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Rockbound

Rockbound

Penguin Modern Classics Edition
edition:Paperback
also available: Audiobook (CD)
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Excerpt

Beth Poole smirked as she looked across the table at the man who had just issued one of the most absurd statements she'd ever heard. "Really! You're really asking me to believe ...it just disappeared?" Morgan Watson smiled and nodded to her. He didn't know why he had brought it up. Supper had been excellent, he loved pub grub, plus the conversation had been flowing very easily between them. It had been quite awhile since he had been on a first date and had always followed one rule when on one: never to bring up the subject of his cat, Tiberius. He knew many women enjoyed hearing people talk about their cats but whenever he spoke of his, he ended up telling the entire story. Although true, it sounded so far fetched and unbelievable he felt he came off as just another bullshitter trying to impress a woman. In the past whenever he had brought the subject up on a first date, there never was a second. "Really?" Beth repeated. "It just disappeared and you expect me to believe that ... that your cat cured itself ... completely ... of diabetes!" Why did he have to go and break his rule? He knew he should've never mentioned he had a cat which seemed to have entirely beaten the disease until after maybe a few dates, probably more than a few and certainly not on a first date. Perhaps it was because he had already known her for awhile. He had met Beth in a yoga class he took every Wednesday. Although his buddies kidded him about his weekly classes, he felt he really needed them. Morgan was a fencer and the footwork involved really tightened up his body, especially his hips. Yoga helped open them back up and he felt stretched and loose when class was over. It seemed no matter how many people had shown up for class, Beth always managed to be on the mat beside, in front or behind him. He found her so easy to talk with, so after five weeks of chatting before and after class he finally decided to ask her out. Dinner and drinks for a first date was a natural. She had said yes and they decided to hook up at a downtown craft beer pub after work the next night. She was thirty-two, just a couple of years younger than Morgan, dark blonde hair touched with champagne highlights, exuberant in nature, and her skin-tight yoga outfit did not hide what Morgan considered to be a very nice figure. Morgan had stood up and smiled when he saw her entering the pub. It was the first time he had seen Beth in street clothes. She looked stunning in her dark dress pants and blue top. Now instead of enjoying the evening with her, he found himself on the defensive. "Well, it sure seems that way," Morgan said knowing he had to do his best to explain and make it sound like the truth and not some pile of horseshit. He picked up his beer, took a sip and looked around as if seeking help. "You see, Tiberius has, no sorry, I mean once had diabetes. Again, it's really hard to explain. "I adopted Tiberius from a cat rescue when he was just a little kitten and a year later he developed diabetes. I had to test his blood sugar twice a day and give him a shot every two to three days to keep his glucose levels below ten. Then after about two and a half years his levels seemed to stabilize on their own. It's been three years now since I've given him a shot." "And you're sure he had diabetes to begin with?" "That's what Dr. Everingham, his vet, said. For two and a half years I had to give him insulin and it's not cheap. If I went away for a three day weekend, his glucose levels would shoot through the roof and I would have to give him a shot the moment I got back, the next day and sometimes three days in a row to get it back down to where it should be." "Interesting," Beth said while giving him a look which said she really wasn't sure whether she should buy into his story or not. She changed the subject slightly, "So, why the name 'Tiberius'?" "I'm a bit of a Star Trek fan. If you know the franchise James T. Kirk was the captain. The 'T' in the name was short for Tiberius." Damn! This could be strike two, thought Morgan right after answering. First she hears what she considers a bullshit story and now thinks I'm a full out Trekky. Next she'll be asking me if I live in my parents' basement! Beth looked down at her watch and then back at Morgan. "It's almost eight-thirty. I've got to get going. Remember I told you I had plans at later on tonight?""Yes you did," he answered and managed to stop their server on the way to request the bill. "I'll pay so you can get going. Your get-together is at nine-thirty if I remember right and I don't want to hold you up." "No, we're splitting the bill. Maybe I'll let you pick up the tab next time. Let's talk about it next Wednesday after yoga."Bingo! She wants to go out again. She doesn't think I'm a dick.Morgan walked Beth out to the sidewalk and hailed a cab for her. They said their goodbyes with a hug outside and she gave him a kiss on the cheek before she climbed into the rear seat and sped off into the night. The next day, Friday, when Morgan walked into his third floor Toronto condo after work, Tiberius was there as usual, waiting to greet him. Morgan was always amazed by an animal's internal clock. Every morning, Tiberius seemed to know minutes before the alarm went off it was just about to. He stationed himself in front of Morgan's face accordingly so he would be the first thing Morgan saw when he opened his eyes. When Morgan arrived home from work, he was always sitting in the same spot, staring at the door "Hey Tiberius! How's my boy?" he said bending over to give him a pat. Tiberius never acknowledged the question as he was too busy purring away. After a few pats, Tiberius always flipped over onto his back to get his belly rubbed. Morgan would then scoop him up and walk over to the window so they both could look out. Same routine, every single night after work.

