In the new decade, the world gathers in Stockholm for a controversial climate forum. The stakes are high, as violent and unpredictable storms increasingly plague the earth and sea levels encroach on coastal shorelines. Nicole Hunter, head of the richly endowed Everson Foundation, leads the charge to invest in promising research that will hopefully impede environmental devastation. But her contentious stance has been questioned by others, and now her career and her life are both in jeopardy.
Meanwhile, unseen forces assemble to sabotage any breakthrough that could challenge existing global energy markets. Oliver Odin, a mysterious international agent, is sent by the Security Alliance to investigate ominous threats intercepted by intelligence sources. The evidence leads him to the beautiful, strong-willed Nicole and the brainy scientists attending the forum. But when scientists on the verge of a promising discovery are gunned down at a reception held by a United States senator, it becomes apparent that powerful forces will stop at nothing to prevent the world from being saved.
As a few brave souls attempt to rescue the planet from environmental calamity, they soon realize that their mission comes with a price-and some will pay with their lives.
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By D. Hilleren
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2011 D. Hilleren
All right reserved.
Chapter OneRussian Orthodox Church
It was a bright and promising morning in the Voleostrovsky District in St. Petersburg. The sun was already catching the towers of the Russian Orthodox Church, where workers were slowly beginning to climb up the scaffolding to begin their workday. The onion-shaped cupolas reflected a blinding gold that stood out as a beacon, distinct from all the other drab and dirty buildings in the neighborhood surrounding the church. The restoration workers were methodically making their way down to the lower reaches of the building, where only small sections of the cupolas remained to be gilded.
During the Soviet times, this particular church had been transformed into an ice skating rink for all the young people of Leningrad to enjoy. Many citizens had the best memories of their Soviet childhoods skating with friends and holding hands with their first sweethearts in the rundown shrine. But when the ceilings began to crack and the stones began to crumble, Soviet officials shuttered the doors.
The church ultimately survived the Communist era and was now a cultural icon, welcoming wealthy tourists to the city. The travelers came on private yachts and boutique international cruise ships that would dock at the busy harbor directly across from the church. They gazed out at the pale yellow exterior with the striking gold cupolas. It was a stunning example of Russian architecture and a logical pick to undergo complete renovation by a government interested in promoting tourism.
A man opened the heavy wood door and entered the dim interior of the church with confidence. He turned to his right, ducked into a doorway, and began climbing the winding, circular staircase on the north side of the church. His drab coveralls and cap were the same as all the other workers, and he carried an old paint tarp on top of a cardboard box. He climbed the jagged stone stairs until he reached an archway where an even steeper staircase branched off to the left. He was confident that this would take him to the smaller, more isolated tower he was seeking.
The climb was not an easy one, but he was in good physical condition. His steps were rhythmic until the end of the journey, where the circular staircase narrowed even further. It became difficult to carry the cardboard box without bumping into the coarse stone walls. Finally, he reached the cramped tower room in the secondary cupola.
He put down the box and tarp and looked out the unobtrusive opening that he had noticed while scouting the exterior of the great church. He smirked and licked his cracked lips in pleasure since the view of the ships in the harbor was even better than he had imagined. In the small space, he laid out the paint-splattered tarp and opened the cardboard box to reveal a partially assembled rifle. In a few deft moves, he completed the rifle assembly and peered through the high-powered scope.
He focused in on a luxury cruise liner that had just docked in the harbor, and noted the bright blue and yellow flag waving toward him in a slight breeze coming off the water. He expertly gauged the distance and determined the adjustments he would have to make to execute the perfect shot.
From this vantage point, he could see the passengers who had gathered on the main deck to watch the ship's arrival. A middle-aged woman who appeared to dominate the conversation with her friends caught his eye. She wore a white pant suit with excessive amounts of makeup and jewelry, including an ornate diamond cocktail ring that flashed in the sun. He targeted her forehead in the cross-hairs of the scope and slowly squeezed the trigger of the unloaded rifle. In satisfaction, he thought of the exorbitant sum of money that he was going to get paid.
Exhaling forcefully, he lowered the rifle, knowing he wasn't going to experience the pleasure of the kill today. He reluctantly pulled himself away from the perch, disassembled the rifle, and put it back into the tattered cardboard box. He put the box against the stone wall and covered it with the paint tarp, knowing this section had already finished restoration.
