Check it out. Hundreds and thousands of indie books offered at a discount for the month of July.
I’ve included ARMY of SOULS.
Check it out. Hundreds and thousands of indie books offered at a discount for the month of July.
I’ve included ARMY of SOULS.
The room was more a cave; a poorly lit cave under a large glass palace, with roughly plastered walls painted a dull yellow and an uneven floor paved with natural stone. It’s depth below solid rock offered some protection from wormholes thrown from the outside, but not a lot—it was more of a navigational hazard.
Jairo Mercedes; mass murderer, drug lord, boot-legged neural augmentation distributor and Judas Soul, was feeling less than confident in the presence of his Soul Master, the Honour, Erna Brigat. Maybe he should not have returned from Trevon. Perhaps he should have just moved onto the next victim. He was meant to be destabilising things in Go Down City; scaring the beJeezes out of the local population; sending a message to the authorities there that they should still be talking to his master. But he had to let his master know what he had discovered. Not to do so would incur his greater wrath.
‘I just felt another presence,’ he said.
As Mercedes waited for the inevitable tongue lashing, he looked around the cave-like room. In the background, he saw two domestic wormholes at work, probably launched from the kitchens upstairs. A humanoid-looking hand appeared from one, nudging fruit around a wooden bowl. It picked up a bruised apple, withdrew, and the opening disappeared. From the other hole, water poured into an ancient, grey ceramic water jug, decorated with Haraan sportsmen throwing spears at fleeing bipeds.
Brigat looked up from his partially completed model of an LM-V freighter. He frowned. This was his hobby room; his family’s collection room; his quiet room.
‘Did you, really?’ Brigat asked in a series of clicks and tuts, checking the display of the wormhole monitor hanging around his neck before returning to his model.
Brigat was an avid collector of human technology, especially of military hardware, despite most of it being obsolete in his own society dominated by wormholes. He especially enjoyed making models of the larger specimens; the items he couldn’t realistically worm across to M31 without bringing too much attention to himself. An LM-V wasn’t too bulky to worm, it was just too large to steal without the humans noticing, and way too big to park in the glass mansion upstairs. On occasions such as this, he would settle for a little inter-galactic shop-lifting. In this case, an Airfix 1/72nd scale replica from a speciality store in Manhattan.
Mercedes watched him fiddle with a particularly small piece and scratch his slender, reptilian snout. He couldn’t sense Brigat’s mood, but knew he would have to respond right away. His master didn’t like to waste his time.
‘Yes. It was quite strong. Passionate. Most insistent.’
‘Another ghost soul, perhaps?’ Brigat asked, pulling a lamp across his hobby table and peering through a magnifying glass at another, similar piece of plastic. He twiddled it and then put it back down. The harsh lamp light penetrated his almost translucent skin, exposing blue veins and thin, fat-free muscles.
‘Possibly,’ Mercedes conceded, wondering if Brigat’s skin ever dried out. ‘But he tried talking to me … none of the others did.
‘Then what are you worried about? There are millions of them wandering around.’
There were more than millions, Mercedes thought. Ghosts, whose souls partially escaped their bodies only moments before full death, to be disconnected from the rest of itself, forever.
But this was different.
‘Not like this one,’ Mercedes insisted. ‘He seemed focused. He knew about us.’
‘What did you tell him? What did you say?’ Brigat asked, checking his wormhole monitor again.
Mercedes could see his master was expecting another intrusion. It was probably why he had found him down here, rather than in one of the more luxuriously appointed rooms upstairs. Brigat would be a little jumpy.
‘Nothing, of course. I backed off; tried to fade away as fast as I could.’
Mercedes had enjoyed his teatime outing with Trooper Davies until the ghost soul turned up. He hadn’t expected the interruption, and with Davies already opened up to suggestion, the ghost soul found it easy to get onto Davies’ wavelength. Not wanting to expose himself to the unexpected intruder, Mercedes had abandoned ship immediately, leaving Davies to deal with his temporal insanity—alone and without further encouragement. Alas, it had ended badly for the man. Instead of exiting his temporal life in a blaze of glory, Davies was shackled and led away, no doubt to be worked on by a team of white coats and a bag full of pharmaceuticals.
