Rachel Thompson

Jack Canon's American Destiny

Friday, May 10, 2013

Orangeberry Book of the Day – After the Ending by Lindsey Pogue & Lindsey Fairleigh (Excerpt)


“Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art…It has no survival value, rather it is one of those things which give value to survival.”

-C. S. Lewis

March 15, 1 AE (from the journal of Danielle O’Connor)

If someone had told me three months ago that 90 percent of the people in the world were about to die, I would’ve laughed. If someone had told me the survivors would develop unbelievable Abilities, I would’ve called them crazy. If someone had told me I’d find love with the least likely person, I would’ve rolled my eyes. And if someone had told me that, after everything, the people I cared about most would be torn from my grasp, I would’ve walked away.

I wish I could walk away now.




Cringing, I glared at the stinging, red paper cut on the tip of my index finger and muttered, “Damn hand sanitizer.” I’d always been a fan of good old-fashioned soap and water, and I was irked that my dissertation advisor had forced the slimy, astringent goop into my hands when I’d left his office.

Unfortunately, the compulsory germ-killing reminded me of Callie, my pathetically sick roommate. I’d driven her to the campus clinic first thing that morning. She’d been sitting on our couch in pajama bottoms and a purple pea coat, mumbling, “I’m going to the doctor right now…just give me a second…,” and staring at the floor. I’d immediately hustled her out to the car and zipped her to the doctor.

“It’s just a bad case of the flu, I’m sure,” the doctor had claimed, barely perceptible worry tightening her eyes.

Callie’s ashen coloring had been troubling, but not as much as the doctor’s instruction to take her to the hospital if her condition worsened…like the other sick students…dozens of them. I couldn’t believe a flu outbreak was forcing so many healthy people into the hospital. It wasn’t like we lived in a third world country or something.

The handful of students missing from my morning study group only intensified my concern—a handful is a lot when there are only eleven students to begin with. As I cleared the last crosswalk on the way back home, being careful to avoid the puddles left by the morning rain, I wondered if the outbreak would end up being as deadly as the Spanish flu was nearly a century ago.

I shook my head, dispelling my unusually grim thoughts. It’s just the flu, I told myself for the hundredth time. She’ll be fine. They all will.

As I entered my turn-of-the-century brick apartment building, I distracted myself with thoughts of how incongruous the classy exterior was with the 1980s-remodeled interior. The d├ęcor was tragic—pastel and gold foil abstract art hung on the walls, and the carpet was a tacky combination of mauve, coral pink, and faded turquoise…and that was just the beginning. The apartments themselves included worn blue carpet—no doubt covering handsome hardwood—stained linoleum, and appliances with chipped plastic. Such a waste…this place could be exquisite. But, at least the rent’s low…

I walked to my ground floor apartment, unlocked the door, and shifted my computer bag to brace myself for the impending “happy Jack attack.” Except when I opened the door, it didn’t come.

“Jack?” I called out, curious.

Following his whimpered response, I found the 120-pound, adolescent German Shepherd staring forlornly at Callie’s closed bedroom door.

“Hey, Sweet Boy,” I said, crouching down to scratch his shoulders and to let him sniffle my neck. “She probably just wants to sleep. Want a treat?

Jack wagged his way into the kitchen while I quickly peeked into my roommate’s bedroom. Inside, Callie snored softly as she slept. She’s fine.

After rewarding Jack’s amazing abilities to sit (“sit”), shake hands (“nice to meet you”), and play dead (“bang”), I plopped down on my bed and opened my laptop. Jack hopped up and settled in next to me, causing a bed-quake.

Cam, my adorable boyfriend, wouldn’t get home from work for another half hour. Rubbing Jack’s velvety ear, I decided to write a nice long email to my best friend, Zoe—she hadn’t answered when I’d called during my walk home nor had she responded to my texts. The woman worked like crazy, and we hadn’t chatted in days. Besides, writing to her would kill time and help me avoid doing anything productive on my birthday. Genius.

Date: December 4, 4:30 PM

From: Danielle O’Connor

To: Zoe Cartwright

Subject: Birthday Heresy

Zo! I can’t believe we’re apart on a birthday. It’s practically heretical! Thank you SO much for the amazing drawing...it’s totally perfect. I can’t believe how many details you remembered from that night. Cam was super impressed too.

