Saturday, May 4, 2013

Excerpt: Critical Mass

This week I want to share an excerpt from my latest work, just released in February. Critical Mass closes out the full-length novels of The NADIA Project, and some readers have told me it's the best one of the three. Now, next month, I have a novella coming out, Lies and Paine, that fills out the story behind everyone's favorite kick-ass anti-heroine.

This scene from Critical Mass sets up a little picture of Jenna and Jimmy. You can check out the book at

Jimmy sat on the porch, watching the dull routine of the afternoon in front of
him. The air commandos not on guard sat in the shade of Nadia’s lawn for lunch,
weapons within easy reach. Those on duty at the detention shacks stood their
watches, ever vigilant against any attempted breakout. The occasional fly or wasp
buzzed by, its hypnotic drone lulling the man in the wooden chair. The pain med
Watts had given him was just starting to do its work, and the ache in Jimmy’s
shoulder was finally at a tolerable level. But on the downside, that warm, sleepy
feeling Jimmy hated so much was just beginning to creep in and steal the rest of
his afternoon.

The old warrior’s eyes had just drifted shut when the screen door opened with a
protest of springs. The steps on the porch were light and favored one side. The soft
scent in his nostrils confirmed the identity of the other party. “Afternoon, Miss
Paine,” he mumbled through the painkiller’s haze. Another smell, cool and yeasty,
wafted to him and he held out a hand to receive the cold bottle offered, his eyes
still closed.

He couldn’t resist his own grin at the smile in her voice. “You must have sonar,
you old coot.” The chair next to Jimmy’s creaked as Jenna settled into it. She
clinked her bottle against his and took a pull.

The first swallow went down good, so he took a second before speaking.
“How’s the leg?”

“Better, thanks. A little stiff, but I can work with it.”

“Good. Wouldn’t want ya to miss out just ’cause ya got a little hitch in your

“Jimmy, I wouldn’t miss this if I had a whole leg off.”

“Big deal, eh?

Jenna looked out at the yard for a while before answering. “They lied to me. I
don’t like being lied to.”

“But do you still believe in what they want? World unity and Kumbaya, and all
that crap?”

Jenna tensed and clenched her jaw at the offhand remark. “When you kill
someone, what do you feel?”

Jimmy bristled at the question. “You’re kidding, right?” Feel? How the hell am
I supposed to feel? What kind of stupid questions was that?

Jenna’s eyes narrowed with passion. “I want to know what you feel when you
pull a trigger and put a bullet into another person, and let their life spill out. In
whose name did you do it? Yours? Your country’s? And how did it solve
anything?” She looked away. “That wasn’t even enough, was it? You had to teach
others how to kill, too. For a border. An imaginary line on a map.”

She paused long enough to take a swallow. “So before you label someone’s
beliefs as ‘crap,’ just think about what it felt like every time you killed someone
for that imaginary line.”

The hair stood up on Jimmy’s neck. I swear, if you were a man, I’d pin your
ears back…
As it was, there was no way he was going to let that one go. It had
been a long time since he needed to shift into sergeant mode, but the shift was as
smooth as his last class of recruits.

“Young lady.” He struggled through gritted teeth. “I didn’t kill anyone for a
line. I killed to save an idea. That idea was that free men should be able to defend
themselves from oppression and tyranny and help other men to live free as well.
Them poor jackwagons who stood in the way of that idea were the ones I killed.
And to tell you the truth, I don’t feel a damned thing for ’em. That line on the map
you’re goin’ on about is the line that says, ‘on this side you’re free to choose your
own destiny.’ And I’ll spill as much blood as I have to to make sure it stays where
it’s at.”

Jimmy sniffed and set his bottle on the small table between them. “Look at
you, giving me the ‘baby-killer’ speech. How many bodies have you left behind?
Why don’t you tell me what you felt when you stood over the bodies of the people
you laid out for a lie?”

He gave her a cold smile then and watched the steel in her eyes melt away. “I’ll
grant you, hon, you ain’t any worse than me. But you sure as hell ain’t any sight

Leaning his chair back, he said, “Now, I’d be willin’ to bet your vision for this
earth ain’t too far from mine. We just ended up thinkin’ about it from some
different places.” He fixed her eyes again with his. “I do know if I’d have had a
half-dozen more of you on my team, we’d have buried less of our boys and more
of theirs.”

Jenna broke her gaze away and looked across the yard. In the silence that
followed, Jimmy imagined he could hear the gears working inside her head. He
just hoped that, whatever she decided in the end about whatever it was she was
pondering, it wouldn’t affect her edge when it came down to brass knuckles and
billy clubs.

Things were going to get bad enough as it was.


  1. Hey, Cyrus, I enjoyed the excerpt. I guess I have to go back to the beginning of the series or get spectacularly lost. Mostly because my brain sometimes shorts out.

    1. Thanks, Mary. I wrote each book in the series to be able to stand on its own (now ask me if it was easy!), so you won't be totally lost anywhere you start. But Becoming NADIA is the first installment, and it won the EPIC Award for Best Thriller of 2012, so you can't go wrong!