Walls

You know, I didn’t understand when my parents insisted I watch (on our black & white tube TV) the first sledgehammer blows to the Berlin Wall(You know, I still remember what the guy looked like as he struck the blow??)

They felt it was so important. I was… 13? 14? Somewhere around there. It was a live broadcast, so it must have been on the 13th of June, 1990. Or maybe in 89? I can’t find a video record of it just now, but the images are clear to me. (Aspie memories are excellent. I rather wish they weren’t sometimes.)

If you’ve read through my blog, you’ll know I didn’t have an easy childhood. So, for both of my parents to come together at that point meant something. I paid attention. My mom, then, had been verging on being a non-functional alcoholic for a while. A long while.

Dad was just himself, cool, distant, unreachable. He’s a Vietnam vet btw. Not that it seems to matter. A whole… what do they call it, police action?? Was fought in the name of putting down fascism?

I understand now. I mean, aside from the whole oh-my-fucking-gods-it doesn’t-make-SENSE concept of the angry cheeto’s wall idea….

I get it.

On a level I didn’t then.

No walls. Never walls. It completely rejects the very basis of the ideal that was America. (‘Cause it sure as hell isn’t that anymore.) Do you know that America has now been rated as a flawed democracy?

I know it’s not the worst part, but… it’s a personal part that I’ll never understand. Both of those same people? Who insisted we three kids sit down and watch the first blow? Who talked to us about freedom? My parents? Voted for the angry orange.

I remember being made to watch this video, too.

 

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Some thoughts…

Narrated version here

So, this article is making its way around writer twitter.

I have thoughts about it.

Politics on your author website

I disagree with everything in me. I don’t want people who hold the diametric opposite of my beliefs reading my words. If my belief that diversity is a strength, that inclusivity is beautiful and that love is love drive people away from my writing? Good. My words aren’t for them. In this world, I’m political just by drawing breath, my brand IS me, and what people are buying when they buy my books is ME. My experience, my passion for my beliefs, if it drives agents away? Fine, I wouldn’t be able to work with them anyway. My readers love my words, and that’s who the story is for. Them, and me.

If people can’t see past their own prejudices enough to enjoy the story as I’ve written it, then that’s their loss, not mine. If people can’t accept that authors are people with their own opinions and thoughts and gasp, political leanings as well, also their loss.

I don’t want to be a successful author badly enough to sacrifice who I am.

I’m not sure anyone should want that, it’s part of what makes bad stories. Lack of passion and willingness to commit to learning.

YMMV.

What did I do THIS time?

So, yeah… I tweeted about it here…

but I just don’t get what I did. I know we weren’t ‘friends’, not really. We don’t even live on the same continent.

But… they sent me their book to review (lots of people do, I review and blog… so I get requests a lot) and I’m actually reading the book now (I have 5 I’m reading… I read insanely fast) and… we’ve been interacting, on an almost daily basis for a few months now.

So what did I do, within the past 7 days, that made you drop me (unfollow) from twitter?

I know I’m probably weird that these things bother me so much. Think of it like a puzzle piece (I cringe at using that analogy, but it’s fitting) I do not understand social interaction in the gut-deep way most neurotypical people do. I never have.

I had to have someone tell me how to make appropriate eye contact and I had to learn how to do it by habit. Even as a grown woman, I’m still incredibly uncomfy with meeting anyone’s eyes.

I had to learn through trial and error when my listeners are about to turn into glassy-eyed dead fish impersonators because I’m boring them to death with the level of knowledge on any one of a number of topics running around in my head.

Social interaction, to me, is this huge tapestry of tiny stitches, each successful interaction I have is a smoothly placed satin-stitch, each failed one is a badly knotted tangle of UGH.

I don’t like the knotted ones, so I try to figure out how not to do that (whatever the ‘that’ is) again.

I’ve gotten better at it over the years, and yes, on twitter it’s very easy to assume a lot about what another is thinking/feeling/saying. It’s a limited platform.

For the average unfollow I don’t worry about it (odds on that I won’t even notice) and half of the people I don’t recognize their names. I don’t auto-follow back, it’s all about interaction for me. If I’m interested in getting to ‘know’ you, I’ll follow, or I’ll follow someone who is interacting with me… it’s pretty simple (in my head anyway).

It’s sort of the ebb and flow of the tide of twitter, so to speak. I get a lot of follows/unfollows each week. Most don’t bother me.

I admit, this week I was a little surprised at how quickly the numbers dropped after I critiqued the use of pain in CARVE THE MARK. I ‘lost’ something like 30+ followers on the day I dared to critique the author’s interview and the blurbs I saw other people post from the book itself.

