Prodigal Sun by Christina Engela – Review

Fun, quirky and most probably the strongest of the Quantum series!

prodigal

Christina Engela has a unique way of telling a story that has lots going on without making it seem confusing or cluttered. Having read all of the previous books in her ‘Quantum’ series this one carves a unique but powerful path that faces many issues without any fear.

Characters who have established themselves in this colourful and fun universe are taken somewhat by surprise much like the reader as a political supremacist group looks to overthrow the current regime on Deanna. In fact everything about the ‘Deannan Service league’ reeks of revolt but some revolutions aren’t for the greater good – a strong and relevant political message that many can relate to today.

We see Danielle Ferris; a student and transgender character who becomes directly caught up in the political overthrowing and subsequent storm. You cannot help but sympathise for her story which is one that is just of a person looking to be included and positive inclusion is a huge theme in this book much like all of Engela’s works they directly and sometimes indirectly set an example that champions everyone and anyone including the minorities.

As the story unfolded it became more and more gripping as events turn for the worse. Sheriff Peggy Ann-Muller may well be in over her head even if she does express exactly what is going on through a powerful quote ‘Anyone else want to be on the wrong side of history?’ Powerful is probably the one word which sums up the plot of ‘Prodigal Sun’ but as usual there is way much more happening. I have only just realized ‘Atro City’ is in fact meant to be pronounced as ‘Atrocity’ which is just one of the many fun quirks you’ll find in this great read! Left very much open and on a cliff hanger, I shall be diving right into the next story!

5 Stars – Great read, review left via Goodreads over the holidays but now I am back to review more indie books! You can expect a review of the next book in the Quantum series soon!

Happy new year readers! 

Awesome Indie Books I have read this year: PT1

Yes I know this is an end of the year review type post and we are in late November but… I’ve read a stack of awesome books in the past twelve months and by that I am talking from the end of last November all the way up to the end of this November so that’s a year right? Anyway I’ve got a lot to get through because I’ve read a lot of good books and all of them are independently published. This is part 1 of hopefully 2 posts; we’ll see how many I can cram into one entry… so here goes!

 

last driver

On this day exactly a year ago I posted a review of ‘The Last Driver’ – Episode 1 – Old Dogs by Bookshelf Q. Battler a fellow blogger who has put together a story of the future which is realistic in a kind of sinister but fun way… for what is a shorter book it’s an enjoyable story about one man who is looking to relive his glory days of when you could actually drive a car instead of having a computer do it for you. The ending was left open for a potential sequel which I would be interested in reading. 

undertown

For this next book I was taken back in time to the prohibition /crime wave era of Chicago in what is a clever fusing of history and horror/ the paranormal. To quote my review of Undertown: A novella by K.Noel Moore  it’s a ‘perfectly paced, easily readable and well written history novella with just the right amount of chills and atmosphere to make it stand out.’  

sitch

Blood of the Sixth By K. R. Rowe is about a lot of different things. This well structured story is both brutally graphic in some parts while also managing to make the reader genuinely laugh during other portions. It’s an easy to read story which sits within the realms of gritty urban horror, mystery and witchcraft’ that I couldn’t put down in the latter stages!

alien diraries

I thoroughly enjoyed The Alien Diaries by Glenn J. Devlin – a clever and original story with a rather unique premise. The book unfolds with a back and forth style via diary entries from 1700’s which are then complimented by the main narrative which is set in present day. To quote my review it’s a ‘gripping original tale that nods to some important history as well as taking the reader on a journey through time. I even found there to be some great references to writing and reading in general all of which tells me the author has spent a great amount of time and effort constructing a story that everyone will find enjoyable.’

Nocturnal blood

Let’s talk about Nocturnal Blood by Villimey Mist which isn’t just a vampire story, it’s so much more. The main character suffers from anxiety and OCD which is not only brave for the author to include but very important also – issues like this must be talked about more. To quote my review Nocturnal Blood is a ‘highly readable tale of bravery, friendship, character development and vampires; a genre in modern times that doesn’t get nearly enough credit especially when stories like this exist.’  * This is part of a series with part 2 coming soon! 

51

Now if I could choose a genre to call home it would be horror and Building 51 By Jennifer L. Place is right up my alley… so let me tell you why. This book is a cross between urban exploration, tension filled horror and just a dusting of truth because it is set in a real place. Building 51 see’s a group of friends who go to check out an old mostly abandoned hospital and things start to get just a tad harrowing. It’s cinematic and immersive so I recommend it to anyone who likes this sort of story!

blue rabbit

“I’m going to save the world. Who’s with me?” of course I am quoting Blue Rabbit by Jimena Novaro which is the first real fantasy book I have read. With a multitude of great characters this story unique and later on becomes pretty epic. A group of friends have discovered a gateway to another world where someone follows and goes missing. It’s fun, colourful and immersive. After reading it I would happily say that this is my type of fantasy! * This author has a new release coming in December which I am currently reading an advanced copy of, it’s just as enjoyable… 

kali

Daughter of Kali: Awakening by Shiulie Ghosh may appear to be just another fantasy/teen novel but it is so much more! This is a story of warriors, heritage and demons with plenty of action. What starts out as in introduction to just an ordinary world follows into the rabbit hole of magic and mythology which is also cleverly linked to the Hindu faith. *  Part one of a series, having already read part two I shall be looking to read the final part next year! 

Quantum Series #1 - Black Sunrise 2019 - front

Black Sunrise by Christina Engela is not only a fun, quirky and imaginative foray into science fiction, it’s also part 1 of the ‘Quantum’ series which I have delved into over the past 6 or so months – I still have 2 left to read hopefully before the end of this year. All of Christina Engela’s books promote positive and modern messages about being inclusive while also being fun. Black Sunrise is just the beginning of that and if you like sci fi you will love this!

kau d'varza

Keeping with the sci-fi theme this next book I was given an advanced review copy of which certainly didn’t dissapoint. Kau D’varza: A story in the ChaosNova universe by David Noë is high-end space travel sci-fi of the finest persuasion. It’s one of the longer stories I have read this year but don’t let that put you off, longer reads mean more immersion and this one certainly draws you in. The story centres around a space station in the very depths of the stars where something is always happening. There is a multitude of characters, drama and mystery in what is a well thought out story set in a detailed world.

squatter in ldn

Last and by no means least is a book that is probably one of the most unique reads I have ever experienced. I say this because A Squatter in London by Irene Pylypec is an autobiographical diary style account of one young lady’s time spent in London after travelling from Canada during the 1970’s. To quote my review ‘the sights, the sounds, the tastes and the people are captured perfectly in what is a fantastic story of highs and lows for a young person trying to survive and figure out life.’ 

So that wraps up Part 1 of Awesome Indie Books I have read this year. Shout out to the awesome authors of these titles which I recommend highly! If you do buy one, remember to leave a review!

HERE’S PART 2!

 

 

Loderunner by Christina Engela – Review

A fun tale about the perils of voyaging through space to earn an honest buck with a meaningful important message…

Quantum Series #4 - Loderunner 2019 - front

In the already established ‘Quantum’ universe comes a tale of the unexpected and it might be the best of the series so far. Although initially set on the planet of Deanna we are introduced to P.I Timasket Skooch who happens to win the deeds of a ‘Loderunner’ ship during a card game.

From the early stages of this story Christina Engela makes great efforts to not only tell a story with wide appeal but also includes a powerful inclusive message about the subject of transphobia and embracing who you really are on the inside. In this book particular its a subject that runs as one of the main themes; our main character ‘Tim’ shares a relationship with ‘Dory’ – a woman for all we know but in pre-transition. This subject as a whole doesn’t particularly matter for ‘Tim’ who see’s ‘Dory’ as much more.

Leaving his significant other behind ‘Tim’ sets out into the depths of space with an assembled multi character crew on his newly acquired ship in search of earning a buck or two. I particularly enjoyed the depth of character quality in the crew and it made for another crucial element of this book. They agree to take a pair of passengers who appear to be more than what they appear and again the powerful gender message follows while being intertwined with mystery and deception (saying any more would involve spoilers).

