Tag Archives: sci fi

District 21 Part One

Commission: Grid by KM33 on DeviantArt

Read all of the episodes of Kain’s story here.

It was always raining in this District. They claimed it was to balance the amount it didn’t rain in other places, but if they really had a lock on weather control, would that be an issue?

On balance, the only thing that the rain adversely effected in Kain’s life was zir underwear was never fully dry. That could make a being really pissy. Ze walked the Districts, doing the jobs no other being wanted to do. In effect, the pissiness helped zir do zir job. This time ze was here to put a hit on someone. It wasn’t personal. It was just business.

Ze pulled out zir mass driver and checked the safety. The small projectile weapon would put a massive hole in any being’s head. It was a mercy, really. One being’s overkill was another being’s conscientiousness. Ze tucked the mass driver in zir coat and stopped on the corner. Once ze had line of sight on where the target was supposed to be, ze pulled out the ancient vape inhaler and keyed its warmup sequence. Soon, Kain was breathing out plumes of smoke that smelled and tasted like an approximation of cooked meat. It was all synth, and was a wretched habit, but ze needed an occasional reminder of why this work needed to be done. Two more jobs like this and ze could afford an actual piece of farmed meat. It would be vat grown, but it wasn’t like cows were a real thing.

A flash of red and the target was visible. Their rain coat was the color of arterial human blood.

Ze brought out the mass driver and paid close attention to the readout. Distance of twenty meters. Adjust for the rain, drop, and drift. Ze was just about to close the relay and send this being to the void when Kain saw the face.

The being looked female, honest to void, pre-hyper war female. The lips were full and almost as red as the slicker. Wide blue eyes and black hair were so vivid it could have been from a holo. It was hard to tell if the water on her face was rain or tears.

Kain’s eyes roved down her body and saw the suggestion of breasts under the coat. With an adjustment of the scope, ze was able to confirm from heat signatures and hi-res computer tomography that she had all of the internal and external organs expected from a pure female. Ze couldn’t pull the trigger on a creature so rare. Once the mass driver was powered down and safe, ze broke out into the pouring rain. Following her was the only option for now.

Once ze was able to find out where she was staying, ze would talk with the being ze contracted with. One thing Kain hated most was being lied to. Even if the lie was a sin of omission.

Review – Brothers Jetstream: Leviathan by Zig Zag Claybourne (Review)

leviathan Every once in a while, I’ll see a tweet or a Facebook post talking about a new author. Usually, I don’t pay too much mind to those. Much of it depends on the source and the rest on how much social media fatigue I’m feeling. One such day in May, my good friend Dave Robison recommended this fellow named Zig Zag Claybourne. Well, I don’t care how tired I am, I follow very nearly anyone Dave recommends. I’m glad I did. Because I read this book.

ADVENTURE… just got 35% cooler. Milo Jetstream. Ramses Jetstream. Coming to save the world one last damn time against the False Prophet Buford in the battle to save the Earth, preserve the soul, and make sure folks get home in one piece…

Secret cabals. Fae folk in Walmart. And the whale that was poured into the oceans when the world first cooled from creation.

Adventure doesn’t need a new name. It needs a vacation.

The Goods – Do you like Buckaroo Banzai? If you don’t, and it isn’t out of ignorance, then you can stop reading here. If you do, let me say that without question (because I both picked up on it and confirmed with Double Z), this book was inspired by it and if you do, then again you might just stop reading here and skip down to the BUY ME links. If you’re still reading then you want more info.

The adventure and weirdness starts from the first few pages and rarely lets up. This book and everything in it are absurdly, ridiculously fun. That’s not everyone’s cup of tea. I get that. But angels who love sexy times, a group of stalwarts called the Battle Ready Bastards, sentient whales, vampires (who secretly run Hollywood), and Atlantidieans are begging you to read this. The universe he’s created are full of creatures and mythology that he has made his own and it is HUGE.

