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What I’m Reading, Oct. 2017

What have I been reading lately? I’m glad you asked. Here’s a list of all the good science fiction/fantasy books and stories I’ve read over the last few months.

Originally, I had it set in my mind that I would be doing blog posts for each book, but I’ve come to realize that this is an unrealistic expectation. Plus, I read a lot of short stories because I love the format. So I’m going to experiment with this roundup format instead—the focus, as ever with me, is science fiction and fantasy books and short stories.

(Psst, links to books are affiliate links, which means I get a few cents if you end up buying one or two. Thanks for the tip!)

October Recommended Reading

Legionnaire by Jason Anspach and Nick Cole

A military science fiction tale fashioned after the Star Wars universe. The book has been described as “stormtroopers in Afghanistan,” which is not an inaccurate description—the story follows a company of Legionnaire’s (as they’re called in this world) who are incomparable shots with a blaster rifle and wear smart battle suits that protect them while they battle rebels on behalf of the (often incompetent) Empire.

But to just describe the book as Star Wars-inspired doesn’t do this particular story justice. Seeing what these men go through, living through their particular experience of combat, manages to be both emotional and endearing. It had me alternately laughing and choked up as they face death with a sense of humor.

Cole and Anspach have since released three more books in this series, so If you’re a fan of Star Wars, you’re bound to love it. Subtle (and some not-so-subtle) nods at the history of the original SW trilogy will have long-time fans chuckling and cheering them along.

Nomad by Matthew Mather

I originally thought of this one as a purely scientific apocalypse story. What’s most incredible is all the legwork Mather did to set up a very realistic hard science apocalypse using real-life astronomy. The story is good, too. Our main character is a climber and adrenaline junky (easy for yours truly to relate, let me tell you), who is on a vacation in Rome with her mother when the world turns upside down.

Or maybe upside down is the wrong expression. When the world explodes might be better. I don’t want to ruin it, but if you like hard sci-fi, books like The Martian, or Thrillers with a sci-fi bent, then check this one out.

“The Key” by Isaac Asimov

I found this sci-fi mystery short story in a paper copy of The Best From Fantasy and Science Fiction: 16th Series. I love Asimov’s short stories, and a large chunk of what he wrote uses the mystery structure with his typical science fiction slant. The best part was when the detectives found a secret code, and they interpreted it as corresponding to the names of the moon’s craters, which, it turns out, were named after a lot of ancient astronomers who believed the Earth was the center of the universe.

It was a fun mystery that held up well though more than 50 years has passed since it was written. No buy link for this one because I can’t find an ebook on Amazon that has it. Wikipedia tells me you can find it in The Best Mysteries of Isaac Asimov, a collection of his stories.

“Passerby” by Larry Niven

Another great sci-fi short stories from the 1960s, I read this in the Galaxy from September 1969. I’ll admit here that this is the first Larry Niven story I’ve read, and I was definitely not disappointed. The story is built around a metaphor, and a frame story to boot, so the writer in me was absolutely delighted. A peoplewatcher in a park meets a “rammer” (a space man) who has returned to Earth from a journey through the stars where he encountered a mysterious golden celestial being who walks among the stars. It’s one of those stories that makes you stop to reflect.

There’s an audible version for less than $2 here and or in a collection called All The Myriad Ways  (audio and mass market paperback only).

Why they don’t print these things as individual ebooks is beyond me.

The next few days I’ll be on vacation, so the blog will probably revert to short posts—hopefully with photos! New England is beautiful in the autumn.

Autumnal Equinox Sci-Fi Extravaganza

Every once in a while, I’m lucky enough to get involved with these big giveaways where new readers can find a bunch of great sci-fi novels to sample for free.

Today, the Autumnal Equinox Sci-Fi Extravaganza went live. It’s only good from today through October 8th, so head over there and grab any story that looks interesting to you.

As for myself, I’ve been working on Translocator 3. Wrote 1700 new words yesterday, and another 1000 new words today—it’s been a productive weekend.

How two vintage pulp sci-fi books landed in my lap

Spent the last 24 hours visiting with a good friend, Jacen, who was in town from Colorado Springs for a work thing. He only had a little time to hang out before heading back home, but even so I think it’s safe to say we did Austin right: we started with whisky tastings and eventually made our way into the wine bar last night, and then had breakfast tacos to sober us back up this morning. Thanks for visiting, Jacen!