Anyway, how was your date with Mr. 58 (or was it Mr. 85)? You promised to give me juicy details, but alas, I’ve heard nothing from my wayward Zo. It was the blonde guy, right? Or was that the last one? Gah…I can’t keep up. Give me an ooey-gooey, nitty-gritty description of EVERYTHING. Please.

On a totally different note, the flu is getting pretty bad over here. Is it bad in Salem too? This morning I took Callie to the doctor, and Zo, I’m really worried about her. She’s so pale and weak—a soft gust of wind might send her tumbling. Actually, she looks just like you did when you had that H1N1 virus a few years ago. The doctor told us she’s seen dozens of cases of this flu virus over the past week. Looks like another little outbreak. Cam’s been making soup for Callie…he’s so sweet. Besides, his cooking is a gazillion times better than whatever I’d conjure up. My food might make her feel worse…

So…I’m sure you want to know about tonight’s birthday plans. Cam (sigh, drool) is taking me to his restaurant and then to that Irish pub—you know, the one where you had too many Long Islands and danced on the table... Anyway, Cam said he invited “everyone we know” to the pub. But, considering that over half of Seattle seems to be sick, I’m guessing less than a dozen people will show. Whatever…I’m just excited to get out and have some fun. 

Oh…gotta go...Cam just got home and is harping on me to get changed for dinner. I guess soggy jeans aren’t classy enough. I’ll give you a recap of the birthday night tomorrow, assuming I’m not too hungover to open my eyes.


We’d been at the pub for several hours when Jamie’s pink, designer stiletto jabbed my shin. “Did you hear about that student who died today?” she asked.

My food and alcohol-induced semi coma receded momentarily, allowing me to process her eager words. Always the drama queen, that Jamie. She never knew when to keep her mouth shut, so we constantly butted heads.

Sighing, I grumbled, “What are you talking about?” The question was a concession I hated but needed to make. I had to know; it was too juicy to pass up.

“Ohhhh…so you don’t know.” Jamie’s eyes narrowed with vindictive pleasure.

Not for the first time that night, I mentally cursed Cam for inviting her. “Evidently not,” I replied dryly.

“Yeah.” Her chest heaved with delight as she explained, “some undergrad died of the flu. You know, the one that everyone has right now. You do at least know about that, right? So now people are dying from it. Doesn’t Callie have it too?”

Hateful bitch, I thought viciously. I’d never really liked Jamie, and my concern about Callie clouded my judgment, along with the three vodka tonics and the glass of Champagne. “You’re a hateful bitch,” I retorted.

The statement earned shocked stares from several of the young Seattleites sitting around the corner booth, including Cam. But I wasn’t done. For days I’d been worrying about Callie, and stupid Jamie had just implied the worst. She’ll be okay. It’s just the flu.

With a sickly sweet smile I cooed, “Callie’s doing much better, thanks for asking. But you, Jamie…you’re looking quite pale. Are you sick? Or, have you just had too much to drink? You do at least know about your reputation as a lush, right?”

A growing silence encompassed our table. As I opened my mouth to continue, Cam interceded. “Let’s get a drink, D,” he said through gritted teeth.

I was quickly ushered out of the booth by his firm grasp. His unusual forcefulness was more than a small turn on, and suddenly, I was really looking forward to returning home with him. 

By the time Cam and I left the pub, the confrontation with Jamie was nearly forgotten. We entered our apartment, eager to reach our bedroom, and noticed that Callie’s bathroom light was on. When I went to turn it off, much to my shock, I found my roommate curled up on the tile floor. The air was thick with the rank smell of vomit. Oh my God…

I fell to my knees beside Callie and turned her onto her back. She was burning hot and coated in sweat. Jack, curled up next to her, kept nuzzling her cheek and watching her face for a response. There was none.

While we’d been out eating, drinking, and being generally merry, Callie had vomited what looked like all of her insides into the toilet. I stared at my friend’s non-responsive form, unable to move for several long seconds. And then I started panicking.

“Callie! Callie, wake up!” I implored, nudging her gently. She didn’t respond. I shook her harder, watching her sway like a rag doll. She looked so pale, so young. “Cam! We have to take her to the hospital!” I screeched. When I looked behind me for Cam’s unfailing support, I found him on the phone. He was repeating our address. Oh…9-1-1…I should’ve thought of that.

“Thanks,” he said, ending the call. “They’ll be here in fifteen or twenty minutes,” he told me.

“But, she’s…,” I began but didn’t know how to finish. Sick? Comatose? Dying?

