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Book 2 of the Psionic Earth Series
By Dan Levinson
Jolly Fish PressCopyright © 2015 Dan Levinson
All rights reserved.
The air was on fire.
As the blaze embraced her, she raised her hands, shielded her eyes; the billows of flame engulfed her as she screamed her defiance. The world blinked shut, like an eye closing, and when it opened once more, she saw faces, murmuring alarm. She tried to tell them they should leave her be, let her die in peace, her body still ablaze as if subsumed in the inferno. Yet before she could speak, wings of darkness enveloped her, carried her into oblivion.
When she surfaced again, she saw glaring lights.
She lay upon a gurney, moving swiftly through florescent-lit halls, the acrid stench of burned hair like a halo around her. Again, faces peered at her, their voices a low babble, distorted, as if through a tunnel. When a sudden movement jarred her, she howled, her vocal cords raw, like pulverized meat. Even the air rushing by tormented her.
What had happened?
She glanced about, eyes rolling, unable to move her head. A sign loomed above: Burn Ward. Another jolt shook her, and an animal sound escaped her throat as she lapsed again into unconsciousness.
She awoke in a white, sterile room, and for a moment thought she was somewhere familiar. But the hospital room was only an echo of a place she couldn't quite recall, the memory slipping from her like sand through a sieve. She shifted in her bed, gasped, and only then looked down at her arms and hands, covered in bandages, the rest of her hidden beneath a thin, tan wool blanket. She could feel where those bandages compressed her flesh, chafed her raw throat, her belly, breasts, legs, and feet.
To her left, she saw a morphine drip, but could not reach it, the effort of moving her arm more than she could bear. She tried to cry for help, but now her voice came only in croaks and whimpers. She was trapped in her scorched body, no one to help her, while machines and monitors mocked her with ceaseless beeping.
A male nurse walked by the room, peered through the door's glass pane, and she met his eyes, silently begging him for aid. He ran off, and for those next interminable minutes, each second seemed to her a test of will simply to exist. An inner voice told her to be strong, that she could make it through this, and she clung to it, the vague notion that she could endure all that she had. Mentally she counted, One, two, three, four, five, those numbers like a life raft, though she did not know why.
At last, the doctor arrived — an austere, dark-haired man in a white coat, his eyes gauging her behind silver-framed glasses. She could read the pity on his face. "My name is Dr. Shipley," he said. "You've been involved in a very bad accident. I don't mean to alarm you, but you've suffered third degree burns over sixty percent of your body. Do you understand?"
She tried to nod while her mind processed. An accident? Of course. How else could she have ended up like this?
"How's the pain?" Shipley asked. "I can increase the painkillers if you —"
"Hurts," she rasped, her voice like sandpaper.
Shipley adjusted the morphine. "Your esophagus is damaged from inhaling superheated air. I'll ask a couple more questions, but keep your answers to one or two words. After that, no talking. Okay?"
She nodded again as the painkillers entered her system, making her woozy.
"What's your name?" he asked.
She opened her mouth to reply, then closed it, the answer elusive. The pain had so consumed her that, until now, she hadn't realized the details of her life were whispers and shadows lurking in unseen corners of her mind. She couldn't remember her name, or the accident, or anything else. She choked back a sob, the force of it stabbing at her injured body.
"You don't know?" Shipley asked.
Feebly, she shook her head.
"Well," Shipley said, "given the trauma you've been through, it's not unheard of. Unfortunately, when you were found, you had no identification, and your hands are too badly burned for us to take fingerprints. But don't worry. When you've had the chance to recover, I'm sure it'll come back to you." He offered her a reassuring smile.
She knew he was trying to comfort her, and so restrained the urge to tell him to go fuck himself. Don't worry too much? What kind of advice was that?
"Is the pain still bad?" he asked her. He fiddled with the drip again, and the room grew hazy, indistinct, before she could manage a word.