As luck would have it, we found ourselves with some extra time to kill before his flight took off, so we stopped by an art gallery on the east side called the Recspec Gallery. It’s in a converted warehouse along with three or four other small galleries and it was great fun to see all the cool art they had. The Austin Book Arts Center also has a workshop in there (they do book binding classes and book restoration work).

Recspec also happened to have a very small display of science fiction magazines and anthologies from the 1960s. Now, that’s just up my alley. Imagine my delight to find the September 1969 issue of Galaxy Magazine with Dr. Menzel’s martians on the cover. Apparently he sent these doodles out to friends and the originals are “highly prized.” Fun to have a book cover featuring those same sketches.

And The Best From Fantasy and Science Fiction: 16th Series, first published in 1965.

Both books are in beautiful condition, with only a little normal wear from reading and time. The vanilla old book smell is strong, and the art is beautiful. You see those details in the eyeballs of the anthology? Maybe I’ll do a giveaway to pass these two treasured volumes on…or maybe I’ll hang onto them. I love the art, and it’s fun to have original stories from Philip K. Dick, Isaac Asimov, Roger Zelazny, Dr. Menzel, and Larry Niven. I’m gonna start by reading a few today.

Scrivener Superpowers Reaches 100 Reviews

I’m a big fan of celebrating the little things when it comes to writing and the indie publishing business. It can be a tough gig, and wins like this are usually a long time coming. So it’s worth taking a moment to appreciate it.

Scrivener Superpowers, my nonfiction software how-to guide to the popular writing software, Scrivener, reached 100 reviews today. My first book to do so, and with a 4.6 star average no less!

ss-100-reviews.png

Nothing special happens when you reach 100 reviews. No fanfare, no parties, no champagne. But it’s still kind of cool. Three figure reviews show a certain amount of trust in a book. It’s a general indicator of quality. So in addition to the emails and messages I get about the book (hi, folks! You’re awesome), this is further proof to me that the book was worth writing.

Huge giveaway of signed science fiction paperbacks

I’m involved with this incredibly massive signed paperback giveaway over at Sci-Fi Bridge. They’ve got such an amazing deal going on right now I can hardly believe it myself, and it just seems a crime not to share it.

The giveaways SFB does are particularly special because everyone is a winner. Those who sign up will get these 6 ebooks straight away, no strings attached (and you can unsubscribe from the list whenever you please, although I don’t know why you would).

A little bit about each of the free books currently being offered, with links to Amazon* and author pages if you’re curious to find out more about a particular one.

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Earth Alone by Daniel Arenson – If you loved Ender’s Game, Starship Troopers, and Old Man’s War, you’ll love Earthrise, a new military science fiction series. From a USA Today bestselling author.

Dark Space by Jasper T. Scott – Ten years ago the Sythians invaded the galaxy with one goal: to wipe out the human race. Now the survivors are hiding in the last human sector of the galaxy: Dark Space–once a place of exile for criminals, now the last refuge of mankind.

Ambassador 1 by Patty Jansen – “A Matt Damon political thriller meets Total Recall action with Avatar otherworldliness.” –Ditmar Award winning author Zena Shapter

The Future Chronicles – This Future Chronicles Special Edition volume is a compendium of stories selected from the Chronicles’ standalone titles, and includes five new stories, never before published, from some of today’s best writers in speculative fiction.

The Galapagos Incident by Felix R. Savage – The Galapagos Incident is the first book of the Sol System Renegades series, an action-packed near-future space opera series perfect for fans of The Expanse, the science fiction of Neal Stephenson, and character-centric hard sci-fi.

Earth-Last Sanctuary by Christian Kallias – When the evil Obsidian Empire delivers a deathblow against the Star Alliance, fighter pilot Lieutenant Chase Athanatos leads a band of scattered survivors to the farthest reaches of the known universe, to a little planet called Earth.

As for the winners

As for the actual signed paperback prizes, of which my novel The Auriga Project is one, six lucky winners will receive these gifts…

  • 1 Winner will receive 25+ Signed Space Opera/Exploration/First Contact Books.
  • 1 Winner will receive 25+ Signed Dystopian/Post Apolcayptic/Time-Travel Books
  • 1 Winner will receive 15+ Signed Military Sci-fi/Space Marine Books
  • 1 Winner will receive a Brand New Kindle Fire 7
  • 2 Winners will receive a $25 Amazon Gift Card

This will be live until the end of October, but it won’t last forever. Good luck!

sfb-signed-paperback-giveaway

* Links to books are affiliate links, which means if you do decide to buy a copy I get a few pennies as a referral fee. That money goes to supporting my writing, so I thank you kindly.