He began the return journey down the irregular, winding stairs. When he reached the bottom, he walked out the massive front doors and nodded at a "fellow" worker coming in. He proceeded down the block of the blossoming, academically oriented neighborhood and only paused for a brief moment to look at his reflection in a cafe window.
The town car would be there in ten minutes and Nicole was still throwing clothes in the suitcase. After all these years of travel, she should be a pro at packing, but it was still a major chore. She indiscriminately pulled clothes out of the drawers and closet, leaving a jumbled trail of clothing behind her. This trip would be a couple of weeks long, including an excursion on a ship in the Baltic Sea. There would be the standard business meetings, cocktail parties, and various informal gatherings in variable weather conditions: a packing nightmare.
She looked at the chaotic piles of clothes and sighed. She impatiently pulled back a lock of her dark wavy hair that had fallen over her serious blue eyes and began packing with more determination. She was dressed in her standard travel attire: comfortable black jeans, low-heeled boots, and a fashionable, one-button jacket.
The buzzer rang, so Nicole threw in an extra black sweater and hurriedly closed the suitcase. She made a mental check of the absolute essentials: passport, credit cards, cell phone, and laptop. She had packed a large bag and a barely legal carry-on—way too much for a seasoned traveler.
She walked out of the lobby of the residential tower located in the trendy Belltown neighborhood of Seattle. She was welcomed by the fresh sea air and the cries of the seagulls hunting for fish in the nearby bay. Nicole enjoyed living in this area because she could walk to unique restaurants and coffee shops or browse through the numerous boutiques and art galleries. She really loved being home, which made it even harder to leave on another trip.
The town car driver pleasantly greeted her, opened the passenger door, and put her bags in the trunk. They drove past the Space Needle and headed to the freeway. Nicole settled into the backseat and enjoyed the view of the city rushing by. The skyline loomed in front of her, with views of Puget Sound in the background. The Olympic Mountains were only partially visible since clouds were beginning to settle in over the prominent peaks. A large ferryboat was crossing the bay, bringing cars and passengers from Bainbridge Island into the city. She noticed the wind picking up, forming whitecaps on the choppy water.
Nicole arrived at Sea-Tac Airport in plenty of time to catch her international flight. The throng of travelers in the terminal looked to be manageable as she guided her luggage to the business-class check-in line. Her slender frame and striking good looks often solicited offers of help from fellow passengers, but she was stronger than she looked and competently lifted the bags onto the belt. After check-in, she made her way through the annoying security screening process and headed to her gate.
Once on board, Nicole settled into her customary aisle seat in business class for the ten-hour flight to Stockholm, and began to review the latest information on the Global Climate Forum. She was engaged in the briefing papers and was not paying attention until the engines powered up for take-off. She gazed out the window to see the buildings and the fertile, green landscape quickly disappear below. The plane gained altitude and moved into the hazy clouds.
The flight attendants got up from their seats and began rattling around in the galley, beginning to prepare the drink cart for the long flight to Stockholm. Nicole could hear their light-hearted chatter in the background and reached for her headphones to block the constant engine noise.
Boom! Without a warning, an explosive blast shook the plane! The deafening sound was accompanied by a blinding flash of light. Nicole instinctively ducked down and covered her head for protection, her adrenaline racing. Terrified passengers screamed in panic, and then everyone fell silent. The plane was no longer gaining altitude.
The flight attendants slammed the drink cart back into its compartment in the galley, rushed to their jump seats, and quickly fastened their safety harnesses.
The quiet Asian businessman next to Nicole pointed a shaky finger to the aisle floor and whispered in a terrified voice, "It came from there— from the baggage hold."
Nicole looked at the steel-blue and gray pattern on the carpeted floor and thought, The baggage hold would mean it was a bomb! Her heart raced, and her senses told her it would only be a moment until the plane would be going down in flames. She felt powerless, strapped in her seat with nothing to do but watch the catastrophe unfold.
The plane abruptly lurched upward for a few seconds and then dropped violently downward. Everything seemed to be in slow motion, even though it was happening swiftly in real time.
The pilot took the plane into a steep ascent, looking for an altitude with less turbulence. Nicole thought at least the pilot was able to increase power to change altitudes, so the plane was holding together. It crossed her mind that it could be a thunderstorm and not a terrorist attack, which would have a better chance of survival.
Finally, the plane stabilized.