I guess I’m not allowed to critique a big name author?

Look. I don’t care who you are or how big your ego is. If I see you doing something harmful, I’m going to call you on it. I hope to hell someone calls me on it if *I* do something harmful.

Do I like being called out? Hell no, it sucks (especially for an aspie) but I’d MUCH rather get a public call out and harsh education lesson than I would EVER hurt someone else unintentionally.

Yet… when that particular name popped up as an unfollow, it hurt. I just don’t get what I did, this time. So that knotted stitch will remain knotted, and I won’t learn how to not do whatever knotted it in the first place.

Which means I’ll do it again, all unwittingly, and unless/until someone actually tells me what I’ve done… I’ll never know.

Let me tell you, that not knowing? It’s absolute hell for an aspie, or maybe just this aspie?

Logic is holy to me, and people are innately illogical. I guess that’s my only take away. Fuck it, it’s three am here and I’m going to go to bed instead of reading this person’s book.

 

 

 

Review: MIRANDA AND CALIBAN by Jacqueline Carey

*I received a free digital ARC copy from Netgalley in return for an honest review.
Dark, Young Adult, Historical Fantasy
Available Feb 14th, 2017
Available for pre-order now.
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Description
__________
I grinned like a maniac when my request to review this book was approved because it’s been on my must-read list since I first heard about it. I’m a die hard lover of Shakespeare and of Ms. Carey’s work, so to be able to read for review a retelling of The Tempest by one of my all time favorite authors made my day.
I stayed up ’til 4 am reading it, dropped my tablet on my face three times before finally admitting I couldn’t finish in one sitting.
Ms. Carey’s deep, lyrical style captures the relationship between young Miranda, her magus father, and the wild-boy Caliban. With elements of Tarzan, Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid, the tale is intricate. Ms. Carey’s signature style of prose makes itself known and transports the reader to another world. A darker one where kids grow up under the aegis of power and vengeance.
In places, as the children learn one another, the story is joyful, in places it’s fearful and as they age into teens, in a time when a daughter’s duty is-by God’s will-her only righteous path… heartbreaking.
As usual with Ms. Carey’s books, I didn’t want the story to end.
When it did, my heart remained so sad. This isn’t a happily ever after type of tale, but it is beautiful, rich, dark and oh so very real.
I do hope there is more of Miranda & Caliban’s story to come. There would be room for it, in how the tale comes to a close… and I’m western enough that a sad–ending leaves me wanting.
Dare I say it? I’m thinking it… Miranda & Caliban could come to stand alongside some of my favorite tragic romances if the story continues. Considering that most of those romantic couples and moresomes are written by Ms. Carey herself, that’s not too huge of a shock. Lol, though nothing will ever top Phedre and Joscelin from Kushiel’s Legacy… these two could come close. If you like Shakespeare, Jacqueline Carey’s writing, dark fantasy with realistic twists… hie thee hence and pre-order the book.
Mild spoiler in the form of a trigger warning.
I do have some concern in that the word savage is used in regards to a dark haired, darker skinned individual, and I would have been much happier if Caliban had been blond and blue eyed with that terminology used for him. On a scale of heeby-jeebies caused by the use of the word, mine are low because there aren’t any stereotypical cultural references. He’s referred to as savage and wild-boy, which he is, in the Tarzan/Julie of the wolves sense. I can’t judge it perfectly as being stereotypical or not. I may not be experienced enough to do so, but I’d be derelict in providing an honest review if I didn’t mention that the use of that word for Caliban did give me pause.
Scores:

Readability: 5/5 stars: Readability… lol, tablet dropping on face at 4 am level of OMG I have to finish it.

Arcs: 4/5 stars: It’s harder for me to judge this one, meaning it’s getting a bit lower score. If it’s JUST this tale, and no other, if we never find out what happens after the end, the ARCs are truncated. If there is more of the story to come, as I’m dearly praying there will be, then it’s just the beginning of the series. The characters did grow from childhood to adolescence, they learned the basics of who they are and what they will do, and not do, so in that sense, the ARCs are complete enough. It’s the romantic ARC which is truncated, or maybe I’m just not happy with that part of it. (I’m a die hard romantic, I like a HEA.)

Writing Craft: 5/5 stars: My editor brain slept through the book except for two sentences which used filter words (feel… when to describe what the character was feeling would’ve been stronger). It wasn’t enough to drag me out of the story even a little.

Would I buy it for a friend?

I’d buy it for a friend who loves JC, or dark YA fantasy or dark fantasy in general.

Buy the Book!

Amazon

 

Blog Tour: SOME KIND OF MAGIC

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*I received an ARC of SOME KIND OF MAGIC in return for an honest review.

