When Caz gets the big call from the FBIa million bucks to recover a stolen statue of significant cultural valueit comes with a downside. His assigned partner has more of an interest in Jesus than Caz is comfortable with. Oh, and he's an alien with four arms and a tremendous sense of smell. Welcome to 2018.
When aliens showed up fifteen years ago, Earth cut a deal to join the Panstellar Consociation as a protectorate, allowing their new neighbors to set up a warp tunnel in orbit, in exchange for advanced tech secrets. Now Caz is caught up in the retrieval of their missing statue, and they want the mission kept quiet.
Or Earth could be in very, very big trouble.
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 1.25(h) x 9.00(d)|
About the Author
By day, Steve Rzasa works as your local technical services librarian in Buffalo, Wyoming. By night, Steve dons his spacesuit and authors speculative fiction. Steve has written several books, including his debut novel, The Word Reclaimed, which finaled in American Christian Fiction Writers' Best Speculative Fiction award in 2010. He and his wife, Carrie, have two boys whom he is teaching to love all things sci-fi and superhero.
Read an Excerpt
It was just another day on conquered planet Earth, driving up to my job lying to people.
I headed out to the Beverly Garden Suites in Beverly, Massachusetts, early in the morning, about seven. Traffic wasn't too bad. Coming from Revere you're bound to hit some snarls where the road runs into 128 North. No prob. Just put the Beastie Boys on the MP3 and let them grate at me from the speakers.
Every so often I looked in the rearview mirror. Good. Didn't look like anyone was following me. Not saying I thought Janos was clever enough to have me tailed, but I didn't get this career path by being loosey-goosey.
I stay safe by being paranoid. Works for me.
Anyway, the drive up to the Suites was uneventful. I pulled into their parking lot right on schedule. Well, a minute off — the cars coming the other way were led by some idiot from Pennsylvania who decided driving by a strip mall and old houses in Beverly, Massachusetts, was a fine way to sightsee. Pennsy drivers. When you grow up in New Jersey, you never find worse.
I liked the motel. Nice, cozy place to stay when you were pretending to be a businessman visiting from out of town for the spring and summer. It was a two-story building with a brick lower floor and white siding with green trim up top. Good old American eagle perched atop the stairwell in the center, lots of greenery around the front. Just, you know, a nice place.
There were only two other cars in the parking lot along the front of the motel: a decade-old VW bug, complete with a burn-your- eyes-out yellow paint job and filled with so much junk only a college student could stand the mess; and a shiny blue Chevy Cobalt. No great difficulty figuring out which one Janos drove.
He was early. Good. So far he'd stuck to his script. After four months of playing pal with the guy, one would hope I'd know his habits.
Not that I could criticize him for his choice of ride. Mine was a black Hyundai Santa Fe, a short, stubby SUV. It was something a nuclear family of tourists would drive to haul their kids around Maine for the summer, mother-in-law in tow.
But that was all part of the game. Janos couldn't see my real car, or my real clothes, or my real face.
Anyone else around? I stretched my arms and yawned like I was tired. Which I was. You don't stay up playing the newest Assassin's Creed until midnight without serious video game hangover.
Hmm. Across the road, parked in front of the mini mall, were two sedans and a big Excursion — all black, tinted windows, engines running, judging by the exhaust ghosting in the cool morning air. I rolled my eyes and zipped the neck of my pullover. "Way to stay low-key, boys," I muttered aloud.
Okay, item check. Stone green fleece pullover? Check. Wallet? Check. Swiss Army knife? (Thanks, Dad.) Check. Change? I patted my pockets. Nope. Found 87 cents spilled all over the seat. That's the downside of wearing khakis.
Finally, the big enchilada itself, a briefcase that surprised me with its weight. Who knew a half a million in $100 bills was that heavy? If it were me, I'd have brought a bearer bond. Untraceable. Negotiable at any friendly bank. And not nearly so obvious.
But Janos didn't trust banks. So I carried cash.
