QSFer Michael Barnette has a new paranormal book out:
Jin Donovan, code named Topaz, is a psi-talented hacker, a technomancer with the power to enter the electronic world found inside computers and most electronic devices. Recruited to the Organization—a clandestine group dedicated to protecting the world from crime syndicates—right out of college, Jin is their top technokinetic.
He teams up with Damon Champion—known within the Organization as Steel—a sometime assassin, bodyguard, and biokinetic. The pair find themselves mutually attracted and give in to temptation after they conclude their mission successfully. But attractions like theirs aren’t approved of in their line of work, and Jin cuts Damon off immediately. Unfortunately, being an operative for the Organization isn’t a safe profession and Jin vanishes without a trace.
Now it’s up to Damon to find Jin, the man he’s fallen in love with, and rescue him from his captors… if he isn’t already dead.
Jin Donovan, otherwise known as Topaz, touched the computer set into the desk and concentrated, his mind delving into the complex machine. The world within the device lay before him, a million stars set against a dark field: the data held within the universe of the computer’s drive. The universe within the computer, surreal and dull compared to reality, at least had a familiar feel to it, unlike a few such machines he’d delved into during past missions. Those devices, created by their owners rather than “off the rack” computers like this one, were always difficult to navigate. The first layer of any computer had a certain look, though that could vary from the common “universe,” such as this one held, to brightly colored fish in an electronic sea, even books on a shelf. He shifted his focus deeper to find the second layer, the place where the data stopped being visible as stars and took on other shapes. He also sought the location of the encryption key that kept the information he wanted locked away. It would have been far easier to do this via the net, but this particular device wasn’t connected, which meant he didn’t have access through the easier route.
No, the persons who held the data they needed were far too savvy to have this particular computer—one loaded with their most sensitive information—connected to the net, where hacking into it would be a simple process. At least for a freak like him.
“How you doing?” his partner, Steel—more commonly known as Damon Champion—asked.
“Almost ready to start,” he said, glancing over his shoulder at the taller man. Like Jin, Damon’s identity lay hidden behind the mission gear he wore. Helmet, armored catsuit, gear harness, and boots, all in an india ink blue, the color chosen by the Organization for whom they worked. He would have preferred black, but the choice, like so many other things involving his bosses—including his assigned partners—weren’t his to make. If they had been, he wouldn’t ever team up with Steel because he found him too distracting, with his handsome face and unusual blue-violet gaze.
He struggled to retain his connection with the star-decked internal view of the computer. Keeping his attention divided made it harder to retain his link in the machine, especially when he’d rather be looking at Damon and wishing for things he couldn’t have. Like a kiss.
“Keep watch. I’m going in.” From now on he had to keep his mind where it belonged, focused on what he was doing. A technokinetic, his talent lay in manipulating computers—or any electronic device controlled by them—to do his bidding, give up their secrets to the power of his mind. Of course, if Steel kept interrupting him, he’d never be able to get the computer to yield the vital data they were there to collect.
The weight of his protective gear, weaponry, and various other devices loaded onto his body added another minor layer of distraction, one he did his best to ignore.
Narrowing his focus, Jin reached deeper into the electronic world. The starry field altered into a trio of bright balls of light, the glow so intense his mind’s eye felt blinded. He altered his focus slightly to dim the light: mental sunglasses to filter out the intense glow. A created distraction he hadn’t been prepared to encounter. A sign that the people who owned the machine might have taken steps to protect it from technokinetics like himself. Odd for a machine not hooked to the net, but many large businesses took that type of precaution these days. His kind of freak had begun showing up more frequently in the last two decades.
Able to see more clearly now, he easily located the encryption key. A complex web of threads, black with a deep tangle of red running throughout, it wrapped the mass of data contained on the drive. To his mental sight, the data warped and took on the appearance of a single luminous sun, glowing just beyond his reach. He fought with the web of dark threads, wary of the red ones, suspecting they would delete the entire contents of the drive if he made even a single mistake.
“Put some speed into it,” Steel hissed from where he stood watch at the office door.
“What do you think I’m doing here, knitting socks?” he snapped. The conversation yanked him out of the world contained within the computer. He refocused, searching for the thread that would let him unravel the tangled web, the proverbial search for the needle hidden in the haystack.
He saw something that didn’t belong, a single silver thread glimmering amid the black and red mass, reached for it.
“How much longer?”
Lost the thread as he was pulled out of virtuality.
“Fuck if I know. The encryption is a hell of a lot more complex than we were told. One thing I do know is if you keep interrupting me it’s going to take a hell of a lot longer.”
“Lovely. We’ve got maybe five more minutes before the goon squad arrives, so the sooner you break the encryption the better we’ll be, Topaz.”
“So maybe shutting up is a good idea, Steel, because I can’t do this and chat with you at the same damn time.”
“Topaz, you seriously need to learn to multitask.”
“Just do your damn job, keep them off of me if they show, and stop talking to me, because multitasking is not an option.”
His partner fell silent, and Jin returned to work, searching for the silver thread he’d seen but hadn’t been able to grab. This time he located it, reached for it with his mental hand. It slithered out of his grasp, flitted away and was lost in the mass of dark threads for the third time. He sighed, searched for the elusive thread, spotted it, zinging away at speed to the far end of the dark web.
He followed it, grabbed for the tail end, missed. Tried again. This time caught the tail but the thing yanked free, raced away. He chased it, searching frantically, knowing time was running out, though time in the virtual world was different. A few seconds seemed like minutes inside the computer system. Speed of thought being faster than the speed of flesh, he still worried they’d run out of time and be no closer to attaining the data than they’d been on arrival.
“Ten minutes after the goons arrive we’re going to have cops. That’s how long it takes them to get here once the shooting begins,” Steel said, interrupting his quest for the silver thread.
He blinked, sighed, and pinched the bridge of his nose between his forefinger and thumb as a pulse of pain thrummed through his skull. The abrupt exits from virtuality were hard on his brain, and additionally, each exit made it more difficult to get back inside.
“Will you shut the hell up? Your yakking is not making this easier!” Steel was a good-looking man, but he had some irritating personality quirks.
Then again, who doesn’t?
Jin shut his eyes, found the electronic world. Right in front of him lay the silver thread. He snagged it, held on tight as it bucked and twisted worse than the wildest horse at the vid-rodeo. The wild ride caused him to bump against one of the red lines, and he felt a flash of heat, like the burn of hot oil over his skin. A blip of sound and light ran through the red lines in the web. A faint glimmer of something spun across the mass, like glitter tossed into the air.
He yanked harder on the silver strand. Now he really was running out of time, the touch on the red line sending a destruct code winging toward the stored data.
He hauled on the silver thread, saw the destruct code slow, fade as the web started to unravel.
“Bingo,” he whispered as the web dissolved into a million fragments of mist and then vanished, leaving nothing behind but the silver strand gripped tightly in his incorporeal fist. “I’m in.”
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Michael Barnette grew up in the wilds of Miami, Florida and has been nominated for both the Lambda Literary award as well as the Gaylactic Sprectrum Award numerous times. He now resides in Colorado where he has an amazing view of the Flat Iron Mountains. Colorado forms the backdrop of many of Michael’s books, including the soon to be released Guns of Colorado series co-written with Auburnimp which will be available in Spring 2016 from Fireborn Publishing.