One of the things that I’m going to put in both The Goods and The Bads is this – you feel like you’ve been dropped into the middle of the most interesting, odd, and action packed series that you’ve run across. This is very much like The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension. There is no prequel. There is a promised sequel. There is no primer. You have to figure out some things as the book motors along. Other things may well leave you scratching your head. In this sense, it also reminds me a little like Hitchhikers Guide.

The characters in this book are clever and interesting and as varied as you could possibly ask for. I love the rich soup of people that Double Z has created here. I end up caring more about some of the side characters than I do about the titular brothers, if for no other reason than they never felt like they were in danger. As forces of nature, who do have a human side, they were more iconic than the rest. Still, I loved them. The wit and banter between them made me laugh many, MANY times.

The Bads – If you haven’t gotten it by now, I love this book. Now, that’s not to say it doesn’t have flaws. As I mentioned, you are dropped in the middle of things, and Double Z doesn’t spell things out (very often). For me this is a good thing. It distracted only once or twice, but I kept going. Some people are not going to dig this.

There are a LOT of characters and a crap ton of stuff is going on. This leads to things getting muddy as hell in the third act. I kept going and the waters cleared and I was rewarded for my efforts. For the muddiness of the water I’m only dinging this a half star, because it remains so fun all the way through. It was that fun and adventure that kept the bog from being a slog.

Really that’s it. This book is a big hit with me. There is another book coming out. I don’t know when, but I will be keeping my peepers pealed.

I give this story four and a half out of five krakens.

Author’s Site

Bond of Love (VSS)

This story was inspired by a photo taken from a collection of stock photos. Click here to see them.

IMG_1917Jurgen and Hans knew that they would receive a lot of scorn for their decision. They had been lovers for a dozen years and from the moment they first met they knew they would be inseparable. It was only a matter of time before they made that more than figurative. Finding a doctor was the hardest part. When they met Dr. Milton thanks to a referral from a friend they were hopeful. They sat in his office wearing the sweater Hans had knitted especially for their post operative life.

“So, how has your test period gone so far?”

Hans answered. “We have gotten more than a few strange looks and no small amount of negative comments.”

Jurgen picked up where he left off. “But that was to be expected. The first transexuals had to go through unimaginable pain and scorn. It will be no different for us.”

Milton nodded. “That is why I wanted you to live as near as you could to your eventual conjoined state. Are you quarters ready?”

“We have worked out all of the bugs well before we met you, doctor.”

“We are ready.”

“Good.” Milton checked his notes. “I have you scheduled for surgery the first of the month. I want you to continue wearing the band that holds you together until then.”

“I can’t help but wonder why you’re so willing to help us.” Jurgen touched Hans’ chest. “We’ve talked about it and I just have to ask. Won’t this cost you your medical license?”

Milton stood, folded his hands behind his back, and walked to the full length window. Stars twinkled in the blackness. Only an inch separated him from the vacuum of space. “There is certainly potential for that to happen. It is a risk I am willing to take. When I took a cyborg as my wife, people looked down on us. They questioned my humanity. There were death threats. We faced it all together. I don’t expect people to understand my choices or agree with them, but if all parties are well adjusted and mature individuals who are we to judge?” He turned from the window and faced the couple. “I want to thank you for trusting me to do this. Recovery will be painful and there will be hurdles that you can’t imagine. I believe that based on your psych profiles and the counseling you’ve gone through that you can come through it all okay. Otherwise I wouldn’t have agreed to this.”

The men stood. “Thank you for your faith in us.” The took his outstretched hand in each of theirs and shook. “We will see you in a few weeks.”

Review – Space Casey Season Two (Podcast)

space-casey Space Casey Season Two is an audio comedy/space opera and is the sequel (as the title implies) of Space Casey. This isn’t an audio book, rather it’s a full voice cast audio production and was written by the inestimable Christiana Ellis.

Synopsis: n this follow-up to the award-winning comedy-science-fiction-audio-drama: “Space Casey”, Casey the intergalactic con-artist continues her thrilling tale of adventure, fraud, and time travel!

Ed. Note – This is not the best synopsis. Let me try.

