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First pages

Episode 1: The Legacy

The bitter stomach acid in her mouth signaled the return of the first of her five senses. Smoke slowly rolled across a battlefield composed of asphalt and demolished buildings. A blurry shadow flickered on the ground, created by a raging fire behind her. The emergence of a beeping in her ears nagged Agent Tsenka Cho that death was imminent.

The heads-up-display, or HUD, informed her that the right half of her black form-fitting combat suit had ceased reporting back to the CPU. The slight breeze that enraged her pain receptors told her why. It no longer existed, having been burnt off by the nearby fire. That fire wasn’t responsible for the first damage sustained to the suit. The woman gasped and choked, remembering in a brief flash why she had been cut there. Breath came out along with her first sound since waking, a choked sob. Why am I alive?

Tsenka became aware of a dampness on the ground where her cheek rested. She lifted her head and saw her own blood covering the small rocks and sand under and around her. More continued to stream down her face, passing her right ear and traveling down her cheek, finally trickling off the tip of her chin.

The various flashing red warning signs of her HUD told her that immediate medical assistance was required. The woman grabbed for a tube of hemogel and carefully brought her hand to her face. Another flashback. The sound of a gunshot. Cho’s fingers traced the source of the bleeding while her combat suit fed her the last of its stimulants to keep her moving. Eventually, she found the bullet’s exit hole, with hard bits of something stuck to her hair above her temple. Bone, she thought. She plucked the pieces of her skull from her hair and held a glob of gel against the wound. It hardened quickly.

She rolled over and felt around the opposite side of her head, finding the entry point at the back-left area, and placed more gel. Tsenka had no tools, time, or motor function to search inside her skull for bits of bone or other debris. Covering the holes would have to do.

Her suit’s batteries gave out, and her HUD went dark. Pain, suppressed by a steady dose of morphine, began to engulf the right side of her body, as if her skin were being peeled off. She knew the truth would be much worse and dragged herself further from the flames. Gun, she thought, I need a gun. Tsenka sat up and her eyes darted around the battlefield. Three meters out lay a handgun, but not hers. Next to it rested Aron, one of her four teammates. More memories bubbled to the surface. He screamed as they shot him to death. Aron must have seen what the monster was doing to her.

Cho’s thoughts turned to the rest of her team. Her brain fought against the truth, but even with a hole in her head, she dragged the memories to the surface. All of them were dead. Vomit forced itself into her mouth. She swallowed it back down. Her mind began to churn, calculating, evaluating.

Not much time has passed, she thought. I haven’t been out long. Have to conserve energy, but that fuck or his sycos might still be nearby. If they see me, they will kill me. She grunted, crawling toward Aron’s firearm. “But I’m not dead yet,” she whispered.

The ringing in her ears subsided, her final sense restored. She clamped her mouth shut to stifle moans of agony as she lifted herself onto her hands and knees. She picked up Aron’s gun and checked the chamber, then turned it sideways, weighing it. Four rounds left, she guessed. She felt for the pouch on the left side of her hip and nodded.

The inland side of the Shimen district was not the best representation of Taiwan. Controlled by the Jonku gang, it was not a place where outsiders should find themselves, but that’s exactly what Tsenka was. Intel on a corporate defector had led her to the island, but what waited for her and her team was a group of corpsec thugs. She fell for their trap, and now her team was dead.

The desolate neighborhood with abandoned concrete skeletons was the perfect place to stage an ambush. Some form of law enforcement would investigate the scene, but it would be hours if not days. A half block down the narrow cement road, the sound of shouting echoed from behind a tattered corrugated metal carport.

Shit, she thought, looking around for a place to hide. She knew she had to get to the speedboat over three kilometers away, if it was still there, and make for an island off the coast of China for extraction.

As she attempted to crawl to the other side of the street, the shouting was replaced with the sound of a petro-burning truck, likely a Humvee. It rounded the corner and barreled down the road toward her position. She pushed herself to her feet, crossed the road, and darted behind a small brick shack. She heard the sound of the car’s engine relax as the driver let off the gas. The brakes released a high-pitched squeal, and the truck slowed to a crawl just a few meters from the small square structure where the woman hid.

