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Wednesday, 28 January 2009
The Sinner's Guide to Confession -an excerpt
Topic: First Chapter
 

In this excerpt, Ellen offers to help teach English to Marisol, the young Dominican woman who cleans for her weekly. Far from home and alone, Marisol welcomes Ellen's kindnesses and the two women soon find themselves in a mutually beneficial arrangement. Mostly, however, Ellen maternal instincts are fueled by her relationship with Marisol.  When Marisol leaves, Ellen is bereft.

Marisol was recommended to Ellen by one of the buyers in her office. Although quite young, Marisol was reliable and hardworking. She had been cleaning since she left home in the Dominican Republic two years earlier at seventeen, often working seven days a week to save enough money to go to school. She wanted to learn to read and write English fluently since she was practically illiterate in Spanish. Her father had denied all his daughters any formal education, claiming that learning to read and write would only enable them to exchange love notes with boys. And everyone knew that boys were only interested in one thing. Marisol giggled behind her hand when she told this to Ellen, and Ellen surprised herself by giggling along. It was hard to resist Marisol's expansive nature. Every Monday she came to clean the apartment, and every Monday Ellen was newly struck by Marisol's beauty. She braided her curls into a single plait that hung down her narrow back almost to her waist. Her only jewelry was a pair of small gold hoop earrings and a gold cross on a gold chain that nestled in the hollow at the base of her throat.  A starched white blouse and ironed jeans were her unofficial uniform. Her sneakers were always clean, and her unpolished nails noticeably manicured. What really struck Ellen, however, was that Marisol always wore makeup. It seemed odd at first that she would wear lipstick, eye shadow and a light touch of mascara. At first, this meticulous grooming effort to clean for six hours worried Ellen, and she expected to be disappointed in Marisol's performance. However, not only did Marisol's work surpass Ellen's expectations, but Marisol won Ellen's heart. The gentle grace of this young girl was humbling. Soon Ellen understood that Marisol's preparations gave her work dignity. She might have been illiterate, but she had a job and was sought after because of her efficiency. Several months after Marisol had been working for them, Ellen offered to give her English lessons. For a moment, Ellen thought she might have offended Marisol. She hung her head and stared, motionless, at the floor. Concerned, Ellen touched her arm and said her name very softly. In excruciating slow motion, Marisol lifted her head. The perfectly smooth dark skin on her cheeks was streaked with tears. She clasped her folded hands to her chest and mumbled in Spanish, a prayer it seemed. With her usual dignity, she offered to pay Ellen who thanked her but refused, saying that it would be good for her own soul to do something for someone other than herself. Marisol shook her head vehemently, adding that Miss Ellen was a wonderful and kind person. Pleased, Ellen impulsively hugged Marisol who seemed desperate to be held. It was a telling moment. Marisol so clearly longed for her mother, any mother really at that moment, and Ellen so clearly longed to offer a mother's comfort.

Bill, of course, disapproved. He maintained that Ellen would be crossing a line that would have dire consequences. Ellen regarded him with cool disdain. Dire consequences? She thought good deeds brought spiritual reward, not the wrath of the Almighty. They sparred in this manner for weeks until Bill finally withdrew. It was evident that Ellen's mind was made up. She searched the Internet for appropriate materials, pored over educational catalogues, and visited several bookstores until she was satisfied that she had enough to begin Marisol's lessons. Ellen planned for the first lesson as though she were planning a party. She bought marble composition books, pencils and index cards. Although it was prematurely optimistic, Ellen bought several easy readers to tempt Marisol once her confidence was firmly established. Their first lessons went extremely well; so well, in fact, that Ellen found she had underestimated Marisol's determination and ability. In no time at all, Marisol was combining sounds and forming words, moving from basic primers to more complex exercises. She grappled with grammatical constructions, wondered over how little phonetics governed the rules of English spelling and was elated when she met success. Ellen matched Marisol's excitement and pleasure with heady enthusiasm. There was something about the sight of Marisol poring over a blank page in her composition book and filling it with words and then full sentences that made Ellen feel she had finally accomplished something worthwhile.   

Every Monday Ellen timed her arrival home to coincide with the end of Marisol's workday. Ellen quickly changed out of her business clothes, and fixed them sandwiches. Marisol especially liked it when Ellen placed a few potato chips alongside the sandwich. The first time Ellen did this Marisol clapped her hands and said it was fancy, just like in the diner. The flush of pleasure that this gave Ellen was even more touching than Marisol's delight. Such a small gesture, and yet it was one of the countless niceties that Ellen had imagined she would have performed as a mother. A note in a lunch box, a book of poetry with favorites checked in the index, homemade marshmallows on a wintry afternoon, tiny foil hearts spread over a red tablecloth on Valentine's Day. Ellen knew they were silly fantasies, but she could not escape them. The idea of her own little girl, doing homework at the kitchen table, chattering about her day while Ellen prepared their dinner was an image that she had permanently etched into her consciousness. The evenings Ellen spent with Marisol did not make up for what had been lost, but they allowed Ellen to practice the maternal feelings she so longed to share.

The day that Ellen had been alternately working toward and dreading finally came. She knew it would. Marisol shyly announced that she had started taking a class at the local community college. "Oh?" Ellen said in her best surprised voice. Marisol wanted to learn to read and write in Spanish, and Ellen spoke only enough Spanish to say hello, goodbye and thank you. The boy's name was Carlos. He was twenty-two, and he had a Green Card and a job. He planned to go to college and become an accountant. Marisol said he was very smart. And handsome. When Marisol said that her father had been right after all, she giggled. She and Carlos passed each other notes in class, and now they were in love. Ellen said how wonderful that was, and gave Marisol a congratulatory hug. Wonderful. Ellen wished her all the best. Really. Marisol and Carlos were getting married next month and moving to New Jersey. He had family there. She was so grateful to Miss Ellen. Really. The next time Marisol came would be the last. There was so much to do before the wedding. Ellen gave her an envelope with an extra one hundred dollar bill and pretended that she was really, really happy though once again, she felt that terrible emptiness that comes with an irreplaceable loss. Bill could not believe what he heard. Irreplaceable? There were millions of young illegal girls out there looking to clean for cash. And Ellen said that, of course, that was true. How foolish of her. Later that night, after Bill's snores signaled a deep sleep, she got up and sat at the dining room table, arranging and rearranging the pencils, pens, index cards and miscellaneous school supplies she had kept in a blue plastic box marked Marisol.

****

Win A Free Book from Phyllis Schieber – Its very easy to be entered in a drawing for a FREE book by Phyllis Schieber. Post comments on any blogs during the virtual tour and you will have a chance to win a book from Phyllis. One random person will win – but we are also asking visitors to share a secret and one secret will also win a free book. As a bonus the blog owner that hosted the winning comments will also win a book. Share some interesting stories and questions with Phyllis Schieber during her tour – and have a chance to win a book.
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Order Your Copy here - http://tr.im/2x1g

Visit Phyllis Schieber www.thesinnersguidetoconfession.com or www.phyllisschieber.blogspot.com


Posted by joyceanthony at 2:51 AM EST
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Saturday, 27 December 2008
Storm by Joyce A. Anthony--an Excerpt
Topic: First Chapter

 

Prologue

The wind whipped against the lighthouse, shaking it so fiercely that Sam could picture it toppling into the stormy sea.  Waves pounded the rocks and halfway up the sides of the lighthouse-waves that were twice Sam's height.  His thin frame tightened as he braced for each violent shake from the waves that fed hungrily on the wind.  Sending a silent prayer skyward, Sam checked to make sure the light was still working.  Weather like this could easily send an unfortunate ship spinning into the rocks, shattering it to mere splinters in seconds.  The light continuously spun, sending its warning outward. 

There's something different in this storm, Sam thought as he made his way to the lower level of the lighthouse.  Another wave rattled the windows in the area Sam called home.  "Yes, indeed," he mumbled out loud.  "Something is definitely different."

Unable to sleep, Sam played solitaire and let his thoughts wander.  He didn't mind being alone in the middle of the sea.  His job was an important one.  A ship getting lost out here and crashing upon the sharp, rocky island would mean instant death to all aboard.  Sam hated to think of what the aftermath of such a disaster would be like, so he was meticulous in keeping the light well-oiled and the glass sparkling.  He'd been emotionally alone his entire life, yet never felt lonely.  Life was everywhere around him and Sam never ceased to wonder at the power and beauty of the sea.

He wandered over to the window and looked out over the raging water.  Bolts of lightning lit up the churning waves and thunder reverberated from every direction, not so much following the lightning, but accompanying it-the two creating a chorus of unimaginable power.  The lighthouse continued to shake with every clap of thunder, but she held her ground, steady and sure in the face of danger.  Sam felt safe within her walls.  Still, as he watched wave after wave crash against the rocks outside, he couldn't shake the feeling that there was something different about this storm.  He'd been through many raging storms in his years at sea, but the feeling wasn't the same.  With one final look out the window, Sam went back to his game to wait for morning.  He knew it would be a long night.

 

* * * *

 

 Morning arrived, clear and cloudless, with the sky a bright blue shade found nowhere else in the world.  Sam stepped outside to take a look at what damage the storm had caused.  He took a deep breath of the salty air.  He could feel it energize him.  The thought crossed his mind that there wasn't a bit of blood flowing through his veins after all this time.  "No," Sam said to the sky, "there's nothing but pure salt water running through these old veins."

A storm as powerful as the previous night's could cause a lot of damage.  Sam had found, at one time or another, various kinds of debris and sea life.  He'd found sea creatures stranded on the rocks and pieces of broken ships that hadn't made it through to the end of their journey.  Today, everything appeared fine.  Then he saw the gulls.

It wasn't often you saw more than a lone gull this far out at sea.  The last time Sam had seen so many circling like this, a dolphin had been thrown from the sea and lay stranded upon the rocks.  The gulls had gathered and circled, waiting for the dolphin to lose its fight for life.  Sam had worked all day, dragging the stranded creature to the edge of the island so it could swim back to safety.  His heart sank as he headed toward the gulls. 

What now? he wondered.

Following instinct rather than any tangible reasoning, Sam headed for a large boulder to his right.  If nothing else, he thought, I'll get a clearer view of the surrounding area.  The air suddenly stilled.  The gulls landed and ceased their constant cries.  Sam looked around him and wondered at the total silence.  A tingling ran through him like the lightning the night before had charged the air around him.  It wasn't an unpleasant feeling.  Sam continued his climb up the boulder and, reaching the top, he froze.

He wasn't sure what he had expected to see-maybe a dolphin or a tortoise.  What he did see, however, was so unexpected and out of place that Sam felt unable to move for a time. Wedged tightly between two stones was a wicker basket, like those used for laundry.  It appeared whole and undamaged. 

A cry broke through Sam's reverie; there was something alive inside the basket! Approaching the basket cautiously, he looked around for any signs of life other than the gulls.  The gentle lapping of the waves eased his nervousness, but not his confusion.  Inside the basket, wrapped tightly in a soft blanket, was a baby. 

"Is anyone there?" Sam called out, turning slowly in a circle.  There was no sound, no movement.  Sam saw no boat to indicate that there was anyone else on the island.  Searching the ground for footprints, Sam found none.   This made no sense.  Babies don't just appear out of thin air.  He closed his eyes.  He was seeing things.  That's what it was.  Opening his eyes again, Sam discovered that the baby was still there.  The air still held the abnormal silence. 

It's like the calm before the storm, he thought, only this time it's come after the storm

The baby was watching Sam, quietly now, an expression of interest in his dark eyes.  Stooping down, Sam gently reached out to touch the child's forehead.  "Well, I guess this is one critter I can't throw back in." The baby laughed and the sound startled Sam; it was a sound that seemed so out-of-place here.  Rocks upon rocks surrounded them.  The lighthouse stood on the only piece of flat land the island had. 

Island?

It occurred to Sam at that moment that nobody could have gotten there without a boat, and the storm of last night would surely have caused any boat coming close to splinter against the rocks.  There were no signs of a wrecked boat anywhere.  Sam's confusion grew, but common sense finally kicked in. 

"You must be wet and cold," he said to the baby.  "I need to get you inside." He reached down to lift the infant and found, to his utter amazement, the baby was as dry as he was.  "Who are you? Where did you come from?" The baby's eyes met Sam's silently. 

Sam carried the tiny bundle back to his home.  In all his years, he'd never held a baby, and he found himself taking extra care for fear of being too harsh.  He wondered what he could feed the baby.  He was sure he'd heard somewhere that babies needed special food.  "Hope you like fish, little one.  That's about all we get around here."

Gently laying the baby on his cot, Sam unwrapped him.  He looked the baby over carefully for signs of injury.  There wasn't a mark on the perfect skin.  "Looks like everything is in working order," he said out loud.

Eyes as black as a starless night looked up into Sam's gray ones, and Sam suddenly felt he was in the presence of someone so much older than the tiny child he held.  The eyes seemed to speak of mysteries Sam could only guess at.  The child's hair was wavy and black.  Sam gently reached out and allowed the hair to curl around his finger.  The child reached up and took hold of Sam's outstretched finger and Sam had the strongest feeling of pure love he'd ever known. 

"What am I to do with this child, Lord? Please show me what you want of me." Sam unwrapped the child's hand from his finger and sat down on the cot.  The baby had drifted into a peaceful sleep and Sam's worried expression turned to a gentle smile as he looked upon the sleeping baby. 

I'll find a way to take care of you, he thought. 

A ship came to the island every six months to bring supplies.  Sam checked his logbook-five months to go.  He'd turn the baby over to the supply crew when they came and they could take him to town, where his parents could be found.  Sam felt that was the best thing. 

"What shall I call you until then? You need a name."

Thinking back over the past few hours, Sam still felt confused as to how this child had come into his little piece of the world.  Answers or not, Sam knew the coming months would not be easy ones.  His nice, quiet, uneventful life had been turned upside down without warning.  You never can tell what the storm will wash ashore. 

"Storm," he whispered to the sleeping baby.  "I'll call you Storm."

 

 

Chapter 1

Storm watched the tiny island disappear as the supply vessel carried him away from his home of thirty-three years and toward a future that was even more unknown than his beginning.  Sam had often told him the story of the day he was found.  He once told Storm he felt guilty for not turning him over to those who could have given him a better life, but somehow the supply ship came and went, and each time Sam felt that he would be giving up the family he never realized he'd needed. 

As Storm grew, Sam taught him all he knew-about the lighthouse, the sea, and the world beyond.  Storm was a quick and eager pupil, asking constant questions, drawing out every detail Sam could find.  One day Storm questioned Sam's version of how he came to be on the island.  It made no sense to Storm that a child could have just appeared, let alone survived the kind of storm Sam described.  Sam confessed the circumstances still baffled him.  "Some things, Storm, just are," he finally said.  "We can question endlessly and the answers forever elude us."