On the way to the stairs, my shoes clicked across the two parking spots nearest the office — one for handicapped drivers, with its familiar white wheelchair on a blue square. The other was a white drawing of a figure with two legs and four arms, set on a green diamond.
A four-armed alien.
Pssh. Now even the little mom-and-pop businesses had to provide parking for the Ghiqasu. Thanks very much, federal interference and the Consociation Accommodation Act.
"Stupid qwaddos," I said.
* * *
Janos Vanchev was a big man. Not big influence-wise. Big as in rotund. Round like a parade balloon. He was also a foot shorter than me, which left me feeling confident in all our dealings. Nothing like looking down on a guy's shiny bald spot to give you a boost.
He grinned that moronic grin of his. "Caz! Come in, please, yes. Is good to see your face again."
That was Janos for you. Sounded like he stepped out of a bad eighties movie about Soviet spies. There might be some merit to the rumor that Janos was ex-Committee for State Security, the Bulgarian secret police. Who knew the Bulgarians had their own secret police?
"Hey, Janos, how're you doing? You don't look any better than when I saw you in May."
It was true. His hair was thinner, more gray than black. There were dark circles under those solid brown eyes. He was just as pasty white as his driver's license, though he'd grown a scraggly goatee in the intervening month. Illegal activity was apparently bad for his complexion.
"You like my new car? Is best model on road."
"That Cobalt? Not flashy enough."
"Says the man driving Japanese piece of boklutsi. You like drink?"
"No thanks. I don't do rakia at —" What time was it? 7:25. Sweet. "Almost 7:30. You got any orange juice?"
"Orange juice? What are you, child? You drink rakia or coffee in this room or nothing. Sit. Please." He indicated the chair by the TV. The news was running — CNN, with some talking head reporting from Berlin or Bonn or somewhere German. Sound was muted, so the only noises in the room were from the two of us and the air conditioner whirring.
"I'm good." No way was I going to sit and let him have the upper hand. A maroon chair was stuck in the corner of the room, facing out toward a tan couch. Those two bits of furniture formed a triangle with the door as the third corner. Janos's briefcase was in the corner of the room. Looked like it threw up his wardrobe on the floor. He'd left TIME and The Week discarded on the couch cushions. I'd have gone for The Economist myself. Off to the right of the couch was the kitchenette, where Janos hummed some Old World tune while he clattered around with the glass and a half-empty bottle of rakia, fruit brandy from his motherland.
"My Chevrolet has the new fusor cells. Runs forever. No charging batteries. What does SUV have? Your little shoebox down there?"
Keep talking, Janos. I could've cared less that his car ran on Low-Energy Nuclear Reaction. Okay, so it was fusion, and perfectly harmless, but whatever. I scanned the room from where I stood. Where'd he stash the sketches? "Gas mix. Gets a ton more mileage than anything I had in college. Don't have to buy a whole new fusor core when it burns out either."
"Fusors are way you must go, Lancaster." Janos chuckled. "Unless the izvunzemni make our cars fly too."
"No dice on that one. You think the qwaddos would let us?"
"Bah. Is nothing we can do to satisfy the izvunzemni. Best for all to take their alien technology and let them run what they want to run. If not for them would be no fusion, and coal would choke us, yes?"
"Hey, man, things ain't so bad now. When was the last time we had a major war?"
"You see news? They send Chinese and United Nations soldiers off to some rock through Big Ring. They all fight whatever izvunzemni tell them to on other planets. No fighting men left on Earth! Is no one left to fight!"
"Whatever you say. I for one don't want another particle weapon zapping the U.S., even if it was an evacuated town." I didn't want to dwell too much on the qwaddos.
"Bah. The izvunzemni, they make life tremendous pain since 6/16."
Janos liked to use that catchphrase, along with several billion other people who could speak English. Short for June 16, fifteen years ago. You know, when the qwaddos showed up with their masters. The aliens didn't threaten conquest. They just bought us out.