She leaned into the wall, using all her strength to stay upright. Two men in the Humvee looked at each other. They said nothing, but the driver pointed behind the building. The hum of the engine masked the thug’s footfalls, but Tsenka knew why they had stopped. She fumbled with the small pouch at her hip, pulling out a manual injector, the needle protected by a plastic sheath.

Tsenka rounded the corner, hiding on the far side of the shack, while one of the men stalked toward her with his assault rifle readied. She pulled the sheath off with her teeth and stabbed the needle into her forearm. The gunman used the camera on the end of his rifle to spot around the corner. He saw nothing and continued to the next corner.

He again spotted nothing through the barrel-cam, save for the rear half of the Humvee. He relaxed his grip and walked toward his comrade, still in the driver’s seat. The driver stared straight ahead as the second man stepped toward the door. When he got close, he puzzled at his partner, still staring ahead. The driver’s hands rested at the top of the steering wheel, perfectly placed at the ten and two o’clock positions.

“Ay, you right?” asked the man, nudging the driver on the arm. A chill crept up his spine, and the driver swiveled his head to face him.

“Run,” he whispered.

But confused and frozen with fear, the gunman didn’t budge. He caught movement in his peripheral. Tsenka emerged from behind the truck. She fired a bullet into the gunman’s face. In a panic, the driver scrambled to shift the Humvee into gear. The agent fired two rounds into his back.

Before she could pull the driver out, she heard the sound of another Humvee accelerating. They must have heard the shots. The adrenaline cocktail that had given her strength was starting to wane. Tsenka pushed the body over to the passenger side. She struggled into the driver’s seat, popped the truck into drive, and floored it. Despite the age of the vehicle, it had been retrofitted with a modern nav system. The agent slid the map toward the docks and tapped it as the destination. The windshield came to life, painting her route and calculating the distance.

The second Hummer bore down on hers. Tsenka engaged the drive assist, a technology infamously unreliable on retrofits, and ducked behind the seats as one of her pursuers opened fire. The rat-a-tat from his rifle echoed off stone walls and the odd tree trunk as they sped down the road. By now, everyone within five klicks was aware that a firefight was in progress.

Cho grabbed the former driver’s rifle, an older Heckler and Koch, and pulled back the operating rod, letting it snap back. She thumbed the safety off and pointed the barrel between the seats. Her vision refused to focus, so she aimed lower, at the grill of the Hummer.

Tsenka’s truck veered to the left around a sharp curve, moving her aim before she could fire. She ducked as the man again aimed and fired at her car. Both vehicles continued from one curve to the next, following the path as it thinned and turned from asphalt to gravel. When she felt the lateral inertia dissipate for more than a moment, she knew it was time to strike. She brought the gun up again and squeezed the trigger, laying automatic fire onto the opposing vehicle.

Cho saw neither smoke nor any damage to their truck. “Damn it,” she hissed. Cho craned her head around to look at the nav system. Little more than one klick to the docks. She had to disable them now. Facing down more gunfire, Tsenka took aim at the grill again and fired the rest of the rifle’s magazine. It was hard to see with her vision impaired, but she caught a glimpse of steam whipping past the Humvee’s windshield. She took cover and waited.

Stealing another glance, her heart raced as her pursuers began to slow, eventually stopping with both of the men firing non-stop at her vehicle. Her Humvee was beat up, and one of the tires was losing pressure, but she would make it. Cho grabbed the wheel to compensate for the loss of traction and steered it the rest of the way to the dock. As the Humvee rolled over a hill, the boat came into view. She sighed in relief.

After grinding to a stop at the end of the gravel driveway, Tsenka yanked the door handle and swung her legs out. She slid off the seat, her knees buckled, and her body crumpled onto the rocks. As she picked herself back up, she left behind a smear of red and black. She looked down at her right side and wasn’t sure what she was looking at. Her flesh had turned into a marbled pattern of dark red circles surrounded by tan and blackened skin.

