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First pages

Prologue

Icy water surrounded him, sending a jolt of pain to every cell in his body and urging him back to the harsh but ultimately forgiving air above. Seconds or maybe an eternity after his plunge, his arms and legs deadened with shock, but he had to press further into the black. He couldn’t—he wouldn’t—come up alone. He knew it would be nearly impossible to see anything in the water, but he hadn’t counted on the numbness. Flailing his arms and legs was an unwilling reaction to the frigid bite he felt when he first jumped in, but now the motion was keeping his body below the surface. His extremities had become his eyes and ears, though they “saw” and “heard” nothing but bitter cold water on every side.

Against his will, twilight flooded in around him as his head broke through the water into the chilled early evening sky above. The relief of a gasp was short-lived. The air felt like broken glass in his chest, and the breeze against his skin brought with it a new level of cold he wouldn’t have thought possible a moment earlier. The muffled silence he had known under the water gave way to a single shouting voice, bad pop music in the distance, and the sound of his own heartbeat. But only for a second. He forced himself back down, welcoming the numbness of the freezing water once again. This time, he gave all he had, flexing every muscle on his fourteen-year-old frame in unison and expelling every last bubble of oxygen from his lungs. He needed to go deeper. When he had nothing left and his body had slowed to a stop, the pitch of the lake floor grew even darker and he felt a wave of sleep overtaking his near-frozen body. But then, it happened. The insensitivity in his left hand was interrupted by something—an object—and it was enough to rouse unknown energy to his task. He stretched and grasped it. A finger. A hand.

He found her.

Part One: Beneath the Surface

One

The Marshall sat up in bed and took note of the time. It was the sixth night in a row that he had been roused from his sleep at precisely 2:37 in the morning. A vivid nightmare had broken his slumber each time, but with each successive dream, the details had grown clearer. The repetition of the events depicted and the timing of the dreams had led him to believe these were more than just random, sub-conscious fears being played out by his mind during the nightly rhythm of its REM cycles. These dreams were a message, and the Marshall always took such messages seriously.

With sweat on his forehead and bags under his eyes, he reached for a button on the nightstand, pressed and then released it. “Yes, sir,” said a female voice through the room’s embedded audio system.

“Council,” the Marshall replied. “Now.”

“Now, sir?” asked the voice. “It’s the middle of the night, my lord.”

“Now,” repeated the Marshall calmly. The conversation was over. He pulled back the covers from his plush, oversized bed and stepped to the floor. “This ends now.”

****

The council chamber at the Marshall’s residence was located on the third subterranean level, far below Transom City. It was more of a bunker than a conference room, but Marshall Postulus Grouse liked the serious atmosphere the room evoked. He saw no reason to indulge a more cheerful meeting place, and there were few locations as private. When the Marshall arrived, his cabinet was already assembled. Even though he had the shortest distance to travel—just a ride down the elevator—the men and women in his employ knew better than to keep him waiting.

The Marshall was tall—six foot four. He wasn’t terribly overweight, but he wasn’t fit either. He was lumpy, as if any extra pounds on his long frame could neither collect themselves in a single place nor spread evenly across such a great distance. He wore black from the top of his collar to the soles of his shoes, which contrasted starkly with his reddish skin and the sparse silver hair atop his head. He walked to the front of the room with a slight limp and the aid of a cane, and as he passed by the members of his cabinet, he acknowledged each with a nod. They addressed him in reply by standing.

“Friends,” the Marshall said, engaging the lilt of his slight Southern accent, “thank you for coming.” And with that, he took his seat. A second later, so did everyone else.

“I’ll get right to it,” he began. “Insurrection has been birthed, and we must crush it in its cradle.” Such a statement was nothing new to the ears of those in the Marshall’s inner circle. They had grown used to his iron grip on power and his seemingly paranoid delusions about rebellions and uprisings that captured his focus from time to time. But they had never been summoned in the middle of the night before.

There was a moment of silence, which the minister of defense decided to fill: “Sir, if I may ask, what is the nature of the threat?”

“I have reason to believe that my life is in danger.”

