach from his inactive state. He whipped his weapon to his shoulder sighting in and discharging his weapon in quick succession. They dropped one by one, not looking up from their feeding. Shadrach walked among the carnage. The team was dead to a man. Torn open and fed upon. Shadrach kicked one of the attackers over. Its teeth were filed to points; the mouth was lipless, just gums and teeth. It seemed to be wearing some sort of ceramic plate armor. Bending closer, Shadrach recognized the thing at his feet. It was Taylor—a new medic attached to one of the failed snatch teams . Checking his tech screen; Shadrach saw that the ordnance would remain overhead for ten minutes total. According to his readout he had twenty five seconds. He walked over to where the Chief had dropped the targeting laser.  Picking it up and he aimed it at the green roof of the target building.

 Feeling the shock wave at his back he dropped the laser and made his way to the pickup point.

Chapter 8


Kyushu rises unapologetically out of the East China Sea. It hides none of its volcanic origin, proudly displaying its young vibrant landscape to the crystal blue skies. It is the Westernmost island of the Japanese homeland and played a pivotal role in the country’s history. It was here that Koreans first invaded in 300 B.C., bringing rice paddy cultivation along with bronze and metal working. They moved eastward through the remaining islands, pushing the native Jomon before them until only few ancestors, called the Ainu remain today. Kyushu also witnessed a brief flash of immortality sixteen hundred years later when a small man made sun burned brightly over Nagasaki, casting shadows still long in Japan’s racial memory.




Kyushu was Japan’s power and protein supplier. The island was ringed with a connected power grid composed of seventy three interlocked stacked bead reactors. These reactors were a breakthrough in power production. Operating at over ninety four percent efficiency they functioned as one huge reactor. The stacked bead design made them virtually earthquake proof and once online were almost self-sustaining. This system provided for the power needs of the entire population of Japan. Over two hundred million souls worked, lived and thrived under the brightly lit climate-controlled normalcy that this power generator provided.

One of the byproducts of this power generation was huge amounts of heated waste water that flooded in the coastal waters surrounding Kyushu. The ambient temperature was eight degrees Celsius higher than normal ocean temperature. This made the environment deadly to most of the native fish and fauna. Fortunately, engineered strands of tuna and other valuable food fish thrived. Fish, as well as kelp and seaweed farms stretched for kilometers along the coasts, feeding the ravenous protein needs of the burgeoning population.




Nevada-tan lay tangled in sweat soaked sheets on her small futon. She was wishing for things that she knew she could never have. Standing she walked naked across the tatami mat, looking out her room’s only window at the darkened landscape. The moon had risen behind Mt. Eboshi, sending a silver sliver of light down toward the compound where she now resided. A soft cool breeze slipped through her window, raising goose bumps on her pale skin. She moved back to the futon, grabbed the sheet, wrapped it around her, and returned to the window. She had spent most of her twenty two years in this room. Appearing no more than thirteen or fourteen, thin and wan with huge dark eyes, she seemed to live in the shadows. Only her waist-long black hair seemed alive. It was a thick voluptuous cable of ebony that shifted and shuddered in the dim light as if made of liquid.




The compound was the center of the Autistic Amelioration Project. The Project produced high functioning female autistics using zygote manipulation. The effort had originally produced only males. But the males, while prodigious math adepts, had the unfortunate tendency to become enamored of a button or crease in their pants and be absorbed for years.




The answer proved simple in the extreme. Female Autistics. Nevada-tan was the crown jewel of the program. There had been six other adepts with varying levels of abilities. But Nevada-tan’s math/reasoning portion of her brain, the intraparietal sulchs, was three times normal mass. Yet she functioned as a normal twenty two year old woman.

 Gazing out her window Nevada-tan was aware that if she tried to leave she would not get a meter before she would be gently but firmly ushered back to her room. Moving back to her futon she lay down and willed herself to sleep. Moments later, her breathing became regular as she slipped into REM .