This isn’t going to heal, she realized with horror. My life is over. I’m ruined. A tear escaped the corner of her left eye. She blinked it away and limped to the bow of the ship. She grabbed the railing and guided herself onboard, uncertain what kept her moving. Cho sat at the helm of the small speedboat. She fired up the micro-fission boiler and looked behind her, sighting the two men from the Hummer.

Both raised their rifles as she shoved the throttle forward. The boat took off like a rocket, with two engines swallowing water and spitting out steam. The force flung Tsenka back into the seat. She whined in pain then reached forward to activate the guidance system. The agent let go of the controls and closed her eyes. Her breathing became fast and heavy, breaking into sobs, then screams of despair, then screams of anger, then a calm moment before repeating itself, over and over, until she drifted off into the darkness.

Pivotal

In the year 2029, governments had buckled under the pressure of financial debts and dwindling natural resources. In a chain reaction, one state after another declared bankruptcy and ceased providing services. Attempts to print money resulted in all trade agreements breaking down, and as the crisis dragged on, much of the world’s populace declared their governments illegitimate. For a month it was Armageddon. No police to protect property, most hospitals shuttered, fires raged with no one to put them out, and rioters filled the streets.

While America’s Great Collapse wasn’t pretty, Europe’s was far uglier. Their people, either less complacent or more disgruntled depending on the perspective, razed cities to the ground. Much of Western Europe was in ruin for years. While the western world imploded in on itself, the eastern world exploded outward into conflicts, their generals seizing power and waging campaigns over resources with neighboring states. Any nation spared conflict and unrest simply slumped into a new era of economic depression.

But as quickly as America had collapsed, life returned to perceived normalcy with a relatively quick and convenient reinvention of government. Major corporations, who practically printed their own money already, convened a summit to determine how best to provide law and order to the country. Territory was separated into districts, each one assessed for taxation value, then split up among the largest publicly traded companies.

In the following years, this new corporatocracy model spread around the globe. Continent after continent found their economic leaders and tasked them with restoring order. A global council, with representatives from each district, was voted into power by shareholders. Every year, districts would change hands or be resized based on market capitalization. Profit margins, revenue, and projected growth became the new political news. Investigative reporting could spur global power shifts.

Out of the haze, a new creature emerged. A human that was no longer a human. A being that lived for centuries and cared only for politics as a means to their survival. A monster, some would say, with pale skin and eyes and a thirst for blood. Nightstalkers, nocturnals, vampires. Having lived in the shadows for a thousand years, they revealed themselves to a world that had more important issues than people allergic to sunlight. The decision to come out was not taken lightly, and vampires found protection within the territory of a corporation owned and controlled by their own kind, Noxcorp.

Some say that the new world was actually born seventeen years before the Collapse, in 2012. That was the year that magic came into the world of man and vampire, though its existence would be hidden well into the 30s. And so, it became the responsibility of the new world order to fear it, control it, exploit it, and when necessary, destroy it.

After sixty years of corporate rule, a crisis of confidence sparked the rebirth of a federal government in the former United States, and new politicians quickly seized what power they could, creating a hybrid system of company territories and federal oversight and defense they dubbed the New Republic. It didn’t take long for new intelligence agencies and armed forces to organize under the banner of this new entity.

Like the corporatocracy that preceded it, the new representative government spread across the globe and old borders were redrawn again. But not every board was ready to hand power back to the people…

* * *

“I only served with her for a couple years, but I heard she moved on to spook work,” a Caucasian man with a short beard stated. His face was marked with scars and pocks. He leaned back in an old-style rocking chair inside a small room. Cameras captured his movements from several angles for virtual space viewing.

Sitting across from him was a small, much younger black man in a suit, unmistakably a journalist of some sort. One nameplate floated in the air that read Cpl. Ryan Mickelson (Ret). Another simply read Perry K. Walters. Perry glanced down at a small tablet in his hands, then looked up at Mickelson.

“What do you think about Ms. Cho’s role in the Beijing incident?” asked Walters.

“I think it’s a typical misinformation campaign, the--”

“Misinformation?” Perry interrupted. “Does that include the video footage?”

