Still searching for a Christmas present for that YA-loving teen/adult in your life?
My debut novel tells the story of Jayce Loman, a teenage genius who hijacks an untested time machine into a future where his is the most hated name in history.
Why not support a writer you like (ME!) and get a sweet-action gift for your bibliophilic friend?
My six-year-old says this is the best book I've ever written and then read out loud to him. Don't take his word for it, though. He's only six... what does he know? Find out for yourself by reading the first chapter, below.
It was hot and sticky that night, but Jayce was inside. Where he was it was cool and dark, and there was an endless corporate-air hum throbbing through the duct-work, so that even in his thick black pants and pullover he was hardly sweating as he walked down the long, narrow hallway. His shoes were soft-soled and he stepped lightly, barely making a sound beneath the tangle of thick cables lining the walls and masking much of the track lighting overhead, so that the space was filled with weird, snaking shadows.
Jayce looked like what you’d expect from a teenager, I guess: medium-height, medium-dark hair, medium build. But there was a look in his eyes that—no… wait. No, I’m not gonna let you see his face, just yet. We’ll start off behind him, watching him pace away from us into the jungle of shadows, his head silhouetted in an eerie, blue glow. We’ll look at him from behind for a moment, because I want you to get a sense of who he was first, without focusing too much on what he looked like. So note, if you will, the black and neon-yellow backpack. Neon not to be trendy or ironic, but just him, because even then, I think he had it in him to value the old, neglected things that nobody else seemed to want. He was sixteen at the time, and even though I’ve described him as medium-build, he thought of himself as smaller than average, and made up for this imagined deficiency by being smarter than everybody else, even when he wasn’t.
“Turn left up ahead,” a young, female voice said, “you should be almost—”
“Yeah,” Jayce answered, cutting her off, “but I—” he stopped mid-sentence and ducked into an alcove on his left, twiddling his blue-lit fingers as he did, so that his glowing blue halo disappeared. He pressed into the shadows as a beam of light played across from a side passage up the hall. Jayce could suddenly hear his own breathing and it sounded sharp and loud over the heavy clump of boots, as a security guard stepped into view at the “T” up ahead.
The guard stopped and shone his flashlight in Jayce’s direction. He, too, wore all black. But his was the jackbooted, carrying-an-assault-rifle-like-my-third-arm sort of blackness. The kind of blackness you don’t want to meet in the middle of the night in a shadowy hallway, down deep in the bowels of a government installation where you don’t have permission to be. The guard took a step toward Jayce. Jayce’s heart beat a little faster, but there was nowhere for him to go. He scrunched himself hard into the darkness.
The guard lifted his arm, exposing a fitted black band on his wrist. Projecting out from that band was a light-blue, glowing pattern of circuitry that seemed to trace the veins on the back of his hand and then extend out along his fingers. He scissored his index and middle finger and a rectangular holographic screen appeared, floating over his forearm as he held it out in front of himself. On the screen was a maze of passageways, and at an intersection of two of those passageways blinked a green dot. The guard took another step toward Jayce, and the green dot moved along with him, marking his place. There were a few other green dots, as well, but none nearby. The guard moved his fingers again and the rectangle disappeared with a small, electronic blip. Jayce carefully exhaled as the guard resumed his walk off down the other arm of the “T.” He waited a moment, then leaned out into the hallway. Clear.
Jayce had a thin, angular face, with a smattering of acne. He had eyes that sparked with a deep intelligence, but seemed hooded and withdrawn. Maybe because of his dark eyebrows, or maybe just because he was always lost, a little, deep down inside himself. He lifted his own wrist, revealing a band similar to the guard’s, and scissored his fingers. The electronic holo-circuitry on the back of his hand lit up brighter, and he began to move his fingers in quick, practiced twitches. A light blinked on a small, black electronic device in his ear, and then his blue halo reappeared, as a holographic display extended out from the earpiece to wrap around in front of his face in a translucent screen, a few inches from his nose.
On one side of that screen was the video-image of a teenage girl, freckled, and with an unconventional appeal found not so much in her fair features as in the direct, unaffected confidence of her manner. Under her feed was the name “Aerli,” and she was piping mad.
“What the HELL, dude?!” she said, the moment she appeared (hers was the voice he’d been talking to, before).
“There was a guard. I had to cut you off.”
“What!? Did he see you?”
“No, of course not. He’s gone. But look what I found.” Jayce turned to the back of the little alcove he’d ducked into, to where a ladder ran down the wall to a hinged, metal grate on the floor. Aerli made a dismissive sound.
“Why weren’t you running that tracker program I sent you?”
