SNEAK PEEK – THE SISTER PARADOX BY JACK CAMPBELL

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An Excerpt from The Sister Paradox by Jack Campbell, now funding on Kickstarter.


Chapter One

With death on four legs and two wings heading straight for me, I finally turned to run, but slipped on the loose rocks and bare dirt on the edge of the large hollow.  I caught a brief sideways glimpse of the charred, dead trees standing bare-limbed around the hollow as I landed on my shoulder, then I started cart-wheeling down the slope accompanied by a shower of rocks, pebbles and dust.  The slope seemed a lot longer that it had looked, but that was probably just because I was picking up fresh bruises on every bounce of the way down.  Finally I slid to a stop at the bottom, accompanied by a pile of rubble and a cloud of dust that kept choking me while I tried to make the world stop going around in dizzy circles.

I’d just about managed to stop coughing and start seeing straight again when the dragon I’d been trying to run away from in the first place came slamming down to earth a few feet from me.  Yeah, that’s right, a dragon.  The earth quivered from the impact, making the little collection of rocks and pebbles I’d brought down the slope with me jump around like they were panicking.  The bones of some of the things unfortunate enough to have gotten here well before me, which carpeted the bottom of the hollow, quivered as if given a few seconds more of life to be afraid.  Up close, the dragon looked even bigger than I’d first thought, especially when it hissed and spread its jaws really wide.  I hadn’t managed to get up, but I tried to backpedal away.  The dragon just took two steps and stood right over me, jaws gapping.

If you’re like me you’ve probably played one of those video games that claims to be totally realistic.  Don’t believe it.  Having a real dragon standing over you with its jagged teeth dripping saliva is very, very different from whatever thrills you get out of a game.  If there’d been an escape key I’d have been punching it like crazy just then.

The dragon reared back a little and prepared to chow down on me.  I just stared at it, unable to move and unable to think of any way out of this mess.

Did I mention that I wouldn’t be in this mess if it wasn’t for my sister?

Did I mention that I don’t have a sister?

#

I guess I should start at the beginning.  Like, this morning. 

There’s two things you have to know about me right from the start.  First, my name is Liam.  Liam Eagan.  Second, I don’t have a sister.  Or a brother.  I’m the only kid in the family, the only kid my mother and father have ever had.  It’s been that way all my life, and it hasn’t been all that bad.  I mean, sometimes I’d wish I had a brother to toss a ball back and forth or something like that, but I had friends I could hang around with instead.  I never wished I had a sister.  No way.  Never.

There are advantages to being an only kid.  No competition, for one thing.  No fighting for the bathroom, or having someone else pawing my stuff, or complaining that they wanted something else to eat tonight when I wanted pizza.  No one else asking mom and dad for expensive but important junk.  Just me.  All in all, life was pretty good for sixteen year old Liam Eagan. 

This morning started off as usual.  I lay in bed awhile after the alarm went off, took my time getting ready because I knew I wouldn’t have anyone else hogging the bathroom, and slid down the stairs and into the kitchen with just enough time to spare. 

Mom was already there, going over some stuff related to her job selling real estate.  She gave me a quick glance.  “About time you got down here.  You’re going to be late for school.”

“No way,” I assured her while I pulled out a box of cereal.

“Yes, way.  Hurry your breakfast, mister,” Mom ordered me.

I shrugged and dug in the cereal box until I had a handful, then shoveled it into my mouth before answering.  “Okay, okay,” I mumbled around my mouthful.

She gave me that look that moms get sometimes.  “Nice.  What happens when someone else in this house wants to eat that cereal?”

“You told me to hurry up, and nobody else in this house eats that cereal,” I pointed out, quite reasonably I think.  “You eat that twigs and bark stuff and Dad just has coffee in the morning.”

“That’s not the point,” Mom informed me.  “Besides, what if we had a guest?”

That reminded me.  “Hey, speaking of that, when can I have the spare bedroom?”

Mom looked baffled, though I couldn’t imagine why.  “The spare bedroom?  You want to move into the spare bedroom?”

“I want the spare bedroom, yeah”

“What’s wrong with your bedroom?”

“Nothing.”

She waited as if thinking I needed to say something else, then sort of frowned at me.  “Why do you want to move out of your bedroom and into the spare bedroom?”  Mom said the words really slowly as if she thought I’d have trouble understanding them.

“I don’t.  I don’t want the spare bedroom as a bedroom.”  Mom just kept waiting, so I explained even though it should’ve been obvious.  “I need a place to hang out.  You know, a room where I can play video games and music and stuff with my friends.”

“You mean like your bedroom.”

“No!  Give me a break, mom.  I need another room for that stuff.”

She just leaned back and stared at me.  Finally, after several seconds, Mom shook her head.  “Just what makes you think you can have two bedrooms for yourself?”

“Because there’s no one else using the spare bedroom.”  Which was perfectly true.  I didn’t see how Mom could argue with that.  “And it’s not like you and Dad are doing anything with it.”

Mom buried her face in her hands for a moment, I guess while she thought about what I’d said.  “And where would guests stay when they come here?”

“There’s that new hotel a few miles away.”

She raised her face and stared at me again.  “You want our guests to shell out money for a hotel and have to drive several miles to and from here to see us each day while you use the spare bedroom to do things you can do perfectly well in your own bedroom?”

The way Mom said it made it sound like I was being unreasonable.  “If it’s all that big a deal-”

“It’s that big a deal.”  Mom leaned forward.  “Hello, Earth to Mr. Liam Eagan.  Have I got your attention?  Listen carefully.  You are not the only person in the world.”