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And to be honest, I squeaked like a happy kid when my review request was approved. Seriously, through the greatness of my writer friends on writer-twitter, I’ve heard about this book for months and wanted, desperately to read it.

I’m so glad I did!

In this sparkling debut novel, Mary Ann Marlowe introduces a hapless scientist who’s swept off her feet by a rock star—but is it love or just a chemical reaction?…

Biochemist Eden Sinclair has no idea that the scent she spritzed on herself before leaving the lab is designed to enhance pheromones. Or that the cute, grungy-looking guy she meets at a gig that evening is Adam Copeland. As in the Adam Copeland international rock god and object of lust for a million women. Make that a million and one. By the time she learns the truth, she s already spent the (amazing, incredible) night in his bed

Suddenly Eden, who’s more accustomed to being set up on disastrous dates by her mom, is going out with a gorgeous celebrity who loves how down-to-earth and honest she is. But for once, Eden isn’t being honest. She can’t bear to reveal that this overpowering attraction could be nothing more than seduction by science. And the only way to know how Adam truly feels is to ditch the perfume—and risk being ditched in turn

Smart, witty, and sexy, Some Kind of Magic is an irresistibly engaging look at modern relationships why we fall, how we connect, and the courage it takes to trust in something as mysterious and unpredictable as love.

Now, you all know that I AM a scientist, in real life I’m a forensic chemist/bioanthropologist, so I was a little leery that the science wouldn’t stand up, but it didn’t make me cringe once. Yay!

The writing is crisp and clean and the sex steamy enough to keep even ME happy. You can read more of my review on my review page with my scores, but here is the meat of it.

REVIEW of SOME KIND OF MAGIC

A retelling of Love Potion No9? Sign me up!

On top of one of my favorite movies of ever being retold in prose, with a few twists, I deeply enjoyed the well-rounded, fleshed-out and very real characters of this book.

It’s hard, sometimes, as an author, to do that. It takes a lot of work behind the scenes that the reader never sees and I’m thrilled that Ms. Marlowe did it because it made me adore her characters.

I’m not a sucker for ‘rock star romance’ I mean it’s not really my thing because I don’t have a fantasy of sleeping with my favorite rock star (lol, not even Levine, who I find soooo sexy) but I loved the MC Adam in this book, his trials and issues made him well rounded and believable. I am a scientist, and the FMC Eden was represented quite well in all aspects of that, including her list of things for a mate! (hah, so true to form there, at least for me). The way she thinks makes her a highly empathetic character for me.

Ms. Marlowe’s voice leaps up off the page and grabs you by the throat, refusing to let you go until you finish the book and the sex… oh my… I don’t make any bones about loving graphic, open door sex scenes that melt my panties, and my desires (ahem) were met perfectly in this book. The sex didn’t fall into the trap of being gratuitous either, there was enough story to carry it.

The story is smart (yay for smart writing!) and well written, with few editorial issues and the pace is page turning. It even had a satisfying emotional feel to it, which not every book can do for me.

Did I forget to mention it’s funny, too? It is. One-liners, sly jokes and laugh-out-loud humor kept me smiling throughout. I needed that laughter today, and for that reason alone the book would have garnered five stars. The REST is just as good though. Highly worth reading.

I look forward to reading anything else Ms. Marlowe writes.

You can pre-order a copy of SOME KIND OF MAGIC

Review page can be found here:

REVIEW of SOME KIND OF MAGIC (the review is the same as the above, only difference on that page is the scoring)

 

Pain and Carve the Mark

Narrated version here.

Past couple of days have been pretty high pain days for me. Weather can really affect my pain levels, and the temperature has gone from snow, to icy freezing rain to almost spring-like temperatures accompanied by rain, and back down to cold enough to freeze, in the matter of hours or the course of a day.

I hurt.

I don’t use prescription pain meds, so that means I tend to have to lay on the couch or in bed when I’m not being mom and play minecraft or read or watch movies a lot. Sounds fun, hunh? It’s not. I’d much rather be out running, or going to the gym, or playing with my kids or cleaning my house (thank goodness I did that last week, cause I can’t move without a ton of pain right now) or doing ANYTHING except coping with this pain. Fibromyalgia pain has been likened to stage 4 cancer pain, and having given unmedicated birth twice, I can guarantee fibro pain on flare days is worse than unmedicated childbirth.

It’s nigh impossible to edit or write when I’m in this much pain, I can do it, but it takes more strength than I like to admit to stick to regular activities. It’s kinda hard to see when you need to wipe tears away just to look at your screen.