“That’s all part of it,” Mickelson fired back.

“Part of it?”

“Video of something happening is more evidence that it didn’t happen than it did,” he explained coolly.

“So your assertion,” began Walters, “is that the footage is fake, and Cho had nothing to do with it?”

“I’m not asserting anything about what I personally believe about a non-story out of a territory that’s always been hostile to the New Republic.” The corporal rocked forward then back again.

The journalist leaned back at the same time, studying his tablet. “What was Tsenka Cho like?”

“As a person or as a soldier?”

“Either, both,” Perry said with a smile.

“I didn’t have a personal relationship with her,” replied Mickelson. “I wouldn’t say we were friends, though looking back I wish we had been. I don’t think she had many. The federal armed services are young even today, and at that time, the special forces division was a toddler trying to murmur its first words.” Mickelson gave a short laugh.

“As a soldier, she was like no other,” continued the corporal. “She played to her strengths, admitted her weaknesses. She was always working, killing herself with drills and doing it with pride. I found out later she had written two books before joining special forces, and managed a third during her stint with us.”

Perry leaned forward. “How did she get along, being the only woman in the group?”

Mickelson folded his arms and looked up at the ceiling. “We’ve come a long ways as a people, but certain things persist. It’s a little the fault of biology.”

“What is?” pressed Perry.

“The men resented her. A weak link, they assumed, and I was complicit in the spreading of this idea,” explained Mickelson. “I’d like to say that Cho put a stop to that each time she put them on the ground during sparring sessions, but it didn’t work like that. She was twice as capable as some of them, and they hated her for that. But they were betas, and no amount of ignorance would change the fact that she was an alpha.”

* * *

The young woman standing in front of the door was pretty in her own way, if not in a traditional sense. Her dark brown hair was cropped short with braids starting at her temple and wrapping behind her ears. Loose hair went whatever direction the breeze dictated, and bangs fell over her forehead.

Tsenka Cho’s caramel skin and narrow eyes teased a mix of ethnicities. She stood five feet eight inches. A few more with the proper footwear. For this visit, she wore a forest green shirt under a sleeveless jean vest with pants to match. The shirt hugged her well-defined bicep and forearm muscles.

Cho blinked her HUD visible. The time read half past nine. She rang the doorbell a second time, shifting around to ensure she was in view of the camera located in the corner of the porch. The house was a nondescript bungalow at the south edge of the city. Assured by her superiors that this was the place, Tsenka overcame her skepticism and fear to make an introduction.

A voice came through the speaker above the door frame. “Yes?”

Tsenka opened her mouth but found it difficult to start. “Hi,” she forced out. “Is this Matthias Trent?”

“Who is asking?” said the voice.

“My name is T-Tsenka Cho,” she stammered. “Did Kate tell you about me?”

“No… shit, maybe,” answered Matthias. “What can I do for you?”

Tsenka sighed and her posture relaxed. “I’m with the intelligence service. I would like to talk about some… current issues. I’ve brought your monthly briefing.”

She could hear Matthias breathe through the speaker. “So pointless. Where’s the normal guy?”

Cho kicked her right foot against her left. “Well. I requested this. I actually wanted to meet you.”

A few seconds passed before he responded. “I don’t want to seem rude,” he began. “But if what you know about me is stories from the NRI or dime novels, then you don’t want to meet me.”

“I’ll set the bar low,” she fired back, then bit her lip, wondering how he would take the jab.

“Oh, that’s great,” he replied. “Fine, come in.”

The door clicked open and Cho stepped into a small living room. The interior was clean and looked to have been renovated recently, using contemporary design schemes. A divider split the living room from the dining-kitchen combination.

Cho heard another door open, and a few moments later, Matthias stepped out of a hallway. He wore a bathrobe over a white tank top and pajama pants. Tsenka tried not to smile. The former agent was pale, with patches of stubble dusted across his cheeks. Dark brown hair was pulled back tightly into a ponytail. His features were sharp, Caucasian. He was thinner than Tsenka expected.

“Don’t judge me,” said Matthias, striding up to his guest.

“I wa-,” she tried.