What ensues is a story with a powerful meaning along with the usual fun moments Engela is known for, space stories really are her speciality and the setting makes the writing feel very much at home.

“Does age define the ability to suffer?” A question which best describes the theme in the book and it’s done in a way that doesn’t feel preachy or even like a protest but more so with deeper meaning. By the end of this book I found myself rooting for the characters who deserved the resolve they got. Overall a fun meaningful read.

5 stars

Dead Man’s Hammer by Christina Engela – Review

Suspense, drama and modern issues all of which are tackled in a fun but important way…

dead mans hammer

As the Quantum series unfolds, it grows more and more impressive. Dead Man’s Hammer is proof that Christina Engela can build an established world and insert so many genres into it along with retaining a unique style of writing that not only tributes her influences but has a way of confiding in readers. We are back on the quirky planet of ‘Deanna’ home of the rather ominous sounding ‘Obsidian crows’ and more specifically ‘Atro city’ a place this time around we get to know a bit better while referencing the previous stories of the ‘Quantum series’.

Someone is targeting my favourite characters; an assassin enigmatically named ‘Villainessa Tittel’ who is after one person in particular and series regular; Cindy Mei Winter. ‘Villainessa’ proves to be quite a force in her field of work and does everything in her power to draw in ‘Mei’ whom share an interesting history. It is in this history where readers will find the true message and meaning of the story. While ‘Mei’ has moved forward in life she must face what is essentially a demon of her past and a life before she became ‘Cindy’ and it’s trying to torment her. This is a massive nod to modern issues that many people face in the transgender community and in life as a whole, sometimes it isn’t about who you were, but what you are now and what you truly feel. This concept is galvanised by another character ‘Danielle Grauffis’ who is in a process of transition in her young life compared to ‘Mei’. 

Of course other returning regulars such as ‘Beck the Badfella’ – who we get a name origins story from and special branch ‘Fred’ the arborian make appearances along with an extended appearance from ‘Sheriff Peggy Ann Muller’ who makes quite a team with ‘Mei’ and this is where a crime mystery element of the story truly shines.

Suspense, drama and even tragedy are ways that I would describe the journey this story represents not to mention that crime mystery theme along with some more important issues that these books are not afraid to tackle; as much as this sounds heavy, it’s a fun read. Throughout Engela’s writing style naturally flows and is fun to read. Revenge is a dish best served cold, you could even say as cold as ‘Winter’ but that’s only something ‘I heard through the grape vine…’ 

5 Stars

Weekly Ramble #43

And so the final words of Jack Thorn appear on the horizon. What stands before me is still a mountain of a task but behind me is 100,000 plus words drafted of a story that I originally created fifteen years ago; the first attempt came out with 40,000 words, I guess that’s the true reflection of how much I’ve grown over the years much like this book which will change science fiction – I suppose one can dream… 

This book and it’s contents I carry with me, everywhere I go, I have done since I was a teen so why did I decide to write this now?

Jack Thorn is and always will be home to me, it’s my dream book, the one I have always wanted to read. This year has been hard, I knew that from the onset, and so because I moved into my own place I needed something to make me feel at home, and I’ve decided now to that this attempt is justifiable by the fact I’ve learned how to write and tell stories by simply doing that.

I care so much about this story that I was willing to put it to one side and delve into other worlds so I can hone this craft I now have before me. I wanted to be my very best for this tale and it’s been a long journey and even now I have battled to carve a path I mostly already knew, it just needed to be updated, polished and adapted to today’s standards.

The full title I have now chosen and will reveal in time. Hopefully by the end of the month ‘Jack Thorn’ would have been drafted. I said next year’s plan I would be querying, but I will probably be editing for a long while.

The ultimate question you probably have is what’s the premise of Jack Thorn? Like all of my stuff it appears as one thing but is actually a stack of different things – right?

Jack Thorn is a science fiction epic about robots in the future. But it’s really about; friendship, family, war, prophecy and above all humanity. From what started as quite simple story has spider webbed into a epic mess of a story and journey of darkness, action, fun, emotion and destiny.

After all these years this dream stands strong, every single word of it…

The Time Saving Agency by Christina Engela – Review

A highly enjoyable time travel caper…

Quantum Series #2 - The Time Saving Agency 2019 - Front

Only two months previous were the citizens of Deanna dealing with the threat of an alien attack but now another threat of perhaps greater proportions emerges from the fabric of time, quite literally.

Christina Engela has created a story that follows not only a similar concept of the previous entry into the Quantum series but one that fuses those ideas with something completely different and original. Written in a way that sometimes tributes Terry Pratchett, yet again readers will find this story quirky and clever with a style that confides in the reader.

Familiar faces Gary Beck the ‘badfella’ and Cindy Mei Winter return as their story together continues and while that is happening the main story arc begins to unfold from an unexpected place; the fabric of time where there are Time Agents and Time Terrorists. What ensues is a cat and mouse time travel story seeing ‘Agent Scrooby’ trying to track down the evil genius and escaped terrorist known as Brad Xyl who has dastardly universe destroying aspirations. Scrooby enlists the help of Bounty hunter Gary Beck and together they set out to to put Brad Xyl’s plans to a halt.

Although Cindy Mei Winter takes more of a cameo role along with ‘Fred the Arborian’, in this story Cindy’s journey and life as a trans-woman is briefly touched upon giving an important and positive modern spotlight on the subject.

Overall the Time Saving Agency is a fun read which see’s the ‘Quantum Series’ taken on an unexpected journey of time travel while also continuing the journey of it’s characters seen in the previous book in the series. The narrative is delivered with a sophisticated level of humor and sometimes sarcastic wit that never allows for a dull moment.

4 Stars 

Jack Thorn: A story of the Future: Chapter 4, Part 3

“I’m gonna close up honey. Haven’t seen a customer in two hours. Why don’t you get an early night?” The outline of old lady Denny moved into Rouge’s peripherals.

Not for a second did she look up to her boss. Instead she kept both eyes on her newest creation.

“I don’t mind waiting for my friends,” Rouge said from the confinement of an empty booth. There she sat in the desolate diner pulling another late, the usual girl hadn’t turned up in a few days.

“Another doodle? You’re gonna need your own gallery soon. What is it this time?” The old lady shuffled closer and eased down onto the leather opposite.

“It’s you.” Rouge spun her sketch pad tablet around. She smiled at her work whilst it projected out.

“I got a few more wrinkles than that honey, but I’ll settle for that.”

“What wrinkles?” Rouge asked innocently. Her words showing a playful sarcasm. Just another sign her mind was growing.

“You have a real talent for this stuff Anne-Marie. I’ve asked a thousand times already but are you ever gonna tell an old broad like me what you’re doing in a place like this?”

The redhead’s smile steadily faded. Not in shame, uncertainty more like.

“I’m just, I don’t know.”

“It’s okay honey, you can tell me.”

A wrinkled hand reached out to her. Rouge looked up and then took it.

“I came from a bad place. A place I never want to go back. Right here and right now, I’m happy, and I’m still finding myself, I guess.”

“Well, that’s enough for me. You take your time kiddo. Draw all you like, play fight all you like out back. To have a bright star like you around for however long is a gift enough. At least you turn up for your shift.” Old lady Denny gripped the table with both hands and began to rise.

“We need a few more good staff around here, but that’ll be tomorrow’s job. I’ll go and relieve those robot friends of yours for the night. Then it’s lights out.” She shuffled past as her star waitress swivelled and took her hand again.

“This is the only place that’s ever felt like home to me,” she said.

“Well how abouts a smile for your efforts,” the old lady added and then noticed the two eyes looking up to her beginning to widen.

“Get down!” She cried.

Rouge’s grip yanked the old lady down to the chequered floor tiles. A barrage of broken glass exploded inwards with mass of heat following and then the lights shunted off.

“Ms Appleby!”

“It’s okay honey. I think,” Denny said feeling blood on her neck. Somewhere near came a flickering glow, and they both smelled smoke.