The room gasped, as if each cabinet member were vying to be counted as the most shocked at such a thought.

“But sir,” the minister of agriculture said, “it’s not possible. You are beloved. You are the people’s protector.”

Rookie mistake, thought the finance minister from two seats over. Never question anything the Marshall states as a fact.

“You don’t believe me?” asked the Marshall, his mouth turned upward as if he had just heard something funny.

“No, sir, I didn’t mean—”

“But you just said it wasn’t possible.”

“I only meant that no one would dare think of attacking you.”

“I see. So then, I’m making it up? Is that right?” The Marshall chuckled, his eyes bright.

“No, of course not.”

“Then I’ve got my facts wrong. Is that it?”

The minister of agriculture felt the room closing in around him. “Certainly not, sir.”

“Am I mad then?” The Marshall’s face was decidedly stern.

“My lord, no!”

“But you just said—”

“Forgive me!” pleaded the minister.

The Marshall took a deep breath. “Ours is an empire that encircles the planet. In a relatively short period of time, our superior values and virtues spread across the globe, and freedom was given to people on every continent. It is my job, as the people’s protector, to ensure that everyone has the same rights, the same freedoms, no matter their rung on the social ladder.” He smiled at the minister, who was now ghost white. “That includes you, dear friend. You are entitled to your opinion. You are free to speak your mind.”

The minister of agriculture sighed with relief. “Thank you, sir,” he said. The finance minister down the table sensed what was coming and shook her head, ever so slightly, in pity.

“Far be it from me to stifle a dissenting opinion,” said the Marshall, still grinning. “In fact, I’d like to help extend your voice. Amplify it, as it were.”

“Amplify my voice, sir?”

“Yes, I’d like to make it so everyone can hear what you have to say.”

“Sir, I really don’t think that’s necess—”

“But I insist.” The Marshall pressed a small button on the table, and two drone guards entered. The Marshall addressed them: “Mr. Eliot here would like his voice to be heard around the world.” At that, the two guards lifted the minister of agriculture high out of his seat so that his feet dangled above the marble floor. “See to it that the, uh, former minister of agriculture is heard.” The Marshall paused for dramatic effect, and then in a tone that was as steady as the one he used each morning to order breakfast, he told the guards, “Remove his vocal cords and have them installed in the new talk show drone being deployed next week.”

As Mr. Eliot was being escorted out of the room, he pleaded with the guard on his right, but unfortunately for him, a drone does not have a heart that can be softened. Then he turned to the one on his left. “No! Wait! This isn’t what I—” The drone squeezed his arm, and the pain made Eliot pass out. It was too late, but the minister finally shut his mouth.

“It’s going to be a very popular show, Mr. Eliot. Everyone in the world will soon know your voice,” assured the Marshall. With that, he waved his hand, and the guards disappeared with their prisoner, the door clicking shut behind them.

“I’m terribly sorry about that,” said the Marshall to the now wide-eyed room. “Where were we? Ah, yes. There is a coup d’état brewing, and we must end it before it begins.”

Once again, he pushed a button on the table, but this time, instead of summoning guards, a small blue light appeared in the dead center of the antique tabletop. “For the past several evenings, I have been receiving messages,” he said. Then he looked down at the table. “Forgive me, friends. Allow me to begin again.” The Marshall cleared his throat and took a sip of a water from a ready glass on the table. “Most of you are ignorant of the world in which we live. You dismiss fate as mere coincidence. You see cause and effect but never miracles. And you believe we are alone in the universe. I don’t blame you. Really, I don’t. Ignorance can be much more enjoyable than knowledge. But ignorance can only take you so far.” He took another sip from his water glass, seizing the opportunity to read the faces in the room. Such naïveté. Such bliss, he thought. “Friends, for the past six nights, I have experienced vivid dreams. In many ways, they have been more vibrant than waking life. But these were not just dreams. Nighttime visions are usually more than what they appear to be. These, I believe, were meant as a warning. A great catastrophe is coming, but the Ones Out There want us to survive.” The Marshall smiled, sensing their confusion.