“I can see every little twitch the human face makes,” he assured. “And it’s still early in vampire time.”

“Right,” she nodded slowly while grinning.

“Suppose you want a handshake,” he said. Tsenka wasn’t sure if he "ok was addressing her or just airing his thoughts. Before she could decide, he reached out his hand. She took it lightly and shook.

“Now that is a weak handshake,” said Matthias, releasing her.

“I don’t get into grip contests with supernatural beings,” she informed him.

Matthias gave a short chuckle. “A wise decision. Nice to meet you, Miss...?”

“Tsenka Cho,” she introduced. “And you are the great Matthias.”

Matthias sighed. “Bar still not low enough.”

“I lied,” she said. “Had to get in the door somehow.”

“Never trust the feds,” Matthias said. “Okay, Miss Cho, please have a seat.”

She did as instructed, sitting at one end of a long tan leather couch that sat opposite a smart wall in paint mode, relying on exterior light for viewing. It had a few stock symbols and a weather forecast on display. Matthias looked at the couch, then moved to a chair placed perpendicular to it and sat.

The vampire put a hand flat on each thigh. The intelligence agent leaned back into the couch casually. She looked around, studying the interior of the house, and smiled. She was really in his home.

“So where’s the briefing?” asked Matthias.

“Here,” said Cho, handing over a tablet used specifically for secure documents.

Matthias took it and swiped through a few pages. “Got any bullet points I shouldn’t miss?”

“They say you can lift a car above your head,” she said, beaming.

Matthias shook his head, still looking down at the tablet. “And I’ll save the children, but not the British children,” he said, quoting media from his youth. The vampire looked up at her with a grin, sure it would bewilder her.

With a straight face, she said, “You’re no George Washington.”

His grin faded and his brow furrowed.

“But there are a few old hats at the agency that talk about you like a founding father of the Republic.”

“How do you know about that?” he demanded.

“Everyone knows what you’ve done. Some of it is on video.”

“No,” he said. “About Washington.”

Tsenka laughed. “Of course, that’s what you care about.” She stared at him, soaking in the moment before answering. “I’m a big history buff. I watch tons of stupid-- I mean, pre-Collapse videos.”

“It must be part of some compilation,” concluded Matthias.

“I get it, by the way,” she said. “The memes give you a link to an old world everyone misses now and it’s fun to say something that should be funny, but confuses people.”

“I never really thought about why I do it,” he said. “And yes, I could lift a car over my head.”

They sat quietly while Matthias pretended to read the tablet. Occasionally, he glanced up at Tsenka. He hadn’t really looked at her before because she had been inconsequential, but now somewhat intrigued, he began to study her features.

“Why’d you quit the team?” she asked.

He set the tablet down. “These briefings are pointless, aren’t they?”

Whether rhetorical or not, she didn’t answer.

“But Kate insists,” he continued. “How is she?”

Tsenka’s smile lessened. “She’s well, all things considered. Still doing great work.”

“Of that, I’m sure,” said Matthias.

“The world is still full of problems,” said Cho. “And the Republic could still use your help.”

“The world will always be full of problems, with or without me,” he retorted. “What got you into this mess?”

“You did,” she said, this time with no smile.

“Jesus, kid,” he replied, straightening up in his seat. “I think you might have a problem.”

“I grew up to stories about you and Kate and Taq,” expounded Cho. “Learned about you in school--”

“That had to be a short course.”

“Watched all your interviews after you went public.”

“I gave like three,” he countered.

“I snuck over to a friend’s just so we could watch the Haven fortress crash over and over,” added Cho.

“That’s awful!” Matthias reacted.

“And yes I’ve read all the dime novels, as you call them,” she said, leaning forward. “Some of them are good, and some are supposedly based on classified leaks.”

“None of them are based on anything!” he said with his hands out and above his head.

“This was my childhood dream,” she said, smiling again. “I’ve read all the intel on your ops with the agency. Though I may have made a few embellishing assumptions about missing details.”

“That’s very flattering, really,” said Matthias. “But I’m just a guy, a vampire guy, and as I’m sure you now know, the work is not that glorious. How could I be this interesting?”