“Take this, it’s red anyway” Rouge took off her apron and held it to the slash along her boss’s neck.

Just as the fumes of burning began to thicken a loud whoosh rocked them both.

“We appear to be under attack,” the Freak said. He had extinguished the remainder of what looked like a flaming tyre.

“Where’s F.G?” Rouge asked.

“Fetching our Warrior,” the Freak said. For a second, he lowered to them and then rose to peer outside.

“Can’t really see much apart from bright headlights…”

A loud revving echoed into the broken diner window. More and more motors joined in.

“Sounds like bikers, great,” the old lady said.

“Bikers? Why are they here?” Rouge asked.

A gruff voice echoed over the revving which instantly simmered down,

“We’re here for the girl! The red headed one, hand her over and there won’t be any trouble!”

“I advise you stay concealed young Anne-Marie. Cliffeville bikers are the scourge of the western divide. They threw over the government in the city…”

“Cliffeville city is thirty miles away, what are they doing here?” Denny asked. She felt a warm trickling down her back.

“Money, Leecher has money and wants me.” The heartbeat in Rouge’s chest made itself apparent.

“We know you’re in there little girl,” a rough southern accent crowed.

“Why don’t you come on out and play?” Another said.

The Freak stood, he held an arm up to shield incoming bright light, even though he still wore the sunglasses over his white balaclava.

“Begging your pardon gentlemen, but there is no ‘girl’ here that fits the description you are demanding…”

“Shut the hell up robot! We saw her sitting there next to the old lady. She’s got two minutes before we torch the place and pull her out of the ashes!”

The Freak lowered again whilst more words came their way,

“Yeah that doctor guy didn’t say dead or alive. We’ll take whatever we get!”

“Shut the hell up Hector.”

Echoing out into the night was a voice Rouge recognised, her beating chest calmed.

“Leave! All of you now! None of you have any business here. I command you all to leave!”

After a deathly long silence the Warrior cried again,

“I command you to leave!”

“And I command you to shut the hell up.”

“What’s with the wet suit?” A slurring biker asked.

“Leave all of you. Or I will be forced to take action!” The Warrior stepped out of the shadows and into the brightness of headlights.

“Is that so?” The presumable lead biker said. His accent also southern and rough cut. His outline strode forward to reveal snakeskin boots and a leather waistcoat.

“Well the guy we doin’ this for. He did his researches and homeworks. You’re some Warrior aren’t ya? He reckons you can’t lay even a finger on a human soul. Some agreement made years ago. This guy who is payin’ has got brains. So I reckon you as soft as the sand you standing on.” The biker held up both arms wide, his audience roused in agreement.

“The Warrior code agreement. Indeed, a rule I live by,” the Warrior said.

Rouge could hear the defeat in his tone. She looked up to see this Biker close in and begin poking her much larger guardian.

“And so I could just walk past you, and take my payday. All because of a rule. A stupid damn rule. You should live more like us folks. We don’t have any rules, because they were made to be broken.” The biker practically spat his words as the much larger foe opposite bowed a balaclava shrouded head.

“Yeah rules are stupid!” Another Biker crooned.

Watch over her… be her guardian.

“You are right. That is a stupid rule and for the sake of humanity and its future, I must break the Warrior code agreement, laid down by the Warriors of old to protect the Maverick.”

“Huh? What you jabberin’ on about?”

Before the Biker could react, he received a short sharp jab. The Warrior’s gloved fist struck the man between the eyes. Wobbling on both feet the biker then felt his world tip upside down.

“Breaking the rules, does, feel good,” the Warrior said without any strain.

Rouge looked on to see her guardian grip the leather waistcoat of this vagrant and hoist him up high. It took barley any effort to throw him into headlights. There came crashing and commotion. Bikes fell over and people began shouting. More footsteps closed in.

F.G moved out of the shadows with a wide frying pan at the ready. He saw the barrage closing in. The first few bikers were downed by the Warrior’s outstretched arms as he charged back but then he became mobbed. They lashed out, some with chains and blunt weapons.

“Warrior!” Rouge screamed. The Freak held her back.

“I strongly suggest you sit this out Rouge.” He looked to the mob now engulf F.G.

“My decision to join this situation is a unanimous one I’m afraid.”

The Freak let go of her and clumsily clambered out of the broken window.

“Get Ms Appleby to a safer place, we can negotiate this,” he ordered and trailed toward the riot.

“Come on, we have to get out of here.” Rouge moved swiftly in getting the older lady up and out the back door.

“Leave this place ruffians!” The Freak’s struggling words echoed to her and then a sudden gust of wind blew.

Old lady Denny lowered to the ground as dust and loose dirt hit Rouge’s face and she cowered back. Then something else hit her, not a physical force but a presence in her head. It had echoing voice, like the one from her dreams. The voice with a weird accent she found comfort in.

‘No! I have to go and help my friends. I’m not gonna leave them, again.’

*                      *                      *

Steve Franco thought he was going to die. He cradled a faulty auto rifle while huddling around a rock big enough for just him. The other two soldiers either side found that out with their lives. Over the deafening gun fire and flashes that zoomed past he could hardly make out Rob Connolly let alone hear him as he crouched in a nearby crater.

“I, can’t hear, you man…” An explosion of dirt spread out between them. Before the smoke cleared there came a sudden break in gunfire.

“We gotta pull back. There aint enough of us left Franco…”

“The ridge, it’s just over this hill. If we push them back its game on,” Franco shouted. He could see half of Connolly’s face a dark red. Dried blood.

Again, the ground rumbled, and brightness filled the dark sky.

“Where’s Nicks at?” Connolly asked.

“Haven’t seen her, since we went over the top. I’m gonna make a move for it, if you see another auto rifle send it my way, these two ran out of ammo…”

“Franco wait. Solider!”

Connolly watched Franco creep out from behind the rock and trudge forward. Up the hill he went staying low and expecting an incoming robot at any second. Closer he got to the top with legs aching and eyes squinting to the various flashes and explosions. Just when the top appeared, he dove to the ground.

“Made it,” he said and shimmied forward.

“Right beside ya soldier,” Connolly shouted. He dropped down next to Franco.

“This isn’t a male exclusive gig, right?” A mud-covered Nicks appeared next to them on her front.

“Glad you could make it,” Franco said.

“I wouldn’t say that just yet. What’s the plan?” Nicks asked. Her body swivelled to look back at a war torn plain. Craters and bodies of either side were strewn everywhere.

“I knew it!” Franco said. His head peered up and over the hill. A mass of black faced him and in another explosive flash he saw only a cluster of robots populating the line. Two rock shrouded gun placements sat in the shadows and not a lot else.

“Some of them haven’t even got rifles,” Connolly said.

“There isn’t enough of us to make an advance. Enemy airborne are due anytime now.” Nicks glanced over from their vantage point.

“I guess it’s up to us,” Franco clambered to his feet.

“Hold back soldier. You don’t even have a working rifle.” Connolly couldn’t reach him in time and Franco darted over the hill.

“Guess I’m going too…”

“Damn it Nicks, this is suicide.” Connolly followed her.

Overhead came a bright burning. It struck the hill where they were still moving from. Connolly barely stumbled from the explosive force. He turned to see the hill now more a crater than anything else.

“This is..”  Another explosion rocked the crater of a hill with Connolly feeling the brunt of force. He was thrown back.

Steve Franco screamed in a fear-fuelled rage and charged to the nearest advancing robots. Most of them marched unarmed and partially clothed. Either a result of war or poor command and resources.

“Shoot the ones with rifles!” He commanded.

Nicks lifted her rifle to aim, a task not made easy by her clunky medic-engineers pack.

“Got your back,” she shouted.

Franco swung his auto rifle like a club. Into the first robot head it went and after a second try the weapon crumpled to pieces.

“Damn, cheap shit…”

Robots closed in and he made a fist. After reeling back, he drove a right hand forward and straight into the mouth of a wild target. It hurt like hell, but the thing went down. Then Franco realised punching all of them out wasn’t a solution, there were too many. And they descended upon him.