When she opened her eyes, the room was dark, all shapes indistinct save the colors on the monitor feeds. Burning throbbing blanketed her. She rolled her head to the side, saw that the window shade lay slightly open, revealing the lights of an unfamiliar city — the greens and reds of traffic signals, the whites of far-off windows, the myriad colors of illuminated billboards. She had no idea where she was.
Despairing, she wept, and as the grief shuddered through her, it ignited her body anew, though she could do nothing to stem her tears. "Why?" she murmured. What sin had she committed that she was being punished so? "Why did this happen?" She didn't care that she was not supposed to speak, for hearing her own voice reassured her; it was an anchor, even if it was a whisper.
And that was what she had become, she realized. A shadow of her former self.
A whisper.CHAPTER 2
July 25-29, 2012
Outside Kodol, Rogerston Province, Calchis
The Special Operations team was deployed north of the Calchan border — twelve of them in total, commanded by Major Joachim Ahara. Over the next two days, Captain Ilyena Rychenkov and the others covered nearly a hundred miles on foot, taking them all the way to Calchis' Kodol Air Base. For much of the trip, thick, ashen clouds filled the sky, their dark, foreboding swells promising a July storm. The humidity made the air feel tangible, a weight against Ilyena's skin. Yet, despite sweat and grime, no one voiced complaint. They were SO, had been through hell before, and were up for a return trip.
They traveled swiftly through the hilly pastureland around Kodol, with countless rises to conceal their presence from scattered farms and towns, and arrived at the air base an hour ahead of schedule. A crescent moon hung high above — a wicked fang set amid glimmering stars. A vicious moon, as Ilyena's father would have called it. A moon ready for blood, like her.
The team employed the extra hour to better chart sentries and patrols stationed amid the landscape of wide, arch-roofed hangars and squat, brick buildings, the place illuminated by bright floodlights. Before long, a tanned, bluff-jawed operative named Leo spotted their quarry: General Roy Caldicott, Calchan Air Force Chief of Staff, trailed by subordinates and aides while he did inspections and checked in with various officers. When he finished, he entered the command post — a low, broad, gray brick-and-mortar building out past the hangars and airstrip, where a flag with the hawk and laurel leaf of Calchis snapped in the wind.
Killing Caldicott was a drop in the bucket compared to Grisham, as far as Ilyena was concerned. Everything had changed since then. The Calchan attack and subsequent bombing of the Grisham base had left hundreds of psions dead, and the Orion Psi Corps in shambles. Stockton Finn, her latest trainee, had been killed in action, and Ilyena took that as a personal failure. Joachim told her not to blame herself, but she did anyway, for she knew that had she trained him better, he'd still be alive. At least now the retaliation had begun.
The SO team proceeded down the grassy slope toward the base. With a precise surge of psionic power, Joachim cut through the electrified barbed wire fence. They crept silently into the encampment and, with psionics, refracted the light around them, rendering them nigh invisible, though they skirted the base's bright floodlights even so. They passed several patrols, and though Ilyena wanted to punish every Calchan bastard in sight, she and the rest of the team remained in darkness, waiting for the danger to pass. A sole exception was made for two lone patrolmen, who were quickly dispatched, their uniforms taken as disguises.
They reached the command building, and Joachim signaled Ilyena. She tapped into her power, felt energy spring up in Joachim as well. In unison, they shot out invisible tendrils of force, and broke the necks of the guards outside. After hiding the bodies, two of Ilyena's teammates donned the stolen uniforms and took up positions outside the door.
They waited on Joachim's order. Moonlight glinted off his bald, bronzed pate as he looked this way and that. He made a series of gestures with his hands: armed combatants, kill on sight. Then he threw open the door.
They rushed inside in tight formation, rifles trained, the beams from the flashlights on their gun barrels sweeping back and forth. Oddly, they reminded Ilyena of the spotlights at a magic show she'd visited as a girl. For my next trick, she thought, I'll make these bullets disappear.
