Moment of Kairos is a recently released Sci fi/fantasy book from author Nathan Burns. I had him on for an interview Saturday. Today is an excerpt and to one lucky winner a copy of the book is up for grabs. Please note it is available in mobi format for kindle.Just leave a comment saying you want it. Ends April 7th
Those who don’t win can find it on Amazon and Smashwords
Four worlds. Four ages. Four struggles through deserts, demons, criminal underworlds and overwhelming odds. Elian searches for answer to the mysterious blackouts, led forward by his only clue: an encoded diary. Ben stalks the streets at night in search of horrific creatures not of this world. Alexander hunts down criminals, always intent on doing the right thing whatever the cost. And Prometheus tries to save his village without dying in the process.
Separate but intertwined, they press on, linked somehow to the mysterious John, who watches and waits – for it seems each of the four is part of something much greater than they could ever have imagined.
My name is John.
I am still trying to figure out who I am; just like most other people I guess.
I prefer to have things like this in common with others. They keep me anchored in my humanity, keep me sociable and, above all, let me know I’m still a person – like everybody else.
But I am not quite like everybody else.
Elian sat at a small table at a window of the cafe, looking out over the desert beyond the quarantine. It was quiet in the shop, just a few people sat on old metal chairs, all holding hushed conversations amongst themselves. Most eyes were fixed on the black analogue television mounted in the corner of the room. It was showing a news broadcast, though it constantly sputtered and cut out to white noise, only to again present a picture of a concerned female reporter a few moments later.
“We’re sorry to re… city of Orion is the latest … been no contact since two d… assumed to have gone dark …” The murmurs grew slightly louder, though after a few moments it became clear that no one in the cafe had any friends or family in Orion, otherwise their reactions would have been much more pronounced. After all, that was what they were listening for; news that the location of a loved one had fallen off the grid, gone ‘dark’ as the reporters called it. Elian knew that feeling of anxiety, hoping to hear something but equally not hoping to hear anything at all. He didn’t watch the news for that reason anymore.
The world was broken. It had started three weeks ago, which was when he heard about the first blackout. Humanity lost contact with an entire city, an industrial sprawl called Cepheus. Communications suddenly went dead, like the whole place had just been switched off. Shortly after that phones everywhere died, then the satellites went down, then any kind of wireless signal just wouldn’t work. Computers short-circuited, compasses went crazy, cars wouldn’t start – the only electrical thing that worked was anything with simple circuitry that was hardwired into a main power grid. No one was sure why, but then no one even knew what was going on. No one had been inside a dark zone and come back; no government had stepped up to take charge. It seemed like civilisation was being quietly eradicated, one major city at a time.
There were more after the first of course – right now it was estimated a third of the world had gone dark, and the blackouts showed no sign of slowing. And all of this was why Elian sat on the edge of a dark zone in the middle of the desert, thumbing through a handwritten diary written entirely in code, contemplating just how far he would get when he decided to get up and find out what really happened when a place went dark.
The bell at the front of the cafe tinkled as the door opened and a short, wiry young man wearing grease-stained clothes walked in. Unlike most people his eyes didn’t move instantly to the television, which Elian knew was the only one working in this little desert town. Normally that would mean either that the newcomer had already lost everyone to the dark, or he didn’t have anyone to lose.
He moved to a table at the opposite side of the room to Elian and sat down, seemingly so preoccupied with his own thoughts he barely noticed where he was going, bumping into chairs as he walked. The cafe owner took his order, just a hot drink, and then moved away. Regardless of the state of global electronic currency, cash still meant something in remote towns like this, where it had accepted only cash before the markets collapsed. Elian glanced down once more at the diary on the table in front of him, closed and pocketed it, then stood and walked over to the table where the man sat.
“Good afternoon,” Elian said. “Can I sit down?” It was a moment before the man replied, so distracted he was.
“Uh, sure,” he responded, looking a little surprised.