After what felt like an eternity, the pilot's voice crackled over the intercom. "This is your captain speaking. On takeoff, we encountered an unusual electrical storm. The plane is designed to withstand a lighting strike in an event such as this, so please remain calm. Although part of the electrical system has been affected, the plane is functioning normally. It's standard procedure to check out all systems after a direct hit, so we are returning to the airport. We will be arriving back at Sea-Tac in a few minutes."
Getting hit by lighting when flying out of Seattle on what looked like a normal day? It seemed crazy, although extreme weather, including increased lighting strikes, were becoming more common every year. Nicole recalled how planes had gone down in recent years due to the more severe and quick-forming thunderheads. It had been reported that aircraft, even traveling at high altitudes, had been broken apart by over one-hundred-mile-per-hour updraft winds. Some of the debris had been strewn over hundreds of miles.
The pilot's matter-of-fact voice came back on the speaker, "We will be doing a routine landing, but emergency vehicles will be out on the runway. Do not be concerned; this is standard procedure. We will be at the gate shortly."
Nicole looked around and could see the impact of the incident on the passengers' faces. The seconds of terror and minutes of uncertainty had taken their toll on peoples' nerves, and they gazed out in space with adrenaline-glazed eyes.
The plane descended at a rapid but steady rate. As it approached the runway, all the flashing red lights of the emergency vehicles further heightened the passengers' already overloaded senses. In a few more seconds, the wheels solidly touched down on the runway. Nicole let out a sign of relief.
When the plane finally rolled to a stop at the gate, a firm voice came over the intercom. "Please remain in your seats and ring your call buttons if you need any assistance."
After it was determined everyone was okay, the stunned passengers were told to take their time and walk slowly off the plane. Before Nicole left her seat, she leaned over to look outside of the window and could see the ground crew systematically examining the outside of the airplane.
As she unsteadily walked up the ramp, all she could think of was how unpredictable the world had become.
While she waited in line for a ticket agent, Nicole overheard two of the agents talking. "This is the third plane hit by lightning coming out of Seattle this month!" She recognized that it was more important than ever to get on the next available flight to Stockholm.
Chapter ThreeSenate Offices—Washington DC
The senator sat in his formal office, nervously shuffling papers on the massive antique desk, impatiently waiting for his cell phone to ring. He knew he ought to be attending the meeting of the defense subcommittee that he cochaired, but he was waiting for a specific call. It was one that only he could answer. But it was disconcerting that he did not even know the identity of the gentleman who was calling him.
Eighteen months ago, the senator needed funds to turn around his failing reelection campaign. The public was in an anti-incumbent frame of mind, and his ratings were dropping like a rock in the polls. The campaign was looking hopeless, and he had exhausted all of the traditional political avenues to raise money.
In desperation, he began making contacts with acquaintances to get advice. One of them was an old friend who was well connected in the petroleum industry. He told the senator that he might know another way to acquire some funds, but it would all have to be kept quiet.
The friend phoned back the next day and told the senator that someone would contact him that evening to discuss potential funding. He told the senator to personally take the call, be honest, and not ask any personal questions. He would not say any more.
As promised, a cordial man who did not identify himself called that evening and asked if he was talking to Senator Clarkston. Then he proceeded to ask the senator several questions about his views on the global economy. The senator took his friend's advice and did not mince words.
First, the man asked him about the report that the United Nations had recently come out with showing how conflicts are caused by weather-related incidences. It basically said that farmers and herders who used to live in peace were supposedly fighting over basic necessities, such as food and water. The senator made it clear that he thought it was ridiculous to blame human conflicts on the weather.
The mysterious caller asked about his views on global warming and the reported association with extreme weather conditions, such as record floods in Europe, monsoons in Southern Asia, and tornadoes and hurricanes in the United States. Again the senator had answered truthfully, "It's all hogwash, but it is essential that I appear concerned for the benefit of the party and the younger people in my state." He went on to tell the man, "Gone are the days when a politician could be honest about things and survive an election."
The last question was about the melting ice cap that was opening access to vast, previously inaccessible resources. The senator immediately said, "US oil corporations should have first claiming rights to the Arctic. My constituency in Texas will depend on it."
The man on the phone had concluded, "If you get the money, I would expect some small favors that would line up with your political beliefs. Would you be willing to help out?"
The senator didn't hesitate. "Yes that makes sense, especially if I agree with the position."
"Then welcome to the team. I'll be in contact."
