The Warrior, Book 2 of the Apollo Stone Trilogy, now available on

The Warrior, Book 2 in the Apollo Stone Trilogy is finally available on Amazon.  Here is a brief synopsis.  Hope you enjoy it!

THEY THOUGHT THE LAST NAVIGATOR WAS DEAD. They thought the Apollo Stone was lost to the vastness of space. But they were wrong. A Navigator has arisen from the unlikeliest of places. And the Apollo Stone has reemerged, if only to vanish once again during the chaos of battle fought both on Earth’s surface and high in her orbit.

Time has past and the boiling cauldron of war has cooled, but this false peace cannot endure. For, although dark forces both on Earth and among the stars have been thrown back to their strongholds, defeat has only hardened their resolve. On Earth, the Grand Guardian and his dedicated masses still look with envious eyes upon the untainted, fertile lands of the Free Cities west of the Mississippi River. On the planet Sahir, the Queen of the Sahiradin and her legions of warriors still seek to impose their rule over the shattered remains of an empire that once spanned the galaxy.

And at the heart of these struggles, binding them together like the threads of a spider’s web lies the Apollo Stone, the last of thirteen. All sides search for it, whether out of fear or desire, knowing that its strange powers can shift the fortunes of war and determine the fate of us all.




The Navigator, Chapters 6-10

As I draw closer to finishing book two in the Apollo Stone Trilogy, tentatively titled “The Warrior” I wanted to give folks a sense of what book 1, The Navigator, is about.  Chapters 1-5 are on an earlier post.  Hope you enjoy!

Chapter 6

Logan entered the apartment evening and found Cap and two classmates watching a martial arts competition on the wall-mounted view screen.  They were drinking beer and cheering.

“Heeeyyyyy, Logan’s back from the last final of his life!” yelled Cap.  “His final final!  We’ve been waiting for you.  The Re-Ded mixed martial arts finals are on – come watch.  Then we’re all going out.”  He pointed at the two cadets sitting on the couch and then at Logan.  “All of us.  You’re coming, too.  No excuses!”

Logan smiled and put his hands up.  “Sounds good, but first I’m going for a run.”  He turned and walked to his room.

Cap followed him and stood in the doorway.  “I know what you’re up to and it isn’t going to work.”

“What are you talking about?” asked Logan without looking at Cap.

“You’re going on a twenty-kilometer run with no intention of going out tonight.”  He stepped forward and patted him on the back.  “But not this time, my friend.   We’re done with Weller Academy.  We’re going our separate ways soon and who knows if and when we’ll see each other again.  I mean these guys.” He pointed toward the living room with his thumb just as the two cadets let out loud cheers as one of the martial arts combatants landed a series of powerful blows.  “You and I grew up together so you’re stuck with me for life.”

Logan’s smile faded and he looked at Cap.  “I had an episode,” he said.  “I had a seizure right in the middle of the final.  Barely finished in time.”

Cap folded his arms and leaned against the door frame.  “Shit.  I thought the meds were supposed to stop those.”

“I guess not.” replied Logan.  “If Bouchet reports this up the chain, they’ll reevaluate me.  They gave me the all-clear three years ago, and I haven’t had a seizure for five, but if this gets out there’s no way the army will trust me with anything more dangerous than a pencil.”

“So what?” said Cap in an encouraging voice.  “You’ll just be a regular Flat Foot infantryman.  No big deal.”

“Do you think they’ll give an infantryman who suffers seizures a weapon?  Not likely.”  Logan threw his book bag on his bed.  He sat down on the corner of the mattress and ran his hands through his hair.  “Damn it!”

After a moment, he looked up at Cap.  “I don’t care about being able to drive a tank or shoot a rifle, but I don’t want to be separated from everyone else.  I don’t want to be the guy who spends his active duty years riding an office chair with ‘unfit for combat’ written on the top of his personnel file.”

“What are you talking about?” said Cap dismissively.  “You won’t be in an office.  You’re slated for National Defense Center.  You probably won’t even be required to serve in a combat unit.  You’re a research and development guy.”

“Thanks, Cap, but you know that’s bullshit.  Everyone who’s fit does at least one year in a combat unit.  And if I don’t do that one year, what are my chances for advancement?  Even at the NDC.  They’ll always look at me as being somehow deficient.”

After a few moments Cap said, “Fuck it.  They won’t find out.  As far as Bouchet knows, you just zoned out.  Now get changed.  We’re going out.”

“I’d rather not,” said Logan.  “I need to go for a run, clear my head.  And besides, it’s a Tuesday night.”

“So what?” asked Cap.  “You’re done with finals.  Take my advice for once and live a little.”

Chapter 7

Cap handed everyone a shot of whiskey, then he placed four glasses of beer on the table in front of them.  Raising his glass to eye level, he looked at each of his companions in the eye and said, “Logan, Ben, Hector – a toast to the end of school and the beginning of our lives.”

The others raised their glasses and gulped down their whiskey.  Cap coughed after he swallowed.  “Damn it, Mick!” he yelled at the bartender.  “Wash the bathtub before you make the whiskey!”

An attractive young woman standing behind the bar shrugged and said, “We make the whiskey in a bucket.  The gin is made in a bathtub, fly boy.  And if you don’t like it you can get the hell out of here.”

Cap winked at her and smiled, but she turned away to pour a beer for a balding man in a rumpled brown suit.

Ben passed around the glasses of beer.  “Gentlemen,” he said.  “Here’s something to wash down that suspect whiskey.”

“Thanks, Ben,” said Cap.  He took a long drink and smiled.  “Better,” he said, smacking his lips.  “Better get another one.”

“So why’d you insist on coming to this stinking hole of a bar?” asked Hector, a short stocky man with curly dark hair.  “It should be closed down as a threat to public health.”

“Simple,” said Cap in a voice loud enough for Mick to hear him.  “Mick is in love with me, and I wanted to give her a goodbye kiss before going on active duty.”

Mick was pouring a beer from the tap.  “You never give up, do you.”  She handed the beer to an overweight man in a collared shirt a size too small.  She looked at Logan and said, “Why don’t you introduce me to your handsome friend?”

“Who?  Logan?  He’s not your type,” said Cap.

“Tall, strong, and handsome is exactly my type,” she said, allowing her eyes to linger on Logan for a moment before she turned and walked toward the other end of the bar.

Cap looked at Logan and said.  “She’s too much woman for a boy of your tender disposition.  She’d only break your innocent heart.”

“Thanks for protecting me,” said Logan with a smile.  Then he looked at Hector.  “Where’s your active duty station, squid?”

“Charleston,” he answered with a smile.  “Warm weather and beautiful girls.”

“And scrubbing floors in the hold of a fifty-year-old coastal cutter,” added Ben, a skinny man with a weak chin and a thin beard.

“Like hell,” Hector responded.  “I’m assigned to a new destroyer, Hampton, and lieutenant JGs don’t scrub deck floors.”

Logan looked at Cap and Ben.  “Why is it that whenever you talk to a lieutenant junior grade they always shorten it to ‘JG’?”

“They’re compensating for something,” said Cap.  “Let’s just call him junior.”

“To junior,” said Ben, raising his beer.

Logan and Cap raised their glasses and repeated, “To junior!”

Hector shook his head.  “Two ground pounders and a bird turd.  You boys are not navy material, that’s for sure.”

As they took a drink, Logan noticed a view screen mounted in a corner was showing images of burning homes, cars, and shops.  He walked toward the screen, and the others followed.  The repetitive, pounding music coming out of the bar’s speakers was too loud for them to hear what was being said, so they read the news script running along the bottom of the screen.

Ben shook his head.  “More clan raids on the frontier,” he said.  “When are we going to put a stop to this shit?”

“It’s getting pretty bad,” agreed Cap.  “Things have just settled down on the southern border and now this is flaring up.  We can’t catch a break.”

“You would think we could handle these clans,” said Hector.  “But they just keep raiding and we keep letting them get away.”

“Is that all there is to it?” asked Logan.  “Just clan raids?”

“What do you mean?” asked Ben, a little annoyed.

“I’m just asking,” replied Logan.  “If we’re so much better organized and better equipped than they are, why can’t we prevent the raids?”

“The border’s too porous,” said Ben.  “We need to tighten it up.”

Hector nodded his head.  “Agreed.  These frontier territories joined the Republic about…what… fifteen years ago?  Obviously, they’re better off now than they were, but they need stability to really get going.  More troops on the border would help.”

“More troops?” asked Logan.  “We’ve got troops all along the frontier.”

“What are you getting at?” asked Ben.

“Nothing,” said Logan.  “I’m just saying we’re hearing how these disorganized clans from the Waste are somehow sneaking thirty, fifty, a hundred kilometers into our territory, raiding small towns, burning a few barns, and then running back.  Sometimes we get them, but usually we don’t.  Why is it so hard for us to put a stop to it?”

“They blend in with the population,” said Hector.  “We can’t tell who’s who.”

“I don’t know about that,” said Logan.  “Seriously – why can’t we locate and destroy a bunch rifle-toting goat herders dragging loot fifty klicks back to the far side of the Mississippi?”

“They know the area like the backs of their hands,” said Cap.  “They probably have a lot of secret paths in and out.”

Logan shrugged.  “All I’m saying is either the clans are a lot more sophisticated than we give them credit for, or we are not as effective as we think we are.”

“I get what you’re saying,” said Hector.  “It’s too easy for them to move in and out of PRA territory.  The SPD needs to tighten internal controls.

Ben nodded.  “I hear they’re deploying Republican Special Forces in the frontier territories to help the SPD.”

“That should help,” said Hector.  “Of course we need to get at the real problem, the so-called League of Free Cities out there in the Waste.  They’re supplying and controlling the clans.”

Looking at Cap, Hector said, “I hear the League’s scraped together some kind of air force.  You ready for a little action out west?”

“I’m always ready,” said Cap with a grin.

“What about you, Logan?” asked Hector.  “You ready to put some hurt on the League and their clan cronies west of the river?”

“Sure,” replied Logan.  “But I think we should figure what’s going on in the frontier before we go marching across the Mississippi.”

“I just told you,” said Hector.  “The League and their clan minions are the source of the problem.  Take care of the League, and we take care of the clan raids.”

“What if the clan raiders aren’t really getting away across the Mississippi?” Logan asked.  “What if they’re staying on this side of the river?”

Ben scoffed.  “You mean PRA citizens?  Why would they do that?  After joining the PRA their lives got a hell of a lot better.  Steady food supply and clean water.  Education for their kids.  They would have no reason to be raiding.”

“They haven’t been citizens that long,” said Logan.  “Maybe they need time to see the benefits of life under the Guardians.”