Low Desert, High Mountain, Big Lizard: A Post-Apocalyptic Story

My post-apocalyptic novelette Low Desert, High Mountain, Big Lizard is now available as an ebook!

Originally published in a monster anthology back in the Spring, this is the first time the story is available by itself—and it’s only $0.99. Here’s the blurb:

Low Desert, High Mountain, Big Lizard

Low Desert, High Mountain, Big Lizard: A Post-Apocalyptic StoryA basilisk barks and chases boulders across the desert.

Has the thing lost its blinking mind?

As a scavenger, Das is no stranger to the beautiful and deadly alien creatures the invaders left behind. He’s always careful, like his father taught him, when he’s exploring the ruins. But this is unlike anything he’s ever seen.

Putting himself at risk is one thing…but imperil the lives of the people he loves? Unthinkable. When the mad basilisk goes on a rampage, it’s up to Das to prove himself worthy of his father’s memory, and find a way to put the brute out of its misery before it hurts anyone else.

Buy on Amazon  Buy on iBooks, Nook, or Kobo

 

The Alien Element is here

It's my pleasure to announce that The Alien Element, my pulse-pounding, throat-grabbing, ancient alien-having science fiction novel, is now available! This is the second book in the Translocator Trilogy.

The Alien Element

The Alien Element by M.G. HerronEarth is endangered by an ancient source of power…The Alien Element is here.

On Kakul, Rakulo scours the Wall for a way to free his people from centuries of subjugation. On Earth, Eliana searches Mayan ruins for clues to the origins of Kakul, and Amon is brought under investigation when an intruder in the lab is murdered.

The intruder seemed to be after the carbonado, a powerful black meteorite that caused the Translocator to glitch and stranded Eliana on that other world. Although the motives of those who sent him remain obscured, his disfigured body says all that Amon needs to hear.

Rakulo’s mission, Eliana’s search, and Amon’s troubles collide when the god known as Xucha steals the carbonado and uses its power to entangle the destinies of the two worlds.

This sets off a chain of events that drive Eliana back to Kakul, where she begins to unravel an ancient alien mystery.

"WOW! What a second book! The character development is amazing!" –John J. Knight, Amazon Reviewer

"Action packed sci-fi book with a wonderful storyline. Switching back and forth between locations lets you get a good feel for the similarities and differences between them and the mythology the story is based on is very rich." –Cleocutie, Amazon Reviewer

"This series is full of surprises, smooth to read, and definitely hard to set down. Highly recommended if you enjoy a good read." –Vickie, Amazon Reviewer

Buy on Amazon US  Buy on Amazon UK  Buy on Amazon CA

The $0.99 cent launch sale on The Alien Element will last through August 5th, and which point the book will go up to its regular price of $2.99. Grab it while the sale lasts!

Print readers can get a paperback copy here.

The Alien Element – Chapter 3

<unedited>

Snippet 3 from The Alien Element
Translocator Trilogy Book Two
by M.G. Herron
Copyright 2017, All Rights Reserved, yadda yadda

 

The Alien Element by M.G. Herron3

Not Quite Right

“Reuben!” Amon shouted over the electric thrum of the Translocator.

The clamor of a forklift offloading boxes with a metallic clatter swallowed his voice even through his earplugs. The boxes crashed and clanked as two engineers wrestled them onto the platform, through the gap in the concentric sphere of blue-green alloy rings. Filled with steel arms, screws, nuts, rubber wheels, and other tools, the parts would be used to assemble the last of the fabricators for the lunar base.

Ignoring Amon’s call, Reuben focused on the holodeck, where the controls for the great machine—and the particle accelerator which powered it—were located. Two floor-mounted holographic projectors cast dozens of images and models and graphs of real-time energy readouts around him like a cockpit.

Reuben reached out to the broad glass touchscreen at the center of the control unit and tapped a button. The concentric sphere of alloy rings that stabilized the molecular disassembly and reassembly process began to spin, gathering speed until they shifted into a semi-transparent blur.

