Saturday, November 29, 2014

Coming to Print: Critical Mass!

Great news, fellow Castaways:

The Third (and NOT final) installment in my award-winning series The NADIA Project is going to be available in time for Christmas! I just finished proofreading the galley proof for my publisher and sent the final corrections in to my fabulous publisher, Lea Schizas at MuseItUp Publishing.

Now, I'm not going to go on about why books make awesome gifts, but it's something cool to remember ;-)

I feel like ahsring a bit this week, if that's okay with everyone. So without further ado, let me introduce Critical Mass:

Critical Mass

"On their own, they're deadly. Together, they could save the world—or destroy it."

Jenna Paine is a super spy, genetically enhanced to be more than human. Nadia Velasquez is a living weapon of mass destruction. When the secret organization who built them both decides they are no longer useful, two enemies are thrown together for the only purposes they could have in common: survival and revenge.

There's only one way out of The Pinnacle, and that's on a coroner's slab. Jenna lives through a treacherous attack vowing to exact her vengeance on the people who trained her to be the most deadly agent on the planet. 

Wounded and on the run, she turns to the man who's sworn to make her face charges for her involvement in The Pinnacle's nefarious schemes.

After years spent hiding from The Pinnacle, Nadia runs into the one thing she never counted on: Shelf life. As her body breaks down, she realizes it's only a matter of the short time she has left to redeem her existence and give her daughter a chance to live free.
In the final showdown, the two transhumans join forces against a common enemy, and The Pinnacle come to know the deadly significance of…

Critical Mass


 Consciousness sifted back into Jenna’s mind along with the searing pain in her
abdomen. The fire grew in intensity as she became more aware, drawing an
involuntary moan from her lips. The pain became a monster, feeding on her body
bite by bite until she began to writhe in spite of her best efforts to control it on her
own. Her wrists and ankles came up short against stops. In her semi-conscious
state, fear shook free from its bonds in her mind, and the writhing turned into
thrashing. Every movement made the pain worse, and every twinge of pain brought
on an involuntary jerk of an arm or leg.

A woman’s voice reached through the torment; a hand on her shoulder pressed
her down into the bed. “Jenna? Jenna, stop. Listen to me!”

The sharp order got Jenna’s attention, helped her to focus. She stilled, sank into
her training, and opened her eyes. After fighting the pain tiger back into its cage,
Jenna ran down her checklist. First, evaluate your surroundings. The light in the
concrete block room was dimmed to a comfortable level. A faint musty odor stung
her nostrils. I’m underground. A basement…?

A plump, freckled woman in her thirties with curly auburn hair hovered above
the bed, both hands on Jenna’s shoulders. Wrinkled blue scrubs rustled softly as
she turned her attention to prepping a syringe filled with an amber liquid. “Do you
need something for pain?”

Jenna forced herself to remain calm. I was with Jon. I’m still alive; they didn’t find us. Unless they did, and I’m going to just lay here and take a needle like a dog to be put down. No way in hell—

The other woman seemed to know what was in Jenna’s mind. She held up the vial from which she’d taken the serum so Jenna could see. “It’s okay, just morphine. Please, let me help you.”

Jenna didn’t look at the bottle. She stared at the woman’s face, reading everything she could. All she saw was open sincerity. Jenna finally nodded and sagged back against the mattress, sweat beading on her brow. The trembling in her limbs stilled as a warm sensation crawled up her arm. Seconds later, a fresh blanket was pulled up to her chest. As the painkiller took hold, she managed a weak “Thank you.” That was when she noticed how dry her throat was. She could barely croak, “Water, please?”

The other woman stepped closer. The look in her eyes betrayed a mixture of relief and fear. “Y-yeah, sure, hang on.” She stood and rapped on the door twice, paused, and then rapped once more. Jenna heard a man’s voice on the other side, old and hoarse, but strong. The freckled woman said, “She’s awake. Get Jon,” before pouring some water from a pitcher into a glass and inserting a straw. After she helped Jenna to a few sips, she sat back down. “How do you feel now?”

“Better, I guess. I suppose it’s out of line to ask where I am?”

The woman smiled a wide, nervous grin and said, “Why don’t we start with some introductions? I’m Beth.” She took Jenna’s hand in her own. Beth’s fingers trembled, but her smile was sincere.

“I guess you already know me.”

“You’re Jenna.”

“Why am I tied up like a pig in a poke?”