“I don’t want to hear any shit like that,” said Hector, noting the sarcasm in Logan’s voice.  “We’re trying to pull this country back together again after a hundred years of chaos.  We’re not going to let the League or a few raggedy-ass clans stop us.  I think it’s time we put the boot down on the League, the clans, and maybe even the fuckin’ frontier territories.”  He took a quick drink of beer and looked away, his face flushed red.  He swallowed and raised a finger at Logan.  “One people, one nation.”

“One plus one equals one,” agreed Ben, nodding his head.

“Hector’s right Logan,” said Cap.  “We’re going to pull the country together again.  That’ll put an end to the raids.”  He clapped Logan on the shoulder.  “Tell Hector he’s right.”

Logan looked into Hector’s eyes and saw the anger boiling beneath the surface.  Then he smiled and said, “Yeah.  Of course Hector’s right.  We need to pull the country back together.  That’s what they’re training us for, right?”

“Right,” said Cap.  “Let’s have another beer.”

Ben and Hector left after drinking the next beer.  They embraced Cap and clasped hands with Logan but without great enthusiasm.  As soon as they were gone Cap looked at Logan.  “What the hell was all that about?”

“What?” asked Logan, his eyebrows raised in surprise.

“All that fifth column, enemy within bullshit,” said Cap.  “You know that Hector’s brother was killed chasing down clan raiders, right?”

“No.  I didn’t,” said Logan.

“It happened last year.  They ambushed his company someplace near Nashville,” said Cap.

“They ambushed his company?” asked Logan.  “That’s a hundred fifty or two hundred troops.  Clan raiders ambushed that many PRA soldiers?  Inside the PRA?”

“Let it go,” said Cap.  “You’re letting this get too personal.”

Logan didn’t answer right away.  Then he nodded.  “You got to move, right?  Move on.”

“That’s the first intelligent thing you’ve said all night,” said Cap.  “Let’s get out of here.  I hear they’ve got a good rev band playing at the Billy Goat.”

“Asynchronous reverberation and growling lyrics.  Can’t wait,” said Logan unenthusiastically.

“There will be women there,” said Cap encouragingly as he pushed Logan toward the door.  “Lots of beautiful crazed dancing women.”

Chapter 8

Professor Garrison heard a light knock on his office door and looked up from the hard cover book he was reading to see Logan standing in the doorway.

He removed his reading glasses and said, “Mr. Brandt, come in.”

Logan smiled and entered.  It was a small windowless room just large enough for a desk, two chairs, and a filing cabinet.  There were a couple of framed prints of colorful impressionist paintings hanging on the wall, but the room was otherwise a uniform shade of beige.  Logan sat down in one of the chairs.

“I know I said I’d have office hours today, but I have to say I’m surprised to get a visitor now that everyone has their grade.  Pleasantly surprised, though,” he added, smiling.  “What can I do for you?”

“I wanted to show you something and get your opinion about it,” said Logan as he reached into his pocket.  He removed the medallion his grandfather had sent him and placed it on Professor Garrison’s desk.  “It’s a family heirloom that my grandfather passed down to me.”

Garrison put on his reading glasses and picked it up to examine it.

Logan continued.  “I’ve already looked this up on the net, and I’m pretty sure the man on the chariot with the torch is supposed to represent the Greek god Apollo, but I wasn’t able to find any references to the arrow pointing up or the dot its flying toward.”

“I see.  You could try the academy’s reserve hardcover collection,” replied the professor as he held the medallion under the light of his desk lamp, turning it to see it from different angles.

“I was just there.  Nothing,” replied Logan.

“Not surprising, considering we don’t teach art or ancient history here,” said Garrison.

The professor held the medallion at an angle.  “I agree the man with the torch is supposed to represent the Greek god Apollo, but I don’t know if this is an arrow flying toward the dot.  It might be a shooting star or a comet.”  He rubbed his thumb over the intricate swirling design on the other side.  “What are these grooves for, I wonder,” he said, half to himself.

“I don’t know,” said Logan.  “They’re definitely a different artistic style than the image of Apollo.”

“Hmm,” said Garrison.

Garrison handed the medallion back to Logan.  He removed his reading glasses and leaned back in his chair.  “Your family heirloom certainly predates the Impact, but I’m sure you’ve already guessed that.”

Logan nodded his head.

Garrison thought for a moment, tapping his glasses against his open hand.  Then he said, “Logan, please close the door.”

Logan looked a little surprised but did as the professor asked.

After Logan sat down again, Garrison said, “As I said, I agree the man on the chariot is probably Apollo, the Greek god of the sun, healing, prophecy, and a number of other things.  As for the other images, the flaming arrow or comet and the dot, I think they may refer to something that is not often discussed these days. In fact it’s quite taboo.”

He dropped his glasses on the desk, laced his fingers together, and rested them on his stomach, his elbows on the chair’s arms.   He stared at Logan for a few moments.  Then he shrugged and tilted his head a bit, as though answering a silent question.

“As you know,” said Garrison, “In 2031 a series of asteroids crashed into the planet.  Not only was there significant damage at the impact sites, but the debris thrown into the atmosphere darkened the skies for many months.  This led to the Long Winter, worldwide crop failures, and radically different weather patterns, which persisted for many years, even to today.  You’re familiar with the turmoil that followed.”

“I’m familiar with it.  Everyone’s familiar with it,” said Logan, surprised at his own terseness.

Garrison held up a hand and said, “Please.  Be patient.”  He cleared his throat and continued.  “The social fabric was shredded.  Soon after Impact there were the resource wars, the breakup of the United States, the Tyranny of the Nine, and so on.  Finally, under the leadership of Malcom Weller the eastern part of the former United States regained some semblance of order and power was restored to the people and the Congress of Representatives.  And of course we can’t forget the Guardian Council, which carries out the will of the people and enforces the laws passed by Congress.  That’s all familiar territory for you.”

Logan nodded and added, “After the Impact, the western region formed the Pacific Federation and the south formed the Southern Union.  The rest of the world experienced similar political and social upheaval and environmental pressures.”

Professor Garrison nodded.  “As for here in the former United States, the Midwest was hit by several massive direct impacts and descended into complete chaos.  We’re told it’s still mostly ruins and rain-starved scorched lands.  The few people living there now have begun to reoccupy the ruined former cities, but politically speaking, they’re just a bunch of warring clans.  A few cities have recently made a claim for legitimacy, calling themselves the League of Free Cities.  But, we are informed their land can’t support even their modest population, so they are forced to raid our frontier towns for food and supplies.”

“The Midwaste,” said Logan.

“Exactly,” said Garrison.  “Now, Congressional leadership and the Guardians assure us that we here in the People’s Republic of America have regained, and even surpassed, the quality of life enjoyed by citizens of the United States prior to Impact.”

Garrison looked into Logan’s eyes and said, “Now, before I continue, let me emphasize that as a professor of history, I am simply informing you of a minor line of academic theory.  A very minor line.  I do not personally agree with this theory.”

Logan nodded his head.  “I understand.”

Garrison shifted in his chair and paused to collect his thoughts before speaking.  After several moments he said, “There is a very small minority of fringe thinkers who believe pre-Impact society was much further advanced in certain aspects than ours.  Orthodox teaching about pre-Impact society emphasizes street crime, injustice, income disparity, and the immoral self-indulgence of a rich ruling class.   But the fringe scholars I mentioned think this view is overstated.”

Hearing footsteps in the hallway outside his door, Garrison stopped speaking.  The footsteps stopped.  After a few seconds there was a knock on his door.  Garrison leaned forward and placed his hand over the medallion.  He gave Logan a cautioning look and said, “Come in.”

The door swung open and a man with swept back white hair wearing a blue blazer and blue trousers stepped into the office.  Under his blazer he wore a blue button-down shirt.  A narrow red and green striped tie hung from his neck, running over the curvature of his round stomach and terminating slightly above his belt.  “Excuse me, Professor Garrison,” said the man.  “I didn’t realize you were in a meeting.”

“Not at all, Professor Ferrin,” said Garrison in a warm tone.  “We were just discussing Mr. Brandt’s grade.”

“I prefer doctor Ferrin.”

“Of course,” said Garrison.  “My apologies.”

“No matter.  I try not to take these things too seriously, but it’s better to be accurate.”  Dr. Ferrin smiled at Garrison and then looked at Logan.

“Discussing grades, eh?  I hope you weren’t too hard on our dedicated citizen, Mr. Brandt,” he said to Garrison with a wink.

“Not too hard,” said Garrison.

“I must say I’m a little disappointed Mr. Brandt didn’t accept my invitation to take my course, Roots of Authority to Govern,” said Dr. Ferrin.  “I think he would have found it stimulating, and his insights would no doubt have elevated our class discussions.”

Sensing Ferrin was waiting for him to speak, Logan said, “There are so many good courses and so little time.”

Ferrin smiled and lifted a hand.  “Don’t worry.  I’m not offended.  I know you needed to prepare yourself for a lifetime of important military service.  Advanced political theory is for politicians, not warriors, eh?”

Ferrin turned his attention to Garrison.  “Can we expect to see you at the faculty meeting this evening?  We’ll be discussing new initiatives for next year’s freshman class.”

“Of course,” said Garrison.  “I’ll be there.”

“Great, great,” said Ferrin.  He looked at Logan and then back to Garrison.  “Well, I’ll leave you to your conversation about grades.”  He flashed them a smile and closed the door.

Garrison stared at the door and listened to the sound of Ferrin’s fading footfalls.  “As I was saying,” he continued, “one of the threads of this fringe theory includes a belief that society had achieved spaceflight.  And not just spaceflight, that humans had visited the moon.”

Garrison leaned back in his chair and pointed at the medallion on the desk.  “I believe your family heirloom refers to something called the ‘Apollo’ moon landing.  I have seen some of the symbols these fringe believers have used over time, and the image on that medallion reminds me one used long ago.”

Logan looked at the medallion again, excited by the possibility that humans had overcome the engineering challenges and visited Earth’s ancient satellite.  Returning his attention to Garrison, he said, “Okay, so the medallion pre-dates the Impact and might be evidence of a belief that we have sent ships into space and perhaps even to the moon, but if it were true why would Congress or the Guardians not want that known?  If someone told me that pre-Impact society had done all of this, I would be inspired to try and match or exceed the achievement.”

Garrison smiled and nodded his head.  He held his index finger up and said, “Yes, if it were true.  If it were true, the story could serve to inspire not just you, but many people to push the boundaries of our understanding.”

Then Garrison dropped his smile.  He leaned forward and rested his folded hands on the desk.  “But consider this,” he said in a serious tone.  “Since the Impact, we have been through a lot.  By many estimates, four-fifths or more of the world’s population died from the Impact and the natural disasters and crop failures that followed the Impact.  The resource wars here and elsewhere in the world that followed killed even more.  It has only been about forty years, just two generations, since we have enjoyed much stability here in the PRA.  And that stability is due largely to the fact that a strong government emerged and created order out of chaos.  Now that…”

Logan interrupted, “But can you imagine how excited people would be if they knew how much we had achieved before Impact and how much more we could be doing now?”