A chime woke her. Sitting up she knuckled the sleep from her eyes, blinking in the soft morning light. Rising she padded softly to the bathing area of her small room. Toeing a switch, a portion of the tatami slid back, exposing a shower area and a small deep tub filled with water warmed to a preset temperature. She showered quickly and then slid slowly into the water which came up to her chin. Sighing she let the warmth flood into her being.

Leaving the tub much too soon, pulling a large raw cloth towel and rubbing herself so vigorously her skin turned red in protest. She moved to a seascape print on the wall touching lightly the mountain’s white-capped summit; in response, the wall slid noiselessly back, exposing a toilet/sink/wardrobe/dressing area. She completed her morning’s ablutions quickly. Lingering over what to wear, she chose from her somewhat limited selection a dove gray top and loose pants. Pulling a brush through her thick black hair looking at herself in the mirror. As always, she saw a hundred things wrong. Sticking out her tongue at the reflection she went to her doorway and pressed the exit tab.

The door opened smoothly into a small hallway. Outside the door stood two guards in jade colored body armor complete with sidearms and assault rifles. They would follow at her heels at all times within the compound. It had been this way for so long she did not even glance at them as she made her way to the morning room.




The morning room is where she had breakfasted all her life. Her life was a seamless stream of unchanging routine which both gave comfort and infuriated her. As she entered the bright window-walled room, the two guards posted at the doorway. Nevada-tan bowed to her two teachers who nodded in return. She moved to the low table where both were waiting as she seated herself across from them.

“Morning Nevada-tan,” said Mr. Takomi.

“Good Morning, Nevada-tan,” said Miss Muroki.

“Good Morning, Teachers,” responded Nevada-tan respectfully.

Both Takomi and Muroki were part of the routine that infuriated her. They were as constant as the sunrise in Nevada-tan’s life. They were called “Teachers” but in reality were more handlers. They supervised all parts of Nevada-tan’s life from her diet to whom she could socialize with down to her clothing. The most important part was their supervision of her coupling. Once a day she entered into the flow to balance and monitor the chain of reactors that encircled Kyushu.




“You had a slip yesterday, Natan,” Takomi frowned.

Nevada-tan hated the nickname Natan but told no one.

“It was for a moment, the output was unaffected.”

“This is unacceptable Natan. What you do is very important. Lapses of attention cannot be tolerated,” Muroki scowled for added effect. “Especially for something trivial.”

Nevada-tan reddened to her toes. She could feel her face blaze.

“I am sorry. It will not happen again.”

“Good, now eat. Here comes our breakfast.”




She watched the small wrinkled woman with her hair pulled into a tight bun set the tray down before them. There were numerous small dishes filled with fresh fruit and three steaming bowls of Miso. Nevada-tan picked up a bowl enjoying the warmth in her hands; she blew across the top, momentarily pushing aside the steam which reappeared as soon as she stopped.

“Natan, you must be at your best today. The final modeling of the A.I. is soon to be completed. Another few weeks it will be done, and you will have accomplished something very important for Japan.”

Nevada-tan nodded. She watched closely as Mr. Takomi finished his little speech. She marveled at how ugly he was. A small thin-shouldered man, he had a huge head with comically large features. His ears and nose were oversized, his head was capped with a small patch of poorly dyed black hair. His eyes were tiny and mean. He took joy in berating Nevada-tan, who secretly referred to him as “The Rat.”

The Rat turned to his breakfast noisily downing his Miso in a slurp. This caused Miss Muroki to grimace. As exaggerated as Takomi’s features were, hers were just visible. She was tiny and delicate. Her dark hair was cut to hug her small head. Her nose and mouth were mere suggestions. Only her large dark eyes stood out, watchful and cautious. She followed whatever path Takomi stomped down. Nevada-tan secretly referred to her as “The Doll.”




“Yes, Natan, it is important to do your best and concentrate.”

Nevada-tan watched The Doll pick a tiny sliver of melon and slide it between her non- existent lips. She watched as she chewed the melon until it could be no more than a liquid and swallow it, causing her tiny esophagus to pulse in her reed-like neck.