“I’m sure you can guess. You’re in a safe place, though.”

“How did everything come out?”

“We worked on you for quite a while. You had a couple close calls. You lost a lot of blood. Can you tell me what happened?”

“Is it okay if I plead the Fifth for now?”

“Sure. More water?” Beth held the straw to Jenna’s lips. Jenna drained the cup all the way down to the slurp at the bottom before she let go. “FYI, I’m not a cop. I used to work at the hospital in Twin Oaks Spa. On a scale of one to ten, how’s the pain?”

“Three,” Jenna lied. It hurt like hell, but she didn’t want to be all drugged out anymore. She would need a sharp mind from here on out.

Beth looked into Jenna’s eyes and stared at her for a few disturbing seconds. “Uh-huh.” She nodded and pushed a syringe into Jenna’s IV line. “I’m just going to give you a bump, anyway, to stay on top of it. Don’t worry. I’m halving the dose. You’ll still be reasonably sharp.”

“For what?”

A knock came at the door. Beth spoke loud enough for the person on the other side of the door to hear. “We’re good. Come on in.”

A deadbolt slid back, a second lock opened, and the door swung in to admit Jon Daniels. He closed the door behind him, and the locks clicked back into place. One nurse, Jon, and whoever is beyond that door. Probably a couple more upstairs. Outside, who knows? I might be on an Army base for all I know. Not that I’m in any shape to escape. A toddler could tackle me right now.

Jon stepped up to the bedside, placing his hands on the side rail as he did. “Hey, Jenna. Sorry about the straps. I’m sure you understand.”

“Under different circumstances, I’m sure it would have been fun. I guess I should thank you.”

“I guess you’re welcome. Thanks for agreeing to meet me.”

Jenna stared at the ceiling. “Not like I had any other choice at the time.”

“Who shot you?”

What do you care? “I was cleaning my gun and it went off.”

“Nice try. The hit didn’t quite go as planned, did it? Who was the target?”

“Is that what you wanted to talk to me about? Because the last I heard, you were a special agent for the FBI. As in, anything I say can and will be used against me—”

“You’re not under arrest, Jenna. That’s not what this is about.”

“Then what’s with the straps? Why am I being held underground? And who’s outside that locked door? I know when I’m being held prisoner.” Jenna tried to sit up. A spasm ripped through her torso. She squinted and flopped back down with a moan.

“You haven’t exactly proven that we can trust you yet,” said Jon, “and the stakes are too high to take any chances right now. Just take it easy and get better. We’ll have time to talk later.”

“We’ll see about that.”

Jon turned and left the room, leaving Jenna alone with Beth.

Beth checked Jenna’s IV, and then drew the covers back. “Let’s have a look at your incision.”

“Can I at least have my hands untied?”

Beth looked at Jenna, and in her eyes, Jenna saw fear akin to a bird looking into the eyes of a cat.

“You know what I am, don’t you?” asked Jenna.

Beth’s hands trembled as she lifted up Jenna’s gown and checked the dressing on her abdomen. “What you are doesn’t worry me. It’s what you can do that frightens the hell out of me.”

“Does it look like I can do anything in my condition? Believe me, if I don’t want to be tied up, I won’t be for long.”

“Did you kill Mark Boyle? The man who was holding us?”

The question took Jenna off-guard. She tried to find some safe way to answer, but couldn’t think of anything to say that couldn’t be taken the wrong way. Damn painkillers.

Beth broke the pause. “Because if you did, I’d say thank you. He…” Her lips clamped shut for a second. When she continued, her voice cracked. “He blew my friend’s brains all over the floor, right in front of me. And he was going to kill us, too. Nadia said it was you. I… I don’t want anyone to die. But he needed to die for what he did. So thank you.” She covered Jenna back up. “Dressing looks good for now. We’ll check it again in a couple hours.”

So what do you say to that, Jenna? “Sure, no problem. Anyone else you want wiped out? I happen to be between jobs right now, rates cheap.” Yeah, right. It was an order, plain and simple. He was being cut loose. Just like me. The only difference is I made it out alive.  “Okay.” Jenna closed her eyes and took a deep, slow breath, focusing all her energy on calming her pain receptors. With the added boost from the drugs Beth administered, she was able to quiet the spasms down, and drifted off into a fitful sleep.


Saturday, November 15, 2014

And Ne'er The Twain Shall Meet

Good day, fellow castaways.