See, the whole thing hinges on the Big Ring. That's what the average guy calls the huge structure the qwaddos and their masters built in orbit, between Earth and the moon. It's a gateway among worlds that shaves months off their interstellar travel time. As if having faster-than-light spaceships wasn't impressive enough. According to them, the fabric of space-time in this region is perfect for such a portal.
To use it, the qwaddos made us a nice cozy protectorate on their highly valued interstellar trade and security route. Put a huge military base and trading post on the moon. Issued intergalactic travel permits to select individuals and paid big bucks — well, platinum and such — to reimburse our governments and hire our armies as mercenaries.
No alien invasion. More like alien corporate takeover.
Janos trundled out of the kitchenette, rakia glass in hand. He took a swig and bared his teeth. "Nazdráve! Puts hair on chest, as they say."
Bet he'd rather it was hair on his head. I patted the briefcase. "I brought you a present."
"Ah, yes. Have yours right here. Is like Christmas!" He took another drink before setting the glass on the counter.
Janos dug through his briefcase. Socks, shirts, and underwear — okay, really didn't need to see those — went flying. Something crinkled, sounded like rain shaking leaves. He hoisted a bag from the clothing.
"Yes, you see? Everything you asked of me. Picasso, Matisse, Braque. So for this you brought me five hundred thousand. Is best in cash."
My heart pounded against my chest. Not because I was nervous around Janos. The man was a marshmallow. An armed marshmallow, but still, a marshmallow. And I had his money, every last bill the real deal. No worries there. What had me jumpy was the fact that he'd stuffed hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of art, these irreplaceable works, into Target bags like he'd shopped 'em out of the office supply aisle. "No cash for you, chief, until I see them."
"What, you are not trusting me?"
I grinned, made it look as real as possible. Checked the watch. 7:30. The guys were waiting on me for the signal. "Just protecting my rep, you know? The collector depends on me to deliver the goods, and he's not about to hand over half a million for cheap forgeries."
"Forgeries! Never. You look here, see what Janos brings for you."
It was one of those rare moments when Janos got upset. All it took was a dig at his ability to filch honest-to-goodness works of art. He fumbled with the knot tied in the top of the plastic bags, his fingers pudgy like sausages and hairy to boot. Nasty. But you don't hang out with a guy for months and pretend to be a colleague in the world of art theft without learning to suppress your sense of disgust.
I took a few steps toward the couch. He was on the kitchen side, struggling with that knot. Whatever he muttered had to be some Bulgarian profanity, judging by the spittle. "You need a hand?"
"No, no, set out the money." Janos sounded irritable. He must be nervous. But this was his big score, after all. I'd be nervous too.
"Want me to count the money?" I set the briefcase down on the couch. Gently. No sudden moves, you know? It's like dealing with a scared dog.
"Let me count ... ah! Aha! Here we are." The knot gave. Janos pulled the bag apart and dumped the sketches onto the couch without flourish.
Lord, don't let me flinch.
Funny praying right then. There wasn't much of it in the preceding months. Or years, for that matter. Another of those people I needed to keep in touch with and failed miserably.
Thankfully the works were individually secured in plastic sleeves, like someone decided they were giant baseball cards. Unreal. The topmost one was a Picasso that hadn't left its owner's possession for fifty years, until it was stolen eight years ago. It gave me chills when my fingers caressed the sleeve.
"You see? Janos delivers. No empty boasts here, my friend." He laughed and clapped me on the shoulder.
Ick. Just count the money already. "These are amazing, Janos." No lies here. Such beautiful work. It should be displayed in a museum for all to see and to love. Or at least cared for in someone's home, barring that. Not traded flippantly in a hotel room, like drugs or hookers.
So I could be sentimental. Sue me.
"Yes, yes, pretty pictures. Now, the five hundred thousand." Janos retrieved his rakia. Drained that puppy in a matter of seconds.
"Like I said, it's all there." And so were the sketches — the entire inventory. Whew. One more thing going my way.
Come on, Janos, get counting.