So, to read this interview Veronica Roth’s Carve the Mark during a high pain episode, and know, deep in my soul that because of her past success SO many people will buy and read that book, and form an opinion similar to Roth’s own because of her words, that chronic pain can, perhaps, be a gift… (even the interviewer made that conclusion).

Dear Gods.

I am really close to speechless with this, to be honest. It’s so evident that this book isn’t own voices, and while I will not ever say every issue should only be written by own voices folks, I do say, repeatedly, authors need to do their due diligence. They need to research and ask questions and more importantly LISTEN to the answer.

My heart aches at the massive misunderstanding of chronic pain this interview shows. The book can only show the same. It’s not a gift, it’s never a gift, and I don’t know of a single person with chronic pain that would ever wish it on another person (most of the time).

This is inspiration porn in the worst sort of way. I dread thinking of what the kids with chronic pain reading this book are going to take away from it.

…and when I’m being honest, which I do try to be, it burns me that this person who has such a backasswards view of chronic pain, who obviously didn’t do her research not only has a book deal that poorly represents something I live with every second of every day, she has a following who are going to go out and buy the book in droves, when I can’t get a book deal. There will likely be a movie deal down the road for this tragedy as well.

Yeah, that.

No. I won’t read the book, I don’t need to to know the representation is terrible. I won’t go twitter drag that author either, even though a small part of me would like to. I’ve spoken my piece and shared my educated opinion on it. That’s got to be enough because I won’t be a bully.

I’m going to go write my own works that feature ownvoices chronic pain sufferers, and I will go listen to my sources about issues that don’t touch me deeply, so that I can do MY due diligence and get it right. I will also buy, read and review a few own voices CP stories.

It’s all I can do, small fish that I am. Big fish like Roth… damn. Just know that her view of chronic pain is wrong. So, so wrong.

I have a Patreon, if you want to help support someone who actually does suffer from chronic pain, and who does have characters with chronic pain or ASD in my stories.

You know, instead of going out and buying Roth’s book. I don’t even want to read the divergent series now, just because of this.

Shout out to an amazing person, my friend, Erin Jeffreys Hodges who I respect so much.

HOOKED ON TROUBLE by Kelly Siskind

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This is a great read. Which I’ve come to expect from Kelly Siskind. I’m sad to finish the series, but oh, what a finish it was.

HOOKED ON TROUBLE by Kelly Siskind (January 10, 2017; Forever Yours eBook; $3.99; Over the Top Book 3)

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Reality bites.  Hard.

The last time Raven did “real” was sixteen months ago, when she spent one unforgettable night with the tattooed, impossible sexy Nico, and then he disappeared the next day.  Since then, she’s kept her guard up and her feelings to herself.  She doesn’t have time for relationship drama when she’s busy searching for her long lost sister.

Nico hasn’t stopped thinking about Raven—her sultry curves, inked skin, or the fact that he ditched her after their night together.  Now that they’re living in the same city, he knows this is his chance to make things right.  What better way to prove to Raven he’s for real than helping her find her sister?  But when the lines between right and wrong start to blur, putting his job on the line, Nico has to decide if the risk is worth the ultimate reward.

Buy the Book!

Amazon: http://amzn.to/2h5Q0CS

Barnes & Noble: http://bit.ly/2hCb5Ft

Kobo: http://bit.ly/2h5HDqY

iBooks: http://apple.co/2hpQoz6

Google: http://bit.ly/2hpVXgO

About the Author:

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A small-town girl at heart, Kelly Siskind moved from the city to open a cheese shop with her husband in Northern Ontario, Canada.  When she’s not neck deep in cheese or out hiking, you can find her, notepad in hand, scribbling down one of the many plot bunnies bouncing around in her head.

She laughs at her own jokes and has been known to eat her feelings—Gummy Bears heal all.  She’s also an incurable romantic, devouring romance novels into the wee hours of the morning.

Social Media Links:

www.kellysiskind.com

www.facebook.com/authorkellysiskind

Add Hooked on Trouble to your shelf on Goodreads: http://bit.ly/2hLwMWX

Giveaway

Enter to win 1 of 15 free ebook downloads of Hooked on Trouble!

http://bit.ly/2gP3I0w

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HOOKED ON TROUBLE BY KELLY SISKIND

Excerpt (300-500 words)

His large hand presses against my knee under the table. “Can we talk?”

Jesus, his touch. It’s the first time I’ve felt the weight of his palm on me since Aspen. It’s heavy. Huge. Callused. Instinctually I shift forward, my body no longer mine to command. He doesn’t move his hand. Just his thumb. It presses harder, dragging downward. I grip my armrests to keep from sliding to the floor. He stares at me, waiting for my answer.