This week I want to expound just a little on something I said in my last post, just to reinforce a point. It occurred as I was writing that post that handing off our responsibility to the needy to a faceless government agency, isolates us not only from our duties, but from our fellow man. There are other factors as well that further isolate us one from another, and I think we can agree that isolation is not good for humans.

Credit: Isolation, by Neriak, posted on Deviantart

It's been said that Humans are communal animals. In this case, I do refer to humans as animals, because even though we are unique among all creatures on the earth, we in our basic definition, are animals as well. Which means certain conditions are so much a part of our nature that we cannot thrive without them. Interaction is one. Placing a prisoner in solitary confinement is considered among the worst punishments that can be inflicted upon a human. In fact, many studies have shown that a person can only be alone for a certain amount of time before their mind breaks, and death follows shortly thereafter. NASA even has numerous experiments on file that prove humans simply cannot survive long periods isolated from others. So at this point, I don't feel any need for posting evidence. You can simply google it and come up with page after page that prove my point. People need people. Period. Even teenagers.

Teens are strange creatures. I still remember when I was one, I sought isolation from my world. I hated being a teen. Hated being the awkward, shy boy who suffered panic attacks at the mere thought of asking a girl out on a date. Hated being bullied by those who sought to better their own social position by making others feel inferior. Hated being singled out  and ridiculed for speaking out of turn or saying the wrong thing, always a day late and a dollar short. So I sought isolation in my books. After all, a good book never judges, is always there for you, takes you away into into world
where you get to be the hero and save the day, instead of the kid in the back of the class that no one understands.

I did have two friends, with whom I hung out as well, and what did we do? We spent our time roaming the woods in Soldier's Memorial Park or out back of Fix Park, riding our bicycles around Pine Lake, and shunning society as a whole.

Anyway, teens are odd critters, who seem to seek isolation in every way they can. They use their cell phones, iPods, and the internet to remove themselves from a cruel society that they create themselves every day in the school halls. A teenager would rather text with their friend down the block than to actually go see them. A teen would rather spend hours on Facebook than spend a minute with a real person, and it shows in the collective society that we've created online in the circus that passes for social media. Unfortunately, those patterns of behavior become habits, and habits follow us as we get older. So we become hermits in our own families, virtual recluses living together, yet alone in our own little worlds.

Credit: Sylvia Hartman, 2010

We say things online that would get us a fist to the face in person, and we get away with it because that other person isn't there to confront us. We have Usernames that further remove us from accountability. We can create personae that aren't even us at all. How many Facebook pages have names like "Stupid Things People Do" or "I Hate Democrats?" There are people behind those pages, and they refuse to be held accountable to anything they say, so they get away with saying stupid, hateful,  and false things that get spread around the world in a mater of minutes. The more outrageous the claim, the faster the poison spreads.

In addition, look at what happens on our highways and streets. People in their cars, removed from direct interaction, tend to drive like idiots, in spite of a common belief on the part of most of us that we're doing just fine, and the other guy is the one who's wrong. Increased incidences of road rage bear this out. We feel free to gesture and yell and make ourselves a brain-dead zombie, because we're in our car and they are in theirs, and ne'er the twain shall meet.

So we have now officially created the most hostile, isolated culture in the world, two feet in front of our faces, and we're so ingrained in our habits that we can't break loose without intervention. We no longer feel the need to be civil with our communication, because we aren't interacting on a personal level anymore. You wonder why the internet is going crazy? Seriously, Sunshine, take a look at yourself.

So where do we go from here? How do we fix this? How can we come together as a united people once again, and do away with these factions, these divisions, this polarized isolation? I'm open to suggestions. Maybe just take an extra moment to consider the possibility that hitting "share" on that hateful rant in the form of a meme is helping or hurting. Maybe exercise the the right of other people to be wrong, and you don't have to correct everyone or everything that doesn't agree with your sensibilities.

To quote that able philosopher and all-around weird guy Floyd (I know, just go with me here), "I mean, good manners don't cost nothin' ya know."

Maybe the best thing we can do is stand up from our computers, put down our phones, and actually place ourselves in personal contact with someone on a regular basis. In a restaurant with friends, stack your phones in the middle of the table. The first person to pick theirs up gets to pick up the whole tab. Quit playing Clash of Clans long enough to share kindness with someone down your street who has a need. Rake their leaves, shovel their walk. Breathe fresh air.

We can do this, people. Make kindness a priority, and maybe we can all start getting along again.