Over the next forty-eight hours, a stream of donations was made to the senator's campaign fund. In total, it amounted to over twenty-five million dollars. It was enough money to run TV spots and do a media blitz that turned the election around.
The senator had no further contact with his wealthy beneficiary, until yesterday, when a messenger delivered a package. Inside, there was a single, aromatic Cuban cigar, and a note: "You will be receiving a phone call at 4:00 p.m. A small favor is needed."
The senator startled when his private cell phone rang. He reached to answer, noticing that the caller ID was blocked. "This is Senator Clarkston."
"I know. Listen to my directions. If you do well, you will continue to be rewarded. If not, well ..." The pleasant voice from the first phone call had taken on a menacing tone.
"I understand," responded the senator. It had been clear from the very beginning, especially when the senator saw how much money had been given to his campaign—if he didn't comply with the caller's request, he knew his career would be over.
"We need you to hold a welcome reception at a climate forum in Stockholm."
"What? I thought you were going to ask me to do things that supported my politics."
The voice on the other end of the line became angry. "That is exactly what you will be doing! You said yourself it was important to look supportive of the environment, and the event will serve that purpose, so that is what you are going to do!"
The senator bristled at being told what to do, but he had no other choice. He was at the mercy of this powerful blackmailer and forced to comply with his directions.
Excerpted from BATTERED EARTH by D. Hilleren Copyright © 2011 by D. Hilleren. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This was an extremely fun thriller, full of mystery and intrigue. Beginning with an introduction to our characters and environment, setting the stage for the events to come, the novel really starts to take off as Nicole’s life is threatened at a party where the two scientists she is talking to are shot in cold blood. Together with Oliver, an intense international agent, Nicole must figure out who is out to stop the green fuel initiative, and it is here that the fast-paced nature of the story begins. Though a little more scientific than my brain is capable of processing, Hilleren does a great job keeping the reader up to speed with the scientist and environmental jargon as events progress. And, with its high speed chases, gun battles, and explosions, this novel unfolds quite cleverly as Hilleren intertwines terrorism, espionage, and the very real threat of climactic devastation to create her intense novel. The characterization was great, and while I wouldn’t necessarily be friends with either Nicole or Oliver in real life, we’re just much too different, I felt like I really got to know them as the novel developed. Hilleren fleshed them out well and kept the romance to a minimum, which I was extremely happy about because I was much more wrapped up in the thrill of it all than the romantic aspects of the story. Likewise, I just don’t think the chapter layout would have allowed it. The chapters are set up to show as many different sides as possible using the third-person narrative, with extremely short chapters that quickly jump from person to persona and event to event to spur the novel on. Each chapter has its own title, allowing the reader to easily focus on the new segment, which might be about Nicole, a senator, a terrorist, etc., and I really enjoyed this sporadic nature once I began to wrap my head around it. Though there were many small side stories, Hilleren does bring them all to a point as the story unfolds, which was really fun as I began to piece things together. Overall, this is a fun and engaging read that I think a majority of adult readers will enjoy.
I thought Battered Earth was the perfect mix of suspense and action. It was also a frightening look into our possible future. It made me wonder how far will big business and oil industries go to stay rich. Would they actually let the planet be destroyed? Wars have been started over oil as it is what will be next? I loved it and found it to be very thought provoking!
A very clear and page turning and thought provoking story. The story is full of mystery, intrigue and danger and the author uses simple and easy to follow text and language. The characters traits and beliefs are expertly defined to the reader which makes them totally believable. As prominent businessman and leading scientists are in Stockholm for a forum on the earths climate, disruption occurs from unknown forces who gun down two scientists, one is killed and the other survives. Were these the real targets though or was it Nicole Hunter, Head of the Rich Everson Foundation. Oliver Odin is dispatched by the Security Alliance to investigate the shootings and other threats that have been received. As the forum now moves onto a research ship taking them to the Valkyrie, a scientist ship working on a virtually environmental project, a terrorist is on board with a hidden agenda. After reaching and looking round the Valkyrie, the story and mystery develop as the forum heads back to shore the terrorists deeds come to light, killing all the crew members of the Valkyrie. When his masters have heard his actions have worked, a Lithuanian trader approaches the Valykrie and removes its precious cargo. Realising what is at stake, can Oliver and Nicole find out who has killed the crew and where the precious cargo is headed? If the cargo falls into the wrong hands terrorists throughout the world will have unlimited power. So time is of the essence, can they not only save themselves but the world peace as well. From the start I was drawn into the story as the author builds up the mysterious air around all of the characters and the plots very systematically. This is what I really like in a thriller, not everything is revealed at once. A really enjoyable read that I would strongly recommend.