Brigat sifted through the model pieces with a couple of ancient and bony fingers, his soft finger pads carefully assessing their shapes. Eventually, he found what he was looking for. It seemed like an age before he replied.
‘But not quickly enough, perhaps, or you wouldn’t be so worried by it.’
Mercedes needed to sound confident; absolutely sure.
‘No. I was fast,’ he said, quickly. Now that sounded confident enough, he thought, feeling relieved. ‘I’m just letting you know about it. It seemed to know about us.’
Again, Brigat took his time before answering. He adjusted the aperture of a wormhole bringing fresher, cooler air into the cave from one of the planet’s largest glaciers. It was getting a little too cold.
‘You worry too much. Tell me about this last victim. Was it easier this time?’
‘Yes it was. It was quite satisfying.’
It had been a long time since Mercedes’ last days of sustained blood-letting. Love Brigat or hate him, respect him or fear him, as Mercedes often did in varying measures, he was at least grateful to his master for the occasional opportunity to slake his blood lust.
Brigat clicked more harshly.
‘Then why aren’t you still at it? I want everyone to be panicking. I want them to see just how it’ll be if I don’t get my Harvester back.’
‘I only came back to warn you.’
Brigat looked up.
Mercedes could see Brigat’s over-large, round and black eyes narrow a little and his pale, vein-ridden face harden. The soft opening in his bony, conch-like ears fluted a little. Brigat wasn’t staring at anything in particular as he couldn’t see a soul. No one could do that. Not human nor Haraan. But Brigat could sense them, and like all Haraan with the right equipment, he had complete dominion over them.
‘What part of, “Don’t worry about it” don’t you get?’ Brigat asked, waving a small piece of the model above his head.
‘But won’t Central disapprove?’
‘I don’t give a cast-out what Central thinks! I want my Harvester. I want the damn thing back. I want it back—now!’
‘But nothing!’ Brigat said, adding a screech to the clicks. He pulled his thin lips back over a mouth filled with small, but sharp teeth. ‘I don’t care what Central wants, what it thinks or what happens to it afterwards. I want my Harvester back.’
Brigat cut in again.
‘But fark! You’re not listening.’ The clicks had slowed, and he was vibrating his lungs to add a rich, deep background tone to show Mercedes he was more than just frustrated. His single nostril flared as the leathery air sac below his receding chin inflated slightly. ‘Get me my farking harvester. Or do I need to send some other soul? Yates, Dahmer and Christie are all chaffing at the bit. Even Hansen is interested, and it takes a lot to inspire him these days.’
All of them serial killers. Older ones. Keen to get back out there.
‘OK. I’ll get back to it. But, please, don’t piss Central off too much. They’ll pull your license. We’ll be confiscated.’
Brigat and Mercedes’ relationship had endured for decades, and Brigat had let Mercedes run errands for him, unshackled but not free, across the full width of M31. Souls didn’t get that kind of leeway unless they had earned their master’s confidence, and, having earned it, sometimes Mercedes felt he could offer advice—within reason. Brigat would listen, though more often than not it was just to humour him. But there were boundaries, and often times Mercedes crossed them. More importantly, Brigat knew when Mercedes was offering advice to suit his own needs.
‘You wisp!’ Brigat replied. ‘Scared you’ll be expelled? Sent on your way? Released? They would not dare.’
Mercedes reflected on that. Brigat was probably right. Central probably wouldn’t dare. But then again, there was always a chance that they might, which disturbed him. Even odds of five to one against weren’t good odds when a bad result meant being tipped into Hell—should there be one. Mercedes was certain there was. And if there was no Heaven or Hell then there was nothing. He preferred what he had.
‘It’s what you did,’ Mercedes reminded him, ‘to all of them. It was heartless.’
Mercedes was there on Runnymede when Brigate decided to close the human wormholes down. That meant releasing all of the souls to find their place in the natural order of things. At first they had clung to the nearest available positive Graviton, and several had escaped that way through the membrane. But most were eventually repelled, forced to latch onto the more numerous negative Gravitons. They then headed in a different direction. To Hell. He was sure of it.