“You do know about the Ones Out There, don’t you?” He looked around the table, as if he were going to ask for a show of hands. No one dared move, lest he make an object of them. “Far be it from me to invoke religion, but do you suppose that we are so much more enlightened than those who lived long ago?” He looked around the room, stood, and placed his arms behind his back. “They were called gods, spirits, muses, angels, demons. The names don’t really matter. What’s important is that everyone from the Egyptians to the Babylonians to the Greeks to the Native Americans believed. From East to West and from North to South, every thriving civilization was spurred on by help from Out There. Could it really be that all of these great empires, in many cases separated from one another by great distances of time and space, just happened to hold the same basic belief? Let me ask you: Who is more likely to be wrong—billions of people around the world, across thousands of years, who testify to the same basic truth that we are not alone, or we who, only recently, have chosen to dissent from the tide of history to abandon the helpful voices from Out There?” Everyone in the room tried not to blink. The minister of agriculture’s open chair spoke loudly that they should not engage the Marshall, not even to agree with him.

“Until tonight, the dreams have not been clear enough to take necessary action, but now I believe we have something.” He pressed another button, and the small blue light came to life, projecting a complete 3-D holographic image above the table. “A few nights ago, I began using a thalamus scanner to record my dreams.” The Marshall took his chair once again.

Everyone in the room watched as the blue-tinted grainy image grew clearer. What they saw taking shape was a room full of clocks. There were grandfather clocks, sundials, pocket watches, alarm clocks, analog faces in every shape and size, and digital displays too numerous to count. From one angle, a Mickey Mouse watch could even be seen. In the center was a strange looking ceramic piece, obviously ancient. If it was a clock, it was unlike the rest—a box that displayed an ornate battle scene on one side. Suddenly, the room spun around, and when it came to a stop, there was the Marshall in his full-dress uniform, the ceremonial black and brown he reserved for special occasions, his privilege as leader of the free world. He was winding a small black clock from the mid-twentieth century. He was careful and focused, as if applying too much pressure would cause the clock to crumble in his hands. When he was finished, the timepiece he held chimed twelve o’clock, and then, one by one, all the other clocks began to gong, beep, and ring—a cacophony of sounds that only grew louder with each tone. The Marshall dropped the clock he was holding so that he could cover his ears, and it crashed to the ground, shattering like glass. From among the pieces, a small snake that had been hiding in the clock, slithered out. The Marshall did not react, either because he didn’t see it or because he wasn’t surprised by the creature’s presence.

As the twelfth chime rang out and the sound of the clocks reached a crescendo, a male figure appeared in the foreground of the holographic frame, obscured by shadow. Reaching for an especially old and beautiful grandfather clock on the wall, he turned the minute hand counterclockwise. As he did, the chimes of every timepiece in the room began again, but this time, they grew quieter with each tone, counting backwards from twelve. When the reverse tones were complete, the clock that had been shattered suddenly took its shape once more, the pieces of glass reassembling themselves in perfect order, undoing the damage the piece had suffered. The Marshall picked the clock up off the carpet and examined it. There appeared to be no sign of fracturing. He held it to his ear to find it ticking in steady rhythm.

Then the shadowed figured lunged with all his might into the side of the grandfather clock he had adjusted. It wobbled for a moment and then toppled over, taking down the clocks to its immediate right and causing a chain reaction. One by one, every clock fell over, either toppling on its side or falling from its shelf. It seemed, in that moment, as if the center of gravity was refocused on the place where the Marshall was standing, for every remaining clock now fell in his direction. He was being buried in an avalanche of broken timepieces.

The Marshall paused the playback. “This was, more or less, all I could see until tonight. I would wake up right at this point. But a short while ago, I dreamed this.” The film of his subconscious mind resumed.

Just as the dream version of the Marshall was about to be crushed to death, he let loose the clock he had been holding, throwing it across the room. It struck the mysterious figure in the head, causing a spray of virtual blood to project across the boardroom table. As if knowing he’d have an audience, the shadowed assailant exited the frame, but not before shouting, “Post tenebras lux! Ante tenebras lux!

