Moonrise CH41 – To Forbidden Passengers

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[1150 words | Prompts: TerribleMinds, #3WW, Sunday Scribblings 2, The Writing Reader]

Joaquin jumped down from his pallet spy tower. He rubbed his knuckles against his eyes and willed the bleeding white stars away, an after effect from the super power he’d witnessed in secret. With the world now returned to its colors, objects took healthier shapes, outlines and details became solid, Joaquin found his way back to the red door with crimson light seeping into the night. He rapped the signal against the decaying dented surface. Rust flaked off of it where his fist landed urgently.

After a palm-sweating moment a man’s face appeared through the opening of the door swung ajar. His face was pinched, and his eyes narrowed. Joaquin made sure he was first to speak spitting his thoughts out fast.

“Do you have room for one more bruh?”

The man in the door chewed on his bottom lip sizing up Joaquin. He saw crusted blood over Joaquin’s brow, torn clothes and bullet holes without matching wounds. Joaquin was a circus attraction, a sight to behold, but a deep plea in his eyes still watery from the impossibly fast transition from light to no light spoke a powerful enough tale to the man guarding the door. He stepped aside and let Joaquin enter.

Joaquin felt the man grab him above the elbow and lead him through the pitch black. It was like walking blindfolded and no matter how much he blinked Joaquin couldn’t detect any shapes. He followed the directions blindly, allowing the man to steer him by the elbow. A lit barrel emerged instantly from nothingness. Glowing embers faded as they launched on fragrant wisps of smoke. The scene reminded Joaquin of some space sci-fi movie. That’s how he felt too, stepping into seemingly thin air approaching a circle of light supported by nothing, surrounded by nothing. It just floated there ominously. But he heard – proof of a solid plane under his feet and of reality. There were people and sounds that they made that were too audible for his ears. Did the oppressing darkness heighten other senses? Joaquin would never know.

The people in a circle around the barrel emerged from nothingness; they were all quiet waiting for Joaquin to enter the halo of light and reveal his face. A woman in her mid-thirties stood up first from her red plastic chair. “We won’t turn you back now that you’re here but-” she paused and met each of her companions’ eyes, “how did you find this place?”

Joaquin took in the sight of them. They appeared to be ordinary people. Even his former guard was behind him toying with the keys on his belt. It was such a common thing to do. The one playing with his keys was the short one; the tall man had his hands in his pockets but his eyes were dark and sharp like the knife tattooed on his left cheek. The woman had the look of a kindly kindergarten teacher as she nervously pushed her glasses back up her nose. A pimply teenager somewhat younger than Joaquin kicked his backpack further under the red plastic chair and stared at Joaquin with wide eyes.

Completely ignoring the woman’s question, Joaquin’s laugh echoed off the tall roof of the warehouse. “You guys have powers!”

The quartet looked at each other.

“Are you fuckin’ retarded esé? Isn’t that why you’re here?” The tall man with the knife tattoo chuckled rubbing the back of his head.
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The Last American Hero, by Nicole Field

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In the aftermath of the accident that revealed his identity, famous superhero Captain Hart has gone missing. His best friend Bruce waits anxiously for any sign of him, any clue as to where Leo Hart might have gone—even though he knows full well he’s not the only one looking, and that it might be best for Leo to stay gone. Then Leo returns, and Bruce starts to wonder whether it will be the good thing he expected it to be.

 

I saw The Last American Hero on NetGalley, and I liked Nicole Field’s The Shock of Survival, so I figured I’d check this one out. I wasn’t disappointed. More than one review has compared this story to April Daniel’s Dreadnought, and I’d go one step further and liken the two stories to being cousins. They both have trans protagonists. I’ve been trying to diversify my reading in the past year or so, and it’s so wonderful to read these touching stories that I may not have been exposed to otherwise.

The Last American Hero is just a good story. It provides us a small glimpse into the life of a trans person and allows us to empathize. We also see thoughts and opinions on the nature of being heroic, and how perception can deify or demonize those that are different. Most of all, though, we get a fun story about what happens after a superhero thwarts an alien invasion.

Like, The Shock of Survival, Nicole tells the story we all want to hear after the villain is vanquished. For every story that you’ve finished, and wondered, “what happens next?” Nicole starts at that point, and we see what we’ve often wondered. The Last American Hero is a fun, fast read, and easily 4+ stars. And just so Nicole knows, #TeamCap.

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Nicole writes across the spectrum of sexuality and gender identity. She lives in Melbourne with one of her partners, two cats, a whole lot of books and a bottomless cup of tea. Also likes tea, crochet and Gilmore Girls.