Simultaneously, a two-hundred-foot-tall, arch-shaped array of silicone and metal nodes that extended to the vaulted ceiling crackled with energy. The noise heightened, filling the vast underground laboratory.

“Reuben, I’m stepping out!” Amon shouted again.

The lead engineer turned his body slightly, but his wild white hair and a hologram image of the inventory blocked him from seeing Amon in his peripheral vision. His attention was pulled back to the controls.

Amon rubbed at his temples, frustrated. Rueben had been more distracted than usual lately. It was a private matter that he didn’t talk much about, but everyone knew that his husband had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s over two years ago. Lately, he’d taken a turn for the worse, and Reuben was once again showing signs of sleep deprivation and forgetfulness that were uncharacteristic

But wasn’t Amon the same? Maybe they all could use a break. Now that the MegaPower nuclear fission reactor was online, the pace of research and construction had nearly doubled. The last few months had been consumed with the construction and shipping of supplies—heavy machinery, mostly, but also the nuclear reactors. Now, the real work began—doing the research the Lunar Terraform Alliance had been formed to do, and figuring out if we can actually sustain life up there.

A headache was new, though. That had come that morning while he was double-checking inventory on the fabricator parts. The fabricators were too big to fit in the translocator, so they had to be shipped in pieces and he didn’t want anything to be forgotten.

With a practiced swipe of his hand, Rueben locked onto the platform in Dome 2 and pressed another button. A sudden absence that Amon would never fully grow accustomed to came next as the pile of boxes seemed to energize, giving off a blinding brightness. When the light faded, the platform was empty, and the boxes were gone.

A monitor against the left wall showed that the payload had been successfully reassembled in an identical platform—minus the arch—which Dome 2 had been built on top of.

He opened his mouth to call out again but stopped himself. “Forget it,” Amon muttered.

Pinching the bridge of his nose, he turned and walked out of the room, nodding at two guards in camouflage fatigues who stood on either side of the wide doorway. They nodded back and continued to stand, looking bored with automatic rifles slung casually over their shoulders. Theirs wasn’t the most exciting job, but it was a necessary one. The Lunar Terraform Alliance and their international investors had a lot invested in this project.

Amon went past the stairwell, opting for the elevator to take him up the four flights to ground level.

At ground level, Amon passed through the main security checkpoint manned by two more security guards, a replica of the security checkpoints you had to go through at most airports. A conveyor belt fed through an X-Ray detector. There was also a metal detector and full-body scanner.

“Afternoon, Mr. Fisk,” Roger said, nodding and tipping the brim of a Rangers ball cap at Amon. Amon nodded back.

Afternoon already?

A long hall led him to the lobby of Fisk Industries. His phone showed cell signal again and he checked for a response from Eliana. Although he’d texted her to let her know he’d be at work late, she hadn’t responded.

Looking up from the phone, Amon realized the lobby was filled with people. The traffic and noise had increased until it was nearly as bad as it had been in the Translocator lab. He groaned. It must be lunch hour already. The only thing Amon had ingested all day was coffee, so much of it that his hands had a slight tremor when he held them out, and he felt a little nauseous.

Scientists and other Fisk Industries employees gathered in the glass and steel lobby. In addition to the Translocator project, Fisk Industries made solar panels and conducted other photovoltaic and energy research. The particle accelerator that powered the Translocator was the bridge between the two ends of the company, and they were all housed in this building (and the other buildings across the campus). They had production facilities around the world, but this was the headquarters.

People lingered around the waterfall adjacent to the entrance, sitting on the benches there and at the tables by the café, talking amongst themselves.  A woman’s high-pitched laughter bounced sharply across the lobby and wormed its way into his ear. He squinted in the sunlight. All of it grated on Amon’s last nerve.

Seeing his people happy normally made him happy, but he was getting a headache and needed to find a quiet place to relax and maybe lie down for a few minutes.

It suddenly occurred to him that he hadn’t visited Audrey in several weeks. She wasn’t prone to chatter, which he appreciated more than usual right now. Audrey’s office was located in a quiet back corner of the first floor, also behind the security checkpoint. He decided to go back and say hi to her, and then sneak in a quick nap in his own office around the corner. Amon turned and hurried back to the security checkpoint, putting his phone and wallet through the X-Ray scanner.