“Thanks.” He had to be some sort of mechanic or engineer from the state of his clothes. Probably out of work since the cars stopped running, or the factory he worked at shut down. “I’m Elian.”
“Caleb,” he nodded.
“Hello Caleb. I couldn’t help but notice you seem a bit distracted – is anything wrong?” At this Caleb laughed shortly. He had unruly brown hair in need of a cut, and stubble that would be a beard by tomorrow. He couldn’t be that old – early twenties maybe.
“I’d say there’s plenty wrong,” he gestured towards the TV, but then his face turned serious. “But yeah, there’s something else. It’s my family, live over there.” He jerked his head in the direction of the window, where the quarantine barricade was visible. Two soldiers in full military gear stood by a wooden red barrier, wide enough to block a single car and nothing else. It seemed more symbolic than anything.
“You mean in Planes?” Planes was an even smaller town than this one, barely a town in fact. It was the only settlement between the town they were in, White Springs, and the overlooking mountain, which Elian wasn’t sure had a name. Caleb nodded, as Elian knew he would – he had already guessed at Caleb’s story. “On one hand, I’m sorry to hear that. But on the other, I’ve got an offer for you.” Caleb stared at him, now somewhat suspiciously. “I’m planning to travel into the dark zone later today, and my route will take me through Planes.” Caleb continued to stare at him, clearly not sure how to react. “I’m not asking for money, and I don’t have any to give you. What I’m asking is if you want to come with me.”
There were several long moments of silence, during which time the waiter brought Caleb a steaming hot drink and asked Elian if he wanted anything, which he didn’t. Caleb idly stirred his cup with a spoon, now watching the TV. Elian let Caleb mull over his decision for another minute before speaking.
“I’ll give you some time. It’s early in the morning now; I’ll be leaving in the afternoon. If you decide to come with me, I’ll be coming back here before I go.” Elian got up and left the cafe, shielding his eyes against the bright sun as the door tinkled shut behind him. He looked around. White Springs consisted mainly of four or five intersecting roads, with buildings lining each one. Most roads tapered off into sand except one, which led off on a long and lonely route to the rest of the world.
The town was nearly empty now, as most people had moved away from the dark zone, hoping to escape its spread. But the dark didn’t seem to hop from town to adjacent town; it was random, sometimes striking two opposite sides of the world in as many days. He looked over to the military quarantine and beyond. This place really did feel like the edge of the world, with the complete unknown lying just out of sight.
The door tinkled behind him, and he turned his head. A blonde woman exited the cafe, looked around, spotted him and strode over with some intent.
“I overheard you talking in the cafe,” she said. “Are you actually going in there?” She was middle-aged, mid-thirties Elian guessed.
“Yes, I am.” Before he could say anything else she cut him off.
“Did someone you know live in Planes?” She was studying him intently, as if she suspected he might be lying.
“No, but it’s as good a place as any to find out what’s happened,” he replied.
“That’s why you’re going? To find out what the blackouts are?”
“Who are you?” he asked abruptly. He couldn’t help but feel like this woman had an ulterior motive.
“Olive,” she said, shaking his hand. “I’ve been stuck in this part of the country for weeks, since the third blackout. I’m a journalist,” she explained. “Story of the century but there’s no one to report it to. I worked for News Now, HQ right in the middle of Libra.” She spoke fast but in a measured way, clearly used to quick conversations filled with information that needed to be captured and remembered.
“Right. Elian, though I suppose you overheard that.”
“No actually. Elian. OK. What I’m really getting at is that I want to come with you. I’ve been trying to find an escort to take me in to a dark zone, but no one will.” She paused. “What do you think?”
Elian contemplated this. The more people the better, up to a point, and it seemed unlikely many people he asked would even start the journey.
“I can’t pay you, I’m running out of cash fast,” she said while he pondered.
“Not a problem. I don’t have a problem with you coming. I’ll be back here later today. It’ll take us a few days to get to Planes, so get some supplies. Food, water, something to sleep on.”
“Great. OK, I’ll be back here later. Nice to meet you.” Olive walked off towards the centre of town.