Space Casey Season Two is the tale, told by Casey in her own defense on the witness stand, of the galaxy’s best con-artist who has stolen a time machine and in the process breaks nearly every rule of time travel three times.

Production:  The sound quality, music, and sound effects are very solid. Some of the manipulation used to make alien voices can be a little grating, but those voices are rare.

Grade: A-

Cast: If you’re a fan of podcasting you will here a LOT of familiar voices. Outside of Casey herself, voiced by Christiana, my favorite was probably Nathan Lowell as Benjamin Franklin or possibly Billy Flynn as the Defense Attorney. They all did stand up jobs.

Grade: A+

Story: This story deals a lot with time travel and you don’t get a much more untrustworthy narrator than Casey. If there are any holes in it the author has asked us as the audience to point them out. I was far too busy laughing to really worry about that.

Grade: A

Verdict: There aren’t many podcasts I’ve given A’s across the board. You need to listen to this and if you haven’t you need to listen to the first one.

Grade: A

Podcast Link
Christiana’s Site

Review – Anti-Bio (Ebook)

antibio Jake Bible puts out a book and I buy and review it. That’s pretty much how this game works. Considering he’s putting out a book a month this year I’ll have a lot of reading to do.

They have failed.
All that’s left are the Strains- bacteria so strong they have brought the world to its knees.
But humanity has fought on, carving out pockets of civilization in a wasteland known as the Sicklands, creating the super high-tech Clean Nation cities.
And from the cities GenSOF has been born- Genetic Special Forces Operations. An elite military branch of the government that enlists men and women with specific genetic anomalies that allow them to be hosts to bacteria that even the Strains cannot defeat. Under the watchful eye of Control, GenSOF protects the Clean Nation cities from the ever encroaching Strains and the diseased inhabitants of the Sicklands.
But now Control has other plans for GenSOF, and possibly the Clean Nation cities themselves, and it is up to the operators of GenSOF Zebra Squad, and their cloned Canine Units known as bug hounds, to find out what those plans are.
Or die trying.

As I said in the intro, Jake’s putting out a bunch of books this year. On the one hand, as a fan and as a writer, I was worried that given the ramped up production schedule the quality would suffer. On the other hand I was all “WOOHOO! MORE BOOKS!!”. Well it turns out *DRAMATIC PAUSE* I needn’t have worried. Jake is returning to fertile ground that he knows well; a blighted no man’s land, a post apocalypse, and para-military ass kickers. The good thing is, to me, this doesn’t feel like more of the same.

The Goods – The characters in this book are deeper than some of the ones in past books. I can see that Jake is spending a lot more time with his characters and thinking through them. He’s created deep characters in the past, but in this book there’s more of them. Fewer two-dimensional characters is a good thing, most definitely. The plot is also very enjoyable. There’s a lot that the main characters don’t know and just when they think they’ve figured something out the world gets a little more screwed up. They have help along the way, but even this help isn’t always reliable or available. The whole thing moves along briskly and when I saw that it was almost three hundred pages I was a bit surprised.

The Bads – I first few chapters of this book were awesome. Then it hit a few dead spots for me as they trundled through the Sicklands. Things got… weird. Even by Jake Bible’s standards. This may not be a problem for anyone else but me, but when the tone of the book changed, about the time they met the GenWrecks, it stumbled. It didn’t fall, but it took a few chapters for me to get back into the swing of things. When the group got to its destination the whole book picked right back up again. There are also a few typos that the copy editor missed. I’m seeing more and more of these pop up and not just in the Indie books I read. There’s not a lot of bad to be found here. I had to look.

Overall – This was a fun read. I like the “land mines” he laid for book two. He says this looks to be a two to three book series. If he takes his time I could see it going four. The concepts, especially the bug hounds and how he handles AIs, are a lot of fun, and I’d be interested to see more of what life in the Clean Cities is like for the general population. Hopefully we’ll get a little more of that.

I give this book four out of five Cooties.

Jake’s Site
Jake’s Twitter
Available at Amazon

God Loves, Man Kills (Guest Post)

I hope you enjoy Winston Crutchfield’s guest post and will check out his Kickstarter!