He took wads of bills and fanned them. A beatific smile creased his expression. "Is wonderful smell, yes? Smell of money."
"Yeah. Fantastic." Easy, there. Don't get tense. "You should do bearer bonds. How many times have I told you?"
"Pah. Trust only in bank of mattress, yes?" He chuckled heartily.
Ha-ha. I didn't like him standing on the kitchenette side of the couch. Left him with room to hide. But the door and window were behind me, at least. Checked my watch —
Uh-oh. Time to move.
"Hey, you mind if I turn the news up? I missed it when I had to roll out this morning."
"Yes, yes. Not too loud, though. Is not good to listen to bad news in world for long." Janos's eyes were glued to the briefcase. He took his time with the stacks of money. Good for him.
I found the remote sticking out of a couch cushion and thumbed the volume. The newscaster, guy with hair Ken could have styled for Barbie's benefit, was in the middle of saying: "There's no word of when the United Nations will continue negotiating with the Panstellar Consociation for technological allowance. Since the inclusion of Earth in the Consociation's protectorate program, the Consociation has been reluctant to share anything beyond the development of fusion power. U.S. officials are pushing for medical research and space exploration information. The president has convened a press conference for later next week at the site of former Nantucket, on the fifteenth anniversary of its destruction by positron weaponry that the Consociation fielded after U.S. refusal to disarm."
"Barbaric creatures," Janos muttered. His face never left the money. "Make a whole city evacuate and then turn the island to glass. And they lecture us on violence! Bah."
"Rough deal, no doubt. At least no one got killed. And no radiation clouds." Frankly, if we hadn't threatened to turn our Air Force loose on the qwaddos' diplomatic ships, Nantucket would have still been a lovely place for rich people to vacation. The U.S. learned real quick that buddying up to the qwaddos was the best way to make sure everybody got what they wanted.
I just wanted to keep the volume running to cover the footsteps that were coming up the stairs. I hoped they were, anyway.
"Ah. Is good." Janos turned to me and smiled like a little boy on Christmas. "All the money is here."
"Hey, told you so."
"Yes, you did! Good man." Janos clapped his hands together. "Another drink. Come!"
"One sec. I have to call the collector." Here goes. Got the cell phone out. Breathed normal. Played it cool.
"Da, good. Tell him — no, please, let me speak to him! I must tell him has been pleasure to deal."
"Oh, you can probably do that." Pushed send twice. It rang. Don't have a stroke, Janos.
The door crashed open. Half a dozen men in black uniforms, boots, body armor, and helmets thundered through. They all shouted commands at once, variations on "Get down!", "Don't move!", and "Show us your hands!"
Since they had M4A1 carbines and Glock 22s, I obliged. But only after I let the lead man slam me against the wall. Which he did a bit too convincingly.
"Isaac, you don't gotta lay it on that thick," I hissed through my teeth. My face was pressed hard against the wall, arms and legs spread-eagle, with a gun's muzzle in the center of my back and a rough hand patting me down.
"Shut up," he whispered back. In a louder tone he ordered, "Lancaster Foss, you have the right to remain silent! Anything you say can and will be used —"
Blah, blah, blah. Heard it. About a bazillion times. You know, I could probably play a cop on TV as many times as I've been "arrested."
Yeah, I put those quotes in there on purpose.
"Ne! Az sum nevinen! I did nothing wrong!" Edvard Munch's The Scream looked less shocked. They had Janos on his knees in the entry to the kitchenette, hands on his head. He couldn't look away from the open briefcase of money. Probably wondering if he could make off with it when the guys with long guns stopped paying attention.
"Janos!" I hollered. "Don't say a word! Don't make a deal with them. It's worth your while."
Isaac prodded me right in the kidney with that gun. One of his stooges put me in zip ties. Together they spun me around and shoved me toward a corner.
"Caz!" They dragged Janos out the door. Oddly, in that moment, I heard the chickadees singing outside the door, even over the mumbling news commentator and the thumping jackboots. Janos's sweat stank, mingled with the odor from the rest of the men. Didn't anybody use deodorant? "Foss, help me!"(Continues…)
Excerpted from "For Us Humans"
Copyright © 2018 Steve Rzasa.