Sam's hard life finally caught up with him and Storm took over the duties of running the lighthouse.  The two men spent hours, playing cards or simply talking.  Sam couldn't remember a time when he'd been happier.  Storm knew no other existence. 

When the older man caught a chill that invaded his body so thoroughly that he could not shake it, Storm did what he could to make Sam comfortable.  In the end, Sam's fight drew to an end and he called Storm to his side. 

"Storm, you are destined for great things.  You must go and meet them willingly."

"How can I survive in a world I do not know?"

Sam took Storm's hand in both of his and looked deep into the dark eyes he knew so well.  He was searching for something-a word, a sign, anything-to help him know what he must say.  The words came to him clearly and he held tightly to the younger man's hand.

"Follow the railway tracks and seek the whirling rainbow.  There you will be what you are meant to be."

"Whirling rainbow?  I don't understand.  How can I find what does not exist?"

Sam's voice was softer now, and Storm had to put his ear close to the dying man's lips.  "Faith and courage, but mainly faith, will lead the way."

Storm gently washed Sam's body and dressed him in clean clothes.  They had discussed this day a few weeks ago and Sam had told Storm that he wanted his body thrown into the sea.  The sea had been a part of him during his life, and he wished to be a part of it at the time of his death. 

Storm silently watched as the waves carried away the only family he had ever known.  As a large wave enveloped Sam and drew him beneath the surface, the young man turned slowly toward the lighthouse. 

"I'll see you inside the rainbow, Sam."

 

* * * *

 

"Where are you heading?"

The voice broke into Storm's thoughts and he returned to the ship.  "I'm not sure.  I guess whichever way the wind blows me."

The supply ship had docked and Storm looked around, with a mixture of excitement and apprehension.  This was his first time away from the lighthouse; he had never seen houses and cars and stores.  Yes, he'd seen pictures, but they were nothing compared to the reality that surrounded him now.  Sounds were everywhere and Storm found he could not identify many of them; you can't describe a sound recognizably in a book. 

When one of the sailors asked if he was okay, Storm realized that he had been standing quite still, overwhelmed by all that surrounded him.  "Yes.  Yes, I'm fine."

Letting instinct lead him, Storm headed toward the setting sun.  As he passed, people stopped and watched him.  There was an air about him that demanded attention, although nobody could have put words to what it was.  His dark hair flowed past his shoulders and halfway down his back.  It had never seen a pair of scissors and was thick and wavy, glistening each time the sun glanced off of it.  Eyes of dark obsidian reflected everything he looked at.  They were warm eyes that conveyed a sense of peace and understanding, never revealing the turmoil they hid.  His skin had been permanently wind-burned to a rich tan and his muscles were those of a man who had worked hard, not one who worked out.  Storm's hands were strong and rough, yet he held them in a way that made you picture them wiping away a tear or cradling a wounded bird.  Gentle hands. 

To those he passed, it appeared this man knew exactly where he was heading.  He didn't rush, but neither did he linger.  He walked purposefully, taking in all the sights, sounds and smells around him.  Not once did he notice the curious stares of those he passed.

Storm was nearing the edge of town now and he still had no clue where he was going, but he figured the direction of the setting sun was as good as any.  He remembered Sam's advice-to follow the tracks-but he had not seen any in town.  It was getting dark quickly and it made no sense to continue further until morning.  The weather was clear and warm, so Storm figured he didn't need too much shelter for the night.  It never occurred to him that there might be danger.  His entire life had been safe.  Finding a willow with branches that nearly touched the ground, Storm lay beneath its branches and drifted into a restless sleep.

Storm found himself surrounded by color-moving, pulsating color.  They seemed to be lit from behind by an unseen light.  The sound of music, unlike any he had ever heard, vibrated from everywhere.  He stopped to marvel at how beautiful the sound was.  He turned his head, first one way and then the other, trying to pinpoint just where the sound originated, but it seemed to be coming from everywhere at once.  It occurred to Storm that the music was coming from the colors themselves, as their movement coincided completely with the sound.  If he had been asked to explain his feelings at that moment, he would have found it impossible.  Every emotion he had ever felt passed through him, one right after the other, each lasting mere seconds.  The colors and music hypnotized Storm and he found himself spinning to the rhythm. 

What was that smell?   Lilacs! How he knew this with complete certainty, he couldn't say; he'd never seen a lilac, let alone smelled one.  The strong scent infiltrated his senses and added to the hypnotic feeling.  The colors swirled faster now, each one mingling with the next.  It was hard to see where one ended and the other began.  Storm spun faster and faster with the colors. 

Fear started to take over his mind and he wanted everything to stop.  "I'm not ready yet.  Make it stop." His cries were drowned out by the music-no longer sweet, but a crashing jumble of notes.  Storm covered both ears and screamed, the only thing he could do to release the immense pressure building up inside of him.  Sweat poured from him, joining with the colors in a way that made it appear as multi-colored as they were. 

Storm wanted it to stop; he willed it to stop; finally, he pleaded silently for this nightmare to end.  Another long, primal scream escaped him, this time accompanied by a loud clap of thunder.  At the same moment, a bolt of lightning flew through the air and barely missed Storm.  It was followed by yet another loud clap of thunder.  The colors around Storm exploded into millions of splinters, each containing its own inner light and color.  Storm's spinning abruptly stopped and he sank to his knees.  Tears flowed down his cheeks-tears that joined with the multi-colored fragments in the air. 

Then he heard the Voice; or rather he felt it, as it seemed to come from both inside and outside him.  "Stand up to your destiny, son. 

The strong voice demanded to be obeyed, and Storm stood without thinking.  "Who are you?" he asked.

"You know who I am-and who you are.  The time has come to take hold of your destiny and complete what you have come here to do."

"But I don't know what I'm to do! Tell me.  Tell me where my destiny lies!"

"The answer lies within the whirling rainbow.  Trust yourself."

The Voice was silent then.  Storm looked around him and saw the colors fade.

"Wait.  Where am I to go?  What must I do?"

Silence was his only answer.

***

To meet some of the characters from Storm and read some reviews, please visit http://joyceanthony.tripod.com

To view the book trailer, visit:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zCU-D9W72E4

To purchase your copy of Storm, please go here:

http://www.storm.2freedom.com/

Thank you!!


Posted by joyceanthony at 1:20 AM EST
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Saturday, 31 May 2008
A Sneak Peek at Patriot Acts by Steven Bradley
Topic: First Chapter

Posted by joyceanthony at 2:47 AM EDT
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Thursday, 29 May 2008
Stillborn by Steven Bradley--An Excerpt
Topic: First Chapter

Today I'd like to share with you a third excerpt from Steven Bradley.  Tomorrow, I will be sharing more information on Steven's upcoming book and share with you some places where you can read even more of this wonderful author's work. Now, onto the excerpt....

Introduction

April 1, 1988, 2:03 AM

She had insisted upon hating it but there was no denying it any longer. The blowing night breeze gave a false sense of serenity to a tense evening with the growing thing inside her always bringing her back to reality. The moonlit night sky above caused a glimmer of misty light through a window into the land of the so-called living to expose the sleeping silhouette of a beautiful woman. Her restive eyes shifted radically behind her closed eyelids. She saw it all so clearly; that same evil nightmare that had plagued her since the thing had begun to sprout within her. She had purposed in her heart to abhor it because she was sure that would be the only way to survive the inhumane measures the thing's appearance would unleash.

The dream was like a night in some evil cavalcade of misfits that always seemed to leave the taste of hostility on her tongue. She couldn't see it, but she felt it. There was a sense that she had to walk the length of the environs and that she could feel arms pulling at her to compel her. It didn't feel like she was heading toward anguish, but was actually being invaded by it, almost surrounding her! She ran into a pavilion as though in slow motion, with her feet moving as though they were treading upstream in a fast flowing river and traveling in the opposite direction! It was gloomy, sinister even rancid. She saw no one but heard the wailing hideous cries of babies in some hidden away place that made her blood crawl. She grasped her abdomen and followed the shrieking sounds to a hallway. She tried to open several doors and found the third one on her left unlocked and slowly slid it open. This had been the farthest she had ever ventured down the lingering hallway that had so often occupied her dreams. The weeping sounds stopped, but a vista appeared before her; a landscape she had seen before. There before her own eyes she saw herself sitting handcuffed in front of a police officer's desk. As she watched the scene unfurl before her eyes she spoke the words out silently to herself in unison with the man seated in front of her in this obscure panorama before her dreaming eyes!

"Susan, Susan, this is the third time this week! Can't you spot a cop from a John anymore?"

"Mr. Policeman, I got no job but this one, no money, no family except back in Mexico. Me? I have only this beautiful body Mr. Policeman, and it don't last too long either, so..."

The young beautiful sleeping beauty saw two officers walk past her and it was clear to her in the dream that they could neither see nor sense her presence. She was startled at the face of the tall one and grabbed her stomach and scared to death by the short older one and it made her hug the contents of her expanded belly. She saw both of them look at her image shackled to the chair in front of her in the dream, the short older cop in front of her had an inquisitive look on his face. As the shorter, older cop talked with the tall officer, the short one turned and looked at the woman in the chair and shook his head up and down slightly while scratching his chin and smiling slightly. The tall officer waved at the short one; both with perverse smiles on their faces. The sleeping treasure began to stir as behind her closed eyelids, suddenly, the lights went out in the room she was in while watching herself in the dream and she had to stumble in the darkness!

The dreaming woman again clutched her abdomen! The thing within her was kicking, moving, heaving, and pushing her almost to the ground each time the woman's insides received blows from the product growing and protesting within her! She turned around and painfully walked out the door. The pain was taking her breath away. It was kicking her on all sides and without mercy! As her foot touched the hallway again the wailing cries of the babies blasted out again and her pain subsided. She turned in an almost frantic, maternal manner to rush over to the door from where the cries were coming. She looked down at her own stomach and the thing was gone! Suddenly, she tuned her ears to the sounds of the babies' cries at the end of the hall in front of her!

"My baby! I am coming baby!"

The woman lunged forward and ran at top speed to the door and saw it was partly open and the light inside the room was escaping out into the hallway. She aggressively pushed the door open. This time there was a background that she actually remembered from the previous times she had been there in her night visions. There was the short pudgy cop seated behind his desk. He leaned back in his armchair and looked her over. To the right was a man who had a face that looked like a mosquito. She recognized him! Best pimp she had ever had! The woman in the scene, of course she knew the insect looking thing.

"Richie, thought you were my pimp, not a pig!" the woman shouted at the bug-like man. She watched the vision unfold.

"You know you have become somewhat of a public nuisance!" the officer stated.

"Ah, business has been good and I feel quite well received, know what I mean sir? The public seems to like me very much, including several of Chicago's finest." The woman was smiling slightly.

The officer stared at the woman for a moment. His piercing look made the woman very uncomfortable and she began to look around the office to get a grip on her fear. As the woman in the dream and the woman watching the dream behind her closed eyelids surveyed the room, they both participated in on the eye parade. Together, they both noticed the diploma on the wall behind the dumpy old officer. It was too far away to read much of it but the part she could make out read, "Degree of Doctor of Forensic Medicine." Somehow the paper made the woman calm down knowing that his looks were misleading and that in reality he was a doctor. She wondered though,

"What kind of doctor becomes a cop?"

The sensuous street woman's eyes slid down the wall behind the doctor-cop and finally met those piercing eyes in the head of this elusive doctor-cop seated behind the desk. He leaned forward in his chair. The sound of the old rickety chair thrusting forward to draw the man's face closer to the woman in the dream alarmed the dreamer as she gasped.

"You know, I can have them throw the book at you. It's not exactly my purview here, but put in the years I have here and you can pretty much have anything the way you want it, just touch the right people, if you know what I mean sweetie?"

The woman in the chair was afraid, but she didn't dare let on!

"Just listen to the man, darling." the mosquito man pleaded.

"I just do my service to humanity senor. What you call it here, um, a free-market system or something like that?"

The dreamer thought that was a gutsy thing to say and felt proud of herself. In fact, she seemed to remember having said it herself at some point. The officer laughed, seeming to have appreciated the dexterity of the whore seated in front of him.

"She is perfect!" he thought.

She would be excellent and he could put up with her for 9 months anyway. She needed the money, wanted the cash, so why not go for it? He softened his facial expression and looked calmly at her. The woman watching the scene began to remember parts of the image before her and grabbed her stomach again!

"I have a proposition for you, Miss...?"

"My name is Susan," the woman informed the officer.

Suddenly, the observer remembered it all! She remembered the contract, the money, the treatment and the thing developing inside her and her inability to hate it! She remembered the officer!

"Tell him NO!" the dreamer screamed at the woman.

She knew who the woman was! She knew her well! She was this woman seated in the chair in front of the police doctor-cop! She ran up and tried to shake the image of herself in the scene and her hand simply reacted as if it was touching the nothingness of a cloud and the image disappeared into a hazy fog and the sound of the crying babies again filled the shadowy and eerie atmosphere of the dream. She ran out of the room, and back into the hallway, which had gone black. As she ran down the hallway, she realized again that the heavy load she had been bearing in front of her was gone and her abdomen was empty. She panicked but kept running to open door where the sounds were so piercingly throbbing at the night air! She threw open the door and was shocked to find two infants lying in the corner of an eerily lit room. They were wrestling in a pool of mud and were crying out for their mommy! Abruptly, they ceased their wailing and turned their heads towards her and stared at her. One began to reach out for her crying while the other one screamed, "I'll kill you! I'll kill you!" The dreaming woman began to scream and ran out of the room.

Suddenly, the dark haired beauty opened her eyes! She felt tremors at her insides forcing her to grab her abdomen.

"Oh God!" she prayed.

She turned and punched the man who was asleep next to her with his mouth gapped open.

"Wake up! Richie! Wake up, it's coming",

The body next to hers roused and suddenly sat up in bed.

"Ah, you ready to go?"

She looked at the man who had a bug-like face and shook her head in exasperation.   "Ah! It lives!" she grunted and pounded on the man's shoulder. He instantly lit a half-smoked cigarette. They sat up. She did so slowly because she knew her insides were very tender at the moment. The man took a cell phone and speed-dialed a number.

"Hello."

"Yea, it's Richard. Your product is on its way!"

"One second please" the voice at the other end ordered. "Be there in five!"

"Uh, Good!" The man closed the cell phone.

"Let's go Suzy Q. They'll be right here! Now come on!"

"Sometimes you are Mr. Sensitivity himself, you know that?"

