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Get Your Hot Summer Read! (Free chapter!)

July 9, 2015

In the unabashed interest of getting even more people to read Dark Fire: Yesterday’s Tears during the summer reading season, I’ve reproduced below the text of the Prologue and first chapter of the book, followed immediately thereafter by a link you may use to read the rest by purchasing the paperback at Amazon.com.

Please enjoy and feel free to send this to all your friends and acquaintances!

 

 

                                                    DARK FIRE: YESTERDAY’S TEARS

By

David Benson

 

Prologue

The odds suggested that there would be a day like this, but they did not give any hint of what the mortar shell would sound like as it screamed toward you or what would go through your mind as it did.

Their unit had been at it for over a year, since her twenty-third birthday, cleaning up after failed missions or taking on the ones that could not be allowed to fail. The kind of missions you could never talk about afterwards and that, if you died performing them, your loved ones would never have the comfort of knowing how much evil you had prevented.

Most of Jane Garrison’s days were not the sort that a former high school valedictorian, cheerleader and Fulbright scholar typically graduated to. But Garrison was not typical, and even compared with the average American soldier who found herself there, her days in Afghanistan were anything but routine.

Hers was officially a non-combat unit, which would explain why women could be part of the team. But it did not explain the M4 carbine that was slung across her chest, or the Glock 19 holstered at her waist. Or, for that matter, their very specialized computer and communications gear or the MK47 grenade launchers carried by several of their number, let alone their DARPA-developed tools, most still in beta, tools that Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency leadership entrusted only to them.

The insignia on her faded camouflage uniform suggested she was a captain, but then again so did the uniforms of each of her comrades. And instead of their actual names, the name patch on each of their jackets simply read Death, written in the abjad farsi lettering understandable to most Afghanis.

Their very specialized orders were developed in a darkened room deep inside the Pentagon and delivered by encrypted e-mail, and the individual assignments were then fleshed out among themselves. No one could recall the last time they had had received a live briefing and an outsider would be challenged to figure out who among them was the team leader. And while Jane was not the youngest of them, she was not far from the oldest.

They rarely interacted with other units but when they did it was only to request support of one kind or another, requests that were never denied. They were likewise seldom asked to explain their role or at whose behest they were acting. When suppositions were made that they might somehow be aligned with Delta Force or the Rangers or Special Operations Command, perhaps even the CIA or a private defense contractor, they neither confirmed nor denied the possibility.

They were all savants of one kind or another and bringing them together had been a stroke of genius not often demonstrated by our military. They had received highly specialized training and their mission planning was unparalleled. The attention to detail was reflected in the team’s unusually high success and low casualty rates. They kept to themselves when not on a mission and traveled to their target zones in two stealth helicopters, the noise suppression aspects of which were much more highly valued than their radar evading capabilities, and their arrival was always a surprise. They were all patriots, of course, but they were committed less to what they were doing than to the manner in which they were doing it.

But despite how strongly the odds might have been stacked in their favor, how thoroughly they parsed the details, how many satellite images they and their handlers in DC studied, there were an enormous number of variables to be accounted for in each of their missions. Every member of the team knew that variables were just that, and that for any given assignment on any given day there was always one or two that could not be anticipated and accounted for, aberrations of some sort.

Such was the case early one morning as Garrison and five of her colleagues crouched outside a small, once brightly colored stucco house with peeling paint and crumbling walls while six more of their brethren entered the house and quietly took the lives of two Taliban government ministers and their security guards. Garrison should have been piloting one of the helos but it had been too long in her view since she had gotten dirty and this seemed like as good a time as any to correct that. So she had traded places with another of their half dozen pilots.

Their first step on any foray was the deployment of highly sophisticated airborne jamming equipment, capable of shutting down all forms of cell and internet services in a target area, while they were still on their approach. But today their quarry had apparently managed to get off some sort of SOS and scant minutes after their arrival a barrage of mortar fire rained down on the dusty front yard where Garrison and her comrades watched and waited while the assassins were still inside.

It was the usual imprecise, scattershot affair, but the bad guys got lucky that morning. As Garrison raced to reach cover, a round exploded directly in front of her and wreaked outrageous violence on her young, fit body.