I knew that.  “I know that!”

“You won’t be getting the spare bedroom to use as a playroom.  Forget it.”

“All right, all right!”  Obviously, I’d have to work on this a bit before Mom and Dad gave in.  “But when we get the new TV-”  

“Mister, you’ve got plenty of toys as it is.”

Calling my stuff toys was not cool, but it did remind me of something.  “Oh, yeah, I also need a new phone.”

“A new phone?”  Mom shook her head.  “The one you’ve got is less than a year old.”

“It’s eight months old!  There’s a new model out with better memory!  If I want to use the newest apps I need–“

“You don’t need anything, Liam,” Mom interrupted.  “You want more stuff.”

Oh, here it comes.  The lecture about kids starving in Sudan, like that has anything to do with me.

But the clock in the living room bonged, causing Mom to check the time and dash for the door.  “Don’t be late for school!”

“No problem.”  And it wasn’t.  I’ve got the walk timed down to the second.  I slid through the school door just before the bell rang.

Bill, my best friend, socked my shoulder.  “Dude.”

“Dude.  Looking forward to playing Demon Disaster in death match mode after school?”

Bill shook his head.  “Nah.  Sorry.”

“No?”  I made a grabbing gesture toward him with both hands.  “No?  We’ve been planning this since Monday, remember?”

“I know, I know.”  Bill waved my hands away.  “I’m stuck at home watching my little bro.”

“Can’t you ditch him?”

“He’s three years old.  He needs me.  My parents are counting on me to watch him.”

“So?  I made plans!”

Bill shook his head again.  “Sorry.  If you had a brother or a sister you might understand.  Listen, you can come over to my place-”

“You don’t have the latest game console!  And your little brother would be nagging at us!  How am I supposed to have fun while you -?”

“Look, we have to get together somehow to go over those book reports.”

I hauled my mind away from sulking about no dual-Demon Disaster play tonight.  “Book reports?”

“Yeah.”  Bill squinted at me like he wasn’t sure I was serious.  “Liam, the book reports are due tomorrow.  We agreed that I’d read the first half of the book and you’d read the second half, and then we’d get together to write our reports.”

“When was this?”

“About three weeks ago!”

Like I’m supposed to remember something I said three weeks ago?  “I’ll look something up on the web.  Some, uh, notes or something –“

Bill interrupted me, looking seriously upset.  “You know Mr. Weedle checks stuff against online sources to see if it’s been copied!  You know he insists on details from the books that aren’t in online sources so he can be sure we read the books!  How could you let me down this way?  You promised me, man!”

“I don’t remember saying-  Look, I’ll get it read, and I’ll call you tonight early enough so we can both get the reports done.  Happy?”

“You’re almost done reading your half?” Bill asked.

“Uh, yeah.”  What’s two hundred pages of small type?  I could skim through that in, say, half an hour.  “I’ll call you by…eight o’clock and–“

“Eight o’clock?  Try seven.”

“That won’t leave me much time to play Demon Disaster before I start homework,” I complained.

His face got a little red as Bill answered me.  “Dude, sometimes the world does not revolve around you.”

I should have known this day was going to be strange when my best friend started sounding like my mom.  “What’s that supposed to mean?” I asked as we walked to English class.  It’s not like Bill had put himself out when something important like playing a new game with me was involved.

Then Caithlyn went by and I perked up real fast.  “Hey!”

She glanced at me, then away.  “Hey, yourself.”

“Uh…”  But Caithlyn was already heading off down the hall while I stood there trying to think of something cool to say.

“Wow,” Bill whispered to me sarcastically, “she is so into you.”

“She just has to get to know me better.”

“She does know you.”

“What does that mean?”

“You don’t spend a lot of time worrying about other people, you know,” Bill replied, apparently still steamed at me over the game thing and the book report thing.

“I do, too!”  I tried to think of some examples of how much I worried about other people, but we reached the classroom before I came up with any.

I wanted to forget all about the book report, but Mr. Wheedle started English class by reminding everyone about it.  Like I needed another reminder.  Then he said if anyone needed extra time we should let him know now.

I could feel Bill looking at me, but I sort of shook my head and stared at my desk.  We could get it done.  Probably.  I mean, the report wasn’t due until tomorrow, so dealing with any problems could wait until tomorrow, couldn’t it?  And maybe something would happen like Mr. Weedle being sick or me being sick, or whatever.  Never stick your neck out if you don’t have to.  That’s what I always say.

In English we started learning about something called splitting infinitives, which sounded like it might be fun to do, especially since Mr. Weedle said some grammarians insisted we weren’t supposed to do it.  But it just turned out to be something about organizing sentences, which is boring if you ask me, and Weedle said it was okay with him if we did it, so what was the point? 

Boring, by the way, is Mr. Weedle’s specialty.  You’ve probably heard of teachers who can make any subject exciting and interesting.  Mr. Weedle is sort of the anti-matter version of that.  He could make anything boring.  It wasn’t really his fault, I guess.  The tests force all the English teachers to go over the same old books chosen by a bunch of people who think reading doesn’t count unless you have to force kids to do it. 

So instead of worrying about obscure grammar rules and about society in a small town in 18th century England, I was thinking about what size TV to put in the spare bedroom when my parents gave in.  But then one of the school office assistants stuck her head in the classroom.  “Liam Eagan?”