She picked up her suitcase and tried to give it to Richie to carry. He paid no attention to her so she lifted it and walked down the steep stairs from her apartment to the street down below followed by the bug-man. When they reached the bottom, a car pulled up in front of them and the back door swung open. The bug-man nudged her into the back seat and the car sped away. She remembered her dream. What did it mean? Soon she would learn. People will always do for money what they would never even dream of doing for food. She was not exactly a whore. She had a pitiful ability to be a beautiful, soft woman when she wished to. A reason or opportunity simply presented itself so rarely. Now, here she was just gasping for breath in the back seat of a stranger's car ready to throw away the fruit of her loins. She had insisted upon hating it. The problem was that it had made its presence so well known in the last eight weeks. Against her own better judgment, she had allowed herself to commune with it. She had taken it as her own. She had finally found something she could not prostitute! She wanted it. Perhaps she loved it? Giving it away was such a vicious type of suicide. Giving it away would end her life! Some things were simply known far too deeply in the heart.

"How many minutes apart are they?"

"AH! Diablo! I think about three minutes. Richie, it feels like there's an army in there or a mighty big one." She clutched her abdomen and began to wince from the pain.

"Hey Suzy Q, you got to hang in there. We can do this."

"The father was a big man. It was good!" she thought to herself.

"This kid will be the same."

"I'd swear there are four arms and four legs in there." She informed Richie, grunting and moaning as she spit out her words. She looked down at her baby's soon to be abandoned shelter. She rubbed her belly and said, "You will be ok. Oh God, let us be ok!" She was not at all sure about that herself. The car pulled into an abandoned industrial complex.

"What is this? Where are we? This is not what I agreed to!"

Susan began to panic. She was told that she would be in a hospital. She wanted to leave. It was out of the question! It was not the way it was supposed to be. The car stopped. This beautiful woman reached for the door handle! There was none! She was about to enter her own self-made hell and this was no dream!


Posted by joyceanthony at 12:38 AM EDT
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Wednesday, 28 May 2008
Probable Cause by Steven Bradley--An Excerpt
Topic: First Chapter
  Introduction

"Madam! I have no choice! Every other option sucks! She was my whole life.Will she come back to me?"

"She shall certainly never return to you if you kill yourself and why you come to me today, sir, from so far away, just to have me tell you to cut your wrists or to drown yourself in the tub or to jump off one of the bluffs here? I never knew I was so popular. From where you live?"

"Madam, Logansport is renowned for the likes of you. I had a friend who came to you once."

"Ah! Where is your friend now my?"

"He is dead!"

"He did not take my advice either, I see?"

"No, he did take it, quite literally!"

"Well, every case is different ya see, but yours is definitely one worth fighting for! I see death in your cards, but not your own, my friend. This life is all about what makes ya happy, sir. Is it suicide that will give you peace and make you most happy? Then do that!"

"Well, actually..."

"Or...is it getting her back that you crave and not just that, getting rid of the disease and its carrier that gave it to her?"

"You mean murder, don't you?"

"That is what some would call it. I call it justice, a new set of values and you of all people believe in justice, don't you? I serve my master because He never just sat by and let that so-called God just take everything away from Him. He fought back and does to this day! He is no coward!"

"Are you calling me a coward, Madam Lizza?"

"There is no need to call you a coward! You are doing that yourself! Is she worth it? Was she not a victim of all of this? Do you not want her back or perhaps you wish to kill her too, because that is what you will be doing if you die! What are you prepared to do to get her back? What are you prepared to do; let the thief win? I see right here in the cards that you are no coward. You can become death and make it your friend and the friend of the innocent and the enemy of the evil. Have you no values sir? So I ask you again, what are you prepared to do?"

"I cannot worship Satan! I have always been told that..."

"Is he evil, correct sir? He is the Prince of Darkness, but darkness is not always evil. Darkness is two-sided and both are friends and both are enemies. It depends on the situation. Sometimes it is your friend and sometimes it is your adversary. Let Queen Lizza assure you that in your case, darkness is your very good companion. It could certainly assist you in this endeavor sir? I know you will come back to visit me, but not concerning this situation. So now, you go from here and consider what I have said. I am not asking you to serve Satan, sir. I am imploring you to do justice and let the light of darkness guide you even in the light. But before you go, close your eyes and tell me what you see."

The Medium's client closed his eyes softly then his eyes tightened as a result of what he saw.

"Tell me, my child, tell Madam Lizza what you see."

"I see, I see a grave yard, a tombstone right in front of me."

"Whose tomb stone is it my friend? Tell me!"

"It is his, he is dead and..."

"And it makes you feel good? Makes you happy? Is it gratifying? Is it not peaceful? Is it not right? Sir!"

The seer's customer was startled and opened his eyes.

"Tell me, sir, did you come here to get some pastoral advice? If so, you came to the wrong place! Now, go out of here and if killing yourself and giving her to him is your greatest peace, by all means, do it sir! If you want her back and the evil one gone, then be a man and wipe out the plague that will leave her life after you are gone and destroy yet another family."

"Do you see that in my cards?"

"It is all here including how you felt when you found them out. Make this a new purpose for your life, to help those in such a plight as this."

Queen Lizza lifted her left hand and blew a powder from her palm unto the heart-wounded man's face. He was dazed by it.

"You should do the will of the master because it is the only one that works but go now and I ask you one more time, what are you prepared to do? You are sworn to uphold justice, are you not? So, go out and do so! I offer you a completely new set of core values!"


Posted by joyceanthony at 2:24 AM EDT
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Tuesday, 27 May 2008
Nimrod Rising--An Excerpt
Topic: First Chapter
  Prologue

Steps Toward Gomorrah

Behind the United States and its Constitution was a corrupt movement of evil, a small group of men whose sole objective was to enslave the globe and humanity in their Master's world, a world devoid of the presence of Elyon! Their plot was to turn the species into fossils so that the Master could reclaim His throne. The beginning of the final step was put into place in the middle of the 18th Century, and the man who put that plot into action was Adam Weishaupt.

Weishaupt had pretended to convert to Catholicism and later became a Catholic priest. It was he who had launched this satanic plot back in the 1760's under the name of "the Swarm." He was made of one thing: political intrigue. When his skills were finally noticed and his intentions known, the Financiers requested that he abandon his faith and realize his role in the seed of Nimrod. He quickly complied and defected from the Catholic Church and organized The Minders. They were called by many names: The Illuminati, The Bilderbergers, and The Guiding Hand; they were all financed by the International Bankers.

The founding of the invisible net of Luciaians became the source of every war since that very day. It began with the French Revolution, which became an orgy of blood and served as a fine sacrifice to the master, like those out of the Temple of the Innocents. After the Swarm was exposed and the darkness faced the light, Weishaupt and his co-conspirators were forced to operate under various other names.

Weishaupt was a Jesuit-trained professor of Canon Law, teaching in Inglecot University, when he defected from Christianity to embrace the Swarm. In 1770, he began to write out the Master's plan. It was designed to give the forces of Satan ultimate world domination so they could impose the Luciaian ideology. The master wished to destroy the weak and usurping species of Humanity. Weishaupt smiled when he understood what would become of humanity by what would remain of the human race after the final social cataclysm by use of satanic despotism.

Weishaupt completed his task on May 1, 1776, which, to this day, is internationally celebrated as the great May Day. That was the day Weishaupt officially completed his plan, requiring the destruction of all existing governments and religions. The objective was to be reached by dividing the masses of people into opposing camps in ever increasing numbers on political, social, economic, and other issues, the very conditions facing the United States in its teetering existence. The opposing sides were then to be armed; terror would crush the masses' resolve to defend themselves. Fatal incidents would be amply provided which would cause them to fight and weaken themselves, gradually destroying national governments and religious institutions, as well as family and the complete, utter breakdown of all social order! Meanwhile, all the normal affairs of the current day had already started to tumble downward. TORS had devastated the nation. The fledgling government was in a stupor of the drug they daily injected but which they withheld from the population at large. Monetary and sexual bribery was used to gain dominance over men already in high places in the various levels of all governments and other fields of endeavor. Once the leaders and the masses had fallen for the lies, deceits, and temptations of the beast, they were to be held in bondage.

The nation had lost its nerve! It refused to see that the means stood before them but they lacked the will to use it. The application of political and other forms of blackmail, threats of financial ruin, public exposure, and physical harm, even death to themselves and loved members of their families caused the detractors to remain silent. Plenty of examples of terror served as fit reasons not to expose one's self. It had become a nation that had sought to force Elyon's hand off of the country and now the Eagle was crashing! Guilty of the sins of the flesh, the lust of the eye and the boastful pride of life, it was clear that the Nation had failed. Babylon was falling!

The hordes of the Swarm were engrained in the faculties of colleges and universities throughout the country. They had cultivated their crop of minds from the students possessing exceptional mental ability and who belonged to well-bred families with international leanings. Many of them were chosen for special training in internationalism, social destruction and moral execution of the established order; they granted scholarships, like the Rhodes scholarship, to those selected by the Swarm to put their ideas and levers all in place. There were those who just simply disappeared and were never heard from again. All those were scholars, those able to kill without remorse and those devoid of the fear of death because they had not gone along with the plan. They were to be first persuaded and then convinced that men of special talent and brains had the right to rule those less gifted on the grounds that the masses do not know what is best for them physically, mentally, or spiritually.

All the influential people who were trapped under the control of the Swarm, plus the students who had been specially educated and trained, were to be used as agents and placed behind the scenes of all governments as experts and specialists. They would advise the top executives to adopt policies which would, in the long run, serve the secret plans of the Swarm's One World conspiracy, and bring about the destruction of the governments and religions they were elected or appointed to serve. They were to obtain absolute control of the press so that all news and information could be slanted to convince the masses that the Swarm and the Minders were impossible to defeat. Gaining control of the media was never considered a problem. They had owned them for years!


Posted by joyceanthony at 12:24 AM EDT
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Monday, 12 May 2008
Pampa by Janet Elaine Smith
Topic: First Chapter

I have a treat for you guys today--the first chapter of Janet Elaine Smith's novel, Pampas.  This book is available in both English and Spanish.  If you would like to see the Spanish version of Chapter 1 posted, leave me a comment and I shall see what I can do :-) For information on where you can find Pampas and the rest of Janet's books, please visit her website at

http://janet_elaine_smith0.tripod.com/

PAMPAS

(In English)

Señor Raul Escobar. A handsome gaucho, who came to Argentina to lose his past, suddenly becomes the richest man in Argentina after he inherits the huge ranch of Señor Pancho Mendoza upon his death. His devotion to his benefactor is beyond question, but his life and the mysterious way he appeared at the ranch several years earlier is definitely suspect.

Samantha Leota Manchester. A spoiled rich girl, trained as an archaeologist, shows up for Señor Mendoza's funeral, on the arm of the American Ambassador. She asks for permission to "dig" on the land. Her grandmother revealed a secret, on her deathbed, that has sent "Sam" scurrying to try to find the hidden secrets of her past, which she wants to uncover, as much as Raul wants to bury his.

Doña Helena. The faithful housekeeper of Pancho Mendoza, who inherits the large house itself, but there is one string attached: Raul cannot move into the house unless he marries. Doña Helena, who tries to keep peace on the ranch, learns of Sam's secret, and eventually those of Raul as well.

Can these two people, so different, possibly keep from killing each other in their quest to reveal-and to hide-their pasts?

PAMPAS is filled with love, hate, intrigue, secrets, and loads of laughs. Even "the godfathers" get into the picture.

 

**

PAMPAS

Chapter One

The tall, dark-haired stranger knocked on the door of the large hacienda. The house looked like an old southern mansion you might see in Gone With the Wind. It was early in the morning, but the man knew that life on the estancia, one of the huge Argentine ranches, began at the crack of dawn. He hoped to find the owner of the ranch at the house, before he left to make his daily rounds over the acres of land he controlled.

Opening the door, Doña Helena stood, wiping her hands on her apron. There was a smudge of flour on her face, and the man smiled as he saw it. Her appearance was meticulous; the blemish was definitely out of character.

"Is something wrong, señor?" she asked. "Why do you smile so?"

Not wanting to admit the truth, re replied, "It is because of your charm and beauty." He continued, "I would like to talk to the owner of the estancia, please. Is he in?"

Smiling sheepishly, as a young schoolgirl might, Doña Helena answered, "Yes, señor, he is in, but he is eating his breakfast right now. I do not like to disturb him, at least not until he has had his coffee." Doña Helena noted the disappointment on the man's face and added, "But you may come in and wait for him, if you like."

He accepted the invitation graciously and sat on a hard, straight-backed chair in preference to the lovely brocaded sofa Doña Helena indicated.

Doña Helena disappeared from the room, and the man sat, nervously twirling his large black hat, which was so typical of the gauchos. Although he appeared to be a gaucho-one of the wandering cowboys of the Pampas which stretched for 250,000 miles across Argentina-his speech betrayed him. He spoke with a strange accent.

Doña Helena told Pancho Mendoza, the owner of the ranch, of the stranger at the door.

"He probably wants work," Señor Mendoza said knowingly. "Everyone who comes wants work. Some day I will run out of land and out of work. Then what will they all do?"

Doña Helena joined him in laughter. The idea of Señor Mendoza running out of land was the most absurd thing she could imagine. He owned more than seventy thousand acres of ranch land, and it was continually growing.

As soon as he finished his meal, Señor Mendoza entered the huge living room where the man was seated.

"Doña Helena tells me you would like to speak to me," he said. ":How may I serve you?"

"It is I who would like to assist you, señor," the stranger replied. "I am a good, hard worker, and I would greatly appreciate the privilege of serving you on your estancia, Señor."

Señor Mendoza studied the man carefully. His dress was that of the gauchos. He had the same thick, black, wavy hair of the gauchos. He wore the traditional black mustache, which was almost a ritual among the gauchos. But there was a slight Italian accent to his speech, although his Spanish was as fluent as if it was his native tongue.

"Where have you worked before?" Señor Mendoza asked him.

"On many estancias," he replied. "Many of them far from here." Wishing to avoid too many questions, he added quickly, "But your reputation goes throughout the land of Argentina. You have the finest ranch in the country. It is my dream to work on your ranch, Señor Mendoza."

"Aha! A man after my own heart!" Señor Mendoza said with a laugh. "You know a good man when you see one! Flattery will get you everywhere!" he misquoted. "I will take you to meet the other men. I was just about to leave on rounds. Come along; we will get going before you get any later. I demand high quality work from my employees."

"Do you mean I am hired?" he inquired. Seeing the nod of the owner's head, he threw his hat high in the air and jumped up, clicking his heels together.

"Yippee!" he shouted.