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True Patriots
Excerpt

DRAFT

CHAPTER ONE

“Target their bridge.”
Claire gave the order. She could feel the gaze of her crew. Would she deliberately kill? She’s been captain for barely two months. Too junior. Not tested. And a woman.
Only minutes earlier, she had watched endless waves pound a small fishing boat, the spray and incessant snow rendering it invisible at times, despite the blazing cone of light from the helicopter above. Off the coast of Nova Scotia, the winter nor’easter that had paralyzed New England with two feet of powder retained enough of its fury to imperil any ocean vessel.
A mile kilometre away, the CH-149 Cormorant, shaking violently a few wave heights above the turbulent ocean, was trying to keep its searchlight fixed on the ship that bucked between mountains of water.
“It’s the MV iAtlantic Mariner. Out of Boston,” the pilot said over the radio.
Claire squeezed the microphone dangling from the ceiling. “Captain O’Brien, do you see anyone on board?”
A moment of white noise and then, “There must be. Will advise.”
The sailor manning the radio on the bridge of the coastal patrol vessel HMCS Kingston, Petty Officer Second Class Sullivan, turned to Claire. “Maritime Command said that the vessel never acknowledged radio contact, ma’am.” “They never asked for any help.” Lieutenant Wiseman, executive officer and second-in-command, brushed past in the tight space, as Claire sat in the captain’s chair.
“Doesn’t matter.” Something’s not right, Claire thought.
“There’s no transponder signal,” Sullivan said.
“We’re not going anywhere.” My first rescue.
“It must have drifted.”
Wiseman nodded. “And it looks like a lobster boat anyway.”
“Isn’t lobster season here in the spring?” Sullivan kept his gaze on the radio’s lights and buttons.
“Agreed.” Claire leaned forward in thought. “There’s something weird about this. We keep trying.”
“They shouldn’t be out in this storm, ma’am,” said Sullivan. “How could they not have seen it coming?”
O’Brien’s voice crackled on the radio: “No one sighted. Do you want us to continue?”
Claire framed the distressed vessel in her binoculars for a moment, lowered them, then pointed to Wiseman. “Distance to target?”
“Weather’s interfering with radar accuracy.”
“Best guess.”
“Three thousand metres and closing, ma’am.” She noticed a new spike of stress in Wiseman’s voice.
Claire raised her binoculars, flicked some loose strands of hair out of the way, and continued looking at the tiny shaft of light blinking between shifting mounds of black water. My first chance to do something good. She’d wait it out. She grabbed the microphone again and squeezed the button. “O’Brien, this is the Kingston. Hold position. Continue the search. Advise when low on fuel.”
“Acknowledged.” A moment later, the pilot’s voice returned with a new edge. “There’s someone down there.”
Claire saw it too. A single dark figure emerged from the bridge of the helpless vessel. The helo narrowed the spotlight until the person stood like an actor alone on a stage. The man — he walked like a man even at this distance — took a few steps and held what appeared to be a short pole.
Wiseman turned to her. “Vessel at two degrees starboard, ma’am. Range half a kilometre.” A change in the familiar background rustle told her that the six-person bridge crew had moved into a higher state of readiness.
She saw the fishing boat suddenly spring to life, with running lights bright. The boat swung toward the Kingston, appearing as a small supernova against the black of the frothing sea.
This was not a normal reaction. “XO, report,” she said.