After Eliana returned home last year, the Lunar Terraform Alliance and NASA had agreed that it was everyone’s best interests to move the carbonados to a more secure facility. Fisk Industries was an obvious choice. The building had ample office space. Amon had tried to hire Audrey once, and admired her work ever since, so it seemed fitting that she would work in his building not as an employee, but as a colleague and friend.

In the back halls of the sprawling headquarters building, the lobby’s ruckus receded to a dim buzz, and the pounding ache behind his eyes eased. Amon shoved his hands in his pockets to still the caffeine shakes as he walked slowly toward her lab. The walls here were salt and pepper tile, with geometric green and blue designs running around the corner to Audrey’s office. He was tracing the designs with his eyes, thinking about calling the cafeteria to order lunch, when he caught sight of a small stream of red liquid in a puddle on the floor.

His stomach clenched, and he gripped the soft cloth on the inside of his pockets with both hands. Ducking low and pressing close to the wall, Amon crept closer and slowly peered around the corner.

The two guards that were always stationed in front of Audrey’s lab were sprawled out awkwardly on the floor. One lay on top of his rifle, his elbow bent oddly. They each had a hole in the back of their head from which the blood seeped. The wall across the hall was stained with two distinct red splatter marks. Amon laid his hand on the nearest rifle. The barrel was cold.

A crash of glass came from inside the lab.

Audrey!

Amon unbuttoned the pistol holster on the thigh of one dead guard and withdrew the man’s sidearm, a black Glock. He released the magazine and glanced down—it was fully loaded. Amon replaced the magazine with a snap and racked the slide of the gun. The adrenaline now surging through his veins made his hands shake even more. He paused momentarily, considering whether or not to use the guard’s radio to call for backup.

The thirty seconds that would take could be the difference maker. Audrey was a friend. Amon made his decision. He tapped his hip, where his ID was clipped, against the card reader to unlock the door, and gently turned the handle, cracking the door a quarter inch. He peered in.

In the middle of the lab, on a rectangular island with cabinets on all sides, the glass cage of a large glove box isolator had been shattered by a heavy chunk of meteorite—not the large, midnight-black carbonado sample, but a different chunky brown rock the size of a large melon which lay among the mess of shattered glass.

On the floor, sprinkled with glass pebbles, another form lay sprawled. It was Audrey, fair skinned with a neat red braid trailing along the floor.

Amon hurried to her side and knelt down, fearing the worst. As he reached her, she twitched and groaned, but there was no blood. Her eyes opened, flicked to the gun, and a flash of fear contorted her face.

“It’s just me,” he said.

She stared at him for a long moment, obviously disoriented. Then she tensed as the sound of glass crunching underfoot startle them both. They scurried behind the rectangular base of the island.

“If I didn’t tell him where the carbonado was, he would have hurt me,” Audrey whispered.

“Who?” Amon mouthed.

She pointed back toward the other end of the lab where the sound had come from, patted her pocket, and gave him a weak smile.  “But I didn’t give him the key.”

Amon glanced around the island, and sure enough, a large man in black with short-cropped hair was limping around near the storage shelving at the back, where the meteorite samples were kept. The carbonado was kept in a special locked safe not twenty yards away. The man looked vaguely familiar, but Amon couldn’t place him.

The man cursed when he saw Amon, his hand darting to his waist. Amon ducked back behind the island. Wood splinters flew into the air near his eyes.

Gasping, Amon held the gun to his chest and rose to a squat on the balls of his feet. He only had the element of surprise. Go where he least expects.

He held the gun around the corner and shot blindly twice, then dove the other way. He jumped up and squeezed the trigger once, twice, three times.

All of the bullets went wide. Amon’s throat clenched. The man raised his own gun, training it on Amon, but the gun wavered. Amon tucked, and his shot went wide, too.

Amon screamed, raising his gun and firing rapidly.

One of the bullets finally struck the man in the gut. Another squeeze, and another. The man jerked back and his gun slipped from his fingers. Amon lowered the Glock, breathing heavily.

He waited for a long minute, his own ragged breathing settling as the ringing in his ears receded. Amon crept carefully across the room.

When he kicked the dead man’s gun back, away from the body, the doors were shoved open—it was the two guards from the security checkpoint down the hall. Amon held his hands high over his head. Roger, recognizing Amon, lowered his weapon and waved for the other man to do the same.