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Extracted, by RR Haywood

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In 2061, a young scientist invents a time machine to fix a tragedy in his past. But his good intentions turn catastrophic when an early test reveals something unexpected: the end of the world. A desperate plan is formed. Recruit three heroes, ordinary humans capable of extraordinary things, and change the future. Safa Patel is an elite police officer, on duty when Downing Street comes under terrorist attack. As armed men storm through the breach, she dispatches them all. ‘Mad’ Harry Madden is a legend of the Second World War. Not only did he complete an impossible mission—to plant charges on a heavily defended submarine base—but he also escaped with his life. Ben Ryder is just an insurance investigator. But as a young man he witnessed a gang assaulting a woman and her child. He went to their rescue, and killed all five. Can these three heroes, extracted from their timelines at the point of death, save the world?

Who doesn’t like a time-travel science fiction book? The trope of grabbing a person or thing just before they die has been has been done before (Freejack, Time Salvager), but it was still a fun read. One of the characters had a mental breakdown and it just lasted too long. It made the middle of the book slow down. The book doesn’t need to be 400 pages, and a little bit of judicious editing in the middle would tune up the story. The characters seemed to be a cliché of expectations… We have the femme fatale, the commando, and the average bloke with a mysterious past who can do just about anything.

As a science fiction fan, I can excuse a lot of tired tropes. I’ve read better sci-fi books in the past, and I’ve read worse ones. I’m sure I’ll read better and worse in the future. I look forward to reading the sequel, and I’d rate Extracted just shy of four stars because it’s better than 3.5, but not quite a four-star read.

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RR Haywood was born in Birmingham, England but has spent most of his life living on the beautiful south coast. He has had a passion for reading for as long as he can remember. One of his favourite genres is Post-Apocalyptic fiction and he has worked his way through every book he could find. Some were great and some not so great and what he wanted was a minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day detailed exploration of what would happen. This desire to explore the world after such an event gave birth to The Undead, which is now the UK’s bestselling zombie horror series, compared to The Walking Dead and many other great works. This underground smash-hit series draws readers from all walks of life with compelling characters, incredible descriptions and breath taking action sequences that have had readers gripping their kindles, laughing out loud and crying real tears.

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Moonrise CH40 – All Flags Fall

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[1234 words – prompts: Inspiration Monday, Terribleminds, #3WW, The Writing Reader, Sunday Scribblings 2]

Betty left the dimly lit corridor and went back through the bland looking door leading to Andy’s secret hospital room. The nurse busied herself with his painkillers and soaked bandages, replacing them with clean ones. He was half drifting to sleep; half-awake asking questions about the fire, about someone named Anne, about Joaquin, but mostly about himself. All questions Betty couldn’t answer. She was given scarce information in the heat of the moment, rushed to the hospital in the dead of night to keep new secrets away from people who desperately wanted to know them. But she was given enough to know something was amiss with the Jensen case, with Major Globe. Massey’s warning had been brief and hurried – she couldn’t trust anyone right now. The world was turning upside down, friends became foes and vice versa.

Betty shivered in her thin jacket; the weight of her service weapon pulled her down. She looked to Andy near motionless in his drug-induced haze. He’d got hurt on account of supers but he was still eager to help. Was it some shared insanity driving everyone to do crazy shit and risk their lives? Or was it a duty of care that they couldn’t turn away from? Did they just crave adrenalin?

“You know it’s funny how the world suddenly depends on a street thug, a sociopathic woman, a crazy old detective and a small time hacker,” Andy croaked from his bed. Betty sat on the edge of his bed. “You’d think that among all these people with powers there would be someone, anyone who would, I don’t know, put a cape on and fight crime and corruption. You know, the cliché. Instead, people are proving that prick right.” He tried to look at her but Betty knew his mind was muddied, thoughts ricocheting madly, pain and helplessness and adrenaline jolting his mind awake when it should be asleep, resting. Andy was committed to his emotion exchange, so she listened.

“Once you let fear in it’s pretty much over. I mean I’ve seen the bad and the ugly on the supers side and I’ve seen them on this side, our side. Am I making sense? The pills are kicking in mighty fast. Officer, can you imagine genocide based on something unsubstantial? So many lies were told but people buy them. It’s so easy once you let fear in. These days I guess it’s only common. But we’ll get an uprising. Do you think we’ll pull it off? Save the city? The world?”