Wiseman watched the radar display for a moment. “Target approaching. Ten knots and accelerating.”
Don’t they want to be rescued? “Collision course?”
Wiseman turned to face her. “Roger, ma’am.”
Was the boat deliberately trying to collide with the Kingston? They were supposed to be on a rescue mission. None of the threat simulations during her training at CFB Esquimalt had ever foreseen this situation. She remembered what her instructor had said: When in doubt …
“Sound action stations,” she ordered.
There was a perceptible pause that told her they were wondering if she was serious. Then the XO acknowledged her command. “Roger, ma’am. Sounding action stations.” Most of the crew was older than her thirty-one years, and she wasn’t sure how they would react to a new and untested officer in what might become a crisis.
The looping klaxon blared on the bridge and throughout the ship.
“Ship to ship.” She pointed to Sullivan.
“Ready, ma’am.”
She gripped the microphone: “Atlantic Mariner. This is the captain of the HMCS Kingston. We are here to assist you. Acknowledge.”
Only static crackled on the speaker.
“Repeat message every thirty seconds.”
“Aye aye, ma’am.” Sullivan scribbled the message on a small pad.
She didn’t have much discretion as the captain of a coastal patrol vessel. She needed permission from her superiors back in Halifax to use the Bofors 40-mm cannon that could annihilate the boat in one shot. With a long chain of command that went up to the minister of defence, she was unlikely to get it within a day. Until then, she could use the M2 fifty-calibre machine gun mounted to the starboard side of the bridge.
She had a single machine gun to defend the ship.
But was the fishing boat a threat? Its action was strange and unexpected, but she wasn’t sure if it posed a danger or if there was some other, more innocent explanation. Maybe the boat’s crew was merely trying to get closer to aid in their rescue. Any threat situation had to meet three criteria. First, there was intent. The boat hadn’t threatened anyone. It seemed to ignore the helicopter with the blazing light.
“Let’s see if that ship is deliberately trying to ram us. Steer one three five.”
The helmsman repeated her command and swung the wheel.
She grabbed onto the overhead handle as the ship veered dramatically to the right, still pitched by wave after wave. She watched the fishing boat’s reaction.
“Midships,” she said. The light from the Atlantic Mariner dimmed for a moment, then quickly brightened again.
“Target is following our move, ma’am,” said the petty officer on the bridge, scanning the fishing boat from the bow.
So that’s intent, Claire thought. Or did it just want to get rescued? Why didn’t they acknowledge our hail or the helicopter hovering above them?
Her indecision felt familiar: should she pursue graduate studies and satisfy her parents’ ambitions, or join the navy?
Simple. Keep it simple. Stick with the three criteria, she told herself.
The second criterion was proximity. “Distance?” she called.
“Six hundred metres. Closing at thirty knots,” said the navigator. A quick mental calculation and she estimated that the boat would penetrate the ship’s three-hundred-metre safety perimeter in less than twenty seconds. Then she would consider it a mortal threat.
Seconds to decide.
O’Brien returned on the radio. “There’s something else, Kingston …”
She watched the man and saw the pole shift until it pointed directly at the helicopter.
“RPG! RPG!” O’Brien’s voice sounded more angry than scared.
A flash from the ship ahead.
The rocket-propelled grenade ripped past the chopper as it banked sharply to the right, dipped, and accelerated away. “Confirm RPG,” Claire said into the microphone, suddenly oblivious to the klaxon blaring in the bridge.
Captain O’Brien answered in short bursts over the radio, “RPG. Confirmed. Taking evasive action.” She could see the helicopter veer away from the boat at an extreme angle.
“Did they just fire at the helo?” said Claire to no one in particular, standing in disbelief.
Wiseman looked at the tactical screen in front of him. “They missed, ma’am. The help is leaving at high speed. Recommend we do the same.”
She hopped back into the captain’s chair and glowered at the XO. The MV Atlantic Mariner now satisfied the third criterion: capability. They had a weapon that was a threat to the ship and her crew. One RPG could do serious damage to the bridge or the engines, or blast a hole below the waterline, potentially sinking the ship.