The “X-Men” franchise has a long history of social commentary, using mutants as a blanket stand-in for groups historically or presently suffering persecution. Perhaps the strongest and most consistent social commentary addressed the Holocaust perpetrated upon the Jewish population of Nazi Germany and Nazi occupied nations, a theme that has persisted throughout the life of the title. In the 1960s, Stan Lee included stories about prejudice and racism as a response to the equal rights movement of the time. The popularity of the franchise flagged, waiting until Chris Claremont and John Byrne took the reins in the 1970s to really take off. Claremont and Byrne routinely addressed issues of intolerance and hypocrisy, eventually culminating in a story I consider to be the magnum opus of the series: “God Loves, Man Kills.”

Resisting the urge to delve into a literary breakdown of the story, I’ll say only that my reading of the story and the characters reveals the ultimate motivation of the antagonists to spring not from hatred or fear but from selfishness and pride. That in fact hatred and fear are themselves the products of both selfishness and pride. Claremont uses the speculative fiction format to address in a poignant way the results of these cardinal sins and the contrast between selfish and selfless actions. In Claremont’s story, it is not the origin of the people that determine their status as hero or villain, but the actions which they undertake.

I am a mutant. I was born different. The Bible tells me so. “Even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will.” (Ephesians 1:4-5) Paul’s instruction in the letters to the Thessalonian church explains that we are not privileged to know the roster of salvation but must identify people based on their actions, that actions both determine and reveal one’s character.

In Claremont’s story, the lines between human and mutant are seldom clear. The leader of the anti-mutant agenda has a mutant son. A prominent anti-mutant senator is himself a mutant. Some people who are possibly not mutants are certainly innocent victims. Some of the mutants act in ways that cast them as the villains. Some of the humans are clearly in the right to hate and fear mutants. Actions on both sides are divisive and extreme; no one seems to be clearly in the right without ambiguity. If this story used existing racial or other subdivisions, it would swiftly result in heated opinions and accusations of intolerance, hatred, and self-superiority. But these are mutants, so everything’s okay. Right?

Stories like this are important because they give us an emotional buffer between our own situation and a clear assessment of the same. My status as a mutant does not automatically entitle me to special consideration or treatment. If I am shunned because I am a mutant, I have no right to insist that others accept me over their own objections. I must choose between peaceably coexisting with my neighbors and demanding that they accommodate my mutant status. I must remember that sometimes hate and fear are based on an entirely understandable reaction to the harmful actions of other mutants. And I must remember that in the end, they only way people will know I am a mutant is through my actions.

What kind of mutant do my actions reveal me to be? What do yours? Are we to be hated and feared? If so, our mutations will reveal themselves in a character given to abuse, hatred, deceit, greed, dissipation, selfishness, and hubris. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11) If these are the marks of my mutation, I have good cause to question my character. What then is my recourse? Do these things reveal my character? Can I change my character by changing my actions? Scripture emphatically affirms that this is so, and gives clear instruction on behavioral principles.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” (Galations 5:22-23)

Winston Crutchfield’s blog and podcast may be found at Critical Press Media, where he attempts to maintain a balance between geekery and scholarship. His project “Opposing Forces: a tactical manual and bestiary of foes for Fate Core” is currently funding on Kickstarter.



Review: Script Kiddie (Assured Destruction #2) by Michael F. Stewart

I reviewed and thoroughly enjoyed the first Assured Destruction e-book and reviewed it here. Since it was only $.96, buying the dequel was a no brainer.

Jan Rose no longer steals data from the old computers she recycles. She doesn’t need to. As the newest member of the police department’s High Tech Crime Unit, the laptop of a murderer has landed on her desk. Her job: to profile and expose a killer.

But that’s not all.

A creep lurks in the shadows, stalking a friend, and Jan must stop him before the hunt turns deadly. The clock counts down for Jan to save her friend, her job, her boyfriend–maybe even her life.