That was the end. The holographic image shrank down to a small blue light at the table’s center and then disappeared entirely. “It’s Latin. It means ‘After darkness, light. Before darkness, light,’” confirmed the Marshall.

“But why, sir?” the particularly brave foreign relations minister asked.

“It doesn’t matter. What matters is that I’ve been warned about a threat against my life.”

The minister of transportation services, as if he had been out of the room when the Marshall ordered his agricultural counterpart’s vocal cords untethered from his body, spoke up. “Sir, if I may, the elements of this dream are clearly symbolic. Should we not take time to analyze it further before acting too quickly?”

The Marshall glared at him and then exhaled in frustration. “I don’t expect to be crushed to death by an avalanche of clocks—I grant you that—but when my life is in danger, is there such a thing as ‘too quickly’?” he asked.

“Of course not, sir. I didn’t—”

“No amount of dream interpretation will change the fact that the Ones Out There have given me a great gift: a warning about the future. And now, thanks to this recording, we have what we need to stop it.”

“We do, sir? But the figure in the hologram is never shown clearly.”

“No, but his blood is.” The Marshall pressed another button on the desk, and a freeze frame image of the dark figure’s crimson blood splatter appeared. Turning to the minister of science on his right, the Marshall said, “I want to know whose blood this is. Analyze it. Magnify it. Use every piece of technology at your disposal to get me a name.”

“My lord?”

“Get me a name.”

Two

Adams Klein awoke to the ambient light of a sunrise in Malibu and the smell of bacon frying, both simulated by his bedroom’s sensory alarm. It wasn’t a bad way to wake up, but then again, there was no bacon, no Malibu. Instead, it was Friday morning, and school started in an hour.

He looked up and viewed a message on the ceiling:

 

Friday, September 30, 2196 / 7:00 a.m. / 58° / Partly Cloudy

 

The information was displayed like a stretched shadow in the early morning sunlight, as if the letters and numbers were painted on the window, but it was only an optical effect tied into the alarm. He rolled over and turned it off, and the lighting immediately reverted to the dimness of pre-dawn. The aroma of bacon came to an abrupt end, too. He made his way to his feet and fumbled toward the door. The sheets and comforter on his bed erupted behind him as Jupiter sprang to life to follow his master.

Adams undressed and stepped into the shower. Dual faucets automatically distributed soap, shampoo, and conditioner into the mix with motion-activated timing, creating the perfect lather and washing him clean with no effort expended on his part. His jet-black hair, which he wore purposely disheveled, wouldn’t look much different post-shower, but at least it would be clean. The 3-D panel walls of the shower imagined a perfect waterfall set in a rainforest, while a smaller holographic inset provided an update on news, weather, and sports, but Adams’s mind was elsewhere. He was supposed to kill someone today

Even though an RS-17 wasn’t actually alive—just a drone soldier designed to mimic a human being down to the smallest of details—the deed would look, sound, and feel very much like brutally killing another person. There would even be blood. Well, crimson lubrication fluid, anyway. “I hate gym class,” he said aloud.

Adams opened the door and placed a foot on the heated bathroom tiles. The shower stopped flowing at the notice of his absence. Hot air engulfed him on every side, but Adams reached for an old-fashioned towel. The high-efficiency blower systems in older homes never worked as well as a good, fluffy towel. Jupiter, who had been attentively waiting outside the shower door, sprang to life and licked Adams’s temporarily dry feet. “Come on, Jupe,” said Adams, and the pair walked back to his room so Adams could get dressed for the day.

A few minutes later, Adams was in the kitchen, eating breakfast—a densely packed protein bar with vitamins and essential minerals. Jupiter ate something similar, but seeing it broken up and in dog’s bowl, it somehow seemed more honest. Thanks to the onslaught of cheaply produced nutrition bars in thousands of varieties, famine had been all but eradicated some years ago. However, these protein bars, synthetically healthful though they were, could not be called meals in any sense of the word. On the plus side, they took no time to prepare and could be eaten on the go. And that was a good thing, because Adams was running late. “I’ll see you tonight, Jupe,” he said, scratching the terrier mix behind the ears before grabbing his backpack and heading out the door.

