Sunday 30 November 2014

November Short Fiction Contest Winners

Image Credit - The Tower of Babel by the Belgian artist Paul Gosselin
The winners of November's Short Fiction Contest have been chosen. The image of the Tower of Babel proved to be a challenging one from the number of entries. That made the task of selecting the winners only marginally easier as the standard of the submitted stories remained high. There was also a decent variation on the original story about the tower, so I enjoyed reading through the stories.

Before announcing the winners I'd like to thank everyone who submitted. I'd also like to thank everyone who supports the contest by reading the stories and sharing the links. Please continue to do so!

And now for the winners:

 - First prize of a £50 Amazon gift card or PayPal prize goes to D. Morgan Ballmer for his story 'More than Dust'

 - Second prize of a £20 Amazon gift card or PayPal prize goes to Nav Logan for his story 'Babel's Tower'

 - Third Prize of a £10 Amazon gift card or PayPal prize goes to Samson Stormcrow Hayes for his story 'Babel On'

Congratulations to the winners and here are their stories:

More than Dust by D. Morgan Ballmer

A man will crush an anthill with his heel yet he hides himself from the view of lions.  He will swat a fly with is palm yet recoils his hand from the asp.

This is fear.  This is respect.

This is what I build.

They call my mission hubris, though never to my face.  Buzzing among themselves in their hive-like manner as they carry my stones, smooth my mortar, and erect my tower to the heavens.
"He tempts God," they say, "He invites destruction."

As if destruction is not stenciled upon our souls from the moment we first squirm from our mother's wombs.  As if our future were something grander than working, worrying, and weeping until the finite sands of our hourglass run dry.

As if we are greater than dust.

Low men of low ambition, these are the fearful creatures which emerged after the drowning of the world.  They came crawling from the mud-holes of a cursed land, and for what?  To fill their bellies, be drunk with wine, to rut in their hovels so the pathetic cycle may repeat.

But I, Nimrod, lead them toward a greater purpose.

They focus with one accord.  They move my brick.  Whether joyfully or with the sting of a lash upon their back they build the mighty tower.  Level after spiraling level, platform upon platform they are elevated physically and spiritually from their base existence by the hand of Nimrod!

Though they are poisoned with slothfulness and greed, I wield the twin flames of pain and purpose to purge these spirits from them.  They emerge anew, refined, fierce in countenance and worthy of respect.  This is as it must be, for the folly of our ancestors nearly doomed us all.

Our forefathers were ants, waiting for the heel of an angry God to crush them.  They skies thundered and they wailed for mercy.  The rain fell upon their upturned faces, into the open mouths of their screaming children, and they lamented.  Water gathered about their ankles and they knelt in supplication.  When the storm surged and a tumultuous tide carried away their wives they cried for mercy.  They died twitching beneath a breathless tomb, bereft of family, fortune, and hope.

They died like ants.

Now I make them lions.

No longer will we tremble at the sight of a storm cloud.  No longer shall my people tear their clothes for fear of another murderous flood.  Did we not save every animal from the wrath of the Hebrew God?

Now let us save ourselves.

Let a tower be built that no waters can cover.

Let a stairway be built to the very doors of heaven.

Let a king, Nirmod, breach the very gates of paradise that he might seize this Hebrew God by his beard. That he might gesture to his handiwork, this tower that bridges the gap between mortal and maker. That he may lift himself into the face of the Almighty and scream "Are we simply dust now?"

Babel's Tower by Nav LoganB

Long, long ago, in the distant past, Mankind was united under one God. Mankind lived in peace and harmony and spoke but one language. The Priests of Mankind were proud of their achievements and built a mighty tower to celebrate.

For many years they toiled, and the tower rose higher, reaching into the heavens. The tower was a symbol of their unity and greatness; a testimony to their supremacy over the beasts of the Earth.
God came down, and in a fury, he pulled down the mighty edifice, scattering Mankind to the four winds. The unity of Mankind was forever broken … or so it was believed.

“Mankind should not put himself above the beasts of the Earth,”declared God with righteous anger.

He cursed Mankind to war, and pestilence.

He banished them from his sight and gave them many tongues to speak, many cultures to hide behind. He cursed them with hate.

Soon, there was no longer one God, but many, or at least there was many names that all meant God.
Mankind became blinkered in his vision and often fought over which version of God was the correct one, and which were false idols.


Now, Mankind again congregates within a mighty city. He has found a new God to worship and a new language to give him meaning.

The new God is pleased with Mankind’s progress and happy to see the towering edifice rising into the skyline and dominating all before it.

United once more, the city grows and grows, until it dominates the skyline.

The beasts of the Earth tremble in the shadows of the mighty city.

Many creatures choke and die from the toxic fumes billowing forth as Mankind builds a tower to dominate all other towers. The city of Babel is truly born, as the tower blots out the sun with its majesty.

In the new city, Mankind is ruled by his all demanding deity. Every moment of every day, Mankind worships his God. Even in sleep, his new God dominates his dreams, encouraging greater effort in his worship.

Everywhere Mankind looks, he sees symbolism of this new order; images that confirm the might of his God over all lesser deities.

Even the language that mankind speaks, reflected his piety.

Mankind loves their new God with all their hearts and live every second of every day in homage to his greatness.

Babel continues to grow and dominate the world, the beasts being forced into cages lest they interfere with the great work of Mankind.

They are here to serve God, even if they do not believe in his existence.

The beasts are unable to comprehend the new language that Mankind utters. To them, time was a measurement of each passing day, the passing season. It was not a language that the beasts comprehend.

Neither do they understand this new god: Greed. Though, they have learned to fear it, as they had learned to fear the blind faith of Mankind in his new deity.

Babel On by Samson Stormcrow Hayes

The Architect stared up at what was undoubtedly the tallest structure made by human hands. Around him bustled hundreds of workers, masons, artisans, and thousands of slaves. He waited for the Contractor to return from his inspection of the tower. When he was close enough to hear him, the Architect asked, "So... what next?"

The Contractor wiped some dirt from his hands. "What do you mean?" he replied.

"How much longer until it's finished?"

The Contractor turned and looked up at the towering structure rising hundreds of feet into the air. It was cone shaped, widest at the base and narrowing to a tiny point at the pinnacle. Knowing he could go no higher, the Contractor shrugged his shoulders and told the Architect. "It's finished now."

"How is that finished?" demanded the Architect, pointing at the structure.

"We can't go any higher."

"Why not?"

Again, the Contractor looked at the tower pinnacle wondering why the Architect couldn't see for himself what he was seeing. There was simply nowhere else to build. The structure reached its natural apex.

"There's nowhere else to go," he explained. "It's complete."

"I told you I wanted to build a tower to heaven, but that doesn't even reach the clouds! I can see the top!"

The Architect grabbed the Contractor by the arm and pulled him into the design hut where a small piece of parchment lay on a small table. The parchment held a crude drawing of concentric circles stacked on top of each other. At the bottom was an arrow pointing to the widest circle and the word, "Ground," while another arrow pointed at the top with the word, "Heaven" scribbled across it. Above that was an archway and the words, "Pearly Gates."

"This was the plan," continued the Architect. "To build a giant tower that would lead us to heaven. The Tower of Babel! Instead, you built me this." The Architect walked to the door and pointed at the structure. "What am I supposed to do with this? Use it as a scale model for the real thing?"

"Look," the Contractor replied, irritated. "Me and my men, not to mention a few thousand of your slaves, just built you the tallest structure ever conceived by man! Nothing in all the eight months of recorded history, has ever been grander. It's a phenomenal accomplishment!"

The Architect sighed. "No, you're right. We need a bigger base. The problem is, there's just not enough land out here. We should build in the desert.

Only instead of a cone shaped structure, I'd like it with corners." He quickly drew a shape on the parchment. "There, what do you call that?"

"A pyramid?"

"Yes, we'll build a pyramid. I know just the place. I own some land in Egypt that would be perfect. Yes, I'll leave immediately."

"What about this tower?" asked the Contractor.

"It's an affront to God. Tear it down."

Saturday 29 November 2014

Only 2 Days Left to Enter Sun Dragon Giveaway

The Goodreads giveaway for Sun Dragon ends on December 1st. So if you haven't entered yet to win one of five signed copies then visit Goodreads and enter now:

2012: NASA's Curiosity Rover lands on Mars to search for signs of whether microbial life existed on the planet.

2018: The first alien lifeform, a simple wormlike creature is discovered, gripping the world's imagination.

2022: The first manned mission to Mars begins the longest and most dangerous journey ever undertaken by humankind.