Yes. No. Maybe. I choose silence.

The way our lives are entrenched with our friends, I’ll have to spend time with him, and I can’t keep pretending I can block him out. Moving here was about starting fresh, which means letting go of this grudge. But talking about Aspen could stir up more feelings, the same way the experience spurred my need to find Rose. If we talk about our time in the hot tub, it could unhinge me further.

Our waiter arrives to take our order, and Nico’s thumb moves again, a tiny brush, his skin against mine, sending a pulse between my thighs. My sanity plummets. I shout, “Chicken,” like a lunatic as I push away from the table.

Nico’s hand slides from my knee, but his eyes don’t waver. I feel his gaze on my back as I hurry to the bathroom. The second I get inside, I close the door and lean against it, thankful it’s not a public room with several stalls. I take a few deep breaths.

How can that bit of contact turn me inside out? The smallest touch?

Memories of his other touches flip through my mind, snippets of skin and ink, flashes of ecstasy.

My back arching.

His fingers exploring.

The curve of his inked shoulder.

His huge hands.

The sheer size of him.

We might not have had sex, and the details may be fuzzy, but there’s no doubt it was the hottest night I’ve ever had. What isn’t fuzzy is the time I spent with him in the hot tub prior, and how he took advantage of my vulnerability.

Goddamn Nico. And Goddamn Aspen.

———-

MY review can be found here on this site, or at Goodreads or Amazon.

Cover Reveal! Project Emergence by Jamie Zakian

 
Today Jamie Zakian and Month9Books are
revealing the cover and first chapter for PROJECT EMERGENCE which releases March
14, 2017! Check out the gorgeous cover and enter to be one of the first readers
to receive a eGalley!!
 
A quick note from the author:
 
I’ve always dreamed of
writing an epic sci-fi thriller. I knew I wanted it to involve a group of teens
leaving a dead Earth to start new lives on a terra formed Mars, but I didn’t
have any ideas on how to make the plot exciting. Then, a song I never heard before
played on my Pandora app. Escape by Rogue. As that song blasted through my
headphones, the entire story that is Project Emergence streamed through my mind
like a movie trailer. So, I went straight to work. It took months of frantic
writing, almost a year of editing, and a mini rewrite, but that moment of
inspiration became my first YA novel.
 
Project Emergence is a
fast-paced thrill ride across the stars. It shows the extent people will go to
uphold their beliefs, and that love can overcome any evil.
 

On to the reveal! 





 
Title: PROJECT
EMERGENCE
Author: Jamie Zakian
Pub. Date: March 14, 2017
Publisher: Month9Books
Format: Paperback, eBook
Pages: 292
Find it: Goodreads
|
Amazon | B&N | TBD
 
An ancient Hopi myth says people arrived
on tiny silver pods that fell from the sky.
 
But the truth is far more terrifying.
 
Two-hundred fifty-eight teens are sent
from a dying Earth to a terraformed Mars as part of the Emergence Program,
mankind’s last hope before solar flares finish off their planet and species.
Among the brave pioneers are sixteen-year-old Joey Westen and her twin brother,
Jesse.
 
After only minutes in space, something
triggers a total ship lock down.
 
With the help of their roommates, the
Matsuda twins (notorious hackers and shady secret-keepers), Joey and Jesse
stumble onto an extremist plot to sabotage the Emergence Program.
 


But Joey and Jesse didn’t travel to the
deepest pits of space and leave their mother behind to be picked off in a
high-tech tin can. They’ll lie, hack, and even kill to survive the voyage and
make it to Mars.


Excerpt


Chapter OneJoey squirmed in the seat of a large, airtight van as it sped along an empty road. A cloud of red sand kicked up outside her window, and the van’s tires hummed against cracked pavement. Solar flares had done a fine job of destroying this once beautiful planet. She never got to see Earth in its glory days, as she had been born into a scorched world, but could almost picture the way it used to be.

In her imagination, the reddish tint that covered the parched countryside outside her window transformed to crisp green meadows. The piles of stone and metal reconstructed to form the buildings they once were, reaching for a sky that was blue instead of crimson.

Her daydream ended when the nose of a spaceship peeked above maroon-crested hills. That massive shuttle was waiting to carry two hundred and fifty-eight lucky lottery winners off this dying planet, and she was one of them.

“Whoa,” Joey said, her breath fogging the glass. A light crinkle drew her stare to the paper in her now tight grip. She loosened her stiff fingers, smoothing a crease from the official seal of the Unified Nations of Earth.

