Chosen by a forbidden book as its keeper, a young scavenger must choose whether to keep it safe underground or share the Word with his people.
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
Bethel Star System
Bethel, New Grace
Baden Haczyk lowered the Bible that was nestled in his hands. He couldn't believe he was reading this stuff, out loud no less.
Even harder to believe were the four hundred Bethelites raptly listening to him read.
They crowded before him in the wide-open central square of New Grace. The formerly tranquil grassy knoll looked like a war zone. Mangled robots, Martian and Starkweather, were scattered everywhere. Most buildings lining the square were skeletal remains of their beautiful brick, stone, wood, and permacrete selves. Charred black was the color of the day.
But even as the stench of burnt everything assaulted Baden's nose, he wondered at the faith of the people standing under this cloud-speckled blue sky in awed silence. Everyone looked at Baden as a constant breeze rustled the leaves on the few scorched trees left standing.
He hoped they didn't see the same gangly, skinny youth with messy brown hair that he saw the last time he'd looked in a mirror. The steady wind gusted. Baden shivered and rolled down the sleeves of his favorite orange shirt.
The quiet crowd was an exception to the bustle all about. Emergency workers in blue jumpsuits crawled in and amongst the shattered buildings. Baden saw dozens of dog-sized robots leaping and burrowing as the humans directed them. Searching for survivors in the rubble.
Beyond the crowd, Starkweather Lancers in grey-green fatigues moved wrecked robots. Some picked over the remains of shattered Martian bots, looking for technical tidbits, perhaps. A shadow flashed over the crowd. Baden looked up in time to see a pair of Lynx fighters soar above the square. The shriek of their ramjets shook his insides a second later.
Baden looked down at the rest of the passage he was supposed to read. It was a litany of heroes. Abel. Noah. Sarah. Joseph. He couldn't bring himself to read aloud of their faith and suffering. He'd read enough for now.
"Thank you, Baden." Assemblyman Bartholomew Heng stepped up beside him. The kindly man with the Asian features had made it his business to act as a buffer between Baden and the other Bethelites. They all wanted that book so badly. They wanted to know every word.
Baden wished they'd just leave him be. Yet here he was. A reluctant preacher.
"You have done a fine job." Heng smiled broadly. He was shorter than Baden and wore a plain-cut blue coat over his rough workman's trousers. "It means so much to our people to hear the Word of God proclaimed."
"Yeah. Uh, you're welcome." Baden tried a smile. It felt weak. He gave a halfhearted wave to the crowd before him. They cheered. Sweet nova, they cheered. At him or at the Bible, either one. He felt queasy.
"Look, uh, I need to ... go. You know, I need to go find the rest of the crew." Baden scuffed his boot in the green grass. Now there was a strange experience: grass. Life on a cargo six-brace, flitting from station to station, didn't give him much time to enjoy the surface of any hospitable planet.
"I understand." Heng gave his arm a sympathetic squeeze. He faced the crowd. "Thank you! Take these words that have fallen on your ears and pray over them. Meditate upon them! There is so much more we must hear!" He waved his hand at them.
The crowd waved back. Some applauded. Their faces were so open and happy. Baden had to shake his head to make himself stop seeing them. Sudden anger overpowered him. They were reacting to that blasted book. Because they were crazy.
"You think I'm going to be back for a repeat performance?" Baden stalked off without looking at Heng. He didn't want to see any disappointment on his face. He pressed between some of the smiling Bethelites — a pair of middle-aged women and their children.
"I had hoped you would." Heng kept up beside him, albeit with more steps. "They did take such great joy from it."
"Yeah, well ..." Baden couldn't deny that.
The breeze blew a sudden smell of — what was that, salt? Sea salt. Sea spray, it was called. He'd looked it up on the Reach.
Baden stopped in mid-stride. Heng kept moving for a second. Baden knelt and freed a few blades of grass from his boot. He rubbed them between his fingers, marveling at the sensation. They found a new home in his sleeve pocket, next to a certain orange data disk.
Heng cleared his throat. "Would you please consider returning tomorrow?"
Baden sighed. "Maybe. I don't know."
"It would help alleviate their suffering. So many died in the attack ..." Heng seemed to deflate. "But you have problems too, I know." He managed a small smile and walked away.
Yeah, problems. Baden grimaced. Like what he was going to do when Kesek eventually caught up with him and the rest of the crew of Natalia Zoja for possessing a text-in-violation.