From hundreds of potential candidates, six astronauts from countries around the world are selected to crew the historic mission. Led by Commander Samantha Collins, they must travel across the gulf of interplanetary space, over 150 million miles from home and help. Their mission is to investigate alien life, but what they discover is far beyond what anyone ever imagined...

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Thursday 27 November 2014

ABC Drabbles of Death - Y is for Yog-Sothoth

We reach the penultimate drabble in the ABC Drabbles of Death series and I couldn't finish the series without a tribute to the great H P Lovecraft. The letter 'Y' provides a perfect hook for such a tribute!

If you've not read the previous drabbles in the series yet then you'll find them all here for your enjoyment:

Y is for Yog-Sothoth

Imagination called up the shocking form of fabulous Yog-Sothoth—only a congeries of iridescent globes, yet stupendous in its malign suggestiveness. He is both time and space, yet imprisoned beyond the universe mankind foolishly believes inviolate.

Despite his exile he sees all and knows all. Those that discover the secrets of the hidden attract his attention. Unfortunately for them the fortunes of Yog-Sothoth suffer a fate so dread the horror stretches beyond imagination. Still he is worshipped by many dark beings and under countless names. Even the children of Cthulhu locked beneath the sea revere the grandparent of their creator.

Wednesday 26 November 2014

Blog Shout Out - Scott's Movie Comments

For this week's Blog Shou Out Scott Larson tells us about his movie blog. Discover more below

Hello, cultists of Michael!

I'm Scott Larson and I think I'm one of the oldest, I mean, longest running continuous movie bloggers out there. I've actually been doing it for so long that the word "blog" didn't even exist when I started. In fact, you could argue that the World Wide Web didn't even exist.

It all started back in 1987 when things were kind of slow at work and I made a deal with my boss. I would voluntarily cut my hours to half-time for a month because I wanted to see every single movie being shown at the Seattle International Film Festival during its 21-day run. He agreed, but on one condition. I had to write a review of every movie I saw and post them all on the company bulletin board every day.

So that's where it started. Years later, during my annual film festival binge, friends asked me to send my reviews out by email, so I started a mailing list. In 1995 I started putting them up on a web page, which eventually wound up a t and, as of this moment, it has accumulated 2,192 reviews of feature films, documentaries and shorts - not to mention 678 additional pages of musings, reflections and general rants and ravings about whatever was on my mind.

I have written about a fair number of big-budget Hollywood movies, but I have also covered a lot of low-budget independent films, foreign films and what I call cinema obscura - interesting movies that have been seen by hardly anyone. It's not unusual for someone to contact me about a movie they had been searching for and wondering how I had managed to see it.

Another major focus has become Irish films, since I married an Irish woman in 1998 and moved to the Emerald Isle in 2002.

One of the more popular features is my annual Academy Award predictions in which, just a day or two after the nominations are announced, I attempt to forecast the winners as well as the should-have-been-winners and the should-have-been-nominateds.

Interestingly, the pages that attract the most hits tend to be some of the oldest ones, particularly my lists of favourite Christmas movies, favourite war movies and favourite war-as-absurdity movies.

In terms of reader reactions, I think the post that keeps getting found by search engines the most and which has generated the most feedback was one I wrote about the Cannes Film Festival and my tongue-in-cheek description of the correct way to pronounce "Cannes." Apparently, it was a question on a lot of people's minds - and not one that all people agreed on. Another one that caused a fuss was a rant I wrote about the Lifetime cable TV channel in the US (tagline: TV for women) and how its movies always seem to make women victims. And for real controversy, there was the time I innocently opined that Rupert Grint was a better actor than Daniel Radcliffe - much to the rage of devoted Radcliffe fans. I have since come to reconsider.

People who have followed my blog for any amount of time also know that I cannot avoid frequent mentions of my favourite TV shows, which include Dark Shadows, Babylon 5 and Doctor Who.

While I will probably keep writing reviews of Hollywood movies forever, I get a fair amount of satisfaction these days from highlighting new filmmakers, who have been kind enough to let me view their work and who are trying to find an audience for their movies. Now if I could just get one of them to adapt the novel that I wrote!

Tuesday 25 November 2014

Tuesday Tease - The Northern Star: Civil War by Mike Gullickson

This week's Tuesday Tease is 'Civil War', the second book in Mike Gullickson's 'The Northern Star' series. I read it a few weeks ago and if you enjoy military sci-fi then it's well worth checking out. You can read an excerpt below:

Click on image to buy from Amazon

The Northern Star: Civil War
By Mike Gullickson

Part I

“I object to violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary; the evil it does is permanent.”

-Mahatma Gandhi


-Chicago. 2065-

Commander Earl Boen waited on the runway at the base north of Chicago. It was four a.m., and while he couldn’t see the massive cargo plane that had flown directly from South Africa, he could hear it and see the blinking lights on its nose and wings as it approached.

Boen was seventy-seven years old, but looked younger. Hormone therapy had progressed by leaps and bounds, and he was on it. He had been offered the opportunity to become a bionic, but he had refused. Boen may have controlled the bionics’ operations around the world, but he still didn’t trust the technology. He’d observed how, in today’s military, there was a caste system that didn’t exist before: the bionic and the soft soldier. It had created an unspoken rift between soldiers, one that superseded even rank. The Tank Majors—goliath bionics—and the Tank Minors—infantry bionics—had made flesh-and-blood men into children.

The giant on the plane was the first deployable Tank Major ever built, and at one time had been Boen’s close friend. Tank Majors were more refined now, even if they shared the same armored and angular shape, but John Raimey was a walking earthquake and still the most effective. He was larger and his unique armor made him—not invincible, nothing’s invincible—but . . .

“Resilient,” Boen said. Raimey’s resilience was why he was stationed in Africa, where the Coalition armies were spread thin and reinforcements were non-existent.

The radio on Boen’s hip crackled. “The girl is here.”

Boen watched as a car pulled up and three silhouettes made their way to a nearby hangar. One was much smaller than the others, but still taller than Boen had imagined. Vanessa Raimey was sixteen now. Boen’s heart tightened. Even when life grows deep, regrets have a tendency to bob up and down on the surface. And to this day, every day, Earl felt guilt for what he had done. He had known Raimey since he was a recruit, and he had been integral in persuading Raimey to become a Tank Major.

But seven years ago, it had been a strange and frightening time. Boen had just come out of retirement during the crisis with China, after the active Secretary of Defense had put a bullet through his own head. The oil was almost gone, the U.S. had united with the EU and China as the Coalition to take what was left, and MindCorp’s mind-freeing virtual technology had created a new online universe that was more important than the real one.

It had also been the dawn of the bionic age. Dr. Evan Lindo, a U.S. military advisor and genius, had adapted Mindlink technology to create the first bionic battle chassis: the Tank Major. Months before, John Raimey and Eric Janis—another soldier—had been crippled in a blast, and they became the first two candidates in the program. In the end, it was Eric who was chosen for the prototype. But the Chinese planted a virus in Eric’s implant, and he went insane, destroying a base that housed the King Sleeper, an incredibly powerful online hacker, a nuclear bomb in the digital age, and an asset a million times more important then a man made of gears and steel.

So the U.S. government had needed John Raimey to become a Tank Major overnight. And to convince him, they’d had to play a trump card that even now made Earl grimace: Raimey’s wife, Tiffany, had just been diagnosed with a rare form of cancer.

When Raimey was wheeled before Earl, Dr. Lindo, and Cynthia Revo—the chief founder of MindCorp—what followed was nothing short of coercion. If Raimey agreed to the procedure, the U.S. would take care of his family. His wife would get the best medical treatment available, regardless of cost. His daughter’s education would be paid in full. Both would have pensions that would make his existing one look like a child’s allowance.

The only caveat: as a top-secret weapon, John could never see them again.

And if he didn’t agree . . . well, the most effective treatments weren’t covered under standard medical. And it was tough to find work as a quad amputee.

The request may have been phrased as a question, but everyone in the room knew it was a demand. John had no choice.

Tiffany died anyway. She put up a fight, but those little no-purpose cells ran amok and couldn’t be stopped. And John’s orphaned daughter had been tucked under the wing of an unlikely bird: Dr. Lindo, who was now the current Secretary of Defense—and Boen’s boss.

The plane’s tires chirped on the runway as it rushed past Boen. He walked back to the hangar and waited for it to taxi over.

At the hangar, the belly of the plane opened and a team of technicians emerged. One held a remote control that guided a treaded, massive metal chair that carried John Raimey. His footsteps would have damaged the floor of the plane.