Everybody looked at me, while I tried to think of anything I might’ve done lately.  Or something I maybe didn’t do and should’ve done.  Aside from the book report thing, that is.  Then Mr. Weedle pointed at me.

The office assistant made a “come here” gesture.  “You’re needed in the office.”  I started to get up.  “Bring all of your books.”

This looked bad, but I had no trouble looking confused instead of guilty, because I sure hadn’t done anything.  Bill had gotten over his attitude enough to give me a worried ‘what’d you do?’ look, but all I could do was shake my head to say I didn’t know as I gathered my books up and dumped them into my backpack.  The office assistant waited, tapping one finger on her arm impatiently until I got to the door, then led the way toward the office.

She led me right through the outside waiting area.  I was so worried by this time that I didn’t even notice if anyone was in there.  We went directly back to the principal’s office, where the assistant knocked, looked in, then waved me in and closed the door behind me. 

Ms. Lockridge was the sort of woman kids did not mess with.  She had this way of pinning you with her eyes so that you felt she was reading your thoughts and knew everything you had even dreamed of doing wrong.  She sat there at her desk and frowned at me so hard that I wanted to yell “I didn’t do it” even though I had no idea what “it” was. 

Finally, she pointed to her phone.  “We haven’t been able to contact your mother or your father, Mr. Eagan.”

That happens.  “Mom usually keeps her cell on, but when she’s doing real estate stuff she sometimes goes places where she can’t get coverage or has to shut off the phone.  And dad’s on a business trip out of town.”

“I see.  Since we’ve been unable to contact your parents,” Ms. Lockridge paused as if trying to prolong my agony, “you’ll have to take your sister home.”

Have you ever heard something that’s so completely strange that you just can’t understand a word of it?  This was like that.  I heard everything Ms. Lockridge said, every word as clear as a bell, and I couldn’t understand it at all.  Ms. Lockridge looked at me, waiting for me to say something, so finally I just said, “Excuse me?”

“I said that you’ll have to take your sister home.”

“My…sister?  Ms. Lockridge, I don’t have a sister.”


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An interview with the author – AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT – JACK CAMPBELL


thumbnail_jack-campbellJack Campbell (John G. Hemry) is the author of the New York Times best-selling Lost Fleet series, the Lost Stars series, and the “steampunk with dragons” Pillars of Reality Series. His most recent books are THE LOST STARS – SHATTERED SPEAR, THE LOST FLEET: BEYOND THE FRONTIER – LEVIATHAN, and the Pillars of Reality novels THE SERVANTS OF THE STORM and THE WRATH OF THE GREAT GUILDS. In May, VANGUARD will be published, the first in a new trilogy set centuries before the events in The Lost Fleet series. John’s novels have been published in eleven languages. This year, Titan will begin bringing out a Lost Fleet comic series. His short fiction includes works covering time travel, alternate history, space opera, military SF, fantasy, and humor.  

John has also written articles on declassified Cold War plans for US military bases on the Moon, and Liberating the Future: Women in the Early Legion (of Superheroes) in Sequart’s Teenagers From the Future. At somewhat erratic intervals he presents his talk on Everything I Needed To Know About Quantum Physics I Learned From The Three Stooges, showing how Stooge skits illustrate principles of quantum physics.  

John is a retired US Navy officer, who served in a wide variety of jobs including surface warfare (the ship drivers of the Navy), amphibious warfare, anti-terrorism, intelligence, and some other things that he’s not supposed to talk about. Being a sailor, he has been known to tell stories about Events Which He Says Really Happened (but which cannot be verified by any independent sources). This experience has served him well in writing fiction.  

He lives in Maryland with his indomitable wife “S” and three great kids (all three on the autism spectrum).


 

SNEAK PEEK – POST BY BRENDA COOPER

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An Excerpt from POST by Brenda Cooper, now funding on Kickstarter.

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CHAPTER ONE

The airplane hangs white in a pale blue sky above me.

It has long wings, like the periodic stray gull that finds its way to us, and a body as thin and long as a bird’s. There is almost no tail in the profile of the plane above me, although if I remember right from movies, airplane tails stick up instead of out like a bird’s tail.

I want—no, I need—to know who is in it and where they are going.

I need to know if the airplane is hope.

It spends more time crossing the piece of sky I can see than I expect. As if it is calling me.

A branch snaps.

I have let my pursuers closer to me than I planned. Two men and a woman this time. One of the two men calls out, “Hey, girl!”

I know better than to answer. I’m perched on a rocky outcropping fifty feet above them, partially hidden by the dried carcasses of dead spruces.

It’s possible they won’t see me here, but if they do, the place is a trap.

I stand up a little too fast, part of my brain still shocked stupid by the airplane. I make a little too much noise, and the gruffer voice says, “There!” to his companions and then the woman shouts, “We won’t hurt you!”

Right. You just want to feed me and ask me about the weather.

I had been too sure I’d lost them. Stupid.

I’m young and strong, and this time I don’t get cocky.

I run up a series of switchbacks, pretending to be a doe bounding away from a coyote. My skin and mouth are dry. The afternoon sun has sucked all the water from me, and I haven’t stopped to drink. The sole of my right boot is so thin that when I step hard on a stone, pain lances up from the ball of my foot through the long bones of my legs, but I keep going in spite of it. I run even though I don’t hear anyone behind me. Not anymore.

I realize I haven’t for a while; I got away.

I always get away.

So far.

Now, if I can just get home and inside without being noticed.