The crew were waiting for him at the east edge of the square. His best friend, Owen Zinssler — "Ozzy" to Baden only — blond goatee, slim and pale-faced, nose buried in a delver that had its guts hanging out the back. Cyril, big and burly, ridiculous blond moustache, silent and just, well, Cyril. They stood by a stand of trees that were half-burned and stripped of leaves. Not far beyond a pair of six-legged Lancer robots — hexamblers, Baden had heard them called — went trundling by the square with power cells strapped on their backsides.
And there was his dad. Simon Haczyk. The captain, and the one face Baden didn't want to see right now. Simon's stern, pale green eyes stared right back at Baden. The square jaw twitched with — concern? Disapproval? Baden couldn't tell anymore. Both made him irate.
Dad jerked his head. The breeze rustled his dark brown hair. For the first time Baden realized just how much grey was in there. His heart almost went out to him. Then Dad spoke. "What happened with Heng? Is he going to buy it?"
It was the third time he'd asked. "No, Dad. I told you, I'm not selling it."
"That was kind of the point of us coming here." His dad waved his hand around the square.
Baden caught sight of some of the crowd setting up tents near the perimeter. So many had lost their homes in the battle.
His dad's words snapped him back to their conversation. "We give them their farming machinery, get paid, and you get rid of that book. Not get up and preach to the local yokels."
"Well, maybe I like reading to them," Baden said. It wasn't a total lie. He felt the power behind the words as he spoke them aloud, even if they had no meaning for him. Baden felt the yearning of the Bethelites and felt an inexplicable hunger to know what they knew. "Not like I'm gonna hand this thing over to them to read."
Dad sighed. He scratched the whiskers on his chin. "Look, Baden, I know you've gotten attached to this book, but just think about the trouble it's brought us."
"Hey, as far as I see, Kesek and its pirate goons are the ones bringing the trouble," Baden said. He jabbed a finger at his dad. "They were the ones who shot at us and hurt Ravenna. This book didn't do any of that."
"Yeah. Ravenna." Dad folded his arms. Going for his best father-in-charge look. "And how do you think her daughter feels about that, hmm? You think she wants any of us to get shot over that thing?"
Baden peered past his dad's shoulders. Gail Salpare stood some distance back from the crew, deep in conversation with a pair of young Bethelite women. Baden's frustration with Simon began to dissipate as he watched her freckled face crinkle with laughter. The wind jostled her short auburn hair and shifted the red work shirt she wore over tan pants. She'd urged Baden to keep the Bible. She felt there was some purpose beyond profit for it falling into his hands. Baden believed her.
"She's with me on this, Dad," he said firmly. "She knows this hasn't been my fault."
"Never said it was your fault. That book —"
"Cool your rockets, Dad! You think this book just hops up and smacks people in the face?" Baden yanked the Bible from his pocket and waved it under Simon's nose. His dad flinched. "It doesn't do anything! It's just a book! The problem is the people who read it. You get harmless nuts who want to kiss it — like these Bethelites — or you get the crazies who want to burn down anything to do with it — like Kesek!"
"That's why it's a danger!" Simon yelled back.
Baden saw pairs of eyes turn their way. Owen finally looked up from his delver, his face a muddle of confusion and concern. Cyril blinked nonchalantly, ignoring the sparrow pecking at a crab apple in his beefy palm. Even a pair of Bethelite workers installing a power transmitter on the edge of the square glanced at them.
"It's a magnet for trouble. And I don't want it on my ship!"
Baden shook his head. "Yeah, well, that's not my problem." He stalked off.
"Later, Dad. Not now."
He got a short way from his dad when Owen came running up. "Hack, you blow a thruster again? You got the Skipper all riled up. Remind me not to ride nav with him on the barge when we head back up."
"So what's up?"
"Oh. The book." Owen licked his lips. "You could sell it."
"Not happening, Ozzy."
"C'mon, Hack. Paper's worth it! Plus it's an illegal book, right? Text-in-violation, according to our arrest warrants on the Reach."
"Your comm system down, Ozzy? I said no."
"Yeah, sure." Owen waggled the delver in his hand. "Check this. I got my own project. Grey delver."
Baden's jaw dropped. Just what they needed. More trouble. "Ozzy, that's illegal!"
Owen rolled his eyes. "Duh. So's your Bible."
"Oh. Point taken."
"Anyhoo, these Bethel folks got it in their heads that they can use a grey delver to store a full record of your Bible before we go traipsing off with it."
"And you're willing to oblige?"
"Of course." Owen spread his arms wide. "Ozzy will provide."
"For a good price, I bet."