…The letter in her hand still mesmerized her. Selected … Terraformed Mars … New home … Those words knocked the bottom from her stomach every time she read them. Things were getting way too real. No more tiny lead-lined home, school at the kitchen table, Mom. She turned to Jesse, her brother’s smirk brighter than an X1 flare.

“You’re a crappy twin. I’m freaking out right now; you should be too.”

Jesse rolled his stare her way. “Fraternal twins don’t work like that.”

“That’s not true.” She read the letter again, making sure both their names were listed for the umpteenth time.

“I can’t believe this is happening.” Jesse grew tense. A frown swept his lips for just a moment before his perma-smile returned. “No one from G-Sector ever goes anywhere.”

“Did you see the look on Mom’s face when we left?”

“I know. Buzzkill.”

“What’s she gonna do without us?” Joey asked in a near whisper.

“Finally be able to feed herself.” Jesse snickered.

She shook her head, folding the letter. “Maybe she’ll win the next lottery and meet up with us on Mars.”

“Yeah, I don’t think so.”

“Why not?”

Jesse leaned close, keeping his voice low. “Didn’t you hear what that kid behind us was saying?”

“No. What?”

“He said the lottery’s rigged.” Jesse eyed the soldier stationed at the front of the van, then the other two at the rear. “That everyone is selected for a specific purpose.”

“But that would mean the U.N.E. is lying to everyone,” Joey said, a bit too loud. Jesse’s eyes opened wide, and she shrugged.

“You’re gonna get us booted from this ride before we even launch.”

“Whatever,” she muttered. “It’s a stupid idea anyway ‘cause look, we’re here. What do we have to offer? All you can do is fix stuff, and me … well, I’m just good at being cute.” She batted her eyes, flaunting a sly smile.

“Yeah you’re right. That’s real flippin cute.” Jesse slanted toward the aisle, glancing around the cab. “There aren’t any adults on this van.”

“There’s the soldier guys.”

“Geez, dummy. I mean the passengers.”

Joey pinched her brother, who wriggled away. “Dummy,” she mimicked. With a failed attempt to appear casual, she popped her head up and scanned the seats. Sparkly clothes and bright makeup captured her stare. “They look like A-Sectors.” She didn’t mean to gawk at the people seated around her, but she’d never seen such lavish clothes, such flawless skin.

“Please remain seated while the vehicle’s in motion,” a soldier thundered.

Jesse grabbed Joey’s arm and pulled her down into the seat. “Smooth, sister. Real smooth.”

She shrank back, deploying her trusty get-out-of-messes frowny smile on her brother. “Oops. In trouble already. Figures.”

Grumbles erupted from Jesse’s lips, and she turned back to the dusty earth outside her window. Crazy how one day and a trip to the mailbox could change her entire life. Yesterday, she was painting a mural of Mars on their bedroom wall. Today, she was going to Mars.

The parched countryside vanished behind a tunnel wall. She sagged in her seat. For sixteen years, she clung to Jesse. Every time dust storms pelted their windowless metal house, she curled under his arm. Mom worked late, so Joey’s hand became glued to his. And now, when she actually needed the comfort of his touch, her brain decided it was time to man up. Her eyes narrowed. She zeroed in on his cozy-looking hand, her fingers drumming a steady beat on her leg.

***

Sabrina poked her head around a corner. Her fingers tightened around the rifle’s grip as she peered down a dim corridor. Shadows danced along the concrete wall, and she backed up, pressing her comms button. “Stone to dispatch. Come in, dispatch.”

Static crackled in her ear, a garbled voice cutting in and out.

“Dispatch, do you read? Where the hell is my backup?”

This time, only the fizz of dead air replied.

“Damn underground bright-out dens,” Sabrina mumbled.

These missions twisted her gut every time. There were very few people left alive on Earth. Many couldn’t afford specially designed homes or the rising cost of oxygen, and it didn’t sit right to bust folks just for trying to survive the scorching sun. But she was Captain Sabrina Stone of the Unified Nations of Earth, a high ranking officer in the sector that controlled every aspect of the entire planet, and she had a duty to protect what was left of that planet. Neither a heavy conscience nor lack of backup would hinder that.

Sabrina held her weapon close, skulking down the stone passage. Two men strolled around the bend, then stopped short, and she popped off two rounds. No sound emitted from the gun’s muzzle, just a flash that lit the graffiti-stained walls in white.

The men slumped to the ground. Tiny darts protruded from their chests, and pamphlets spilled from their limp hands.

“Earth-heads,” she muttered, glimpsing anti-Mars propaganda. The bang of a metal door slamming shut echoed from the dark tunnel on her left, so she headed toward it.