*                      *                      *

Shuffling old lady Denny back to her trailer seemed to take an eternity of time, but in reality, it hadn’t been that long

“I’ll be alright honey, I got this,” Denny held a fresh towel to her neck, but Rouge had already turned back. Moments later she stood outside the diner, in her prized camouflage uniform.

Destiny had taken its time to find Anne-Marie Thorn, but when it arrived, it did so with an unrelenting force.

“My friends need me too,” she said in reply to that voice she heard in the wind.

The Warrior was buried underneath a violent biker mob yielding weapons and what not. Some of them broke away to see her close in.

“Hey there pretty thing. Come here, I’ll only bite a…”

Rouge had been here before, and she knew instinct would kick in, so she followed her mind and readied into a stance. The first biker was down before he even realised. A swift out-swung leg crashed into a face which instantly dropped to the parking lot dust. She already locked on to target two and another out-swinging kick did enough in disposing of the threat. Her whole demeanour of combat appeared effortless.

“What is this?” She asked with a breathless whisper. The world didn’t slow down, it seemed to speed up, only now she was faster.

A new target faced her. Dark, tall and yielding a chain. It swung above his bandanna shrouded head. Rouge took in a deep breath and could hear the individual links on that thick chain clink and clunk. She reached out with a sharp grab and pulled tight. The biker was hooked and with superior strength Rouge yanked him down to the dust. Another one down.

In turning to throw an elbow she caught sight of F.G swinging a frying pan upwards into a duo of incoming bikers. The Freak helped him break away from their crowding threat. Just when she got close enough to the mobbed Warrior he groaned with explosive force. Bikers flew back with him standing tall.

“I am willing to take your life to preserve hers!” He shouted and grabbed the nearest body. With machine precision he hoisted it away.

Rouge stepped up and stood alongside him. Together they fought. This moment the guardian had been succeeded. She laid into every approaching attacker with high kicks and precise punches. Not even stopping to admire her handy work.

“I command you all, to leave!” The Warrior barked. His wide spanning arms wrapped around a nearby motorbike and he launched it towards the road.

Some remaining stragglers turned to run away, and the Freak caught one with his foot.

“Yield ruffian,” he barked, and the biker turned with his hands up.

“Now leave.” The Freak began to raise a fist, he lowered instinctively when a loud crack of gunfire echoed out into the night.

Rouge faced what they presumed to be the leader. With a bloody nose and a limp he moved closer holding the gun up towards her.

“I got no choice but for this to get nasty,” he said. A greasy screwed up faced stared straight at Rouge along with the barrel of that gun.

“No, Anne-Marie!” The Warrior cried. Those still standing stopped along with F.G and the Freak.

“Now, I’m taking my pay day!”

Rouge watched the leader close in. She kept her eyes glued to his movements. Her senses could almost smell his next move. Just when the barrel of the gun began to move toward the Warrior she struck.

An exhaling scream blurted out in fear as she threw a kick out front. Her foot colliding with dirty hand. The grip of the gun gone in a flash and even quicker was Rouge with her moves. She lunged forward. Gravity took hold of the weapon, but she was faster and plucked it out of the air. Now the barrel faced him.

“I’m not going anywhere. I’m staying here with my friends. We are the R.W.H!” She shouted through angrily gritted teeth.

The fear in his eyes became apparent and he put up both hands.

“Yeah, sure whatever you say little girl…”

“I’m a woman. Get down, on both knees…”

“Maybe I should just leave…”

“Now!” Rouge commanded. Her grip on the gun tightening. She pointed it to his face, and he did what he was told.

“Anne-Marie, the man is yielding,” The Warrior shouted.

“I’ve never fired a gun before. Not sure if I would like it,” Rouge said. With one swoop she launched the gun into the darkness.

“But I do like fighting.” She pulled a half smile and swung her fist.

The biker fell back to the dust and she stepped over him to another target. Although many of them were fleeing some still approached.

For the first time in many many years Anne-Marie fully smiled. She then looked to see at her side F.G and the Freak. Her guardian just behind and all of them ready to fight, together. Her eyes met his, and he nodded.

“The Robots with Humans are back in business skumbag!” F.G barked.

“I implore you to remember that name.” The Freak swung out.

“And our Maverick will save you all. That is if you don’t perish here!” The Warrior shouted with an outstretched arm.

“Stand tall Anne-Marie, fighting is in your blood. We stand beside your destiny,” he powerfully added.

There were many firsts Anne-Marie felt that night, above all she charged into the darkness without fear while smiling and she wasn’t alone.

*                      *                      *

Jack Thorn had never run so damn fast for so damn long. The only soldier nearby was Brock Jones who straggled a few lengths behind. In both hands Jones held an auto rifle, one of which belonged to Thorn. They both looked to the nearest hill the moment it lit up with explosive force. The ground under their feet rocked.

“Jack, come on!” Brock ordered. He and Thorn stopped.

“We gotta pull back. Enemy airborne will be…”

‘No! I have to go and help my friends. I’m not gonna leave them, again,” Jack shouted. He then broke into another sprint. For some reason those words he said seemed to have an echo.

Into thick smoke and out of the other side he dashed. Then he saw it. The rocky ridge, natural cover from any airborne attack. Just ahead the enemy front line guarded it with a distinct lack of forces present. In the very near foreground were his friends and so he didn’t stop.

“Take them down Brock!” He shouted and coursed forward.

The first robot moved out from mobbing Steve Franco and Jack launched a kick straight into its chin. Then he swung a roundhouse colliding into several targets clearing the path for his best friend to get out.

“Jack!”

“Steve, good to be back.”

Together they swung fists and took down another enemy.

“If we can take this robot front…”

“Then its game on!” Jack said completing Franco’s sentence. They looked at each other for just a second.

We find a way, always.

From behind them they saw Brock Jones emerge with two rifles. He fired toward more incoming enemies.

“On your feet soldier,” he shouted to the recovering Rob Connolly.

“Says the guy fresh from a nice vacation,” Connolly shouted back and began to stand.

Thorn turned to more robots and Franco followed him into battle. They moved closer and closer to the enemy front taking down robots and avoiding their fire. The robot’s line had become even more desolate than before. Most of the them straggling forward. In unison the pair downed their targets, Franco needing to put more effort, but impressively punching as Thorn kicked.

“Step aside soldiers!” Connolly shouted. He stumbled alongside Brock and they fired.

Thorn wrapped two arms around his comrade Franco and shuffled him out the fire line. They hit the ground, and both looked to see this final cluster of enemies fall revealing a view with two enemy gun placements facing them.

“Get down!” Nicks shouted just when she aligned with Connolly and Brock.

The two gun placements lit up and laser rounds burst towards them all. After what seemed like a certain victory it got decimated just like the muddy ground was obliterated by bigger caliber weaponry.

Jack rolled away, and again Franco followed. They stayed low and fell into a shallow crater.

“No!” Franco screamed looking to the laser rounds engulf Nicks, Connolly and Brock.

“Screw this. I want to go home!” Jack shouted and jumped out of the sheltering cover.

“So do I,” Franco added and followed.

Jack Thorn ran. Not only to the adversity of a nearly lost battle but towards his destiny. He knew this was now or never. His ability to fight had never been shrouded in doubt and no matter what, he would move forward. The answers of his past lay ahead, along with the truth of what happened to a mother he never knew and a destiny he would soon answer. Nothing would stand in that path.

He looked up to the gun placements firing out to his friends and then he smiled. Not in a sadistic way or even an arrogant way. He smiled because this is where he was meant to be. Faster he sprinted jumping over bodies and craters, his tunnel vision focused on the target. Impressively, he leaped and skipped past more obstacles. His breath not wavering once, his drive not waning. The motor of a Maverick ran fast and carried ambition of prophecy.

With a final long jump, he drove his body forward. In the air his boot kicked out with his body following and launching itself over sandbags and rocks. The enemy front line and its outburst of laser rounds stopped dead when Jack’s foot collided with robot face. He landed with a stamp onto the enemies’ body and a furious growl.