Jayce moved his fingers again, and a holographic rectangle identical to the guard’s projected out in front of him, a few feet from his face-screen. “I thought you were gonna ping me when they got close,” he said. “I can’t watch everything.”
“I could,” Aerli said. And she meant it.
For a moment, her confidence bothered Jayce, but he refocused his attention on the ladder, and on an electronic pad sitting to the right of it at about head height.
“Well, check this out,” he said, and when he moved his fingers again, the pad lit up. He lifted his wrist in front of the pad, and his wrist-band projected out a levitating holographic sphere that quickly coalesced into a remarkably solid, remarkably real-looking human eyeball, which floated at the end of his beam in front of the glowing security pad. A thin beam of light projected out from the pad and scanned the eyeball. Then there was a quick CLICK from somewhere in the wall, and an echoing click down at Jayce’s feet as the built-in grate-lock popped open.
“How ‘bout that?” he asked. “How do you like them, uh—”
“Not bad,” Aerli’s projection admitted. “Now, let’s get going before that guard comes back.”
Jayce nodded. He bent, and lifted the grate up and to one side. It was heavier than he’d expected and almost slipped his fingers, but he managed to hold on. Jayce took a deep, relieved breath. He nodded to himself, then adjusted the straps on his backpack and climbed down the ladder.
Down, down, down into the darkness he descended, until he started to wonder if the ladder would ever end. He paused, looking down through the small pool of light cast by his face-screen and past it, into the dark below.
“Curiouser and curiouser,” he muttered to himself (for in addition to his keen scientific mind, Jayce was also a collector of old stories).
“What’s that?” Aerli asked.
“Nothing. I’mma turn you off for while I’m in here, in case it echoes.”
“No, wait!” Aerli answered, “I wanna see what—”
But he moved his fingers, and she was gone.
When he finally did reach the bottom, Jayce found himself facing a large, metal-walled vent. Using his wrist bracelet, he pulled up another map—this time of the ducts—and started off down what became a successively narrower sequence of ducts, until he was crawling on his hands and knees. He reached another ladder and climbed up it for a while, and then across again. At a junction, he paused to check his map, turned right for another five yards, and removed a metal panel from between his hands and knees. Jayce carefully let himself down onto the metal, lattice-work framing of a ceiling. He froze, listening. Then he began to quickly move his fingers, scrolling through lines of code on his face screen until he found what he wanted.
In the room below, the lights on the various alarm-sensors blipped, but remained on.
Above, Jayce pulled up his map of passageway schematics, noted the locations of the green guard-dots, and then gently pried up a ceiling-panel beneath his feet. He set it to one side and, grabbing the metal edges of the frame, dropped himself down through the ceiling. As he fell, he scraped against the edge of a low, shiny-black counter, which deflected him so that he landed a little too heavily on one ankle.
Jayce stifled a cry. He waited, listening for the white noise of the vents to join the electronic whirrs of this room and fill the space with an approximation of silence. When they did, he stood and looked around.
He saw that he was directly in the middle of the most advanced laboratory he could have imagined. It was a large space—perhaps a couple hundred feet across in each direction, with a ten-foot ceiling covered with matte-white ceiling panels that concealed the industrial-steel, I-beam structure of the building. The full length of the wall to his left was comprised of floor-to-ceiling glass in a metal-grid framework, with doors that opened out at intervals into a passageway running the length of the room and off to who-knows-where in each direction. The other walls were all a featureless, unadorned white. Long rows of counters went off in each direction from where he stood, and took up much of the room, with the exception of a smaller, shadowy area off to his right. And while some of the work-stations had the beakers, sinks and test-tubes you’d expect of a chemist’s lab, most were covered with intricate, advanced electronic and computer circuitry, flashing all over in little blips of holographic light and energy that moved and swirled around pieces of machinery Jayce had until then only dreamed of. Something about the space just emanated “Top Secret.” From the endless tubing wrapped in intestine-like cordage around every corner and between every station, to the glowing objects that were all interconnected throughout the room, it had the cumulative effect of a place dedicated to the study of confiscated alien technologies. But while the lab was secret and the property of the government, there was nothing extra-terrestrial about it. This was the future, plain and simple.
Jayce indulged himself with a long, low whistle as he took all this in. He thought about turning Aerli back on so he’d have someone to gloat to about it, but he didn’t know if he could get her signal way down here, and he was still a little annoyed at what he saw as her unjustified doubt.
Instead, he limped across the darkness of the room, touching whatever he came to, in the light-fingered way of an acolyte experiencing his first brush with the sacred objects of his respective religion’s holiest of holies. And all the while, without ever really noticing that he was doing it, Jayce was working his way through the counters toward the darker side of the room, following the general flow and movement toward which all the tubes and wires seemed to be oriented.