“Close up, fifty-cal,” she ordered. It was the only weapon she could command in the time that she had. You couldn’t stop the boat with the gun, but you could stop her crew. “Target their bridge. Now.”
She stared into the XO’s eyes until he repeated the command.
The sailor hesitated for a second before answering “Aye aye, ma’am” over the commlink. She could feel the gaze of the other crew on the bridge. Their unease about her qualifications as captain weighed on her like a physical force. Too young. Too inexperienced. Too female.
She fought her drifting doubts. “Ship-to-ship,” she said to Sullivan.
He flicked a switch on the radio console. “Ready, ma’am.”
She yanked the microphone: “Atlantic Mariner this is the Canadian warship HMCS Kingston. We are trying to assist you. You have fired on our helicopter without known reason. Do not approach this ship. Stop your engines, cease fire, and acknowledge, or we will fire upon you.”
She stood up again. “Range and speed,” she said with a distinctly more serious tone: one she knew the crew would notice.
“Four hundred metres. Thirty knots.”
She squeezed the mike in her hand. “I say again. Stop your engines and acknowledge or we will fire upon you.”
Only a few seconds before it got too close.
“Three hundred metres.”
The boat had just entered her exclusion zone.
“Any change?”
Wiseman said, “No, ma’am. Collision course. Recommend —”
“Fifty-cal.” She heard her gulp over the noise of the bridge. “Open fire.”
The gun coughed with a low thumping rat-tat-tat-tat as bullets knifed through the bridge of the little boat only a couple of soccer fields away. Claire could see tracers streak to the boat and splinter the bridge. The man holding the RPG was nowhere to be seen. Sparks leapt skyward, and the boat stopped dead in the water, limping lifelessly on the swells.
“Cease fire, fifty-cal.” The gun stopped immediately. “Full stop.” The engines went silent.
The fishing boat was now a fiery, smoky pyre. The Cormorant returned to the scene like a cautious cat. Under the gaze of its spotlight, the boat listed to its port side, sliding into the waves. In less than a minute, it was gone. Leaving only a faint grey cloud, it sank beneath the waves, along with her crew and any evidence that would explain their odd reaction to the rescue.
She glanced at the two sailors who manned the machine gun outside the bridge. They looked stressed. They had killed someone, probably for the first time in their lives. She had to reassure them.
They had defended their ship and crew. They hadn’t hesitated to obey her order, even if she wasn’t yet a captain that everyone trusted and respected. She called to them over the commlink. “Good shooting.”
Her hands trembled holding the microphone. She wiped sweat and salt from her forehead with her sleeve. A chill shivered through her body. She had killed someone. She tried to mask how she really felt with a thin smile. The bridge crew turned toward her. There was shock in their expressions.
She took a deep breath.
She had more than passed her first test as captain. Maybe her parents would now acknowledge her career choice with at least a twinge of pride. But fatigue tugged at her, threatening to drag her down deep like the mysterious boat. The crew was waiting for her to say something more.
She raised the microphone. Her hand was still shaking. She rammed out each word before the shock sucked her voice away. “Well. Done. Everybody.” Another breath. Scowled at the XO. “The vessel we encountered presented a direct and immediate threat to the ship, and you dealt with it with professionalism.”
“Ma’am,” Sullivan pulled off his headphones. “How do we know there isn’t another one out there?”