Calchan soldiers lounged on couches and chairs in the lobby, most with only their sidearms. Ilyena's team opened fire, the rounds popping off with muffled thwaps as they burst through noise suppressors, gun muzzles flashing. Soon, blood painted the walls and floor — spray patterns and spreading pools of viscous crimson — along with a few sparse speckles of gray matter. When Ilyena came across one soldier bleeding out but not yet gone, she crushed his windpipe with her boot heel. She didn't enjoy killing, but this was justice. The Calchan assault force that had served as a diversion for the Grisham bombing had landed at this air base.
The team jogged down featureless gray corridors, clearing rooms one by one. Anyone armed, or wearing a uniform, was executed, while the handful of civilians were put into a deep sleep with one of Joachim's psionic mind tricks, altering the energy in their brains, their circadian rhythm. They moved deeper into the building, unstoppable. Along the way, they came across two other Calchan officers of note, a major and a flight colonel, their bodies added to the count. The base's acting CO, a General Burnett, was nowhere to be found. It's your lucky day, asshole, Ilyena thought.
They arrived at Burnett's office, which their target had likely commandeered. Joachim kicked in the door. Behind a large varnished oak desk sat Caldicott, gaunt, with thinning hair, his midnight blue uniform decorated with campaign ribbons and colored bars of rank. To his credit, he didn't beg or plead, simply surveyed the group and said, "This won't stand, you know."
She shared a grim look with her fellows. Joachim settled his finger on his rifle's trigger. "Any last words, General?" he asked Caldicott, the traces of his Middle Eastern accent almost musical.
"I don't suppose you'd let me go," Caldicott said.
Joachim squeezed the trigger and put a bullet through the man's left eye. Caldicott rocked back in his chair, blood, fluid, and cranial tissue decorating the wall behind him.
"Time to withdraw," Joachim said.
They trotted double-file through the corpse-strewn halls and emerged into the warm night. The two operatives stationed outside had encountered no trouble, and with the group reassembled, they again traversed the base, skirting amid the hangars. When Joachin gave the signal, they launched explosive bursts of white-hot energy, which brought down the large buildings in torrents of flame and screaming metal, the sound of exploding aircraft within a symphony to Ilyena's ears. Then, as screams broke out, they made their escape.
Another long journey awaited them before they reached the rendezvous point with their transport — a UH-70 Black Kite chopper. For the next two days they crossed wide, verdant expanses in the sweltering summer heat, dined on rations, pissed in bushes, and shit in holes in the ground. Even so, a light mood crept in. This had been one small blow against Calchis, but a blow nonetheless. And it would not be the last.
That night, Ilyena couldn't sleep, for despite the general cheer, she knew it was superficial. Nothing could replace the lives lost in the Grisham bombing. Calchis hadn't been prepared for this sort of offensive response, but they would be in the future, and now they had far more psions at their disposal than Orion.
She found Joachim perched upon a log at the edge of camp, keeping watch, a hooded electric lamp aglow at his side, his gaze trained on the distant treeline. She sat next to him, and for a while they were silent, the gusting wind their only company. She stared at the shadows of nearby shrubbery in the wan orange lamplight as the branches shifted and writhed.
"What troubles you?" Joachim finally asked, the light from the lantern adding a glow to his ruddy skin, making it appear cast in bronze.
Ilyena frowned, loath to share. Soldiers were supposed to be stoic. Yet Joachim always insisted she and the others speak their minds. It was the only way to "transmute worry into productivity," he'd once said, whatever the hell that meant. She swallowed, brushed away the sweat-soaked ash-brown hair stuck to her forehead. "We pulled it off," she said. "I should feel good."
"But you don't," Joachim said. "Why?"
"Thought it'd be satisfying," Ilyena said. "But it isn't. It's hollow."
"Revenge is always hollow," Joachim said. "Even in victory."
"Maybe," she said.
He did not reply, only waited, watching her watch him. He was a master at that simplest of techniques: silence. With patience he could coax anything from anyone, and right now he made her want to spill.