I have found a YA character that I can really geek out about. Michel has created several interesting characters in this world, but as it should be, the main one is the star. She makes stupid mistakes and the kinds of assumptions that aren’t limited to the teen set. When that happens, the author doesn’t go easy on her. Still Janus has a good heart and you want to root for her as she tries to do the right thing.

There are a few plot threads that form the main thrust of the plot and then there are the struggles that carried over from the previous book. The shop owned by Janus’ mom is in deep water and sinking fast. Janus’ mom has severe health issues and Janus still doesn’t trust her mom’s boyfriend. On top of all that, she can’t seem to make her boss, her principle, or her boyfriend happy. Michael does a great job of keeping all of these threads woven into a tight tapestry.

Michael also uses his book to introduce us to the world of hacking. You don’t have to have a technical background to enjoy the story and you’ll probably learn a thing or two. While my hacker friends might (or might not) find fault with those aspects of the story, I don’t. Any shortcuts he takes serve to move the story along.

I want to go back to Janus. I admire that he’s created an imperfect and thus realistic YA character. There might by the temptation to make the protagonist of your YA story a model citizen. Given the tremendous pressures she’s under, Janus makes the aforementioned mistakes. She lies, cheats, and steals. She does it all for reasons that she thinks is good, but he doesn’t let her off the hook. This gives her lots of opportunities for growth and development. I look forward to the next story to see how he continues to put the screws to her and and to find out what Janus will do under pressure.

I give this story five out of five gray hats.

Michael’s Site
Michael’s Twitter
Amazon Kindle Link

Fiction – One Night At The Last Call

This is a bit of short fiction I wrote for a contest on Wattpad.

Iowa is a place, it turns out. Or at least it was before the bombs fell from the sky during the Last Great War (a war that was neither the last, nor particularly great, and may not have in fact been a war per se). I could see where it used to be from my window high above the Big Blue Marble. Well, to be honest, it’s the place scholars think it was. Large chunks of the North American continent no longer exist. I closed the history book (not a book and I called the quality of history in question) and looked back out at the expanse below. “People never learn from their mistakes.”

“Pardon?” Annabelle asked the question from her station behind the bar. She looked like a lovely girl, from the waist up. From there down, she was a mass of wheels, gears, and circuitry.

I looked at the AI bartender. “Just pontificating on the history of mankind, such as it is. Unlike ‘bots and ‘droids, we stink at learning from what has come before. That’s the reason why this place needs a bouncer.” As the self-described bouncer, or as we were known on most Alliance space stations Sentient Attitude Readjustment Officers, it was my job to make sure no one caused a ruckus in The Last Call. It was the last bar in orbit around my planet of origin. As such it was really the last bar “on” Earth, so long as you allowed the word “on” to include near Earth orbit. It inter-galactic terms it was close enough for horseshoes and hyperbombs.

She smiled. “Well we won’t need you much longer.”

“True enough. What’s the countdown til station implosion?” In spite of Saint Kane’s Fourth Rule, one of the many rules that scrolled around the bar’s walls, there was such a thing as a last call in this ironically named bar.

She displayed the timer across her voluptuous, bare breasts. “Ten minutes, thirty-five seconds, and some change. You’d best be on your way soon, Jonesy”

I sighed. She was right. There wasn’t much left for me to do. Only one sentient still drank, a Conjoined Marriage Unit only counted as one person for tax and IQ purposes, and they weren’t even arguing with each other.

“I may stay here.”

“Why on Earth would you do that Jonesy?” Annabelle cocked her pretty little head. I could almost hear the gears work from where I stood.

“I’m not sure there’s much to do for an old man like me.” I scratched at my graying beard. “Did you know I’ll be two hundred and four next month?”
Continue reading Fiction – One Night At The Last Call

Review – Assured Destruction by Michael F. Stewart (E-book)

I love social media. It’s a great way to meet new authors and discover their works. Every once in a while I’ll see a “free book” re-tweet from a friend and it’s about an author I don’t know. I’ll almost always click and usually I’ll grab it. Will I always read it? Eventually I’ll give it a shot. Sometimes I’ve even glad I did.