On most mornings, Adams’s dad, Grant, left early for work, so Adams was used to eating breakfast alone and taking public transportation to school. The loop station was only a few blocks from his family’s home—a mid-size apartment on the twenty-third floor of a high-rise that could be confused with a million others. Some of the more expensive apartments boasted a loop stop within the building, but Adams didn’t see that as much of an upgrade. He liked walking outside, no matter the weather.

Transom City, as bleak as it could be, could never completely blot out the natural world. Trees still dotted the city, the sun still shined, and the wind still blew. Rain and snow reminded a person that there was a world beyond the capital city, that there were places where wildness was left unchecked, a part of life yet uncontrolled by the Marshall. Even the weeds pressing through the pavement seemed to be doing so as a defiant act against the authoritarian regime.

When he arrived at the loop, Adams was surprised to discover his handprint was not working on the sensor. Dad must have forgotten to pay for the monthly pass again. Grant Klein could be absentminded, so it was a strong possibility. No matter the reason, though, Adams needed the loop to get to school. He considered trying to jump the divider. He had heard it could be done, that even though there were biometric cameras and spybots everywhere, such a crime was rarely prosecuted. He looked to his right and then to his left. He considered what kind of speed he might need to clear the barrier. But before he could try, he heard someone approaching fast from behind. “What? Is the Marshall reading our thoughts now?” he grumbled under his breath.

“Hold up!” said a voice, and Adams turned to see a familiar face. Alix Turner lived in his building and attended the same middle school. “I saw you ahead of me on the street, but you move quickly, man.”

“Sorry. I’m running late,” said Adams.

“Me too. Wanna loop together?” asked Alix.

“Sure. Do you mind if I borrow a scan? My dad must have forgotten to reauthorize our loop account.”

“No worries.”

“Thanks. I’ll get you next time.”

Alix passed his hand over a small black pad on the entry gate and the barrier fell into the floor in front of him. Once through, the barrier reappeared to block Adams and anyone else who might want to sneak in. Alix stretched his arm back over the barrier and waved his hand over the pad once more, paying Adams’s fare. The wall between the two boys fell, and Adams was free to join Alix.

Traveling through a long tunnel, the boys arrived at the large loop platform, which had been designed to bring several dozen entry points into one central station. It was filled with vendors selling hot caffeine injections, protein bars in a hundred different configurations, and digital impressions of the latest news reports, which could be cranially downloaded for full comprehension in just under three seconds. The loop station also served as the underground market for everything from printed books to real food—just about anything that had been outlawed or made scarce under the Marshall.

“There’s something I have to take care of,” said Adams. “Thanks for letting me borrow your hand.”

“It’s okay. I can wait,” said Alix.

“Nah, I don’t want you to be any later than we already are. It’s okay, really.”

Alix nodded. “Alright, man. I’ll see you at school.”

Adams cautiously strolled over to one of the protein bar stands, watching Alix out of the corner of his eye. When he had finally passed from view, he turned around made his way back toward the entrance of the platform. There, he slowly approached a thin man in a filthy black coat, slumped against the wall, his long beard blowing in the breeze from a nearby access tunnel. His eyes were open, but the man appeared absent. For about thirty seconds, Adams just stood next to him and joined in his blank expression.

Finally, the bearded man spoke softly, “Let’s see it.”

“Yeah, sure,” whispered Adams.

“Let me see,” the man repeated.

Adams surveyed the platform area for spybots hovering overhead. Not finding any, he pulled out a small box from his back pocket and lowered it to the bearded man, who took it without breaking his firm gaze into nowhere. The man slid back the lid and pressed his finger inside the box to confirm the product. “Seven-fifty,” he said.” Adams nodded, the price having been determined at their last meeting, though he wondered why someone would pay so much for something as trivial as an old whistle. The truth is, Adams didn’t care. He suspected the bearded man was part of an underground movement bent on deposing the Marshall, but he wasn’t interested in finding out for certain. And while he was sympathetic to the cause, he just wanted his payment—a temporary escape from Transom and his stale life. Seven-hundred and fifty milligrams of high-quality ash would allow him to leave, at least for a while.

