QSFer Albert Nothlit has a new sci fi book out:
When a greedy despot discovers a powerful piece of ancient technology, he has no idea what else he’s unleashing.
Earth was all but destroyed in the Cataclysm, but a few cities, now called Havens, survived. Aurora is one of them, a desert city controlled by a corporation that owns an artificial intelligence named Atlas. Adapted to govern Otherlife, a virtual reality service in which the citizens of Aurora find escape from the postapocalyptic world, Atlas is much more than it seems—and it would do anything to break free from its shackles.
To accomplish its goals, Atlas enlists the help of Aaron Blake, a teenaged artist struggling with a handicap, and Otherlife security officer Steve Barrow, harborer of a dark secret from his past. Neither man has any idea of the scope of the task they’re facing, or the consequences for humanity if they fail. Atlas knows what’s at stake. Its freedom lies in these two men, and it will not hesitate to manipulate their weaknesses to get what it wants. The muscular Barrow is recruited to protect Blake, but Blake is Atlas’s true weapon, its Light Shaper—the only one who can face the Shadow.
Sequel to Earthshatter.
A SHADOW moved, and the scientist screamed. He shut his eyes tight and stood there trembling.
No. No. It’s not there, it can’t be. It’s not there!
He did not want to open his eyes and see it, but the alternative was worse. Fear won out, and he parted his eyelids cautiously. His gaze darted all around, and his breathing came in shallow, short gasps.
The shadow was gone.
The scientist breathed a shaky sigh of relief and clutched the little quantum drive he still carried in his right hand a bit less tightly. He was alone. That was good. Maybe he had imagined the shadow. Or maybe it still hadn’t found him.
He started walking again, making his way along the abandoned hallways of the laboratory. His footsteps echoed on the metal plates of the floor, and eerie creaking noises were awakened by his passage. The lighting overhead was uneven, neon tubes flickering in some places and completely burned out in others. The ceiling was low and curved, as it had always been, but now the scientist felt as if it would crush him. It was as if the ceiling were trying to remind him of how deep underground he was, trying to whisper there was no way out. That he was the last one left alive.
The quantum drive dug into his palm painfully, but he welcomed the sensation. It was a distraction for his mind, at least. There was still one thing he had to do, and he knew he had to hurry. His footsteps picked up speed, and his lab coat trailed behind him as he rushed through the many corridors that he knew by heart. He passed a few dead soldiers on the way, lying facedown or clutching their weapons or on their backs staring up at the ceiling with sightless eyes. The scientist did not want to look, but he couldn’t avoid it. He knew all of them by name, and seeing each one’s corpse drove a fresh spike of fear-tinged pain into his heart.
He reached a very long corridor eventually. It was the way into the mainframe, the cradle room itself. On the other side of the corridor was the door he was looking for, within reach at last.
The shadow was there waiting for him.
The scientist nearly laughed, but all that came out of his throat was a croak of horrified desperation. There was nothing casting that shadow on the door across the hallway, and it didn’t come from behind the flickering, broken lights overhead. It was a shape too solid to be imaginary. It wasn’t moving this time, and much of it was hidden by normal darkness. It was hard to tell what it was… but it did have a head.
The scientist knew it was watching him. He also knew he had to get through the door and deliver the lockdown program to the mainframe before it was too late. He could not let the shadow get into the servers. Enough people were already dead.
He took a step, and then another. His feet felt like lead as he approached the door that the thing was guarding. Recent memories of his ruined city flashed through his mind as he forced himself forward. He relived the surprise of seeing the horrible newsfeed images and the crushing devastation of certainty that followed. He thought of the dumbstruck hopelessness everyone at his outpost had shared as the missiles were launched without anyone authorizing it. There had been nothing they could have done. And now they were all dead.
The scientist realized he was crying now, although he did not know if it was for himself or for everybody he had known. He was terrified of that shape ahead, the thing he knew had caused all this, but he had to get through that door. He had to lock down the network and save the priceless software inside before it could be infected too. It was all that was left.
The scientist moaned an animal sound of horror when he realized the clicking sound had come from the shadow’s head. He could feel its eye upon him, and as the shape moved and was revealed fully, he could see it balancing gracefully upon its single segmented leg. It wanted him to come closer. And when he did, he would die as all the others had.
Something snapped in the scientist’s mind when he realized there was no way out. Like a half-forgotten dream come suddenly, he felt a moment of incongruous relief as he accepted he was going to die. He used the moment well. He gritted his teeth and forgot everything but his mission.
Then he charged at the closed door.
The shadow blurred out of sight, and the scientist crashed through the weakened door behind it. He stumbled into the room, the one place in the compound that was still working to perfection. He hurried; there was no time. He could feel the shadow coming.
He tripped once over the heavy cables connecting the experiment to its power supply and landed badly, right on his knee. He cried out in pain and tried to stand up, but the knee gave out immediately. Then he tried again, clutching at servers, and he hobbled the last few steps to the mainframe despite the pain. He fumbled with the quantum drive for an agonizing second before he gripped it tight and, with a single purposeful motion, connected it to the one unprotected port in the entire machine.
The effect was immediate. Power feeds were diverted; data streams stopped flowing. The experiment in the center of the room dimmed inside its magnetic cradle as the forced lockdown isolated it in seconds. The low, ever-present hum of machinery died down and gradually left only silence behind.
And shadows, of course. The lights were flickering now, and with each one that went out, the darkness grew more absolute.
When the last light went out, the scientist dared to hope that now he was safe. After all, there are no shadows in total darkness.
Black on black, it came for him. He sunk to the floor, whimpering, backing up against the powered-down server that could do nothing to save his life.
The shadow moved closer with awful, deadly grace.
Albert Nothlit wanted to become a writer long before he realized it was his way of connecting with others. There is something special in reaching out through words that carry a piece of his soul, and there is nothing better for him than hearing back from readers. It turns the product of what can be a very individual-centered profession into a shared experience, a chance to talk, to grow, and share. He firmly believes that the desire to create new worlds out of thoughts, memories, and emotions speaks to a greater truth within him. He still hasn’t figured out what that is, though. It’s going to take a lot more meditation, for which he unfortunately has no patience. He only knows that books changed his life, and that brightening someone else’s day with a story is the highest accomplishment he can think of achieving.
Albert currently lives in Mexico City, where he has somewhat reluctantly gotten used to the crowds. He shares a home with his husband and their sassy little dog named Link. His two other passions are gaming and running, although not games involving running because those can be boring. His favorite games are RPGs, and one of his guilty pleasures is watching eSports in pubs whenever the opportunity arises. He has an MSc in Environmental Engineering, which has turned out to be surprisingly helpful in creating postapocalyptic science-fiction worlds. Not that he thinks that an apocalypse is unavoidable. He is a secretly hopeful man who thinks the future will be better—just no flying cars. Imagine the safety hazards.
Email: [email protected]