‘And you think Central has a mind to do the same to you?’ Brigat asked.
‘I was just extrapolating, thinking.’
‘Then don’t! You’re not particularly good at it, Mercedes, you never have been.’ Brigat snapped. He turned in his seat, ignoring his model entirely for the first time since Mercedes had unwittingly interrupted his downtime. He modulated his lung vibrations to a more soothing sound and then lay out some home-truths: ‘And you don’t understand Haraan culture; you never will. Remember, you’re only here because I want you to be. I like you. You’re handy. And you humour me.’ He then turned back to his model, his voice returning to a deeper, harsher tone. ‘But if you piss me off you’ll be back to working wormholes. And if you truly piss me off, I’ll release you myself.’
Mercedes checked his optimism when he heard the ‘but’: Brigat’s ‘buts’ were the stuff of legends. He was incredibly unstable and insincere, even for a Haraan, and his mood could swing from pleasant to nasty inside of a single sentence.
‘I’m sorry, Honour Brigat,’ he said. ‘I’m not sure what came over me. In truth, I haven’t felt this way since just before my execution. Maybe it’s my post-arrest remorse kicking in again. I’ll deal with it.’
‘You’d better. I want that farking harvester back, and I want it back now, so get back to work.’
‘Yes,’ Brigat said, as though he was only beginning to give it some thought. ‘Apparently, it’s on Prebos being prodded by their scientists, so have a go at the research crew. Fark them over. Screw them up.’
He’ll change his mind in a day or so, Mercedes thought, but a few days on Prebos kicking butt sounded like fun. But he still didn’t get it.
‘Why don’t you just throw a hole and scoop it up?’ he asked. ‘Now you know where it is, I mean.’
Once again, Brigat looked up from the model and smiled. Mercedes could see it was a condescending smile, the kind he gave his servants when they thought they had done well, and he couldn’t be bothered to point out how incompetent they actually were.
‘I’d love to,’ Brigat began, ‘but didn’t you just spend the last ten farking minutes telling me not to piss Central off?’
‘Yes … I did.’
‘Well doing that would seriously piss them off, I can assure you.’
Mercedes didn’t reply. If he had a body, he would be frowning. Although Brigat hadn’t found his harvester until Central had jumped in and taken over, he had plenty of other wormhole constructs with which to worm it back.
Brigat sensed his confusion. He explained.
‘They’ve made it abundantly plain I’m not to. They even had the gall to mention my privileges, licenses and my honours. Apparently—and I’ll paraphrase Troggan here—it’s meant to remind them that we have dominion over souls.’
Brigat’s wormhole license and honours went back 4000 sol years; the rights his family had exploited and built upon for hundreds of generations. Fark! His family was one of the first collector families. Haraan culture depended on wormholes: it had been built on them.
‘Like an Ark or a couple of tablets,’ Mercedes asked.
‘Because!’ Brigat snapped.
‘Because …?’ Mercedes dared to ask.
‘Because humans need physical proof of things, that’s why.’ Brigat scratched the folds of skin over his throat. The creases were itching; he was getting agitated. ‘And because of those limp-wristed Revelationists.’
‘What’s it got to do with them?’ Mercedes asked, hesitantly.
‘It’s simple: Central doesn’t want the humans taking sides, becoming their allies.’
‘Well that’s a leap. How would the humans ever get to know about them?’
‘Because the Revelationists are desperate,’ Brigat explained, ‘and they are looking for help wherever they can get it. It’s now only a matter of time before they venture out and make contact. Word has it they’ve increased their own harvests, and they’re building more wormhole constructs. So we need the humans to dislike the Revelationists as much as they’re beginning to fear us. We need them to see just how powerful we are, so there’s no question of them getting involved in this civil strife of ours. For some reason, Troggan wants the humans to submit to us of their own free will. My harvester is supposed to provide them with encouragement.’
Shit! Mercedes thought. The Revelationists were building more wormhole constructs. That was new.Or maybe not new, just the first he had heard of it.
‘You’re not meant to know,’ Brigat added. ‘Mention it, and you’re out of here.’