As he waited for them to approach, Amon looked back down at the dead man’s booted feet. Something was off. He wore cowboy boots of nice brown leather, but one of them was facing the wrong direction. Had that happened when he fell? Amon’s eyes swept up the man’s clothes. There was an awkward bulge in the area of his ribs that was not quite right either.

His face was normal. And it was a face that Amon recognized. It was Montoya, the Hawkwood mercenary who had impersonated an FBI agent last year after Eliana disappeared last year.

As if that wasn’t worrisome enough, Amon knew with a rising terror that there was only one way Montoya could have snuck behind the two guards shot them in the back of the head without raising any alarms. And that this method was also responsible for his backward foot and the bulge in his side.

The guards approached and peered over his shoulder. as Amon used one shoe to lift the man’s shirt, exposing the bulge near his ribs.

Roger hissed his breath inward. “What in the hell?”

The other man cursed and turned away. Audrey came up behind Amon, one hand on her head. “Oh, my.”

Amon grimaced when the shirt was drawn up to reveal a complete knee joint sticking out of the Montoya’s abdomen.

Reading: The Prometheus Project

The Prometheus Project by Steve White (Science fiction, 2005)

I loved the cover, so I bought it. More proof that good covers sell books. Never heard of Steve White before, just exploring sci-fi based on artwork and concepts that appeal to me.

The Prometheus Project opens with a scene where the newly elected president meets the sitting president to discuss the transfer of power. There’s a lot of smoldering enmity. After the banter, the sitting president says, there’s something you need to know…we’ve already made contact. Aliens exist. And now you must safeguard this secret.

I couldn’t help but laugh. I read this right after Trump’s uncanny inauguration, so of course it was top of mind for me — but the roles are reversed here. The democrat in this book is the newly elected president, the opposite of the most recent US election, but the roles could easily have been reversed. It gave me some perspective. Two parties are like two sides of the same coin in American politics. I couldn’t help but imagine Obama telling Trump about the aliens.

Just picture the look on his face.

Anyway, from there, the story hops back to 1963. Private security agent Bob Devaney was escorting a mysterious woman named Novak to the White House when they were ambushed by gunmen. When Novak uses an invisibility cloak to make an impossible escape, she gets ready to terminate Devaney for knowing too much—until her boss orders her to bring him into the fold instead.

Devaney is then recruited for The Prometheus Project—the white-labeled men in black. What follows is a rollicking adventure woven into a star-traversing journey. The man is valuable for his action hero abilities (so he thinks), but he’s there on the request of the mysterious and infrequently seen Mr. Inconnu.

You can tell this book was inspired by mid-century sci-fi classics, but it’s written in a modern voice I found compelling. A familiar story, but the character relationships kept it interesting and new for me. I always love to see authors invent new societies and cultures, and then put confused humans there to see how they’ll cope. My kind of fiction.

The Prometheus Project is worth the read if you like aliens and action in your sci-fi. What happens to the President-Elect at the end will make you laugh.

The Alien Element – Chapter 2

<unedited>

Snippet 2 from The Alien Element
Translocator Trilogy Book Two
by M.G. Herron
Copyright 2017, All Rights Reserved, yadda yadda

 

The Alien Element by M.G. Herron2

First Flight Back

Eliana hurried across the campus of the University of Texas, sweat gathering at her collar of her blouse and under her arms. Today was the day of her final guest lecture at the University, and she was late for her own class.

The leather messenger bag she purchased when she had been offered the guest lecturer position at her alma mater earlier that year swung at her side, rubbing against the bare skin of her legs below her shorts. After a single semester, it was still not broken in, and the edges were sharp.

The spring air was fresh and she couldn’t help but slow her steps and bend to admire the bright bluebonnets spilling out of every patch of grass edging the sidewalk. Seeing the bluebonnets bloom wild and free in the spring always made Eliana long to be outdoors, in the sun, and the sight of them today made her check in with herself.

Yes, she thought, I have been outdoors latelyquite a lot.

Eliana rose from sniffing the bed of wildflowers and continued her walk across the university campus, this time forcing herself to walk more slowly. What did it matter if she was late? It was her last lecture.

After a grueling nine-month application and permission process, the research team she now led had just spent three weeks exploring the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve, a jungle in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula that extended into Belize and Guatemala. Their goal, at least on paper, was to map uncharted Mayan ruins, of which there were a great many in the dense 13 million acre forest.