"Was this worth anything?" she asked. "Calchis'll just replace Caldicott with someone else. Maybe someone not as smart, but it won't turn the tide. Not like Grisham."
"My dear Lily," Joachim said. He smiled, his teeth stark white against his dark skin. "You should not sell our efforts so short. We have just made a great deal of difference."
"As we speak, several other teams are carrying out their own missions," Joachim said. "Assuming they succeed, what does this mean for Calchis?"
This was another of his favorite practices, asking questions until the other person figured out the answer. At present Ilyena felt so tired and frustrated she would've preferred he just tell her why killing one man mattered. Instead, she played along. "It means," she said, "they'll have a lot of posts to fill."
"They'll know no one's safe. That we can get to anyone."
"And tell me," Joachim said, "will they simply accept this? Or will they institute countermeasures?"
It dawned on her. "They'll assign psions to protect their leaders."
Joachim nodded. "Thereby reducing their active psionic combat personnel."
"But what about us?" Ilyena asked. "We can't spare the manpower to guard our own officials. What's to stop them from killing more of our people?"
"Nothing," Joachim admitted. "We're counting on Calchis to have more grandiose plans than assassinations. Whether this proves true, we'll have to wait and see."
"That's how people ended up dead the last time! We have to keep bringing the fight to them. If we let them bring it on their terms, again, we'll be the ones with our people's blood on our fucking hands!"
Joachim gave her a level look. "This is a fight to save lives," he said, "not take them. We want to preserve the integrity of our nation, not destroy theirs. We have to make them understand we are not helpless, that we are ready and willing to defend ourselves, to draw blood for blood, but open warfare with Calchis will only harm both nations. They understand this."
Joachim quelled her objection with an upraised hand. "Appalling as their actions were, the leaders of Calchis were smart in how they handled Grisham. It's clear they do not want full-scale war either. They want leverage. Dominance."
"You sound like you're praising them," Ilyena said.
"Is it wrong to understand your enemy's strengths as well as their weaknesses?" Joachim asked. "I am only being practical. If someone outsmarts you, denying their cunning is foolish."
"They murdered hundreds."
"And I mourn those men and women every day," Joachim said, "but how I feel does not alter reality." Ilyena said nothing, and Joachim glanced at her, then rested his arms on his knees. "I have a new assignment for you. I was planning to wait until we returned, but perhaps it will take your mind off things."
"What kind of assignment?" Ilyena asked.
"Asset retrieval," Joachim said. "An officer went AWOL at our overseas base in Kaito."
Excerpted from Shadows Collide by Dan Levinson. Copyright © 2015 Dan Levinson. Excerpted by permission of Jolly Fish Press.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Author Dan Levinson delivers with an exciting, fast paced book which keeps you engaged from start to end. The world Levinson has created mirrors our own world of complex geopolitical powers at play in a ever evolving world of international relations between nation states. The interesting element thrown into the mix is that there are elite humans in the world who have "Psionic Powers" which allow them to manipulate energy and perform super human abilities -- from making themselves invisible, manipulating the elements, to super human strength and speed, to teleportation. This mix of a world that is quite similar to our own with the science fiction element, great writing and a captivating story has led this series has become one of my favorite in the world of Science-Fiction. Most of the main characters in the book have super human powers the author calls "Psionic Powers", but I still found the characters very relatable in a real life context as they must deal with their own personal problems in an ever changing world they struggle to keep up with. The setting is also similar to the present day world circa 2010-2015 in terms of technology and social/ cultural norms. Continuing from book one, Levinson expands the modern current events of the rebalancing of powers. Between the two major super powers, rising developing nations, smaller allied powers with a backdrop of the ancient cultures and civilizations which existed before the consolidation of the modern powers in the present day the story of Shadows Collide takes place in. Overall this book seals the deal for me in terms of this series and I am already eagerly anticipating the release of the next book.