Andy’s voice was hoarse now fading away as he was lulled to an unconscious sleep by the morphine that the nurse was injecting. But he did make sense. He summarized the ludicrousness of the situation. A situation that Betty now invested in the outcome.

She rested her hand on his bare arm. “I don’t know buddy. I guess we’re about to find out.” Right now she could believe just about anything.

Without a uniform she felt like a person overstepping the law wielding guns in desolate hospital wings, protecting people she barely knew prophesizing about a world ending and caped crusaders. True, she had her badge uncomfortably biting into her leg inside her pocket, but she was still incognito. So when her personal cell vibrated on the small table in Andy’s room, Betty jumped nearly pointing her gun at it. She mustered all the control she had to pick it up and leave the room to the sleeping and the injured.

“Felix, what do you want? Do you know what time it is?”

“Massey just got arrested! I’m at the station filling out a shit ton of paperwork and that agent what’s his name-”
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Time Siege, by Wes Chu

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Having been haunted by the past and enslaved by the present, James Griffin-Mars is taking control of the future. Earth is a toxic, sparsely inhabited wasteland–the perfect hiding place for a fugitive ex-chronman to hide from the authorities. James has allies, scientists he rescued from previous centuries: Elise Kim, who believes she can renew Earth, given time; Grace Priestly, the venerated inventor of time travel herself; Levin, James’s mentor and former pursuer, now disgraced; and the Elfreth, a population of downtrodden humans who want desperately to believe that James and his friends will heal their ailing home world. James also has enemies. They include the full military might of benighted solar system ruled by corporate greed and a desperate fear of what James will do next. At the forefront of their efforts to stop him is Kuo, the ruthless security head, who wants James’s head on a pike and will stop at nothing to obtain it.

It was nice to see how addiction and isolation affects one of the main characters. In the book, as with life, James’ relationship with those around him morphs to his new reality. Behaviors that were acceptable when he was a revered salvager and chronman now put his friends and family at risk.

The corrupt Kuo is still the maniacal villain she was in the first book, but in Time Siege, her motives are more rooted in what I’d expect from someone in her position instead of the moustache-twirling villain she was in the first book. The intricacies of the corporations and the governments are fleshed out, and we see how hope for the denizens of the solar system appears lost. The divide between the wealthy and the lowest class is further exemplified with themes of subjugation and genocide.

Both books in the series are excellent sci-fi, and I’m looking forward to reading the third book this summer.

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Unfortunately, Chu’s goals of using Hanes underwear commercials to launch a lucrative career following in Marky Mark’s footsteps came to naught. Despite phenomenal hair and manicured eyebrows, his inability to turn left led his destiny down another road. Instead of creating new realities with his skills as a thespian, Chu would dazzle audiences with his pen. Well, it’s a computer really, but the whole technology thing really sucks for metaphors. He had spirit fingers maybe? In 2015, Wesley Chu won the John W. Campbell Best New Writer Award. Chu’s debut novel from Angry Robot Books, The Lives of Tao, earned him a Young Adult Library Services Association Alex Award and a Science Fiction Goodreads Choice Award Finalist slot. His new series, Time Salvager, published by Tor Books, was released on July 7th, featuring an energy stealing time traveler with addiction issues.

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Moonrise CH39 – Supers Anonymous

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[1310 words – Inspiration Monday]Joaquin was lost. He hated to admit it to himself but sneaking around large containers with the constant splash of the bay behind him was tiresome and he hadn’t been able to find the street corner with the camera where Jensen had been spotted. Luckily for him, there weren’t other people this late in the working day and Whidbey Island was dead and dark to all. The security guard was nowhere to be seen and there had to be one. Joaquin was cautious, watching for stretching shadows and echoing footsteps, the flashlight running up and down dark corners. He snuck around the back of the main building, a narrow and long warehouse housing a few offices and machinery. With every advancing step Joaquin found it harder to keep away the stench from himself: he couldn’t battle off the sudden inhalation and every time he tried to turn his head away and breathe a little clear air the lingering odor found a way down his pipes, filling his body with gaseous foulness mixed with seaweed and stale fish.