Men and woman dropped as Sabrina skated through shadows, firing her gun. Their tranquilized bodies slapped concrete, a trail to a solid door at the end of the long hallway. She reached into her vest and extracted a small explosive charge. Just as the magnet clinked to the steel slab, a voice flowed through her earpiece.

“Captain Stone, we’ve breeched the airlock. En route to your position.”

“Bout time,” she said beneath her breath. Her thumb glided over the button of the wireless detonator, and spikes of fear burrowed into her gut. U.N.E protocol, and the whirl in her stomach, said to wait for backup. Pride, however, was a persistent little sucker, one that set loose a torrent of electric shocks in her veins. She scurried back, covered her head, and pressed the detonation button.

An explosion rocked her chest, slamming her against the wall. Hunks of concrete crashed down, and the door slammed atop the rubble. Sabrina swung her rifle dead ahead. Adrenaline perked her lips into a smile as she charged through wisps of smoke, firing upon everybody that lunged her way.

“This is a raid of the U.N.E. Get down on the ground.”

Soldiers flooded the doorway behind her, and she bit back her grin. A woman needed an iron-clad stare amid this troop of grunts. “Took you guys long enough.” She turned, stumbling back as the five-stars of a general gleamed in her eyes. “Sir,” she roared, standing up straight.

“Captain Stone, I need you to come with me.”

Sabrina glanced around, as much as one could without moving a single muscle in their neck. Her men cleared the room as the general’s elite soldiers crowded around her.

“Am I in trouble, sir?”

“Quite the contrary, Captain. You’ve been selected for an important mission. You’re going to Mars, Soldier.”

***

Joey grabbed her brother’s hand the instant he climbed off the van’s step. People shuffled all around the wide-open room, probably watching her act like a baby, but she couldn’t let go. Fear stole her will. It could have been the towering room of glass walls and silver beams that encompassed her, the barrage of strange faces, or the fact that she’d never see her mother again, but gloom tainted this moment. Holding her brother’s hand quelled a fraction of her inner-turmoil, so she planned to keep doing it despite her sissy appearance.

A soft voice streamed from a kiosk of video screens, repeating the Space Center’s famed slogan.

Three days on the state-of-the-art R23 shuttle, strolling through green grass, swimming in cool oceans.

Everything she memorized from the letter in her backpack.

“Look, there’s check-in,” Jesse said, tugging her from the display of white sandy beaches.

She inched through the crowd, close to his side. They filed into a rowdy line, her palm sweating against his skin.

“The Westen twins, I presume,” a high-pitched voice echoed from behind them.

In one swift move, Joey shook free from Jesse’s grasp and whirled around. An ultra-posh Asian girl leered down, and Joey stood tall. Her eyes wandered to the near identical boy at her side, bearing the same long jet-black hair. Another set of twins.

“How did you know our name?” Jesse asked. Joey nudged his arm, pulling his gaze from the low cut of the girl’s sparkly shirt.

“We know the names of all the twins on this ship,” she said, her hand hoisting to her hip.

“First and last,” the boy added.

Joey stifled a chuckle. Twins who finished each other’s sentences; this trip was going to be stellar. The line shuffled forward, and the small group edged up a few paces.

“How many twins are on this flight?” Jesse asked, glancing between the pair.

“Fourteen, including us,” she replied.

“Well, fourteen sets,” the boy corrected, turning to his sister.

“That actually makes twenty-eight twins.”

“But twins is plural, so it would be fourteen,” she argued, a hint of red flaring her cheeks.

“Yeah, but, you knew who we were,” Joey said. “We didn’t even know there were other twins here. Is there, like, a manual we didn’t get or something?”

The girl laughed, slapping her brother’s chest. A stealthy glare clouded her delicate features as she leaned close to Joey. “We hacked the database.”

“We hack everything,” the boy whispered.

“Cool,” Joey said through a smile, glancing at Jesse.

“So you must be Jesse,” the girl said, staring at Joey, “Short for Jessica, right?”

“Ah, no,” Joey said. “I’m Joey. Short for Josephine, which I hate so … just Joey.”

“I’m Jesse, which … isn’t short for anything.” Jesse shoved his hands into his pockets, lowering his gaze.

“Ahem. The line is moving,” a redheaded girl groaned.

They all crept forward again, and then Jesse spun back around. “So are we supposed to hack to find out your names?”

The girl giggled, and Joey rolled her eyes. Her stare landed on the boy’s annoyed face. Once their gaze connected, his frown lifted to a grin.

“Kami Matsuda.” A rainbow of colors reflected off the girl’s clothes as she slinked in front of Jesse, looking up into his eyes. “That’s Rai,” she said, nodding to her brother but keeping her deep gaze on Jesse.