Steve Franco followed behind with a less impressive jump and fell next to the cannon. Without protest he jumped up and gripped the handle. Jack helped him in turning it towards the other placement which lit up again.

“Fire on those bastards!” Franco tugged on the wide trigger. The ground vibrated and rounds shot out to the other placement, in seconds it exploded. He held the trigger for a few seconds longer before letting off. With heavy lungs he slumped back onto a crate of ammunition and realised the music of war had turned silent. A firm hand gripped his shoulder armour and startled him for a second.

“We did it man,” Jack said.

“We find a way, always,” Franco added.

“The others?” He asked and clambered out of the gun placement. Jack followed him onto a smoky battlefield. The smell of burning cast across their senses and they headed back.

From more smoke came the outline of three soldiers.

“And you called me the suicide artist!” Brock shouted. He smiled to both Thorn and Franco.

“Brock.”

“Good to see you Franco man,” Brock added and handed Jack his rifle.

Nicks shuffled with Connolly, both worse for wear, but alive.

“You did it Franco. You crazy son of a bitch,” Connolly muttered.

From the hill turned crater came a barrage of men and women. They cheered at the sight of an empty enemy front.

“You know the rest of the enemy are in that ridge, and beyond that?” Franco said.

“Their front door, we’ll be knocking on it soon enough,” Connolly added and tried to stand.

“We’ll let the reinforcements lead the way this time,” he said and offered his rifle to Franco.

Army of Earth soldiers charged by and rushed toward the rocky ridge.

“What do you say Brock, Steve?” Thorn asked. He nodded to the advancing soldiers.

“After you Thorn, we’ll assume the position of hiding behind you,” Franco said.

“And we’ll catch up after some medic attention,” Nicks said.

Jack turned to see the enemy front swarming with soldiers from the Army of Earth. They charged further, firing at more robots somewhere in the craggy mountainous ridge. He smiled to his comrades and rushed back into battle.

There were hundreds of planets and thousands of stars between him and a red-haired girl doing her best to be a solider also. Destiny would work its way in bringing them together and eventually they would come to meet.

End of Season 1

Thank you for reading my story Jack Thorn. For those who have followed it from episode 1, thank you! For those just getting started, this is the book I will be querying next year to agents. This story is the reason why I became an author! Hope you enjoyed reading my dream! 

Copyright 2004 – 2019 ‘Jack Thorn’ and ‘The Thorn Legacy’ Written By Lee Hall 2019 All rights reserved.  

Jack Thorn: A story of the Future: Chapter 4, Part 2

Empty brown vastness faced the First where he stood. From overhead came the whooshing rumble of jet engines. A trio of needle shaped air cruisers hurtled past and made for the horizon. He had watched them travel out and return from his rooftop vantage point all day.

His top advisor stood to the right. The Secretary of defence and with that eastern European tongue he spoke,

“The Army of Earth frontline has been reduced significantly First.”

His holographic image flickered momentarily.

“We have done more than enough to buy us the required time. Perhaps now we should think about…”

The First held up a solitary finger and interrupted,

“Retreat? There will be no such word used in this campaign Secretary. Everything you have given me has failed, minus the fighters currently pummelling those silly little humans at the other end of this planet.”

The glare he gave almost burned through the flickering image of his cohort.

“I am in agreement with you First, but you must consider the airborne resources for the invasion. Troop numbers will not grant us victory alone. I urge you to follow our plan.”

“And I urge you to do I say! Plans are subject to change in the current circumstances Secretary. Just keep building that unlimited army you promised, and I’ll keep buying you more time. In the next coming days my army will pull back, not retreat, into the rocky ridge. You can then have the cruisers back, in time.”

The First tapped his wrist commy and the Secretary’s image faded away. He spun around and then stopped dead.

“Time?” The concealed voice of Robot-K said. His darkened hood angled down to the First.

“Something which you promised me First, no?”

Robot-K extended his cloaked arm and gripped the First’s shoulder. A huge leather glove began to close.

“And you will have your time Robot-K. That is what I promised you.” He tried to move but Robot-K’s grasp strengthened.

“That is what, you earned,” he added.

“There are more whispers from the battlefield First. That name, Thorn, a Maverick…”

“I will strike down anyone who utters those two words!” The First forcefully broke free.

“They seem to forget what I did to the last Maverick,” he added and looked up to the shadowy hood with two wide eyes, and then turned away.

“John Thorn,” Robot-K said in a long breathless whisper.

“Gone, forever. To be never spoken of again,” the First said.

“Don’t make me ask you the questions Robot-K,” he faced the shrouded hood again.

“I, uh, remember her…” Robot-K’s stance loosened and his superior stepped in.

“Look at me Robot-K!”

In that moment images of the past raced around Robot-K’s vision. Everything centred around him in darkness looking down at one person. More memories seemed to flood in. Sunlight and birds chirping. Gentle and playful laughter. His gloved hand ran through blood red hair. Muffled speaking echoed to him.

“I know you,” the voice of a girl said.

The sunlight immediately shut off with a thud. Laughter and voices clunked to silence along with those birds. A more familiar voice led Robot-K out this trance. He came back to the reality of X43.

“I am, Robot-K.”

“And what will you do?” The First asked, his voice clearer than ever.

There came no reply from the darkened space from inside the robot’s red hood. A firm breeze whistled by in what seemed like an eternity for the First who couldn’t move.

“And what will you do?” This time his words came through gritted teeth.

Another lengthy pause was filled by yet another burst of wind. Just before the First’s words would reveal his panic, the tall and cloaked robot spoke,

“I will fulfil the destiny of our leader the Keeper who ruled before me over the robots and Warriors of old. I am Robot-K, guardian of the sword and have sworn my allegiance to the First.”

Robot-K looked down to see his gloved hand entangled in the First’s dark hair. He sharply stepped back and stood firm.

“As promised, you will have your time Robot-K, but you are not to forget who you are and your place. I chose you for what you did for me no matter what prophecies were laid out. Maverick or no Maverick, Jack Thorn will perish like the rest of the humans out there in that mud. If the battle doesn’t kill him, then I will.” The First charged away leaving Robot-K to stare at the murky horizon.

“There is another, a girl,” he said to himself.

*                      *                      *

“I want to wake up now,” Jack Thorn said in what tried to be a shout.

The croaky words that flowed out of his dry mouth brought him back to consciousness. All around the sounds of his surroundings tuned in. People talking and moving around. A bleep and a hiss here. The warmth, nothing like where he last lay cradling a rifle in frozen mud on the inside of a crater. He felt calm now, perhaps even sedate.

“Vital signs nominal,” an electronic voice said.

Jack slightly opened his eyes. The white burned the back of them for just a moment until he adjusted. A shimmering image lay in front of his view. A camera of some kind, it pixelated to almost transparency and then floated away revealing the room. The medical wing or even a hospital.

“Uh, what?” He panicked for a second to realise his two legs and two arms were intact. He felt stubble on a seemingly unharmed face.

“About time you woke up,” a deep voice said from the left. Jack recognised it from somewhere and just when he glanced to the next bed over, he remembered.

“Jones? Brock Jones?”

“In the flesh and horizontal. We took quite a hit out there on the battlefield,” Brock Jones said.

Jack saw the broad and tall man adjust in the less than comfortable sized bed.

“But don’t panic. We’re not off this muddy rock yet. This the HQ hospital,” Brock added.

“Wait a minute, that was you out there. The suicide artist running in to the field alone?” Jack asked.

Brock chuckled and cracked a smile,

“Ha, yeah. That was me. Got bored of talking shit in my alcove. Guess the big freeze got in my head, thought I saw incoming robots.

“What happened to us out there?”

“We got caught up in an enemy airborne offensive. Apparently the both of us were all blood and puke when they brought us in. They flattened most of the front-line base, all those tents and huts, taken down in a few swoops. By the time Army of Earth airborne could mobilise it was too damn late.” Brock made an exploding motion with both of his wide hands.

The others, I left them again. 