Shaking his head in disbelief, Señor Mendoza said, "Of all the gauchos I have seen and hired, you have to be the strangest. You speak Spanish, but with an Italian accent, and you shout in English-like a Yankee. What is your name?"

"Raul Escobar," he said, extending his hand to shake Señor Mendoza's hand. "Pleased to make your acquaintance."

* * *

It seemed as if that had been a century ago, yet only five years had passed since Raul had appeared at the huge estancia. Now Señor Mendoza was dying.

Raul had been out on the pasture land checking on the sheep when the sound of hoofbeats echoed on the ground beneath him. The horse was going so fast, it instantly spelled trouble to Raul. Turning to meet the visitor as soon as possible, Raul rode his horse even faster towards the sound of the one approaching him.

"Raul! Come quickly! It is Señor Mendoza!" It was Doña Helena. Her face was pale, in spite of the hot sun which was pouring down on her.

"What is it?" Raul asked anxiously. Doña Helena turned her horse around, and they raced together towards the hacienda, not losing a second of the precious time.

"It is Señor Mendoza," she repeated as they rode. "Something has happened to him! I think he has had a heart attack!"

They rode together in silence, both praying and hoping against all hope that the man they both had grown to love so much would be there to greet them as he had been so many times before.

Hurriedly, they dismounted their horses and dashed for the open door. Señor Mendoza was lying on the floor, his head propped on the hand embroidered silk pillow, just as Doña Helena had left him. Raul tried to administer mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, but it was of no help. His pulse was extremely weak; the color had drained from his skin; he did not speak.

"Hurry!" he instructed Doña Helena. "Call Dr. Peréz. Tell him to get over here right away."

Doña Helena went immediately to the phone, and taking a small black book from the drawer on the table on which the phone was sitting, turned quickly to the doctor's name and phone number. She had almost completed dialing the number before the receiver reached her ear.

"Hello? Dr. Peréz? This is Doña Helena at the estancia of Señor Mendoza." She did not hesitate for him to say anything in response. "I think Señor Mendoza has had a heart attack. Will you please come to the hacienda right away? Please hurry!"

Replacing the phone in the cradle, Doña Helena turned to Raul. "He is on his way, but it will take almost an hour before he can get here."

Doña Helena went to Señor Mendoza and knelt on the other side of him. The worry and concern showed on both of their faces.

"You love him, too, don't you?" she asked Raul.

He did not answer, but the dampness in his eyes spoke loudly to Doña Helena. It allowed her to read into his heart. He ached for the man he had come to love as a father.

His thoughts traveled back over his lifetime. He had never known his own father. His mother had told Raul and his brother very little of the man. Only his uncle had ever dared to speak to the boys of their father as he had grown up. Raul knew that he had been affiliated with the mafia and that he had been killed by the mob when he refused to let them threaten his wife and children. He had been told that his father had loved them very much, but it was a love he had never known. Until Pancho Mendoza...

Raul had taken a new name when he came to Argentina six years earlier. He had tried to hide his heritage. He was ashamed of the background of his father, and he did not want anyone to know that he was Italian. Señor Mendoza had detected his accent when he first arrived at the estancia, but he never asked him about it. There were many things that Raul hoped would never be discovered. As close as the two men had grown, Señor Mendoza knew better than to ask questions about things that did not concern him.

* * *

A loud knock sounded at the door. Raul did not realize how long he had knelt beside the man-so hard on the exterior, but so tender in his heart.

Doña Helena, who had decided to go about the more mundane matters which were her duties, rushed to answer the demanding knock.

"Where is he?" Dr. Peréz asked. Seeing Señor Mendoza lying on the floor, he pushed her to the side and made his way to the silent body.

"Raul," he said softly, but with a great deal of authority, "please move out of the way. I would like to examine the old man. It is better if you are not here. If I need you, or as soon as I finish examining him, I will call you and let you know what I have found."

Raul rose to his feet, dazed at the condition of this man before him, and left the room, much against his better judgment.

Dr. Peréz moved quickly, checking the pulse of the once powerful man who now lay helpless before him. He withdrew his stethoscope from his worn black medical bag. Placing it in his ears, he took the end of it and warmed it with his hands before putting it on Señor Mendoza's chest. The thump, thump, thump of the heartbeat was barely audible. Dr. Peréz moved quickly, placing one hand on top of the other, then applied pressure to Señor Mendoza's heart. He hoped he would be able to revive him to a normal heart rate. He worked frantically on the nearly lifeless figure. For as small a man as the doctor portrayed, he seemed to be a giant as he put his whole weight and self into the efforts he was so deeply engaged in.

After fifteen minutes had passed, Raul could stand the suspense no longer. He broke into the room, intending to demand an explanation as to the treatment Señor Mendoza was receiving.

The body of Señor Mendoza was heaving violently up and down on the floor. Dr. Peréz was struggling to control it, but the weight beneath him was overpowering.

"Quick! Grab his arm and hold him down while I work on his chest!"

Raul raced to the unmanageable being and placed one of his powerful arms on each of the arms of Señor Mendoza. In spite of his great strength, he was unable to hold him completely quiet, but he fought desperately hard to maintain enough calm to enable Dr. Peréz to once again apply pressure to the heart.

Almost without any warning, the body was completely still. Feeling a tremendous relief, Raul removed his arms from the man and sat back, breathing as deeply as if he had just ridden after all the sheep on the entire estancia."He is okay now! That was close, wasn't it, Doc?"

Dr. Peréz looked at Raul. He did not speak. He took his stethoscope and placed it on the chest. The silence of the moment filled the room. He removed the stethoscope and placed it carefully in his medical bag.

"He is going to be all right now, isn't he?"

Raul's face was filled with a million unspoken questions. If he still needed help, he reasoned, the doctor would still be listening to his heart.

Dr. Peréz stood up and offered a hand to Raul.

"I am very sorry, Raul. I did everything I could for Señor Mendoza." He looked at the hardened face of the gaucho. The weathered cracks of the skin seemed to break into pieces as the tears rolled down his cheeks.

"What do you mean?" he demanded. "You don't mean..." His voice trailed off endlessly.

"I am sorry, Raul," Dr. Peréz said softly. "You cared for him deeply, didn't you?"

Raul did not speak. He could not speak. He opened his mouth, but his throat was parchment dry. He walked to the door and opened it for the doctor. He tried to say "Thank you," but once again, nothing would come out.

Dr. Peréz said, "I will get a death certificate and have it sent over here."

So final!

Raul knelt beside the lifeless figure on the floor. Just this morning, when they had eaten breakfast together, he seemed so vibrant-so full of life-so enthusiastic. He could not believe that this body was the same person. How could life end so abruptly? So without warning? So senselessly?

* * *

The next two days passed slowly. There was so much to do, but Raul did not have the heart to try to do anything. Doña Helena, who had been with Señor Mendoza all of her life, took full charge of all of the notifications, the funeral details, and the arrangements for the guests who would soon be swarming like a bunch of hungry bees.

The news had flashed over the radio and the television that Pancho Mendoza was dead. The people who had worked for him, those who had been involved with him in his business dealings, his attorneys, his friends, his enemies, the heads-of-state from many countries, were all gathered. The only people missing were his relatives. He seemed to be alone in the world, even now when he was converged upon by multitudes of people. He had never married, never had any children, and his only brother had died in a plane crash years ago.

With the funeral services over, the attorney went to Doña Helena and quietly conversed with her. There was a buzzing from one person to another. The disposition of Señor Mendoza's estate was a matter of great speculation. It had been, in fact, a matter of great betting odds in the casinos in Mar del Plata, the "Las Vegas of Argentina."

Doña Helena approached Raul. All eyes were fixed on them. Together they disappeared into the study. Señor Mendoza's attorney went to two other people, both who had been in his employ for a number of years. They joined the two who were already in the study. The attorney disappeared without turning to face the questioning eyes of the group that was standing, gazing at the door through which they disappeared.

"I know you all loved Señor Mendoza very much," the attorney began. "Señor Mendoza knew that, too. I have been instructed by Pancho to inform you of the disposition of his belongings as soon as the funeral is over. So, let's get down to business."

Raul squirmed on his chair. No one ever called Señor Mendoza "Pancho," he thought. How dare he?

The four members of the party stared in disbelief. They had no idea they would be the recipients of his kindness. They had partaken of his generosity during his lifetime; now they would indulge themselves in his goodness in his death.

"Doña Helena," the attorney continued, "You are to be the sole owner of the hacienda-the house proper. And you are assured of an income for the rest of your life from the profits of the ranch." He watched her as he relayed the news to her. She burst into tears. There was no need for words from anyone at a time like this. "There is one stipulation, however. You must continue to do the public obligations for the ranch, as Señor Mendoza always did."

The attorney turned to one of the two workers. "You," he said, "are to have the east five hundred acres of the ranch. You are to tend it as Señor Mendoza has always done."

Turning to the other worker, he went on. "You, on the other hand, are to have the west five hundred acres of the ranch. You also are to tend it as Señor Mendoza has done."

"Are there any questions?" he asked the group. No one spoke.

"Raul," he continued, "the balance of the holdings of Señor Pancho Mendoza are to go to you. The thousands of acres of the ranch proper are yours, as well as his grape vineyards in Mendoza Province. He has left detailed instructions at my office on how he wants to have you proceed, as if he were here watching you. I will get them to you tomorrow."

Raul stared in amazement. How could this be? The kid from the streets in New York City was suddenly a millionaire. He should feel like the luckiest person in the world, but at this very moment he would give it all up in an instant to have the man he had grown so fond o here in their midst instead.

Raul looked around the room at the other three who had just been given word that they too were beneficiaries of Señor Mendoza's great generosity. He could tell-from the look on their faces, from the damp eyes, from the quiet which penetrated the entire atmosphere, from the words which echoed off the walls without even being spoken-that the others felt the same way he did.

The attorney finally spoke, breaking the solemn stillness. It seemed almost sacreligious to even think of cracking a joke, and yet a deep smile was evident across his face.

"Oh, one more thing, Raul," he said, looking at him square in the face, "Señor Mendoza said that you will have to figure out where you are going to live. You are not allowed to move into the hacienda with Doña Helena, unless you should at some time decide to marry. Then you and your wife could reside there, but only if it is agreeable with Doña Helena. "

The group roared hysterically. One thing they had all appreciated about Señor Mendoza-or should we say the late Señor Mendoza-was his wry sense of humor. It was evident, even now. He would not want these people, whom he had depended on deeply to be there when he needed them, to grieve his departure, no matter when or how it came.

The people who were in the large living room beyond had grown nervous and anxious. The chatter had died almost completely. The ears and eyes were all centered on the door to the study. Astonishment filled the faces of the beholders. What could possibly be so funny at a time like this?

"What kind of joke did the old man play on us?" It was the U.S. Ambassador who dared to speak. He had served Señor Mendoza well on many occasions. He had helped him amass his fortunes. He had a right to be remembered. He belonged in that room! A fierce

rage overtook him. He nearly shook from the anger which was experiencing. He deserved something more than to be sitting here among all these people, listening to the laughter coming from inside, like he was some stranger. He probably knew more about Señor Mendoza's holdings and business than anyone else here, except perhaps the attorney. Jeremy David Whitcomb was entitled to more than he was getting! But for once he did not know what to do about the situation. For years he had known power, but he was totally powerless now. It was a feeling he did not enjoy.

* * *

The next morning the doorbell rang. Doña Helena went to answer it, and was surprised to find the attorney there so early in the morning.

"Where is Raul?" he asked.

"Raul?" Doña Helena said in surprise. "You, of all people, should know that he is not allowed to move into the hacienda." She smiled warmly. "He is out in the casita-the small house for the gauchos. Imagine that," she said, "a millionaire and still sleeping out there with the hired hands."

The attorney grinned. "Señor Mendoza would love it. He knew he could trust Raul. He said the one man he could depend on to not let his money spoil him was Raul. In fact, he said he could picture Raul living in the casita for the rest of his life."

"I did ask him to come in for breakfast," Doña Helena said. "It seems awfully empty in here this morning."

"If you don't mind," he said, "I will wait for him in here. I do have something I would like to discuss with both of you."

"Come join me in the kitchen," she invited. "I will give you a cup of coffee." She hesitated for a moment, then added, "Señor Mendoza always had a cup of coffee before breakfast. He always said he was a real bear before his coffee, but I never heard him say anything unkind about anyone."

The back door flung open and Raul came charging in. He sat down at the table, appearing completely oblivious to the presence of the attorney, and banged his fists on the heavy oak table.

"Where is my coffee?" he demanded. "I can't function until I have had a cup of that brew! Come on, woman! Bring me my coffee!"

Doña Helena laughed. His imitation of Señor Mendoza was almost perfect.

"Well?" Raul asked. "Did I pass?"

"He could not have done it better himself," she admitted. "If I had had my eyes closed, I would have thought he had been resurrected."

With no further hesitation, Doña Helena took a cup of hot, steaming coffee and set it before him on the table.

Turning to the attorney, Raul said, "Well, good morning, señor. What are you doing out here at the estaancia at this hour of the morning? I thought you people slept until at least seven o'clock."

The attorney smiled. "You learn very quickly, just as Señor Mendoza said," he quipped. "You sound as cynical as he tried to sound. As a matter of fact, Señor Escobar, I am in my office before seven o'clock most mornings. Now, shall we get down to business?"

Taking a large box from the floor, he said to Raul, "Here you are. These are the deeds for all of Señor Mendoza's land."

Raul gasped. He had never seen a deed before, much less held one in his hands. Now, these were his? All of them?

For the first time in more than six years, Raul thought of his mother. He had put her out of his mind-forever, he thought. Why should she invade his thoughts now? Suddenly, he wished he could share his newfound wealth with her. She had worked hard to provide a living for him and his twin brother when they were growing up. He wondered, too, for the first time, where his brother was and what he was doing.

Snapping back to reality, he pushed such thoughts far back into a corner of his mind, making a very conscious effort to forget that they were there. It was an uncomfortable area of his mind; he did not wish to dwell on it.

"Well," Raul drawled, "you can keep them for me. I presume you handled most of that end of the business for Señor Mendoza. Am I right?"

"You are indeed," he replied. "I shall be glad to continue in your employ, Señor Escobar."Señor Escobar! It sounded so formal. He hated it, but realized that he would have to accept a new role. He had become Raul; he would become Señor Escobar. Change was one thing he had learned to handle quite well.

* * *

The threesome was interrupted by the doorbell. Doña Helena, who had been busy about her duties, hurried to answer it.

"Is Señor Escobar here?" the man inquired.

"Yes, come in," Doña Helena said invitingly.