Please let me die quickly was the last thought that went through her mind as her brethren hauled what they thought was her corpse to the helo and the pain mercifully shut down the agony.

 

Chapter 1

Edan Duff knew that calamity was a possibility, but there were so many things that could go wrong that it hardly paid to contemplate each of them individually. Nothing at all might happen, at least nothing bad, but it was not outside the realm of possibility that the world would end, or worse.

And all for a single nail.

Not even to remove it, actually, but just to hammer away at its awkwardly protruding point until that tiny dagger was flush with the edge of the bathroom door from which it had protruded since the house was built. It was something he could do right now. He already held the hammer in his hand.

Edan looked down at it now.

After the house had been completed the punch list had been long, though not so long as the size of the house and the complexity of its design might lead you to imagine. In any case, much blue tape had been expended, inch-square bit by inch-square bit, delineating the things that needed further attention. Somehow the protruding nail had eluded all the inspections. And Edan had not felt compelled to call the builder back to make it right, or felt the need to take care of it himself, until now.

Besides, Sim liked that nail. He had no idea why and she had never signaled a desire to explain, so he had accepted it and moved on.

But it was the perfect test, or at least a perfect test, and he had considered a great many, since computer modeling was not an option. Hammering in the nail had the advantage of simplicity and its accomplishment would be immediately apparent upon his return. It also provided an excuse to bring along something inanimate other than his clothing, something that would not fit in his pocket, as his phone did. The hammer he now held in his hand. And because the task was so banal, should the world around him vanish as a result of the manner in which he proposed to complete it, there would at least be irony.

On the other hand, there might be no one around to appreciate it.

He had set up the laptop computer and recording equipment, in this case a high resolution camera mounted on the laptop, the previous afternoon. The computer sat open on the marble counter, next to the sink, positioned so that an image of the edge of the door, the errant nail in the center, filled the screen. Edan leaned over, made a few keystrokes, ending the recording session, named the file, saved it, and started a new recording session. Once he had checked that everything was again functioning as it should, he stood upright and took a deep breath.

“All right then,” he said, as he turned his back on the Southern California sunlight that cascaded through the wall of glass bricks that formed one side of the bathroom and marched out.

The walk from master bathroom threshold to laboratory door consumed three full minutes and Edan willed himself to think only of pointless trivia during the journey. It seemed senseless to expend more energy thinking about the potential ramifications now, so close to the brink. The aggregate of thought he had already expended on the possible fallout from the test had not brought him any closer to something resembling an answer. There was no good reason to think that any more would do so now.

Edan’s house was built into a hillside above the Pacific, not far from Monarch Beach, one side facing the pounding ocean and the other side hard against the alluvial matter and heavier sub-soils of the excavated slope. It was through a narrow tunnel bored deep into the hill that he now strode, and as he did the only sounds were the occasional screeches of his rubber soles against polished linoleum. Fluorescent lighting blinked on in segments as he moved through the long, windowless white hallway toward his goal, which was a wide, gray steel door at the very end. To the right of the door was a keypad and there was a final screech as he stopped before it. He entered a five-digit code, then pressed his left index finger against a biometric fingerprint reader and leaned in to bring his left eye close to an iris scanner. After a moment he backed slightly away and entered yet another five-digit code into the keypad. The sound of bolts unlocking echoed down the hallway and Edan pushed the heavy door open and entered his lab.

More lights blinked on. The facility was impressive by almost any standard, tantamount to something you might find in a major corporation’s R&D facilities. In fact, it was an only slightly scaled down version of the facility that Edan’s company had on its corporate campus. But it was really not overly surprising given the wealth and accomplishments of its owner. And it was not merely the size of the lab that impressed. Equally, it was the amount and quality of very specialized equipment that it contained.

The device sat on the floor to the right of the entry door and not far inside it. That was by design, as it would ultimately have to leave the lab. Edan walked up to it and undid the Velcro fasteners that secured a soft, quilted cotton cover that hid the device from nonexistent prying eyes.