“But don’t worry, the trench lines are still there and pushing the enemy back. So your trench buddies are probably holding up. For a while I didn’t think it was you, without the hair and all. Good to see you in crewcut, like me. Not in a million years did I think I would be bumping into you on this rock.” Brock chuckled again, his deep voice bellowing throughout the medial wing.

“Likewise. It’s been a while,” Jack said.

“Since the academy I’ll say Too long. Especially for you, man that short time you were there. Pure comedy gold dude.”

“You were the one who had a big future planned after the academy. Me? Not so much,” Jack shrugged.

“I remember when you came strolling in, scholarship kid and all. Big ass chip on your shoulder but you were a decent athlete.”

Jack smiled as Brock took him back. He recalled a youth where mostly rebelled against anything resembling rule and order. Those days were so much simpler.

“And you decide to major in ethics at a sports medical academy. Jack Thorn, the ethics major.”

“Huh, yeah. Ethics. The snooty bastards didn’t know how to take that until I dropped out. I don’t know how you stayed,” Thorn said.

“Me. I looked more like a rich kid than you. Plus, I did that thing where you talk and socialise, what’s it called again? Integrate. Do remember that club you started? Roaming the streets of Cliffeville picking fights. What was it called? Robot fighting something?” Brock asked.

“That was Frank Connors brainchild. The robot fighters. We took it from the academy’s initials on their sports jackets,” Jack explained.

“Yeah they didn’t like that. Then what happened? There was that girl you followed out of that place. Katie?” Brock asked.

“I married her, and we got two kids. I guess the plot thickened after I broke out of there.”

“Sounds like you did something right.”

“Only a couple of things, I guess. What brings Brock Jones to X43?”

“Felt like a career change. My Father lined me up with a job working for him way back when. Something about robot crime. I became a pro wrestler instead, toured the outer planets for a few years but it didn’t come to anything.”

“Wait, you were a pro wrestler?” Jack asked.

“It kinda makes sense. You were the best on the academy team. If only they knew that,” he added.

“You tell my old man that. After turning his job down, we haven’t spoke since, asshole,” Brock said.

“That sounds all too familiar. So when do we get out of here?” Jack asked.

“Today soldiers,” a senior nurse said as she stepped between their beds.

“Your vitals are fine, and we need your beds.” The authoritarian looking nurse momentarily glanced down at a handheld tablet.

“Soldier Thorn, Jack Thorn. Guess you were right Jones,” she said and looked to Brock.

“Damn right I was, I mean, yes mam.”

“Soldier Jones insisted on staying here until he knew you were ok. Guess you are friends after all. The news is somewhat a little better from the front line today. They are saying it will be over in the next three months. You’ll both eat and then I’ll have your uniforms brought to you. Then you will both be discharged this afternoon.”

“Thanks mam, that sounds great mam,” Brock said. They both watched her glide away to the opposite bed.

“So that job your Father lined you up with. Did it have anything to do with something called the World Force?” Jack asked.

He then realised the son of a man he knew as Sarge was looking back at him with a semi-confused expression.

End of Part 10

NEXT WEEK WILL BE THE SEASON FINALE OF JACK THORN

READ THE FINALE HERE

Tune in Next week for another edition of Jack Thorn. Same Jack time, same Jack place… Remember if you enjoyed reading, tell a friend, leave a comment and share it around on social media…

Copyright 2004 – 2019 ‘Jack Thorn’ and ‘The Thorn Legacy’ Written By Lee Hall 2019 All rights reserved.  

 

Kau D’varza: A story in the ChaosNova universe by David Noë – ARC Review

Engaging and immersive high end sci-fi that follows multiple characters along with their antics of journeying through space…

kau d'varza.PNG

In the ChaosNova universe the depths of space can be filled with near enough unlimited scope for mystery, deception, risks and reward as this book focuses on ‘Kau D’varza’ a space station where something is always happening. 

Elise Rivera; a relative newcomer to the station in search of a new life soon becomes entangled first of all into some trouble before the realisation comes that she can be of great use. After an early conversation with station’s arch commissioner Elise rides her luck in some senses towards becoming an External Investigations Specialist where she finds herself rubbing shoulders with other specialists of ‘Kau D’varza’ whether that be to help with traitorous engineers or even assisting on bigger space missions. Her journey is intertwined with other specialist’s as they all go about their duty in keeping the station safe; from incoming unknown ships, the threat of ‘Reclaimers’ or the scourge of space; pirates. 

We see these other stories which display the multitude of believable and likable folks such as the eventual romance of specialist Kaska Stone and Specialist Joseph Raffa which added to the many depths this story contains. I enjoyed the realistic approach and even somewhat clunky-ness of Raffa while he tried to do his best to court Stone; even if Ikarus did intervene to begin with.

The reading experience overall feels like a fly on the wall documentary in some places; which is a compliment to the very well constructed and detailed universe this story resides in. In the latter stages of what is a long but immersive read I particularly enjoyed the space battle which carried notes of the space adventures all sci-fi fans will know of along with cutting it’s own unique path. Pockets of action or deceptive investigation for the station specialists will keep any reader immersed in what is an original and highly detailed entry to the science fiction world.

5 Stars

I would like to take this opportunity to thank David Noë for providing an advanced copy of the book. I shall place my reviews in the usual places – Goodreads and Amazon. 

Kau D’varza is out now!

 

Jack Thorn: A story of the Future: Chapter 4, Part 1

Chapter 4 – War Friends

“Well, I think cuddling is out of the picture,” Steve Franco chattered. A plume of vapor rose from his mouth into the still night air.

“With the way they crack the whip here, it’s probably a court martial offence.” Nicks smiled with a cloud also rising from her mouth.

The big freeze had consumed X43. A ten-day stint where the planet moved from the reaches of it’s nearby star that normally kept temperatures habitable. Both Franco and Nicks were huddled inside a sheltered alcove of the front-line trench. The smouldering glow of a barrel between them did just enough to stop the hypothermia.

“It’s funny,” Franco said, “I’m not sure our auto rifles will work when its this freezing.”

“Good thing the robots are hibernating for now,” Nicks added.

“Look alive grunts! We grovelled just enough for some gifts,” the commotion of Rob Connolly said. Jack appeared with him and they both carried a quadrant of canisters each.

“Is that beer?” Nicks asked.

“You bet your ass it is,” Jack said. They ducked into the alcove and began to hand out the stubby box shaped canisters.

“Two grunts of our stature blagged our way into the refectory tent.” Connolly began to gulp down his drink.

“We’re known as the ‘Shift-blasters‘ apparently,” Jack said.

“Well how abouts we toast before freezing to death.” Franco took a beer and held it up.

“To the Major,” Jack said, and they toasted.

“How could I forget. I snatched another burning log also.” Connolly pulled out a plastic log and dropped it into the barrel.

“So I guess we won’t be seeing any action if there’s beer?”

“Well Franco, I guess those walking tubs of plastic feel the cold too. If they call us over the top, we’re taking the beers with us,” Connolly added and again they toasted.

“You fellas are on quite the winning streak. Two gold stars of honour so far.” Nicks moved her hand to reveal the shroud below her name. A solitary gold star glistened below it as the nearby fire came to life.

“That gives me an idea. We earned that star together, with the Major. Perhaps we should honour her for it.” Jack unpinned his latest star and held it to the piping hot barrel. Carefully he let the flames lick gold paint which in turn became blackened.

“A black star for the Major,” he said.

“Too right.” Connolly did the same along with the others.

“We all stick by Thorn and more stars will come our way. That includes you Nicks. Maybe you can show the folks back at V54 after the war,” he added.

“Yeah, what’s that planet like?” Franco asked.

“I won’t be going back there.” Nicks pinned the now charred star back on her chest.

“I’m sensing a story,” Connolly said.

“Well. V54. Since birth you are taught to find an escape plan. ‘People’s republic planet of V54’, my ass.” Nicks kept a stare on the embers.

“That bad huh?” Jack asked.

“Yep, it’s that bad.”

“I thought the Chinese were not that bad,” Franco said.

“You hardly see them when you’re below the overpopulated poverty line. Yeah, they run V54, but you never see them on the streets. As soon as I heard they were offering troops to help the Army of Earth, I enlisted.”