"I will wait here for him." Pointing behind him, he had a dozen sheep with him.

Raul went to the door, followed by Doña Helena and the attorney. Their curiosity had been duly aroused.

"May I be of service to you?" Raul asked the man.

"No, Señor. It is I who wish to serve you. I have heard that you are the new owner of the estancia. I wish to pay my respects to Señor Mendoza. He helped me purchase my first acres of land. I now have come to repay the debt I owe him. Here are twelve sheep to add to your flocks. Good day, Señor Escobar."

The three of them stood there, looking at each other. The man left in such a hurry, he virtually seemed to disappear.

"Well, well," the attorney chuckled, "you do seem to have that certain knack about you. A chip off the old block! That is the way Señor Mendoza started his first flock of sheep when he moved to the Pampas from Mendoza Province. You will do well, my boy. You will do very well."

As the three of them returned to the house, the attorney said to Doña Helena, "I do hope you can prepare for the fiesta."

"Fiesta?" she asked. "What fiesta? Señor Mendoza is barely dead! We cannot hold a party on the poor man's grave."

"I am sorry you feel that way," the attorney replied. "It was Señor Mendoza's wish that you have a party at the hacienda within a week of the time of his death to announce the new owner of the estancia to the world. They will all want to know. You must comply with his wish."

Raul, who hated publicity and crowds of people, shuddered.

"What must I do? I don't know how to give a party."

"It is no problem," Doña Helena said. "I have the guest lists from all of Señor Mendoza's parties. He never did anything but attend. I always did all the work. I can continue doing all of your work and you can get all of the credit. I can see it now," Doña Helena said, somewhat sarcastically," Señor Escobar holds party in the estancia in the traditional Mendoza style."

They all laughed. They knew Señor Mendoza would have been glad to see them laugh. They could almost feel his presence among them.


Posted by joyceanthony at 12:40 AM EDT
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Sunday, 18 November 2007
Farthinghome Trilogy Excerpt--by Nina M. Osier
Topic: First Chapter
 

For more information on this wonderful trilogy and Nina M. Osier, please visit:

  http://www.geocities.com/nina_osier/

and stop by tomorrow for a wonderful interview with Nina!!

FARTHINGHOME, BOOK ONE: INVASION

by Nina M. Osier

 

Prologue

Kiev and Sedna hung in the after viewports like blue-green gems awaiting the jewel smith’s mallet. A mad smith, who would soon fling them into a furnace—the heat of which their fragile loveliness couldn’t hope to survive.

Viewports on a sleeper ship seemed like such a useless luxury. After today, who would be awake to appreciate them? And what was there to see, anyway, in open space?

"Janna, our stasis couches are ready. It’s time, don’t you think?" Fraya, the watching woman’s sister and research partner, stood at the hatch that led from this narrow compartment (a mere viewing gallery, no wider than a corridor) to the place where they would lie through the long years of their journey. Just the two of them, close to the vessel’s secondary controls. At its bow, near the primary control center, their brothers already slept.

Janna asked nevertheless, without turning around, "Are Kar and Adair all right?"

"Yes. Their readings show everything’s normal." Fraya took the single step that carried her to her sister’s side, and stood at the viewports with her arm around Janna’s shoulders. "It’s difficult to imagine, isn’t it? That when we arrive, we’ll wake up and not realize time has passed at all."

"It’ll be like when we did this to test our tolerance for it." Janna nodded as she ran the tip of her tongue over numb, dry lips. "As if we’d gone to bed for a night’s rest, and wakened with the morning."

"Yes. That’s exactly how it will be." The other woman tightened her clasp. "But that’s not why you’re so afraid right now. Is it, Janna?"

"No. It’s not what’s going to happen to me physically." How well her sister knew her. "It’s everyone for whom we’re responsible, Fraya. All those lives, suspended. All that distance to cross, with no one to take care of an emergency if one arises. And then, at the end—what if we’ve made a navigation error? What if our calculations are wrong, and we wake up somewhere that Humans can’t live?"

"That won’t happen. Farthinghome is a recognized, charted colony world. We know where it is, and how to get there safely. We will get there safely, Janna. If I didn’t believe that was true, I wouldn’t be here. I’d have stayed behind, to die with our grandmothers on Kiev. And so would you." Again the warm arm tightened.

"I still think we ought to try for Earth. After all the time it’s been since they banished our foremothers, surely they’ve forgotten there was ever a reason for sending us into exile. It’s not too late to plot a new course. We could do it from here. Without waking Kar and Adair." Janna was grasping at sun sparkles now. Grabbing water in her hands, watching it trickle through her fingers, and then trying again to get a grip on the elusive stuff, because she’d reached a pitch of desperation at which such behavior almost made sense.

"No. Terra sent us here because they didn’t want people like us contaminating their society any longer, and that can’t have changed. Our ancestors didn’t leave the home-world that long ago." Still gently, but with growing firmness in her tone, Fraya pressed her case.

"They didn’t want people like the ones they sent to Farthinghome, either! What makes us so sure there’ll be room for us when we get there?" Janna snatched at one last handful of beloved, fast retreating Kiev’s golden lake-water. At one last breath of Sedna’s blossom-perfumed breeze. "What if the people already on Farthinghome tell us we can’t stay?"

For that question Fraya knew she had no answer. So she said, "We’ll deal with whatever we find on Farthinghome when we get there. The last time our worlds communicated, the settlers had taken hold and started building themselves a good life. In spite of what the prognosticators on Terra predicted they’d do, if dumped together on a planet and left to fight each other as they’d battled the authorities where they came from. They’ve had centuries fewer than we had, to fill their new world and move out into space beyond it. And unlike us, they didn’t arrive united by a common culture and a coherent belief system. So I can’t imagine they won’t have room. Especially once they understand what we can offer them that Terra never could!"

"If they’re still Human at all, I suppose they’ll have to take us in. Just because we’re Humans, too. Because by the time we get there, we really won’t have any choice but to stay." Janna put up a hand and wiped her face. "All right, Fraya. I’m ready now."

"Good." The other woman lowered her arm so they could walk separately through the narrow hatch. Leaving their final view of twin worlds soon to be swallowed by a star going nova, to enter the state that everyone on board this ship must attain before its hyperdrive could kick in and put enough distance behind them so the coming catastrophe wouldn’t engulf them in its fringes. And, by so doing, wipe out the last few hundred Humans whose dangerous customs and unholy skills had sentenced their ancestors to perpetual banishment.

Chapter 1

"It’s just another damn nosey, Brenna. Don’t get your keezers in a knot." Lieutenant of the Home Guard Gregory Wolfenden lifted the nose of his tiny spacecraft and climbed away from the object of his flying partner’s exclamation. They’d seen dozens of those things during the years since the two of them, Greg Wolfenden and Brenna Taggart, first took to Farthinghome’s skies. Shimmering silver spheres, loaded with a weird jelly-like mess that probably meant something to someone, somewhere—since that was what the scientists found when they opened the spheres and analyzed their contents. Clearly these so-called "noseys" had been made on purpose, by someone or something intelligent. But just what they did remained a mystery, because so far Farthinghome’s best minds couldn’t dope it out. All anyone knew was that the noseys had never hurt people or damaged property, and that after surviving the impossible heat of passing through the planet’s atmosphere they self-destructed following varying periods on the ground. Or in the ocean, or (if collected but not opened right away) in storage at one of Farthinghome’s research laboratories.

When opened, they didn’t do anything. Their organic contents decayed quickly when exposed to air, and their gleaming shells soon followed.

"I got it!" Taggart’s voice announced over her comrade’s suit-comm, in triumph.

"Nice shooting," Wolfenden answered, but his words came out on a groan. "Brenna, target practice is all those things are good for! D’you really need it today? Just ignore ’em if we see any more. Noseys aren’t worth the power it takes to blow ’em out of the sky."

They’d had this discussion, which occasionally turned into an argument, many times before. Taggart sighed as she answered, "Greg. Dammit all, every one of those things ought to be blasted before it can get anywhere near our atmosphere! I don’t care how long ago the Powers That Be decided there were just too many, and quit bothering. I don’t care how harmless the experts’ stupid tests claim they are. They come from an alien species somewhere, one we don’t know anything about. You can’t tell me those aliens aren’t sending ’em here on purpose. For a purpose. Besides, they just plain give me the creeps! Unless someone who’s got the right to give me orders tells me I can’t do it anymore, I’m gonna go right on taking out every nosey I see."

"Some people are too damn stubborn to be believed!" Wolfenden muttered that with his head turned aside from his comm pickup, addressing himself to the universe in general. When he turned his face so his flying partner could hear him again, he said, "Brenna, did it ever occur to you that maybe the people, beings, whatever who’ve been sending the noseys our way are friendly? Or at least want to be? That’s what I’ve read some of the authorities think. If they had any interest in hurting us, they’ve had more than ten years to do it. And they haven’t. That sounds pretty conclusive to—"

"Greg!" Taggart’s scream cut him off. "Look!"

He looked. At a swarm of nosey-globes, coming in faster than any he’d seen before. Normally they almost drifted out of space, and let Farthinghome’s gravity capture them and pull them down. But not this batch. These spheres moved toward Humankind’s home with purpose.

The two pilots also moved deliberately, as Wolfenden switched from private comm-cast to his partner and shouted instead to a battery orbiting high overhead.

* * *

"Primate, there’s a call for you."

Bazel daKiev turned a swift glower in his aide’s direction. His voice he kept cheerful and hearty, though, as he answered, "Sheena, take care of it. I don’t have time. Not if I’m going to arrive at my next engagement on schedule!"

The Primate of the Outlands, newly sentenced to that exile, could have toured his domain at leisure because his boss back on Farthinghome certainly wasn’t going to verify his stops and write him up for tardiness. daKiev knew that very well. But he also knew that if he wanted his new flock’s respect, he would have to start earning it immediately—and colonists, inhabiting space stations and the Farthinghome system’s less hospitable worlds, had little use for officials who wasted their time by not respecting an agreed-upon itinerary.

He would visit the settlements on planets closer to the sun, and farther away from it—including those on the moons of the great gas giants, and on the largest of the mineral-rich asteroids in two belts of solar-orbiting debris—later. His tour, or "progress" as his staff grandly called it, must begin with the mother planet’s own satellites. The natural ones, as well as orbital habitats built to host industries that could function more efficiently (and without further harming a stressed biosphere) in space.

He’d already made his appearance aboard every permanently occupied space station in Farthinghome orbit, and at every dome and Human-carved cavern on Castor. He was now halfway through his progress across (or rather around) Pollux, Farthinghome’s smaller moon, and he couldn’t spare even the time to take a comm call if he wanted get his ashram underway to Minerva with any hope of arriving there on schedule.

Getting to Minerva on schedule mattered. That most Farthinghome-like of the system’s other worlds had surface conditions hospitable to some Human crops, without the need for doming over. So its enclosed habitats housed thousands, stable communities of colonists who’d been there through generations. Visiting Minerva was (at least from a political standpoint) very much like visiting Castor or Pollux. It mattered to the Faith, not just to Primate daKiev and his flock’s individual members, that he make a good appearance there.

So I suppose I must make a good appearance, then! daKiev told himself with resigned sarcasm, as he sighed and took the bright orange priority comm unit from Sheena’s hand after all. Mustn’t put Great Mother through the awkwardness of finding an even worse place to send me, by fouling up my assignment to this one. I wonder what she’d have done with me if I hadn’t merited a primacy, or if the one for Outlands hadn’t been vacant?

"Father Bazel." Great Mother Sigrid’s voice sounded sharp and impatient in his ears. "You’re recalled. Immediately!"

"What?" Her tone held something more than impatience, on second thought. Something that the man she was addressing so formally had never heard from her before. Something he couldn’t pin down, except to realize that it troubled him. A siren’s screeching wail filled the hall whose podium he’d been about to mount when the call came through, and he felt the same nameless, sinking horror that had haunted his nightmares through fifteen of his first eighteen years. The same certainty that something a thousand times larger than he was, relentless and pitiless and vastly powerful, was bearing down to tear him away from everyone and everything he held dear.

"Great Mother? Great Mother Sigrid? Sigrid!" He dropped her title as he realized that the alarm on Pollux, the interrupted comm from Farthinghome’s surface, and the completely foreign sound of fear in the voice of the most powerful woman he knew must spring from a common source.

* * *

Aisha Tambour hauled herself out of sleep with ruthlessness learned long ago, and honed by years of starship service. She said to the pickup beside her berth, "Tambour. What’s going on, Lieutenant?"

The officer of the watch answered tautly. Which didn’t make sense, with the armed cruiser safely orbiting its mother planet. "Sorry to wake you, ma’am. But Central Dictate’s just put all ships in system on alert, and since you are in command right now...."

"I see." Tambour swung her feet to the deck, and grimaced at the metallic cold beneath the thin carpet that was one of her cabin’s small luxuries. On a warship this old, only the captain and the XO rated carpets, private heads, and—the most valuable perk of all—solitude. "Recall the captain immediately. I’m on my way to the bridge."

What could it be? The coup come at last, as the increasingly restive labor co-ops seized this moment of military weakness to take control of Farthinghome’s faltering and disordered central government away from the industrial giants who’d held onto it for so long? That was Aisha Tambour’s guess, as she hauled on her uniform trousers, jammed her feet into her boots, and shrugged into a blouse that she tucked in one-handed as she emerged into the narrow passageway bisecting Officers’ Country. Jacket and weapons belt she held under the other arm.

Her ship wasn’t at full alert, despite what Lieutenant Maher had said. The signal lights along the bulkheads flashed yellow, and the officers and ordinaries heading toward their duty stations moved quickly—but not with the frantic purpose of men and women under orders to prepare themselves and their vessel for impending combat.

Whatever it is, then, it can’t be that bad, Tambour decided with relief that didn’t cause her to slacken her own pace. She emerged from the lift onto the Gallant’s bridge with her belt fastened over her tunic, her sidearm riding her hip, and her sleep-rumpled silver hair (that used to be auburn) finger-combed. She demanded of Maher, who stood in the bridge’s center and stared at the main viewscreen: "Report!"

The senior lieutenant’s voice came out rusty, but steady. "Central Dictate’s gone quiet, ma’am. Not a peep since they put us on alert. They don’t even answer when I hail them."

"Get me a private link to the captain. Now." Tambour’s hazel eyes narrowed. She walked the few paces from lift to command chair, and sat down.

"No can do, Commander." The Alpha Shift communications officer, who must have slipped into his seat only a second ago, didn’t offer that negative response. His Beta Shift counterpart did, because she was still standing beside him. "She took herself off web a couple of hours ago."