Raimey looked down at Boen. Even though the rest of him was now black, bulging armor, and his head was small, seated between his giant shoulders, his face was the same face that Boen remembered. More lines, more worries, but the same. Dark skin, a scar that hooked down the right side of his cheek. Eyes as emotionless as those on a doll. Bitter eyes.

“Is she here?” Raimey asked. No ‘hello.’ No ‘what have you been up to.’ Boen felt the tension. He knew the bond he and Raimey once shared was long gone.

“She is.”

The chair moved slowly down the ramp. Technicians crawled over Raimey like mites, preparing him for the mission that would start in one hour. The chair rocked to a stop at the bottom of the ramp.

“Clear?” Raimey asked.




Three ‘clears’ was a go. John stood up. He was thirteen feet tall and weighed six tons. His jet black armor was an osmium and depleted-uranium alloy coated in advanced ceramic/Kevlar energy-dispersing plates. His entire body, down to the nuts and bolts, had been built from the same material. Two massive drive chains spun slowly around his waist. In battle, they were a blur, a frenzy, rolling inertia that helped him change direction, punch, and provide gyroscopic balance.

Raimey’s hands alone weighed over eight hundred pounds each. The knuckles were bulbous with armor, the hands themselves virtually unbreakable. When they were open, a grown man could sit in the palm; when closed, they looked like the jagged end of a mace.

Technicians wheeled over two massive metal boxes. Raimey plucked the metal boxes off the ground and slid one onto each shoulder. They clacked into place. Using his mind, he racked the slides back on his shoulders and slapped them forward, loading the projectile-less artillery round.

A Tank Major’s size made him formidable. His armor made him almost impenetrable. But it was his hydraulshock punch—where the full energy of an artillery shell was transferred through his indestructible fists—that made Tank Majors the lords of war. That, above all else, was what made them Death.

“He’s all yours,” one of the technicians said to Earl. Earl nodded and he and the giant walked into the hangar.

“You know where he is?” Raimey said. He had come to kill Mohammed Jawal, the leader of the Western Curse, the predominant terrorist organization in the United States. During the King Sleeper/China conflict, the Western Curse had risen above the noise as a primary tool of the Chinese. Xan Shin, a high-level Chinese official, lured them to China with weapons and resources, recruited them to act as mercenaries. Xan Shin died in the conflict—at John’s hand—but the Western Curse, now with modern weapons and near-limitless funds, lived on stronger than ever. Their leader, Mohammed Jawal, was a brilliant man, at one point an advisor to the White House, and he was impossible to track down. The members of the Western Curse did something crazy in this world of cyberspace and Mindlinks and teraflops: they communicated in person, carrying messages written on paper.

“Evan believes so.”

Raimey grimaced at the name. Evan Lindo was there the day Raimey became a Tank Major. “I don’t trust him talking to her.”

“You know I don’t trust him either, but he’s kept his word. She just started college. She interns at the Derik Building. He’s in Washington all the time anyway.”

Raimey grunted. “You know about Israel?” he said. “We stopped a train full of weapons.”

“The Coalition is attempting a diplomatic solution.”

Raimey’s laugh was humorless. The Coalition—the U.S., EU, and China—had occupied sections of the Middle East for two decades, taking the oil. “It’s going to happen. They have nothing to lose.”

“We’re preparing for all possibilities.”

They passed transport trucks with soldiers milling around them, getting ready for the mission. Everyone paused to stare when Raimey passed.

Boen punched a keypad to open a rolling door, but stopped short.

“I don’t know how this is going to go,” he said.

“She agreed to come, didn’t she?” Raimey asked.

“When I contacted her, she said ‘no.’ Evan convinced her. He wanted you for this mission. Evan wants Mohammed alive.”

Raimey chewed on his lip. His eyes searched the ground. “You did your part, Earl. I know she hates me. I just hope I can get her to hate me a little less.”

“I’m sorry, John—”

“I’m a grown man, Earl. I could have said ‘no.’” Raimey nodded at the keypad.

Boen finished entering the code and the door rolled up. In the middle of the empty structure was a sixteen-year-old girl. She had long, curled hair and light brown skin. She’d be beautiful if she didn’t look so angry. She wore a lead vest and gloves, standard protocol around Raimey’s armor. Two soldiers stood nearby.

“Can we be alone?” Raimey asked quietly. Boen nodded at the soldiers and they left through a side exit. Raimey walked inside and Boen closed the door, leaving the father alone with his daughter.

= = =

Vanessa Raimey stood at her full height, and was still just a speck in her father’s shadow. Her hands were clenched into fists, and Raimey could see that she was shaking.

Raimey started. “Thank you for coming, I know you’re angry, I’m so sorry about your mo—”

“Don’t even start,” Vanessa interrupted. “You don’t get to be sorry. You don’t get to apologize. You weren’t there.”

Raimey looked at the ground as if he had come across a rabid dog. “I had no choice,” he said quietly. “If I didn’t do this, she wouldn’t have gotten the medical treatment she needed. They guaranteed you’d be taken care of.”

Vanessa pulled a photo out of her coat. Tiffany Raimey had been vibrant and slender, caramel-skinned, with flowing black hair. She had exuded life. But in the photo Vanessa held, Tiffany was desiccated, starving, hairless. A skeleton with skin, dead everywhere except in the eyes. And in the eyes was pain. “This is what we got when you left.”

Vanessa tossed the photo at Raimey; it fluttered to his feet. “That’s a month before she died. She lasted a MONTH like that! At the end she weighed eighty pounds.”

Tears rolled down Vanessa’s cheeks. “I’d feed her and she’d vomit all over herself. Some nights she would scream all the way through. Toward the end, she’d get confused and ask where you were. When you were coming home. At first I told her the truth because I was stupid and young, and she would cry between the screams. And I think that’s when I became an adult. Kids are told that lying’s bad and we should never do it. When really, it was the best gift I could ever give. And so I told her you were coming home soon. Every night, you were coming home soon.”

“At the end, she was lucid though. Do you know what she said to me before she went? Can you guess?”

Raimey shook his head. “No.”

She said, “Don’t hate him.”

Raimey’s jaw quivered. He had braced himself for anger. He had hoped that after Vanessa had screamed and yelled, a bridge could be built between them. But he wasn’t prepared to hear that his wife’s dying wish was forgiveness. He wasn’t ready for the chasm to open further into his deepest regret.

Vanessa paused, buried in the past. “When I told her I didn’t hate you, that was my hardest lie. Because there was nothing I wanted more than for you to be in that bed instead of her, wasting away with no chance to live. Nothing.”

She looked up at Raimey, her eyes filled with watery hate. “I never want to see you again. Don’t contact me. If you die, don’t have anyone reach out. I don’t want your stuff, I don’t want your money. I don’t care. I want to be happy. And I can’t do that when I think about you.”

= = =

Boen waited outside for only two minutes before he heard Raimey call through the door. “You can open it.”

He did. Behind Raimey, Vanessa was gone. Boen was confused.

“She came here to tell me that she never wants to see me again, and she never wants me to contact her,” Raimey explained.

Boen was speechless. Raimey stared out at the transport and soldiers. His calm was unnerving, and Boen realized it was resignation. Raimey had thought this was how it would end.

“Is that the team?” Raimey asked.


“I don’t want to come here anymore, Earl. I can’t be this close to her, and not have her in my life.” Raimey looked down at Boen. Tears clung to his eyes. “I’ll do whatever you or Evan want overseas. If I do that, you’ll take care of her, right?”

“Raimey, it’s not like that.”

“YES IT IS,” Raimey growled. “Evan’s all over her. He’s the one teaching her. Not you. If I’m a good boy, she’ll be fine, right?”

“Yes,” Boen said quietly.

“Make sure of that, Earl.”

Raimey left Boen and stepped into the transport without a nod to the Tank Minors. Twenty minutes later, he was rumbling off toward Chicago.

= = =

Mohammed Jawal, the founder of the Western Curse, was an educated man. Sixty, tall and long, he had the frame of a basketball player. His chest-length beard and salt-and-pepper hair hid a chiseled jaw and hard, attractive lines. Without the facial hair, he might have looked like a Bond villain.

He had been in Chicago for many years. It was too dangerous to move around. Not because of the police or the bionics—the Mega Cities stretched those eyes thin. No, it was the wandering gaze of a senior citizen on the subway that he feared. The curious child he passed on the street. Mohammed knew what few others did: that through the Mindlink, both MindCorp and the government could read your thoughts. And this knowledge had turned him into a paranoid recluse.