‘Of course. But if we’re not to annoy them, just how far can I go when you say, “Fark them over”?’
‘As far as you like. A few dead humans won’t be a problem. As long as I to stick to the letter of my agreement with Troggan, he can’t get prissy. But I’d like them encouraged. So, chivvy them on. Make them want to give it back.’
Brigat picked up a tube of glue, ran its end over the length of the LM’s semi-completed flux-drive and tried to fix it into place. It snapped. He looked at the piece for a few seconds, and then let it fall from his hand. Using his arm he swept the whole thing, model and pieces, onto the floor.
A wormhole dropped from the ceiling, and the pieces started to rise and disappear. From inside the wormhole, Mercedes could hear a vacuum sucking away. The tip of a tube then touched the half-completed shell of the model and snatched it from view.
Brigat put his elbows on the table, and then slapped his fists down.
‘Why are you still here?’
Meet Father Paul…
Father Paul, God-fearing English Catholic and unashamed advocate of Theistic Evolution, looked up from his heavily revised thesis, glanced towards his cluttered study’s window and reflected on his last eight years service at the Magis Centre for Reason and Faith.
This job was an ideal one for him. He was leading a stress free life, following his passions, exercising his mind and keeping faith with God, his way. Things were just as he wanted them.
It was undemanding work, this pondering over the beginning of life and explaining the latest scientific discoveries in a way that fit the institute’s brand of evolution. Let’s face it, if one overlooked the Old Testament and accepted evolution—the one as proven by science—but put God at the beginning of Creation, whenever that was, then there wasn’t much left to argue over. After all, who was going to prove what had happened 14.5 billion years ago, except by means of mathematical calculation?
Theistic evolution was a convenient theory, for sure. There wasn’t much to defend. The scientists could prove as much as they wanted to in any field, and it would fit. God was there at the beginning with a grand scheme in mind; whenever that beginning was; and before it.
Prove He wasn’t.
But the theory was convenient for other reasons. It had left him free to pursue the two other great loves of this life: restoring 20th Century automobiles and drinking whisky. For that, he felt blessed: his car collection was coming along nicely—he had even found some gasoline to fire up the Thunderbird the other day and what a treat that was!
At 60, though, life was catching up with him. His third hobby, boxing, was now a distant memory: his once fine physique now sagged under his cassock. All that was left was his bulk: he was still a bull of a man.
He blamed the sedentary lifestyle for that, and not having a flock to worry about, but he knew that, in truth, it was the whisky. Shame! If he had to give up one more of his hobbies, well he was sure it wouldn’t be the whisky. He had given up on snacking years ago. That left him with two out of the centre’s three meals a day. But he wondered for how much longer. He’d need to cut it back to one a day some time soon.
The PC pinged as it announced yet another mail, probably another demand to cut back on costs, to make the Centre more attractive to tourists or more relevant to theology students—quite possibly, all three. Father Paul thought to look at it. Instead, he got up from his chair, walked across to the window and looked out onto a dark and empty pod park.
He sighed. No one else bothered him these days: certainly not the students; for there weren’t any.
He walked back across the room and poured himself a whisky, an 18-year old, one of his genuine Irish single malts. Sipping from an antique glass tumbler, he took another look out of the window. It was still dark. 4.30 am. There was no movement anywhere, just a piece of paper floating across a tarmac that he knew would still feel warm to the touch, even at this hour. Still, it was breezy outside, he noted. Perhaps it would be cooler than yesterday; hopefully today it would stay below 100 degrees.
The PC pinged again, this time continuously. He ignored it and stroked his greying beard, willing his day-long hangover away, hoping that the next time he looked at his thesis, something would jump out at him; something he might have missed when he submitted the earlier version.
The PC pinging grew more urgent. Someone was demanding an immediate reply, despite the hour. He looked around his desk for his reading glasses.
It was a summons to New York, to attend a meeting at the Inter-Faith Council for Cooperation. … With the Budget Committee. … And then a meeting with HR.
So they were getting serious. It was no longer a matter of shaving a few cents or dollars from the operating budget. They were cutting his staff back again.