Tambour put her forearms flat against the command chair, and drew a breath. Then she said, as if to herself, "So this is what I get for going to bed early for once. Damn!"

It was, after all, only 2143 hours on the 25-hour standard chrono followed by all ships in space and all off-world installations. The new primate of the Outlands would still be working his way through his engagement calendar on...Pollux? Yes. He’d be perhaps halfway through his progress there, finishing long after midnight and then sleeping aboard his outward bound ashram. Off to Minerva, with the Gallant providing suitable escort. So the Gallant’s executive officer had retired early, anticipating her captain’s last-minute return and tumble into bed—leaving the XO in charge of their departure.

Valerie Ashton seldom worried about how her personal behavior affected her XO, and Tambour really couldn’t fault the captain for wanting to stretch a gift of unexpected (although also unauthorized) dirtside time out to the last possible moment. The older officer could well remember what it was like to have a child and a spouse who at every sailing from the home-world must be left behind. For her that was far in the past, but Aisha Tambour couldn’t recall deliberately removing herself from Farthinghome’s communications web except while on properly granted furlough. Not even once, during all the years when she’d been wife and mother as well as military officer.

That seemed so long ago now, with her one offspring grown and in uniform, and the man who’d been her husband mated to someone else. Not only mated to another, but the father of a second family. Tambour pushed those thoughts down, ruthlessly, to where personal matters belonged while she was on duty. The Gallant’s main viewscreen was showing her the skies between it and Farthinghome’s surface, and those skies swarmed with small, silvery spheres. Spheres that the orbital batteries and Home Guard patrollers blasted steadily, but there were far too many tiny invaders for any amount of fire to stop them all. She asked sharply, "Are we picking up any ship chatter?"

Alpha Shift’s comm officer answered, "Plenty, ma’am, but none of it’s for us. Want me to put it on speaker?"

"Yes." The XO clamped her teeth together, and waited.

* * *

Wolfenden pushed his little ship hard, climbing away from Farthinghome’s surface for all he was worth. Behind him, in her own cockpit, he could hear Brenna Taggart swearing. From all around came the sounds of ship talking to ship, and space station talking to space station—while from the planet below came nothing but silence. Except, of course, for unnaturally calm prerecorded emergency messages and monotonously wailing civil defense sirens.

"Greg, we’ve got to return to base!" Taggart’s shouted words cut across the din. "When we can’t raise anyone on the ground, that’s standing orders! Greg, do you hear me? Greg!"

"Brenna, something’s gone totally wrong down there!" Wolfenden finally remembered that he could mute the background noise. "I’m not sure what, but until we do know we’re staying clear!"

"Maybe you are. But I’m not. See you dirtside, Greg. Whenever you finally get there." After a long silence, his partner’s voice came over the commlink one more time. She was turning her patroller as she spoke. Flipping the little spacecraft around, and diving it back toward the planet’s surface. Toward base, and home.

Chapter 2

"Okay. What’ve we got in orbit? And who does that put in command?" With all of Farthinghome gone incredibly silent, Aisha Tambour turned her attention to the habitats and other ships. Most of which weren’t military—and there had to be a reason for that. Of which she remained unaware, because the XO of a nearly antiquated cruiser wasn’t privy to Central Dictate’s secrets. She only knew that most of the fleet had been "on maneuvers" for weeks now. In deep space somewhere, beyond comm range.

Withdrawing to the captain’s ready room would make sense right now, but Tambour couldn’t bring herself to leave the bridge. So she’d ordered her senior staff, those who hadn’t arrived here when she called the ship to battle stations, to gather into the space between command chair and viewscreen. They formed a semicircle around her, most of them looking impossibly young. Officers who despite their senior status aboard Gallant weren’t far into their careers, any more than was Captain Ashton. Unlike Commander Tambour, who’d passed her minimum eligibility date for retirement five years earlier.

"I hate to tell you this, ma’am. But until Central Dictate gets communications operating again—unless someone more senior is off duty in the Outlands, you’re the ranking officer in system right now." What the Gallant’s chief engineer didn’t want to say out loud, of course, was what everyone aboard must slowly be realizing. Saying it, admitting it, might make it irreversibly real. And that no one, Tambour herself included, felt ready to do.

"We’ll need to verify that." The XO nodded, and turned her gaze toward her comm officer. Lieutenant (j.g.) Michael Poisson sat at his station, with his chair swung around to take in the meeting. He returned her nod now, and got busy.

Would a full captain, a commodore, or even (please eternal paradise!) an admiral of one description or another turn up, lodged aboard one of the habitats or in a hotel on one of Farthinghome’s moons? Or would the lieutenant commanders who had charge of the orbital batteries, and the lieutenants who "captained" everything smaller than a light cruiser, all wind up looking to her now that everyone else was absent or cut off?

Tambour added for her staff’s benefit, not to mention for her own reassurance, a confident: "Even worst case, I’ll only be the ranking officer until a bigger ship comes back from maneuvers. That shouldn’t take long." I hope.

"Do we know where they are right now, ma’am?" Lieutenant Maher, who’d been commanding Beta Shift, was still present.

"No. We don’t." And unless one of those off duty, off world senior officers for whom Tambour was so devoutly hoping turned up, their ignorance was doomed to continue. "Look, people, someone’s got to say this. So I will. Fleet chatter’s confirmed that no one else is hearing a real-time peep out of Farthinghome, anymore than we are. So either we’re looking at a full-planet communications failure—which doesn’t jibe with the recorded emergency broadcasts we’ve started picking up—or the scanners are right, and no one down there’s talking to us because there’s no one left alive."

"That’s impossible." The chief medical officer, who was older than the others and had seen more death, nevertheless spoke up as denial’s first voice. "What could kill billions of Human beings in less than an hour? Over a surface area that big?"

"I don’t know what it was, Doctor. But I think we all know how it got here." The nightmarish rain of nosey-globes had stopped now. They’d completed their ghastly mission, and in a few hours more (if they behaved like their harmless forerunners) they would self-destruct and leave behind only their handiwork. "Mike?" Lieutenant Poisson was turning his chair in her direction again as Tambour acknowledged him.

"Ma’am, we’ve got company. A Home Guard patrol craft, lookin’ for a place to dock before he runs out of air and fuel." The comm officer sounded bemused.

Tambour gave her head a slight, disbelieving shake, even as her heart leaped with mingled hope and fear. "He’s out pretty far," she said, before realizing how inane she sounded. "I wonder what happened to all the others? This pilot can’t have been the only patroller aloft when it started. Oh, Hades, Mike, he can’t go back to base now. Tell him he’s got docking clearance, and pass the word to roll out our welcome mat." After which she prayed, silently and without a shred of faith to back up the imploring thoughts, that of all the pilots assigned to Home Guard duty the one she cared about would soon emerge from his cockpit into Gallant’s lowermost deck.

"Will do," Poisson told her. "And, ma’am—it does look like you’re in command of whatever fleet we’ve got right now. Want me to find out who’s the top civilian authority?"

"You’d better do that. Yes." She didn’t need to ask who was now the Faith’s senior representative, if everyone on Farthinghome really was gone forever. Someone she’d known well, long ago—or at least, she had thought that she knew him.

* * *

"My partner and me saw the first swarm coming in. They’re different than the noseys we always saw before." Greg Wolfenden informed the old star cruiser’s lower deck chief of that fact as he took off his helmet, after climbing out of his grounded patrol craft. "Grounded," that was, in a surprisingly cramped docking bay; because the Gallant’s shuttles took up most of the available deck space down here. Everywhere else was crammed with weaponry, supplies, and—of course, behind protective bulkheads—bunk space for the crew members assigned to this deck.

"No kidding!" the chief answered with a bitter twist of her lips. Then she stiffened as if listening to something that her uninvited guest couldn’t hear, and added: "Our XO’s getting ready to speak on shipwide comm. Maybe we’re finally gonna find out what’s happening. Shut up, everyone!"

In the wake of that order, which she raised her voice to direct at the entire repressurized deck, things went quiet. Wolfenden stood with his helmet in his arms, glanced around the unfamiliar metal cavern, and waited along with everyone else.

"All hands, this is Tambour." The strong contralto voice that the young pilot knew so well sounded calm, but not a bit reassuring. "It looks as if I’ll be in command for the time being, since as far as we can find out Captain Ashton didn’t make it off Farthinghome. We don’t know what happened, except that as you’ve all heard by now our system has been hit by an influx of nosey-globes—so-called—that obviously are different from the ones we’ve been used to seeing. I don’t want to frighten anyone needlessly, but I do have to tell you that the scanners show only a few life signs left on Farthinghome. And those are showing up only as people who were underground when the crisis hit, or underwater, come out to the surface. Or as some misguided souls land there, expose themselves to the air—and, as far as we can tell, die soon afterward."

Wolfenden drew a breath, noisily, as he pictured Taggart doing just that. Landing at their Home Guard base, cracking her patrol craft’s canopy, taking off her helmet...he gulped himself into silence, and went on listening as Tambour continued. "The most sensitive scanners, the ones in the main observatory on Pollux, have just confirmed that there are a few people staying alive long enough to take off from the surface in shuttles or whatever else they can find that’s spaceworthy. None of them has made it far, and those who’ve managed to hail anyone in space haven’t lived long enough to say anything useful. Mostly they just gasp, and then they go quiet. The scanners stop picking up their life signs soon afterward."

"Which means that anyone who breathes the air on Farthinghome dies. Fast," Wolfenden muttered. The crew chief favored him with a glare, and a barely audible hiss.

"Sir!"

He shut up as ordered, just in time for the woman up on the bridge to resume. "It appears, therefore, that the immediate danger we’re facing is a ship or space station mistakenly taking aboard a refugee who may by some miracle stay alive long enough to match orbits. Or manage to program a shuttle to do that, on autopilot, before expiring. Compassion’s a wonderful thing, people, and we normally don’t leave our own behind. You know that from your training. But this time’s different, because the minute we expose a ship or station to whatever those super-noseys have brought us, everyone on that ship or station is dead, too. So that’s how it’s got to be."

Another short silence, after which Tambour’s voice took on a more official tone. "All ships, all habitats and space stations, all residents and visitors on Castor and Pollux and other worlds of the Outlands. This is Commander Aisha Tambour, Acting Captain aboard the StellaGuard cruiser Gallant. As senior surviving officer, I’m assuming command of our remaining forces. Effective immediately, I’m also declaring martial law on all civilian installations to insure everyone’s continued survival. The first order I’ve got to give is this. Under no circumstances will ships or ports receive refugees from Farthinghome’s surface. Any vessel or installation that does so anyway will be destroyed. I know this is a harsh measure, but I believe we can all understand why it’s necessary. Think about how lethal, and how fast acting, whatever those globes contained must be in order to do what it’s already done. And then imagine it getting loose in the air you’re breathing. Bottom line is, we can’t help those who’ve already been exposed. All we can hope to do, now, is prevent that substance from killing anyone else. That’s all I can tell you for now. I’m instructing all captains, battery commanders, and executive-level civilian officials who can reach the Grand Hall on Castor within two hours to join me there. We’ll bring the rest of the Outlands in via interactive commlink, and we’ll figure out how to proceed. Tambour out!"

Then she added, with the broadcast link cut, "I take it that pilot we picked up hasn’t dropped dead yet. Does he look sick, Chief?"

"No, ma’am. He does not." The deck boss realized her C.O. was talking to her and no one else, now, and braced her shoulders even though Tambour didn’t have her on visual.

"Good. That means I didn’t just violate my own order and screw us all. Send him up to my ready room, then. PDQ."

* * *

She’d called it "my" ready room. Not "the captain’s ready room." Aisha Tambour realized that as she stepped through its hatch, leaving the crowded bridge behind for blessed solitude. Admitting to herself that Valerie Ashton, like everyone else who’d been on their home-world when the attack came, would never again be seen or heard from by those who’d survived. But had the person who mattered most to Aisha Tambour survived?

He came through the hatch just as she reached the captain’s—her—desk. She didn’t sit behind it, after all. Instead she uttered a strangled sound of relief and held out her arms. "Greg!" she said, making the shortened form of his name into a long-drawn sigh.

"Mother," the tall man answered, as he crossed the ready room’s deck in two long strides and embraced her. Lifting her off her feet in arms as strong as his father’s had been at the same age, and holding her so tightly that it hurt.

Chapter 3

"I am going to let any transport land, that makes it all the way here from Farthinghome. No acting captain of a fifth-rate StellaGuard cruiser is going to tell me how to run my moon!" The governor of the Outland Colony of Castor was making clear his reaction to Commander Tambour’s order when Bazel daKiev walked into the Great Hall. Late, because he’d offered Pollux’s governor a lift. After which he waited while the fellow’s staff figured out, behind closed doors, what to tell the primate about how their governor had reacted to the emergency. Which was by setting off for the home-world aboard his personal shuttle—and whether he’d arrived there, or instead had enough sense to turn back, they couldn’t say. In any case, Pollux’s lieutenant governor finally insisted on telling daKiev the truth; after which she rode with him to Castor. She followed in daKiev’s wake now, a small determined woman who he suspected had been doing much of her boss’s job all along.

"No, you won’t, Charlie." She stepped around the primate to face Castor’s governor as an equal. "What part of ‘martial law’ didn’t you understand?"

"She’s only a lousy commander. She’s got no right whatsoever to give orders to civilians. Especially not the ranking government officials left alive—because it works the other way around, the last time I checked. Military authorities report to civilian ones! And that, Teryl, is you and me now." Charles Keniston greeted his colleague without surprise at seeing her instead of his actual counterpart. "She’s got no power we don’t choose to give her."

"But I think she does. Seems to me a heavy cruiser’s got quite a lot of power for its captain—or acting captain, if you really must split hairs—to command. Not to mention the other StellaGuard vessels that are looking to her now, and the orbital batteries, and—"

"Governor Keniston. Lieutenant Governor Thorne. Primate daKiev." A low-pitched but firm voice came from behind them, near the otherwise vacant anteroom’s door. "I’m glad you’re in one place already. That saves me from having to gather you, before we go out and face everyone else."

"Commander Tambour?" daKiev turned, and put out a hand in courtesy. As if he’d never seen her before—would she take the cue?

"Yes. I’m pleased to meet you, in spite of the circumstances." The uniformed woman accepted his handclasp, making it clear that she’d caught the primate’s signal and meant to play along. She looked from governor to governor as if expecting similar greetings from them. "You’ve dismissed your staff, Governor Keniston? That’s good. We can speak freely, then."

Keniston’s fair-skinned face reddened as he drew himself up and opened his mouth. Whatever he intended to say (which, if daKiev knew anything at all about how angry martinets behaved, was destined to be a "piece of his mind" that he couldn’t possibly spare) got cut off by a loud whistle from the comm unit at Tambour’s service belt.