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Dome, The
Excerpt

Chapter 1: DeeHeart pounding, feet pounding."Pick up the pace, Dee!""Just dump them, Rogan--it's not worth the risk!""No!" he gasped. "We can eat for a week on this. Keep running!"My lungs had started to burn as soon as we'd hit the third set of stairs in the abandoned apartment building, but with a Lobot on our tails, I couldn't afford to slow down. Rogan showed no signs of giving up the search for a hiding spot, despite the fact that so far, the doors to every floor were locked. Fourth floor--no luck. Fifth floor--the same. Sixth floor--the whirring noise was getting closer. Seventh floor--finally! The door lock was broken, and we pushed through, looking wildly behind us as we raced down the hallway. The apartments were mostly empty as we passed them but the second last place, despite half the exterior wall being blown out, had some furniture in it--better yet it had an old stovetop with an oven. We could stash the baubles in there, hide in the closet and wait for the Lobot to give up. I slammed the apartment door shut behind us as Rogan threw the baubles into the oven, then we dove into a closet with louvered doors and pulled them closed--I pushed back up against the wall, while Rogan knelt down to look through the slats. "Shhh!" he whispered sharply to me. "Listen." I tried to control my breathing so that I could hear what was happening. There was a faint hiss--the Lobot was using one of its lasers to cut a hole through the apartment door. Then there was a thud, as part of the door fell onto the floor, and a low whirring sound. I inhaled and held my breath as the Lobot flew slowly by the closet, tracking the microchip signal coming from the baubles. Suddenly it stopped moving and hovered in mid-air, rotating its antennae toward the old appliance. Then I could hear banging, and Rogan smothered a giggle. He moved back and motioned at me to look for myself. I knelt down and I slapped my hand over my mouth so I wouldn't laugh out loud. The Lobot was slamming itself into the glass door of the oven; it was able to sense the microchip signal and see the baubles, but it couldn't figure out how to get to them. I turned to Rogan, and in the dim light, I noticed an old blanket on the shelf above us. I pointed to it and Rogan nodded. This would be tricky and dangerous, but we didn't have a lot of choice at this point--we needed to act before it started using a laser. Rogan took the blanket down and quietly opened the closet door. I just hoped that the Lobot was so preoccupied with the baubles that it wouldn't notice much else. Rogan began creeping towards it--it was still unaware of him. Finally, at about three feet away, he took a deep breath and threw the blanket over the Lobot, knocking it to the ground. Before it had a chance to squirm or struggle, he jumped on the blanket with all his strength, over and over, until the Lobot was still and silent. He smiled triumphantly at me.I hesitated. "We should make sure," I whispered. I tiptoed over to where Rogan was waiting and gingerly lifted up a corner of the blanket. Sure enough, the Lobot was dead--its lights were out and it looked pretty crushed. We both stared at it in distaste--the tranquilizer darts and locator cuffs it carried were spilling out of it like guts. Suddenly I was filled with fury, and I turned on Rogan."That was really stupid, Rogan! Do you realize how close we came to being caught?! Which body part are you willing to lose for a couple of coins?!"He looked taken aback and his brow furrowed defensively. "Neither of us is losing anything, and that stash is worth more than a 'couple' of coins. Otherwise, we wouldn't have been chased by the Lobot for so long, you know that. I had everything under control--it's all good, Dee. Now come on." He opened the oven door and took out the baubles--a necklace and two rings--which glittered in the light. "That stupid Fancy won't miss them--she probably has plenty more where these came from, anyway. Serves her right for wandering too close to Divinity without any Blues nearby to protect her."I sighed in frustration. "Well, it was still awfully close, and I happen to like my hands and feet just as they are, thank you very much."Rogan leered at me. "I like your hands and feet too, my lovely!""EWW! You sound like a Fancy!" I slapped him on the shoulder in mock-anger.He slapped back at me then peered around the corner of the apartment door. "All clear. Anyway," he continued cavalierly, "you could always choose an eye, although I hear it's pretty painful. Come on. We need to get out of here before some ambitious Blue tracks that Lobot and shows up."My stomach flipped at the thought of having an eye removed, and then I was overcome by a wave of emotion--a sense of questioning and worry. It was my twin brother, Cee. I focused inward and sent feelings of calm and reassurance back to him. Not only did we look exactly the same--green eyes, and hair that was called strawberry blond when strawberries used to grow, but we were on the same wavelength, so to speak. We couldn't read each other's minds exactly, but we could project feelings to each other. Right now, he was sensing that I was scared and mad, and I was telling him that everything was okay. He hated it when I went out thieving, especially with Rogan, who was a real risk-taker. It was one thing running a scam or getting a Fancy to cough up a little spare change, but outright robbery in broad daylight wasn't for