Covered, it could have been a large piece of furniture waiting to be carried away by moving men. Uncovered, it resembled an overgrown glass building block more than anything else. An extremely clean glass block that was actually difficult to see from certain angles. If you walked right up to it and stared for long enough you could just make out the slender tubes that suffused the glass. These ran vertically around the entire periphery of the device and continued horizontally across its top. At its bottom they appeared to vanish into the block’s floor, a translucent slab that gave off a soft pink glow. The underside, out of sight, contained an array of balls and rollers not unlike the cargo handling decks that allow pallets and containers to be easily loaded into and moved around inside the belly of commercial aircraft. Hydraulically actuated titanium rods hidden in the corners of the device allowed it to lift itself as much as three feet off the ground. And clear as the glass appeared, it was somehow impossible to see what, if anything, was inside the block.

The device was made primarily of a substance that could accurately be called glass in the sense that it was hard, brittle, non-crystalline and transparent, as the dictionary said it should be. But there the similarities with other types of glass ended. The block stood six feet high, two inches taller than Edan. Its long sides measured six feet, as well, while its shorter ends were four feet wide. There was no perceptible way to tell what it was for or what made it work, if indeed it could be said to work in any manner.

Roughly half of the thick floor was actually an enormously advanced computer, the most particularized ever built, using technologies of Edan’s conception, some of which would slowly make their way into the vanguard and then the mainstream in the years to come, much as other things of his imagining had. The remainder of the floor housed several hundred lithium polymer battery packs and a dozen more lithium metal-to-air batteries to which the makers of electric automobiles and other consumer products might eventually gain access. The glass floor itself was suffused with tens of thousands of nearly microscopic holes through which the computer and batteries could breathe.

Reality suggested that the twenty-odd square feet of floor space inside the device was barely large enough for six people to comfortably occupy, standing upright. But reality, a fleeting concept at best to Edan, who had been described at various times as something of a cross between Stephen Hawking and Steve Jobs, had little to do with the functionality of the glass cube. He had already carried into it two dozen blow-up dolls and myriad Styrofoam and high-density foam cut-outs, along with suitcases and bunches of balloons and had not found it the least bit cramped. The interior space always appeared brightly lit and seemed to expand as more things, or presumably more people, entered, and thus far he had not discovered its capacity. And there was no sense of being trapped in a tight space, nor was there any other discomfort. Edan expected that if he was ever called upon to explain the phenomenon, the listener would make it through less than two minutes before deciding to forego the rest and simply suspend disbelief.

Getting inside required a comparable mindset. There was a narrow open slat that ran from floor to ceiling at one of the long ends of the cube that, if you got close enough to see it, appeared to be about eight inches wide. But when someone tried to walk through it he simply did and found himself standing inside the glass cube. Objects of any size and shape passed through just as easily. The first time he had entered the device, Edan turned sideways as he approached the slat, but he confirmed soon enough that presenting a narrower profile had no impact on the slat’s function.

Once inside there was still no perceptible way to tell what the device was for or what made it work. There were no obvious buttons, dials or other controls anywhere inside, although a small, unlabeled circle was etched about five feet up one of the narrower vertical surfaces of its interior, not far from the entrance. When it was touched, a holographic QWERTY keyboard appeared on the surface nearby.

Computer modeling had been useful for certain things, though. It had shown the glass block to be as strong as if it was entirely solid, but its weight was considerably lower than you would expect, again for extremely technical reasons that would challenge even Edan’s ability to explain them rationally. And while it had taken two years and the better part of a billion dollars to design and construct, its cost was essentially meaningless. It was arguably the most valuable manmade object ever built.

After a moment’s hesitation, Edan, dressed in beige chinos and a dark blue golf shirt that had his company logo stitched into the left breast, his iPhone and wallet in his pockets and the hammer in his hand, stepped through the slat and into the device. He put the hammer down on the floor and reached out to touch the etched circle. The keyboard appeared, he entered a series of letters and numbers and the device came to life.

As a final thought about the possibility of calamity crossed his mind, Edan took a deep breath and pressed Enter.

 

C – Copyright 2015 Bruised Peach Productions and David Benson

*   *   *   *   *

Amazon.com link to paperback:  http://www.amazon.com/Dark-Fire-Yesterdays-David-Benson/dp/0988581566/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1436467754&sr=1-1&keywords=dark+fire%3A+yesterday%27s+tears+benson

 

 

 

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