Seth White’s life has just gotten strange…
Religious radicals have taken over the US government, closed all the schools and universities—including the one he was about to graduate from—and are preparing everyone for what they believe will be the Battle of Armageddon. On top of that, a strange man with luminous skin appears to be following him, and Seth is seeing lights in the sky his rational mind simply can’t account for.
Thrown into a prison called a “Conversion Camp” for a murder he didn’t commit, Seth befriends Jace Davis, the son of an unpopular Senator, and Sanjana Bhavina, a young woman imprisoned for practicing a prohibited faith. The three quickly becoming confidants, and upon discovering they are scheduled to be executed, they make a daring escape. But their captors aren’t about to give up the chase, nor is the strange man with luminous skin.
And if things aren’t strange enough, the three appear to have acquired supernatural abilities—abilities that may help them prevent the impending Armageddon.
- Genre: Dystopian Science Fiction
- Audience: New Adult
- Length: 374 pages
- Key themes: theology, religious ethics, & politics
- Key aspects: action-adventure, mystery, suspense, paranormal abilities
- Protagonist: former Christian fundamentalist
- Location/setting: Begins in Ohio, travels to Italy & Mexico
- Content: mature language, some violence, PG-13
- Available formats: paperback, kindle ebook
- Special offers: Paperback only $10
- Print ISBN-10: 069274147X ISBN-13: 978-0692741474
- Amazon ASIN: B01377ON8C
Add it to your Bookshelf: Goodreads
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A very interesting story that mixes religion, action, science fiction, and adventure. –Amazon Reviewer
Five stars –Goodreads Reviewer
Chapter 1: The Last University
Maybe it was the Mohawk that pissed them off? Maybe it was the metal studs on my denim jacket? Either way, they assumed I was guilty. I knew it was only a matter of time. I didn’t believe like they did. I didn’t prescribe to their way of thinking. I was being arrested for a murder I didn’t commit, but my biggest crime was changing my mind. I used to be like them. I used to think like them. And now they hated me for it. But the sentries clamping cuffs around my wrists didn’t know that. They didn’t know who I was or what I believed. What they did know was that Mary Flatell was dead, and I was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
As the second cuff snapped tightly around my wrist, I watched a sentry push another suspect through the crowd. With a painful shove, they made me follow him. Prodding me every few steps, I was forced past sneering faces that shouted indecipherable insults and spat on me as I passed by.
I tried to resist as they attempted to cram me into the backseat of the sentry cruiser. Unfortunately, my defiance only paid off temporarily. The sentry’s eyes widened at the challenge. Then in one quick motion, he raised a nightstick and struck me behind the knees. Stunned, I collapsed face-first onto the back seat, nearly landing in the lap of the guy they’d already seated inside. I scrambled to sit up as the officer slammed the door shut.
As the cruiser pulled away, I could see where the edge of one crowd ended and another began. The signs of hundreds of protestors, decked in animated colors, were now strewn on the ground, while their holders were poked, prodded and otherwise coerced into long lines. At the head of each line were more sentries, arresting and processing each protestor on live TV—just as they had done with thousands of other college students, staff, and community members around the country in the last six months. But what I found most disheartening was the lack of resistance. The protestor’s heads were now bowed, their arms limp at their sides, and they followed along in line, like herded sheep. Their efforts had failed, and collectively, it appeared they had given up.
I sighed, and my chest ached from pain unrelated to the injuries sustained during my arrest. The last public university was now closed. And there was nothing anyone could do about it.
* * *
They wouldn’t take me to a police station. I knew that. Those too had been phased out. No, I would go where all the heathen element went: Conversion Camp.
Even though I’d known about the camps since they were first implemented two years ago, I hadn’t seen anyone ripped from their lives and taken to one until it happened six months ago. I was in Dr. Heidi Ananse’s Ethics in Journalism class when they came for her. She told us they would. She said they hoped that if they arrested enough teachers, the schools would shut down on their own accord—and many did. There had been countless raids on universities, arresting teachers and professors. And since she was also a journalist, Dr. Ananse was high on their list. They considered her un-American. A dangerous threat to democracy. To freedom. To liberty. To God. She knew her time was limited. And she knew where they would take her.
It was impressive to watch as they hauled her away. She didn’t resist like I did or like any of the thousands of college professors arrested that same day. She went quietly. She’d understood the risks of showing up to teach. It was almost as if she wanted to get caught.
I took her arrest personally. Dr. Ananse was odd, but she made class interesting, told me I had talent, and didn’t care that I had a tattoo. Maybe that’s why I considered her my mentor?
The cruiser slowed as it pulled into the drive at the Central Ohio Conversion Camp, drawing my thoughts back to the present. Crowds of onlookers had gathered along with trucks full of government-approved journalists ready to capture images of us being locked inside. They appeared to be focusing a great deal of attention on the guy seated next to me.