Jesse gulped. His hands began to tremble, and it became painfully obvious at how fast his breath flowed.

“Next in line.”

“That’s us,” Joey said. She all but ripped Jesse from Kami’s leer. “We’ll catch up with ya.” It took quite a massive tug, but she finally got Jesse moving toward the registration table. “Now who’s smooth, dorkus,” she whispered.

***

“Let me get this straight, Mr. Winslow,” Sabrina said, only able to mask a fraction of the edge in her tone. “You want me to be a glorified babysitter for a bunch of teens in space?” She walked across the large office of the Space Center, toward Director Winslow’s desk. Her boots sank into lush carpet as she strolled past stone statues, one of which lost its arm somewhere along the way. Such extravagance. If it were liquidated and spread out, every sector could afford a giant dome to protect its people from radioactive air instead of just the A-Sectors. She tore her gaze from art-adorned walls, catching an impatient glare from the man behind a glossy wooden desk.

“The situation on our hands goes far beyond babysitting, Captain Stone. We’re under attack. The commander of the U.N.E. herself assured me you were the best of the best.”

“Commander Sun said that? Huh.” She stepped closer to the desk. The man before her strained to appear confident, but she glimpsed the beads of sweat that trickled between his dark wrinkled skin and white hair.

“You’ve got my attention,” she said, cupping her hands behind her back.

“Of course you understand every word spoken within this room stays within this room.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Ever since the inception of the Emergence program, a group of fanatics have targeted us. Are you familiar with the Earthisum Movement, Captain Stone?”

“Yes, sir. I took out an underground lair of them this morning. They seem to be, for the most part, harmless.”

“Perhaps on the outside.” He pulled a brown folder from his drawer and placed it on his desk. “Have a look.”

Sabrina flipped through the file. When she read a handwritten letter, which appeared to be scrawled in blood, her fingers actually shook.

“The threats made in that manifesto were not empty.”

Her head snapped up, and she gawked at the old man before regaining her composure. “Are you saying the Earth-heads blew up your first flight to Mars?”

His finely manicured fingers massaged his forehead, a ghostly shade of white claiming his cheeks. “Yes. After only hours in space.” He lowered his stare. “The second and third flights as well.”

“What?”

“Those maniacs sabotage every spacebus we launch. None have successfully made the voyage to Mars.”

“How could you hide this from the public? They think people are living, flourishing over there. You need to put a hold on this program. Now. I’ll need at least a week to investigate.”

He shook his head, and Sabrina slammed her hands on the desk. “That file says there are two hundred and fifty-eight children walking onto that shuttle as we speak, Mr. Winslow. Two hundred and fifty-eight lives you’re putting at risk.”

“If we stop the program, they’ve won. No! The survival of the human race is too important. This mission has to succeed, Captain Stone.”

“But why now with kids? If what you’re telling me is true, Mars is empty. There are no doctors, scientists, or security of any kind in place. They’ll eat each other alive out there.”

“It has to be them.” He rose from his seat, smoothed a crease on his pinstriped lapel, and strolled to the window. “Those young adults were born in the year of the massive solar flare.” While gazing out the lightly tinted glass, he motioned for Sabrina to join him.

“I don’t see why that matters.” As she approached, the doublewide spacecraft stole her focus. She allowed her stare to wander along the gleam of curved metal and sharp points of thin wings before she shifted her gaze to the man beside her.

“They’re genetically predisposed to elevated radiation. I handpicked each one of them—for their instincts, spark, and their odds of producing healthy offspring.”

“Look, I get that. But if you just postpone a few weeks I can—”

“Earth only has a few weeks left, Captain Stone.” His voice quavered. He cleared his throat, lifting his chin high. “The sun is set to flare in, approximately, ten days. The space program predicts its intensity will surpass our classification scale. Everything left above the surface will be eradicated. Not even the UV dome of A-Sector can deflect these waves.”

Sabrina gasped. She began to stagger back, but Winslow grabbed her arm.

“Captain Stone, Sabrina. Look at those children.”

Her legs wobbled for the first time in her memory, but she crept forward. People hurried along a glass-encased walkway, far below, like tiny ants marching into a trap.

“That’s the future of mankind walking onto that spacebus. If they don’t make it to Mars, our species will cease to exist. You have to get them to that planet safely. You’re the last hope of humanity, Captain Stone.”


 
Jamie Zakian is a full-time writer who
consumes the written word as equally as oxygen. Living in South Jersey with her
husband and rowdy family, she enjoys farming, archery, and blazing new trails
on her 4wd quad, when not writing of course. She aspires to one day write at
least one novel in every genre of fiction.


 
 
 
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