Welcome to the third day of the Cerulean Dreams blog tour. It will run until July 24th and will feature excerpts, new author interviews each day, and a video blog by the author. But first, here is the obligatory blurb about the novel to settle you into this dystopian world:
Orion, the last city of men. Deep within the desert, a secret lay waiting. Young women found dead in the street. A corporation that controls the sleep of a populace that never sees the light of day. Alexander Marlowe seeks to unravel the mysteries of Orion as he helps a young girl, Dana, flee the city. The closer they come to the truth, the greater the danger that hunts them. Follow them as they search beyond the boundaries of everything they have ever known for answers.
A few questions for the author:
Do you have a day job as well?
I am a literary and publishing consultant, which is a fancy way of saying that I edit, format, and consult for books other than my own. I do quite a bit of marketing consulting and ghostwriting as well. You can learn more about the consulting at http://www.amalgamconsulting.com/
When did you first start writing and when did you finish your first book?
I first started writing when I 6 or 7, and then completed my first book when I was 16. There were numerous little stories during that decade, but none that I would call finished.
How did you choose the genre you write in?
The genre itself is generally background to the book or idea that has grabbed hold. I find that I move between different genres with relative ease. I like a strong fantasy or science fiction setting, but I am by no means limited by them.
Where do you get your ideas?
From all over the place. I find that I will have a great idea when I am cycling. It might even find me when I have sat down for dinner. I must admit the most frustrating place to be struck by an idea is in the pool. How am I supposed to write anything down?
Here be an excerpt for your enjoyment:
The door to the 49th floor was unremarkable. Faded letters counted out the floor number and the metal handle was loose as Marlowe pulled it open. It was, however, what was on the other side of the door that caught him by surprise.
“Proximity alert,” warned the masculine voice.
Marlowe ducked his head as a metal pipe collided with the doorframe, sparks showering, as it rebounded back into the hands of the assailant.
“Deactivate,” roared Marlowe and he rolled forward. He had dropped his weapon. As he pushed back to his feet once again, the visor had returned to its appropriate place.
The wielder of the pipe was a head taller than Marlowe, and wider. The heavy set of his jaw was uneven. Dull eyes completed his appearance: a towering menace. “No cops,” the man-like shadow growled.
Marlowe looked over his shoulder, seeing only more darkness. “I’m not a cop. I’m an investigator…”
The man leapt forward, swinging the pipe hard. Marlowe ducked again, just beneath it. The lunge had placed the men chest to head. The metal pipe had lodged into the wall. As the man struggled to get it free, Marlowe struck him hard in the ribs, feeling bones break beneath his strike.
“I don’t want to hurt you, I’m just…” started Marlowe.
The man had abandoned the lodged weapon for the moment and lashed out. Striking Marlowe across the chest with his forearm, he lifted him into the air and then into the retaining wall with a heavy thud.
Dust sifted through the air as pieces of the wall fell away from around Marlowe’s body. The tower of a man reached out and grabbed Marlowe, lifting him off of the ground. With an easy toss, he launched Marlowe like a shot-putter. Marlowe rolled to a stop, groaning as he wiped a hand across his mouth.
Blood flowed freely.
“I guess he isn’t listening.”
The behemoth stormed down the hallway, his thick hands lifting Marlowe once again. This time, before he could be tossed, Marlowe struck him hard in the throat with the side of his hand. The ogre of a man faltered for a moment. As he did so, Marlowe punched him hard in the throat, a gurgle erupting.
The man fell to one knee, dropping Marlowe.
“As I was trying to say,” began Marlowe before kicking the man hard in the face. He continued. “I’m just looking for a girl.” The man opened his mouth, but only a groan escaped.
Marlowe reached down and smirked. “This is where it went, huh?” His weapon glinted in the sparsely lit hallway. Picking it up, he wiped his mouth with his free hand. Marlowe looked at it, shaking his gun a little and then gestured toward the behemoth. “You seen a girl around here?” he spoke. Gesturing a woman of short height, he continued. “About this tall, blonde hair. Probably looks like a kid to a guy your size.”
The man opened his mouth again. The beginnings of words were evident, but lost again. Marlowe sighed and thought very seriously about hitting him with his weapon. “You can point, can’t you?”