She considered, for a moment, the path that led her here. After she returned from Kakul a year ago, Eliana had begun to digest her harrowing experience. She wrote down everything she’d seen and learned, from the moment she was zapped across the galaxy by a glitch in Amon’s Translocator, to the last time she saw the two moons in the night sky of that other world.

Even if she had possessed pen and paper while she was in Kakul, she didn’t know if she would have had the presence of mind to keep notes. The first weeks had been so incredibly disorienting. She had been so intent on avoiding becoming a sacrifice to their ancient god, and then learning the language and working for her food, that nothing else had mattered. And then had been brutally attacked. Who has time to keep a journal when your very survival is at stake?

Once Amon brought her home, she wrote down what she did remember. It went slowly at first, but once she had the facts down—how people lived there, what they ate, all the words she knew (spelled out phonetically), the people’s religious customs—she finally began to ask the other questions that had been nagging at her mind.

How had the Kakuli people gotten to that planet in the first place? And when? The archaeologist in her demanded an explanation. Eliana consulted with Renee Shaw, her mentor and former advisor at University. Renee was a linguist who specialized in ancient Mesoamerican cultures, and she confirmed that the language Eliana learned was, indeed, a dialect of Yucatec Mayan. Given all the words she didn’t recognize, she suspected that it would make sense that it was an unknown dialect or one that had diverged some time ago and had developed in isolation.

Later, much later, Eliana would admit to herself that she thought about going back to Kakul at that moment, and rejected the idea outright. Not only did she have absolutely zero desire to be translocated anywhere again, but Amon’s work was under more scrutiny now than ever. The US government had insisted, to Amon’s annoyance, on increasing security. She couldn’t use a billion-dollar molecular reassembly device under high security for her research without a lot of hassle.

Eliana turned, instead, to the other place she was likely to get answers. Though she still felt scarred from the experience, her recent exposure in the press was a boon. Eliana Fisk wasn’t just an archaeologist anymore—she was the woman who survived the world’s first and only Translocator accident.

She managed to secure funding from an archaeological society associated with her alma mater, put together a competent exploration team from her old contacts in the field, and go through the nine-month application process with the Mexican government. After today, she could continue her search for the answers to her burning questions about the Kakuli people in the Yucatan Peninsula, the ancestral homeland of the Mayan people.

She finally reached the building where the small lecture hall was located, dashed up the steps, and yanked on a polished brass handle. As the door opened on smoothly oiled hinges, a murmur of voices filled the air.

She may have been late for her lecture, but that only enhanced her entrance. A hush fell over the crowded room. Judging by attendance, word had spread that she wouldn’t be continuing these guest lectures next year, as originally rumored.

Eliana stopped a few feet from the open door to catch her breath. After composing herself, she strode purposefully into the room. The sound of the door latching echoed in the quiet room.

Eliana heard only the sound of her footsteps as she crossed the floor to the lectern in the center. She took a second to stow her messenger bag carefully on a low shelf, fix her air, and adjust the microphone down to her height.

“Good afternoon,” she said. “I see that there are far more of you here than have been attending class for most of the semester. Many new faces. Thank you for coming. I’m sure we’re breaking all the fire code regulations.”

Gazing up at the gathering of students, Eliana noticed that not a single seat sat empty. In fact, students even sat side-by-side on the two columns of steps leading up through the theater-style seats. They stood behind the back row and gathered at the doorways.

No pressure, she thought. A vibration came from her messenger bag, where her phone was stored. She ignored it.

“Since you’re already here, and this is my last lecture, you are welcome to stay. I won’t tell.”

The tension in the room eased visibly, and Eliana saw a few guilty grins light up the young faces at the back of the room. Laptops opened, the backlit logos of the computer companies shining down at her.

She rested her forearms beside the microphone and began the speech she had prepared. “Our topic today is a continuation of the theme of this series—how Mayan art and architecture has influenced the modern world. Specifically, in this lecture we’ll be examining what we can learn about complex societies and economics by studying the decline and abandonment of many major cities in the southern Maya Lowlands during the ninth century CE.”