Nevada-tan sipped the Miso and thought about the day’s coupling. She enjoyed being in the flow. There was a freedom in the flow that was missing in her life. Her initial coupling was always painful but once the filaments made the C1 meld, she was free.




They finished their breakfast in silence. The Rat checked his watch and announced it was time. The three moved to the pod which whisked them to the Monitoring Center located ten kilometers away beneath Sasebo Bay.

The Monitoring Center was surprisingly sparse. There were three pneumo-couches, one prime and two passive for monitoring. Nevada-tan quickly moved to hers, hopping in and relaxing as the couch molded around her. She heard The Rat and The Doll fussing around getting into theirs.

“O.K. Natan, when you are ready,” said The Rat.




Nevada-tan took a deep breath and keyed the switch. She felt the momentary sting as the filaments burrowed in. The awareness came to her abruptly. The power loop connecting all the reactors became part of her, her sense of self. She could feel that the flow was uneven. The load was being drawn more from the eastern portion of the Island.

Feeling the power as a loop, she evened it out, causing it to be drawn more from portions of the grid that could provide it. The load balanced and the output rose to ninety eight percent efficiency.




“Natan, please repeat the sequence so the A.I. can mirror.”

Nevada-tan held down a flash of irritability. She felt the A.I. come online and could feel it as if stood at her shoulder. The A.I. had been modeling for two years now but it could not quite match the feel. It could read and calculate the loads millions of times faster than Nevada-tan could. But the sensation when the balance was reached was something that, until now, seemed to be something completely human.

She brought up the same scenario she had just been given with the uneven draw from the eastern portion of the Island. The A.I. performed flawlessly—until the moment when the balance was to be made. Then it locked, unable to initiate. Nevada-tan felt a momentary stab of pride and superiority at the failure. She rechecked the power efficiency, saw that it was still at the ninety eight percentile and began the decoupling.

Coming up was always less traumatic than going in. The room’s sights and smells always flooded in joyfully as the filaments withdrew. Nevada-tan sat blinking, enjoying the return of her sensorial impulses as The Doll and The Rat decoupled. She could see, as The Rat emerged, that he was not happy.




“Natan, what happened?  How did the machine intelligence fail again?”

Nevada-tan shrugged her dainty shoulders. “It cannot make the leap.”

“What is this nonsense you speak about? There is no leap. It is a simple reasoning algorithm. Why does the machine freeze?”

She felt an unusual but not unwelcome burst of defiance. “What do you know of this? You are a mere observer, a spectator. You cannot understand what happens, what I feel. It happens in here!” She struck her forehead with the flat of her palm. “Only I can know. Do not question what you do not understand.” Nevada-tan was surprised to find herself standing with her fists balled at her side.

“Natan, please return to your room, now!” The Doll said pointedly.

Nevada-tan spun on her heals and left the Monitoring Center with her security detail in tow.




Sitting in the capsule speeding back to the center she was a little amazed at what had just transpired. It was the first time in her life that she had ever said a word other then yes sir, or yes ma’am to either The Rat or The Doll.  Gratefully she entered her room, sealing the door and her security detail behind her. She collapsed on her futon in a nerveless heap. She was not used to such emotional exercise. Laying there it occurred to her that today was her scheduled trip to the Ginza. It had totally slipped her mind. Once a month they emptied the Ginza in Saesabo and allowed her to browse the shops. She doubted if that was still on her itinerary after her little outburst.

Her door slid open suddenly, revealing The Doll wearing a disapproving look on her face. She removed her sandals, aligning them alongside Nevada-tan’s and stepped into her room.

Today was a day of firsts for Nevada-tan. She had never seen either her or The Rat at her room. She sat up quickly, sweeping her hair from her face.




“Natan, that was an uncalled for display today.”

Nevada-tan dropped her head. “I am sorry, Teacher. It was not meant out of disrespect.”

“I should hope not. We are here to help you in your very important job.”

“I know and for this I am sorry.”

“I should hope so. I trust this will not happen again.”

“No Ma’am.”

“Well then, get ready. The Center goes to great expense to clear the Ginza for you. We cannot cancel with so little notice. We will be going despite your behavior. So get ready.”