That belt also held a blaster. As the officer reached for her comm, the three civilians’ eyes went to her weapon instead. After which daKiev noticed, in a covert glance, that Keniston had shut his mouth and was swallowing hard. Tambour said, "What is it, Mr. Maher?"

"Ma’am, we’ve got an incoming ship. Damaged, but on its way in system at a pretty good clip just the same. It’s one of ours." A masculine voice, cool and professional despite its undercurrent of sheer terror, responded. "They’re not answering our hails, so I’d guess one thing that’s taken a beating is communications. The transponder code says it’s Valor."

"Keep me informed. When you do establish a link, I want that captain put through to me no matter what." Tambour spoke crisply. She was about to put the comm unit back on her belt when it whistled again. She sighed and asked, "What else, Mr. Maher?"

The fear in her unseen subordinate’s voice was palpable now. "Ma’am, Valor’s not alone. She’s got a whole damn fleet on her tail. And not one of ’em’s ours."

This Tambour hadn’t dreamed about, let alone anticipated. But she should have. She’d been a fool to order captains off their ships, battery commanders and civilian installation heads away from their posts. Yet kicking herself right now could only distract her, and predispose her to making further errors. She felt daKiev’s eyes (although she knew everyone else’s were on her, too) as she said, "I see. How long until they get here?"

* * *

"Is your son all right, Aisha?" Bazel daKiev sought her out, his friend and (however briefly) lover from so long ago that he’d gone by another name then, while she stood waiting at the Grand Hall’s VIP space dock for her coxswain. She stood there alone, the two governors left behind in Keniston’s office, because Tambour had ordered all civilian vessels to hold their stations until further notice. A panicked exodus would do no good, with an unidentified star fleet mere hours away; and an orderly exodus would take time to organize. Right now the best she could do was a hastily arranged defense of Farthinghome’s orbiting survivors and the resident populations of its moons. Moving them to new homes, somewhere that could sustain them without constant resupplying from the mother planet, would have to wait until she’d kept them safe from the immediate crisis—if only because she had no idea in the universe how or where to find those new homes for thousands of resource-hungry fellow Humans.

"I didn’t think you knew I had one," she said, and then deliberately called the man beside her by his former name. "Basil Montoya. The last time I saw you, I hadn’t yet taken a husband."

"True. But you didn’t change your name, and...well...it’s been easy enough for me to follow your life. So I know you have a son, and I know he’s a pilot currently assigned to Home Guard duty." The primate looked hard into her face.

"Am I supposed to be flattered?" Whether or not she should be, Tambour couldn’t decide. At least she ought to appreciate his delicacy in not mentioning the event that had first pushed her into all the newscasts, and after that relegated her to professional obscurity. "Yes, he’s okay. Lieutenant Wolfenden seems to have been the only pilot on patrol with brains enough to make a break for space, instead of returning to base and cracking his canopy and taking a nice, deep breath."

"I’m glad to hear that, Aisha. Truly I am." daKiev put a hand on her shoulder.

She started to yank away, and then didn’t. Instead she snorted and said, "I’m glad he’s alive, but I could skin him for picking my ship to run to! When the dust settles, you know, that’s what he’ll be accused of doing. Running, and hiding himself behind me." Like mother, like son. Cowardice runs in families! That was what other officers would say about him, far down the future when they remembered this day.

"Better a live jackal than a dead lion," daKiev reminded her, using a classical literary phrase. "I know you military types don’t like to admit there’s any truth in that saying. But there is, just the same."

He, too, had gone silver-haired since they were midshipmen together. His face showed lines from years of living, just as hers did. When such things happened gradually, to someone you saw often, you didn’t notice them. But when you encountered an old comrade again after a lapse of decades, the changes not only shocked you on his account; they also held up a mirror in which you saw your own mortality reflected. Aisha Tambour hadn’t expected this with the man she’d known as Basil Montoya. After all, she’d seen him on newscasts from time to time—in recent years, since he reached a prominent post at Faith headquarters. What had he been doing there? Oh, yes. Private secretary to Great Mother Sigrid. Which made him the person who stood between the Faith’s temporal head and the public, who often spoke for her to the media.

Clerics didn’t usually move on from that role to primacies. That was the equivalent of a StellaGuard officer shifting from staff post to line commander; of jumping sideways from a support job into one that carried vital chain-of-command authority. Now, that’s one story about ecclesiastical politics I’d actually like to hear! Tambour thought, suppressing a grin of wry amusement that she needed badly right now.

"Aisha?" daKiev was staring down at her.

"Sorry. I’ve got way too many things on my mind." With that gentle falsehood, she let him see her smile—but only after she’d schooled the irony out of it. "It’s been good seeing you again, Basil."

"Likewise. I really am glad your boy is all right." Wistfulness touched both the primate’s taut mouth and the wintry gray of his eyes. "I’d ask about your husband, but I remember that you put him out of your house."

"Yes. I did. Luckily for him, in light of what’s happened today, the next thing he did was move into his mistress’s home on Minerva." If she felt any relief at knowing that Torgas Wolfenden was safe with his second family, Aisha Tambour didn’t show it now. "It was for the best. And long overdue."

"I’m sorry." Anyone but a cleric would have taken a backward step, involuntarily, at the blast of bitterness she’d just unleashed. Primate daKiev didn’t budge. He said the expected thing, instead, and somehow made it sound sincere. As if expressing real regret for that particular mating’s ignominious end, and for this woman’s wounded pride. But did he actually mean it? As Basil, who’d been her comrade when they were both in their teens, and not as today’s cleric?

She couldn’t tell, and told herself as the VIP dock’s auto-address system instructed her to prepare for boarding that it didn’t matter because she didn’t give a rat’s ass (another beautifully expressive yet mysterious ancient expression!) about Bazel daKiev, son of Mother Faith and now its highest-ranking official. While the young man she remembered, the Basil Montoya for whom she had cared very much, was long gone and willfully forgotten.

But she asked him anyway, before she walked into the docking tube: "Basil, why are you Bazel now? Why did you pretend back there that we’d never seen each other before? And why didn’t you return the message I left with your parents, after I found out you weren’t coming back to the Academy?"

"I’ll tell you everything someday, Aisha. With the way things are going, I’m pretty sure we’ll be seeing each other again. For now, let’s just say that I didn’t want to drag you down with me." He smiled, but his eyes went from gray to nearly black with otherwise hidden pain.

* * *

The shuttle that was Tambour’s stand-in for the "captain’s yacht," to which command of the Gallant now entitled her, lifted from Castor’s domed surface and set a direct course for its mother ship. Tambour sat in the co-pilot’s chair, with no one else aboard but her usual coxswain, and watched her panel’s displays with such obvious and intense concentration that her old friend didn’t trouble her with his chatter. She had the Gallant’s long-range scanners patched through, to show her the ships approaching from deep space. The lonely one out front whose transponder code matched that of the StellaGuard’s own light cruiser Valor, and the countless other distinct blips (some smaller, but many far larger) that followed. Nowhere near far enough behind it for Tambour’s liking. Or, she felt certain, for the liking of the Valor’s skipper.

She knew only too well how her colleague felt right now. That would be Meryn Benson, according to the duty list of captains and their assigned vessels. Another member of Aisha Tambour’s aging generation—but Benson had reached command, at last, after a long and slow climb from newly commissioned ensign to lieutenant commander. To her the Valor wouldn’t seem like a step backward. She would be as happy with her light cruiser as Tambour would have been by now with a flagship, if the career that Aisha began with such promise hadn’t foundered along the way.

"Commander Tambour? This is Lieutenant Poisson. Ma’am, Mr. Maher asked me to let you know that Captain Ashton’s alive. She’s en route to rejoin the ship and resume command." The familiar young voice emanating from the shuttle’s comm unit took her by surprise.

Tambour switched to the little spacecraft’s own scanners, and put them to use before she answered. "Would that be her yacht on its way to close with you now, Mr. Poisson?" Even the smallest of StellaGuard conveyances had a transponder code, and the one for the blip moving in fast toward Gallant was prefaced by the heavy cruiser’s own. "Because if it is, you need to find out right now where she launched from before you let her dock."

"Ma’am, she’s the captain. There’s no ‘letting’ her dock with her own ship!" Maher’s voice replaced that of Poisson. "It’s none of my business where she’s been until now. She’s doing her own flying, so if her being sick from the noseys is what you’re worried about...."

"Patch me through." Tambour bit off every syllable. "Now, Mr. Maher. Before I do it myself."

"Aye, aye, ma’am." With an audible gulp, the younger officer complied.

"Captain Ashton?" As soon as the indicator glowed, Tambour addressed her miraculously resurrected commanding officer. Tensely, with her coxswain silent beside her. "We couldn’t reach you earlier. Where have you been?"

"Aisha?" The responding voice told her far more than she wanted to know. Valerie Ashton sounded weary, and weak, and ill. "It’s taken me forever to get decompressed and up to the surface. I was at Deep Trench City with Mac and the baby, and everyone who runs its topside installation died in the attack. We lost outside communications early on, but I heard enough before that happened to know I’d have to get back to my ship. And to know my family’s safer where they are right now."

"I see." Tambour closed her eyes against visions that her imagination went right on painting—only one of which showed Ashton’s spouse and their baby far beneath the surface of Farthinghome’s broadest and deepest ocean, secure for the moment inside a residence dome. "Valerie, this is very important. Did you breathe outside air before you lifted off, after you got to the surface?"

"What kind of a question is that? Of course I did." Ashton coughed, and didn’t stop until she choked. When she finally regained enough breath to speak, she added on a gasp, "Damn! I’d better slave my autopilot to the ship, before I pass out. I don’t know what’s the matter, I felt fine this morning...guess I must have screwed up my accelerated decompression. I’m close enough now for Gallant to pull me the rest of the way in. See you soon, Aisha."

She didn’t know what she’d done. Or, far worse, what she was about to do. The woman was clueless, totally, about the attack on Farthinghome’s nature. Tambour looked at the panel again, and saw that the pass-through commlink to the captain’s yacht had gone inactive. She spoke, after closing it down manually to make sure Ashton (if still conscious) couldn’t hear, to Gallant’s bridge again. "Mr. Maher, this is Tambour. Now that we know for certain Captain Ashton can’t be allowed to come aboard, let’s get it over with. Lock weapons on her yacht, and fire."

"Ma’am, I can’t do that. And I won’t!" The lieutenant drew a noisy breath before he answered.

"Fine," Tambour said. She cut the shuttle’s links to the mother ship, all of them. She said to her coxswain, "Frank, give me the conn." When the leading starman wordlessly complied, she altered course and dove between the Gallant and the larger shuttle that rapidly approached it. Only then did she lock the weapons now at her disposal onto the captain’s yacht. Blowing it and its doomed occupant out of space at the last possible second, now that she’d made certain it wouldn’t dock with the Gallant even if (by some mischance beyond imagining) her fire failed to take it out.

"Tambour to Gallant. Open the bay doors, if you please. We’re ready to dock." She let out a breath she hadn’t realized she was holding, and released the controls to her coxswain. Relief mingled with honest sorrow flooded her oxygen-starved body along with the air her lungs drew in. For just a moment or two, while Leading Starman Frankel piloted them into the docking bay, she could relax and mourn. Although she’d had a less than close relationship with Captain Ashton, she had to admire the younger woman’s disastrously timed determination to return to ship and duty. Not to mention the grit, however misplaced, that had kept Ashton going for long enough to almost make it aboard.

"Commander, don’t! Stand clear!" Poisson’s voice filled the shuttle’s cockpit with its urgency. "They’ll be waiting for you in the docking bay...!"

"What?" She didn’t need to give her coxswain the order. Instead of sliding into the Gallant’s belly, the shuttle swooped past its gaping doors. "Lieutenant Maher, report. Now!"

"Commander, I’m sorry. But I just relieved you, and the minute you come on board I’ll have to place you under arrest." Maher came on the comm again, sounding resolute and sure of himself as she’d never heard the ship’s senior lieutenant before.

"Oh, for gods’ sake!" Tambour slammed both hands against the co-pilot seat’s armrests. "Lieutenant Maher. You were going to let the plague that’s been turned loose on our home-world, that’s already killed all but a fraction of our species, board your ship and kill its crew. I stopped you. That’s not cause to relieve me of command—even if you had the authority, which you damn well do not. It’s cause to thank me. Now, put Dr. Janscom on. The CMO’s the only person who’s got the right to relieve me. And just in case you forgot, he also outranks you. Plus everyone else attached to the Gallant, except me."

"No can do, ma’am. The doctor’s on his way to the brig. He’ll be sharing it with your son—and with you, too, when you get here." Maher spoke with even more assurance. "Now, come about and dock. If you don’t, I’ll have to do to you what you did to Captain Ashton. Frankel," the senior lieutenant switched from addressing the XO to the leading starman who served as her coxswain, "bring Commander Tambour aboard now. That’s a direct order."


Posted by joyceanthony at 12:01 AM EST
Updated: Monday, 19 November 2007 5:20 PM EST
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Monday, 12 November 2007
Unwilling Killers by Ayn Hunt --An Excerpt
Topic: First Chapter

First Chapter

 Unwilling Killers (ISBN 1-59129-184-4)PublishAmerica.com (not a subsidy publisher)

Also available at Amazon.com, B&N.com 

Formats: Paperback            

Mrs. Gertrude Johnson entered the entrance hall just as the doorbell rang. She glanced at her watch. Two minutes to seven. Mrs. Moore, Alice Landrum’s niece, was, as Alice had assured her, prompt.  Too prompt! She wasn’t due for another two minutes.           

 She smiled serenely. There was still plenty of time to check her appearance in the old, gold-framed mirror to make sure she looked just right. But as she scrunched up her watery blue eyes for a good look, the elegant white candle, the only luxury Mrs. Johnson allowed herself, sputtered out as the deep gong of the bell vibratingly sounded again.           

“Damn tourist,” she muttered, carefully relighting the candle. “Ain’t got nothing better to do than to ring bells and expect a body to wait on them hand and foot.”           

Squinting her eyes, she studied her reflection, adjusting her frilly white cap and highly starched apron. Not satisfied with her appearance, she took a tube of her bright red lipstick out of her apron pocket and put on another darker coat. But as the bell vibrated and the candle went out yet again, she smeared it badly.           