I’m on our side of the place in the road where we threw dirt over it all and planted trees just after Before, and bits of the old road show through. It’s not good to walk on since the eco-surface has been dissolving into black crumbs.

I crest a small hill and our wall rises up like a cracked egg, dirty white mottled with grey, the jagged glass we’ve glued to the top winking in the sun.

Between here and the wall, we’d removed all the dead wood. I stride across grey-green grass that Kelley had us plant in the moat of cleared ground around our walled garden. I don’t like to admit it, but she picked well; the spiky, low growth has been alive for two years now, and it creeps back into the forest as we clear it further away. This is partly to keep our light, and partly to keep an open space so we can see animals or people coming.

Of course, the long drought is clearing up, too. Oskar still frets that there is not enough rain and not enough cold, but the hills and forests between us and the interstate are green and dotted with yellow and white flowers.

I trip over a log, going down hard on my right knee and my hands, scraping my palms near the black soil line from the fire we set five years ago to save the garden from a wildfire.

My breath breaks the silence. I sound like a rabbit before a thin coyote kills it, scared and breathing too hard. I make myself slow down and remember what Oskar taught me. Breathe through your nose. Breathe deep in your belly, so you can feel it going out and in.

Slowly.

S l o w l y.

I’m getting there. A cool spring breeze blows my hair against my chin and helps me feel better.

“Sagie.”

I hate it when Kelley calls me that. My name’s Sage.

She extends her left hand. There’s dirt ground into the creases of her palm and stuck under her nails, and it smells wetter and stronger than the dry, cracked earth under my hands. A year or two ago, I would have apologized, but not now. Now I can look down on Kelley’s graying dark hair, on her ponytail tied with a strip of bark. She holds her taser in her right hand, a black oblong that she protects as if it means her life. She leaves it out as we walk back, swinging in her hand, the arc of her movement precise.

My knee bleeds, but we both ignore that.

Kelley doesn’t say anything, but I make up her feelings and words in my head anyway. The walls are safe, but only as long as we’re not noticed. If a mob finds us, we will all die. Besides, you aren’t old enough for the world yet. It’s dangerous. You might get hurt, or raped, and die all by yourself. There’s men that would take you in and make you trade your body for water and food. It only takes three days to die without water. If she was lecturing me instead of staring off, lost in her head, she’d look down at this point and see I have a small canteen clipped to my belt, one of the old ones where the metal’s all banged up. Well, maybe you’d live a week. She’d look disgusted. There’s good people out there, but they’re some that are as bad as bad can get.

The only problem with a lecture in your head is you can’t fight it. Kelley knows that, and it makes me even madder at her, but it’s not like I’m going to be able to explain to the Board why I picked a fight with someone who doesn’t say anything to me.

I hate living like everything is evil. Just this morning I talked to four women who had stopped just off the road to boil tea, and they said parts of Portland are safe. There’s food and cars and order. Cars. I’ve never seen a car move, just rusted to blackberries and filled with junk or the bones of small animals.

The shape of the airplane sticks in my head.

Whether the world is still screwed up or not, I’ll never amount to anything if I stay inside my whole life and work on little things that don’t matter with little people who will die behind a wall. The wet, verdant world we live in is a bubble, and I want the real world.

Right before we get to the wall, Kelley turns and stares at me. I expect her to be yelling angry, but what I see in her dark blue eyes is just sadness.

I’m sorry she’s sad. I don’t tell her that; I can’t show weakness.

The door in the wall is big and there’s a whiter spot on the wall above it where my dad ripped the sign off in the second year of the drought, the second year after I was born. That was still Before. Barely.

Kelley palms the door pad, and it opens wide. Inside, it smells like dirt and water and frogs, and faintly, of flowers. We pass magenta azaleas whose bloom is just starting to wilt, and in spite of myself I smile when I see three bees on one plant. Kelley and Oskar both taught me to notice little things. Little things define the big things.

I stop smiling when I see that the Board of Directors is waiting. All of them. They’re sitting in their formal place, on benches in a circle under the sign that used to be above the doors. “Oregon Botanical Gardens.” The Board has run us since Before, and they still run us now. The three original members are gray and wrinkled.

There’s four Board members. Kelley makes five adults staring at me. She says, “Sage, please sit,” and gestures to the hot seat—the one for people who are in trouble.

I’ve been here before.

The Board’s older than Kelley; they all spent most of their lives in the world I only see in movies. They all remember my dad, who’s dead now, and they all remember they’re the ones who make all the rules and I’m the girl who keeps breaking them.

I wait for them to speak first.

It takes a long time. I draw little circles in the dirt with my toes and pretend to be sorry.

Kelley clears her throat, and stares at me, her chin quivering. That’s weird. I never saw her look weak. “Sage, we’ve done everything we know how to do to keep you in here. We can’t bear to kill someone because you left tracks or got followed home. You may be only sixteen, but you’re endangering us all,” she pauses and takes a breath, “and more than us.”

She means the whole saving the plants to return them to the world someday thing.

Kelley forces the next words out. “I’ve told the security system not to open for you anymore.”

So how am I supposed to help with the chores like gathering firewood and hunting rabbits? “Ever?”

Kelley ignores my question. “If you go out again, you will not be allowed back in.”

She can’t mean it. I’m her hope for the future. She wouldn’t kick me out.

Tim and Li are the two old men of the Board. Li nods, telling me he supports Kelley. Tim looks impassive, but he would miss me. We play chess sometimes in the hour between dawn and breakfast. Sometimes I win, and he likes that.