“I know, D, but they said it’s an unusually busy night,” Cam said, filling two glasses with water from the kitchen tap. “They’ll get here as fast as they can.”

When the paramedics finally arrived, Cam had to pry me from my prostrate position beside my unconscious friend to give the emergency crew enough room to help her. We followed the ambulance to the hospital and watched as Callie was rushed through the emergency room and into a restricted area. FAMILY ONLY, read the sign taped to the door. All we could do was sit…wait.

As I looked around, my mind returned to a mostly-sober state. I wasn’t in an emergency room waiting area but a stifling, body-packed cage. People crowded in on all sides, milling, mumbling, mourning. They all looked sick. Hundreds of them. Shouldn’t the hospital be taking care of these people? What if they infect me? Infect us?

Cam sat beside me, holding my hand. He looked just as ill as everyone else in the crowded room. What if he is sick? Like Callie…oh God…like the guy who died…

The air grew perceptibly hotter and viscous. Clammy chills consumed my body. Stay calm…stay calm…stay calm…

Hours passed, and then I saw her. I recognized the silky blonde hair and pink stilettos. Jamie. You’re a hateful bitch, my words replayed in my head.

I watched as they wheeled her through the stuffy room, unconscious. Just like Callie. I’d been honest in my earlier assessment of her; she really had looked ill. You’re a hateful bitch.

Jamie disappeared through the same metal doors as Callie had. FAMILY ONLY. Medical staff and unconscious patients were the only people who’d passed through them. So far, only the medical staff had returned.

Desperately, I looked at Cam, hoping he could somehow give me the air my lungs couldn’t seem to capture. But he appeared ready to pass out, completely unaware of my emotional flailing. Zoe, I thought, I need you!


TO: Zo

Callie’s in the ER. She’s in a coma. Cam and I came in with her a little after 2AM. Been here for hours, but the docs still haven’t told us anything. Worst birthday ever. Wish you were here.

December 5, 6:00 AM

TO: Zo

BTW, I’ll call Grams in a bit to check on everyone back home. How are YOU feeling? Me? I’m freaking out…

December 5, 6:04 AM

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Genre – Science Fiction

Rating – R

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Orangeberry Book of the Day - Dissolution of Peace by Richard Flores IV (Excerpt)

Chapter 1

Janice Kanter was mesmerized by the size of the warship as it blocked the view of the stars through the window of the runabout. She knew the ship was big, but to see the size of it now, even at this distance, was awe inspiring. The Navy had nicknamed these warships “flying bricks” because of their shape and size. The name was accurate; it appeared to be a giant grey brick floating in space.

              As the runabout circled the warship awaiting clearance to land, the details became more apparent. The flight deck could be seen below the engines. The hull was speckled with cannon slots. How many guns did a ship in a peaceful navy need? The bridge dome was to the top front, large letters read “E.S.S. Australia.”

              The approach to the flight deck reminded her of her hatred for space flight. She looked away from the window to the crewman sitting next to her. He turned away quickly. She wasn’t sure if he was checking her out or staring because of her uniform. It was probably the latter.

              She was the only one wearing it on the runabout filled with Navy Crewmen. Her dark grey uniform, with its black accents, contrasted with the tan Navy uniforms. It was more than simple difference that caught their eye. It was what the uniform symbolized: Law Enforcement.

              She smiled at the crewman when he turned to glance at her again. A stray hair contrasted with the Earth on her arm patch and she dusted it off. The image of the planet spread out like an atlas, was the only color on the dark uniform. Its blues and g reens highlighted by the black background of the circle patch. The word “Security” along the top and “Forces” on the bottom labeled her. The crewman turned away again.

              “Do you ever get used to space flight?” Janice said to the man. “I hate it.”

              “I don’t know. This is my first assignment.” He smiled only out of pleasantries. “They tell me you don’t even notice you’re moving on a ship that size.”

              “I hope so.” Janice turned back to the window. She could see the rapidly growing size of the flight deck. The sheer size of the opening made her feel as if she was being swallowed by a beast. She sunk in her seat, realizing they were landing.

              Being in space was bad enough. She really hoped she could get used to it. The reality was she just didn’t like this assignment. She had only gone to Protective Services training because it was made clear to her that she couldn’t promote without a specialty assignment. She planned for a six month assignment protecting some Governor. Not a military assignment and certainly not a space assignment. It would be at least a year before she could go back to patrol.