The man nodded, holding one hand to his bruised throat and pointed with the other down the hall. He grunted, trying to form words.
“When did you see her? Was it today? A week ago?” The man pointed at the ground. “Today?” Marlowe queried, crouching as he talked to the man.
The man nodded, breathing out.
“Thanks.” Marlowe struck him across the face hard with his weapon, knocking the man to the ground in a heap. Looking farther into the darkness where the man had pointed, he stared. “Now to find 4918.”
He held his weapon in his right hand, reading the room numbers as he passed them: 4910, 4912, 4914, and then 4916. “And here we are,” he whispered as he moved in front of 4918.
He looked down both sides of the hallway: empty.
There was no one else on the floor except for the maniac with the pipe and whoever was behind this door. He raised his foot and struck the door until the hinges splintered and the door vaulted in. The door hung awkwardly from the frame.
Marlowe peeked through the opening, taking a moment in case someone was on the other side of the door with serious firepower. “I have a weapon. I’m coming in,” he called, but didn’t immediately enter, again waiting in the wings of paranoia. He had been present for too many busts and stings that had gone sour.
The first guy through the door was a target. He breathed out and ducked low through the door, plastering himself up against the wall and kicking the door mostly shut with a grunt.
“Anyone here?” he called out.
The small hallway of the apartment gave way into a wider, darker living room. There wasn’t a light in the place. A shuffle of feet and a faint whimper caused him to turn his head. “I’m a private investigator. I’m not with OrionCorps. I don’t want to hurt you,” he called and then hesitated before adding, “I’m looking for a girl.”
A shadow darted across the room, heading toward a broken window opposite the entrance. Marlowe was in motion, leaping over boxes strewn across the ground and grabbing the darting form by the shoulders––slender shoulders.
She screamed, swinging her delicate fists hard and striking him across the face and chest. Bright blonde hair and half-closed blue eyes swimming in tears assaulted him. Marlowe seemed like a giant compared to her, and he was only of average height.
“Leave me alone, I don’t want to go,” she screamed.
He shook her. “Hey, I’m not going to hurt you. I’m not here to take you anywhere, just calm down,” he spoke, his voice steady but reassuring.
She continued to whimper, but her hands stopped flailing and settled to her sides. “They are coming for me. The Lurking is coming,” she whispered, her voice breaking mid-sentence.
He pulled her away from his body. “The Lurking?”
The visor wrapped around his face in an instant, separating his vision from the young girl to the loading screen of Cerulean Dreams. Something was wrong. He didn’t see clear skies or mountains.
This was different.
He looked up and the skies were on fire, the ground beneath him ash and twinkling embers. A horrible thunder rolled from the distance that was only more crimson and gray.
“Deactivate,” he commanded.
“Voice Recognition malfunction, repeat command.”
He pressed his temple hard. “Deactivate. Log off network. Sever connection,” he commanded again, this time with greater force.
“Disconnection of network can result in loss of privileges.”
“Deactivate and log off immediately,” he repeated in a steely tone.
The deactivation whir was different than that of the network gathering information. The pulse of its departure calmed Marlowe for a moment. The visor lowered and returned to his temple. He covered his face with his hands. Rubbing his eyes hard, turtle shells swam in the darkness.
“What in the hell was that?” he whispered. Lifting his hands, he tried to look at the girl once more. What he saw, however, was much more than just the girl.
The room had filled.
Men, women, and children now stood shoulder to shoulder; gray silhouettes of what they once were. Standing, their hands rose to their faces. Their heads moved in manic, convoluted motions. Screaming and shaking, their bodies remained neutral. Marlowe backed away and the blonde girl stepped forward.
“Can you see them?”
They moved closer to Marlowe, transporting across the room effortlessly. One moved directly in front of him, the shaking, screaming woman knocking Marlowe from his feet. “What––what,” he mumbled as he crawled away from the slinking apparition.
It lowered too, following Marlowe.
“We have to leave,” the girl cried.
Marlowe backed into a wall, the suddenness of it startling him. He looked at the girl fearfully and then back at the apparition as it lowered in front of his face. The otherworldly features and haunting terror painted across its features sent shivers down his spine. “What are they?”
She moved next to him, bridging the distance. She smelled like blossoms. Her blonde hair was a strange contrast as it fell across his arm. Pulling on his arm, her eyes pleaded. “We have to go, they are coming,” she whispered urgently.