“Thank you, Teacher.”




The Ginza in Saesabo was always a little spooky to Nevada-tan. She knew that Japan now held over two hundred forty million industrial souls. She also knew that almost all of the surface cities had been replaced by huge underground beehives called warrens. Only Tokyo, parts of Hiroshima and Nagasaki remained above ground, plus a few tourist spots like Saesabo’s Ginza. All available real estate had been turned over to agriculture. Japan for the most part resembled Eden. Millions of hectares filled with nothing but green growing things tended by clever robots.

Nevada-tan realized there were Japanese who went years at a time without seeing natural sunlight. Still the Ginza would be filled to bursting at any time, day or night, with eager students and families; except when she was here. It would not do for her to have contact with anyone not approved.




“Do you have anywhere in mind?”

The Doll always accompanied her on her outings along with an increased security presence.

“Takoyaki,” Nevada-tan beamed. She loved the octopus balls made with red shrimp and ginger.

“Very well,” The Doll grimaced.




The Takoyaki stand was manned by an employee from the center—as were all the shops.

“Two, please.”

The man handed over two orders of the crispy bourbon-colored balls. Nevada-tan and The Doll set at a small café table and broke open two packages of chopsticks. Nevada-tan greedily grasped a ball between the two wooden sticks, dipped it in the mayonnaise and popped it into her mouth. The Doll just poked hesitantly at hers.

“What is wrong, Teacher?  They are delicious.” 

“I don’t know, my stomach is bothering me today.” The Doll lifted one up slowly and took a tiny bite. She immediately dropped her chopsticks, picked up a napkin, put it to her lips and ran for the bathroom. The security contingent looked on curiously, for this was definitely out of character. Nevada-tan grabbed another ball and chewed it. She was enjoying her moment without supervision when she noticed The Doll’s purse. Sighing, she retrieved it and followed The Doll into the bathroom. She heard retching in one of the stalls. She stood nervously outside the closed door.

“Excuse me, Teacher.” She leaned down and handed the purse under the stall’s door. It was grabbed quickly and the retching continued.

Nevada-tan went to the sink to wash her hands, on the sink was a data tab. Nevada-tan froze. It was candy apple red and chipped at the edges. Tabs had gone out of use years ago. All transfers of information and credit had gone over to wet chips that were implanted at the wrist. Nevada-tan had no chip; all transfers, credit or otherwise, were done for her. She grabbed the tab guiltily and jammed it deep into her pocket.

“Natan,” said The Doll, who emerged from the stall looking pale. “I think we will end early today.”

“Yes, Teacher,” Nevada-tan replied, feeling the tab heavy in her pocket. She followed The Doll out the door.




James woke to a pounding on the door that matched the one in his head. He rose stiffly from his bunk, tripped over two cats and fell hard to the floor. He lay face first in his pants from the night before.  Two tabbies watched with undisguised curiosity as he flipped over to his back sticking his two skinny pale legs into the worn khakis.

The pounding continued unabated.

“I’m coming, hold your horses!” James yelled, scrambling to his feet. He pawed at the handle a few times before getting it open.

“James!” It was Father Gilbert in all his overpowering good humor.

James blinked in the bright sunlight, wracking his brain as to why the Father was standing there.

“James, have you forgotten?”

James had to admit he had.

“Today we visit the outlyers. Get dressed and meet me at the van.”

With this he was gone. James stared into the space where the Father had been. His brain was slowly coming online. Then, in the muddled morass that served as his mind, it surfaced. He had promised to help the Father bring supplies—both actual and spiritual—to some of his more rustic parishioners. He had been in his cups at the time. Drinking seemed to occupy more and more of James’ time. This did not particularly alarm him, although he found it a little unnerving how easily he had slipped into this particular lifestyle.

Pulling on a worn thermal undershirt, he ran a washcloth across his face and headed out to locate the Father. He found him at the back of the rectory shoving the last few boxes into an ancient Volkswagen microbus. The bus was in all manner of disrepair. It had been a donation and James was pretty sure if the Father had not been so well known that the local P.D. would have pulled it off the road long ago.