You can learn a lot about someone looking through their hard drive …

Sixteen-year-old Jan Rose knows that nothing is ever truly deleted. At least, not from the hard drives she scours to create the online identities she calls the Shadownet.

Hobby? Art form? Sad, pathetic plea to garner friendship, even virtually? Sure, Jan is guilty on all counts. Maybe she’s even addicted to it. It’s an exploration. Everyone has something to hide. The Shadownet’s hard drives are Jan’s secrets. They’re stolen from her family’s computer recycling business Assured Destruction. If the police found out, Jan’s family would lose its livelihood.

When the real people behind Shadownet’s hard drives endure vicious cyber attacks, Jan realizes she is responsible. She doesn’t know who is targeting these people or why, but as her life collapses Jan must use all her tech savvy to bring the perpetrators to justice before she becomes the next victim.

This young adult science fiction novel was a great read. I’m a big fan of Cory Doctorow and this reminded me a lot of Little Brother. The protagonist is a smart and sensitive kid who gets in over her head fast, just as Cory’s protagonist did. In this case Jan doesn’t end up going to prison, but things get dire for her fast. It’s written in first person and the pages fly by. First person doesn’t work for everyone, but I like the intimacy it can deliver. Jan’s a character I can identify with. I knew kids like her growing up and I know some adult versions of her. Having a strong, and yet far from perfect, lead is vitally important in fiction in general, more so when you make the first person POV choice.

The other things I enjoyed about this book were all of the issues it raised about cyber-security and the need for it whatever your age might be. I geek for a living and the technical details Michael includes are spot on, but he includes them in a way that won’t go over the head of most teens. This is the world most of them live in. We put our trust in companies of all shapes and sizes, giving them every bit of data they need to sink us. Many of us, myself included, put our lives online for hundreds of people to see. As an adult, I hope I do it responsibly. As a teen, I know I wouldn’t have and many today don’t. I hope this makes the readers think about it and have some fruitful discussions with their parents. The whole book is very timely.

The plot and pacing are very tight. This is a thriller and Michael keeps raising the stakes and making things tough on Jan, her family, and her friends. There are also elements of a mystery. He kept me guessing all the way through, though a more scrupulous reading may have told me what was going to happen. Regardless, this book did what mystery thrillers need to do.

Finally, let me make an appeal. I would love to see this as a graphic novel. If there are any artists reading this, give it a look and contact Michael. 😉

I give this story five thumb drives out of five.

Michael’s Site
Michael’s Twitter
Amazon Kindle Link
Amazon Paperback Link

Fiction – Running From Death: Part Two

For whatever reason, be it the slightly bemused look on his face or the fact that he’d been nicer than many she met on the road, she took his statement in a non-threatening way. “Fair enough. Do we hang out here for a while longer, or do we hit the road?”

He patted his gun and pockets. “I seem to have everything a traveler needs to wander these wretched hollows. I’m game for leaving now.”

She nodded sharply. “Me too. The clock is ticking.”

He walked to the door and waited.

She undid the booby trap and as she did, noticed he drew his gun. She had time for a brief moment of panic, when she remembered having the gun out before entering the street was good practice.

He went out first, swept his gaze left and right and then motioned for her to come out. He spoke in hushed tones. “I’m going to take us through some spaces most people wouldn’t easily fit into. Don’t panic if things get tight. It’s easier to travel where they can’t go.” The moved into the darkness after he doused his headlamp.

Her eyes adjusted to the outside gloom. The inside of the Starbucks hadn’t been any brighter until Leon had activated his lamp. Now she had to stumble a bit until her pupils opened up. She tried not to make any undue noise. Silence was an area Leon excelled at. She thought for a moment she’d lost him, but once she got her bearings she saw that he waited for her in a pool of shadow further up the alley they were in.

True to his word, they went through places where she almost couldn’t make it. She was hardly big. The post-apocalypse diet had been kind to her figure and she wasn’t overly tall. She still struggled to contort herself through gaps. Travelling light helped as there was nothing much to get snagged. The walked for what seemed like days. In reality it was only a few hours before the sun began to make itself known. Instead of only being able to see a few feet ahead, she could now see yards away. She marveled at the great vision Leon must have had to guide them in near complete dark.