“Excited or angered by the gap that still exists?” asked Garrison.  He leaned back in his chair.  “I think you’ll find that whether people are content or not depends on how they see themselves compared to others around them.  Neighbors envy neighbors for the slightest perceived disparity in wealth or privilege.  They don’t care that they are no longer starving to death like people did after the Impact.  People are not intrinsically happy, they are only comparatively happy.  That’s just human nature.  Now imagine if they knew that our supposedly great society is a mere shadow of pre-Impact society?  That would only serve to upset social harmony.”

Logan shook his head, “People’s happiness depends on more than what their neighbors are up to.  I think that’s narrow thinking.”

“To you it is, Logan.  But if you’re in charge of running a government, don’t you think you’d prefer to have an obedient and relatively content society instead of a volatile one?  Wouldn’t you prefer to govern a society whose attention is occupied by frequent military parades, so-called just wars, and the Rededication Games?  Or would you prefer to govern a society that is constantly pressing for change because it is reminded of the superior achievements of the past?”

“I think I’d prefer to have a government that holds out examples of great achievements and inspires people to exceed them.  If the Congress of Representatives or the Guardians are afraid to do that, we need a change in leadership.”

Garrison held up both hands and said in a low voice, “I wouldn’t repeat that anywhere outside of this room.”

Logan realized he had gone too far, much farther than he had ever openly stated before.  He had contradicted sacred doctrine which had been ground into him since he was a small boy.  He’d been told again and again that the only thing standing between social order and the chaos of the past, the chaos that still gripped the middle of the continent, was a strong government and a unified people.  To cut at the roots of this great social compact was to risk everything that had been achieved since the founding of the People’s Republic.  How many times had he repeated the final line of the national pledge, we are one people, one nation?  Probably every day since he was six.

Garrison silently observed Logan for a few heartbeats.  Then he said, “Everything I have said is pure speculation, you understand.  It’s a fringe theory.  But if you want to explore this further, there is just one approved text that I am aware of.  It was published about fifteen years ago but has not been digitized so you can’t get it off the net.  However, the Central Library has a hardcopy in the reserve section.

Garrison opened his drawer and retrieved a pen and pad of paper.  “The book’s author goes to great lengths to disprove the truth of the Apollo flight stories, but at least you will be able to read some of the fringe arguments that have been advanced.”

Garrison wrote down the name of the book and the author.  “Go to the reserve librarian’s desk and ask for this title,” said the professor as he handed Logan the note.  “You can’t check it out, but they’ll let you read it in the library.”

“Thanks,” said Logan as he looked at the note.  It read Social Organizational Theory in Pre-Impact Society by Miguel Velasquez.  He folded it and put it in his pocket, along with the medallion.  Then he stood up to leave.

“And Logan,” said Garrison before Logan opened the office door.  “I wouldn’t show that medallion to anyone you don’t trust.  It’s an unusual thing to have these days.”

Chapter 9

An hour after leaving Professor Garrison’s office, Logan ascended the marble steps of the hulking Capitol District Central Library.  He looked up at the massive stone walls and giant bronze doors.  It had been one of his favorite places to go when he was a youth.  He’d always marveled at the monumental inspiring building.   On each side of the great bronze doors was a huge statue, also of bronze.  On the left was the image of a man in coveralls with his shirt sleeves rolled up.  He clutched a hammer in his right hand and looked confidently into the distance.  The statue on the right was of a soldier standing guard, a rifle at his side.  His handsome young face wore an expression of fearless determination.

Logan walked through the doors and into the long hall, the walls of which were decorated with a series of paintings depicting the history of the People’s Republic of America.  The first image showed the devastation the Impact had caused.  People lay on the ground, reaching to the skies as streaks of fire rained down.  The next image showed the people’s misery as they starved or fought for scraps of food.  This was followed by a scene depicting the collapse of the United States and the failure of the weak successor state to feed the people or maintain rule of law as people rioted for food, clean water, and shelter.  The next image depicted the Tyranny of the Nine, a time when mass protests were mercilessly put down by force of arms.

After these scenes of misery came a bright optimistic painting showing a figure on a hill with large crowds looking up to him, arms outstretched.  It was Malcom Weller gathering the people together, uniting them to overthrow the Nine.  This was followed by a painting representing the War against the Nine, which finally shattered the nation and split the country apart, resulting in the three successor states plus the ungovernable Midwest.

The next image depicted the death of Malcom Weller soon after he founded the People’s Republic of America.  It was followed by a painting showing the struggle for power after Malcom Weller’s death as those loyal to the Nine tried to reassert their control over the PRA.  Then came an image showing the people in triumph as they defeated the resurgent but secret forces of the Nine during the Rededication.  The final panel depicted a peaceful scene where farmers, laborers, scholars, and soldiers stood shoulder to shoulder, facing a rising sun.

Logan passed by the final panel and entered the large reading room.  The ceiling was very high, almost two stories.  A balcony ran along all four walls of the central hall.  Behind the balcony were many narrow hallways containing thousands of hardcopy books on metal shelves.  At the back of the reading room was a semi-circular desk.  A sign above it said “Reserve Books”.

Logan approached the thin man standing behind the desk and said, “I’m looking for a book and I was told there might be a copy in the reserve selection.”

“What is the title and author?” asked the man in a tired tone, slipping an index finger behind the lens of his wireframe glasses to rub his right eye.

Logan read him the information from the note Professor Garrison had given him.

The man entered the information into the computer in front of him.  “Here we are.  Social Organizational Theory in Pre-Impact Society by Miguel Velasquez.  It’s only in hardcopy.  I’ll be right back.”  He turned and walked into the dimly lit warren of bookshelves behind him.

After a minute, the man returned with a book in his hand.  “Here you go.  I’ll need your ID.  You can use one of the tables over there.”  He pointed at a row of five long wooden tables.

Logan accepted the book and handed him his identification card.  He walked past several tables where people sat reading various reserve books and found an empty one next to a wall near the reserve shelves.  A sign on the end of each shelf said Reserve Section : Staff Only.

He opened the text and read the table of contents.  It contained twelve chapters, each dealing with what the author considered to be a pre-Impact fringe theory.  Two of the chapters dealt with technology that might include the space flight theory.  Logan looked at the index in the back for the word “Apollo”.  He found several entries concerning an alleged pre-Impact space program.  The author went into some detail regarding a few of the space flight theories, dismissing them one by one.  In some cases, he went so far as to question the mental and emotional state of the space theorists, arguing their “undedicated” ideas bordered on madness and sedition.  With regard to the moon landing theory, Velasquez dismissed it as technologically impossible as well as strategically and politically pointless.

Logan leafed through the chapter and stopped at a page that contained a drawing.  He removed the medallion from his pocket and laid it next to the image.  They were very similar.  Both showed the Greek god Apollo bearing a torch and driving a chariot.  Both had what appeared to be a flaming arrow or comet and dot above Apollo’s head.  Logan read the caption under the image.  It said “Symbol of Apollo Society”.  Velasquez described the society as a group of discredited scientists and social misfits that had been disbanded during the Rededication.

Logan heard a thump and spun around in his chair.  Behind him was a thin female librarian loading a cart with books.  “Oh, I’m sorry,” she said, pushing a few loose strands of black hair behind her ear as she stooped to load more books onto the cart.  “Didn’t mean to surprise you.”

“It’s all right,” said Logan.  He returned his attention to the book.

“That’s an interesting piece,” said the woman leaning over the empty chair next to Logan.  He placed his hand over the medallion, which was resting next to the book.  She looked at the book.  “I think I’ve seen some other books on this sort of pre-Impact thing.  If you’re interested, I can show you.”

“Maybe,” said Logan.

“May I see it?” she asked, eyeing his hand covering the medallion.

“I’d prefer not,” replied Logan.

“Okay,” she said with a shrug.  “But come with me.  There’s one book in particular you should look at.”

She led him into the rows of reserve bookshelves.  The stacks were very tall, blocking the ceiling lights from neighboring aisles and casting shadows over most of the shelves and the floor.  Logan followed the woman as she wove her way through row after row of dark passages.  Finally, they reached a spot in what Logan thought must be the back of the library.  She reached up, pulled a book off the shelf, and handed it to Logan.  It was entitled The National Aeronautics and Space Agency.  A History.

Logan turned the book over in his hands.  On the front cover was an image of a tall rocket lifting off from the ground, a great ball of fire and smoke erupting from its engines.  He looked at the spine.  Then he opened the book to the first page.

“There’s no bar code or stamp,” he said.

“No, there isn’t,” said the woman.  “Don’t take this back to your table.  Read it right here.  When you’re done, put it back on the shelf.”  She walked away, and quickly disappeared around a corner.

Logan opened the book and began to read.

Chapter 10

Thirty minutes later, Logan was outside the library.  It was a sunny warm spring afternoon.  The Central Library was located in the heart of the Capitol District, and although there was a nearby bus stop where he could catch a bus that would take him back to Weller Academy, he decided to enjoy the weather and walk a few blocks to the next stop.

The sidewalk was full of pedestrians as the warm sunlight drew people out into the open air.  The road was busy too as people on bicycles and motor scooters hurriedly wove their way around each other.  A few small Victory and Unity cars sputtered through traffic, occasionally honking their tinny horns at indifferent co-commuters.

Looking at a sign hanging from a crate at a fruit stand, Logan noted it was blue shopping day.  Those with blue buy cards were out in large numbers buying groceries and other essentials.  The fruit was rather expensive, probably imported from Florida, thought Logan, but people were glad to have fresh produce to eat so early in the year and the vendor had nearly sold through his quota.

As he walked, Logan thought about what he had learned in the library.  He had skimmed each chapter of the book the woman had shown him and was intrigued by what he had read.  The book had contained detailed accounts of a variety of space programs:  Gemini, Mercury, Apollo, Skylab, Space Shuttle, and Orion, not to mention numerous unmanned probes and satellites.  The book was broad in scope, and it contained such convincing details that Logan found it difficult to dismiss.

He returned the smile of two young women passing in the opposite direction.  One of them reminded him of the woman he’d met in the library.  Clearly, her appearance was not a coincidence.  She didn’t just happen to find him researching the topic of pre-Impact spaceflight.  She didn’t just happen to know of another book that contained a wealth of information on the topic.  And she didn’t just happen to know the exact spot where it was located in the book stacks.  Also arguing against a serendipitous encounter was the fact that the book didn’t appear to belong to the library; it had lacked a barcode, stamp, or other indication that the library owned it.

Logan arrived at the bus stop.  As he waited for the bus, he looked at people sitting at sidewalk tables of nearby cafés and restaurants.  They were in high spirits, enjoying the arrival of warm sunny weather after the long harsh winter.  A pair of women at an Italian restaurant laughed loudly and pressed wine glasses to their lips.  A well-dressed young man sat at a table behind them, smiling and trying to get their attention.  The women were indifferent to his overtures until one of them saw the black buy card between his index and middle finger.  She momentarily locked eyes with his and granted him the hint of a smile.