"Hey, this ain't no charity gig, if that's what you mean. This is prime work." Owen batted a couple of gnats away from his face. "Ugh — lousy dirtball. Yeah, so, this delver can hook up to the Reach, but it's got a false memory. The grey module's where the real goods get stashed. Kesek can send an inquiry and they get jack, see?"
"Smooth." Baden tapped the delver's screen. "Unless Kesek figures things out and takes a peek under the lid. They'll nail these people and you too."
Owen's grin was supremely confident. "No sweat, Hack. I'm wanted already."
Baden shook his head. "So how are you gonna get the Bible on there? Text scanners ain't legal, either."
"Er — I thought they told you." Owen scratched the back of his neck. His bravado shifted abruptly to embarrassment.
"Tell me what?" This sounded suspicious.
"Well ... weren't you gonna read it?"
"I've been reading it, a few chapters at a time." Baden's brow furrowed. "Wait. They want me to read it all?"
"That's the idea."
"The whole thing?"
"Out loud? For this?" he gestured at the delver.
"Why do you think that Heng guy's been on your case to preach so much?"
"I'm not preaching, Ozzy. You can only preach if you believe what you're saying. I don't."
"Not what it sounds like to me."
"Blast." Baden looked down at the Bible still clenched in his hand. He didn't believe it — at least, he didn't think he did. Not like the Bethelites. So why couldn't he just jettison it now?
Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.
The words were like a hammer blow to Baden's mind, yet they were as soft as the breeze caressing his face. When his head cleared, he found himself hanging onto Owen's shoulder. Sweat trickled down his chest.
"Hack, you okay?" Owen asked. "You getting bad signals again?"
"Yeah." Baden was glad Owen didn't tease him about the words he heard in his head. Owen would tease about practically everything but that. "I'm all right."
Footsteps pounded across the grass. Baden looked up into Gail's worried but oh-so-beautiful face. She put a soft hand against his cheek. The touch was like a lightning strike. "Baden, did it happen again? Are you hurt?"
"I'm ... I'm okay." He swallowed hard. Be cool. Be nonchalant. Stop staring! "What about you?" Oh, good one. Smooth line.
"You mean Mom?" Gail sighed. "Owen showed me where to look up the news from Puerto Guijarro in the Reach. She's resting in Hamid's clinic in the Baja Sur neighborhood."
Baden exhaled. "So she's safe. I was hoping Kesek hadn't gotten their paws on Ravenna."
"Don't worry, she's a big girl." Gail looked suddenly sheepish. "Some of the, uh, Bethelites offered to pray with me about it."
Baden looked across to the young women. "Is that what you guys were talking about?"
"I had some questions and those girls were kind enough to help," Gail said. "I wanted to know more about their lives on this planet."
"Lemme guess — they told you about the bugs." Owen angrily swatted at something over his head.
Gail poked Owen playfully in the arm. "You big baby. Don't you see how ... I don't know ... how big everything here is? There's no barrier between us and space, just a huge blanket of sky! It's not like Puerto Guijarro or school, with rock and metal around as a safety net. I can't get my mind around it." She looked at Baden. "I wanted to know about their faith too."
"Their religion sounds crazy." Baden straightened. He shoved the Bible back into his pocket.
"Well, there's a difference in those two words. Religion is what they do with what they believe. Faith ..." Gail paused. "Faith is their walk with God. At least, that's what they said."
Walk with God. Baden felt like ever since he'd heard about the Bethelite's God, all he'd done was run. He looked over at a ruined building. A handful of rescue workers in blue coveralls dug through the debris. "How's that walk going for them?"
Gail's face took on a mischievous smile. "Much better, thanks to you."
That knocked Baden off target. "Me?"
"Your Bible reading helped them realize that they were putting all their effort into working for God's favor, when all they had to do was believe in him and call on his name for forgiveness."
Baden opened his mouth to say something clever but got nothing.
Owen helped. "They sound like vac-heads," he said cheerfully. He clapped an arm around Gail's shoulder. "You should spend some more time with your man Ozzy instead of these dirt-siders."
Gail wriggled out of his grip. Baden caught the flash of annoyance on Owen's face. "They're no crazier than any of us," she said firmly. "Just 'cause you two can't understand them —"
"Hey, I understand." Baden winced as Gail and Owen gave him skeptical looks. "What?"
"You ain't exactly the president of their fan club, Hack."
"Well, I dunno." Baden kicked at a branch. He missed. "Most of the time it's all insanity, but every once in a while it seems like maybe ..."