the faint of heart. Not that I had much of a choice. Cee and I used to be workhouse kids, and like all "provincial wards", once you hit 15, you were sent to the agri-complexes up north as farm labour. The alternative was to run away and fend for yourselves as "Freeworlders". And after spending most of our lives as workhouse kids, neither of us wanted to finish out our days as agri-slaves in the Upper Belt, so we made our way to Divinity, a tent city in Metro.Cee and I had been left at Happy Valley, one of the workhouses up North, when we were about three months old. After the Frag riots in 2087 and the Water Wars that followed, babies were being abandoned on a regular basis by parents who couldn't afford to take care of them, sometimes as many as twenty a day, so The Consortium, a supergroup of countries across the water, set up the workhouse system. All the kids were given letters of the alphabet instead of names, and he and I were the third and fourth babies dumped there that day, so "C" and "D". Our actual "designations'" are a lot longer and include the date as well. By the time most ward kids were 4 or 5, they'd been given nicknames or picked out new names for themselves, but we were fine with Cee and Dee. The workhouses weren't great, but if you kept your nose clean and did what you were told by the Protectors, the adults who ran the place, you could survive. And you were told a lot. By the time you were a One, you were expected to stay with an older kid, a Guardian, who either worked in the dorms or the kitchen--like an apprentice. Depending on who your Guardian was, you either got slapped regularly or ignored most of the time. When you got to be a Five, you were responsible for making beds or washing dishes, or garden work. At Ten, you worked in the nursery with the babies, in the kitchen doing meal prep, or in the schoolhouse, teaching other kids about soil and plants from a textbook. At Twelve, you started working the fields full-time, in preparation for a life-time of servitude in the Breadbasket, which was the area of the Upper Belt where farms could still exist. All the fruits and vegetables from up North were planted and harvested by agri-slaves, mostly the workhouse kids who had chosen farm labour and three meals a day over freedom and starvation. But it was a hard life too--from what I heard, most agri-slaves didn't make it into their thirties--too much exposure to chemicals. I was pretty sure that Cee and I stood a better chance on our own--if we didn't end up in The Dome, that is. Cee and I ran away from Happy Valley right before our 15th Drop-Off Day. That wasn't a "birthday" exactly--none of us really knew when we were born, but the workhouse had a record of the dates that all of us had been left there, and if you'd been a good little "agri-slave in the making", you got a piece of candy on your Drop-off Day each year. Kind of a twisted thing to celebrate, but we didn't have much else. Anyway, Cee and I had no intention of going to the Breadbasket so we took off and headed for Divinity, the biggest tent city in Trillium Province, where we've been for over a year now. Scraping together a living hasn't been easy. Cee brings in a little money at the Hidden Market, where he sells his handmade "pretties" to the Fancies, the rich people who come into Divinity on Sundays with their Blue bodyguards, looking for unique objects to impress their friends with. He's an amazing woodcarver--he can take an old scrap of anything and turn it into an elephant or a parrot, things that sell really well because they're extinct now. I don't know how he knows what they all look like, but they're beautiful, and the Fancies will pay a lot for them. The problem is that we can't both be out at the same time. It's a cutthroat world, and your tent and everything inside it is fair game for squatters if you leave it empty. Someone has to be there at all times to protect it, so Cee can't come thieving with me, and I can't go to the Market with him. Not that either of us minds. His hands are his most important asset--if he got caught by a Lobot, he'd get sent to The Dome, and more than likely the crowd would choose hand over foot--they usually do for thieves, unless, like Rogan said, you want to give them a real thrill and choose your own eye. As for me, I hate the Hidden Market. Well, I don't hate the Market, I just hate the Fancies. They come in their finery and jewels, with their servants and bodyguards, sometimes with Lobots hovering around them for extra protection, and then they want to barter for lower prices. It's sickening really, when I think how long Cee works on his pieces and how little he has to sell them for sometimes.I felt his wave of worry start to subside, and I sent a projection of the idea of home to him, so that he'd know we were on our way. Rogan once asked me what the "idea" of home was, since I couldn't actually send a picture of the tent to Cee--the only way I could describe it was to say it was like the emotion you felt when someone you loved squeezed your hand. I know it sounds stupid, but home to me was always just Cee, never a place. Whenever I was scared or sad, I could always count on him to take my hand and hold it tight, to let me know that, no matter what, we were together and that nothing could separate us. That was home. Then, just for fun, I sent him the feeling of being well-fed--we were going to eat well as soon as we pawned our hard-won treasures.

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