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A ripping sci-fi adventure that doesn't let up!

By 2077 the polar ice caps have melted, the oceans have risen, and the world is on fire...

In the not-too-distant future, a botched terrorist attack combines with a massive hurricane, and the course of history is forever altered.

Set against the backdrop of the next historical crucible, Black Stag, White Doe, the first book of the Black Emperor trilogy, follows the harrowing journey of Daniel Fischer, a mildly successful and self-assured Atlanta condo developer turned "Enemy of the State," as he struggles desperately to save the life of his sick son amidst the overwhelming and treacherous conditions of a post-disaster America.

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Stripped of his all-important rights of citizenship and cast among the millions of refugees, Daniel survives one impossible situation after the next, often thanks only to his uncanny luck. Through these trials, Daniel is haunted by the ghosts of his strange past, and by a mysterious Other, a faceless and nameless presence of unknowable purpose who might just hold the key to Daniel and his son’s survival.

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Black Stag, White Doe is a fusion of fantasy and science fiction, where a man endeavors to shape his own destiny against the greater forces of history, culture, politics and chance. Daniel traverses a future that is recognizable to the modern reader, where pickup trucks come with UberDrive entertainment and communication systems; reality TV shows revel in the misery of the less fortunate; and the bonds of society are stretched by webs of mutual contempt.

Starting in April, 2020, Black Stag, White Doe will be released as a free monthly serial.

 

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Read the first chapter

CHAPTER ONE

THE LEV

 

Lieutenant Jonathan Randolph of the LEV’s 22nd Command Center stood before a wall of monitors. His sweaty hands were clasped behind his back, his thick legs spread. He was aiming for authoritative but the lateness of the hour and the stale air made his clothes cling tightly to the sweat on his back and to the bulge of his belly. It made him uncomfortable and edgy. He mopped sweat from his forehead, his receding hairline standing up like a forest of bare-limbed trees.

Three privates in khaki coveralls manned the monitors in front of him, the monitors flashing and blinking on their grim, tired faces in skittering eddies of color. The screens flipped through the feeds of thousands of security cameras at three second intervals, a vast army of lenses that kept silent watch over the entire LEV.

In the far corner of the room hung a television like a discarded cardboard box, a forgotten relic from the original construction of the LEV almost thirty-five years ago. There was no sound—the speakers had stopped working long before Randolph started his tour in the LEV—but the screen showed a radar image of a hurricane churning in the Atlantic Ocean, thirty miles off the Georgia coast.

Hurricane Walter.

Randolph had been watching the storm’s progress for days now, at first with curiosity and now with growing uneasiness as the projected path bent nearer and nearer to his particular quadrant of the LEV.

Randolph walked up to the private seated nearest him, a blond 19-year old named Lister, and patted his shoulder in what he tried as a collegial slap. Lister shrugged out from under Randolph’s hand, looking fixedly at the monitors. Randolph looked down the line of privates to see if any of the others had seen. He knew these boys didn’t respect him; he could see it in their eyes and hear it in their speech. He supposed they thought he was old and fat and washed up. Randolph plowed through the discomfort by inelegantly assuming an air of authority. He pointed to one of the screens to their right and called Lister’s attention to a tiny valve in the middle of the screen.

“Keep your eyes peeled,” said Randolph. “The main valve here is probably the weakest spot in the entire Quadrant. It feeds the magnet.”

The private nodded sleepily, his bleary cheeks drooping in exhaustion and boredom. This was the third time this week Randolph had reminded him of the valve and he was well aware of its importance. He had after-all endured three weeks of mind-numbing training on the construction of the LEV and its main components before assuming this particular post. He opened his mouth in a long and exaggerated yawn and Randolph leapt at the opportunity to escape from the awkwardness.

“No yawning on the graveyard shift,” he chirped, his voice like a splash of cold water. The privates didn’t turn to look at him. He plunged on anyhow. “Keep watching those screens, boys. I’ll get you some more coffee. Only two more hours and we can all get some shut eye. I promise.”

He turned on his heels and marched out of the control room, his chest and belly puffed out ahead of him. When the door snicked closed behind him his composure sagged. He wiped his forehead again, and the full weight of his fatigue settled in around his shoulders. These shifts were beginning to wear him down; like waves lapping over rocks, he was bludgeoned by the hours, his once sharp corners smoothed over. His shoulders and neck were stiff from months of keeping this unnatural schedule, from months of pretending to be in control, from endless nights of coffee and doughnuts, from the layers of fat building day by day over his once tanned and flattened stomach. He unconsciously rubbed the itchy cloth of his shirt and grimaced.