For a moment Nicks eyes showed a struggle filled past she lived. Overcrowding, tightly spaced high rises full of disease, the slums and struggling to make ends meet. Even more so the sticky heat that made up most of the climate on V54. And worst of all, the pollution. New Earth it wasn’t.

“Sounds like a one-way deal then. Fight, win and the reward is Earth,” Connolly said nodding.

“Damn straight,” Nicks half-heartedly added.

“It’s not like V54 have the authority to come get me. Universal politics work in my favour.” She took another sip of beer.

“Now are you guys gonna tell me your story? Thorn? What is up with that accent?” She asked.

Jack finished his beer and crumpled the canister before dropping it into the fire.

“I bounced around a few places in the past. So did my accent I guess,” he said.

“Real mysterious,” Nicks said and finished her drink.

“He lived in England until he was like fifteen,” Franco said.

“Okay so we got English over here, and what point do you meet New York over there?” Nicks held her hand toward Franco, Connolly then filled it with another beer canister.

“My folks, well, my Father was from New York. Met my Mother from England in the city. Had me and sent me to live with my grand folks,” Thorn explained.

“For fifteen years. What were they protecting you from?” Nicks asked with a smile of intrigue.

“Whoever or whatever killed my Mother.”

All of them sat in momentary silence, looking to the burning embers.

“Sorry Thorn, I didn’t know…”

“Neither did I.”

Again came the silence while they all stood looking into the orange glow of heat. Then Franco spoke,

“Then you came back and went to that stuffy academy out in Cliffeville.”

“Is that when you started writing Thorn’s biography?” Nicks asked.

“We’ve always known each other. That Franco kid is the oldest friend I have. He came to England in the summer every damn year. And then to Cliffeville, he drove as soon as he got a licence. Even after I dropped out of that academy. They were grade A assholes,” Jack said.

“The greatest love story never told,” Franco added with a mischievous smile.

“All manly love aside. You were a young fella with a young family Thorn. You needed to provide and so you stumbled upon the Army of Earth and me.” Connolly raised his canister again.

“To family,” he said.

“So you got a kid Thorn?” Nicks asked.

“I’ve got two dependents, and a wife.”

“And let me guess New York over here followed you into the army also?”

“Na man. I stand in nobody’s shadow. I’m a man with my own aspirations and stuff. I had a career before this damn rock.”

“Is that so? What type of aspirations and stuff is that?”

“I was, I was a bus driver,” Franco said with pride.

“Then Jack called me and asked if I wanted to enlist. So I did and came to Cliffeville.”

“Cliffeville. State of sin and robots, right?” Nicks asked.

“Yeah, even people on V54 have heard of it.”

“Last hold out of the Western divide political alliance. Cliffeville is the real last land of the free in America,” Connolly said.

“To Cliffeville,” Nicks toasted. They all raised a beer over the fire.

“Maybe one day you guys can show me Cliffeville.”

“Sounds handsome. We all got something to go back to on that blue and green rock,” Connolly said.

“Are we finally going to hear the mysterious yet intriguing back story to Rob Connolly? Goatee wearing, gun toting man’s man,” Franco laughed.

“Save it soldier. The only thing waiting for me is the only woman who ever loved me back. Mrs Connolly’s baby boy will get back to her, no doubt. That lady, would do anything for her only son. Hell, I would do the same back.”

“To Mrs Connolly, family, fresh starts and driving buses,” Nicks said.

“And war friends,” Connolly added.

At the very moment they touched canisters a blaring screech from the nearby siren blared out to them.

“What is that?” Franco asked over the loudness. He poked his head out into the trench.

“I don’t recognise that sound… wait what? Have we gotta go over the top?” He asked to a passing soldier who shrugged whilst rushing past.

Jack gripped his auto rifle and moved out of the alcove. The drastically colder air hit him and instantly took his breath away.

“Damn, it’s cold. What’s happening?” He stepped up onto a ladder and squinted out of the trench. All he could see was the dark sky.

“Where’s the damn superiors? Shouldn’t they be yelling out orders.”

“I don’t know man, but that siren is loud!” Franco shouted as he joined Thorn.

“Is anyone going over the top?” Nicks asked appearing with Connolly.

Jack tried to see past murky darkness of a frozen battlefield.

“I can’t see zip. Wait. Where’s that dude going?” He watched from the left to see a solider clambering up onto the battlefield.

“Hey. Solider. Get back here! You’ll freeze to death…” Connolly shouted to the tall and wide shadow of the soldier trudging away. The siren clicked off to reveal another sound. Men and women arguing in confusion.

“Stand down termites!”

A superior officer appeared behind the front line.

“Back to your alcoves. Do you want to catch ice death?”

“But there’s a soldier out there on his own…”

“I said back to your alcoves…”

“What about the siren?” Franco asked.

“If you termites listened in basic that’s the enemy air strike alert.”

Jack began to climb the ladder. He stepped up onto the ice-covered mud.

“Stand down solider! That is an order!”

“Well I guess you better shoot me if you want me to stop.” And like that he hurried away.

The dramatically colder air hit him and darkness soon surrounded him. The voices of his friends drowned out and over the nearby horizon he went.

“Soldier!” He called out and saw up ahead the outline of a tall and wide man.

Now it was even darker, and the air seemed to sting as he breathed.

“Fall back. Turn around, it’s too damn cold out…”

From all directions forward came flashes of gun fire. Robots were closing in. Still the shadowy figure stood and fired back.

Jack ducked and continued to sprint forward. More gunfire exploded all around. Greens and reds coursed by him. The enemy were using laser rounds and Thorn glanced up to see a red burning strike the very near soldier in the shoulder.

After a loud grunt this soldier recovered and began to fire back. Jack joined him,

“This is suicide. There are too damn many of them.” He cowered back and tried to pull the much larger man back.

“Come on soldier. Move!” He fired some more but his efforts were focused on retreat.

From the murk above they both heard a droning. It moved fast and closed in.

“That’s a jet engine!” Jack shouted, and he looked up wide eyed the brightening fog. Something airborne swooped down and unloaded an onslaught of explosions.

Jack yanked the man down and they huddled behind a nearby rock. He saw this aircraft fly past, a shape he didn’t recognise. Just when the droning simmered down it came back along with a brightness up high.

“It’s coming back. We need to move.” Jack didn’t even look at the soldier’s face. He began a frantic retreat and this time the soldier followed.

They felt the airborne threat looming in the clouds above and just when it swooped out of the low fog they jumped down into a crater. Explosions rocked the ground and something solid crashed into Jack at head height. Clutching an auto rifle, he clenched both eyes shut. He momentarily saw stars and then darkness.

*                      *                      *

Even though most evenings were sticky in the Cliffeville desert heat, Rouge insisted she wore the dark camouflage uniform given by her friend the Freak. It still smelled of those revolutionary days he spoke of. A smell she came to embrace and totally not because it needed laundering. Out of waitress hours, Rouge was a soldier, in training. And here she stood within the horseshoe arrangement of trailers around the back of Denny’s diner, ready. Again.

“Check your stance Rouge,” the Warrior commanded from somewhere behind. She couldn’t see him and so her focus remained on the incoming target.

“Check.” She bent both her knees whilst twisting side on. Her head began to turn away when the Warrior ordered more words,

“Eyes on the target at all times.”

Her target being the Freak holding the remnants of a beaten armchair resembling a padded shield. He hesitantly moved her way.

“Strike, now,” the Warrior said.

Rouge side stepped twice before her legs tangled together. She stumbled and before gravity took full effect she managed to swipe out at the weathered padded shield come make shift punch bag. Her nails scratched at crumpled gaffer tape. Before her moving target or teacher spoke, she shot up.

“Again,” she said and waved the Freak forward.

“Stance.”

“Check.” She glanced at the Warrior for a flash and her target came crashing forward. She tried to lash out and clumsily wrestled the shield down. She angrily laid in a fist.

“I just can’t do it.”

“Yes you can. Belief comes from within the mind,” her guardian said.