“So help me God,” she hissed, carefully relighting the candle and wiping the excess lipstick off with a tissue. “I’ve a mind to kick that woman clear off my porch and teach her some manners.”Catching sight of her reflection however, she bent closer to it and batted her long, fake eyelashes. “God, you are still a purty thing,” she cooed to herself in the mirror. “Just as fresh and young-looking as you was at sixteen.”At the frantic sound of the big, brass knocker, she sighed heavily as she straightened her apron. “I’m coming, Mrs. High and Mighty! And I’ll teach you a thing or two about manners.”Assuming her haughtiest expression, she whipped the heavy wood door open with surprising strength. Then she hesitated, squinting at the young girl, from head to toe.  Alice had told her that her niece was a widow. A young widow, whose husband had died only six months ago in a skiing accident. But the girl facing her with such an odd expression wasn’t dressed like a proper widow at all. She wasn’t wearing black! She didn’t have a black veil over her face. Of course times had changed since Mrs. Johnson was a young girl. She knew that. But still, decent was decent. And no decent widow would be wearing jeans with a bright red knitted top and red sneakers!  Not only that, she didn’t look more than twenty-five at the most, with her short blonde hair and a smattering of freckles on her little nose. Suspiciously, Mrs. Johnson glanced at her watch again. Seven on the dot. It had to be her! But she had to make darn sure.

“Can I help you?” she icily asked. “Miss?”Jessica stated at her mutely, unable to speak. Alice had warned her Mrs. Johnson was, in her words, “A strange-looking old bird.” But that hadn’t preparedJessica for the lady’s appearance in person.           

Her head resembled a helicopter about to take off with those white corkscrew curls sticking out of her maid’s cap in a wide circle. And her bright red lips looked like one of those huge wax mouths kids used to buy at the corner store. But her watery blue eyes, half-hidden behind a layer of long fake eyelashes, Jessica also noticed, were keenly alert, betraying a sharp intelligence.           

“Can I help you?” repeated the odd-looking woman.           

Jessica stiffened. Why, she wondered, was she wearing a maid’s uniform in the first place? Surely a woman who’d inherited the house so many years ago wouldn’t be wearing one? Unsteadily, she took a deep breath. “I was looking for a Mrs. Johnson. Mrs. Gertrude Johnson.” She swallowed hard. “I don’t suppose you are she, are you?”            Mrs. Johnson arched a brow. Why was this girl looking at her so strangely? The expression on her face betrayed not only disbelief, but shock as well. But enough of this playing games, she decided. They could go on all night.           

Impatiently, she opened the door wider to admit her. “Of course I am. But I’ve a good mind you tell you I ain’t. Didn’t your mama every teach you no manners? It ain’t polite to keep ringing doorbells. Why, the way you was sitting on that bell, it was enough to wake the dead.”           

Jessica’s eyes widened at the woman’s odd choice of words, and she hesitated. Maybe staying here wasn’t such a good idea, after all. But then again, she couldn’t do that to her sick aunt. She’d promised her she’d stay here, and stay here,she would.           

Warily she stepped over the threshold, then shivered as a blast of ice-cold air assaulted her. She was being watched! She knew she was. That eerie feeling was even stronger in here than it had been outside the house. She glanced around. But from where? She couldn’t see a thing. It was pitch black except for that lone candle beside that old mirror.           

 Attempting a smile, she faced her odd hostess. “I’m sorry if I disturbed you. Alice told me to be here exactly at seven. I’d assumed you were expecting me.”           

 Mrs. Johnson studied her. “Of course I was. But you still didn’t have to sit on that durn bell! I ain’t deaf.”           

“Oh, I’m sure you’re not. I didn’t mean anything disrespectful by doing it. I guess I’m just tired. Maybe a little nervous too. You know how trips are.” At least she hoped she did. “The long rides. Staying at new places. Eating off schedule.”           

“Maybe that accounts for you looking like you seen a ghost too,” shrugged Mrs. Johnson, fishing a new candle out of her apron pocket. She glanced at Jessica out of the corner of her eye as she struck a match. “Maybe you’re just nervous and tired from the trip, like you said.”           

Jessica laughed a little too quickly, then promptly cleared her throat. “Yes, well, be that it may, I assure you I didn’t think I saw a ghost. Everyone knows there aren’t such things.”           

Mrs. Johnson raised her brows as she lit the candle. “Maybe there are. Maybe there ain’t.” She smiled, her old face taking on an eerie glow in the flickering light of the candle. “But if I was you, I’d talk more respectfully of the dead. You’re still young yet. You don’t know everything that goes on in the world.”           

Again, Jessica stiffened. She wasn’t about to get into an argument and risk getting herself thrown out. But what was this thing about candles? Surely the place had electric lights…didn’t it?           

“Follow me carefully, and watch your step,” said Mrs. Johnson, her footsteps echoing hollowly in the cavernous hall as she strode to a wide staircase which had been hidden in the dark. “Your room is on the third floor, and I ain’t got around to putting up new lights in some parts up there yet. They’re too expensive. The man I wanted to do it for me was going to charge me a dad-burned fortune, so I dropped the idea.”            Jessica froze. “I’m going to stay in a room without lights?”           

Mrs. Johnson puckered her gleaming red lips disapprovingly. “I didn’t mean your room, Missy. Your room’s got plenty of lights.” She paused, her heavily penciled eyebrows snapping together as she studied her. “But that don’t mean you can go hog wild and turn on every dad-burned one. My electricity bill is high at is.”           

  How? Jessica wondered, reluctantly following her as she started ascending the wide, steep stairs. From what she’d seen so far, the house was pitch black. Worse, that meant she needed to load up on batteries for her flashlight and keep them with her at all times when she started searching the house at night. No way did she relish the idea of getting stranded in the dark in some forlorn, lonely part of this house at night. Not at all!           

“I must say you’re a brave little thing,” mused Mrs. Johnson, glancing back over her shoulder. “I have to give that to you. Most people wouldn’t sleep in the same bed a man was murdered in.”           

Jessica nearly tripped. “Pardon?”           

“I wasn’t intending to rent out Mrs. Harding’s personal suite of rooms as first, you see.  But your aunt insisted. She claimed that was the very one you’d want, being as it has the widest patio and offers the best view of the garden.” She smiled serenely down at her. “I’m just glad you don’t believe in ghosts.”           

“I’m supposed to sleep in the same bed as a murdered man?”           

“Sure are. Your aunt paid me an extra three hundred dollars to ensure it.”           

 Jessica felt the blood drain from her face. Damn Alice!  Not that she believed in ghosts of course. She didn’t! She never had. But why take chances? After all there were things in this world people didn’t understand and couldn’t explain. And until a rational explanation was found for those things, she’d be damned if she’d tempt fate. Unlike Alice, she prided herself on always exercising caution.           

Taking a deep breath, she forced a smile. “I’ll give you three hundred right now myself, if you’ll put me in another room. Alice never needs to know.”           

“No can do,” shrugged the older woman, blithely continuing her upward journey. “I only get the rooms ready as I need to, to rent them out. They’ve been empty for years, you see. You’d be surprised at how much dust and bugs they collect. I’m not about to rent them out until I scrub them out.”           

She stopped, eying Jessica speculatively. “I’m not as spry as I used to me. Itmay surprise you to know I’m nearly as old as this here house. Of course, I don’t look it. People are always shocked when I tell them my age.”           

 Jessica raised her brows. Mrs. Johnson wanted to talk about her age? Now? When she herself was obviously doomed to sleep in the same bed as a man who’d been murdered?”           

Mrs. Johnson smiled coyly. “I’m ninety-eight.”           

So what? Jessica wanted to scream. But she didn’t. One day, Lord willing, she too would be old. Maybe, like Mrs. Johnson, she too would be reluctant to face the facts of the ravaging of her looks over the years.            

Stemming her frustration, she took a deep breath and tried to look duly startled, which, in her present state of mind, wasn’t all that hard to accomplish. “Why, you don’t look it! I wouldn’t have guessed your age past…er…” she paused, thinking hard, “seventy.” She swallowed hard, hoping Mrs. Johnson believed her.           

Still however, there was no way she’d sleep in the same bed as a murdered man. No way! But she had to think fast. From what she’d seen so far, Mrs. Johnson wasn’t a fool.           

She smiled sweetly. “Considering your age, I certainly understand why you wouldn’t like to clean rooms. If I were you, I’d feel the same way. But I don’t mind cleaning up another room for myself. Just show me where to get a mop and some cloths, and I’ll have one ready in no time.”           

Mrs. Johnson shook her head. “Cleaning alone wouldn’t do you no good. I’m out of bug spray. You’d be surprised how many spiders were in Mr. Harding’s room.  I’m sure they’re in all the rooms.”           

Jessica went rigid, automatically glancing around. Spiders? Dear God, that probably meant they were on the stairs as well.           

“Besides,” continued Mrs. Johnson, “I never let no stranger go into a room I haven’t first gone over with a good-sized pot of boiling water and a stiff scrub brush. However,” she thinly smiled, “if you were to double what your aunt paid and give me, say, six hundred in cash tonight, I might be persuaded to compromise my principles some and get you what you need to spruce up another room right now. I might even help.”           

“That’s blackmail!”           

 Mrs. Johnson turned her back to her, continuing her upward trek, rounding a bend on the second floor. “Not really. Besides, it was you who brought it up. All I did was up the ante. Think about it. You can take it or leave it. But it sure would have saved me a heap of trouble if you and your aunt had gotten together on this before you came. Mr. Harding didn’t like me renting out his suite of rooms at all. You wouldn’t believe all the trouble he gave me when I was cleaning it.”           

“Dammit,” hissed Jessica. “Mr. Harding is dead! I already told you, I don’t believe in ghosts.”  But despite her bravado, her knees were so wobbly she could barely walk.            

“You might end up eating your words, Missy! Mr. Harding’s body is dead, but not his soul. He loved this whole house, you see. And he done loved life with a passion. He’d never give up all he had. Not without a durn good fight. Why, no onecan tell me if wasn’t him who sloshed out my scrub bucket while I was cleaning out his room. And my dust rags kept disappearing so fast, I had to go right out and buy new ones. And just the other night, he made a noise so fearsome I thought I was going to have a heart attack! No, Missy. Make no mistake. Mr. Harding is still here.  You’ll be changing your mind fast enough I reckon when you hear floorboards creaking in the night like I do. Or sometimes hear the murmur of voices.” She shrugged. “Of course I’m used to it. Sort of. Leastwise by now. I know Mr. Harding is just moaning over me having to rent out rooms in his beloved house to total strangers.”           

Jessica frowned. Voices? The other things maybe, could be attributed to esoteric sources of beings. But voices? Ghosts couldn’t talk. They didn’t have vocal chords. “How long have you been hearing these, um, voices?” she asked, careful to keep her voice casual.           

Mrs. Johnson paused as she took another step, and looked down at her. “Well, now, let’s see. I guess it’s been, oh, in the last three months or so. Right around the time I decided to rent out rooms.” She arched a brow. “Odd coincidence, wouldn’t you say?”           

“Very,” Jessica slowly agreed. But something else was going on here. Something caused by real flesh and blood living beings who had vocal chords. By beings who had eyes and could watch people. But why? This was just a drafty old house filled with a lot of junk. Maybe it was valuable to Mrs. Johnson. But surely to no one else.           

 Or was it?


Posted by joyceanthony at 12:01 AM EST
Updated: Monday, 12 November 2007 1:07 AM EST
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Sunday, 11 November 2007
Whiskey Shots Volume 1, Brass Star and Heart Forgotten--by Annette Snyder
Topic: First Chapter

For more information on Annette and her writing, please visit:

http://www.whiskeycreekpress.com

Brass Star:
Nate rode. His horse seemed to trot as slowly as his heart beat painfully in his chest and he wondered about the sanity of his decision.Of course, he had no choice. It was either rot in that jail cell waiting to be extradited to a federal prison under the orders of the great and powerful newspaperman, Herbert Eversby, or to exile himself, with the agreement from his adversary, never to return home again. Rot, or live a life of exile—not much of a choice, so Nate took the lesser of two evils.From the church, he could hear pump organ music drift up with the breeze as his horse clomped away from the hill above and he knew Aggie was now married to someone else. Aggie! His Aggie was now Aggie Eversby-Pass.

He should never have tried to kill Herbert Eversby’s grandson, Travis Pass. It was a mistake he made and regretted the minute he watched Travis fall into the stream at Aggie’s feet. He regretted Aggie’s scream. He regretted the blood that flowed with the water downstream to his boots. He hoped he’d never face regrets again. He wondered if his decision of self-exile to remain free was a mistake too, but it was too late for that. He signed the papers and now he was on his way somewhere, anywhere but General.

Heart Forgotten:

It was mulberry season. Plump purple berries hung on healthy limbs of the trees, the branches bowed from the weight of the fruit. “It’s a good year for mulberries,” Karlee spoke aloud to the forest around her. “We’ve had enough rain and these berries are ready.” She spread one of her older quilts on the ground under a couple of branches and began her climb up the trunk.The hem of her dress hooked on a particularly pointy dead stub, where an old branch broke off the tree. She yanked the faded green fabric loose and it tore enough so it would need mending later. “Damn glad I didn’t wear my Sunday best.” Her voice echoed farther than it would have had she been standing surrounded by the rest of the bramble on the forest floor.When she got to the spot she wanted, directly above the blanket on the ground, she edged her way to the middle of the branch, checking for stability. It would do no good for her to jiggle the branch and have it break under her. If that happened, she’d tumble to the ground, land in a heap, maybe break something, and no one would be around to help her. Having no one around suited her just fine. In fact, since Ben died, she’d grown accustomed to the quiet being alone accompanied. She did miss… “Well, that doesn’t matter anymore. “Hear that? It doesn’t matter to me!” she hollered. From her height in the tree, Karlee’s voice reverberated and seemed to carry for miles.She edged her way to the middle of the branch, pushed her full weight on it, and then jumped. At first, the leaves of the branch rustled underfoot with a dusty sound and she jumped again. That time, she heard the plop, plop, plop of a few mulberries as they landed with quiet thuds on the blanket below. Karlee smiled and jumped again. This time, more mulberries dropped and Karlee let herself look to the quilt below to see her catch. “I didn’t realize I was this far up.”She was actually afraid of heights, had been since she found Ben crumpled below the cliff from which he fell. It was the cliff that took him from her and, after she found him, she couldn’t stand the thought of being off the ground, but mulberries were only available once a year and really, she didn’t care if she fell and died.As she jumped and the mulberries tumbled to the blanket, Karlee Dorn allowed thoughts of Ben to enter her mind. She didn’t allow herself to think of her husband very often, it still hurt when she did, and she allowed herself to think even less about Missy, the daughter she lost shortly after Ben died. Mostly, she tried to forget.

 


Posted by joyceanthony at 12:01 AM EST
Updated: Sunday, 11 November 2007 1:26 AM EST
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