Ahead of him spread a long hallway, which followed the delicate, almost imperceptible curve of the LEV. The white-wash had not been repainted in years and had faded to mustard. There were no windows and the only light came from a thin line of fluorescent bulbs that ran down the middle of the hallway. In several places the bulbs had burned out and the hallway alternated at random between light and dark.

He walked toward the break room, his footfalls echoing. He traced his hand along the smooth, worn wood of the guard rail as he walked and he wondered whether the wood was real, or if it was a plastic composite.

It certainly feels real, he thought as he tried to remember the last time he’d actually felt real wood. Of course there was the park; at the park he could feel sticks and bark and the trunks of trees, but when was the last time he’d actually felt something made of wood? Come to think of it, when was the last time he’d gone to the park? Not for years, at least. This rail must be old.

He let his hand fall from the rail and walked with his head down. He really hated this hallway. He had spent the last five years of his life in the fluorescent gloom of this Levee drinking coffee, chatting with the other patrols, daydreaming, drinking more coffee, and all of it, all the conversations and opining and drinking and shitting, all that living seemed to amount to nothing more in his mind than this empty, tedious hallway going on and on for miles.

The break room was ahead on the right, marked by a dusty, brown sign adorned with a white steaming cup icon. A few yards beyond the break room was a second door, gray with a flashing red sign that told Randolph he was currently three floors below the water line. He paused with one hand on the break room doorknob and watched the sign flashing. Three floors below the ocean. He thought about all those tons of steel and concrete above him and below him, all that water and weight. The LEV was a great tomb, and he was stuck deep in the heart of it.

A childish thought came to him: he should leave this place, just run out that door, climb the stairs back to the surface, and leave this subterranean treadmill behind. He wanted to feel the sun on his face, he wanted to feel it burning away this sickly tomb-sweat that coated his forehead and he wanted to feel it kissing his pale cheeks to a healthy rosiness. He wanted to look out on the waves of the Atlantic, not how they looked now—just tiny curdles at the feet of the Lev—but how they must have looked fifty or a hundred years ago as they broke against ocean-side cliffs. Natural and ever-lasting.

He watched the sign flash a few more times, then he sighed and pushed his way into the break room. He was being foolish and he knew it; there were no ocean side cliffs anymore—at least not on the East Coast—now there was just the LEV, and the endless, floating shanty town beyond.

The coffee machine was an old-fashioned model which still required water to be manually dumped in. Half the time all that came out was a bad smelling goop the color of rust or blood. Randolph had put in a request for a new machine twice, but so far he hadn’t heard anything. They did get a new TV set a couple months back though, and it was murmuring from its perch in the corner. He listened casually as he brewed the coffee.

“38 NAS soldiers were killed this morning in a midnight raid on a Chinese munitions factory north of New Beijing,” said the newscaster in solemn tones. “This brings the total of North American soldiers dead in the Chinese operation to just over 3,400 since the beginning of hostilities in March of 2073.”

Randolph paused with the coffee pot poised over the intake as three soldiers on the TV, dressed in the traditional blue fatigues of the North American States, ran across a rubble-strewn street firing their automatic rifles at something off screen. In the background a building exploded and the soldiers fell to the ground.

He couldn’t watch the news anymore; it just filled him with a nebulous revulsion and guilt. So many years these conflicts had been going on; if it wasn’t the Chinese it was the Russians or the Iranians or the Argentineans. Always there was something or someone the NAS was fighting. Always the NAS was on the verge of collapse. All his life it was going on; it had all just seemed to Randolph like a big show, like a put-on for ratings or votes or something. War as entertainment, as the old saying went.

He poured the rest of the water into the coffee machine and hurriedly placed the pot under the spout before the coffee began to brew. A few moments passed and the newscaster began talking about fighting in the mountains of Eastern Europe but Randolph focused his attention on the dripping coffee. Again he thought of crashing waves and for a moment he almost truly saw himself there. But he knew that place didn’t exist. It was gone—just like Savannah and New York City and Florida—washed under the waves of the Atlantic. The image collapsed in a puff.

Suddenly the thin streamer of coffee sputtered and turned the faded rouge of clotted blood.

“Shit!” he whispered under his breath and hammered the “OFF” button. “This fucking machine.”

He started to grab the pot to make another but thought better of it. It was a waste of time; only two more hours and their shift would be over. Surely they could last that long without falling asleep. He emptied the pot in the sink and replaced it in its cradle.