“Who is coming?” he asked, not wanting to look at the shaking, translucent figures. Then he heard the sirens. Paranoia swept over him like a rush of heat: OrionCorps. Maybe Cerulean Dreams Cleaning Crews, though neither option would instill such horror as he saw in the young girl.
“They are coming. We have to leave,” she replied and pulled at his heavier body.
He did not know what to call her.
“They called me Dana,” she spoke as if sensing his question. “And we have to go. If they catch us here, they will kill both of us.”
Marlowe struggled to his feet and then groaned as he saw his weapon at the center of the room amidst the strange phantoms. “My gun,” he croaked. His throat was dry and the need for something to drink was suddenly very strong.
She dashed across the slick material of the floor and grabbed the gun. Shoving it into his hand, she tugged on his arm with renewed force. “We have to go,” she commanded this time.
He looked back into the room.
The phantoms reacted to the sirens, looking out the broken window into the lights in the distance. Sighing, he grabbed Dana by the arm and pulled the door open roughly. “Fine, I’ll get you out of here. We’re going to have a talk when we get someone safe.”
She looked out into the hall. Her lithe body was barely that of an adult. She looked up into his eyes, the irises nearly clear, the azure only faint. “There is no place in Orion safe enough.”
Sighing, he looked back toward the stairwell.
“No elevators, looks like it’s the stairs again,” he grumbled and then moved forward, the girl in tow. As he moved through the hallway, he did his best to ignore the slowly emerging forms similar to those he had witnessed in the room.
They crawled across the walls, their jagged, uneven movements horrifying in a cerebral way. Marlowe could not bring himself to acknowledge them just yet. The brown paint on the walls was chipped in places. The flickering bulb he had passed on his way was blackened.
“Who exactly is coming?” he spoke, his back to the girl who cowered behind him. He had expected the ogre from before to still be sitting in the hall, but he had apparently already left. “Are we talking OrionCorps, some governmental entity?”
Her voice was a barely audible, just a faint whisper. “The Agency and the Lurking. They are always searching, peering into everyone in Orion. Already they know that you are with me.” She paused, her small arms pulling him to a stop. Her eyes were wells of emotion, deep reservoirs of hidden pain. “You are now in great danger.”
Marlowe cast a sidelong glance at the wall, only to meet the dead glare of a shadowed child. Hollow eyes watched him as it perched upon the wall, head tilted like an owl. “I am beginning to get that feeling,” he spoke. His eyes locked with the apparition that had begun to pull itself from the wall, stretching unnaturally as if to reach out to Marlowe.
A squeeze of her hand brought him back, her voice laced with urgency. “We must keep moving. They are here as a warning. Those who hunt us are already here.”
Marlowe nodded, gulping as his throat once again felt like sandpaper. The distance to the stairs was covered quickly and he pulled the door open with a sharp grunt. Dana remained a few steps behind him. Her demure figure slunk, looking one way and then the other in outright fear.
Leaning over the rail of the stairs, Marlowe looked down. Their armor was black, the silver emblem of OrionCorps stamped on their helmets and chest. Marching around each level of the stairs, it was more than a platoon of them.
They were out for the kill.
Marlowe pulled away from the railing, sucking in air sharply through his teeth. He clicked his gun against the steel of the railing. “Seems like you’re in a lot of trouble, Dana. What exactly did you do to warrant a platoon of OrionCorps?”
“Not me. We are in trouble, Mr. Marlowe,” she answered. Still standing in the hallway, she held the stairwell door open. “They’re not coming for me. I don’t exist to them. They’re coming for you because they sent them. They know that they can get to me through you.”
Marlowe backed away from the railing and out the door into the hallway once more. He surveyed his options. The cadre of soldiers would be through the door in a matter of minutes. His weapon would overheat before he could down all of them. “I could give you up. Say it was all a misunderstanding, tell them…”
Her fear turned to anger, smooth, pretty features suddenly contorted. “Tell them what, exactly? You don’t have any concept of what is going on. You would turn me over and they would still crucify you. You can run with me or stay and face the consequences for something you cannot comprehend.”
He looked at her sourly, the sweet image of a scared girl gone. “What do you think I should do?” he queried, holstering his weapon and moving deeper into the hallway.