That side of the room was bathed in deep shadow, but when he stepped between the last two counters and out into the darkness, the room’s bio-aware system brought up a low, generalized glow, revealing the Machine.
The Machine was a vaguely armchair-shaped beast sprouting an insane tangle of tubes and wires and hydraulic apparatus, which spread out not only to the various lab-stations around the room, but into the floor and other walls, as well. A particularly dense shaft of this entanglement protruded from the back of the Machine, running out like a thick, tumescent umbilical cord to disappear into a far wall still shrouded in shadow.
“Ho-lay,” Jayce said, “She was not kidding.”
Jayce walked up to the Machine. He twiddled his fingers, and a beam of light played out from his wrist over the surface of it, highlighting various aspects—a control panel here, a lever or knob there. Jayce began to work his fingers faster and faster, manipulating his way through lines of code, until with a faint hum the Machine lit up, and a holographic user-interface projected out in front of him.
“There you are, you little vixen,” Jayce said, and he dimmed his face screen and lifted his hand to the interface, which he began to manipulate directly. He muttered to himself as he went, speaking the low incantation of those who’ve transcended computer literacy, past mastery into the spaces where math, code, and physics all merge into a barely-recognizable, alternate reality.
His easy confidence slipped for a moment, and he wrinkled his brow in concentration. Jayce wormed his way further and further into the digital guts of the machine, until with a low almost-growl it stopped him, flashing an “ACCESS DENIED” message in friendly, oh-no-you-don’t blue.
“Shit!” Jayce spat. He brought his face-screen back up, wondering for a moment if he should risk trying to get Aerli back.
“No. No… I got you,” he snarled at the machine, and attacked the problem again. It took a few more tries, but then it said “ACCESS GRANTED,” and he was in.
Jayce worked away intently at the machine’s projected window, scanning through formulas and algorithms too complicated for you or me to understand. For Jayce, it was child’s play… had been, in fact, since he was a child. He scrolled through quickly, taking it all in at a glance, and then… no.
“That’s not right” he said, as he backed away from the Machine and scratched at his chin with his index finger.
Jayce stepped forward again and focused in on one particular jumble of numbers, letters, and symbols. He dragged a hand to expand the window, then began to grab bits of code and move them, re-arranging and re-organizing faster and faster, as he sank deeper and deeper into what he was doing. So deep, in fact, that he almost didn’t hear the sound of a clicking door somewhere down the hallway outside the lab, and footsteps.
“Shit!” he spat again, and with a quick hand-swipe shut down the machine and dove for cover behind a counter, just before one of the glass lab doors opened to reveal a preoccupied, middle-aged man in a white lab coat. The man paused in the doorway, feeling around in his pockets and then up to his face, where he at last found the antique-looking glasses he’d been searching for, pushed up into his hair. He giggled at himself a little as he walked toward the Machine.
The man was somewhat aggressively heavy-set, but he had a kind face. And although with his wild, uncontrolled hair he perfectly fit the stereotype of the absent-minded scientist, it wasn’t just abstracted preoccupation characterizing his behavior. There was also the sort of gentle good humor generally found only in the best, most creative minds—minds not too bound up in the fear of their own inadequacy to be able to enjoy the exploration of the outer bounds of their ignorance.
I tell you all this because he will very quickly become an important part of our story, and an important part of what drove Jayce to do what he did and become what he became. So it is essential that you know that he was a good man—or at least a man who knew his capacity to be less than good, and fought against it. This is perhaps the best we can hope for anyone.
Jayce was pressed hard against one of the low counters, terrified that the man would notice the lights were up, or that he’d messed with the code, or… or anything. He edged his way around to the other side of the counter, keeping it between him and the man, as the man worked his way across the room to the Machine.
Jayce saw a power cord dangling over the side of the counter and carefully shuffled his way out and around it. But he failed to account for his backpack, which somehow hooked the plug on the end of the cord as Jayce slid past. Just as the man reached a hand up on top of the Machine with an “Ah, there you are” and grabbed a small, tattered notebook, Jayce’s backpack pulled the power cord tight, and the laser-solder at the other end of it rolled off the counter to SMASH! onto the floor.
Jayce panicked, stood, and bolted for the door.
The man called out, “Jayce?”
Jayce slowed, but then kept going until the man yelled out “Jayce!” a little louder, and with more authority. Jayce stopped. He slowly turned and faced a man he knew very well.
“Hi, Uncle Glen,” he said.
Glen bounded across the room toward his nephew, any traces of joviality vanishing as he grabbed Jayce by the arm and pulled him to the floor.
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