When the bus arrived, Logan took a deep breath, taking in the sweet smells of thousands of nearby blossoms, and smiled.  As he boarded, Logan looked to his left and saw something that made his heart skip a beat.  On the passenger side of a small blue Victory sat a man with a tan face and short-cropped black hair.  Logan only caught a glimpse of his face, but he was quite certain he’d seen him at the library sitting at one of the tables.

Logan was tempted to go to the back of the bus and look at the car through the rear window but he didn’t dare.  He decided he would get off the bus at a stop just before the Weller Academy campus.  If he saw the man in the blue Victory he would know it was not a coincidence.

During the twenty-minute bus ride, Logan weighed his options.  If he was being followed, it was probably an SPD officer, which meant Lieutenant Fischer had ordered that he be put under surveillance.  If Lieutenant Fischer was having him followed, Logan thought perhaps he should come clean.  Telling the SPD the full story was the prudent thing to do.  What did he hope to accomplish by withholding information anyway?  His grandfather had asked him to keep the medallion safe until he could retrieve it.  But now that he was dead, did Logan owe him anything?  He thought about his promising career, what his mother expected of him, what his father would have advised him to do if he were alive.  He shook his head and looked out the window.

A few minutes later, the bus arrived at his stop near the academy.  As Logan stepped onto the sidewalk, he looked to his right and searched the street and surrounding area.  No blue car.  No strangers watching him.  In fact, the street was empty.  He looked at his watch.  Sword and shield training was at 4 p.m. and it was already 3:40.  Logan broke into a run, arriving at his apartment five minutes later.  After changing into his exercise gear, he placed the medallion in his dresser drawer and headed for the door.  He turned the handle, but then he paused.  He turned around, went back into his bedroom, and retrieved the medallion.  He put it in his pocket and left the apartment.


The Navigator, Chapters 1-5

As I approach the finish line on book two of the Apollo Stone Trilogy, tentatively titled “The Warrior” I decided to post a few chapters of book 1, The Navigator, in order to give readers a taste of what these books are about.  Hope you enjoy, and please feel free to leave a comment.  The Navigator is available on Amazon in ebook and trade paper format.


The Navigator

Book 1 of the Apollo Stone Trilogy

Chapter 1

Arthur Chambers looked back at the shop just as the lights above the entrance went dark.  He heard the deadbolt slide into place as he scanned the dark street as casually as possible, noting the handful of pedestrians hurrying home now that the restaurants and shops were closing down.  To his right was the dark blue sedan which had followed him from his apartment.  He had driven around town for the better part of an hour in an attempt to throw them off his trail, and at one point he believed he had succeeded, but there it was again, the same blue sedan.  He cursed his stupidity for having thought he could elude them.

Chambers walked across the street, still wet from the rain, toward a small gray Victory automobile parked on the opposite side.  He opened the door and squeezed his tall lanky frame into the driver’s seat.  He inserted the key into the ignition.

“Damn it!” he whispered to himself.

Chambers turned the key, but it refused to start.  He frowned and shook his head.  We have fighter planes that exploit extra-dimensional gravitational differences but we still can’t build a decent car.  Chambers took a deep breath and followed the usual ritual of pumping the gas twice and counting to five.  Then he rotated the key once more.  The Victory coughed and rattled in protest, but it finally started.  He turned on the headlights, looked in his side mirror, and pulled away from the curb.

As he drove away, Chambers looked in his rear view mirror and saw a man exit a coffee shop and step into the passenger side of the dark blue sedan.  The headlights turned on and the car quickly pulled into the street behind Chambers.  He turned left and then right.  The blue sedan did the same.  His heart began to pound as his anxiety grew.  A thousand questions raced through his mind.  Would they retrace his footsteps?  Would they question the shop owner who had promised to mail the hastily conceived note?  He felt a sudden pang of terror surge through his body.  He’d made a terrible mistake.  He needed to retrieve it; undo what he had done.

Chambers approached a sharp bend in the road.  He looked in his rear view mirror, and when he was out of sight of the blue sedan, he gunned the Victory’s engine and sped down the hill toward the five way intersection at the bottom.  At the last moment, he pulled the steering wheel sharply to the right.  The tires screamed their warning, but he ignored them.  He clenched his teeth and kept his foot on the gas pedal, trying to turn onto the little street that ran along the river.

Then he heard a popping sound and the left front tire suddenly turned perpendicular to the car frame.  The little Victory spun out of control and slammed head first into a cement block at the foot of a bridge.

Moments later a man in a dark blue overcoat ran up to the car.  He pulled hard on the door, but it refused to open.  He pulled again and again until it finally yielded.  The man crouched down and looked at Chambers, who was pressed tightly against the steering wheel.  Blood flowed freely from a head wound.

Chamber’s eyes were closed, and he breathed in small gasps as his punctured lungs quickly filled with blood.  “Don’t touch it,” he rasped.  “Don’t use it.”  He opened his eyes and looked at the man’s face.  He struggled to focus on his features, then with his last breath he whispered, “Fool.”

Chapter 2

The sun was just beginning to rise above the tree tops when Logan returned from his run.  He entered the code into the apartment’s keypad and went in.  He walked into the small kitchen and poured himself a tall glass of water from the faucet and gulped it down.  Then he prepared a pot of coffee.  As the pot filled with steaming dark liquid, a door in the small living room next to the kitchen opened.

“Hey, Cap” Logan said to the blond haired young man who entered the kitchen.

“Hey,” replied Cap, squinting at the morning light filtering through the window shades.  He sat on a stool at the kitchen bar and leaned forward, resting his torso on the counter and moaning softly.  Then he stretched his arms out and said, “Need coffee…brain…hurting.”

“You stayed out past your bedtime, Cap” said Logan.

“I did,” replied Cap.  With eyes half open, he lifted his head and rubbed his temples with his fingertips.

“Drink this, you’ll feel better,” said Logan as he handed Cap a cup of black coffee.

Cap tried a sip.  “This coffee tastes like a sweaty gym sock.”

“Drink up.  It’ll put steam in your stride,” said Logan as he walked toward his bedroom door.

An hour later the two men, now shaved and showered, exited the apartment building.  Both wore dark blue pants, black shoes, white dress shirts, and blue waist length jackets.  Each had a bag slung over his shoulder.  They joined a stream of identically dressed young men and women walking toward a group of buildings two blocks away.  As they crossed the street they passed a large boulder with a brass plaque on it.  It read, Malcom Weller Military Academy for Science and Engineering. 

Walking on bright green grass, Logan breathed in the fresh spring air.  Tall trees provided a brilliant display of blossoms in the bright morning light.  At the center of the park was a large bronze statue of a man standing on a stone pedestal.  The statue’s eyes looked boldly toward the horizon.  His overcoat was open, flowing behind him as if he faced a strong wind.  His right arm was raised and his large hand pointed forward.  His left arm was at his side, the hand clenched into a fist.  The name “Malcom Weller” was carved into the pedestal.

They walked past the statue and entered a building on the far side of the park.  As they climbed the steps to the second floor, they were joined by an attractive young woman with shoulder length dark hair and dark brown eyes.

“Hey Lena,” said Cap.  “I missed you last night at The Cave.”

“You didn’t miss me.  I had no intention of being there,” she replied coolly.  “I have two finals today.  One of which you’re also taking, Caparelli.”

“What?  I have a final today?” said Cap in mock surprise.

She ignored Cap’s theatrics and turned her attention to Logan.  “You ready for the fluid mechanics final?”

“We’ll find out tomorrow,” Logan responded.  Logan had received the highest score on the midterm, but Lena’s project had won Professor Bouchet’s greatest praise.  The final exam would probably decide who would receive the highest overall grade.

“Well, good luck,” she said.  She turned to her right and walked down the hall.

After Lena disappeared in a crowd of cadets, Cap looked at Logan.  “By ‘good luck’ I think she means ‘I hope you fail miserably’.”

“Probably,” agreed Logan.  Lena Moreau was hyper competitive by any standard, and she excelled at everything from academics to close-quarters combat.  Logan clapped Cap on the back.  “Good luck with that systems design final.”

“Thanks, but I just need to pass,” said Cap as he started to walk in the same direction Lena had gone in.  “Maybe I’ll sit next to Lena.  She digs me, I can tell.”

Logan shook his head and smiled.  “Yeah, she digs you.  Have a groovy day.”

Logan entered a small lecture hall.  There were about fifteen students already in the room but the class had not yet started.  At the front of the room there was a large view screen behind a wooden lectern.  Facing the lectern were four rows of seats, a continuous curving bench running along each row.   Logan ascended several steps and walked down the second row, taking the seat next to a man with short black hair.

“Phillip,” said Logan, deepening his voice and nodding his head in feigned formality.

“Logan,” answered Phillip, also slightly nodding his head.  Then he smiled and said, “Did you catch any of last night’s Re-ded match-ups?”

“Some,” answered Logan.  “Looks like Samarak will win gold for sword and guard.  And I don’t think anyone is going to beat Muthu’s time in the triathlon.”

“Yeah,” said Phillip.  “That guy’s inhuman.  A beast.  Who’s your pick for the big one, the banner race?”

“I don’t know,” answered Logan as he watched a few more cadets file into the room.  “Vorsek probably.  He’s won twice already and looked good in the prelims.”  Looking back at Phillip he asked, “More importantly, how many banner thieves will get run down this year?”

Phillip shrugged his shoulders.  “Hard to say.  How many was it last year?  Two?  Plus another four injured?  There are rumors the SPD will crack down on it this year.”

Logan shook his head and said, “No way.  People would take to the streets if they kept the thieves out.  Watching them jump out and try to steal banners is more popular than the race itself.  And as long as the bookies keep paying anyone who can steal a banner, the thieves will keep trying.  I hear they get a fully loaded black buy card if they get one.”

“I doubt that,” scoffed Phillip.  “They get cash, but the SPD can trace a card through its bio-encryption.  They’d just invalidate it.”

“The SPD already looks the other way by letting the thieves in the race.  Why would they care about a couple cards?  And you never hear about a crackdown on the bookies.”

“I hope you’re right,” said Phillip.  “I’ve got fifty bucks riding on Vorsek to run someone down, and another twenty-five it’ll be fatal.  You?”

“Not me,” said Logan, hands raised.  “I don’t have cash lying around to give away to bookies.”

“Too bad we can’t use buy cards like cash,” said Phillip with a grin.  “I’d put five hundred down on Vorsek.”

Logan laughed.  “Yeah, right.  People would blow their allowances on booze and bookies.”

“Money well spent,” said Phillip.  “Damn, I hope I win.  I need the cash.  I still have one year until graduation, and I can’t make it on a cadet’s green buy card.”