It was so obvious, and so ignored. The Mindlink was a two-way street. Data flowed out and in, to create the immersive experience of “being there.” In his dark room, Mohammed laughed, but it was hollow and tired. The great unwashed, how they flocked to a device that opened their mind up like a wound. They watched what they ate, but gave no second thought to the five thousand radio frequencies bombarding their brain cells and transforming their consciousness—what made them them—into a space run by a corporation and overseen by the government. Fear doesn’t make people wary—it makes them trusting and short of memory. They want to be taken care of. They want to be told everything’s okay. They want to believe. And the Mindlink did all those things. But cost has nothing to do with currency. Cost is a part of life, concession a scale constantly tipping one way or the other.

Nowhere was safe.

“We’re almost ready,” Sharif, his second lieutenant, said quietly from the doorway. Mohammed knelt east in the dark, praying for victory. But he was not an extremist, or a terrorist, though he was framed by the news as such. He was a nationalist, and his country had been pillaged by the Coalition for its oil.

Once, he had been a happy man. There was a time when he had hope. But then his extended family in Iran had been moved into boroughs, ghettos, that housed them like Jews before the Holocaust. Some had been murdered. It was a history repeated without the ovens or gas.

“Make an example out of him,” Mohammed said.

“For Allah.”

“No. For Iran. For Iraq. For Saudi Arabia and all of our forgotten brothers.”

“Yes, sir.”

= = =

Dr. Brad Zienkiewicz’s heart hammered in his chest. He could not believe that Cynthia had offered to use him as bait. He was one of the founders of MindCorp. He and Cynthia had stood side by side on that historic day when Tom, a test chimp, used a functional Mindlink to choose corresponding animals with his thoughts. It was Brad who had developed the consumer browser interface that took them from portal to portal without causing a seizure. He owned one percent of the company. He was worth over one hundred billion dollars.

And he had been demoted to a worm.

“Relax,” the hook said. Tank Minor Razal, a stocky Filipino, sat across from Brad as they rode to the MindCorp data node north of the city, where intelligence Sleepers had predicted the good doctor would be abducted and beheaded on a live feed.

“Easy for you to say—you’re bulletproof,” Brad replied.

Razal smiled and looked out the window. He had never been in a consumer vehicle before. Only the ultra-wealthy could afford them.

“How much did this thing cost?” he asked. He slid his hands over the leather seats.

“Twenty million,” Brad replied. He wasn’t interested in discussing the car. He was interested in living through the next hour.

Razal whistled. “Wow. How much are tires?”

It wasn’t the leather that made the car expensive, nor the metal. The oil was almost gone and what was left was hoarded by the government. Plastics of any kind were a luxury.

Brad slapped his legs, exasperated. “I don’t know, a couple hundred thousand per.”

“Crazy, huh?”

“Yeah . . . crazy. Could you focus on me not dying?”

Razal’s eyes clouded up as if he were stoned. The bionic’s constant smirk vanished. “Roger. One mile away. Got it.”

All Tank Minors were connected wirelessly. His dazed look vanished and that inside-joke smirk reappeared on the stocky Filipino’s lips.

He turned back to Brad. “You’re not going to die.”

Brad hitched a finger toward the front of the car. “You and the green-eyed guy are gonna make sure?”

“Our team is positioned around the node. Stick by me and don’t do anything stupid.”


“Like run away or something, or get in the way while I’m shooting. Stupid stuff.”

Razal was dressed in a suit to hide his modified body. He held a leather briefcase that concealed a submachine gun. He wore sunglasses and a wig to conceal his eyes and face. He was a Level 2 Tank Minor and one of the best marksmen in the bionic division.

“I can’t believe Cynthia has gotten so involved,” Brad said, shaking his head. Cynthia had worked with the U.S. military for almost a decade—from the first bionic, to the collusion against China, to the Terror War that had plagued the world since the superpowers had occupied the oil-rich nations. It was a conflict of interest that many of the founders objected to, though quietly.

“Without her, we’d be blind, sir,” Razal said. “And you would have been driving here not knowing whether your head was going to be put on a platter.”

Zienkiewicz gulped and changed the subject. “I’m just glad this is the last of it. It is, right? You’re going to take them down, scan their brains, and get that bastard?”

“I can’t discuss that information,” Razal replied, while nodding ‘yes.’ “But hypothetically, if we had permission to do that, and we found pertinent information, then we’d have another team on standby to act on that information immediately.”

= = =

First Team did not have a Tank Major: they needed to be quick and discreet. But they did have Mike Glass, the only Level 5 Tank Minor in existence.

The day before, Glass had attached to the team on special instruction from Evan Lindo. Razal and the other five Minors couldn’t believe it when he walked through the door. Most soldiers had only heard of him. He alone had toppled the resistance in the Middle East and hunted down terrorist leaders on our soil. Day-to-day, he was Evan Lindo’s right hand. In the field, he was an assassin. At all times he was a ghost. Even Tank Minors, strong men capable of flipping cars, looked away in his presence.

His Alabama twang was thin and labored because of the single cut-down lung that provided his biomass oxygen. His eyes didn’t blink—they were lenses. There were plenty of bullies in the military, but he wasn’t one. In fact, he barely spoke. What made him intimidating was the extreme detachment he had with those he interacted with. And because of his modifications—especially his eyes—he had slid into that uncanny valley where something is disturbing because it is so close to life-like, yet seems manufactured. That, plus the hearsay, and the potential for violence from his frame that even a Level 3 would be helpless to defend, had made him into something approaching myth.

And that myth now stood before Razal and his team, outlining the upcoming mission.

“Sleepers have picked up a tail that leads to the outskirts of Chicago. A low-level lieutenant of the Western Curse was going online for . . .” Glass paused.

Everyone at the same time said, “sex.” The majority of the breaks they got on terrorists were from the parties breaking down and going online to pork.

Glass nodded. “His name is Matt Campbell. He was the in.”

There was no screen in the briefing room. All of the Minors could see in their heads what Glass was showing them. It became memory. They saw a standard map overlay that turned into a detailed satellite feed. It shifted to a perspective near the top of a skyscraper.

Razal realized they were watching the footage through Glass’s eyes. He must have been a hundred stories up. Birds flew beneath him. The zoom made the men nauseated, and a few of them shook their heads as the view from the skyscraper kept moving in toward the crowd. Then suddenly the view locked in on a white male walking through the crowd, looking around nervously. The footage swayed from side to side like the sight of a riflescope. They were seeing firsthand how Glass’s vision worked.

One of the soldiers started to dry heave. Glass paused.

“Should I take you off the feed?” No sympathy, no nothing. Words.

“No, sir. I’m fine.”

The zoom kept up with the man, and then he turned the corner. The tight zoom vanished and they were a thousand feet above the city and Glass was on the move, working along the rooftops. The image cut—this part was unimportant for the brief—but Razal was beside himself with awe: Glass had effortlessly leapt across chasms that were fifteen yards across. He must be lighter than he looks, he thought. Most Tank Minors weighed around three hundred pounds.

The footage reappeared in their heads. Glass was looking down into a cyber-cafe, again from high above. Campbell walked out, looked around, and took a different route from the way he had come. Glass followed, again moving effortlessly along the rooftops.

Campbell went into an old brick high-rise, and Glass stopped moving and zoomed in. An overlay scanned over the HD picture, and heat signatures were picked up through the brick. They could see hundreds of other glowing silhouettes, some faint as they walked farther back into the building, others intense flames at the front.

Not infrared, Razal thought. It was too far away and it couldn’t go through the brick. Rotoscoping technology? Radiation sonar? Whatever it was, it was something Razal had never seen before.

Another perspective shift and time gap. Glass was on the ground now. He walked into the alleyway and quickly scaled the wall. He didn’t look through the window—he was using that funky vision that could go through walls. He found Campbell. In the soldiers’ heads, they could hear the conversation of the terrorists:

“Where were you?” a glowing blob asked. It was seated with others at a table, working with a long, black, angular object: a rifle.

“Went for a walk, wanted to clear my head,” Campbell said.

“We got the message. It goes down today.”

Holy shit, Razal thought. This intel is from right before Glass arrived.

“Is your head clear enough?” another blob, radiating orange and yellow, asked sarcastically.

“Fuck off, Chris. When have I let you guys down?”

“We’re cutting that motherfucker’s head right off,” one of the blobs said. “What’s his name, it’s a weird one. Polish, or something.”

“I’m Polish,” another blob said.


“He’s going to do it.”



“He’s here?”

“Apparently he doesn’t leave his safe house anymore.”

“Why would he do it himself?”

“I guess he wants to send a message.”

The images and sound vanished. Glass was done transmitting.