Tsenka shrugged. “You changed the world. Sure, Wu was important, others too, but they all had something to gain. You were just fighting. Like you always had.”

“You know, it’s nice to have a fan,” he said, nodding. “I should stop complaining.” Matthias looked down at the floor, then back up at Cho. “What do you mean, like you always had?”

“Oh,” she said, crossing her arms. “You were with Noxcorp investigations before the founding.”

“What do you know about that?” asked Matthias.

“A little,” she replied meekly.

“Really?” he said. “I doubt much of that would be accessible even through the agency.”

Cho didn’t reply but waited for him to continue.

“It was good to meet you, Tsenka, but perhaps it’s time to go.” Matthias stood.

“Oh, no,” said Tsenka. “I’m screwing things up. Just wait a second.”

“What do you know about Noxcorp?” he asked again.

Cho stood to face him. “I didn’t bring it up earlier because you wouldn’t believe me.”

“Bring what up?” he asked.

“It’s not a big deal,” she said. “Just something that got me interested in you.”

Matthias put his hands on his waist. “Go on.”

“I was told stories as a kid,” she started. “My mother said that you and her mother fought together during some top secret operation, but she died.”

“I partnered up with your grandma,” summarized Matthias with a skeptical grin.

“That’s right,” said Tsenka. “She was an awakened, lived in the KC university.”

Matthias laughed. “Now I think I’ve heard it all.”

Tsenka frowned and her gaze lowered in shame.

Matthias straightened up. “Hey, come on,” he said. “You have to admit that sounds kind of funny. Shit, maybe it’s true. I worked with a lot of people, and I don’t remember half of them. What was your grandmother’s name?”

Tsenka Cho looked the nocturnal in the eyes. “Her name was Sandra Haulstein.”

* * *

“You know this isn’t going to be very interesting,” said the swarthy Hispanic man in a hoodie. He sat in a round black chair opposite Perry Walters. His holo tag read “Preston Nunes, NRI Specialist.”

“I’ll consider that a challenge,” said Perry.

“There will be a lot I can’t talk about,” said Nunes, with what Perry guessed was a South American accent.

“That’s fine,” said Walters. “Thank you for coming.”

“Boss sort of ordered it,” replied Nunes. “Said someone had to do it, and I think he sent me just for his own amusement... Wait, that’s off the record.”

“Don’t worry, Mr. Nunes, we’ll let you review the tape after we’re done.”

Nunes leaned back. “Eh, fuck it, who cares.”

“Alright then,” laughed Walters. “Shall we begin?”

“Sure,” he said, pronouncing the s sound rather than sh.

Walters shifted in his seat, adjusting his posture. “Preston Nunes, a New Republic Intelligence specialist, is with us this evening. Welcome, Mr. Nunes.”

“Of course,” said Nunes. “Great to be here. You can just call me Preston.”

“Preston,” Perry addressed. “How many years did you work alongside Tsenka Cho?”

“Two years, give or take,” said Preston.

“Isn’t that a short period of time to work in intelligence?”

“Sure, somewhat,” Preston answered.

“Why not longer?”

“The incident, as you know.”

“So Ms. Cho was still rather fresh when her time with the agency was interrupted,” extrapolated Walters.

Preston leaned to one side of the chair and put his hand out in a kind of stop sign. “To the agency, yes. In fact, she was our youngest field agent. But she came highly recommended from the New Republic special forces.”

“Some have said maybe the NRSF was trying to transfer her out,” asserted the journalist.

“Some have, of course,” said Nunes with a tense smile.

“Do you question those reports?”

“I don’t need to,” assured Preston. “We had access to all of her files, every little thing good or bad. And we ran two ops together before she put together a team of her own.” He bit the inside of his lip, frustrated that he may have said something still classified.

“Let’s switch gears for a moment,” Perry said. “There’s an unverified report that previous to the incident, Tsenka Cho was a patient at Saint Luke’s for roughly a month. Is there any truth to that?”

“If she was, I wasn’t aware,” Preston said flatly. “I wasn’t working directly with her at the time.”