“Maybe you should jump the fence and grab a banner,” suggested Logan. “With a loaded black card you could get a nice apartment, eat at the best restaurants.  You could buy new car.  Might even get bumped to the front of the waiting list.”

“Maybe you should do it.  You could buy a new PDD,” said Phillip pointing at Logan’s battered personal data device.

“Don’t need a new one,” said Logan.  “I’ll be going on full active duty right after graduation.  Don’t need a PDD to fire an M-35 or march in a straight line.”

Phillip grinned and shook his head.  “You?  Fire a weapon?  March around?  They won’t waste your talent on that.”

Logan smiled and looked toward the front of the room.  “Who knows what plans the Guardians have for any of us?” he said in a mock philosophical tone.

Their conversation was interrupted when a tall thin black man wearing khaki pants, a dark green dress shirt, and a brown jacket entered the room.  He walked to the lectern and placed a folder filled with paper on the nearby table.

“Good morning everyone,” he said.

“Good morning, Professor Garrison,” murmured a few students.

Pointing at the folder, Professor Garrison said.  “As you can see I have printed out and graded your final papers.  I will return them to you at the end of the class.”

He looked around the room and smiled at the students.  “I am holding your papers hostage because I know some of you will be tempted to leave as soon as you know your grade.  Not everyone will be happy with the results, but if you have questions about your grade we can discuss them after today’s class or during my office hours on Wednesday.”

“Okay,” said Garrison as he clapped his hands. “Your grades are determined, but our conversation is not over.  For today’s topic, our final topic, I wanted to dig a little deeper into the influences on early colonial society that led to a shift in perspective.  I’m not talking about the proximate causes for the revolution, namely the British crown’s oppressive mercantilist policies combined with counter-productive individualism in the colonies.  I want to discuss why the people’s collective consciousness had advanced to a point where they identified more with each other than with the interests of the crown.  Who has a theory?  Who wants to begin?”

A woman with short brown hair sitting behind Logan raised her hand.  “Professor Garrison?”

“Yes, Ms. Becker,” said Garrison with a smile.  “Please get us started.”

“According to Larrent’s Roots of a Revolution, the colonists’ view of themselves as a distinct people began with the Seven Years War.  It was the first time colonists had to fight for their homes in a meaningful way.”

“Great,” said Garrison.  “That’s what Larrent thinks.  What do the rest of you think?”

The question prompted several cadets to raise their hands and an animated discussion followed.  Some cadets argued that the seed of colonial separateness was formed very early, before the Seven Years War.  Some believed the feeling of a separate identity formed at least fifty years prior to the war due to the crown’s prohibitions against the colonies developing certain industries or producing manufactured goods.  Then there was a heated debate about the deep divide within pre-Revolution society between those who wanted independence and those who supported the crown both during and after the war.  Phillip argued the divide was fueled by the wealthy merchants who would benefit from freer trade versus merchants and landowners who benefited from the status quo.  Logan argued that whatever the causes of the war the split in society was deepened once it started because most people followed their convictions.  It wasn’t just about wealth, manufacturing, and trade; ideas truly mattered.

The debate continued until the bell rang, after which Professor Garrison called out each student’s name and returned their final paper as they walked by.  Logan’s name was the last to be called.   When he received his paper, he turned to the final page to see the grade.  Ninety-seven.  Maybe not the highest score, but enough to ensure he’d get an A for the course.  He thanked Professor Garrison for teaching the class and walked toward the door.

“Mr. Brandt,” said Garrison.

“Yes?” he said, turning around to face the professor.

“I thought you made some interesting points in your paper.  However, I noted a few threads of thought that were, how shall I put it, unsupported by leading scholars of pre-Impact society.”

“I see,” said Logan.

“Look,” continued Garrison after a pause.  “I understand that there are some theories out there that can be attractive to young people, but you need to guard against undedicated modes of thinking.  It probably doesn’t matter too much for ancient, medieval or even early American history, but as you approach the period immediately preceding Impact, I recommend you stick to the authorized histories.

“Yes sir,” said Logan.  “Thank you for the advice.”

Garrison smiled and continued.  “Personally, I don’t think it’s harmful to discuss these things in a properly supervised environment, such as our classroom.  I said many times throughout the semester that I welcome all well-reasoned discussion.  But you will be leaving academia soon and things will be different.  You’ll need to watch your step.”

Logan nodded.  “Thanks Professor Garrison.  I’ll keep that in mind.”

Garrison placed a hand on Logan’s shoulder and looked him in the eye.  “I hope you know that you can trust me.”

Logan nodded his head and said, “Yes sir.  Thanks.”

Logan left the classroom and exited the building.  He walked across a small square toward a three-story glass building.  He went inside and entered a large open room.  There were a few rows of books, but the majority of the space was devoted to individual study stations equipped with large transparent view screens and docking stations.  Wooden tables arranged in rows occupied the center.  Students sat at the tables, quietly studying alone or in small groups.

He found an unoccupied study station and docked his PDD.  The view screen flickered and then icons of various software programs, textbooks, and other files appeared.  Logan touched the icon of a textbook entitled Advanced Propulsion.  The view screen showed the table of contents.  He touched on one of the chapters and the screen opened a page with text and equations.  He pulled up the notes file on his PDD and inserted a portion of them next to the textbook file so he could simultaneously view the text and his class notes.  Touching the screen, he flicked through the pages of notes until he found the relevant information.

He read something that didn’t make sense to him.  What he’d written down in class did not seem to agree with what the text was saying.  He opened up the lab simulator program, and using his finger as a stylus, he wrote out a series of equations.  He touched the image of a green “GO” button and the simulator program converted his equations into charts and graphs.  The screen displayed a 3D image of how his model would function.  He adjusted some of the variables, such as fuel purity, mass, and environmental conditions.  He frowned at what he saw.  Frustrated, he sat back, unconsciously running his fingers through his wavy brown hair.  Then a thought occurred to him.  He made some adjustments to his equations and hit “GO”.  This time he smiled when he saw the results.

He stopped studying at 11:45 and went to the cafeteria to get some lunch.  He took a tray from the top of a stack and pushed it along a metal shelf.  He indicated what food he wanted and one of the dozen or so cafeteria staff workers placed it on his tray.  He looked around the large crowded room and saw Cap and another student sitting at a table.

“How’d your systems final go?” asked Logan as he sat down next to Cap.

“About usual,” said Cap unenthusiastically.  “I didn’t light it up but I didn’t crash and burn either.”

The student sitting across the table took his heavy-rimmed glasses off and started cleaning them with a small cloth.  “Systems design with Fowler is a joke,” said the other student.  “Try taking it from Van Horn.  The man’s a sociopath.”

“No thanks, Hamza.” replied Cap.  “Fowler was crazy enough for me.  Did you know he sings to himself when he writes on the view screen?  What a cube.”

“Strange,” agreed Logan.  He looked at Hamza.  “What about you?  How are exams going?”

Hamza held his glasses up to the ceiling lights, gave them a final wipe, and placed them on his nose.  “I had three last week and two more this week.  Then I’m a free man.”  He looked around the cafeteria.  “Free from this fucking bullshit gulag.”

“Free?” replied Cap.  “Your active duty station is Peoria.  Peoria!  That’s the goddamn frontier, boy.  Shithole central.”

Logan and Cap laughed.  Agitated, Hamza adjusted his glasses and said rather defensively, “That’s where they need civil and agricultural engineers.  I’m good at both, so they’re sending me where the work needs to be done.  At least I’ll be doing work that makes a difference, makes us one people, one nation.”

Logan smiled.  Then he said, “You better be good with an M-35, too.  The clans raid out there at least once a week.”

“Shit,” said Cap.  “Hamza will be too busy pissing his pants to get a shot off.”

Hamza mimicked Cap.  “Hamza will be too busy pissing his pants to get a shot off.”  He leaned across the table toward Cap, “I can hit a fly’s eye at two hundred meters.”

Cap coughed on his food as he laughed.  He swallowed and said, “Look at you!  You’re blind as a bat.  You couldn’t hit your mama’s fat ass at ten meters.”

Hamza tightened his lips and said, “Meet me at the range tonight, and I’ll show you how it’s done, asshole.”

Cap grinned.  “A challenge from the lady in the spectacles!” he said in a ringmaster’s tone of voice.  “I accept.  I’ll see you at the range at nineteen hundred hours.  M-35 and 9mm.  One clip per person.”

“You’re on, fly boy bird turd,” said Hamza.  He stood up to leave.  As he walked away he said over his shoulder, “Bring some money.  No buy card bullshit.  Cold cash.  I want to make it interesting.”

“I’m going to enjoy this,” said Cap after Hamza had gone.  “Easy money.”

“I wouldn’t get too cocky,” cautioned Logan.  “Hamza looks like a geek but he was walking foot patrols west of Chicago during last summer’s active duty.  It’s wild out there so I’m pretty sure he fired his weapon in anger a few times.”

“Not concerned,” said Cap.  “I did a lot of shooting during last summer’s AD, too.”

Logan shook his head and chuckled.  “You flew F31 patrol missions.  You’re a fly boy, a stick jock.  You played with expensive toys all day and got tucked into your warm bed at night.”

Cap waved a hand, dismissively.  “You’re backing up Hamza because you’re both infantry.  Flat Foots, ground pounders.”

Logan shrugged.  “We’ll continue this discussion tonight when you get back from the range.  And don’t bullshit me.  I’m going to verify every detail with Hamza tomorrow.”

Logan took a final bite of green mush on his plate and stood.  “Time to meet my fluids study group.”

“Have fun with your fluids,” said Cap.  “Tell lovely Lena I said hi.”

“I will not.  She thinks you’re an egotistical idiot.”

“Just one of my many charming qualities,” replied Cap.

Ten minutes later Logan entered a library study room and sat at a table with four other cadets, including Lena.

“Cap says hi,” he said to her.

“Caparelli?” she said without looking up from her PDD.  “That boy’s an idiot.”

Chapter 3

That evening Logan was sitting at the apartment kitchen table in front of a small view screen docking station.  A 3D video was depicting how waves interact when they collide with other waves.  Logan paused the simulation and opened up the equation screen.  He scrolled through pages of numbers and symbols until he found the spot that interested him.  He changed several of the numbers and was about to return to the simulator to judge the results of his adjustments when the door buzzer sounded.

Irritated by the interruption, he got up from his chair and walked to the door.  He looked at the video screen next to the door.  A man with a flat nose and a square jaw wearing a light blue coat stood outside.   He wore a military style cap with a small badge above the visor.  On the badge was an image of an eagle clutching a shield in one talon and lightning bolts in another.  The letters “SPD” were sewn on his coat collar.

Logan stiffened and clenched his jaw muscles.  He looked back at the kitchen table, then at the door to his bedroom.  He was about to walk to his room when the buzzer sounded again.  Logan took a breath and opened the door.