“Evan contacted Cynthia. With her permission, we’re using Dr. Zienkiewicz to draw them out, taking them at the node, where she’ll interrogate. This mission’s success is measured in minutes. Questions?”

Soldiers asked about logistics and tactics. Glass answered them. They got ready. Glass handpicked Razal to ride with the target.

= = =

“Two hundred yards from the entrance,” Glass projected mentally. The others picked it out of the air like it was a radio signal. Two Minors were on the ground, hidden in dumpsters. Three were in sniper positions ten stories overhead so that each covered one hundred and twenty degrees, totaling a complete circle. Razal directly protected the package. In the front of the limo, Glass chauffeured behind a tinted windshield.

“You ready?” Razal asked Zienkiewicz. He put his hand over the briefcase.

“Don’t let them shoot me,” Zienkiewicz said. His uppity demeanor had disappeared, replaced by the fear of a child peering under their bed.

“Don’t worry, our intel said they want to behead you.”

Dr. Zienkiewicz blanched.

Razal looked out the tinted window as they approached. “You’ll be fine.”

Glass pulled the car up to the data node. Data nodes were MindCorp offices, located throughout the world. Mega-cities such as Chicago, New York, Singapore, and London would have up to a dozen apiece, scattered throughout. They were nondescript, subterranean in design. Some had office space topside—this one stood three stories tall—but almost all of the infrastructure was below ground. Data Cores—the giant pulsing tubes of fiber-optic light—were much easier to build down than up.

Situating them underground also served to shield the insanely complex structures from the elements. Depending on a Core’s size, up to thirty million people’s thoughts and metaphysical actions might be coursing through the giant, crackling fuse at any given time. All of it monitored, and, when needed, read, by MindCorp.

Razal opened the door, got out, and went around to the other door as if he were a chauffeur.

“We got movement north and south,” Tank Minor Banks, a sniper to the west, said over the comm. “Moving quick. Two trucks.”

Glass sat in the car as still as a fencepost, bouncing his eyes off the driver side mirror, perfectly aware of his surroundings.

The canvas trucks rumbled into view and cut off any exit, their air brakes hissing as they came to a stop. A dozen soldiers jumped out of each one and made their way to the limo, catching Brad and Razal halfway between the car and the data node entrance.

“On the ground! On the ground!” they yelled in perfect English, most of them natives to this country—members of cells that had been embedded for as long as fifty years, like it was a family business and not a jihad.

Dr. Zienkiewicz immediately dropped to his knees. A soldier came up to Razal and fired point-blank into his chest, then followed up with a shot to his head. Razal collapsed to the ground.

Glass was no longer in the limo.

“Let’s go!” the men yelled. They grabbed Zienkiewicz and dragged him away.

“What are you doing? What are you doing?” Zienkiewicz yelled back at Razal, who was still lying facedown on the ground.

The men took Zienkiewicz to one of the trucks and threw him in. He stumbled, staring at feet. When he looked up, he saw Glass, already inside. He pulled Zienkiewicz past him.

“Hit the deck,” Glass whispered.

The first terrorist looked up upon entering and noticed that their hostage had turned into a soldier the size of a linebacker with rolling green eyes. Before he could say anything, Glass shot him in the legs.

Glass jumped out of the truck, pulling the wounded terrorist behind him and tossing him aside.

Holy shit, one of the Minor snipers projected to the others on the team. Through shared eyes, they could see what he was seeing through his riflescope, and they were in awe. Glass moved among the terrorists with a liquidity that displaced standard time. He wasn’t jolting like a jumping spider, nor was there any sign of strain, like a sprinter in their last kick to the finish line. His speed and precision were so effortless that he made the world around him look slow. Even for the other Tank Minors, the contrast between Glass and the terrorists confused their senses, as if their implant itself were malfunctioning. It was a pace that a normal human couldn’t comprehend, and that fact was illustrated by what was happening on the ground: the terrorists—highly trained—were getting chopped down. Glass’s movement was constant and evasive, and his ability to predict an attack—aided by his incredible vision—caused the terrorists’ bullets to find air. But his own sidearm wasted not one round, blowing out knees and shattering trigger hands.

Razal stood up when the terrorists focused on Glass. Three turned toward him and fired. Razal held the briefcase against his chest lengthwise and pressed a button on the handle. Out of its side erupted a 9mm, spraying the three men down. Razal then popped the briefcase open: cradled inside was an MP5 submachine gun. He pulled it out, dropped the empty magazine, and reloaded. He switched to semi-auto and fired methodically at the backs of knees as the terrorists tried to take down Glass or flee.

Zienkiewicz laid belly-down in the truck bed, his hands covering his head, flinching with every shot and shaking uncontrollably, while the lead ponged against the transport’s metal sides. Finally the gunfire stopped, and in its place was a chorus of screams. The truck dipped a bit as someone stepped on the back bumper.

“Die, you infidel!”

Zienkiewicz screamed and scrambled to the front of the transport. When no bullet ended his life, he looked up through his hands. Razal smiled at him.

“NOT FUNNY!” Zienkiewicz yelled.

“Kinda funny. I told you it wasn’t a big deal.”

Glass: We’re clear, team. Come in and sweep up.

The Minors rolled in and dragged the injured terrorists into the data node.

= = =

The ground level of the data node consisted of a few nondescript offices. The Minors dragged the terrorists past these, shoved them into a large elevator, and together they descended. The elevator cleared the cement and girded ceiling of the data node, and then faced open space.

The Data Core—a twenty-story tall, blue fiber-optic cylinder—thwapped and moaned in front of them, filling the cavernous expanse with shadowy blue light. It was lightning in a bottle. Worse, it was billions of thoughts and millions of minds, deconstructed into pulses of light. Even the terrorists quieted at its reveal.

When they reached the bottom, they were ushered through the Sleeper floor—where hundreds of computer programmers were reclined in chairs, oblivious to their surroundings—and into an adjoining room.

The room featured a single Sleeper chair in its center—it looked like a dentist’s chair—which faced a theater-sized monitor on one wall. From the monitor, Cynthia Revo stared down at the terrorists and Minors like they were bait fish in an aquarium.

“Brad, I see you’re fine,” Cynthia said. Even on the large screen, it was clear she was a petite woman. Cynthia was business-pretty: she had a red bob haircut she was known for, thin lips, and a straight, small nose. Her eyes were blue and piercing. She was considered the smartest person in the world. She invented the Mindlink, was chief founder and CEO of MindCorp—the largest corporation in the history of man—and created an online world that allowed an oil-less society to limp onward.

“I may have pissed myself,” Brad said. Cynthia flashed a smile.

“Send me the dry cleaning bill.” She turned her attention to Mike Glass. “Let’s get this over with. I want to be done with this war. I want to be done with this role. Put one of them in the Sleeper chair. Hold or strap them down.”

She turned her attention to the terrorists. They looked up at her like she had risen from a fire. They shook in her presence and prayed openly.

“You want me? Now you have me,” she said. The first terrorist clawed at Glass, ignoring his shattered knees and hands, as he was dragged to the chair. Glass slammed him into it like he was built from straw, then strapped him down.

A technician, visibly shaken by what he was witnessing, put an unrestricted consumer Mindlink on the terrorist’s head.

With little caution for the terrorist’s well-being, Cynthia combed through each of his brain cells like she was pushing clothes around in a messy closet. The effect was catastrophic for the terrorist. When one terrorist had been used up, seizing, Glass would throw him off to the side and snag another. And one after the next, Cynthia sifted mercilessly through their brains. There was no judge, no jury, but a sentence was handed down. Both the United States and MindCorp were tired of this war. And war, in general, doesn’t reward compassion.

= = =

When the other terrorists were dragged into the node and he was left behind, Albert—a fifth-generation, American-born Iranian—thought for a moment that by the grace of Allah he had been overlooked. He was the driver for the number two truck, and when the shit hit the fan outside the data node, he had—admittedly, not bravely—hid in the driver’s side footwell. The gunshots had ended, and he’d heard the screams of friends and patriots, but he’d stayed curled up, hoping that he wouldn’t be found. He didn’t hear the gurgle of another diesel truck approach while his bellowing comrades were forced down below.

“Hey kid,” a voice said from above. Albert tucked his knees in tighter. Maybe they weren’t talking to him. “Kid, I can see you. Get out of the footwell.”

Albert slid up and yelped in surprise: the head of a huge metal soldier filled the side window. He was a black man, with grey eyes and a goatee, and a hook scar that ran down the right side of his face. It was clear he could crush the truck flat if he chose. Albert had never seen a Tank Major before.