The shuttle surged forward as it hit the deck. She swallowed hard to hide her reaction. As soon as the light turned on she unhooked her restraints and made her way to the ramp in the middle of the shuttle.  She was glad all her belongings were sent up ahead of her. She was halfway down the ramp before it contacted the deck.

Janice started making her way to the back of the flight deck, when someone yelled at her. She turned around quickly to see a man in the same uniform as her pointing her way.

“Hey, get over here.” His stern face made Janice pause. “Yes you. Where are you going?  You’re holding up the rest of the people.”

“What?” Janice walked over.

“Everyone boarding the ship has to be checked in.” He made no effort to hide his annoyance.  He pulled out a small device no bigger than the palm of his hand, a chip scanner.

“Even us?” Janice moved her hair from the back of her neck.

“This must be your first military assignment.” The man’s face softened and there was a bit less aggregation in his tone. He scanned the back of her neck and read over the screen. “Everyone is checked in and out, no matter what branch or how long their stay will be. Anyway, your orders check out. Corporal Carlson has asked you to meet him over there.”

Janice surveyed the area he gestured to. At the far side of the bay stood a man in a dress uniform, which really just included a tie. That was her new partner. A Corporal even, Janice wished she’d read the orders better.

As she approached him, he put out his hand. She shook it firmly. “You must be Corporal Carlson. You didn’t have to meet me here.”

“Mike is fine. And I just came back from a couple weeks shore leave.” He turned. “Follow me. It’s much quieter once we get off the flight deck.”

Carlson was a tall man, even with Janice’s height. Dark black hair was trimmed within regulations but was hardly the typical high and tight that most wore. He was thin, but just a hint of muscle could be seen on his arms. He wasn’t all that attractive, but he wasn’t ugly either.

As they stepped through the doorway, Carlson spoke. “There much better. Welcome to the Australia. She is a good ship and the captain is a good person to work for. Better than most captains to protect. Or so I have been told.”

“Youngest Commanding Officer in the fleet, too.” Janice moved up next to Carlson.

“Ah, so you did read some of the file then.” Carlson seemed to be judging Janice with his eyes, she was sure it was because she was new to this. She only nodded in response. “Good. She’s smart and deserves to be in command.”

The interior of ship’s walls were a nondescript blue, much like a cubical. Screens were near every major junction and the lighting was really good. Janice had worried that working in space would be dark and depressing, this was the opposite.

She noticed a lot of people moving around the ship, a lot more people than she thought she would see on a naval ship. The crew compliment must have been large. That information was probably listed in the orders she’d barely read.

“You didn’t have to get dressed up for me.” Janice broke the silence. When Carlson gave her a puzzled look, she flashed a quick smirk to show she was kidding.

Carlson turned and studied the floor in front of him. “I attended an officer’s funeral today. I arrived back on the ship in the runabout before yours.”

“Oh,” Janice studied Carlson’s reaction. “If I may ask, was it your old partner?”

“No,” Was that a trace of anger she saw in his eyes. Carlson changed the subject. “You were quite the star at the academy. Top marksman with the L-pistol, third with the rifle. Top in your class on academics and second best in physical fitness.”

Janice really wished she had read up on Carlson more, hell she wished she read anything about him. Why was he talking about her time at the academy anyway? That was years ago. “Yeah.”

“Yet, you barely passed Protective Services training. Fourth from the bottom.”

Janice didn’t like having that pointed out to her. She could have, and should have, done better. “And now you’re stuck with me.”

“I picked you.” Carlson looked her over again. “I asked for records, not names or descriptions.”

“And why do you want the fourth from the bottom?”

“There are two reasons most people join Protective Services. They either want to protect the Prime Minister,” Carlson stopped at a hallway. “Or they just want an easy specialty so they can return to patrol and promote.”

“You think you got me figured out then, is that it?” Janice spoke with a controlled tone. Who was this Corporal to analyze her records and make a judgment about her? And why did it bother her that he was right?

“I am not sure about that,” Carlson said. He activated a screen at the intersection. “This screen will show you a map of the ship. Your stuff should be in your quarters. Our first shift is tomorrow night, third watch. See you then.”

Janice watched him walk away. Space work, a smartass corporal for a partner, and graveyard work. This was going to be a long year.

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Genre – Science Fiction

Rating – PG13 to R (Language)

More details about the author & the book

Connect with Richard Flores IV on Facebook & Twitter