Excerpted by permission of Gilead Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Can belief survive First Contact? It’s true; we are not alone. Casimir “Caz” Fortel isn’t sure what god brought the Ghiqasu into Earth’s orbit fifteen years ago, but life on our planet hasn’t been the same. There isn’t any war and cleaner energy is as common as cars; life should be good. Aliens made a deal to provide advanced tech and employ humanity’s soldiers in interstellar battles as part of Earth’s role as a protectorate in exchange for humans halting all wars and allowing the Panstellar Consociation to build a warp tunnel in orbit between Earth and the moon. Not bad. But while life goes on for Caz, living undercover and recovering stolen artwork – as he puts it, “lying for a living,” he’s left wondering if this all there is. Because the arrival of the aliens tore a gaping hole in humanity’s collective history and mythology, and for many, hope has taken a vacation. For Us Humans works on multiple levels and it’s an enjoyable mystery and almost-police procedural as Caz, a gifted liar, sets up his mark to relieve them of stolen artwork (think a more leisurely, lonelier version of The Sting scored with higher tech). But Caz got a new partner and a new mark. While Caz can change his hair, his eye color, and his story to fit any case, he can’t change his prejudice against the qwaddies, and his new four-armed partner and target are a bit interstellar. Nil, Aphu Nil Hemilh Jeq, is a disgraced Ghiqasu warrior and Prime Investigator for the Consociation’s Retrieval and Justice Team. He and Caz are partnered in a retrieval scheme for a statue that, while microscopic, masks a case that reaches higher than it would seem. Can Caz and Nil recover the statue before bigger, badder aliens step in? Can they protect humanity even as the stakes are raised? It’s 48 Hours meets Men in Black in a buddy-cop caper rife with pop references, sarcastic banter, and more than a few aliens as Caz and Nil race to cover the irreplaceable artifact. Steve Rzasa has crafted an engaging mystery wrapped in a unique voice that’s all Caz, with believable world- and character-building. It’s a world that seems as close as tomorrow with an overarching question that most will find they’ve pondered before. As a Christian, I’m not arrogant enough to think we are alone in the universe nor astute enough to know what God has planned. Raza has his finger on one wonderfully beautiful possibility in this quirky, relatable science fiction tale. While For Us Humans has a strong Christian bent, I think it will also be enjoyed by those who love deep, fresh science fiction plots and devices that leave you thinking long after you lay the book down. I hope this is the first of a series, but it is definitely a stand-alone novel. Absolutely loved this story! Highly recommended for scifi aficionados, Christians, fantasy lovers, and those who enjoy a good mystery, not to mention, those who love twisty stories of folks with the gift of the Blarney Stone. I received this book as an Advanced Reader Copy (ARC) through NetGalley. My opinions are my own.
For Us Humans is the ultimate nerd book. Its filled with tongue-in-cheek humor and references to sci-fi films, tv shows, and characters. While reading I couldn't help but underlining my favorite passages and references. There is a lot of humor packed in, but also a lot of depth and meaning. At one point, the main character breaks the fourth wall and it made me laugh out loud... in public... and people stared. Just a warning for you. There is a lot of action and fast-paced dialog in this book. Between the rapid-fire references, the bar fights, and the gun-wielding aliens, you won't be able to put this book down. I would recommend this as a must-read for those who love Galaxy Quest, Firefly, Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, and more. It should be noted that this is a Christian science fiction book, but could definitely be enjoyed by the general market. Between the two main characters there is a lot of tension, primarily regarding Christianity and the importance of faith. Caz plays the ultimate tough guy--drinking away his worries, spending nights with women who's names he doesn't remember, but he wants something more. When he's partnered with the alien Nil, he has to face the facts that this alien knows more about his own "human" religion than he does. What follows is a conversation about race, species, and religion that encourages us to unite the most divided of us.