The darkness there was quiet, except for the buzzing of the lights and the strange whispering that came from every crack and corner of the place. The haunting faces emerged from the walls en masse.
“Run and don’t look back. Get out of Orion,” she replied. The hallway cornered again and then again, rounding out the floor; a window was beyond the stairwell door that looked out at the adjacent building.
Marlowe looked at the window thoughtfully. “There is nothing outside of Orion,” he replied, not looking at her and instead removing his weapon from his holster once more.
She looked at him mutely.
Her intense gaze said otherwise.
He shot the window twice, the safety glass exploding outward. The sucking of air was a hiss as it flooded the floor. Marlowe shouted as he grabbed the girl by the arm. “When we get clear, I want answers.”
Lips pursed, she simply stared.
Marlowe shook his head and slipped his gun under his coat. “Just hang on and try not to look down,” he said as he pulled her forward into a mad dash.
Together, they catapulted out the window.
The world rushed at them.
Marlowe tried desperately to keep his eyes open as the cold air rushed against his face. The heavy sound of cords firing filled the air. Thick nets exploded across the open space between the two buildings, catching the two twisting bodies. They bounced, head over feet, dislodging his grip on her arm.
Marlowe watched as the erratic pattern of the cords flooded his vision. He stuck out his hands to try and find some kind of grip, but he was bouncing too fast, making the cords into razors. He struggled to grab a hold, finally doing so. His bloody hands firmly held the web that the cords had created. He gulped, trying to catch his breath, and looked for the girl.
“Dana,” he called.
The distance between the buildings was dwarfed by the gulf of gloom beneath them. He stood uneasily, stepping forward with care so that his leg would not be ensnared by the net.
“Where are you? Dana?” he called again.
Her voice came slow at first. “Here.”
Marlowe bounded across the net, using its elasticity to cover the distance easier. She was huddled into the fetal position, her hands covering her face. “Are you alright?” he asked, reaching down and touching her shoulder.
She wheeled, knocking away his hands, slapping him across the face a few times before he caught her hand. “You crazy bastard, you could have killed us,” she screamed, attempting to stand upright, but only falling.
He laughed and backed away as she took another swing. “You seem fine,” he spoke with a grin.
Looking across to the tower, he saw the shadows that were no doubt OrionCorps searching the floor. Marlowe and the girl had precious little time before OrionCorps figured out that their prey had flown the coop. Reaching down, Marlowe grabbed her hand and pulled her forward.
“Let’s go,” he spoke, pointing to the opposite building. Fear pulled his hand back, as the building was covered in crawling apparitions. Wide mouths and soulless black eyes peered back at him.
Dana bounced out in front of him, making her way toward the phantom-covered tower, oblivious to what he saw. She had asked him earlier, in the room, if he could see them. He was beginning to wonder if they were seeing the same thing.
The side of the adjacent building was covered in large, clear windows. Marlowe pulled out his weapon once more. Aiming it unevenly at the closest window as they bridged the distance between buildings, he opened fire. The glass shattered inward and down the side of the building, making an entrance for the displaced duo.
The Messiah district was adjacent to Sherwood district, named for Sherwood Avenue which ran through the majority of it. From poorer beginnings, Marlowe and Dana found themselves on the threshold of more prosperous opportunities. They crawled through the newly opened window into the relative darkness of the room.
Dana dusted glass fragments from her clothes. “What just happened? Why didn’t we hit the pavement?” she asked as she peered through the window.
Marlowe looked back at the window, swallowing hard as the apparitions poured through the opening. “Cerulean Dreams and the 1st Congress wanted to make suicide more difficult, so they installed motion sensors on the outside of all buildings from the 2nd floor to the highest floor. When someone jumps, the sensors recognize it and launch mathematically generated nets to catch him or her.”
She scoffed and continued to dust off the glass particulates from her clothing. “Your little diversion will only sidetrack them for so long.”
“Stay where you are,” challenged a hard voice.
His hand was already on the handle of his weapon.
“Pull the weapon free and throw it toward me,” spoke the voice and then added, “slowly.”
Marlowe acquiesced with a tight smile and threw his gun toward the voice. “We have a misunderstanding here. This girl was a jumper and I went out the window after her,” replied Marlowe, turning around to gesture toward Dana.