He shuffled out of the tiny break room and into the hallway, and as he left he could hear the weatherman on the TV behind him laugh, “I’d bring a raincoat to work tomorrow, folks. Walter’s gonna be a whopper!” He paused a moment, looked both ways, then headed to the surface.

 

Ten minutes later Randolph pushed open the heavy steel door and immediately felt the strong sea breeze pushing across his face. Although it was as warm as breath, it instantly cooled the sweat on his brow. He leaned against the door frame, clutching his chest, gasping from the ten-story climb up the stairs, letting the air wash over him.

His breathing slowed, and he let go of the door frame and stepped out onto the wide, gray observation platform at the top of the LEV.

“Hmm,” he said, “The LEV.” He rolled the word over his tongue, tasting it as though for the first time. He chuffed silently as a novel thought came to him. “Sounds kind of like live.”

That had never occurred to him before, but now it seemed fitting. The LEV was life when you thought about it. After all, it had gone like this: the oceans rose and flooded everything and then the NAS had built a wall, this levee, and then everyone had lived? It was simple, neat, and clean when you thought of it that way. Of course that was the short, short, short version, because it really hadn’t happened as quickly or efficiently as all that. It had taken years for the oceans to swallow the coasts and then it had taken several more years for Congress and thousands of engineers to decide on a plan of action. Then they’d actually started building, and that had taken even longer so that by the time the LEV was completed—and the miles and miles of extension levees added to it later—New York was already gone, Florida was gone; California was reduced to an archipelago of mountain islands. Hell, even Savannah, where Randolph had been born, was slumbering 30 feet beneath the waves.

But still, the LEV was something special, something to be, if not proud of, then at least impressed with. It was the first, the best, and the biggest of the levees, nearly 800 miles of solid steel and concrete stretching from the rocky crags of New Brunswick all the way down to where the Georgia-Florida line had been. It was the greatest engineering feat in the history of mankind, even greater than the Pyramids of Giza or the Golden Gate Bridge, and it was the jewel in the Americans’ global crown. This great barrier, set firm against all the raging of the ocean, was a symbol of the power and prosperity and resolution of the North American people, and it was stark proof to all the world of what Mankind was capable of when pressed by adversity. In the end, the LEV was extended beyond the original length to protect the whole country—although most of Mexico and Canada had to be excised in the name of haste and efficiency—but it was this particular span, on which Randolph now stood, that was held in such high esteem that it carried the simple moniker: the LEV. The LEV. All the others were just walls.

Randolph struggled through the stiff wind to the guardrail and he looked out on the ocean. The night was inky black and it swirled around him as if the darkness were a living thing. Below and all around him, Randolph could hear the low buzzing of the giant magnets—the ingenious lynchpin of the LEV technology—which maintained the necessary internal pressure that kept the LEV from simply collapsing on itself. He could feel the massive output of the magnets in his hands as he gripped the railing, like when he used to stick his tongue on 9V batteries when he was a kid. It raised the hair on the back of his neck.

Rising to his right was one of thousands of guard posts, tall incisor-like towers equipped with spotlights and soldiers and more security screens. He could see the spotlight roving along the sea below and a soldier stood shadowing its progress with a low-grade artillery piece.

Randolph watched the spotlight too, and although he’d seen it many times before, what stretched before him was completely disorienting at first, as if the world had been tipped upside down. Hurricane Walter’s growing tentacles had covered the moon and the stars above, and below Randolph, where there should have been gently lapping black waves, there was a rippling sea of twinkling lights. Like a mirror galaxy, the ocean was a giant, brilliantly lit, churning organism, spreading out from the base of the LEV almost to the horizon in all directions. It would have been beautiful—and in a way it was beautiful—if Randolph hadn’t known what those lights were, what they meant.

The Shants.

Below him spread a massive, floating shanty town, which grew out from the LEV like a vestigial tail dangling from the backside of the NAS. This was the home of the Shants, the remnants of all the tattered nations that had been too poor or had too few resources to repel the flood waters. They carved out short, hard-scrabble lives from the scraps of the old world and built homes from garbage on endless flotillas of metal and wooden planks. They were under constant surveillance. If there was ever to be any real threat to the security of the North American States, it would surely originate here.

Whatever benefit Randolph had thought he would derive from the fresh air vanished in an instant, and he turned away from the ocean. Why had he come up here? He hated seeing them up close. The Shants stood outside in the bitter rain and cold, barely surviving, jealously watching while the NAS danced behind their levees, ignorant—and usually downright hostile—to the unfortunates that hadn’t been invited. The starkness between the lives of those within the LEV and those without was clear to everyone, and it made the Shanties a violent place, transforming the LEV into the principal front of an unceasing war between those who had and those who had not.