The bearded man slipped the package into his own pocket and then held out his right hand toward Adams. The two shook hands, and as they did, the man pressed a small plastic bag of granulated ash into Adams’s palm.

Adams stuck the bag in his pocket but stood there an additional minute, not wanting to walk away too quickly and arouse suspicion. The bearded man began shouting nonsense: “The yellow police are underground, up in the trees! Cats know—oh, they know—but the dogs won’t stop barking! They won’t! I hate the dogs! Open your eyes! Stupid dogs!” Some people turned to look at the man; others were uncomfortable and determined to look away. Adams put distance between himself and the now apparently deranged, homeless man, though he knew the crazy routine was a favorite choice for those looking to avoid suspicion. Sometimes the best way to escape notice is to draw attention to yourself.

Adams walked quickly through the crowds and made his way past a yellow line at the other end. He sat down on a bright white seat, part of a long row of chairs, located at the very end of the platform. Once in place, a red light above him glowed, signaling to other potential travelers that space 42 was taken. In a normal speaking voice, Adams said, “One for Central Middle School D.” In acknowledgement, the red light above him turned yellow and then green, and a gentle whooshing sound, inaudible even a few inches from the pad, grew louder in his ears. Just when it seemed the sound of streaming air might deafen him, Adams was lifted off the ground. He and his chair were immediately enveloped in a clear capsule that shut in all around him, and then, like a bullet from a gun, that capsule began shooting through a single vacuum-sealed loop tube at more than 200 miles per hour.

The beauty of traveling by loop is that within the confines of a vacuum, there is no air resistance. Great distances can be attained with little energy expended. And because the normal friction involved in such speedy travel is not a factor inside the loop, passengers can carry on with life as if sitting stationary on a train or subway. Although the speed of the loop made most commutes far too short to even consider reading a book, venturing a conversation, or taking a nap.

The loop system carved paths across the sky, alongside tall buildings, and occasionally underground and underwater. Subsequent trips to the same destination might take alternate routes depending on the traffic or the never-ending maintenance schedule. On this day, Adams found himself flying high over the city, looking down at the cars on the streets below and up at more cars in the sky above. His pod only used an underwater bay tube once to avoid construction.

Six minutes after takeoff, the pod slowed into the station underneath the school. When it finally came to a stop, the shell unwrapped all around him, and he was, once again, sitting on a padded white chair on a loop platform underneath a red light, though this time the light was flashing to signify a completed trip. Adams stood up and walked briskly to the nearby stairs that ascended into the school proper. The bell rang to start the day as he reached the last of the steps. Close but still late.

First period for Adams was applied military strategy in one of the school’s many augmented reality theaters. He entered through the rear door of the theater, hoping to sneak past the course’s instructor, Mr. Hughes. As he passed into the classroom, the slate hallway of the school disappeared into a vast jungle landscape, and his ears filled with the sounds of a rainforest—the songs of birds, the cackles of monkeys, and the constant flow of a mythic waterfall in the distance.

Looking down, Adams saw that he was now dressed in black and gray military fatigues, his sneakers replaced with combat boots. And instead of his backpack slung over his shoulder, he felt the weight of an ARP-700, a basic but classic high-capacity military phaser. He quickly darted behind a large tree, not wanting to be discovered out in the open. He pulled the ARP from his back, and held it in front of him, edging slowly around the trunk to survey the area. To his left, in the deep growth, he heard something rustling in the grass. An animal of some sort perhaps? Or it could be an enemy combatant. Either way, he didn’t have a clear shot from his hiding place behind the tree. In case it was the enemy, he needed a new position.