Only she wasn’t there.
“She was here a second ago,” Marlowe mumbled, turning to face the voice. The apparitions no longer crawled. Standing still, they filled the room––so much so that Marlowe could not help but feel claustrophobic. Their faces were frozen in a dead scream, skin gray and shadowed. There were whispering voices that had no gender, but simply spoke in hushed, erratic tones.
The voice stepped from the shadows. The weapon in his hand was held tightly, the barrel unwavering as it focused on Marlowe. “I’m an OrionCorps officer and this is my home. I know who you are. Your description is being blared over every bandwidth. OrionCorps and Cerulean Dreams are looking for you. Raise your hands above your head. Turn around.”
Marlowe lifted his hands with a sigh. Turning, he spoke. “Sounds like I’m pretty popular. What are they saying I’ve done?”
The click of binders being removed from a belt was not lost on Marlowe. “Some kind of terrorist assaulting the network, out to get Cerulean Dreams. Doesn’t matter, you are a wanted man.”
Marlowe saw the shadow of Dana move along the side of the room. She was caring something heavy. “First time for everything, I guess. I think that you should…” The man clicked the binders hard over Marlowe’s wrists. “That hurt, man. Anyways, I think that you should put your gun down. Hand me my weapon and forget I ever came through your window.”
The officer laughed.
“And why should I do that, criminal?”
“Because you are about to get your ass kicked by a ninety-pound girl.” The heavy sound of something colliding with bone and the thud of a body dropping announced Dana. He felt a tugging on his binders and then eventual release.
Again, there was the smell of blossoms.
“You almost gave me away with your bravado,” she warned, looking at the heap of the officer. His body was splayed, gun vanished in the gloom. Glass gleamed on the beige carpet; shadow cloaked the interior of the room.
Marlowe bent down, massaging his wrists.
He opened the man’s coat, reaching into one of the pockets. Removing a black rectangular piece of metal, Marlowe flicked it open, reading the inscription. “Lieutenant Dane Sicirio,” uttered Marlowe. Putting it in his pocket, he added, “Terrible picture.”
Dana moved forward into the darkened interior.
Marlowe grabbed his weapon, deposited it into his holster, and turned hesitantly. Reaching down, he grabbed the lieutenant’s weapon and placed it in the wide mouth of one of his coat pockets. “Might need this later….”
“Found something,” called Dana from deeper within the dim apartment.
The apparitions were relentless. Emanating from the darkness, Marlowe could hear them whisper––see the outline of their deformed, broken bodies as they convulsed before him. “What?”
She reemerged, the flickering lights from her hands brought out the color in her face: a portable visor, OrionCorps issue. “You might want to see this,” she responded, handing the device to Marlowe.
As big as his palm and as thin as a sheet of paper, he held it with one hand, cupped. He ran his hand horizontally across the bottom, a green spectral trail following his finger, engaging the hardware once more.
“News,” he spoke.
Not as quick or reactive as the cerebral visor, the imaging took a moment, shaking and garbled as voices and faces came through. The jovial nature of the newsroom seemed unusually morose: black chair and dull gray desk.
Even Shamus appeared as a graven, caretaker version of himself. “OrionCorps and Cerulean Dreams officials are looking for an individual who has been labeled a possible terrorist. The individual in question is a former military officer and OrionCorps captain, Alexander Marlowe.” Shamus paused and they flashed an archaic picture of Marlowe: close-cropped hair and a three-day beard. A perpetual scowl was spread across his features.
It was the picture of a guilty man.
“He is being sought in connection with a series of murders involving young women. Bodies of unidentified women have been found dumped in the Messiah district over the past couple of months. Anyone with any information regarding the whereabouts of Marlowe, or any information that could lead to the capture and incarceration of the suspect, would be greatly appreciated and should be directed to OrionCorps.”
Marlowe’s hand flexed, crushing the portable visor.
“Those sons of bitches,” he growled, throwing the cracked metallic device across the room. “I was trying to find out who was killing the girls. They have it all wrong.”
“They have it right where they want it,” spoke Dana.
Marlowe brushed past her, opening the door of the apartment and looking out into the brightly lit hall. “I don’t want to hear any more of this conspiracy crap.”
The voices came again, this time their whispers rose to a crescendo. His mind panicked. Paranoia seeped through his mind slowly, like fingers tickling his brain.