His name was Jace Davis. He was well-known because his father was once a Senator and because two years ago, when the Armageddonists took control of the House and Senate, his dad was removed from office and sent to a Conversion Camp. I’m sure Jace knew it was only a matter of time before they’d find an excuse to arrest him too. But like me, I doubt he ever imagined he’d be accused of murder.
The walk from the cruiser to the back entryway was long. The cobblestone pathway was decorated with a haphazard assortment of autumn leaves. I could feel the dried, dead things crunch and collapse beneath my shoes, but I couldn’t hear them over the crowd—my last moments of pleasure stolen from me.
The spectacle of spectators spat vicious accusations. Some were armed with rotten fruit, twigs, and pebbles, which they used as projectiles—repeatedly. I was zinged in the back of the head with what must have been a pebble, but before I could react, a nightstick was jabbed in my ribs. The crowd cheered as they watched me buckle in pain.
Jace fared worse than I did. Just as we approached the long-awaited entranceway, a tomato splattered against his forehead. I watched as its guts slid down the side of his cheek and onto his shoulder. And I could see the sadness, the humiliation, the moment of utter defeat on his face. He tried to wriggle his shoulder so the remains of the tomato would drop to the ground. But as he did, his sentry escort pulled out a Taser. I watched as the sudden jolt forced Jace to collapse. It was a sickening sight. But again, the crowd cheered.
Moments later, just before we were escorted inside, I twisted my neck to try to take in what was possibly my last moment outdoors, when someone all too familiar caught my eye. He was average height; thin; completely bald; with the brightest, whitest skin I’d ever seen; dressed in a bizarre, multicolored, patchwork business suit. We made eye contact, and as we did, he smiled.
Whoever he was, he was responsible. He killed Mary Flatell.
Chapter 2: Confession
My knees burned as they skidded across the linoleum floor. My head nearly collided with a table as I came to a stop a few feet into the room. When I tried to move to relieve the burn on my knees, I lost my balance and toppled over. Hands still cuffed behind me, I struggled to get back up.
I could have cooperated. I could have just walked into the cinder block interrogation room like they asked, but I couldn’t resist making them work for it.
The sentry grabbed me by my shirt, yanked me off the floor, and threw me down onto a nearby chair. Then he turned and slammed the door behind him.
There I waited.
It must have been three hours before I saw anyone, during which I got up, paced the room, and struggled with the cuffs—to no avail. And then, just when I thought they planned to leave me there to rot, the door opened.
Two sentries entered. One remained by the door; the other took a seat across from me. He was a large man with a uniform that may have once fit him, but now it bulged from the midsection, making each button look as if it was panicking, wanting to extricate itself from the bulk forcing it outward, but held in place by the shear will of the tiny threads looped beneath them. I sat and waited for something to happen as the sentry quietly stared at his H-tab—holographic tablet computer.
For several more minutes, the room was quiet. I knew better than to say anything. But in the silence it suddenly occurred to me: if they wanted to, these sentries could order my execution.
“Says here your name is Seth White. Is that right?”
“It also says you were a journalism major, editor of the school news site, and maintained a perfect 4.0. And yet you sport a ridiculous Mohawk. Tells me you were looking for trouble.”
I swallowed, and my right leg began to bounce up and down nervously.
The sentry stood and began pacing the room as he spoke, avoiding eye contact. “A group of students protesting on behalf of the country saw you and your friend at the shooting. Everyone we talked to said the two of you are responsible for Mary’s death.”
I focused on the wall in front of me, afraid to give any indication of a response.
“Did you hear that kid? I said ‘Everyone’. What do you have to say about that?”
I took a few shallow breaths and tried to remember what I had seen.
Hours ago I left my hotel room and walked to the university I had been attending for the last three years. When I arrived, I found the place flooded with people, shouting and throwing their fists in the air to protest. I saw Jace Davis, who I knew by reputation; Jordan Flatell and his entourage of body guards; his daughter, Mary; thousands of Armageddonists dressed as cowboys—apparently meant to be a symbol of strength and tradition; and a clown on fourteen-foot black wooden poles.
And there was that man. The slender, bald man with bright white skin and multicolored business suit. He looked like a failed comedian with really poor taste. I swear I saw him shoot the girl. But could I tell them that? Would they believe me? The truth sounded like a lie no matter how I phrased it.
“Look, you stupid punk,” the sentry began, “If you don’t say something, I’m going to consider your silence a confession. Now talk!”
“Okay.” My voice quivered as I spoke. I took another breath and tried to look as sincere as I possibly could. “I was there to protest. I had only just arrived and was surveying the crowd. What I saw was—”
“Spit it out kid.” His impatience was growing.
“I heard a gun go off. Then to my left, I saw Jordan Flatell. At the sound of gunfire, his body guards surrounded him, creating a human barricade.”