Gail reached out and touched his hand. "It sounds like you need to ask somebody else about this."
Baden met her eyes. "I wish I could talk to Mom about it."
Gail nodded. "I know. But since you can't ..."
Baden sighed as he realized where she was going with this. "Right. Where is Jason?"
New Grace's main square was ten blocks from the shoreline. Baden enjoyed the quiet as he walked down a long, main avenue lined with squat row homes and shops. It would have been more relaxing if many of those buildings hadn't been burnt-out wrecks or if bomb craters and debris weren't blocking whole sections of road.
The main avenue dumped him out on the narrow dockfront street right by the ocean. A never-ending stretch of private fishing docks and mooring ramps jutted out from the permacrete seawall into the shallow bay. All manner of seagoing vessels — one-man dinghies, multiple-person skiffs, and full-crew fishing trawlers — were tied up. Men and women in dirty, wet clothes bellowed commands and laughed at jokes as they pulled on ropes and hefted boxes. Many more slips were empty. Baden saw a few specks way across the water that were probably fishing craft at work. He wondered what it was like to bob along on a seemingly bottomless bowl of water.
Baden spotted Jason standing at the end of one of the narrow docks. It was in need of repair and looked largely abandoned, save for a pair of cast-off fishing poles. The weatherworn boards creaked under Baden's boots as he walked toward him. The sea salt smell he'd caught at the main square was overwhelming now. Plus the smell of dead fish.
Baden stopped about a meter behind Jason. The other man wore a pair of tan shipboard pants and a light blue sweater with the sleeves rolled up, revealing pale forearms. He didn't turn. A trio of white seabirds wheeled overhead. Their inky striped wings flashed under the afternoon sun. Raucous shrieks reminded Baden of some of the more inebriated patrons of the Freighthound Tavern back on Puerto Guijarro.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Word Unleashed"
Copyright © 2016 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
Steve Rzasa's The Word Unleashed is the most rip-roaring, heart-pounding space adventure since, well, since The Word Reclaimed. That book ended with the treacherous overthrow of the Realm of Five's monarchy by Kesek, the Realm's secret police. The Realm's finest defenders had been lured away to a distant planet to be ambushed and destroyed even as Kesek orchestrated the kidnapping of the king and the arrest of their every congressional opponent. But Kesek didn't count on God, whose existence they do not acknowledge, getting involved-nor could they ever have predicted the people He would choose to accomplish His purposes. This second volume of "The Face of the Deep" continues the story of moody teenager Baden Haczyk, whose life is increasingly turned upside-down by the illegal Bible he possesses. The Book convicts him, speaks to him in ways he doesn't understand, and seems determined to use him as a mouthpiece. Not only that, but the Bible is extending its influence on others as well, from the hungry Christians on Bethel to high-ranking members of the Verge family-who, along with their surviving soldiers and every other loyalist in the Realm, are planning an invasion of Earth to find the king and stop Kesek once and for all. Into the story are woven the fates of many fascinating characters, from the enigmatic, genetically enhanced Jason to Mission-Impossible-style secret agent Najwa to pirate captain Charlotte Ruby Bell, who offers comic relief while still managing to be a believable and even poignant character (gesundheit, Captain Bell). Rzasa's love of history shows through in his projection of a future where earth's distinct cultures and religious traditions are still recognizable and influential and where events are believable because they are so familiar-history repeating itself on an intergalactic scale. The Word Unleashed combines heart-stopping action, humour, and pathos with a sweeping plot and a masterfully drawn universe. At the heart of it all is an honest look at censorship, "tolerance," and mankind's deep need for religious freedom. I highly recommend this series to anyone. A word of advice: buy both books at once. You're not going to want to stop at the end of the first volume, and this story deserves the opportunity to carry you away with it. - Rachel Starr Thomson, author of The Seventh World Trilogy: Worlds Unseen, Burning Light, and Coming Day
Good Sequel. Excellent Action. Superb Christian Science Fiction. Baden & Co are back and this time the stakes are higher as the Realm of Five topples into anarchy. The plot twists are unexpected. The world-building excellent. Action is intense and tightly worded. Parental Guidance: While the book is fast-paced and high intensity, it does not have any bad language or unnecessary violence that most general science fiction is known for. The spiritual thread in the book could be a problem for some readers, but Rzasa handles it very well. The whole concept is based in a universe where religion is banned and Baden finds a copy of the Bible. But the way that the Gospel is woven into the plot is pretty effortless and does not draw away from the story's intensity. Very good for adult and young adult readers.