He sat down, heavily, facing the screen; an old flat screen parked in the middle of a pile of dusty briefs.
He read on. It looked as if this were the beginning of the end for the Magis Centre, the end of his ‘Career in Thought’.
He continued reading.
“… Estimate the cost of dismissing staff … Get multiple quotes for the transfer of the centre’s historical documents to St Mary’s Cathedral, San Francisco. …”
He looked up. That could mean only one thing: the Council was finally cutting off the centre’s funding. That meant the Centre would need to close.
The centre was closing?
He sat back in his chair and drained his tumbler.
So! This wasn’t the beginning of the end, this was the end. His years of quiet contemplation and mulling over of his centre’s improvable theories were over.
He looked around the room.
He loved this place. He would miss it. He had loved what it represented, and all that it had given him. Yes, it was a job, but it was also a job that had allowed him to question his faith. Although he would never ask, ‘Is there a God?’ because he knew there was one, it gave him the freedom to question the faith’s ancient tenants: To question the seven days it took to make the world and then to populate it with Mankind; the age of the planet being less than a few tens of thousands of years old; man’s place on it, at the top of a pyramid, requiring all other things to serve him.
This place suited him. In truth, Father Paul was a free thinker in a church that had never asked too many questions. The mainstream church had left him frustrated. His faith in the Good Book was never quite as strong or as unquestioning as that of his peers. He knew in his heart that the Bible was flawed: written by ancients with no real understanding of their world, the evolution of life, or the physics that governed its development.
His appointment as the Principal at the Magis Centre had been truly a gift from God for it gave him a chance to stay in the priesthood, but to stay separate from it. It also gave his intellect room to grow. And it gave him time to himself.
In a way, it was unfortunate that his centre’s philosophy had gotten lumped in with Creationism—a wholly unsustainable philosophy in his view. In the outside world, there was now no demand for either, and he knew it. The Fundamentalist Wars had played their part, but it was more than that. Science was developing at such a pace that it was hard for the Creationist loons to patch up the holes in their beliefs, and, no matter how hard the Magis Centre tried to differentiate itself from such intellectual junk, its own philosophy—Intelligent Design—found it harder than ever to get a hearing. But then, it always had been an uphill battle.
Intelligent Design had never genuinely caught on: its main tenants—Irreducible and Specified complexity—were both dismissed by scientists and their governments as pseudo sciences, completely unsupported by the empirical data.
But, surely, if there was no data then that was where faith was meant to play its part, right?
Scientists had never held to faith. They believed in what their eyes told them. They believed in the facts—in the evidence—and the evidence for the existence of God was lacking. Instead, they derided the Intelligent Design movement for invoking the supernatural. It was a ‘gap-based’ explanation, they said—only answering what questions remained about the universe with ridiculous claptrap.
And, in a way, they were right. As one question in man’s understanding of the universe was answered by a new scientific truth, Intelligent Design had just moved on, aiming to fill the other gaps. It had finally settled on the one key question Man was never likely to answer with any certainty: Who put the laws in place that governed the Big Bang? That and evolution being given a guiding hand.
Yes, it was hard being lumped in with the Creationists, or even being loosely associated with them, in a world where scientific discoveries moved at such a pace. And Father Paul knew it.
But convincing the scientific community was only one half of the problem. The theory was also looked down upon by the mainstream religions for not being biblical enough. Intelligent Design reduced the Creator to the status of an engineer, they said: hardly fitting for a being that had created a universe and all the life that was to be found in it.
So it was ostracized by the mainstream churches, kept out of schools, and pilloried in the press. Even the Times of London called it nothing more than ‘superstitious poppycock’, a ‘fantasy’, only propped up by the IFCC as a demonstration to all the religious houses that the Council for Cooperation was truly a council for all faiths, no matter how ‘half-baked’.
Alas, it would seem, not for much longer.
Father Paul drained his tumbler and reached for the bottle, finding it hard to believe that yet another branch of faith was about to die.
But if his theories had taught him anything, it was that he lived in a constantly changing universe, and all good things must come to an end. And now it was his time for a change.
He felt heavier than usual. He shook his head. The Magis Centre was the last of its kind and at 60 he was too unorthodox a priest to be given a congregation.