“Logan Brandt?” said the man.

“That’s right,” replied Logan noting that under his long blue coat, the man wore a gray shirt and blue trousers, which disappeared into calf-high black leather boots.  A black stripe ran down the length of the trousers.

The officer smiled and said, “I’m Lieutenant Fischer from the State Protection Directorate of the National Security Ministry.  May I come in?”

Logan stepped out of the way and extended his hand toward the apartment’s interior.  Lieutenant Fischer walked past Logan and into the small living room.  He removed his hat, tucked it under his left arm, and turned to face Logan.

“Please sit down,” offered Logan.

“I’ll stand,” replied Fischer.  “This shouldn’t take long.”

“What can I do for you lieutenant?” asked Logan.

Lieutenant Fischer didn’t answer the question.  He looked around the room and said, “You have a very nice apartment,” he observed.  “They take good care of you here at the Weller Academy.”

“Yes they do,” agreed Logan.

Fischer walked toward a shelf and glanced through the cheaply bound books.  He pulled one from the shelf, looked at it for a moment, and returned it to its place.  He walked toward Logan’s bedroom and peered through the open door.  Then the SPD officer returned his attention to Logan and smiled.

“Don’t misunderstand me,” continued the SPD officer.  “Unlike some, I do not begrudge another’s successes.  In fact, I’m glad that you are well cared for.  After all, you and your fellow students are our future leaders.  You will be defenders of the People’s Republic of America and should be given every opportunity to excel.”

Logan smiled but said nothing.

“I was wondering if I could ask you a few questions about your recently deceased grandfather, Dr. Arthur Chambers.”

“Okay,” said Logan, hoping the SPD officer did not notice the hint of tension in his voice.

“When was the last time you heard from your grandfather?”

“Let me think,” said Logan.  “It would have been about one week before he died.”

“So just three weeks ago?” said Lieutenant Fischer.  “What did you talk about?”

“We didn’t talk.  I received a congratulations card from him.  I’m due to graduate from the academy this Saturday.

“How very nice,” said Fischer, his mouth stretching into a smile, revealing crooked yellow teeth.  “He must have been very proud of you.  Do you still have the card?”

“I think so.”

“May I see it?”

“Sure, just a second.”  Logan went into his bedroom and searched through some clutter on his dresser top.  He found the card and brought it into the living room.  “Here you go.”

Lieutenant Fischer read the card.  “It’s a nice card.  I see he wrote you some riddles.  Did he often do that?”

“Sometimes,” replied Logan.  “When I was a kid.”

“Interesting.  May I scan the card?” he asked as he pulled out a personal data device.   Without waiting for Logan’s response he laid the card on the table.  A red cone of light shone from his PDD.  The light rotated a few times and then flashed brightly.  When he had finished, Fischer looked up and smiled.  “Where would we be without these PDDs?”

Logan smiled.  “Yes.  They’re very useful,” he said, although he was unfamiliar with the scanning function on the SPD officer’s device.  Clearly, theirs came with added features.

“Do you still have the envelope in which the card arrived?”

“Not anymore.”

“What happened to it?”

“I threw it away.”

Lieutenant Fischer frowned when he heard the response, but then he said, “Oh well.  That’s understandable.  Do you recall what the return address was?”

“No, I don’t.”

“Don’t recall?” asked Lieutenant Fischer.  “Was it his home address?  Some other place?”

“I don’t think I bothered to look,” said Logan.

Lieutenant Fischer tapped the nail of his index finger on the PDD and stared at Logan for several heartbeats.  At last he said, “You’re probably wondering why I’m asking about your grandfather.”

“I suppose you have good reasons,” said Logan as he eyed the man’s PDD.  “Keeping the Republic safe must require you to investigate many things.”

“That is true.  The price of safety is constant vigilance, I always say.  In this case I can tell you that whenever a high ranking person or prominent citizen, such as your grandfather, dies we at the SPD conduct a thorough investigation.  Better safe than sorry, right?”

Logan nodded.  “Agreed.  No harm double checking things.”

“I’m so happy you understand.  Terrorists from the Southern Union, The Pacific Federation, and the Waste grow bolder by the day,” said Fischer.

“I know,” said Logan.

“You know?  What do you know?” asked Lieutenant Fischer, as a faint smile played across his lips.

The question startled Logan.  “Nothing special,” he muttered.  “Just what you see on the news.  There are always reports of some clan raid or the discovery of some spy ring.”

Lieutenant Fischer nodded his head.  “Yes.  The news is full of these stories.”  He tapped his PDD.  “So, returning to the subject of your grandfather, the last communication you received from him was the card.  When was the last time you two actually spoke?”

Logan took a deep breath and thought for a moment.  “I guess that would have been during winter break.  He came to visit us for a couple of days.”

“When you say ‘us’ you mean you and your mother, correct?”


“Your father died when you were young, right?” asked Fischer.  “He was stationed on the frontier and died during a reconnaissance-in-force mission near Indianapolis, though the record contains a few contradictions.”  He smiled slightly, noting Logan’s discomfort.  “Forgive me, but I conducted a little research before coming to visit you.”

Logan shook his head.  “It’s okay.  Yes, that’s how he died.”

“Did you ever talk about your father with your grandfather?”

“Not really,” said Logan.  “Dr. Chambers was my grandfather on my mother’s side, so there really wasn’t any reason to talk about my father.”

Lieutenant Fischer nodded and asked, “During your grandfather’s winter visit, do you recall any conversations that seemed strange?”

“Strange in what way?” asked Logan.

“Did he seem nervous?  Did he mention any person or persons who might have wanted to harm him?”

“No.  Just the normal stuff.”

“Just the normal stuff.  Good.”  Fischer paused for a moment then he placed his hat on his head and said, “Well, I’ve kept you from your studies long enough.  If you remember anything about Dr. Chambers that seems out of the ordinary, please contact me at this number.”

He handed Logan a business card and smiled.  “I’ll show myself out.”

Logan didn’t move after Lieutenant Fischer left the apartment until he heard the faint thud of the stairwell door closing.  Then he walked to the apartment door and looked at the monitor screen.  The hallway was empty.  He walked into his room and opened the top drawer of his dresser.  He reached in and searched under some T-shirts until he found an envelope.  He pulled it out and tilted the open end until a small flat medallion about the size and shape of a large coin rolled into his cupped hand.

He held the medallion up to the light and examined it.  Etched in white against a black background was an image of a man holding a torch.  He was standing in a chariot pulled by several horses.  To the man’s right was what appeared to be an arrow or comet shooting upward toward a small dot.  Logan turned the medallion over to the other side.  It was covered in a silver metal lined with thousands of tiny swirling grooves.

His grandfather had written a note and taped it to the medallion.  Logan pulled it out of the drawer and read it.  Logan, please keep this for me.  I will retrieve it soon.  It’s important that you keep it safe.

Below this request, his grandfather had written something else.  Wanderer, if you come to Sparta, tell them there you have seen us lying here, obedient to their laws.

Logan returned the medallion to the dresser drawer and closed it.  He took the note and envelope into the kitchen.  Lighting a wooden match, he set fire to both of them and washed the ashes down the sink.

Chapter 4

Cap closed the apartment door behind him and pressed a button on the control pad.  The dead bolt slip into place with a click.  He went into the apartment and saw Logan sitting at the kitchen bar.  Cap could see his roommate was deeply engrossed in his studies, so he quietly walked behind Logan’s chair toward his bedroom.

“How’d the shooting match go?” asked Logan without looking up.

“Hm? Oh yeah,” replied Cap.  “It went okay.”

“Just okay?”  Logan looked at Cap and smiled.  “Something tells me Hamza’s pocket has some of your money in it.”

Cap raised his arms slightly, palms up, and said, “I was out of my rhythm.  Any other night I would have won.”

Without giving Logan a chance to reply, Cap asked, “How’s the studying coming?  Ready for your fluids final tomorrow?”

“I think so,” Logan said, returning his attention to the PDD and view screen.

Cap continued walking toward his bedroom when Logan asked, “What is the center of gravity?”

Cap stopped in the doorway and turned around.  “Excuse me?”

“It’s a riddle my grandfather sent me before he died.”

“You’re grandfather sent you a riddle before he died?” asked Cap.  “Weird.”

“He sent me a congratulations card since he would not be able to attend the graduation ceremony.  He included a few riddles in the card.”

“I see.  How many?”

“Three.  I’ve figured out the first two, but I don’t understand the one about the center of gravity.”

“What are the first two?”

Logan looked at the card and read aloud.  “’You can cut me and put me on the table but never eat me.’  I think that one is flowers.”

Cap nodded his head in agreement.

“The second one is, ‘Why is a beating heart like a writing desk?’  Edgar Allen Poe wrote on both of them.”

“I would never have gotten that one,” admitted Cap.  “But I think you’re right.”

“That leaves the one about the center of gravity, which I can’t figure out.”

“Why the sudden interest in these riddles on the night before a final?”

Logan put his hands behind his head, laced his fingers, and leaned back.  He looked at the ceiling for a moment.  Then he said, “My sudden interest was sparked by a visit from Lieutenant Fischer of the State Protection Directorate.  He came here to ask about my grandfather.  He found the riddles interesting and scanned an image of the card they were written on.”

Cap sat down at the table.  “The SPD?  Really?  Why would they care about your grandfather’s death?”

“I don’t know.  He died in a car accident, but they apparently check into any deaths involving anyone significant.  Anyway, that’s what Fischer said.”  Logan handed the officer’s card to Cap.

“Was your grandfather ‘significant’?” asked Cap, handing back the card after reading it. “I remember seeing him a couple of times a year at your house when we were kids, but I didn’t get the impression he was a heavyweight worthy of SPD attention.”

“Yeah,” said Logan.  “He was a pretty well-known physicist, but I don’t think he was influential outside his professional circles.  And even if he was, I don’t know if the SPD is investigating as a matter of routine or if they’re onto something suspicious.”

“Maybe they don’t believe the car accident was an accident,” offered Cap.

“That’s what I was thinking, but all I have to go on is these riddles.  That’s why I’ve been wasting valuable study time trying to figure out what the ‘center of gravity’ is.”

“What happens when you solve it?” asked Cap.

Logan hesitated for a moment.  Then he stood and went into his bedroom.  When he returned, he laid the medallion on the counter.  “My grandfather sent me this and asked that I keep it safe.”

Cap picked it up and examined it.  “Interesting.  What did Fischer say about it?”

“I didn’t tell him.”

Cap raised an eyebrow.  “Did he ask?”

“Not directly.  He asked if my grandfather had communicated with me.  I showed him the congratulations card he sent.”

“But you didn’t show him this.”  Cap turned it over and ran his thumb over the swirling grooves on the back.  “You don’t think showing it to the SPD is what your grandfather would have wanted?  It wouldn’t be safe?”