At first, due to the subject matter, I was worried that this would just be a book to put forth someone's personal agenda on the environment. Happily, I was wrong! It is a well-written story filled with mystery, murder, and intrigue. I felt like the characters were well-developed. After a few chapters I felt like I knew the main characters well, and I was immersed in their lives. I especially liked how descriptive this book is. I haven't traveled to all the locations in the book, but I still felt like I'd been there before. I could picture the locations in my mind. I think that's a sign of a great writer, to help us recognize places we've never been to before. I also liked that the chapters were a very readable length. Just long enough to keep you intrigued, but not too long that you have to stop in the middle of a chapter because you've run out of time. I liked that the ending had everything resolved, yet left the door open for a sequel. I was satisfied with the ending but excited that their might be a follow-on novel! I recommend this book! I think you'll enjoy it! I know I did!
Finishing a book in 3 days with my busy life is quite a feet, and only happens if I'm really 'into' a book. This book is just that. As someone who is quite concerned with the status of earth and what we as its inhabitants can do to make it better this book was a perfect fit. I was concerned when I started if this book would cross the line from fiction to 'preachy' but I'm happy to say it did not! Its a great book of mystery, murder and spies all of my favorite things with a eco-twist. In my opinion the perfect combination. The short chapters made it easy to read during my busy schedule and I was hooked by the end of the 3rd short chapter. It takes a little while to intertwine all of the characters you are initially introduced to but that all leads to the intrigue. Pick it up you will enjoy it!
Reviewed by Brenda B. for Readers Favorite The earth has finally captured the attention of the human race as global warming and pollution wreak havoc around the globe. Natural disasters occur randomly and with deadly force on a daily basis to the point that some people have become desensitized to the news. Scientists come together in a summit, motivated by discovering green energy and reducing the carbon footprint the petroleum industry has imprinted on the precious planet. Of course, where there is good, there is evil. Deep pockets and zealous terrorist cells provide the counterbalance to their efforts. Battered Earth takes us around the world, with vivid descriptions of geography, history, science and social fare. This whirlwind thriller unites the senses to full alert as the characters establish their personas then intertwine in a story of espionage, betrayal, romance and loss. The copy of the book that I received to review had printing issues which somewhat detracted from the intensity of the story but ultimately the rhythm of the author's writing won. I found myself mesmerized in the plot, the peril of each personality whether on the receiving or the giving end. D. Hilleren has such a descriptive way with words that I could close my eyes and mentally visualize the landscapes, the sounds, the smells of the scene. A squalor, a lightening strike, a sniper hidden in a cathedral tower; this is the closest thing to a movie that a reader can get. This book has a story line that is quite impressionable and raises questions of the safety in our own world today. Closing the book at finish, I turned on the news and soon found my skin had goose bumps and an eerily familiar feeling.
The world is experiencing strangely strong natural disasters. Many believe it is a direct result of humankind's footprint on the environment. But many more believe that they are just freak anomalies that will go away if we just wait them out. A group of environmentalists and energy scientists are set to meet in Stockholm to brainstorm ways to reduce the impact we have on the environment. However, there is a group of powerful individuals that will do just about anything to make sure their ideas never see the light of day. Nicole Hunter is the host of the meeting in Stockholm. She is determined to find a way to reduce our use of fossil fuels for energy. When there is an attack and someone from the meeting is killed Oliver Odin shows up to investigate. His investigation leads him on quite a chase across Europe and Asia, uncovering a huge plot that could potentially kill millions. The writing style of this book threw me off at first. It is not written in a typical novel fashion. It struck me as much more like the human interest pieces you often read in the local papers. A lot of facts, and a little personality. Whether or not the author intended it to read this way, it worked once you got used to it. I found myself eagerly anticipating the next "edition/chapter" and wondering where the story would turn next. 4/5
I wish I could put my finger on the reasons, but I ended up disappointed in this one. Nicely written, good plot premise, but somehow I ended up feeling that the conclusion of the book didn't live up to the promise. Maybe that was intended, but for my tastes, I dislike the mysterious conspiracy-backing villain who is never identified. Just my tastes!