“What’s a kid like you doing here?” Raimey shook his head. “Here’s the deal: if we find out where your esteemed leader lives—you’re driving me there. What’s in it for you? I won’t kill you.” Raimey held up a hand that would do well in a scrap yard. “Do you agree to these terms?”

Albert nodded. He felt wet on the front of his pants.

Minutes passed. Albert sat quietly, staring straight ahead while the smaller bionics mulled about and bullshitted, waiting for something. The giant—they called him “Raimey”—continued to look around, as if he was on watch.

They snapped to. The Minors vanished. Raimey filled the window like a storm cloud.

“You’re taking me to 110 Lincoln,” Raimey said. “Don’t be a hero. You can’t be. Got it?”

Albert could only nod—the power of speech was no longer a faculty he possessed.

The truck barely handled Raimey as he got into the bed. The muffled command “go” made its way into the driver’s compartment. Albert drove deep into the city, trailed eight blocks behind by the team of Minors.

= = =

Ten minutes later, a Western Curse lookout spotted the truck. From a rooftop, he followed it with binoculars as it passed. He was four blocks from the safe house.

“One of our trucks is coming to the building,” he said into a radio.

The engine sounded labored and when it turned the corner, the rear axle hopped—it was bottomed out.

Sharif, Mohammed’s lieutenant, responded: “Where’s the other one?”

“I don’t know.”


Other spotters around Mohammed’s perimeter echoed a negative. It was just the one.

“Maybe they’re bringing back the injured?” the lookout suggested.

Sharif didn’t bother with a response. “Destroy the truck,” he said. Rapidly, Sharif ordered twenty ground soldiers to block the vehicle from coming closer, and the rest to the rooftops to fire down.

= = =

Sharif burst into Mohammed’s room. Mohammed raised his head from the mat.

“One of the trucks is approaching,” he said, out of breath. His eyes were full of fear.

Mohammed stood up. “Yeah?”



This was not part of the plan. Mohammed’s security detail rushed into the room. He put a hand on Sharif’s shoulder. “Be safe. Report to me as soon as you can.”

Sharif nodded and he ran out of the room, yelling commands. Mohammed’s bodyguards ushered him out the door. He was on the fiftieth floor.

= = =

The Minors dumped early and moved by foot to Mohammed’s location. Tank Minor Bennett climbed a fire escape a half a mile out and lay prone on a roof. Exhaust vents twirled around him, and the big A/C units hummed.

He watched through a 20x sniper scope as the Western Curse’s commandeered truck slowed down near another cookie-cutter skyscraper and terrorists poured out of the surrounding buildings like jelly beans. Their hands were held out wide, some with their guns drawn.

“They’re approaching the truck,” Bennett said into the comm. He looked to the rooftops of some of the shorter buildings. “Lots of activity. I see six—no, ten RPGs.”

“Roger,” Raimey whispered.

Bennett felt a twinge of guilt. Soldiers on opposite sides are still soldiers. He’d read once that during World War I, on Christmas Day, the opposite sides crossed, bartered, sang carols, and even played football. He understood the sentiment. Through the scope he could see real concern on the faces of the men approaching the truck. But sides were sides.

The other Minors used his surveillance to avoid sightlines and work their way toward Mohammed’s location. Raimey would clean up the street.

= = =

The men approached Albert’s side of the truck. He white-knuckled the steering wheel, checking his mirrors.

“Albert! What are you doing here?” one man yelled. Another man behind him asked, “Are men hurt?”

Go, Albert mouthed to them. He gestured with his chin. They didn’t catch on.

“Where are the others?” the first man asked. His name was William. They’d eaten lunch together a few months ago. He was from Ohio.

Go, Albert mouthed again. Understanding swept across William’s eyes. He slowly stepped away.

“They’re on it,” Bennett said. The entire group of terrorists had their guns ready, and were slowly backing away from the truck. Bennett saw the RPG men lean over the side.

“RPGs,” Bennett said. He put one of the men in his crosshairs and fired. The other nine RPGs ripped down from the rooftops and the truck exploded.

An electric whine radiated from within the fireball and John Raimey tore his way out of the wreckage. Orange, flickering teeth of diesel fuel burned on his frame, but he was uninjured. Half of the men scattered, and the other half fired with their submachine guns and assault rifles. The bullets peppered him harmlessly. Raimey ignored them. An RPG hit Raimey in the shoulder, and Bennett took the shooter out.

“Sorry,” Bennett said.

They were all gnats to John, harmless. Two hover-rovers—his eyes in the sky—boosted off Raimey’s back like disc-shaped rockets. The large central propeller in each spun up, and they rose high into the air over Mohammed Jawal’s skyscraper safe house. The hover-rovers flipped through standard, x-ray, and infrared, and found a group of red, yellow, and blue amoebas running away.

“Got ’em,” Raimey said, and catapulted forward into a run. His feet slammed the ground, cracking the asphalt, sending aftershocks like two blunt jackhammers. The electric motors built into his massive thighs produced two thousand foot-pounds of torque each. The upper section of his thighs looked like ten rubber slabs mounted together, rising and falling as he ran, adjusting for his weight and trajectory with every impact. Around his waist, the drive chains spun counter to one another at ridiculous speeds, creating the illusion that Raimey’s upper body and pelvis were connected by a grey cloud. The sound they made was like a rollercoaster and a buzz saw rolled into one. It was the telltale sound of impending death; more feared than the rack of a shotgun slide to one’s back.

Raimey ran toward the building to cut off Mohammed Jawal’s escape. A terrorist froze in front of him and fell backward, uselessly protecting himself with outstretched arms, his life flashing before him as a foot the size of two snow sleds eclipsed his sight. Raimey adjusted and missed the man’s body by inches. The Minors appeared out of the alleys and handled the rabble.

Raimey tore around the building at twenty-five miles per hour. His hover-rovers led the way, and he could see the fleeing mass of men as they maneuvered through the alleys. They were a quarter mile away and approaching a vehicle. This section of the city was dilapidated and uniquely unpopulated. The buildings in front of him were unoccupied.

“You see what I’m seeing?” Raimey said. An open comm was built into his helmet. Unlike Minors and new Tanks, it was not wired into his implant.

Commander Boen’s voice crackled over the speaker. “Buildings are clear of civilians. Do what you have to do.”

Raimey ignored the sharp turn of the alley and ran straight through the building in front of him. His speed dropped by one mile per hour, but he quickly recovered.

= = =

Mohammed heard the giant behind them. It sounded like they were being chased by a runaway train. He felt the dusk of his mortality in those sounds and prayed to live.

“The truck! The truck!” a bodyguard yelled. One of them sprinted ahead to it.

The truck was a last-resort vehicle. Mounted on a turret on the back was an old, but very functional, Mk 19 grenade launcher. The Mk 19 was belt-fed like a machine gun. Each grenade had enough velocity to puncture most armor and packed enough power to crater a five-meter hole in the ground. If a grenade hit a Minor, they would explode into oily rags.

The bodyguard jumped into the turret and quickly fed the ammo belt into the grenade launcher. He racked the slide and aimed the barrel toward the sound of the approaching chaos.

Mohammed and the others got to the truck. Mohammed was put into the back, sandwiched between two men. The driver got in, fired the truck up, and gunned it.

Raimey exploded through the last building as they tore off. The man in the grenade launcher momentarily forgot his hand was on the trigger as the giant altered its vector to chase them. The giant’s foot slipped, but it put its massive arm down like a kickstand and kept its legs pumping. It righted itself and barreled toward them.

“Fire!” Mohammed yelled. The gunner snapped out of his shock and squeezed the trigger.

The Mk 19 had very low recoil and the shots landed true. They peppered Raimey, exploding against his chest, his arms and legs, in black and red fireballs.

The giant was undeterred. He accelerated to his top speed of thirty miles per hour. But the truck was faster, and would gain ground in the straights. Raimey made up that ground in the corners, when the truck would have to follow the road and the massive man could blast straight through the buildings. Building after building toppled behind the fleeing vehicle as the bionic forced its seismic will.

= = =

The truck kept slipping away and Raimey couldn’t keep blowing through buildings—they were approaching a populated area. He had to knock these guys out of commission. In a populated area, civilian casualties would escalate into the thousands, and the chance of the terrorists’ escape would increase too.

“How expensive are hover-rovers?” Raimey asked.

“About twenty million a pop,” Boen said. “Why?”

Boen, linked in to the hover-rover feed, grimaced when he saw why Raimey had asked.

= = =

As the giant faded into the background, Mohammed felt a granule of hope. Ahead was a very populated section of the city. He could see the bedheaded masses walking across the streets, shaking off the numbness of a day linked in, only to go back for more. He heard music echoing down the columned streets. The truck slid around a corner and the driver abruptly swerved.