Elian watched her for a few seconds, wondering if she could be trusted, or if she’d even show up, then turned and headed down a different road. There was just one bar in the town, and it was still open. They were running low on foreign spirits but there were enough alternatives to keep the regulars happy. Inside it was a cheery enough place, mainly because the walls were so thick and the windows so dark that it seemed to shut out the dying world outside.
Elian entered and closed the door behind him, looking around. The place was empty except for the barman and one man sitting in a corner with a drink. Elian knew who he was, and had been expecting to find him here – the man had been in here nearly every day since Elian arrived in town. Elian nodded to the barman, ordered a drink, paid and took it over to the man. He was heavily built, dangerous looking, with short light hair. Someone you’d want on your side in a bar fight.
“Aiden,” he greeted the man, “I’m Elian. I’ve got an offer for you.” He sat down opposite the man and pushed the drink across to him. Aiden looked briefly at the drink, then pulled it towards him next to his nearly empty glass.
“What sort of offer?” Aiden asked in a low voice.
“I’m going to Planes this afternoon, and further if I can. I could do with an escort like you accompanying me.”
Aiden watched Elian, sliding his glass back and forth across the table. Elian was almost sure Aiden had served in some sort of military and now worked as private security. Given that he’d been spending most of his time in a bar, Elian surmised he’d been out of work for a while.
“Paid job?” asked Aiden.
“No.” Aiden leant back, plainly disinterested. “But if there’s anything left at Planes, you’re welcome to help yourself to anything valuable. I’m not interested in getting money out of this.” Aiden’s face remained blank. Elian sat in silence with him for a minute,
“No one’s come back from a dark zone yet,” Aiden stated.
“No, not that I’ve heard of.”
“Then why do you want to go in? You lose someone in there?”
“I want to find out what happened to all those places. It’s impossible to know how much time we’ve got left – a blackout could hit anywhere, including here, at any time.”
“There’s something else though isn’t there? Why do you really want to go?” Elian had a feeling that Aiden wouldn’t even consider coming with him unless he was satisfied he knew the truth. But he wasn’t sure he could trust Aiden with everything, not yet at least. He chose his words carefully before continuing.
“A little while ago I became aware of a – group, of people, that apparently knew that all of this,” Elian gestured towards the door and the outside world, “was going to happen sometime before it actually did.” He let that sink in for a few moments. “Not only that, but they were preparing for it, and had begun searching for a way to stop it.”
“What sort of people? Government?” It seemed Elian had at least piqued Aiden’s interest, though whether he believed any of what Elian was saying was another story.
“I don’t know. Some sort of research group. Could be private or government funded. What I do know is that they were supposed to be based just past Planes, at the base of that mountain.” Aiden finished his glass and moved on to the fresh one.
“Who’s your source?”
“It’s not a who. I came across some research notes that point towards this place.”
“Can I see them?”
Elian had known this was coming, and it placed him in a complicated situation. If he handed the diary to Aiden, Aiden might try to leave with it and simply sell it. If he didn’t show it, Aiden probably wouldn’t believe him. Even if he did let Aiden read it, it was gibberish without the cipher words, of which Elian had only figured out two. At the start of every new entry the cipher changed, so there had to be at least ten different key words. And even if Elian showed him his translation, he still might not believe it. Elian wasn’t completely sure of its legitimacy himself but it was at least a slim ray of hope in this world.
“Yes, if you agree to come with me, and meet me in the cafe on the edge of town this afternoon.” Aiden snorted.
“Why not now?”
“I think you know why not now. You don’t know if you can trust me, but I don’t know if I can trust you. I could really use your help, and just showing up later would let me know you’re willing to take the first step of this journey.” Elian stood up. “Think about it. Whether this is real or not, or even if it’s real but there’s nothing left of it, isn’t it worth finding out before the whole world drops off the map?”
Elian left the bar, shielding his eyes again from the bright light. The sun really was high in the sky today. He had one more place to visit before he was ready to leave.