“Well, James are you ready?”

“I guess.”

Father Gilbert smiled broadly “No guessing Son. We are doing God’s work. It is as sure as the morning’s sunrise.”

“I guess” James repeated.

Father Gilbert just smiled a little wider and in a mash of protesting gears was off.




They spent most of their day moving through Stanley Park. A host of squatters and homesteaders had set up house in the wooded areas. James was surprised at the sophistication of  several of the compounds. There were some that were completely self-sustaining, existing off the grid. Others were simple log huts and tents. Father Gilbert moved freely through them all, greeting everyone by name, handing out foodstuffs, warm clothing, and toys for the children (and Bible chips, when asked).

They stopped at the Sunbird camp that was within view of Siwash rock. The residents there were Neo-Pagans who wore handwoven tunics and spoke a variation of Gaelic.

“What is this?” James asked pushing around some raw-looking tuna in an acidic smelling broth.

“It’s Kinilaw. It’s made with raw tuna, coconut wine, vinegar, hot chilies, ginger and onions. Try it, it is delicious.”

James shrugged and took a bite. It was good. The texture was a little weird, but the freshness of the tuna came through in spades.

“Very tasty,” James smiled.

“Like I said.” Father Gilbert was watching two of the children playing with a straw doll, both of their faces were streaked with a blue pigment.

“So, Pagans huh? Why here?”

“It’s the rock.”

“Rocks?” James asked puzzled.

“Not rocks. Rock. That one.”

James followed Father Gilbert’s gaze. “It’s a big rock standing in the water.”

“Yep, Siwash rock. It’s holy to them. Like Stonehenge.”

“So, let me get this straight,” James said as he fished the last piece of tuna off his plate. “A bunch of Neo-Pagans worshiping a new Stonehenge while chowing down on Filipino fare?”

Father Gilbert grinned. “That about sums it up I think.”




James shook his head, standing up to clean his plate and add it to the stack in a makeshift sink. He then sat down on some moss and leaned back against a convenient rock. He undid a couple of his shirt buttons and closed his eyes, enjoying the sun on his face.

“Not a bad life.”

“Every day above ground is a good day, Father.”

“That’s a little Agnostic for my tastes but I can share in the basic flavor.”

James turned and squinted at the Father. “Mind if I ask you a question Father?”

“No; by all means.”

“I haven’t seen a lot of preaching. There has been very little God Squad, ya know?”

Father Gilbert opened his shirt and ran a hand up the back of his neck.

“Well, I have never been much of a pulpit pounder. I always felt it was something people come to on their own or don’t come at all. When I was in seminary I was given something to read that was just considered scandalous. It was a novel called Stranger in a Strange Land. You ever hear of it?”

James shook his head.

“Well, it was about a failed mission to Mars that left only one survivor.”


“Who’s telling this story?”

“You are.”

“As I was saying, there was one survivor, a child of two of the astronauts.”

“A child?”

“Product of a mixed crew.”


“May I continue?”


“As I was saying, there was a survivor who returned to Earth and became a religious leader who died voluntarily in a Christ-like fashion.”

“Oh, now I get it. Stranger in a Strange Land. Old Testament isn’t it?”

“That is correct, but not really my point. One of the basic tenets of the book was “Thou art God.” At the time I thought that was horribly egotistic and self-worshipping. But the older I got the more sense it made.”

“How so?’”

Father Gilbert closed his eyes and smiled. He was silent for a moment then answered. “It sort of removes the entire bell ringing and rote mindless ritual. If we all are God then we all have the capacity to be holy. There is something fundamentally hopeful about that. It makes all this worthwhile somehow.”

“Father, there is hope for you yet.”

“There is hope for us all, James. That is sort of the point.” He stood, brushing his pants. “Come Jimmy, I’ve saved the most interesting for last.”




They drove for about fifteen minutes until they arrived at an opening in a small copse of trees. Father Gilbert grabbed a rucksack and handed James a basket filled with canned goods. Carefully, they made their way down a well-worn path that opened up to a small lake with an island in the center. On the island was what at first glance appeared to be a small white sailboat.