He looks past me; his eyes don’t meet mine.

Elise and Shell are the two women on the Board. They’re both stone-faced, too, but they might mean it. They’re scarier than Tim and Li.

Kelley keeps staring at me, sad. Usually when she’s getting me in trouble she looks frustrated. “Do you understand?”

“Yes.”

“Tell me what will happen if you leave again without permission.”

“The door won’t let me back in.”

“And we will not let you back in,” she adds.

Maybe she does mean it. Her eyes are all wet, even though she isn’t crying. Kelley isn’t done. I know because no one is moving, and they’re all watching me. Kelley says, “Just so you don’t do anything rash, you’re confined to the Japanese Garden for a week. Report to Oskar in ten minutes.”

She does mean this, except maybe the ten minutes part.

I nod at them all and walk away, keeping my head up. I hate it that they’ve made me feel small again. In my room, I sweep two changes of clothes into an old bag. I brush my hair and my teeth, and put those brushes in the bag, too. Ten minutes pass, then fifteen. I wait the minutes out, unwilling to be on time.

Oskar doesn’t even notice I’m late. I walk in the glass box and close the outer door, and wait a moment, then open the inner door. I am inside walls, some glass, and under a plastic sheet roof. The air is heavy with water, cool. Oskar is nowhere to be seen. When he finished it, the Japanese garden was billed as the most authentic on the west coast. One of the first fully contained green energy buildings in Oregon, with solar cells on all the hard roofs and in the walls, and heat made by water that’s warmed by the earth far under us. At first, the roof was to keep the garden from getting too wet, instead of too dry.

I negotiate the stepping-stone path, walking through pillows of pearlwort. The cinnamon fern that lines the right wall still has some tender, brownish fiddleheads so I pick them. Maybe it’s a form of penance.

The very first of the wisteria blooms are showing purple. Oskar is on the other side of the flowers, between me and the waterfall.

He doesn’t turn around for the space of two breaths. He’s squatting, bent over, clipping the leaves of a Japanese holly. He is a small man, his skin pallid from the damp air he lives in, long red hair caught back in a braid that falls down a freckled, white back. The top of his braid is grey. He is only wearing shorts; he likes to garden as naked as the Board will let him. Even his feet are bare. I have always suspected that at night he goes out with his flashlight and gardens more naked than that. Even though he is almost sixty years old, I think I would pull weeds beside him, with my nipples exposed to the cool night air.

He wouldn’t let me, of course. They all treat me like glass.

He stands up and turns toward me. Even though the light is starting to grey to dusk, I can see that his eyes look like Kelley’s did. “Why do you run away?”

I lean back against the big cedar column that holds up the wisteria arbor, breathing in the sweet air. “Why don’t you ever leave this garden?”

I’ve never asked him this. Instead of looking startled, he smiles and his eyes twinkle a bit, full of mischief. “Because I’m saving the world.”

He believes it, even though he’s lying to himself. He is, at best, saving a tiny part of the world that I can walk across in five minutes. Everyone here thinks small.

I hold out my hand, the one with the fiddleheads in it, and he takes them and says, “See?”

He leads me to the kitchen, which is the only interior room with hard walls instead of waxed paper or bamboo or glass. He hands me back the fiddleheads, and I wash them in a bowl full of water and then pour the water into a bin so it can go into the waterfall, where it will be scrubbed clean by the filter plants.

We have everything ready, but before we start to cook, Oskar takes me up to the top of the rock wall at the center of the stroll garden, and we look out toward the ocean. It’s too far away to see or hear, but the sun will set over it. He makes a temporary hole in the roof by pushing overlapping layers of water-capturing plastic aside, exposing the sunset. There are enough clouds to catch faint gold and orange, but most of the last rays leak up like spilled paint and fade into the blackening sky.

Maybe I can use the hole in the roof to climb all the way outside.

After the color starts to fade, Oskar speaks quietly. “I answered you. Will you answer me?”

So that’s what he’s been waiting for. I guess when you’re sixty you have a lot of patience.

“We live in a bubble.”

He laughs and pokes the plastic roof. It answers him by rippling, as if it were upside-down water.

I frown. “We do!” I wave my hand at all the roads and people we can’t see from here. “In the real world out there, people are traveling and learning and meeting each other. They’re struggling. They’re taking back the world. This time…” I haven’t really told anyone about this trip yet —I mean, no one had asked. Should I? “I walked the interstate and talked to people on it. Like always. I have my escape routes. They work.”

He cocks an eyebrow at me but doesn’t say anything.

“Eugene’s coming back. There’s thousands of people there now —they fixed the water system and they’re growing greenhouse food. I met two families who were on their way there.”

He clears his throat. “A year ago, you told me Eugene was empty.”

“That’s what I heard. But this time I heard different.” I pause. “I don’t know anything. How could I?”

“They don’t have the right plants. That’s what I’m saving for your generation. The bamboo and the bearberry, the astilbe and the peony.” He says the names of plants like a prayer, and I imagine him naming the others in his head. The wisteria and the wild fuchsia, the fiddlehead and the mountain fern…

“I know what you’re saving. You keep telling me about it.” It’s an old story, how we’re saving the genome of the native plants in case the weather ever reverts to its magical past self. “It’s good. I’m glad you’re saving it. But that’s your dream.”