“That’s coming from the mechanoid type,” Rouge sniped.

“My computer mind was created from the Warriors of old. It is that of a human or equivalent. Now come on. Again,” the Warrior ordered.

Rouge dropped her fists and they swung in frustration.

“I just can’t do this fighting stuff. I’m just no good.” She slumped down onto a nearby rock.

“I sincerely doubt a girl of prophecy would lack self-esteem,” the Freak said. He scooped up his make shift punchbag shield.

“Woman of prophecy. And what about flat-footed clumsiness?” she asked and dusted herself off.

“You’re trying too hard Anne-Marie. A fighter doesn’t have time to think, thinking comes from learning how to use your body as a weapon. Now try again,” the Warrior said.

“Perhaps think about those robots you took down back in the diner,” the Freak added.

“That was different. I could feel what they were going to do. I could see the future, in my head. That’s my true gift. Vision, not fighting,” Rouge said.

“Maybe your actual vision clouds that initial judgement. Hence, I have an idea. Turn around young lady,” the Freak instructed.

“Her mind is gifted for more than fighting yes,” he said and spun her around.

“Then we shall put that theory into direct practice.” The Freak took off his pot washers apron.

“What if you can sense without seeing.” He folded the fabric and made a blindfold for her wear.

“What? This is stup…”

“Let the robot help you Anne-Marie,” the Warrior said, and the greasy fabric covered her eyes.

“Now I will approach. But I won’t say when or where. Sense me,” the Freak said. He rushed away and took hold of his improvised punchbag.

The Warrior watched on. His red-haired student turned sharply and dropped into a defensive stance. Gently her feet moved across the hardened sand. Although her eyes saw only black, her vision opened from what seemed like a view from above. The Freak approached from the left, so she moved the opposite way. This gave the robot a false confidence that he hadn’t been detected. She knew exactly where he walked, she was the predator here.

Instantly she dropped and swung a leg around. It clipped something hard and next came a thud followed by a short groan.

“Robot down…”

Rouge stood up straight and pulled down the blindfold. She looked to see the Freak laying on his punchbag.

“Good. You must hone the basics first Rouge. Detecting an enemy is only a portion of combat,” the Warrior said.

“I’m not particularly sure how many bumps one has left like that,” the Freak said. Rouge moved in and pulled him up.

“You can only provide basic simulation. Eventually you will combat against me.” The Warrior moved in between them.

She looked up to his black balaclava covered head.

“But you are a Warrior. Am I supposed to fight Warriors?”

“No, but my speed will certainly train you to be superior over any robot you face.” He began to turn and then lunged back. With a clenched gloved hand, the Warrior drove it toward Rouge’s head. Without looking she held a firm forearm in defence. She blocked his wide arm instinctively.

“Your mind is gifted beyond anyone I have known. Even the Mavericks of old would envy you. I can see your senses already have reflexes for speed. Another lesson for another day.” His hand slowly opened.

Her much smaller hand fit inside it. She looked up to the near dark sky and exhaled.

“Until tomorrow,” she said and threw the blindfold apron back to the Freak.

“Every time you fall,” the Warrior added as she moved towards her trailer.

“Is an opportunity to learn a new way to pick yourself back up.” Rouge’s silhouette disappeared into the silver vessel she called home.

“An improvement tonight perhaps,” the Freak said.

“Yes. Every day she gets stronger and every day my concern grows. I dread the sun going down.” The Warrior looked up to an emerging full moon.

“There is always the option of relocation. Wasn’t this place always a temporary arrangement?” The Freak asked. He dropped down to the same rock Rouge had just sat on.

“She is settled here. For the first time her mind is one with her body.”

“Then the burden of worry falls on your shoulders for now Warrior. They called you Runner before, didn’t they?” The Freak asked.

For a split second the Warrior’s computer mind flashed back to a time long ago. He saw the world from a different view, a more vulnerable view. A time when there were others like him. His body looked different, it was smaller, before he became who he was now.

‘Watch over her’

The image of an infant girl flashed across his view.

‘Be her guardian’

“Many years ago,” he said.

“And I am certainly not Runner by nature. If they come for her again, I will fight them all.”

Rouge flopped back onto her unkempt bed. Isn’t that how all geniuses lived? she thought. A trail of fairy lights swayed above her, and cool conditioned air rattled from the unit nearby. She put a hand on the one prized item she owned, a tablet sketchpad.

“Not tonight,” she sighed. Sleep beckoned more than the urge of drawing.

Her finger tapped clear plastic and the device shone to life. After a couple of swipes the room became filled with floating projections.

The metal walls all around were filled with her various ‘display’ works. Artistic drawings of people caught in the moment in the diner. Truckers sipping coffee at late hours and even some of her as a young girl. Childhood always brought the same image of her holding the hand of a much larger being. Her guardian. In the distance another figure stood tall and hooded, watching. Anytime she thought of this stalker her mind would jolt. A warning shock not to seek any further. All she remembered were two dark hollow eyes staring down at her.

Don’t think about it, not now.

The absence of sedatives now meant Anne-Marie’s mind could grow. All the thoughts and memories of her nearly forgotten past were returning but in jumbled pieces. If it were a puzzle, the pieces wouldn’t fit just yet. They were still morphing and growing with her.

She would also draw other things that popped into her head. More recently a decorative star charred with black from the heat of flames or images of a brown and grey landscape. One picture showed the backs of small people looking up to something high. A solitary neon red strip glowed out of a murky land far away.

Like always sleep came swiftly for the tired robot fighter in training and deeper inside her gifted mind she went.

“Where am I?” She asked. Her voice echoed in the darkness.

A whispering came from all around.

‘Ryan is coming’

Behind her faint light cast across the trailer and out front she saw a haze of smoke, Denny’s diner. On the horizon came a faint glow, flames perhaps, she couldn’t tell. The ground she trudged on now seemed crunchy and frozen, a slight departure from the usual plains of Cliffeville. Still the diner remained ahead and a wide shadow closed in.

“F.G?”

“What is happening?” She called out to the wide robot. His grease covered cook’s clothes seemed to be drenched in something wet. A black ink. Or robot blood.

His vacant eyes stared through her just as the wave of terror set in. In the middle of F.G’s forehead she saw a bullet hole.

“No F.G!” she cried, and he flopped to the ground. The smoke was thicker now, and it closed in all around.

“Freak? Warrior? Where are you.” Rouge clawed emptily through the murk, her feet dragging across mud.

Another figure closed in.

“Are you Ryan?” she asked.

The approaching figure looked thinner as it came closer and looked a plain canvas white. She reached out to this all white washed being. It was as if a robot had been covered head to toe in this material, she looked at the head, a solitary crack ran down where the face would be.

“I know you, I, I remember you, from somewhere,” she said.

“He’s coming Rouge and there isn’t anything you can do. Don’t fight it,” the figure said.

“I don’t understand. Is this Ryan coming? Who is Ryan?” Rouge asked, and more smoke divided them. The figure was gone.

Just when she turned to face the trailer her feet buckled. The ground gave way and began to swallow her whole. Bright flashes raced overhead, reds and greens coursed by. Laser rounds.

Explosions and thudding closed in.

She took in a deep breath, it stung her chest. The air temperature dropped dramatically.

“Stand down solider! That is an order!” A booming voice said.

Rouge could only look up at dark clouds as another voice shouted. Something gave her a familiar comfort about this weird accent.

Her feet tried to adjust in what seemed like icy mud.

“Well I guess you better shoot me if you want me to stop.”

She smiled at the voice and it’s weird familiarity. Then the hole she stood in began to collapse. More of this familiar accented voice spoke,

“That’s a jet engine!”

A deafening roar echoed down to her and the ground violently shook.

“I want to wake up now!”

End of Part 9

Tune in Next week for another edition of Jack Thorn. Same Jack time, same Jack place… Remember if you enjoyed reading, tell a friend, leave a comment and share it around on social media…

Copyright 2004 – 2019 ‘Jack Thorn’ and ‘The Thorn Legacy’ Written By Lee Hall 2019 All rights reserved.