“Okay,” started Walters. “Let’s go back then. You were her trainer when she first joined?”

“We call guys like me training wheels,” answered Nunes. “But yes, my role was to make sure she had protocol down and to give her some training.”

“And how did she get along, early on?”

“I don’t think it would be appropriate to give specifics,” the intelligence agent cautioned. “But I think it is fair to say that she was very confident. Ambitious too. Had her own ideas for how things should be done.”

“Maybe I’m reading too much into that, but it sounds like you are saying there was some difficulty,” Perry pried.

“Difficulty,” Nunes pondered. “This was once the state of Kansas. 'Ad astra per aspera', right?”

* * *

Somehow Matthias had found himself in his own worst nightmare. He cursed himself for his selfish thoughts. The nightstalker stared at the mummy prone on the hospital bed. The night staff wouldn’t let him in, so he went in anyway. Kate accessed the immediate physician’s report. Every organ had been damaged to the point of failure. He called it a miracle, a word typically reserved for hyperbolic conversations with family members, that she had survived.

Tsenka Cho had been admitted unconscious, and unconscious she remained. Her body, head to toe, wrapped in bandages with Matthias standing as a statue before it. He studied the monitors connected to cables that buried themselves underneath the wrapping. He didn’t know much about the output displayed, but he could see that her brain activity was faint and her blood pressure low.

“Ay, boss,” said a voice in his ear. A voice so familiar and so directly connected to his thoughts that he almost dismissed it as his imagination.

“Kate,” he acknowledged as if to remind himself.

“Did you get in?”

“I am with her now.”

“I am still wrangling intel and bringing people in,” informed Kate. “Is it as bad as it reads?”

Matthias exhaled. “I don’t know. She appears whole at least. But she’s all covered, unconscious. Still breathing. Told her not to go, dammit.”

“It’s dangerous work… I’m s-sorry, Matthias. What can I do?”

“More security up here,” he said without hesitation. “Put me on the detail.” He instinctively felt for his pistol at his hip.

“I will get it done.”

“Take care of her,” he demanded. “If-- when she wakes up, Tsenka will need support, surgeries, rehab. Bean counters are going to fight it. I don’t want to hear any bullshit.”

Kate didn’t respond immediately. Matthias sighed. “Kate…”

Kate knew she had to respond eventually. “If she wasn’t… who she is, would you still p-push for special treatment?”

Matthias clenched his teeth. “If you put me in front of anyone like this, yeah, I would. Please, Kate.”

“You know how these things work,” she replied. “I will g-get her what she needs, but I may have to fall back on some old habits.”

“I understand,” he replied.

“Consider though,” she said. “That it may not be enough, or you m-may not like the result.”

“It’s too late for what I like to matter.”


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

Adam Thielen is a longtime amateur writer, philosopher, and native Kansan. He is passionate about writing a mixture of realism and fantasy, drawing inspiration from role-playing games, action movies, and mixed-martial arts. He is currently working on the final novel in his four-part debut series, Visceral. As a whole, the saga witnesses the transformation of the world over the span of a century, while individually, they delve into the lives of a handful of unlikely heroes.

Q. What did you learn while writing this book?
A.
I used to shy away from writing what I didn't know. Now I just try to learn what I need to, and I find that a much better way to write and live. In Pivotal I had to learn some specific things about the culture, history, and politics of China, Mongolia, and Russia.
Q. Is there a message in your book that you want readers to grasp?
A.
There are a few. I try very hard to let the readers discovery these messages on their own. It does no one any good to preach them or spell them out. It's up to me to create convincing characters in compelling situations that make people think about the dynamics of human relationships and ethics.
Q. What was the hardest part of writing this book?
A.
There is a large part of this story that involves pains and trials that I can never personally experience, but many women have. There is a moment in the book where it was particularly important that I get it right, and it went through a few small changes. But I will leave it to readers to decide.

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Mystery, Thriller & Suspense
Resonance
When there is more music than meets the eye
Marta Cleans Up
Urban women’s fiction meets detective novel
Mirror Sacrifice
The lines between present and past will blur.