He pretends not to notice my tone of voice. “What your travelers see is the Mediterranean weeds that killed the native plants in California when Father Serra brought them on his donkey. Now that it’s warm enough, dry enough, they come here and invade Oregon like they invaded California a long time ago.” His face wears a stubborn look that makes him more handsome, wiping some of the wrinkles away with anger. He closes the hole in the roof and starts down the rock face as all of the colors of the garden begin to fade, and I hear him tell me, “It is your duty to the planet to help.”

I can’t keep my secret anymore. “I saw an airplane today.”

He stares at me, and I know him well enough to know that he’s surprised even though he is always slow to show emotion. “Tell me about it.”

“It looked like a bird, but it wasn’t. The wings never moved although the plane moved, straight. It was high up. It was white.” I can’t quite tell if he believes me. “It was beautiful, Oskar.”

“Which way was it going?”

“North.” I think about it. “Portland or Seattle, I guess.”

He nods, but I’m pretty sure he thinks I’m making it up. He climbs down, but I stay and try and remember more details about the airplane until stars swim across the sky, diffused by the beads of water that gather there as the evening cools. After my eyes adjust enough to the dark, I come carefully to ground and Oskar and I share cinnamon fern fiddleheads and cattail roots and some jerky from a thin doe that jumped into our garden a few weeks ago and broke a leg.

After, I lie on my sleeping pallet, separated from Oskar by waxy paper and bamboo, and listen to the roof crinkle in the wind. If I don’t get out, I’m going to die here in Oskar’s Japanese stroll garden, walking the stone paths until there’s not enough water left for the wisteria.

I can’t bear being kept in a box as if I were a precious plant and not a real girl. I can’t bear getting old without ever having a friend. But I can’t imagine never coming home, either. Not seeing these people I’ve seen for every day of my life that I remember. Kelley and Oskar.

When I leave, I see people moving. Sometimes that’s all I do, sit and watch people come and go, counting. Once I counted over a hundred in just a morning. They’re going somewhere. They aren’t living behind a wall and sitting in one place and waiting for everything to get better.

Oskar’s breathing gets even and deep, and it’s a comfort.

But not enough. I almost drift off, start thinking of other things, and then startle awake. Over and over.

When I give up, I sit up as silently as I can, strip off my sleeping clothes, and pull on my best jeans and most comfortable flannel before I roll up everything I brought and wrap it in an old blue Pendleton blanket so I can swing it over my shoulder. I fill two canteens with water, running it slowly so that I won’t wake anyone.

I write Oskar and Kelley a note. I tell them I love them and I’m going to go save the world, and I’m sorry they won’t ever let me back in. A tear drips onto the note but I manage not to sob out loud.

I carefully open the first of the two doors I came in through, trying to keep the rusty hinges from squeaking. Kelley is standing on the other side, a thin stick of a shadow that only moves when I’m through.

I’m caught.

Oskar comes up behind me.

I tense.

He leans forward and gives me a hug and he whispers in my ear. He says, “Good luck.”

I blink at them both, stupid with surprise.

He says, “Me and Kelley both knew you’d go. It’s time. The Board told us to keep you. They’re scared that you’ll tell someone about us, and they’re scared they’ll lose you. You’re like a daughter to them.”

No. I’m not. I know that. Mostly they say bad things about me.

Oskar keeps going. “We need you more than you need us.”

Kelley thrusts a bag into my hands. It’s heavy.

I feel thick in the throat and watery. I say, “I’ll come back someday.”

He says, “If you take long enough, we’ll even let you back in.”

I go before we all cry or laugh and wake the Board up. The stars look clearer out beyond the wall, and the moat of grass muffles my footsteps.


If you enjoyed this excerpt and would like to read more, please help us get this book funded. Make a pledge or spread the word, it all helps, and there are plenty of bonuses to be had, http://tiny.cc/Novels2016.

AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT – BRENDA COOPER

AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT – BRENDA COOPER – PART 2


thumbnail_brenda-cooperBrenda Cooper writes science fiction and fantasy novels and short stories, and sometimes, poetry.  Her most recent novel is Edge of Dark, from Pyr and her most recent story collection is Cracking the Sky from Fairwood Press. Spear of Light is forthcoming from Pyr in June of 2016 and POST will be out from espec books in late fall 2016.  Brenda is a technology professional and a futurist, and publishes non-fiction on the environment and the future.  Her non-fiction has appeared on Slate and Crosscut and her short fiction has appeared in Nature Magazine, among other venues.

See her website at www.brenda-cooper.com.

Brenda lives in the Pacific Northwest in a household with three people, three dogs, far more than three computers, and only one TV in it. 


Interview with Danielle Ackley-McPhail of eSpec Books


David Lee Summers is featuring an interview with me on his blog today.

David Lee Summers' Web Journal

Today, I’d like to welcome Danielle Ackley-McPhail, publisher of eSpec Books to my blog. Danielle’s work has appeared in my anthologies Space Pirates and Space Horrors plus she’s been featured in Tales of the Talisman Magazine. G&GRed-Gold Leaf-150 Her story “Last Man Standing” from Space Horrors will be appearing in the forthcoming anthology Maximum Velocity: The Best of the Full-Throttle Space Tales coming from WordFire Press. My work has also appeared in some of Danielle’s projects including Bad-Ass Faeries 3: In All Their Glory and the steampunk faerie tale collection, Gaslight and Grimm. I was really impressed by the super job Danielle and eSpec Books did with the Kickstarter for Gaslight and Grimm. They’re running a new Kickstarter and Danielle has taken time from her busy schedule to talk to me about her company and what they have going on.