“I don’t know.  Something in my gut held me back.”  Logan scratched his head.  “Probably not too smart to have kept this to myself.”

Cap raised an eyebrow and said, “It’s never smart to play around with the SPD.  I’d rethink this if I were you and give Lieutenant Fischer a call.  Tell him you suddenly remembered the medallion.”

“You think he’d believe that?” asked Logan, incredulously.

“No, but then you’d be done with it.  Think big picture.  You’ll be at the National Defense Research Center soon, one of the best active duty postings you can get coming out of Weller Academy.  Your grandfather’s career is over; yours is just starting.”

Logan nodded.  “I get it.  Let the dead bury the dead.”

Cap raised a thumb.  “Right on.”

Logan smiled and shook his head.  “Nobody says that kind of stuff anymore.  You know that, right?”

Cap shrugged and walked away.

Chapter 5

“Here comes Bouchet,” said Logan to Lena, who was sitting in the row behind him.

She looked up from reading some notes and saw the professor.  “Right on time, as usual.”

A short man entered the lecture hall.  His head was bald, except for a horseshoe of dyed black hair that ran around the back of his head.  He wore a blue double-breasted pinstriped suit, white shirt, and a red bow tie with yellow stripes.

“Someone needs to tell him he dresses like a clown,” mumbled Lena.

“Watch your tone.  He graduated at the top of his class at Clown College,” replied Logan.

“Okay, everyone.  Let’s get started,” said the professor in a loud but rather high pitched voice.

He handed a stack of papers to an assistant and said, “Please distribute these to the students, face down.”

Logan heard Lena popping her knuckles.  He turned around and saw she was feverishly reading a page on the small screen of her PDD.  He looked down and saw she was unconsciously bouncing her leg under the bench.

“Relax, Lena,” he said.

“I am relaxed,” she replied.

“You have to let your mind focus on something else, even for just thirty seconds.  Believe me, it helps.”

She waved the back of her hand at him, fingers down.  “Be gone,” she said in a mock imperious tone.

“You’ve got thirty seconds before the final begins,” said Logan.  “How much do you think you’re going to learn in thirty seconds?”

Lena did not respond.

“Hey, I’ve got a riddle for you,” said Logan.  “What’s the center of gravity?”

“V,” she said without hesitation.


“The center of gravity is ‘v’.  It’s a kids’ riddle.  Now leave me alone.”

Logan considered her answer and smiled.  “Oh yeah.  Makes sense.”

At the front of the auditorium, Professor Bouchet cleared his throat and spoke.  “Ladies and gentlemen, please quiet down.  Take your seats if you have not already done so.”  He waited until everyone’s attention was on him.

“Welcome to your fluid dynamics final,” he said with a broad smile.  “As with the midterm, this is an open-book exam, or, more precisely stated, an open PDD exam.  You may refer to your PDD textbook and any notes that are of your own making.”

He walked along the front row of students and surveyed the faces directed toward him.

“However,” he continued, “as you no doubt realized while taking the midterm, your PDD and your notes won’t do you any good if you do not understand the material.  My advice is to do your best on each question and move on.  Don’t get bogged down.  Maintain your pace.  You can go back and revisit your answers when you have finished all the questions, although it’s unlikely you will have much time to do so.”

He saw a hand go up.  He half closed his eyes and said, “And yes, you may use your PDD’s simware, but understand you won’t have time to program anything.”

The hand went down.

When the tests had been distributed, Professor Bouchet pressed a button on a controller and the number two followed by a colon and two zeros appeared on the room’s view screen.  “You will have two hours to complete the exam.  You may begin.”  The view screen started counting down.

The students turned the exams over and began working.  Logan had done a good job anticipating the first few questions and breezed through them.  The next two questions were complicated, but once he had sorted out the irrelevant information, he developed a solution that he was confident would work.  He looked up at the clock.  An hour had already passed.

Logan looked down again and started to read the next question.  As he read, his left hand began to twitch.  He ignored it.  A moment later it twitched again and he felt an aching sensation in his left thumb.  He looked at his hand.  Shit! He thought.  Not now.  Not now!  His hand began to twitch more frequently.  He put it on his lap but the twitching continued.  With a sigh, he set down his pencil and closed his eyes.  Soon he lost awareness of the classroom, the people around him, and the fact that he was taking a final exam.  Everything turned black.

Professor Bouchet sat on a chair at the front of the class.  He had a PDD in his hands, which displayed a news article.  Clan Attack on Border Town Kills 20, Injures 33.  He shook his head slowly as he read the details of how armed members of a border clan had attacked a small frontier town without warning or provocation.  They looted it for food and fuel, killing anyone they could find, even the innocents.  The attackers had retreated across the Mississippi before local military units could arrive on the scene.

Another article entitled, Anarchist Cell Uprooted in Louisville – Visa Controls Tightened, described how SPD tactical security units found bomb-making materials in several apartments of an abandoned building in Louisville.  Five people were arrested, including a local government official.  They were suspected to have caused several explosions near government buildings over the preceding year and would face an SPD tribunal within the month.  The article discussed the additional measures the SPD was taking to improve public safety, including expanding travel restrictions around Louisville to visa holders only.  A spokeswoman was quoted as saying the SPD also needed the assistance of the citizenry to identify strangers or strange behavior and report it to their local SPD office.

Professor Bouchet shook his head and looked up.  “Barbarians,” he muttered.  He scanned the faces of the students, stopping when he saw Logan.  The young man was staring vacantly into the space in front of him.  His left hand was aimlessly fidgeting on his lap and his cheeks were bright red.

Bouchet stood and quickly went up the stairs to Logan’s desk row.  Slipping behind two students’ chairs to reach him, he leaned down and noted that Logan was clenching and unclenching his jaw muscles.

He whispered, “Are you all right, Mr. Brandt?”

He placed a hand on Logan’s shoulder and gently squeezed.  Logan did not respond; he continued to look into the distance, his jaw muscles flexing.  Bouchet looked down and saw Logan’s left hand repeatedly pulling at his trousers at the knee, as though picking away pieces of lint.  Some of the students had noticed the commotion and watched Bouchet and Logan.  Lena looked up from her exam and saw the professor in the row in front of her leaning close to Logan.  Bouchet looked left and right and took a deep breath.

“Class,” he said loudly.  “Continue with your exams.  Mind the clock.”

With that announcement, even those who had not noticed Logan and Professor Bouchet looked up.  Bouchet repeated himself more forcefully.  “Continue with your exams.”  Most complied with the instruction, but a few continued to watch the strange scene unfold.

Bouchet signaled for his assistant to come to him.  “Something is wrong.  We need to call a doctor,” said Bouchet to the young woman when she arrived.

Just then, Logan blinked and looked up at the professor.

“Are you all right, Mr. Brandt?” asked Bouchet with a nervous smile.

“I’m fine,” replied Logan, but his words were a bit slurred.  He rubbed his face with his hands and took a deep breath.  “I’m fine, I’m fine.”

Bouchet patted him on the back and asked, “Are you sure?”

“Yes.  Thanks.”  Logan looked around the classroom to see a number of cadets were staring at him.

Bouchet nodded his head.  He and the assistant returned to the front of the auditorium.

Logan picked up his pencil and tried to focus on the next question, but the words did not make sense to him.  A minute or two passed before he could get back into a rhythm and regain his focus.

Bouchet sat down and continued to read his PDD.  He periodically looked at Logan and searched for further signs of unusual behavior but saw none.  When the countdown reached zero he called out in a loud voice, “Stop work.  Turn your exams over.”

Logan turned over his exam.  He had just finished the final question, but he had rushed through it and wasn’t confident that he had provided a complete answer.  He took a deep breath and slowly let it out.  He hadn’t failed the exam, but he knew he no longer had a shot at the top grade.

“You feeling all right?” asked Lena as they walked out of the lecture hall.

“I’m fine,” he said.  “I just zoned out, I guess.  Thanks for asking.”

“Sure thing,” she said.

Lena smiled at him, but Logan thought he detected a hint of silent jubilation behind her dark brown eyes.

“I’ve got close-quarters combat training now,” she said, and patted him on his shoulder.  “See you later.”

Logan watched as she turned left and quickly descended a flight of steps.  A thought flashed across his mind.  There goes our class valedictorian.

Apollo Stone Trilogy, Book 2, Chapter 1.

I’m making solid progress on draft 4 (or is it 5?) of book 2 of the Apollo Stone trilogy. I wanted to give a taste of what life was life shortly after the asteroids impacted Earth so I came up with this opening. It’s still a bit rough, but let me know your thoughts.

JUNE, 2032. Minnesota-Ontario Border Region

“Faster, damn you!” cursed the old man as he pulled on the pack mule’s reins, wet strands of long, gray hair falling before his eyes. Though in his early sixties, the man was strong and energetic. He had broad shoulders and a barrel chest, and the hands inside his heavy gloves were large and rough. On his face hung a tangled, patchy beard of mottled gray and brown whiskers. As the man pulled the reluctant mule forward, he shot furtive looks to the right and left, searching the surrounding spruce, fir, and pine trees for signs of danger. Heavy flakes of snow fell all around, swirling in the light breeze and adding their weight to the heaps that had already fallen during that long, harsh winter.

He cursed the mule for having forced him to abandon his intended destination, a well-hidden hut of logs, earth, and pine branches built into the southern side of a hill. But if he could get to the nearby lake, he knew of a network of caves below a rocky promontory where he could hide. Of course, he might have to contend with a black bear or a few Timber Wolves also seeking shelter therein, but one problem at a time.

Looking ahead, the man saw the familiar collection of boulders, now covered in a thick blanket of snow yet still discernible to his searching gaze. Heartened by the sight of his goal, he laughed lightly to himself and muttered a few lines of a favorite old song he hadn’t heard played in nearly a year. Then the mule stopped and pulled hard on the reins, nearly pulling them out of the old man’s hands. The man stopped his humming with a grunt and turned around to face the creature, which was laden not only with his bedroll, rifle, and gear, but also the body of a small buck the man had shot, gutted and cleaned a few hours earlier.

“What the hell’s the matter with you?” he growled as he gathered the reins in his hands. “You wanna stay out here and freeze to death? Or maybe you’re just trying to get me killed. Those boys won’t be any kinder to you than I am, I promise you that.” He pulled the reins once again but the animal pulled back and brayed loudly in protest.

“Shut your damn fool mouth!” hissed the man.

He took hold of the harness’ bit and gave a hard tug, but the animal refused to move its quivering legs. The last four hours of trudging through the snow, sometimes as deep as the mule’s chest, had so exhausted the beast that it could not take another step. With a sigh and a curse, the man pushed his way through the snow and stood at the mule’s side. He placed a hand on the buck’s neck and slowly stroked its fur. Then he took off his gloves and untied the rope that held the dead animal on the mule’s back.