He wondered what they would replace reason with, now that the traditionalists had finally gotten their way.
And what they had in mind for him.
PHARMA, the sequel to BIRDIE DOWN of the Rebellion series is up next. Give it a month. Perhaps two. The rebellion is as dysfunctional as ever.
Oh, and PHARMA is the go-ahead title for what I was calling PETROFF’S POGROM.
Shortly after my last post I picked up an allergy. You might say that allergies are fairly common but this was a first for me. The cause is unknown, but it was probably related to the pollution that drifts across the Chinese border. The downer was that I got this one while developing a nasty Asian flu–a double whammy that drained the will to live. Anyhow, after 12 weeks, I thought it was time to see a doctor.
Two surgery visits and five X-Rays later, the Doc confirms the allergy (and the flu) and, for good measure, threw in acute sinusitis on top of chronic sinusitis (which accounts for a whole bunch of “feel bad” moments I’ve had and put down to growing old).
Two courses of antibiotics later, I could smell again–everything: the traffic, the burning rubber, propane gas exhaust, coal dust, early morning commuter farts and, worse still, stinky Tofu–the whole Asian street scene came flooding back. I’m also aware that my dogs need a bath, my favourite shoes are well past their sell-by date and I have proof-positive (finally) that the cheese in the fridge really does stink. I apologise to my wife for not believing her.
Moving on… Some of you will know that I am a pension portfolio manager by day. Of late, I have gotten involved in a new pension structure that has required my reading up on local legislation, tax treaties and tax codes globally. The more I read, the more I got excited about it and the more time I had to spend on it. Day and night.
…And now I’m taking a couple of weeks off to see my daughter be married in the UK.
So, yep, “Petroff’s Pogrom” has taken a back seat. Not willingly, mind. I enjoy the writing. But the “Birdie Down” sequel won’t be ready in late May as I had promised in early January. Sorry. I thought I should just let you know.
In the meantime, the story I most enjoyed writing is waiting to be read. “Army of Souls”, the sequel to “Scat”, isn’t free, but it is my best yet. (Best being relative, of course. And subjective.) Still, I hope you’ve got a spare USD2.99 and a free weekend. And that you enjoy it.
Alternatively, if you promise to write an honest review and can leave me your email address, I will send you a Smashword code that’ll let you pick up “Army of Souls” for a dollar. That’s 5 pages of science fiction action and gallows humour per US cent.
And that’s a steal, right?
I get a little excited when I reach the halfway mark in a first draft of a new story. I’m beyond that point now with my next story, which has a working title of Petroff’s Progrom. I won’t call it that when I publish. I fancy Pharma. I haven’t yet decided.
Right now, Thomas Irwin and his friend, Mark Stafford, are in the thick of some brutal fighting along the cold, dark tunnels of the Gobi mines; Sebastian Scatkiewicz, Andrew ‘Birdie’ Goosen and Day are busy expanding their rebel fleet by ambushing smugglers; and Jack Petroff is committing mass murder as he attempts to protect his personal business interests against Cohen and Cotton’s snooping. These threads will come together as I write this episode’s final scenes a little later this month. Hopefully, I’ll have the second Rebellion story ready to upload–after a serious edit and a new book cover–sometime in April. Tell a friend;)
After that, it’s back to the third story in the Scat’s Universe series (working title, Destiny), which is 20% done. I have yet to decide whether Scat gets to rule Purgatory or simply saves Mankind from it. Maybe neither: Haraani politics is complicating things.
I’ve just realised that over ten thousand scifi readers have downloaded free copies of SCAT and BIRDIE DOWN from Smashwords, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes and other retailers. That’s awesome. I hope they enjoyed them.
“I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past.” –Thomas Jefferson, letter to John Paine, August 1, 1816
Here are my dreams
Merry Christmas, book-lovers
I know that success, fortune and peace of mind rarely coexist, but I hope you get it all, and in spades, this 2014.
Please remember Scat and his small, rag-tag band of refugees this holiday season. They don’t get a Christmas this year and no booze on new year’s eve. (I’m working them harder this year than ever before.)