DLS: What is the mission of eSpec Books? What do…

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eSPEC BOOKS WEEK IN REVIEWS

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Congrats to Christine Norris, Bernie Mojzes, and Jonah Knight for being highlighted in this week’s review.

Gaslight and Grimm

“I appreciated that most stories, while building upon the foundations of original tales, didn’t hesitate to stray from them at some point, instead of being “mere” retellings almost identical to their inspirations.” 4 Stars, Yzabel, Amazon

AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT – BRENDA COOPER – PART 2

Brenda Cooper

eSpec Books welcomes back Brenda Cooper, author of POST, currently funding on Kickstarter: http://tiny.cc/Novels2016. The first half of Brenda’s interview can be found at AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT – BRENDA COOPER

Brenda CoopereSB:  You do a lot of things besides write. How do you balance the different aspects of your life?

BC: See above. Some days, I do okay. Other days I wake up at 4:00 AM with lists of undone things dancing in my head. Right now I have one-too-many things I’ve agreed to do, but I can see a light – a faint one – starting early next year.  I just have to live to then, and keep all of the important balls in the air.

eSB: You describe yourself as a futurist. Can you explain a bit of what that means?

BC: Well, I’m so busy I’ve done less futuring than I like for the last few years. My futurist hat is sitting on the shelf and I take it out from time to time and brush it up. For context, I decided to go get an MFA (so I can teach, and to learn spanky new writing techniques) and that has pushed aside both futuring and bicycling. When I’m wearing my futurist hat properly, I’m writing about the future, doing some public speaking, attending world future conferences, etc. I am a generalist – I study everything – and I think conversations about the future are critical.  From Ai to robotics to climate change we are in the midst of huge shifts that interact with each other, and that keep rolling over our understanding of the world (look at the fear of self-driving cars or drones, for example. Both will be as normal as microwaves within a decade or two).  This is, of course, quite complimentary to my work as a technology professional and a science fiction writer.  I still bike from time to time, and I’m really looking forward to being done with my Master’s next year so I can return to writing about the future and riding my bike a lot. J

eSB: You have worked with both traditional and independent  publishers, how does your experience differ between the two? Are there benefits to choosing one over the other?

BC: Well, I can’t comment on eSpecBooks yet other than as anthology publishers, but you’ve been great so far. I love the Defending the Future series. This is, of course, a grand joint experiment.  I have worked with big New York houses, with medium sized New York Houses, with independent presses (Fairwood Press), and I’ve self-published. I think that’s the thing to do right now – diversify. The only other option seems to be sell hundreds of thousands of books through a big house, in which case you don’t have to worry about diversification as much. Most of us are not that lucky/brilliant, even if we are driven and interesting.  Watch my website for a longer post on this topic in the next week or so. 

eSB: Could you tell us about one of your most amusing experiences promoting your books?

BC: I don’t think marketing is amusing. I am trying very hard to like it. An amusing experience would help. If you have one, please share. J

eSB: What are some of your other works readers can look for?

BC: My 2015/2016 duology Edge of Dark and Spear of Light (from Pyr) are getting pretty nice attention. Edge of Dark was a finalist for the P.K. Dick award last year and is a finalist for the Endeavour Award which will be given out in November. I’m pretty excited about that. I think the books are good, and a few book bloggers have suggested everyone should read them.  That would be grand!  Then maybe I could have my eight-hour work day and my naps. J Seriously, I’m really proud of that duology, and I’m happy they seem to be doing well.

eSB: What other projects do you have coming up?

BC: I’m doing my first editing project with a team at ASU – for a really exciting series of stories around climate and the future with award-winning authors. This has been a huge lift to plan (even with much help from the ASU people) and I think it will be wonderful. We’re putting authors and scientists together and seeing what happens. This is associated with my MFA.

I’m working on a new duology for Pyr. I’m about 80% through the first draft and freaked out about being late, and really fascinated by the book, which is set in the near-future.

Wordfire press is re-issuing my first series, and giving me a chance to write a fourth book and wrap up the series. This might be the best thing to happen – the fourth book in the Silver Ship series has needed to come out for some time. I’m really excited about working with Wordfire.

Oh – and I’m doing a research paper comparing what scientists are saying about climate change and what science fiction writers are saying about climate change.  The research reading has been great – Elizabeth Kolbert’s The Sixth Extinction, E.O. Wilson’s Half Earth, John Joseph Adam’s anthology Loosed Upon the World, Johnathon Strahan’s anthology Drowned Worlds, and more….

eSB: How can readers find out more about you?

BC: Drop by my website or follow me on social media.  

Brenda Cooper writes science fiction and fantasy novels and short stories, and sometimes, poetry.  Her most recent novel is Edge of Dark, from Pyr and her most recent story collection is Cracking the Sky from Fairwood Press. Spear of Light is forthcoming from Pyr in June of 2016 and POST will be out from espec books in late fall 2016.  Brenda is a technology professional and a futurist, and publishes non-fiction on the environment and the future.  Her non-fiction has appeared on Slate and Crosscut and her short fiction has appeared in Nature Magazine, among other venues.

See her website at www.brenda-cooper.com.

Brenda lives in the Pacific Northwest in a household with two people, two dogs, far more than three computers, and only one TV in it. 