Dumpster divers, derelicts that foraged ahead of waste services, spilled into the street ahead, combing through dumpsters for anything that could be recycled. Like a pod of dolphins leading a schooner, they always announced an approaching garbage truck.

The driver made a quick adjustment to avoid them, causing the top-heavy truck to sway violently, but he got it under control.

“We lost him!” the driver said. Another mile and they would be deep into the massive city, buried under hundreds of stories and concrete. The dark streets and the disheveled millions would create the perfect camouflage—if they were on foot, anyway, rather than in a jeep with a grenade launcher on its back.

The granule of hope grew, but they were still exposed as they careened down the street. They had to get to shelter and the underground in order to truly be safe.

“We need to get out of the open,” Mohammed said. “Where can we change vehicles?” Vehicles were hard to find and conspicuous by nature.

“We could hijack that garbage truck,” a bodyguard suggested. It was just up ahead. The driver was out of the truck, angrily throwing garbage back into the dumpster.

Mohammed nodded. “Yes. Good.” It would be a perfect cover.

The garbage man looked dumbfounded when they veered in front of him, but his surprise was quickly redirected overhead. Before the truck was fully stopped, a shadow rolled across its windshield. Mohammed’s driver leaned forward and looked to the sky just as the hover-rover swung past, arced up, and then accelerated into the windshield like the pendulum of a grandfather clock.

The driver’s scream was cut off as the aerodynamic disc crushed through his and the other front passengers’ chests, separating their heads below the shoulder. The hover-rover slammed through into the back seat, where it minced Mohammed’s knees. The bodyguard to Mohammed’s right slumped, thick clumps of blood pulsing from his ears. Mohammed was pinned.

The garbage truck hissed and groaned, reversing, getting the fuck out of Dodge. It bumped into something and stopped. The engine groaned for a second and the back of the truck rattled about. Raimey pushed past it, and with a screech, the wheels suddenly got traction and the truck shot back before the driver could slam on the brakes.

“Watch your blind spot,” Raimey muttered.

The gunner fired a barrage of grenades in one last hoorah before he saw either black or a sea of virgins. Black came first. Raimey was too close to the gunner, so when the grenades detonated, shell fragments ricocheted back and sliced the gunner’s skin. And then Raimey grabbed him in his giant fist and pitched him into a building. The gunner’s body slapped into the side of it like a ripe tomato and slowly slid down, leaving a trail of blood.

Raimey slammed his fist down and destroyed the engine block. The front axle snapped, and the wheels curled into the wheel well. He ripped off the roof. Mohammed and the last surviving bodyguard stared up at him. Mohammed had a trigger in his hand.

“Die, you devil. For Iran!” Mohammed thumbed the trigger. Ten pounds of C-4 located under the seat detonated in Mohammed Jawal’s last stand.

The explosion vaporized Mohammed and his bodyguards and turned the car into shrapnel. Around Raimey, windows imploded and the front of the closest building crumbled. The garbage man jumped out of his truck and ran away screaming. The front of his truck was ablaze.

Mohammed would have been disappointed: Raimey was completely unharmed. He walked out of the fire and waited for his team. A “cycler” came out of an alley.

“What just happened, sir?”

It was a boy, fifteen or so. Probably one of the few who couldn’t go online.

“Just caught a bad guy.”

The boy scanned the burning wreckage. “I don’t think he made it.”

Two hours later, Raimey was on a plane back to South Africa. He planned to never come back.

Click here to buy The Northern Star: Civil War from Amazon US / Amazon UK (and it's an excellent military sci-fi read)

About the Author:

Mike Gullickson is the author of The Northern Star: The Beginning, an Amazon Bestseller that Examiner hailed as the "Top 5 Indie-Published Books You Haven't Read, But Should." As a child, Stephen King, Ridley Scott, and James Cameron shaped his mind for the macabre and fantastic, but it was a freak illness contracted on his honeymoon that kept Mike housebound for a month and got him to write his first novel. Mike's a videophile, audiophile, and car nut. He loves MMA and will talk endlessly about video games, movies, and hypothetical battles between, well, anything. He lives in Manhattan Beach, CA with his wife and two children.

Monday 24 November 2014

New Drabble - I'm Sorry

My latest standalone drabble has been posted in the Indie Book Bargains newsletter. Sign up on their website for a daily newsletter of Kindle bargains and a drabble. And there's some great contributers - visit their site at

You can read my other standalone drabbles here:

I'm Sorry

“I’m sorry.”

“Of course you are, but why are you sorry?”

I’m sorry that nothing I do ever is quite right.

I’m sorry for crying myself to sleep each and every night.

I’m sorry that I live in fear for when you return home.

I’m sorry that what remains of my life is for you alone.

I’m sorry about the decision made all those years ago.

I’m sorry I’m forced to live with no love bestowed.

I’m sorry for never being able to make you feel proud.

But most of all I’m sorry I can’t say these words out loud.

Guest Author Interview - Aida Jacobs

I'm joined by Aida Jacobs in this week's Guest Author Interview. Discover more about her and her writing below:

Click on image to buy from Amazon

Please introduce yourself, who are you and what do you do?
Aside from being a self-published author, I am also a dedicated wife and mother, and a proud geek living in the state of Minnesota. I greatly enjoy science fiction, fantasy, gaming (of the video, board, and tabletop variety), as well as comic books. Even when I'm not toiling away on my laptop, my brain is always at work developing characters and plotting out future scenes for my books. Thankfully, we live in the age of technology so I'm able to easily transcribe those thoughts so long as I have my phone with me (a definite plus for a stay-at-home mom of a very active two year old).

What first inspired you to start writing?
I started writing fourteen years ago during the creative writing class I took during my Senior year of high school. The class was originally supposed to serve as an easy filler class for me since the science class I had signed up to take was cancelled due to not enough students signing up for it. However, it did not take long before my imagination began running wild, and the class became so much more to me than a last minute, filler. The more involved I became with the class, the clearer it became to me that writing was what I ultimately wanted to do with my life.

Where did the idea for the Dragon Guardian series come from?
The idea for 'Dragon Guardian: Fire' specifically came to me fourteen years ago during my creative writing class. Instead of turning in a new clutch of poems or a new short story every week, I asked my teacher if it would be alright for me to instead write a fantasy novel, and turn in a new chapter each week. My teacher agreed quite enthusiastically, and I thusly began planning my very first draft of what would years later become 'Dragon Guardian: Fire'.

I knew right off the bat that I wanted my story to have a strong fantasy element to it, because I felt that it would truly allow my imagination to take flight. In the world of fantasy, almost anything is possible, and I knew that I would be free to truly create a rich world filled with complicated and unique characters. All that was needed was a heroine to pull everything together, and that was when the sassy redhead that is Marin Draconya began taking form within my mind.

Which influences had been instrumental in your writing?
Ultimately, my very first influence was my father. One of my fondest memories from my childhood revolves around my father reading 'The Hobbit' aloud to me when I was little. He would read a chapter to me every night, and he would give different voices for the characters. It was in those early years that I developed a love for all things fantasy, and why Tolkien will always have a special place in my heart.

However, as I've grown older and explored different authors, I found myself feeling influenced by R.A. Salvatore as well as David Gaider, because I simply adore the way they seamlessly blend humor into an otherwise dramatic scene. Angst, drama and action are what drive a story forward, but for me, humor is vital to keeping the reader engaged and willing to keep turning the pages. Humor is what gives readers that glimmer of light in an otherwise hopeless situation, and both Salvatore and Gaider have given me good guidelines to follow.

What is your favourite word?
Tintinnabulation. It's not a word that you hear all that often, and yet it's incredibly fun to say.

What about your book makes it stand out from others in the genre?
My heroine, Marin Draconya, is the most unlikely and least girly princess you will ever meet. Trained to be a warrior by her father, she abhors dresses and standing on ceremony. She feels naked without a sword in her hand, and yet for all her skills and confidence, she is incredibly awkward in social situations and has more than her share of klutzy moments. She is stubborn, her curiosity often gets the better of her, and she frequently makes mistakes and has to deal with the fallout of them. Nothing is wiped clean. Basically, I wanted to create a heroine who was relatable to anyone (male or female) who might be reading the book. In spite of being a half-elf, Marin is a very "human" character with fears, desires and insecurities. She is not impervious or perfect by any means.

What was the last book you read?
Bossypants by Tina Fey.

What are you working on at the moment?
Currently, I am working on 'Dragon Guardian: Water', the second book in my Dragon Guardian series. Thankfully, unlike 'Dragon Guardian: Fire', it won't take fourteen years for me to write it!