The NAS, of course, wasn’t the only place above water—there was the United European Front, and Russia and Iran and the Indochine Confederation—but the existence of those other places didn’t make the NAS any less culpable. In his darker moments, Randolph saw everything as part of the same big loop: the LEV, the Shants, the NAS, the floods, war, all of them begat each other in an orgy of ill-will and violence. In the end, everything was interconnected; the floods required the LEV, the sharing of the Levee technology with the EU and not the Russians started the first war, and the war caused the border crackdown, which caused the Shants and now life was just wonderful as long as you ignored the fact that every major world power had their guns pointed at one another and their fingers on the triggers.

The tensions had exploded before. There had been a hurricane and thousands of dead Shants; there had been a suicide bomber last month who blew a chunk out of the outer wall of the Euro South Levee. The damage had been little more than cosmetic but it was clear…the Shants were getting restless.

A distant shout floated to him from the Shanties below. He looked about him, as if surprised by where he was. The spotlights glided more vigorously, trying in vain to locate the source of the sound amid the rabble of metal and wood. Randolph took a last look at the Shanties then turned away.

He walked toward the door. The wind lulled momentarily, creating a small moment of clear silence. Then red lights began to flash and sirens screamed in the night. The guards in the tower above him shouted and floodlights blasted over the Observation deck, illuminating every inch and bathing Randolph in a white sheen. Randolph’s stomach went sour, and as he hurried to the staircase, the ground below him roared and he stumbled drunkenly to his knees.

 

Out of the corner of his eye Private Jeremy Lister watched Randolph’s considerable backside walk out the control room. The door clicked shut and he wiped his forehead and heaved a sarcastic sigh.

“Thank the fucking Lord! I thought he’d never get the fuck out of here,” he said, returning his eyes to the monitors before him. “He seriously glitches me out.” There was a groan of consent from the other two soldiers as their shoulders slumped in unison. They’d been sitting stiff-backed in their chairs, making a show of paying attention though their thoughts had been drifting for hours.

“If he mentions that damn valve again I swear I’m gonna kill myself,” said the private, terse, mole-like. His name was Jones. 

“No shit,” sighed the third private.

“He needs to stop fucking touching me,” Lister said. “I mean, every time he gets near me he puts his fuckin hands on me. The sooner I get the hell out of here the better. Every fucking night sweating in this shit hole with that stupid Bonnie breathing in my ear.”

“One. More. Month. We’ll be gone,” said Jones.

“I wonder where they’re gonna send us? Maybe Europe…” said the third private. He was sweating through his hat.

Lister laughed, “Anything better’n this shit night after night.”

“No shit,” said the other private.

“Listen here,” said Jones, turning away from his monitors to look at the others. He gave them a significant look and whispered, “Jordan on the East Deck told me that we might get sent a little further east, if you feel me.”

 Wide grins spread across their faces as gleams of understanding touched their eyes. “China?”

“Mmhmm,” Jones nodded, leaning back in his chair. He looked casually back at his monitors.

Lister looked from one to the other. He shook his head incredulously. “Fuck that! No way…”

Lister stopped abruptly. Something had moved in one of his monitors. He squared himself with his control panel and flipped back through the last few camera shots. Jones scooted his chair a little closer and looked at Lister’s monitors. Lister said nothing; he just flipped through a few more screens until he reached the camera that showed the main valve.

“Shit!” He pressed the button under his panel board. Red lights began to flash silently in the control room and he jumped to his feet, staring at the screen, frozen with horror. He gestured toward the door.

“Get Lieutenant, someone’s at the valve,” he said to no one in particular.

Jones shot to his feet, sending his chair skittering across the stone floor.

“Go!” shouted Lister, shoving Jones toward the door. He paused for another frozen moment and then turned and ran out the exit.

Lister watched the monitor, fascinated and horrified in equal measure. Standing in the middle of the room, obscuring Lister’s view of the valve, was a teenaged boy wearing a long, open trench coat. Two rows of interweaving bombs were strapped tightly to his thin chest and he looked frightened, but defiantly so. In his left hand he held a detonator and in the other he held a sign that read, “Weak Shall Inherit!” in large, awkward black lettering. The boy raised both of his hands in the air toward the camera and the sign filled most of the field of vision. A strange look passed over his face, an exultant look, nearly ecstatic. It was like the boy was looking directly into his eyes, as if he could see him, and was mocking him. He watched as the boy lifted the detonator to the camera, smiled like a ghost, and brought his thumb down.

Then everything turned to snow.