For the first time in a dozen hours she felt somewhat safe. They might still run into pockets of the stumblers, but if they stayed outside that would be unlikely. She motioned to Leon. “I need a water break.”

He smiled at her. “Good idea.” They both fished out plastic bottles and drank. He offered her something wrapped in plastic. It was a granola bar. The rectangle was nearly as hard as a brick, but she broke off a piece and put it in her mouth. She let the sweetness dissolve on her tongue and couldn’t help letting out a little moan of pleasure. After far too few minutes spent on what no sane person would call breakfast, they continued on.

Morning light came on strong. The sky above the city was a reddish haze. Shards of blue broke through, instilling a sense of hope. She didn’t know the last time she’d seen a clear and completely blue sky. They were getting better as time went on. Pollution was slowly making its way out of the air and to the ground. “How much farther?” She was beginning to wish for the nap she didn’t get to take.

“Only about another hour or so.” The sound of sliding rock in the near distance put them both on alert. He drew his gun and squatted.

She pulled her knife and held her breath. Just because the usual danger wasn’t present didn’t mean there weren’t things to be afraid of.

When the noise failed to repeat itself, the pair continued on. “What did you do, before?” She felt safe enough to speak in a louder voice, but still kept it just above a whisper.

“This and that. I was mostly a teacher, Adult Education. You?”

She thought about him standing in front of a classroom, maybe on a cardboard box, and stifled a laugh. “I was a waitress for a long time. Then I decided to go back to school. I was going to get my nursing degree. I wanted to really give something back to society.”

“I guess your skills have been useful?”

“Oh yeah.” She smiled, thinking about how she’d helped the people in her group. “I didn’t finish the program before it all went to hell, but I got through most of it. I’ve got plenty of useful knowledge tucked away. That’s part of the reason I want to find the cure. Some people said it would be better if I just died and that there was no cure. I’ve got two people I was teaching my skills to. I want to get back to them and finish what I started.” She saw the ghost of a frown on his face. “What’s wrong? You know something, don’t you?”

He tucked his thumbs into his belt loops and avoided her glance. “I know a lot of things. Some of them are about C-9 and some aren’t.” He looked up at her, but only for a heartbeat. “I know the cure might not work for you.”

“Hell I know that.”

He smiled at her honesty. “Good. The percentage is probably a lot lower than even you know. I heard it only works in about ten percent of cases. The other ninety either die of the disease anyway, or die from the attempted cure. The things that are remaking you have a sort of fatal cascade they undergo and that screws up your whole system.”

“You know an awful lot more than I heard. You’re military, aren’t you?”

“Was and am.”

She drew her knife and pointed it at him. “What do you want with me?”

“Will you put the knife away? If I wanted to kill you you’d be dead. I want to see if this cure works for you. And I maybe want to see if I can help.”

“How would you help? Isn’t it just an injection?”

He nodded. “But those little machines in you? And the ones that will search and kill them? I can talk to them.”

“How? I never heard anything like that.”

He stared at her. “Look in my eyes.”

She hesitated for a moment and could swear his irises flashed silver. “Did I just see that? Are you a cyborg?”

“You did and I’m more android than cyborg. Most of me is machine. They made my type during the last days of the war. They mostly wanted something harder to kill than the infected people. Turns out we might also be able to help folks.”

“How much of the government is left?”

He shook his head. “Very little and nothing centralized. I and the others like me are scattered around the country. We look for people like you, who are at the right stage, and who would be useful to a new society. Then we offer to try and help them.”

“You’re selective? That’s cruel.” She gripped her knife’s hilt tightly.

“Not as such. If you’re too far gone then there’s a risk of damaging my programming. It’s a risk no matter what and there are only a few of us. It’s just making the best use of a limited resource.”

“Am I at the right stage?”

“You meet all of the criteria. I didn’t lie to you about getting you to a cure. We do need to hurry though.”