He colored his sneakers in red pools of watered blood that seemed black in the darkness and covered them in guts galore dropped in little piles where the broom hadn’t swiped them back into the river. “Oh man…” he whispered to himself and sighed. On the bright side, his body didn’t hurt from the impact or the gunshot and Joaquin had to smile at his ability to heal. At least that’s how he understood it. He felt almost bulletproof; unlike that agent swimming face down in the river. Joaquin bit the inner side of his cheek at the memory all too present in his adrenaline-fueled mind. He had seen death many times before but not like that. The man had been out to kill him and indirectly Joaquin had caused his death, crashed and drowned under his car. And

Missing a watch, Joaquin had no notion of time. He was either at the right place or missing entirely on the party and in his head, he could hear Massey’s judgmental voice, Andy’s sneer for fucking up a simple task. Andy… Shit, he didn’t want to think about that fire. The guy was a 50/50 chance and Joaquin didn’t want to think about him right now. Disasters were piling one atop another and just like in the streets Joaquin found himself standing in the middle, fending off any sucker aiming for a chance to mess with him. Only he was fending off the thin air here. He half wanted to scream.

A light right above his head flickered on. Joaquin snapped to his senses and crouched low beside a stack of pallets nearly tipping them over. He looked up and swore at the sensor. A pair of voices approaching did the same.

“That shit scared me!”

“Don’t worry mano, it’s just a light.”

“Turning on before we even got near it?”

“It’s probably just broken esse. Calm down.”

Joaquin didn’t dare move, his heartbeat pounding in his ears. The voices dropped low, cautious, with words sparse. He had to raise himself on tiptoes to peek through the gap of one of the pallets. Down the side of the building was a red door, above it, a red light beamed brightly against the dark sky. The taller of the two men banged his fist against it. He wore a hoodie and his companion a hat set low. To Joaquin, both were just silhouettes. The door inched open and after seconds the two men were let in. Before they snuck inside the shorter one looked around still suspicious.
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Moonrise CH38 – Noise Mirage

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[1040 words, prompts: Inspiration Monday, Terribleminds, Sunday Scribblings2, #SoCs, #3WW]

Massey descended the steps of the hospital building and dialed Anne’s burner. The call went straight to voicemail. This was nothing unusual. After all, Anne had to tread carefully with Major Globe.

Massey sighed and started to record his message. “Anne, I’m going to Harlow Island. I think our mutual friend might have gone there. I’ll explain when…” The ratcheted slide of a pistol was audible enough to make Massey pause.

He heard falling footsteps, heavy boots on cement. The static of a police radio overrode the white noise that was his city trying to slumber. The noise was a mirage replacing common sense. Their flashlights awoke the night, basking it in a cruel bluish light. It was a light that blinded him for a moment, and then he blinked, bringing the beams back into focus. Black, glinting riot visors glared at him. Their eyes were hidden to prevent him from gauging their resolve. Black rifles aimed at him, ensuring no confusion at who they were after.

One of them spoke his voice muffled by the mask. “Detective Frank Massey of the Seattle Police Department! You are under arrest for harboring a dangerous super, withholding and interfering with private information belonging to The Federal Bureau of Investigation.”

Massey dropped the phone and smashed it with his boot before kneeling on the ground with his hands behind his head. He doubted his efforts to conceal his secret communication would survive even the most cursory inspections. He hoped that Anne had the sense to dispose of her own burner.

* * *

At the entrance to the hospital, Silas pulled Anne back. “Wait. And… Watch,” he told her. A scandalous wink betrayed his lust for showmanship.

He leaned against a wooden telephone pole. His eyes narrowed at the scene unfolding a few yards away. Time began to bend when he clicked his fingers, but it didn’t stop completely. It slowed down, so all surrounding movement was a prolonged explosion of colors and distorted sounds. People’s voices still carried in the space between, ricocheting and overlapping. The cacophony was beautiful as it was horrifying.

Silas took Anne by the hand through the cluster of sight and sound and led her up the steps. She caught sight of her friend as he left the hospital. His footsteps fell lazily, the look on his face content. Anne understood what Silas had wanted to show her. The hidden observers were quiet as shadows of ten men fell upon Massey. The time bubble caused the images to jump like snapshots from an instant camera coated with a filter of high contrast and exposure. People moved like ghosts, but they were so very much real only Anne couldn’t reach out and touch, nor warn. She watched a progression of heavily armed men glitch through Silas’s volatile world of living mannequins. One black-clad image left behind a trail of slowly fading copies. At the final stage of action the ghosts coalesced into a solid image.

She sighed, her throat parched. She thirsted for action but was forced to play her role. Silas’ display was unexpected and inconvenient though perhaps she should have considered it was happening since Globe had been so furious on the phone. He couldn’t blame himself for neglecting obvious clues. It annoyed him to be foolish. So he took it out on Massey and put him in the spotlight of a political and federal scandal. Discredit was a tool to divert focus from more than just a rebellious detective and his motley crew of misfits and fringers. No, Anne thought, misinformation was weaponized long before today.
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