The lecture went on from there, and Eliana fell into her groove. This was a topic she had been fascinated with since she began her career in archaeology, so it was easy to talk passionately about the details, from when the Maya entered the cultural consciousness of Western civilization in the early 20th century to the restoration of the pyramid at Chichen Itza. She showed them the jade mask of Palenque, evidence of the advanced mathematics of the Maya astronomers, photos of the codices and ancient scripts that, to this day, no one had fully been able to decipher or catalog in full.

It was a topic that had recently taken on more personal color, but she kept her own theories out of it. So far she had only told Amon and a few people close to her what she’d really experienced on Kakul. She couldn’t lay her theories on her students—not without more concrete evidence.

An hour passed in the space of a breath. As she began to wrap up the lecture, one young woman who had been typing furiously on a laptop during the entire lecture begin to fidget restlessly. Eliana knew her

“Now—questions?” Eliana said.

The fidgety girl’s hand shot into the air. Eliana tried to keep her face relaxed in a neutral smile. So much rested on a teacher’s expression. She’d been this girl once, and it wouldn’t be kind to embarrass her for her enthusiasm, even unintentionally.

“Is the research you’re doing in Mexico connected to your disappearance last year?”

The question stole the breath from her lungs. Eliana blinked and felt her face flush. She closed her mouth and inhaled slowly through her nose.

“I’m sorry, Mrs. Fisk,” the girl said. “It’s just—I had to ask. The newspapers last year said you came back wearing jade and shell jewelry and dressed in coarse-woven cloth, and I’ve heard rumors that—”

A door opened and shut. The girl hesitated. Someone cleared their throat.

Eliana held up a hand. “It’s okay, Margaret,” she finally said. “I suppose someone had to ask eventually. The research my team is doing in Mexico is exploratory in nature. We’re trying to map the undocumented ruins in the more remote regions of the Calakmul Reserve. That’s all. Those jungles are incredibly dense, and we believe that still may contain some interesting discoveries about the Mayans.”

The girl’s face dropped, obviously disappointed. But she smiled and nodded, apparently satisfied with that explanation.

It wasn’t a lie—more like an evasion. How had this young woman put the pieces together? Not even her research team had the full sense of Eliana’s suspicious about the Kakuli people. She had kept those cards close to her chest. Eliana would have to tell Renee about this student. A girl with that kind of intuition—not to mention her passion—showed promise.

“That’s all for today,” Eliana said. “Thank you all for coming. Be sure you register in advance for the next guest lecture you attend.”

With a rustle of bags and papers, the students all rose at once and filed toward the exit. The shy girl, Margaret, averted her face and hurried for the exit. Eliana turned to try to catch her attention, to get her name, but when she turned around she looked straight into a very familiar face.

“Renee!” she said. “I thought we were meeting later for lunch.”

Her former mentor and present president of the University proudly wore a trim red pantsuit that reminded Eliana more of a politician than a linguist. Renee probably felt that her new position demanded she dresses the part.

“I hope you don’t mind. I snuck in at the end,” Renee said “I didn’t want to miss your last appearance. They students are completely enamored with you, you know.”

Eliana couldn’t conceal the blush that crept up her neck.  She changed the subject. “That girl who asked me about my research, do you know her?”

Renee inclined her head. “Margaret Jaffray. Yes, she’s an excellent student. Made the dean’s list three years in a row.”

“Oh, good,” Eliana said. “She’s a bright one. Might have to recruit her for my research team after she graduates.”

Eliana grabbed her messenger bag and slung it across her body, then reached in and grabbed her phone. She had two messages, several missed calls, and half a dozen text messages. She scrolled through the texts as she distractedly followed Renee out of the lecture hall.

“So where would you like to eat?” Renee asked.

Eliana didn’t answer her. She wasn’t trying to be rude, it was just that the text messages absorbed her whole attention.

We found something. Take the first flight back. You have to see this with your own eyes.

Eliana swallowed against the dryness in her mouth. Her heart slammed against her ribcage. She looked up at her former mentor. “I’m sorry, Renee, I’d love to catch up with you but I think—I have to go. Let’s reschedule. I’ll let you know when I’m back in town.”

Renee stopped, her hands falling loosely at her sides. “Back in town?”

“Yes,” Eliana said, walking backward toward the door. “I’ll call you!” She turned, not waiting for an answer.

Eliana booked a flight on her phone on the way to the airport. As the plane left the runway, she forced the hope down inside her chest, trying to keep it contained until she’d seen the evidence for herself.