“Okay. What else do you remember?”
“A clown on stilts.”
“Don’t play games with me. Tell me what you saw.”
“I’m not kidding. In the middle of this massive protest there was a clown. I think he was there as part of the Armageddonist celebration. It struck me as odd. That is, until I saw what most of the Armageddonists were wearing.”
“You mean the cowboy costumes?”
“Yeah. Cowboy costumes.”
“Okay, what you are telling me is that a group of cowboy-clad Armageddonists were arguing with a crowd of protestors as a clown on stilts walked through?”
My heart beat rapidly. I knew he wouldn’t believe it.
The sentry looked up from the notes he was making on his H-tab. “You’re in luck; I was there too. If I hadn’t seen most of this myself, I wouldn’t believe you. But I really don’t care about the ambiance. What I want to know is: how did you get a gun on campus?”
“I didn’t. I didn’t kill Mary Flatell.”
“Well, if you didn’t kill her, who did?”
“There was this man in a bizarre multicolored suit. I saw him tuck something into his jacket and walk away just after the shooting.”
“What? Like a pin-stripe suit?”
“No. The colors were triangular shaped, interconnecting patches. They were…um…blue, red, and yellowish…maybe goldish.”
The sentry rolled his eyes and shook his head. I could tell he didn’t believe me.
“Come on kid; tell me the truth. Did you shoot Mary Flatell?”
I didn’t say a word. He calmly walked back around the table and took a seat. Then he swiped over the H-tab a few times.
“I’m not surprised to see that you have a criminal record.”
“What? What are you talking about? I don’t have a criminal record. I’ve never . . .” But as I said it, I realized what he was referring to. My parents. It had to be the incident with my parents.
“Let me ask you one more time: did you shoot Mary Flatell?”
“I don’t have to answer that. I’m not saying another word until I have an attorney present.”
“You stupid kid. That was the old law. That was before the newly revised Constitution. Under the new law, if you commit a crime, you wave all your rights.”
“I didn’t commit a crime.”
“Let me rephrase the question. When you shot Mary, was it your intention to kill Reverend Jordan Flatell? Did you miss your actual target?”
“What? No. I didn’t kill or intend to kill anyone.”
“Don’t lie to me kid. We talked to Jace Davis. You know what he said? He said you killed her. He said you were aiming for her father, but you missed.”
“What?” My entire body was conflicted by a surge of adrenaline and the overwhelming shock of utter defeat. “I—I didn’t,” I said quietly, trying my best to hold back tears.
“You didn’t miss? So you intended to kill Mary after all?”
“No. I didn’t kill anyone.”
“So who did? And don’t give me this, ‘it must have been one of the circus freaks’ bullshit. As far as we can tell, the shot came from somewhere in your vicinity.”
“I told you what I saw.”
“You know what I think? I think you and Jace are in on this together. We both know Jace hates the Armageddonists; we both know his reputation. I think he shot her, and he’s paid you off to take the fall.”
“I only just met him.”
“Whatever.” The sentry looked disappointed. He stopped fiddling with his H-tab and looked up at me. “Here’s the deal: I’m going to be reassigned to the Washington Conversion Camp sometime in the next few days. When that happens, I won’t be getting back to your case for a very long time. But the deacons don’t like to hand off criminal cases to anyone other than the original sentry—that would be me—so you could be here a long while before we get back to this case.”
I sat there, speechless, so he continued. “I’m telling you, now’s your chance to confess. It will make things easier on the both of us. I mean, the earliest I could come back here to finish this job would be sometime next summer. That’s what? Seven, eight months?”
He was bluffing. I was sure of it. “You mean to tell me that a high profile killing like this one—where the public will want answers—will be put on hold for almost a year because of some deacon’s reassignment rule? Don’t insult me.”
“So suddenly you’re important. Sounds to me like you killed Mary Flatell to feed your pathetic ego. Or maybe it’s just for attention? Yeah, that’s probably it. Anyone who wears their hair like that when it ain’t Halloween is just begging for attention.” He stopped and got right in my face. “Or maybe, just maybe, you thought you were somehow doing the right thing? How many more did you want to take out before we stopped you? Huh? Ten, twenty? The lot of ‘em?”
I didn’t dare say a word.
“I guess we’ll find out in eight months.” He turned and took a few steps toward the door.
“I thought you guys were convinced the end of the world is coming? Doesn’t that change things?”
“Shut up, kid.”
“I thought you wanted me to talk.”
“Not anymore.” He turned and said something to the other sentry, then swiped a few things on his H-tab and glanced up at the security camera. The red light had gone off. He turned and smiled at me. “Have fun.” The door slammed behind him as he left the room.
The guard walked over to me slowly, balled up his fist, and the last thing I remember was the sudden shock of pain as it slammed into my face.
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