They were after him.
He backed away from the door. Glancing at the apparitions that hid in the shadowed corners of the hall, their visages disappeared in the light.
“What do they want?”
“Me, dead,” she answered. “And you as well, it would appear.”
Marlowe licked his lips. Each hand was on a weapon, gently stroking the handles.
“We need to get out of this building. We have to find a way out of the city,” reasoned Dana.
His voice was low. “Right, we have to get out. Daytime would be better. No one is awake during the day. We can sneak past them in the day,” he repeated. His voice was a whisper, as if he were speaking to himself.
“Mr. Marlowe?” queried Dana worriedly.
Marlowe stood fast, his hands shaking a little. “We need to get out of here. I agree with you there. It isn’t safe at all, not at all. Not safe. Not safe.”
Dana placed a hand on his arm.
“Are you okay, Mr. Marlowe?”
Marlowe laughed nervously. Smoothing his hair with his clenched hand, he breathed out. “We just need to find a way out,” he said, enunciating each syllable to try and calm his nerves.
Dana peeked out into the hall, taking a small step and then another. Marlowe was behind her, holstering his weapon once more and looking down one side of the hall to the other. He saw the mirthless face of the phantoms that haunted his steps in the corners that the light could not reach. They watched him, waiting for something; what that was, Marlowe was not certain of yet.
The red light of the elevator caught Dana’s attention. “The elevator would be quicker,” she reasoned as she pushed the button.
The light changed to a throbbing yellow.
Marlowe turned quickly to it, his brow heavy in sweat. He nodded slowly. “The elevator would be quicker,” he repeated.
Dana looked at him and her eyebrows rose as the doors opened. She stepped in, staring as Marlowe stood there. “Mr. Marlowe, are you coming?”
The elevator was filled to the brim. Apparitions stood on top of each other, crawling, spilling from the open doors. “I’m not entirely certain there is enough room,” he managed and then gulped hard as they crawled to his feet.
Some grabbed on his legs, staring up at him with dead eyes. Marlowe leapt back, batting at his leg. Pulling his weapon, he pointed it at the ground. “I’m not sure if it is safe to take the elevator after all,” he said slowly, the barrel of his weapon wavering.
Dana watched in horror. Holding the doors open with her hand, she stepped out toward Marlowe. “What is wrong with you?”
He looked at her with wide glazed eyes.
“You don’t see them?” he asked incredulously.
She paused and smiled. Her eyes were innocent. “Of course, I do,” she answered. “But we have to get out of this building. You said so yourself.”
Marlowe took another step forward. Grimacing, he kicked at an apparition with his leg, watching as his foot passed right through it. “You see them?” he asked again.
She placed her hands on her hips. “Yes, that is why we must keep moving. We both see them now. We are in the presence of the truth. We must flee the city or they will get us. I thought you understood this.”
Marlowe swallowed hard. Nodding, his confidence returned as he kicked off another phantom, only to have it replaced by more crawlers. “Right, right. They are coming and these people are portents of the truth. Right, right. Why are they coming again?”
“Because we know the truth,” she replied and gestured all around her. “We see the truth.”
Marlowe nodded again, biting his lip and returning his weapon into his coat. He turned to her, his eyes wide, near manic. “And what exactly is the truth?”
She spun back into the elevator and huffed.
“We don’t have time for this.”
“Right, no time. Never enough time,” he mumbled. Looking into the elevator, the apparitions were gone. Turning around into the hall, they were there no longer. “Right, now they’re gone because we know the truth and they are coming.”
“Mr. Marlowe?” spoke Dana in irritation again.
Marlowe stepped into the elevators as the doors closed.
Bio: A psychologist, author, editor, philosopher, martial artist, and skeptic, he has published several novels and currently has many in print, including: The End of the World Playlist, Bitten, The Journey, The Ocean and the Hourglass, The Path of the Fallen, The Portent, and Cerulean Dreams. Follow him on Twitter (@AuthorDanOBrien) or visit his blog http://thedanobrienproject.blogspot.com. He recently started a consultation business. You can find more information about it here: http://www.amalgamconsulting.com/.
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Visit http://thedanobrienproject.blogspot.com/ and follow the blog for a chance to win a Kindle Fire!