SOCIAL MEDIA USER IDs

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/BrendaJCooper

Twitter – @brendacooper

Goodreads – https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/28045.Brenda_Cooper

Amazon Author Page –  http://amazon.com/author/brendacooper

COVER REVEAL – IN A FLASH 2016

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In A Flash 2016
The eSpec Books Annual Flash Fiction Anthology
edited by Danielle Ackley-McPhail
and Greg Schauer
ISBN: 978-1-942990-37-6

In a Flash, the eSpec Books annual flash fiction anthology, features the highlights of the press’s monthly flash fiction contests from the preceding year. This collection of speculative microfiction runs the gambit from steampunk, westerns, and urban fantasy to science fiction and horror, with stories by Christopher J. Burke, Jim Knipp, Herika R Raymer, Anton Kukal, Marie Vibbert, CB Droege, David Bartell, Jeff Young, Rie Sheridan Rose, Jean Buie, David M. Hoenig, and Jamie Gilman Kress.


If you follow our blog you are familiar with our monthly flash fiction contests. The prize for winning these contests is publication on the blog and a free ebook. However, we have been so impressed with the submissions we have received we wanted to take things further. To that end we reveal to you now the first in a series of eSpec Books Annual Flash Anthologies. Congratulations to the winners and honorable mentions selected for inclusion.

ARTIST SPOTLIGHT – RICHARD P. CLARK

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eSpec Books interviews Richard P. Clark, cover artist for The Sister Paradox by Jack Campbell, now funding on Kickstarter, http://tiny.cc/Novels2016

 richard-clark

eSB: Welcome, Richard. Thank you for joining us. We are here to discuss your cover art for the novel The Sister Paradox. Can you tell us something of your process in coming up with the cover design?

RPC: Well, thank you for having me, eSpec Books. Literally wouldn’t be here without you.🙂

Cover design jobs vary wildly. In this instance, I had a pretty specific set of parameters in which to work, so there wasn’t a ton of preliminary blue-sky thumbnailing.

eSB: You have a pretty diverse style, what are the different mediums you work in?

RPC:  You name it, I probably have worked in it or am willing to. I’ve worked with most traditional painting & drawing media and also ply my trade with digital art, both vector and digital “paint.”

eSB: Where do you find your inspiration when working on a new project?

RPC: Goodness, it can be almost anything. A piece of music, a news article, a piece of fiction or just the landscape outside my window. I honestly believe inspiration can be found almost anywhere for any kind of project–all it takes is keeping one’s mind open to accept a given stimulus as inspiring.

eSB: When you aren’t working on a commission, what art do you make for fun? Are you the type of artist that likes to tell a tale with a particular style or do you like to experiment?

RPC: If given my druthers, I’m still as wildly diverse when working for my own ends as I am when seeking assignments. While I do stop short of complete non-objective painting (it’s just not my personal thing), I do like to exaggerate and distort as much as I like to reign it in.

eSB: What is your favorite medium to work in and why?

RPC: If forced to pick, I’d stick with oil paint. It’s by far and away the most versatile and stretchable medium. (Driers can speed up the drying time, it works really well both thinned out and heavily applied–it can do most anything.)

eSB: How did you get into art?

RPC: Wow–that goes so far back that I can’t really remember. I’ve been drawing ever since I could hold a pencil, so it just must have been something that always made me happy.

eSB: This is not your first time creating cover art, can you tell us about some of your previous projects?

RPC: I’ve worked for a variety of clients in a variety of industries–institutional, editorial, book, advertising and comics–so the list is kind of nutty in its diversity. I’ve made art for HBO, Playboy, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post and scads more. The types of art I’ve done range from super-exaggerated caricature (George Carlin’s “Complaints & Grievances” for HBO) to the more staid (observational landscapes for the Bergen County Zoo).

eSB: What was the most awesome project you ever worked on and why?

RPC: This one because it’s the most current! If I’m not super-stoked about what I’m working on, I worry about flubbing it. I try to maintain a high level of excitement for every current gig.

eSB: Could you tell us about one of your most amusing experiences promoting your work?

RPC: I got a call once from someone identifying himself as (name) from (publication). I politely said that I wasn’t interested in a subscription only to have the person say he was an art director for that publication & he was calling regarding one of my promotional pieces. I nearly died of embarrassment right on the spot.

Fortunately, we ended up working together on dozens of assignments together and we still stay in touch from time to time.

eSB: What is one thing you would share that would surprise our readers?

RPC: My right foot hurts as I type this as I broke a bone in it almost a week ago. I think I’ve covered for the limp while typing this pretty well….😉

eSB: What are some of your other works our readers can look for?

RPC: Star! Please go to Kickstarter and look up “Star: 72-page series debut” in the search field. The project is two months behind right now–life and its unforeseen circumstances (argh)–however I’m posting fairly regular updates on it and will have ordering info for the post-fulfillment phase soon!

eSB: What projects of your own do you have coming up?

RPC: See above….🙂

eSB: How can our readers find out more about you?

RPC: Home base is zippystudio.com and I post pretty regularly on Twitter. Drop on in and say “hi!”

Richard P. Clark – Zippy Studio (The Sister Paradox)  Born in a crossfire hurricane (actually Cleveland, OH), Richard P. Clark’s illustration career began in 1993 while still an undergraduate at The Columbus College of Art and Design. Working in a variety of styles, his clients include HBO, Playboy, The Wall Street Journal, Duke University, Marvel, DC and Dark Horse comics among many others. 

Mr. Clark currently resides in Upstate NY with his wife, daughter and more pets than he’d like to have. 

You can find out more about Richard at zippystudio.com and follow him on Twitter @zipyrich.

SOCIAL MEDIA USER IDs

Facebook – facebook.com/zippyrich

Twitter – @zipyrich