“You’re really gonna make me carry this buck? You couldn’t make it a little farther? We’re at the lake now. We just need to get down the slope and into those caves.”

“What’s your hurry, old man?” said a loud voice.

Upon hearing those words, the old man slipped his right hand inside his coat and grabbed the hilt of the revolver tucked under his belt. Then he turned his head and looked down the trail he and the mule and cut through the snow. Three men stood shoulder to shoulder facing him. The two on the sides each held rifles but the one in the middle appeared to be unarmed. The old man started to draw his weapon.

“Whoah, pops!” said the man in the middle, raising his right hand pointing a warning finger. “Not so fast.” He was shorter than the other two by a head. Black hair stuck out from under his gray stocking cap and reached as far as his shoulders.

The old man froze as the two men raised their rifles and pointed them at him.

“We nearly lost you about three miles back, but Vick here saw how you sneaked along the lee side of the ridge. ‘Course once we found your snow trail, it was just a matter of time.”

The one named Vick, a slender man with blond hair and sunken eyes flashed a half smile. “Thought you could outfox us, eh old man?” he said as he nervously adjusted his grip on his rifle.

“State your purpose,” replied the old man in a loud voice as he freed his pistol from his belt, though he kept it hidden under his heavy brown coat.

“Our purpose?” asked the man in the middle with a laugh. “I think it’s pretty obvious. We want that buck and the mule. I was thinking of letting you keep your rifle and gear, but because you were so uncooperative and made us walk all this way, we’ll be taking those too.”

“How about I hand over the buck and we go our separate ways?” said the old man. “These woods are big enough that we’ll never see each other again.”

“Not good enough,” said the man as he and his two companions, rifles held at their hips, walked forward. “Now take your hand out from under your coat and step away from the mule.”

The old man scoffed. “Not likely. It seems to me the only thing keeping your friends from shooting me right now is my proximity to this animal.” Then he drew his pistol, a black .38 revolver, and pointed it at the three men. They halted their advance but did not lower their weapons.

“Now listen to me, and listen good,” continued the old man as he pulled back the hammer of his pistol. “I will shoot any man who takes another step. Now turn around and head back the way you came.”

For a moment, there was perfect silence. The only movement in the forest was that of the gently falling snow. Then one of the rifle barrels erupted in smoke and flame. The old man immediately returned fire, hitting one of the riflemen in the leg. Then he turned and ran, hoping to find cover among the large rocks overlooking the lake. A rifle bullet whistled past his ear. He lowered his head and stretched his legs as far as the knee-deep snow would allow. He pushed aside a pine branch heavy with snow then veered slightly right. Another slug ripped through the air just above his head. Almost there, just a few more steps. Once behind the rocks, he could creep between the boulders and slip down the far side to the relative safety of the caves below. They’d be fools to follow him down there. Why risk their lives now that they had his most valuable possessions? He’d wait until nightfall and make his way back to his little hut where he’d stockpiled a few canned goods, a spare rifle, and a little ammunition. Of course, he would sorely miss the mule, but there wasn’t anything to be done about that now.

With only a few steps between him and his goal, the old man’s hopes were dashed when a third slug bit into his flesh and lodged itself in his left shoulder. Screaming in pain and anger, he spun around to face his assailants. Now tumbling backwards, the old man aimed and fired his revolver, but he was wide of the mark. Another rifle slug tore into his chest, shattering a rib and sending shards of bone into his heart and lungs. With a curse on his lips, he collapsed onto a large flat rock overlooking the frozen lake, his face directed skyward. Coughing blood, he lifted his head and tried to sit up, but his ruined body would not obey his will. He took in a few ragged breaths and watched as snowflakes emerged from the gray-brown mist above and landed on his bare face. How beautiful they looked, how peaceful, how timeless.

A few hours later, Vick reached his knife forward and cut off a piece of venison that had been cooking on a spit over the fire they had built. “Shame about Joe,” he said.

“Yeah,” said the other man as he held his hands up to the heat of the flames. “Bad luck. The old man’s slug must’ve hit an artery or somethin’. Bled out damn fast. Nothin’ to be done.”

“We should have shot that old man right away instead of given’ him a chance,” replied Vick. “Maybe Joe’d still be alive.”

“Quit talkin’ shit, Vick,” snapped the other man. “What’s done is done. Joe’s dead. The old man’s dead. And the way this damn winter’s goin’, we’ll be joining ‘em both soon enough.”

“Don’t get all pissy, Bill” retorted Vick. “I’m just sayin’ it’s a shame about Joe.”

Bill grunted in reply and spit into the hot coals.

Neither man spoke for a few minutes, preferring to stare into the fire and lose themselves in their own thoughts. Without looking up, Vick said, “You think this winter’s ever gonna end?”

Bill looked around at the snow-covered ground, at least as far as the firelight could push back the surrounding darkness. “Hell, I don’t know. First those damn meteors come crashin’ down all over the damn planet. Then everythin’ from the Mississippi to the Rockies gets burnt to hell. Then the sun disappears behind all that smoke and dust. It’s new goddam ice age.”

“World’s been turned on its head,” said Vick. “This time last year I was a goddam electrician down in Grand Rapids. Now I’m killin’ old men for a mule and a few scraps of venison.”

Bill scoffed. “You wanna survive to see the spring, take my advice; forget what you were last year. It’s a whole new ball game.”

A flash of yellow light suddenly split the night like a bolt of lightning. Terrified, the two men looked away to shield their eyes then scampered to their feet. Vick grabbed his rifle and Bill pulled out the pistol he’d taken from the old man’s hand. Each of them stood gun at the ready for whatever might happen next. But the light was gone as quickly as it had appeared and the forest was perfectly quiet, aside for the popping sounds of their fire.

After a few moments, Bill pulled a branch out of the fire and held it out in front of him. He slowly walked in the direction from which the light had come. Not wanting to remain alone, Vick followed. They walked toward the collection of boulders overlooking the lake, and soon they were standing before the large flat rock upon which the old man had died.

“What the hell?” whispered Bill as he extended the burning branch over the rock. The snow had disappeared, but he could see tendrils of steam coiling their way up into the frigid air.

“What’s that?” asked Vick, using his rifle barrel to point at something in the middle of the rock.

Bill held the burning branch closer to where Vick had pointed. They saw the singed remains of the old man’s clothing, but the body was nowhere to be seen.

“What’s goin’ on around here, Bill?” Vick’s sunken eyes darted left and right as he searched for whatever could have taken the old man’s body.

“How should I know, Vick?” replied Bill.

“Let’s get out of here,” said Vick, his voice trembling. “There’s some crazy shit goin’ on here, and I don’t want anything to do with it.”

“Yeah,” said Bill as he raised the burning branch and look up into the starless night sky. “Pack the mule.”

Vick turned and ran toward the campfire, his rifle in his right hand and mumbling nervously to himself while Bill took a final look around. He took a few steps after Vick, but then he stopped. He turned around and walked back toward the large flat stone and looked at the clothing. A slight shift in the wind brought the scent of burnt wool fabric to his nose. Bill held his breath and leaned forward. He carefully laid the old man’s revolver on the still-warm slab of rock next to the clothing.

“Sorry old man,” he whispered. He backed away from the rock, his eyes focused on the revolver as if it too would disappear in a flash of light. Then he turned and fled.

The Trilogy Challenge

When I came home from work that balmy summer night two years ago and sketched out for my wife the sci-fi / dystopian / mythological story bouncing around in my head, she said she thought it was pretty good. That was encouraging. Then she told me it was too big for a single book and would probably need to be tackled in a series or at least a trilogy. Gulp.

I do a lot of writing for my day job, so I wasn’t intimidated by the amount of writing that would require, but I did have second thoughts about how I could maintain continuity through three books and roughly four hundred fifty thousand words. Yet, I had to agree that she was right. The story was too big to jam into one book – not with the story arc I had in mind.

So I started my outline, which was brief – fewer than ten pages. I’ve never been big on planning, preferring to etch out a rough Gestalt then dive in. It usually works out, but not always; I’ve discovered the that the possibility of catastrophic failure is the wind beneath my wings, so to speak.

So I banged out book 1 in about eight months plus a couple months of editing, formatting, etc. Not bad, considering I have a full-time job, two young children, and a commute of three hours per day. How did I accomplish it you ask? Well, gather round and let me tell you a secret…I discovered that if you trim your sleep down to no more than five hours a night, you can get a lot done. Of course, the bags under my eyes now count as carry-ons, but that’s a small price to pay to exorcise the spirit of this story from of my poor noggin.

So now I’m knee-deep in the bog of book 2, slashing away at the hanging vines of failed story lines and interesting but distracting characters. Book 1 was difficult but it bumped along pretty well as I wrote it. Book 2 is much more of a challenge because of the need to maintain the trajectory of the various story lines in book 1 AND lay the foundation for book 3. I sometimes think it would be easier to write book 3 first and then write book 2, but I’m committed to this course now.

I have a good solid draft of book 2 finished now. It’s riddled with typos and similar errata, but I think it’s coming around, which is a relief. I’ve got about 150K words so far, and I’ve cut at least 75K throughout the process. William Faulkner warned writers that they must be prepared to kill their darlings when writing fiction. While many of the things I cut were not “darlings”, I have to say that by Faulkner’s standard, I should be wearing stripes and swinging a pickax.

So wish me luck with book 2. It’s pretty good, but not as good as it needs to be. I’ve got a good story in my head, but it’s a struggle to put it into words. And since I can’t pantomime it, I’ll keep on writing.

Now Available in Paperback and Ebook Format

FRONT (3)Great News!  The Navigator, Book 1 of the Apollo Stone Trilogy is now available on  Read the outstanding new novel that reviewers are calling a “tense rollercoaster ride” with “fist pumping” action scenes.  The story has a “perfectly balanced” pace and weaves together powerful themes found in such great works as “984, Enders Game, and Brave New World” with a dusting of Starship Troopers”.Follow this link and check out this exciting new release.

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What was lost has been found, and now they want it back.

Synopsis of The Navigator, Book 1 of the Apollo Stone Trilogy

Earth has changed. The old world order collapsed following the meteor impacts of 2031 when fireballs rained down from the skies, instantly vaporizing millions. Billions more died during the Long Winter and resource wars that followed.

Over one hundred years have passed since those terrible events and new societies have formed around the globe.  In North America, the fragile peace that exists among the continent’s independent countries and city-states is under threat. The ambitious Grand Guardian of the Peoples’ Republic of America is mobilizing his massive war machine in order to make real his dream of reunifying a former world power.

On the eve of the great offensive, a leading scientist dies under mysterious circumstances, but not before he entrusts another with the key to unlocking a secret.  A secret so powerful, it could not only unravel the Grand Guardian’s carefully laid plans, but also doom, or save, all of humanity.

Read The Navigator, the first book in the Apollo Stone Trilogy by P.M. Johnson.  To be released in spring 2016.