Adams fell to the ground in a swift, silent motion and began edging his way into the clearing, staying low as he moved. From his own patch of tall grass, he remained hidden to everyone but the birds. He put the rustling grass across the expanse into his gun’s electronic sight and rested his finger on the trigger. Just then, the intruder made a move, abandoning its hiding place. Adams relaxed his finger. It was only a capybara, trudging his way clumsily along the forest floor on its way to the nearby river. Adams rolled over in relief, but it was short lived. He found himself looking down the barrel of someone else’s ARP-700. And mimicking standard protocol in the Marshall’s army, the enemy fired, sending Adams into a moment of pure darkness and mild pain. A second later, Adams was back in the theater, the jungle was gone, and he could see his assailant for what she was: a thirteen-year-old girl with pigtails, wearing a T-shirt with a picture of a cartoon cat.

The girl extended a hand to Adams, and he found his way to his feet. It was then that Adams first saw Mr. Hughes standing nearby. The theater had been programmed to provide Mr. Hughes with invisibility while simulations ran their course, and the special glasses he wore, which he now removed, allowed him to see everything as his students saw it. This way he could observe all that was taking place without interfering or distracting. “Mr. Klein,” he said, “so nice of you to join us. And that’s a record, I believe.”

“A record?” asked Adams.

“For quickest kill,” he answered, turning to the petite girl in the cat shirt. “Congratulations, Miss Seaverson.” With that, Stacey Seaverson took up her ARP-700 and vanished into the jungle, looking for her next target, though to Adams and Mr. Hughes, she appeared to be running into an open, white space with nothing around to provide cover. Adams sat the rest of the class out, forced to watch the remaining battles on an augmented reality viewer. Mr. Hughes naturally assumed that sitting on the sidelines would be a shameful consequence for those who were defeated so easily, but Adams was just happy to be free from the killing for forty minutes or so.

Since the advent of cranial downloads, there was no longer a need to study facts and figures. Mathematics didn’t need to be learned; science, engineering, and technology no longer needed to be taught. The information could simply be imported into a person’s mind. A centralized government authority, the Ministry of Education, took on the task of ensuring that only the best information was included in the regularly administered and approved downloads. Early on, there was fear that false facts, inadvertently inserted into the minds of nearly everyone on the planet, would result in chaos. Imagine a world where everyone suddenly believed two plus two equals five, for example. Businesses would grind to a halt, and the financial markets would descend into madness.

At first, as one might expect, there was widespread pushback to the new technology. But the ease of gaining a world of knowledge instantaneously proved too powerful a draw for all but a fringe of educational fundamentalists. Over a relatively short period of time, the ministry largely did away with the arts and humanities. Religion, literature, poetry, fine arts, philosophy, and the critical study of history were systematically removed from the approved downloads, citing the divisive nature of those subjects and their limited real-world application. Physical books were already a rarity when cranial download technology was first perfected, so the government found their ability to control information nearly total. The dawning of the era of injectable education, while appearing to exponentially increase knowledge around the globe, was revolutionary in precisely the opposite way that Gutenberg’s printing press had been seven-hundred years earlier, enslaving people rather than freeing them.


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

John Greco is a writer living outside of Nashville. His bride is Laurin. She’s his favorite. They have two boys, Jonah and Jude. He’s partial to them too. John writes because he wonders. He wonders about faith, life’s tough questions, and the meaning of it all. He wonders if all the grain silos dotting the heartland are really missile launchers in disguise—if every farmer is part of a secret society, chosen long ago to protect us from alien invaders with said missiles, should the need arise.

Q. Is there a message in your book that you want readers to grasp?
A.
This book is more a tale about identity—about each of us finding the unique role we were created to play in life—than it is about time travel, future technology, or a plot to keep the human race enslaved.
Q. When did you decide to become a writer?
A.
I stumbled into writing many years ago when I worked myself out of a middle management job in the correspondence department of a Christian ministry. My boss at the time allowed me to try writing letters, knowing that she could always have them redone by a real writer if need be. I never looked back.
Q. What is the inspiration for the story?
A.
I once read a true story of a man who left civilization to live alone in the woods. For decades, he had no contact with other people and stole what he needed to get by. When caught, he said he just liked being alone. But I'd like to believe he was a time traveler who didn't want to change history.

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Glow Girl
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