Tell us about your latest release and how we can find out more.
'Dragon Guardian: Fire' is the first novel in my Dragon Guardian series which at its core will be comprised of four books (I am toying with the idea of expanding upon the series by writing a prequel which focuses upon characters that were only referenced to by name, but that's a while down the road so I have plenty of time to think about it). After fourteen years of tweaks, rewrites, and rejections from publishers, I decided to take matters into my own hands this year and self-publish my work.

'Dragon Guardian: Fire' introduces the reader to the world of Primordya that suffers under the tyrannical rule of Nahga--queen of the dark elves. It falls to the deposed Princess Marin Draconya, the intrepid heroine and last remaining heir to the throne, to restore peace to the war-torn, tumultuous land that was once ruled by her father.

You can find out more about 'Dragon Guardian: Fire', the world of Primordya, as well as my current progress on 'Dragon Guardian: Water' by visiting my website:

Click here to buy Dragon Guardian: Fire from Amazon US / Amazon UK

Sunday 23 November 2014

December Short Fiction Contest

Attribution: Bobamnertiopsis and Immanuel Giel
Welcome to December's Short Fiction Contest here on The Cult of Me blog. Looking over the previous contests it appears that you struggle with images of locations compared to characters. This month's image is of a very familiar trio and I wonder what diverse stories will arise from this picture.

As always the stories can be of any genre. They just have to be inspired by this month's image and no more than 500 words.

Entry to the contest remains free and there are prizes for the three winners. I will also feature any of the stories that don't win but I believe are worth showcasing on this blog.
  • First prize is a £50 Amazon gift card or PayPal prize
  • Second prize is a £20 Amazon gift card or PayPal prize
  • Third prize is a £10 Amazon gift card or PayPal prize
The money for the prizes come out of my own pocket, although I do make a little from advertising on this blog. So if you see something of interest then feel free to click on the links and purchase away! If you haven't tried my books yet then check them out at the top of the page, as well as buying a good read you'll be helping this contest.

Please make sure to check your story for typos before submitting. I don't mind a few errors, but my enjoyment of a story is diminished if I have to wade through too many.

I'll post the winning entries by January 1st 2015.

As with everything in life there are a few rules:
  • Only one entry per person.
  • The story must not be longer than 500 words.
  • Closing date for submissions is December 21st 2014.
  • By submitting the story you grant me a non-exclusive license to post the story on this blog. I do ask that I post it here first.
  • You also grant me a one time non-exclusive license to include the story in an e-book release.
  • The judge's decision is final.

Use the form below to enter your submission. After you've submitted please leave a comment on this page stating that you have submitted. And please help spread the word. Great stories deserve great readers!

As well as comments section below you can chat about this competition in any of the threads I've listed below. If you don't know the sites then entering the competition is a good way to introduce yourself. Note that these sites are not affiliated with the competition in any way!

If you've started you're own thread or discussion somewhere about this month's competition then let me know and I'll add the link to this page.

Book Review - Maybe, Misery by C. S. Bailey

If not for the opinions of a few reviewers that I trust then this gem of a debut novel might have passed me by. It also helped that the blurb intrigued me, I'm always up for reading about dark and enigmatic characters. And the the main character here is a very dark individual, he starts of enigmatic but by the end of the book we know him much better.

The early parts of the story have an American Psycho feel, we have a happy psychopath with prodigious talent, charm and an overactive sex drive. A word of warning - there is a lot of sex in this story. It's not in any detail, so far from being an erotica story, but it does seem to be the lead character's favourite pastime.

At first he seems like a shallow man, but before that becomes a certainty the format of the story changes. We are taken back and forth in time through his life and discover other traits that he posesses.

This strength of building the character does have a downside - it makes the plot more difficult to follow. My main issue with the book is that it develops the character more than the story. The jumping through time creates gaps in the story that become harder and harder to link together. On the plus side it does allow for some stories and I do enjoy being surprised in a story.

This is an excellent debut novel for the author and one I'm happy to recommend.

Click on image to buy from Amazon

Maybe, Misery is the d├ębut novel by author C.S. Bailey.

It follows the life of genetic researcher Talon. His childhood marred by tragedy, the escapades of his twenties and finding the love of his life.

As Talon grows, so does his wealth and desire to cure the big C... Cancer.

Unfortunately for Talon, a series of events change his life for the worst leaving him a hollow empty husk, whose only care is greed.

Blinded by his ego, he fails to see his own shortcomings which could end up costing all of humanity.

Friends quickly become enemies and our anti-hero finds himself on the path for redemption; whether he deserves it or not.

Click here to buy Maybe, Misery from Amazon US / Amazon UK (and it's a well written debut novel - well worth checking out) - It's also free for download today!

Thursday 20 November 2014

ABC Drabbles of Death - X is for Xenomorph

Our journey through the alphabet in the ABC Drabbles of Death continues with the letter 'X'. This was a nice and easy word to pick for such a tricky letter and there are no prizes for guessing which two films provided inspiration for this drabble :-)

You can read all of the previous drabbles in this series here:

X is for Xenomorph

They’re all dead. A simple recon mission they said. All but one of the soldiers died and he came back changed. We didn’t know that until the next day.

At breakfast the corporal’s face exploded and tendrils of flesh sprayed across the table. The doc reacted first and died first. The tentacles writhed with an alien sheen and the corporal lurched towards the pilot.

I ran. I locked myself in my quarters and watched on the cameras as the rest of the crew were slaughtered. There’s only me left and the door won’t last for long from the inhuman pounding.

Wednesday 19 November 2014

Indie Bookworm : Faust 2.0 by Michael Brookes

Indie Bookworm : Faust 2.0 by Michael Brookes: When I read The Cult of Me by Michael Brookes I was right outside my usual reading zone but I enjoyed it so much I read the second book ...

Book Review - That Which Should Not Be by Brett J Talley

I'm a big fan of Lovecraft's writing and especially those relating to the Cthulhu mythos and this book provides an excellent extension of those works. The writing style is very reminiscent of Lovecraft, although not as dense and is perhaps an easier introduction. The story loosely continues the tale from At the Mountains of Madness.

I enjoyed the story from the first page and it captures the Lovecraft theme solidly. My appreciation dipped a little with the first of three stories wrapped within the overall plot. This first story is well written, but concerns a tale I've read before and is basically a monster story. It recovers a bit with the second and then is firmly back on track with the third. At first the stories seemed out of place, but their connection becomes apparent later in the book.

My only other complaint was that the ending felt a little rushed and lacked some of the depth from the earlier parts of the book. It is a satisfactory ending from a story perspective though, so it shouldn't count against giving this book a try.

If you're a fan of Lovecraft then this is well worth a read. It's also worth checking out if you haven't read any Lovecraft and want to get a taste of what the master of horror created. Naturally you should then read the originals immediately!

Click on image to buy from Amazon

Miskatonic University has a long-whispered reputation of being strongly connected to all things occult and supernatural. From the faculty to the students, the fascination with other-worldly legends and objects runs rampant. So, when Carter Weston’s professor Dr. Thayerson asks him to search a nearby village for a book that is believed to control the inhuman forces that rule the Earth, Incendium Maleficarum, The Inferno of the Witch, the student doesn’t hesitate to begin the quest.

Weston’s journey takes an unexpected turn, however, when he ventures into a tavern in the small town of Anchorhead. Rather than passing the evening as a solitary patron, Weston joins four men who regale him with stories of their personal experiences with forces both preternatural and damned. Two stories hit close to home as they tie the tellers directly to Weston’s current mission.

His unanticipated role as passive listener proves fortuitous, and Weston fulfills his goal. Bringing the book back to Miskatonic, though, proves to be a grave mistake. Quickly, Weston realizes he has played a role in potentially opening the gate between the netherworld and the world of Man. Reversing the course of events means forgetting all he thought he knew about Miskatonic and his professor and embracing an unknown beyond his wildest imagination.

Click here to buy That Which Should Not Be on Amazon US / Amazon UK (and it's an excellent Cthulhu mythos tale)

Sunday 16 November 2014

Last Week to Enter November's Short Fiction Contest

Image Credit - The Tower of Babel by the Belgian artist Paul Gosselin
We've entered the final week of November's short fiction contest so if you haven't submitted your entry yet then now is the time to do so. To enter write a story of no more than 500 words based on this month's image. It can be of any genre as long is relates to this month's picture of The Tower of Babel.

You then submit your story through the form provided on the contest page here:

 If you haven't read the winners from October's contest then you're missing out on three great stories. You can read them here: