“Transmutation of Shadow” Chapter 1

"Transmutation of Shadow" Chapter 1 — Kimia WoodCheck out the first chapter of my upcoming action-adventure Transmutation of Shadow! Meet Eric Kedzierski, psionic human and assassin extraordinaire…and, yes, his last name is very “long, ugly, and Polish” (his words).

Subscribe to the mailing list to be alerted as soon as it’s ready for publishing! (We’re currently waiting on beta reader feedback…)


Business As Usual

In which I kill somebody.

I eyed the two-lane country road, twenty yards below me.

“Target is four minutes out,” came Oscar’s voice through the plug in my ear.

“Roger,” I said, low toned.

Combat mics are designed to pick up soft voices. Of course, I was the only human being in about two miles of the spot. I’d made sure of that when I first arrived.

I double-checked my handiwork on the tree. It was already dead, leaning slightly toward the incline and the road. A storm had recently passed through, as the lightening-scorched poplar a hundred feet to my right showed, so the set-up was more believable.

I had weakened the base of the dead tree with a focused energy lance, and now all it would need was a concentrated mental shove. The age of the tree, and the lightening in the area, would both discourage anyone from analyzing for psionic scorches.

“Target three minutes out,” said Oscar.

I knelt at the base of my tree, the better to see the road through a gap in the foliage. My form-hugging combat suit protected my knees from the damp grass.

“Any word on the escort?” I asked.

“Armored SUV, three bodyguards, one driver,” said Oscar, from the data pulled up on his computer screen in the command center at Langley. “Chase vehicle about eight minutes behind, looks like, so you’ll have to hustle.”

I nodded to myself. The branches I had tossed onto the curve of the road fifty yards away would look like storm debris, and would make the car slow down.

“Three bodyguards,” I muttered. “Oil sheiks are paranoid, huh?”

“I think anybody who makes it onto our list is paranoid,” Oscar answered. “After all, it’s not just the United States he’s ticked off over the years. I’m sure there are some rival oil kings who’ve lost minions or trade deals to him. Maybe he’s responsible for that ambassador we lost in the Middle East. I don’t know; they don’t tell me these things.”

I adjusted my goggles, switching to thermal vision to make sure no stray cars were coming. The last thing I needed at the moment was a civilian blundering in to the set-up.

“Not my problem. I don’t make the big decisions,” I said.

My handler of many years said nothing. It’d been a standing inside joke between us: we don’t get paid enough to decide who should die. That’s for the bureaucrats who run the Agency to do. Got a complaint? Go talk to Congress.

Car engine. With a directed psionic ping, I received feedback in one of my goggles for movement telemetry.

Sure enough, they were moving around the corner. They slowed at the tree branches, and lumbered carefully around the curve.

“American car,” I whispered to Oscar.

“Huh?”

“It’s a GMC. Are you sure –?”

“Look, the spooks have been tracking them for weeks. Yes, it’s the right car. Go for it!”

The SUV cautiously picked up speed. The driver was being careful, given the hilly terrain.

Digital overlays in my goggles gave me the timing. With all the technology, this job was hardly a challenge —

I lanced the tree, giving it an energized shove with my hand for good measure. The tree crashed into the road, and the SUV plowed into it, squealing as the driver tried to apply the brakes.

As I sprinted down the hill from my hiding place, I was already feeling out the lock. Very standard stuff…I mean, couldn’t a corrupt Arab tyrant invest in a little more complicated door lock?

At the touch of my finger, an electrical pulse overrode the car’s computer, and I yanked the rear door open.

My other hand cracked the top on the vial, and nonlethal gas blew into the car. My glance flitted between the unconscious faces

“Target ID?” I hissed, checking with another psionic pulse that every heart was beating.

“Guy in the middle. Chase car is picking up speed; hurry.”

“Did you do a biometric –”

“It’s the guy in the middle, Shadow! I know my job.”

Holding my breath, I leaned into the car and un-clicked his seat belt. Touching – Ruthless Oil Despot was imitating American culture, with a very nice tailored suit.

With an energized heave, I flung him through the windshield. A psionic pulse, and my Heads Up Display flashed a confirmed death.

I relocked the door and sprinted back up the hill. There was nothing left to do. The tree left no traces. The car lock was un-breached.

And there were no collateral deaths.

“All right, Shadow. HUD says we’ve got a confirmed target elimination.”

I started the hike back to my car, pulled off the road and hidden on the other side of the hill. As I forged deeper into the trees, I heard the chase car’s engine purring around the corner.

“I guess the Middle East will be safer, now,” I said. “Though I can’t help wondering that they’d stage his death on American soil.”

Oscar said nothing for a moment. “Politics isn’t my game,” he said at last. “Especially foreign politics. It’s not our problem.”

Again, I nodded to myself, raising my goggles to see the variegated greenery around me unobstructed. A chipmunk popped its head out of a fallen log, stared at me, and ducked back in again.

With thermal vision, I’d be able to see his heat signature. But what would be the fun of that?

Besides, sometimes chipmunks and I both had to hide.


"Transmutation of Shadow" Chapter 1 — Kimia WoodKimia Wood was raised by an aspiring author, so spinning words and weaving plots is in her blood.

She currently lives with her family somewhere in the American midwest, bracing for the collapse of society by knitting, baking, writing, hobby-farming, and reading as much Twitter as possible before the web goes dark.

Subscribe to the mailing list for a FREE e-copy of her post-apocalyptic adventure novella, Soldier! You’ll also receive periodic updates on her latest reading and writing exploits!

“Shadow”—A Christian Jason Bourne?

What makes my written work stand out from others in the genre?

"Shadow"—A Christian Jason Bourne? — Kimia Wood

Image credit: imdb.com

Ha ha! That implies that I’ve actually read books in my genre…or that I know what genre I’m writing in…

But seriously, my latest work (Transmutation of Shadow) is an action-packed secret agent mystery…sort of in the vein of Robert Ludlum’s The Bourne Identity…or the movie The Matrix (no, really, a beta reader said it reminded him of The Matrix…yas!)

And yet it’s different. How is it different? How have I made this genre my own? If you love running-and-gunning spies, but also want to train your palate with clean, uplifting books, read on:

Action and Adventure

Books in this genre are usually full of fight scenes and dramatic chases…and Shadow is no exception!

A quick pace follows our hero through the pages, as he hides under the radar, running from people he used to call friends. I’m no Tom Clancy, but I managed to slip in some cool spy maneuvers (like switching clothes and cars repeatedly!).

How is my writing different?

Mr. Ludlum’s fight scenes can be a little…bone-jarring. While I don’t try to gloss over the bloody realism of combat, I also don’t dwell on it. My story doesn’t need it. In the words of one critiquer, I handle everything from death to violence with “grace and elegance”.

Let’s face it: my main character is an assassin. His government pays him to “eliminate” undesirable elements…AKA to murder people.

I think this is one of the things that made my parents leery when I first started writing it – but they both agree that I’ve dealt with the subject with maturity (but not gratuity) and cheerfulness (but not glorification).

Language

Robert Ludlum, Tom Clancy, Alistair MacLean, and others in their genre are prone to “spicy words.” Let’s face it: in the world of soldiers and spies, terrorists and mafia dons, you won’t catch many people saying, “Good golly, Miss Molly!” when they stub their toe.

I’m from a different culture.

To be specific, the homeschooling, church-y culture where “Jeez” is too strong, and “Good grief gravy!” is for when you’re really, truly frustrated.

I gotta snicker a little here, because this is an area where my first line of beta readers really raked me over the coals.

“He can’t say ‘shucks’! He’s in the Army Special Forces, for crying out loud. If the guys in boot camp caught him saying ‘shucks’ they would beat him up!”

So…I took advantage of the glorious tool of obfuscation, and peppered the manuscript with “I swore” or “I muttered a curse.”

Realism + opaque writing = something you can give your teen without blushing!

Sex

Robert Ludlum is especially bad this way, but Tom Clancy also doesn’t shy from a sex scene or two.

What about the Kimia Wood books?

Hmm, yeah, there is none.

My character doesn’t even have a girlfriend. And if he did, I have a moral compunction against including any illicit material. Just check out my full-fledged rant against romance fiction. After frothing at the mouth about characters sniffing each other like wild dogs, the last thing I’m going to do is give my book a steamy scene.

While I tend to associate the tag “clean” with sickly sweet little Amish romances or quirky romantic mysteries with brightly-colored covers, I can’t deny the strict reading of the label applies to my own work. If you’re not “dirty,” you’re probably “clean.”

Tone"Shadow"—A Christian Jason Bourne? — Kimia Wood

Alistair MacLean’s work are tense, but largely upbeat and empowering adventures. Tom Clancy’s are highly technical, with tension slowly and deliberately constructed from all sides.

Robert Ludlum stares deep into the abyss, and his work is accordingly heavy on the gritty realism of his topic. And Larry Correia, while he sprinkles humor and cool world-building throughout his books, knows how to ratchet the tension up to eleven and just keep cranking.

How am I the same but different?

"Shadow"—A Christian Jason Bourne? — Kimia Wood

Image from Pixabay

My book has been compared to The Matrix and Equilibrium. While I’m thrilled that my fight scenes evoked these same emotions, the tone of these movies is not what I was going for…nor (I think) what I achieved.

Both these movies have greyscale palates, with lots of dark costumes, rainy sets, and oppressive atmospheres.

While my protagonist is in a lot of danger (and goes through some pretty rough experiences) I wanted to stay upbeat and hopeful (with, dare I say, touches of humor?).

This isn’t your fluffy-creampuffs read…but it isn’t a GRIMDARK where you’ll leave the story feeling dirty and depressed. We put the “fun” in “run for your life”!

Theology

The best books show an honest picture of human nature, perhaps draw images from it to help us understand ourselves…and perhaps even say something profound about the universe.

Some authors (like Ian Fleming) simply provide some wish-fulfillment and let the audience have an exciting adventure. Others (like Robert Ludlum) paint vivid, honest pictures of humanity and the societies we build.

How do my works compare?

Transmutation of Shadow is fun, sure. A romp that lets us run for our lives, hide in plain sight, and experience the thrill of daring escapes all from the comfort of our reading chair.

But I tried to go deeper. As I’ve gotten older, and my writing has grown, I’ve decided “I don’t want to be room noise” – I want to say something worth saying.

As I let my conscientious Christian worldview inform my story-craft, I can deliver a story that’s about much more than a psionic assassin solving the mystery about himself…I tell a story about a killer forced to confront his own actions, to stop passing the buck, forced to find redemption.

Which only comes from Jesus.

As impressive as Clancy, Ludlum, and MacLean are, that’s a story I’ve never seen them tell.

Decide for Yourself!

Transmutation of Shadow is currently out with critique readers, but I plan to publish it some time this year. Stand by, and you can read this exciting science fiction/spy thriller with a humble yet determined protagonist for yourself!


"Shadow"—A Christian Jason Bourne? — Kimia WoodKimia Wood currently lives with her family somewhere in the American midwest, bracing for the collapse of society by knitting, baking, writing, hobby-farming, and reading as much Twitter as possible before the web goes dark.

Subscribe to the mailing list for a FREE e-copy of her post-apocalyptic adventure novella Soldier! You’ll also receive periodic updates on her latest reading and writing adventures – including WHEN SHADOW PUBLISHES!

“Red Rabbit” by Tom Clancy

"Red Rabbit" by Tom Clancy — Kimia Wood A Soviet plot to assassinate the pope. A KGB communications officer trying to defect to the West. And star CIA analyst Jack Ryan, who…is there.

Tom Clancy builds his Cold War-era spy adventure slowly and deliberately…with detailed settings, in-depth character philosophizing, and realistic portraits of the mind-sets and world-views that create the situation.

Characters

Clancy’s recurring star, Jack Ryan, is a CIA analyst and teacher’s pet (and possibly the weakest character here). In fact, he does very little except agonize until the last chapter or so.

He does, however, act as a bridge. His ostensible role in the plot is as liaison between the British and American intelligence operations…and in this way, he also provides for Clancy to paint a clear and memorable picture of the differences between America and Great Britain.

A diverse cast

One of the things Clancy does with excellence is draw out the differences between different countries.

Ryan moves from America to a station in Britain, his homeland’s ally. Yet there are still so many things he must get used to: they drive on the “other” side of the road…everyone drinks tea, not coffee…words are pronounced differently (and some things are called by different names altogether)…the outlook on life is subtly shifted…even the TV shows are different (and Ryan doesn’t understand the sit-coms’ humor).

This underscores the culture shock of the Soviet “Rabbit” and his family when they flee a country of regulations, controls, and corruption to one of individual freedom. From assuming that the KGB watch and follow everyone at any and every time, to a place where you can walk onto a car dealer lot, pick out a car, pay for it, and drive away. From a nation where VHS players, bras, and nylons are luxuries snuck in through Hungary (and only affordable to the elite, like KGB officers) – to a place where they’re taken for granted, and every middle class family can afford them if they wish.

The ground-work for this change is laid with deliberate and poignant brushstrokes…perhaps slower than I would have chosen, but there’s no denying Clancy’s touch for choosing an exact turn of phrase to communicate his meaning, or for seeing to the heart of a mind-set he doesn’t hold himself and portraying it in believable philosophical prose.

This laying-bare of cultures holds the greatest value of the work.

Life Philosophies

A lot of time is spent in the different characters’ thoughts, dealing with their mental outlooks on life in minute detail.

Like the KGB chief…does he really believe in the Communist party’s rhetoric? Or does he rather believe in “power” – AKA himself?

When the communications analyst discovers that his government wants to kill the pope, what will he do? Should he blindly trust that his government knows best? Is he developing…a conscience?

What about Jack Ryan and his CIA overseers? Are they in this game for patriotism? To protect innocent people? Because the Soviets are inherently evil and must be stopped? When they hear that the pope is in danger, they debate whether they can protect him without revealing how they learned about it…because of course national security comes before the life of the head of the Catholic Church, right?

Some Complaining

Ryan’s loose Catholic faith adds an interesting dynamic, as he weighs his patriotism and religious feeling against the political concerns of his CIA bosses.

It also gives him something else to worry about, which seems to be most of what he does throughout the book.

When his bosses assign him to accompany some Brits on an operation as a CIA liaison, he freaks out and insists that he’s an analyst, not a field operative. He’s had some bad experiences with “hands-on” cases in the past…he has apparently stopped a terrorist attack in London before as a tourist (ex-Marine tourist, of course) and faced down a terrorist home invasion, but these experiences were only hinted at. Is there a different book I should have read first? Did Jack Ryan really need to be in this book at all?

His wife (an MD eye surgeon) is even more annoying – adding practically nothing to the narrative, nosing into Jack’s job even though she knows it’s secret, and nagging him for smoking/eating unhealthily. The only time her complaining seems well-founded, and actually lends sympathy to her character, is when her surgical colleagues leave a patient sedated on the operating table while they go for lunch and a pint. Remind me to never get medical care in Great Britain!

Cautions!

Clancy sometimes has trouble making it clear whose head we’re riding in, and you have to travel back through several paragraphs of mental narrative to get re-oriented.

There’s also sporadic language (including f-bombs and profanities) that seemed to get more intrusive as the book went on.

Also includes references to sex within married couples.

The Chess-man of Spy Thrillers

This book is about three-dimensional, conflicted people interacting with each other from different mental starting points. Mr. Clancy takes his time setting up all his dominoes, so that when they collide we say, “Oh, it was inevitable” as well as, “Oh, how is this going to turn out?”

If mental exercises, world-view exploration, and slow-cooking spy drama is your thing, you might enjoy Red Rabbit. I did enjoy it, but for my main spy-action reading, I prefer the bullets-and-fisticuffs of Robert Ludlum.


Red Rabbit is available on Amazon, Barnes&Noble, Kobo (as paperback or audiobook), and the Book Depository (free worldwide shipping).

Subscribe to Kimia Wood’s newsletter for a FREE e-copy of her post-apocalyptic adventure novella Soldier. You’ll also receive periodic updates on her latest reading and writing exploits!

“Monster Hunter International” by Larry Correia

The book that got my brother out of his reading slump was — chock full of guns and monsters.

It’s a bit of a story: my dad got a free copy during a promotion, and when he finally read it

He shoved it into my brother’s hands when they were taking a long drive together, and ordered him to read. My brother…

Started paying his own money for the next books in the series, geeking out at every opportunity, is currently slavering for the author to finish Book 7, and badgered me left and right to read Monster Hunter.

So here I am. I’ve joined the club. Maybe I’m not normally in the demographic for ripping apart monsters with anatomically correct firearms, but sometimes you just gotta let your inner “Heck, Yeah!” have some fresh air.

Continue reading

White Mesa Hiatus + New Work-in-Progress

Sometimes You Need Something New

I typed the first words of the first scene of Book 1 in the White Mesa Chronicles on April 2, 2015. That day we were moving all the stuff out of our house (into Grandpa’s basement), and I sat on the carpet in the bedroom I grew up in to get in a few words amidst all the chaos. (Why? ‘Cause that’s the carpet where I nestled on the floor in the corner and thrashed out the lion’s share of Hayes and Hayes.)

White Mesa has been a great journey, trying to look forward to what life will be like after the U.S.A.’s death throes. I (with help from my family) got to construct an entire world, and populate it with people with motivations and thought-patterns different from my own!

When you get the cover done before writing the actual book…

But it’s time to move on.

I decided this after typing 1 and 3/4 first-drafts of Book 6: Feral. That’s 53,290 words of a NaNoWriMo draft, plus 27,490 words of a fresh “blind draft”. I found myself going days or weeks without looking at the file, and whenever I did sit down to work I had to drag the words out. I figured such uninspired dreck might well give readers the same sense of lethargy that it gave me…

So, we folded it up and put it on the shelf. Books 1 through 4 are out for your reading pleasure, and Book 5 has good bones. After a breath of fresh air, and turning my mind to new projects, I’ll be able to finish the last three books with more energy…more passion…more joy.

So What “New Project” Is Next?

I’m currently story-boarding the story of a perfectionist assassin who realizes he’s been given corrupt orders.

Yes, sweet little churchy Kimia is writing about an assassin.

I am the girl who brutally poisoned one of my leads in Sons of the King, and gave a teenage boy an OD in Hayes and Hayes. But it probably won’t be as bad as all that.

This is how I’m plotting it:

Winds of Change — Kimia Wood

Image from Pixabay

But this is probably how I’ll write it:

Winds of Change — Kimia Wood

Image from Pixabay

I once wrote a short story about ritualistic human sacrifice. Know how my dad responded? “Cute.” Yes, “cute”!

So despite my best efforts to be “gritty” and “realistic”, I doubt my style will be much different from the up-beat, family-oriented narrative you’ve come to know and expect from Hayes and Hayes to Renegade.

What’s this New Story Actually About?

Well, check out this first draft blurb and see what you think! 😊 (Then, come back when it’s actually written and find out how different it is from what we planned!)

Eric likes his job. Why not? He’s very good at it.

Get in. Don’t be seen. Dispatch the target. Exit. No collateral damage or stray casualties.

Sure, he’s killing people; but they’re bad people. Someone has to stop them and protect the rest of society. And with his amplified abilities, his agency has a track record of always taking out the right targets – and no one else.

Until the night he follows his tactical Heads-Up into a room…and discovers his target is a seven-year-old boy.

As his faith in the system crumbles, his protests to his handler yield no answers. This is the correct target…well, somebody’s target.

Eric aborts the mission – and finds everyone he used to work with shooting at him.

He was always one of the “good guys”. What’s going on? He’s determined to keep protecting the innocent…but can he?

And will he live long enough to try?


Kimia WoodKimia Wood lives with her family somewhere in the American midwest, bracing for the collapse of society by knitting, baking, writing, hobby-farming, and reading as much Twitter as possible before the web goes dark.

Subscribe to the mailing list for a free copy of her post-apocalyptic novella Soldier, plus updates on her latest projects and other cool stuff whenever we think of other cool stuff.

“The Janson Directive” by Robert Ludlum

"The Janson Directive" by Robert Ludlum — Kimia Wood What is the cost of peace?

Robert Ludlum is most famous for The Bourne Identity, a spy thriller that inspired several sequels and movie adaptations. But in The Janson Directive, he has recaptured the magical combination of pulse-pounding thriller mixed with deeper psychological themes.

If you’ve got the stomach to get through it, of course. Sometimes the cost of peace is high. Continue reading

Books 3 and 4—White Mesa!

The post-apocalyptic saga continues with the launch of books 3 and 4 this past week! Even if you haven’t read the first two books yet, you can still enjoy these adventures as Ben and Ricco face their own unique struggles in this harsh world.

(Scroll to the bottom for a peak at Gladiator: Chapter 1! Then find them at your favorite retailer, and in your favorite format!)

Books 3 and 4—White Mesa — Kimia WoodGladiator

Ben McConnell has heard all about the New Republic – the rising city-state that plays fast and loose with the deadly z-germ parasite.

Desperate to know more about their medicine and the program that spreads it, he slips into the city to recover a sample for White Mesa’s doctors.

Tommy Thaxton worries about Ben…but then, he worries about everything. Then Ben is captured, and he finds his concern well-founded.
When the White Mesa security council deems a rescue attempt too risky, it’s up to Tommy and a couple friends to face the dangers of the city and get Ben out.

Can Ben survive the fight ring without stooping to the gangs’ standards?

Will Tommy find a way to get Ben home – before he’s killed by the New Republic’s primitive criminal justice?

Amazon* — Amazon Kindle — Lulu** — Smashwords (all digital formats) — Barnes & Noble(paperback)— Kobo

*Part of Kindle MatchBook: buy a paperback copy, get the Kindle version free!

**In case you like paperbacks but want an option other than Amazon!


Renegade — Kimia Wood — White Mesa ChroniclesRenegade

White Mesa seems like a utopia in the midst of a gangland waste.

For Ricco, though, it means rules, chores, and endless lectures on morality from his dad…make that his adoptive dad. After being expelled from the militia and banned from all activities off the family farm, Ricco might only have one choice to make a life of his own: join the New Republic, his homeland’s polar opposite in the city.

How could he imagine the consequences his actions will have for his entire world?

Amazon* — KindleSmashwords — Barnes & Noble (ebook) — Kobo

*Part of Kindle MatchBook: buy a paperback copy, get the Kindle version free!


Gladiator

1–Burglar

The overcast night was dark except for the glow of the New Republic’s border lights, several blocks away. Ben glided from cover to cover down the city street, the echoing of Security patrollers’ boots creating a map of movement in his mind. Up ahead, he spotted the low apartment building he’d been making for, a pool of yellow light marking the torch by the front door.

Ben crept alongside the building, and crouched near a basement window. He could hear a sentry pacing and clearing his throat by the front door.

Inside, the Afflicted workers would be fast asleep in their dormitories, while the few guards watching them would be grouped together playing dice. The medical supplies – the Afflicted’s daily injection – they kept in one of the side rooms.

That much had been easy to learn, especially with the help of Daisy, the girl who lived across from his apartment. She’d been more than willing to show a new immigrant around the New Republic, and had never asked questions about Ben’s eagerness to learn. She did odd jobs and made deliveries for the black market, so her “live and let live” mindset made sense.

Slipping a screw driver out of his pocket, Ben eased it behind the plywood sheet that blocked the ground-level window beside him. It took several moments before it worked free and he leaned it against the wall.

Behind the plywood, two-by-fours spanned the space horizontally. Ben pursed his lips a moment, then rocked back on his hands, gripping the lowest board with his feet.

With a soft crunch, the board yielded. Ben balanced it on his leg for a moment, and pulled it through with his hands, setting it beside the plywood.

For an instant, he thought he detected the thumps of quiet feet on the edge of hearing. It wasn’t the first time tonight, but once again when he scanned his surroundings, he couldn’t pick up any unnatural movement.

Dismissing the sound, Ben rolled onto his stomach and snaked backward. His feet went through the window into the dark space beyond — then his legs, hips, and torso wormed after.

Ben dropped through the opening and crouched against the interior wall, waiting for his eyes to adjust.

He was in the Afflicted barracks – a place his friend Tommy had spent much too much time in. But short of passing alert guards, fences, (sometimes) electrified wire, and raiding the central HQ complex itself, this was his best bet for grabbing a sample of the medicine.

Whatever weird experiment the New Republic was doing with z-germ, Dr. Radcliff and White Mesa needed to know.

After Tommy’s mission in the New Republic – and the sorry wreck he’d been upon his return – the security council had ruled further “interference” with the New Republic too risky. But Dr. Radcliff really, really wanted a sample of the Republic’s medicine, Ben and his family had no objections to a covert mission, Ben had gotten a few months’ vacation from the militia (possibly with the help of General Thaxton), and boom – here he was, in the middle of the enemy’s base.

Assessing his surroundings, Ben found himself in a long, narrow room, tables and benches marching down the middle in orderly rows. Perfect for feeding zombies workers, or the guards who baby-sat them.

Ben glided toward a nearby doorway, ears pricked for any sign he’d been noticed. Muttering and clattering came from behind the door. The dice game.

He moved to the other end of the meal room, where a second door opened into a dark hallway. Feeling his way forward, Ben listened some more. Snoring or breathing sounds came from doors on either hand – the zombies.

How like the apartment building where he himself stayed! That had been a cinch to sneak around in, as well.

Halfway down the hall was a door that must be a broom closet of some kind (from the size and position). Pressing his ear to it, Ben could hear no sounds of breathing or shifting in sleep. When he tried the handle, he found it was locked.

Digging in the cargo pocket of his trousers, Ben fished out a long, skinny bit of metal and knelt beside the lock. Mr. Jones had coached him. He closed his eyes to force himself to work by feel. There wasn’t enough light here for his eyes to be any use.

Easy, gentle, twist…click! Ben grinned and tugged at the door, moving slowly to keep the noise down. The door glided open as the whisper of a creak sighed down the hallway.

Ben held his breath, but nothing in the building stirred. Rising, he squeezed himself through the door and blinked around at the new room.

Total darkness filled the internal space. Wishing he had a flashlight from White Mesa, Ben eased the door almost closed and pulled out a legacy lighter that he’d bought from a black marketer at great expense. The expense was because it had several drips of fuel in it still, perhaps scavenged from some abandoned house on the outskirts of the city, or some sealed apartment that had not yet been cracked by raiders.

With a flick of his thumb, light flashed in the room. Fire danced from the end of the lighter, then vanished as Ben let go of the button.

A table stood against the opposite wall. Two steps brought Ben to it. He had seen cabinets underneath it, but he groped on top for a black bag. Holding the lighter in his off hand, he clicked on his light again and poked in the bag, finding several needles, a few damp clothes – and several screw-top glass jars.

Ben grabbed one of these and held it up in his sputtering light. Tommy had described the substance as clear, and this was clear. He didn’t see any other samples of drugs around, and at the very least he could deliver it to a White Mesa scavenge team and come back to the Republic pending further instructions. The militia officers hadn’t sanctioned his mission, but the teams still stopped by at R6 in case he’d left a message or something.

Shoving his light back into his pocket, and securing the vial of drug, Ben slipped back out the door, pausing to lock it again before continuing down the corridor.

The sounds of the night had not changed. The snores and sighs behind the doors in the hallway continued undisturbed. As Ben pulled himself up through the window he’d entered by and slid the plywood back over it, he smiled.

A presence disturbed his senses. His instincts tingling, he whipped around, his back to the wall. A dark shape lunged at him out of the darkness.

Ben blocked, throwing off the attacker’s grab. Having felt roughly where his opponent’s head should be, Ben threw a punch. A loud thump against the pavement assured him he’d connected.

Footsteps surrounded him. Ben abruptly bent over to drop his profile and made a dash down the road toward the fence-line.

He rammed into someone with his shoulder, and someone else grabbed him around the neck. As he was throwing the second person against the wall of the building, the light of lanterns burst around a nearby corner.

Ben staggered and blinked, struggling to focus as dark figures darted around in front of the bright flames. Men – wearing the blue uniforms of the Security – surrounded him, most hefting the unloaded legacy rifles that served them as clubs and symbols of authority.

“You’re under arrest!”

As Ben was just getting his bearings again, one of the Securitymen threw his arms around him, trying to knock him to the ground.

Ben threw him off, only to trip over another guard and fall to his knees. Someone held a lamp up in his face, forcing him to squint and blink. Four or five others pounced on him, forcing him to the ground and dragging his arms behind him to bind his wrists.

“Ow! What gives?” Ben cried. Since force wasn’t an option anymore, he’d go for bluffing.

“Don’t you know you’re breaking curfew?” demanded a guard from above his head.

“I couldn’t sleep.”

“Just what were you doing climbing into that building?”

“What building?”

“That one,” answered a Securityman with a captain’s badge. “That we saw you climbing through the window of.”

“Oh, that.” It was time for the cover story, apparently. Tommy and Dr. Radcliff had made sure it was deep enough to be convincing.

“Well, I guess the patrols around here are heavier than I figured,” he chuckled.

“Actually,” muttered one of the guards, “We got a tip.”

A tip? From whom? And about what?

“Hey,” cried one of the Security as they pulled Ben to his feet. “What’s this?”

He unbuttoned the front pocket on Ben’s jacket and pulled out the glass bottle of drug Ben had collected.

The captain’s glare turned ugly. “We’ll see what you have to say about this,” he growled. “Back to HQ.”

The HQ, eh? The infamous inner compound, where – according to Tommy – the Alderman of Security did his mysterious experiments with ferals. What was waiting for Ben now? And how would he get the vial back?

Ben watched the guard hand it to the captain, who pocketed it. Dr. Radcliff needed that sample to find out exactly what the New Republic was doing with their drone program, and what it meant for the number of ferals in the waste.

With Security surrounding him on all sides, they headed toward the middle of the New Republic, and the main government compound. Ben reviewed in his mind what he was to say – Tommy had helped write the cover explanation, so it must be good.

Besides, even if it didn’t work, White Mesa could come get him, as it had come for Tommy. Mr. Grimthorpe and the security council would have conniptions, but whatever. His one worry was what would happen to the drug sample. He needed that, or his mission would be a waste.

“The Bourne Identity” by Robert Ludlum

"The Bourne Identity" by Robert Ludlum — Kimia Wood — Bourne A man washes up in the Mediterranean Sea, riddled with bullets and more dead than alive. Several months of care on a tiny fishing island restore him to health, but not to himself – he can’t remember who he is.

Once he steps off the island, a world of danger and secrets rears up, threatening to swallow him unless his “gut-instincts” from who he was can keep him alive long enough to figure it out.

Full of shoot-outs, bodies, and secrets peeling back like onion skins, this book is an action-packed read – for the discerning. Continue reading

“Goodbye California” by Alistair MacLean

 Alistair MacLean is known for action-packed, fast-moving, high-stakes mysteries. Goodbye California is no different.

Terrorists have attacked a nuclear power station, stolen truck-loads of nuclear fuel, and kidnapped several nuclear physicist professors and some female secretaries. What is their plan? What do they want?

The husband of one of the kidnapped women is a detective sergeant – a “cop” who can be a terror to those both inside and outside the law. He and his son (CHP) lay down their badges to pursue their own lines of inquiry…all of them racing against the clock once the villain threatens to detonate a nuclear device to create a tidal wave across Los Angeles. Continue reading