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Red Paradise
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ISBN-10: 1-77115-320-2
ISBN-13: 
Genre: Science Fiction/Fantasy/SF
eBook Length: 199 Pages
Published: July 2016

From inside the flap

The shadow of a new, dominant species casts over the ruins of the old world.

Hunted by a deadly, viral predator, a lawman, a tiger-striped gigolo, and a steely smuggler come together to unravel the mystery behind a remote grove rumored to remain immune from the outbreak and out of reach from the shadow of death. The closer the expedition gets to their destination, the more vulnerable they become to this Promised Land's temptations and each other. At the heart of this seductive, alien Eden, they slowly realize that paradise doesn’t belong in this world.

Red Paradise (Excerpt)


Chapter One

Outbreak

The smoke thickened and blacked out the streets of the camps. Only the red, glass eyes of the inquisitor's gasmask were visible through the rising cloud of ash and debris.

Rhys turned the bend on the next corner, locked back into step with the rest of the priests, and rushed inside the ground floor of a rundown tenement building; he stood guard and took his position surrounding a lone, red door at the end of an unlit hallway.

The inquisitor unholstered his daggers in one swift movement. Black northern steel gleamed in the darkness. He signaled his partner, and they moved for the red door together.

Rhys kicked the door open. His partner sparked up a mortar and tossed the live round inside. The charge detonated with an explosion of gunpowder and white phosphorus.

The priests stormed in back to back, pivoting in opposite directions to clear the area. They spotted movement through the haze and turned their blades on a woman cornered with her daughter by a fading cook fire. The girl clung to her mother's skirts. Her skin was scorched with chemical burns. Piss leaked down her legs as she whimpered and screamed.

Rhys clipped the girl under the chin with the end of his dagger, "Quiet... "

The inquisitor withdrew his blade when her mouth shut. He turned his back on the girl, and wandered around the room. Dry straw crunched underfoot. Rhys rifled the pantry and the beds looking for something valuable to steal, but nothing here was worth his while. He spat on the floorboards and rolled his eyes. This was going to be another slow night.

The inquisitor kicked an empty piss pot across the room and cursed under his respirator; he fell back into position with the priests just as the judge entered the room.

"This Revolutionary Court is now in session," The judge nailed an ink-spotted warrant against the wall. "God have mercy on you all; for the law never will!"

The judge blessed the defendants; first the woman, and then the girl. Egon muttered the litanies and thumbed sacramental ash on their shaved heads. The gestures more habit than conviction. No benediction could save these women; they were already doomed.

He nodded to the surgeon and the bailiff looming behind him; his voice sounded grated and mechanical through the filters of the gasmask, "Begin the sanitation protocols."

The bailiff was a big, ironclad priest that clanked noisily like he worked on gears; taller by a foot, but stooped over and hovelled by the weight of his plated armor. Boris braced the mother and child in irons, and held them down as the surgeon approached.

The surgeon's amputation knife gleamed as she twisted with the blade. She unwound the girl's arm, and cut a deep incision; the serrated edge sliced through muscle until it hit hard bone. Pincers spread the pink tissue and revealed the skeleton within.

She let the girl go, repeated the inspection on her mother, and then went back in front of the judge; her voice sounded bored and almost disappointed. "No sign of infection or mutation. Their bones look clean. But you never know unless you skin them whole."

The judge paced the hay-strewn room, studying the woman and her small daughter. The defendants looked clean. Healthy. Blameless, even. That was always a bad sign.

Egon steeled himself for what was to come. He prayed, hoping this ended quickly for their sake. It was all he could do. Mercy wasn't forgiveness in this world, only death.

"Begin the interrogation," he said.

The inquisitor made a show of twirling and sheathing his daggers as he circled the defendant. His mask's red eyes gleamed like hot coals. "Do you know what happens now?"

"Everybody knows... ," she muttered.

"Then let's get started," Rhys lowered to her eye level. "Where are your men?"

The mother tightened her pale lips to a slit, and stared him down, "My husband and son work at the furnaces. Sometimes the shifts go late. Burning bodies can take all night."

"I believe you," Rhys signaled his partner, "but there's only one way to make sure."

Luka walked slowly from the other side of the room. His slim frame outlined by the dim cook fire. The priest opened his cloak to reveal a sizeable collection of scalpels, hooks, and needle-thin stilettoes arranged on his belt according to the size and width of the blades.

The mother prayed to herself. She looked like she was counting the knives. Sweat dribbled down her shaven head. Her sunken, brown eyes went hard and defiant.

Luka was a quiet one; not much of a talker when he was on the job. He took the woman's hands, and locked her fingers into a torture vise. The modified thumbscrew was put together out of human teeth and framed with a metal brace. Priests called it the biter.

"What do your men do so late at night?" Rhys asked. "Do they get high at the tar dens? Are they out with the girls at the brothels? Or has god cursed them with pestilence?"

The biter clamped on the mother's fingers, crushing her knuckles with a crack. She swallowed down the pain, and spat at the priests, "You Plague Stalkers and your obsession with this disease will kill us all. When you're done burning there'll be nothing but ashes!"

"That's the plan," The inquisitor sniggered as he closed in on her; his iron gasmask curved over his face like a second, metal skin. He liked the idea of the being called a Plague Stalker. The priest's street name had the hint of men danger and hunters with deadly skill.

"I'm not afraid of you," the woman said, shaking her chains.

"You should be," Rhys drew a dagger, and sucker-punched her with the hilt. "I'm the one with the knife." He wiped blood from her lips. "No more games. Where are they?"

She smiled at him; teeth red and gnashed, "My husband is on his way to god and my son is in a place that is out of your reach and where the faith's soldiers can't find him."

"There is no such place."

"Yes; there is." Her words trailed. "Paradise... "

The inquisitor chuckled through the respirator, and shrugged his shoulders. "This old momma won't break. Not unless we take her for a night with the rack." He then pointed to the girl cowering across the room. "But that sweet little thing looks about ready to pop."

Rhys walked up to the girl with his knives out. She breathed heavy, and backed up against the wall. He gripped her by the throat, and inched a dagger towards her eyeball.

"I won't ask this twice. Nod if you understand."

The girl bobbed her head.

"Where's your daddy little girl?"

She pointed down to the floorboards.