“Is that a boat?” James asked.

“Well, I can’t vouch for its seaworthiness, but it does indeed look like a boat.”

“Who did you say lives here?”

“A gentleman by the name of Jack D’Baptiste.”

At the shore edge James could see a series of stones just submerged that led to the island.

A few damp moments later both made landfall . On closer inspection James could see that the boat was made from hundreds of small pieces of driftwood as well as others pieces of debris, cunningly fit together so tightly as to seem to be unbroken planks forming the boat’s hull.

Father Gilbert dropped his pack and called loudly. “Jack! Jack! It’s Father Gilbert with provisions. Ahoy!” Father Gilbert winked at James. “He enjoys the nautical theme so.”

A shadow passed across James’ face that caused him to look up. The sun was blocked out by something hurtling towards him. A second later James was gasping in the cold lake water. Above him was a crazed apparition grasping him by his shirtfront. He was shirtless, dressed in a pair of clammers with a necklace of animal bones around his neck. His filthy hair hung in knots around his head. Ice blue eyes peered down at James as he was pulled nose to nose.

“It’s you. It’s you. I knew you would come.”

James could see his mouth was innocent of teeth. And an odor wafted out that left little doubt where the animal bones came from.

“Ah, Father?” James  asked softly.

“I bless you in the name of the Father, Son and the Holy Ghost.” And with this Jack plunged James into the icy water. James tried to pull the hands from his clothing as he fought to surface. They felt like iron wrapped in rawhide. An absurd thought surfaced in his mind as he struggled. If Father’s theory, “Thou art God” was universal, this man appeared to be the exception to the rule.

 Surfacing James pulled in huge snuffles of sweet air. Father Gilbert had mounted Jack piggyback style, attempting to dissuade him from his aquatic agenda.

Jack looked at James and smiled without guile. “I have baptized you. You have returned to spread The Word and save us all.”

James wiped the water from his face. “If you say so.”

Jack let go of James and began to dance in circles splashing and singing the father gripping tightly to his back.

“So as it is written, so shall it be. So as it is written, so shall it be.”

Father Gilbert dismounted sheepishly and helped James to his feet.

“Sorry about that. That was definitely out of character.”

James wrung out his shirttail. “I should hope so.”

Jack stood grinning toothlessly at both of them. Some of the maniacal gleam had gone out of his eyes. Father Gilbert shrugged and introduced them to each other.

“James, this is Jack. Jack, this is James.”

“Hiya doing,” James offered

“I know who you are. You have returned,” Jack intoned.

“ O.K.” James offered carefully.

Jack dropped to his knees in front of James and bowed his head. “Bless me.”

James looked at Father Gilbert who grinned and shrugged.

“Bless you,” James said sheepishly.

Jack sprang to his feet grabbing both the men by their arms. “Come, come, we will have tea to celebrate your return.”

James and Father Gilbert stumbled after him.




The interior of the makeshift sailing ship was surprisingly neat. James and Father Gilbert sat on a bench at a drop-down table. Jack fiddled over a small Jotul stove in which he brewed tea. The cabin also contained a small bunk bed and tiny galley. James was drying himself with a rough worn towel Jack had handed him off a hook. Light from a small lantern cast everything in warm sepia tones.




“Here, here, careful, it’s hot.” Jack handed them two earthen mugs brimming with steaming tea. Pulling a Christmas tin from under the table, he handed each of them a blueberry scone. James eyed it warily then bit it. It was delicious; the surprise must have shown on his face.

“It’s from the Druids. I don’t bake much.”

“I know Jack, and it is very good,” Father Gilbert said taking a bite himself. “I don’t suppose you could explain what that little excitement was about?”

“He has returned.”

“Who?”  Father Gilbert asked.

“Him,” Jack pointed.

“Me?” James asked.

“As it said in the Bible.” Jack said.

“The Bible?” Father Gilbert asked, incredulous.

“Good night, nurse,” James whispered as he sipped his tea.

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