Now Available: The Dane

THE DANE

WESTERN

CLINT WESTGARD

Nels Sletkolem is having a red letter day. The Dane has just sold his cattle and has a bumper crop ready to harvest. This year is shaping up to be his best yet since he came to Sunnynook to homestead.

But as he brags of his success to anyone who will listen in the Sunnynook Hotel, someone from his past is lurking. They will be coming to see the Dane’s debts are paid.

And they will only accept payment in blood.

The story of when a past best left forgotten comes to call.

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Excerpt: The Woman Who Didn’t Speak

In advance of the publication of The Woman Who Didn’t Speak on June 29, here is a short excerpt:

1

There was no light in the sky when Marjiana rose from bed. The red sun—which she had yet to grow used to in the fifteen years she had lived on this planet—remained hidden from sight behind the horizon. It did not feel like home this place. Not even after all this time living here, not to mention the extended journey to arrive at this destination. It was still a place she had come to, not a place she was from.

And also the place she would be spending her remaining days, however many they might be. For there was no leaving here, no matter how much they all might wish to.

That was a thought best not dwelt upon, especially not first thing in the morning, lest it cast a shadow over the rest of the day. There were shadows enough in this place without bringing more into this world. Life was hard enough as it was.

She did not turn on any lights in the house, preferring to move about by feel, and wanting to preserve their reserves of electricity for necessities and emergencies. A splash of cool water on her face after brushing her teeth was the only luxury she allowed herself. That and the coffee she set to boil atop a gas burner . It was not real coffee, but she had mostly forgotten the taste of the real thing. This was near enough, and even the supplies of it were dwindling.

Day by day all their supplies were dwindling. And what would remain when they were gone?

Another thought best put aside. There was a long day’s work ahead and Marjiana did not need to join those who had succumbed to the settler’s melancholy, remaining in their homes, leaving their fields to ruin, waiting for starvation or the elements to release them from their suffering. Not that it wasn’t tempting. But she had four mouths to feed—five if one counted Kjessel, and she supposed she had to. He was her husband, after all.

When the coffee was ready she drank it, savoring each drop, closing her eyes to listen to the stillness around her. Neither Kjessel nor any of her sons were awake, and none of them would be until after the sun rose. None of the neighbors were up and out in the fields either. The quiet—so strange, at first, after a lifetime spent on a planet with birds and insects, or on the vessel that had brought them here, where there had been a constant hum and hiss of systems at work—was now something she treasured above all else.

It was the one thing she would take from this failed world, if she could. Given there was no leaving here, it was her only solace.

She could hear someone stirring in one of the other rooms and, taking that as her signal, she rose from the kitchen table and went out to the fields to begin her day’s work.

2

Garuhj, the hetman, welcomed them all to the main square of the settlement, embracing many of the women and clenching the hands of the men, beaming from ear to ear. He had been elected hetman in the fifth year of the settlement, the first time the crops failed. They had failed twice more since then, to say nothing of the rhesus fevers, which had killed more than half of those in the settlement. Yet his beaming countenance remained unchanged.

Even now, as the crops began to show the first signs of the strange rot that no one could determine the cause of, Garuhj maintained his outward optimism. Marjiana suspected his own thoughts were not so positive, but the hetman was a politician above all, and versed in projecting confidence. She considered him a thing to be suffered, no different than the rot and the fevers, another of the burdens of this place to be endured.

Welcome Marjiana. Danjiel. Codij. Jeriem. I hope you are all well. Kjessel is not joining the celebration?”

Marjiana shook her head.

He’s not well,” Danjiel said, a little too quickly.

The hetman did not notice, his gaze already going beyond them to the next family of settlers he was to greet. In the celebration that followed, Garuhj gave his usual speech, marked by his typical platitudes and his claim that hope was necessary, in spite of all that had gone wrong.

When we set down on this day, thirteen years ago, it was to an uninhabitable rock. We knew there would be trials and tribulations, and no doubt there have been. Not all of us have survived them, and we would be remiss if we did not remember them. But we need to honor their memory and sacrifice by recognizing what we have achieved, which is so much.

Where once there was a barren windswept landscape, now there is soil, there is air and there is water. All the necessities we require to survive. Instead of looking at all those places where we have struggled and failed, we should look at what we have achieved, and recognize that we have it in us to survive here.”

Garuhj’s eyes flashed with emotion as he spoke. He truly believed. But the celebrations that followed were tepid, everyone only too aware of the failures of the colony. For they were in evidence all around them. The cloudless sky that promised no rain yet again. The thin soil they trod upon, from which little could grow, and which seemed to contain the germ of the rot that ate at what did.

Even the food at the celebration was a sign of failure, for it was taken from the ever-dwindling supplies the vessel that had brought them here had carried. Intended to tide them over during the first lean years after the terraforming was complete, they had been unused initially during those bountiful years, only to become absolutely necessary now.

As Marjiana and the boys prepared to take their leave of the celebration and begin the walk back to their home, about a kilometer from the central square of the settlement, Garuhj intercepted them, barely hiding his concern.

Leaving so soon?” he said. When no one replied, he added, “What’s this I hear about you not speaking anymore?”

Marjiana did not reply, shrugging and motioning her one hand slightly in dismissal in reply. The hetman blinked, unsure how to respond.

She started a month ago,” Danjiel said, flushing red under the hetman’s gaze.

What other symptoms does she have? Has the doctor seen her?”

Oh, she has no symptoms. She just chooses not to speak,” Danjeel said as Marjiana nodded.

Garuhj seemed unsure of himself. “I will ask the Fenon to come by.”

Marjiana frowned and shook her head, with a finality anyone might have understood.

Of course, I understand, but what about your sons?” the hetman stammered.

It’s no problem,” Jeriem, her youngest, said. “We understand her fine.”

Garuhj looked as though he wanted to say more, to argue that Jeriem could not possibly be telling the truth, but a look from Marjiana stopped him short. She led her sons back home, aware as she left the celebration that a number of those present had been watching her conversation with the hetman very closely.

The Woman Who Didn’t Speak is now available for preorder:
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Excerpt: The Dane

In advance of the publication of The Dane on June 22, here is a short excerpt:

Nels bellied up to the bar, pushing past two young bucks. He shouted to Harold for a beer, slapping his hand on the table. “Goddamn Harry. Goddamn.”

“You’re hot as a poker,” Harold said, grinning as he filled a mug with lager. He handed it across the counter to Nels. “What’s got you fired up anyway?”

“Today is a red letter day, my friend. My wallet is full and I am going to drink my fill. That I guarantee.” He spoke with the faintest of Nordic accents, that the few Swedes in the area found unplaceable. They had never met a Dane from Slesvig, as he was quick to say.

“Good for you, Nels,” Harry said, reaching across to give him a slap on the shoulder.

Nels nodded his thanks and took a long pull on his beer, wiping the suds from his mustache. He was well known in Sunnynook, but then everyone was. It was a homesteaders town of about a couple hundred, bigger than most of the others in the area because it was on the railway and had a station house and an elevator. Farmers from thirty miles or more would bring their grain and cattle here to ship and sell.

That was what Nels had been doing as well, selling his cattle, to somebody down near Hanna. For a hell of price, as he kept thinking to himself, while he slapped the counter of the bar in rhythm to a song that only he could hear in his head. If harvest went off half as well as the cattle, well he’d be looking at his first great year here in the five since he’d settled.

He was a latecomer, compared to most everyone else. Most of the families had been settled here fifteen or twenty years. They’d built up their lands—or in the case of a good many, failed and buggered off somewhere else—and turned their sod shacks into sturdy houses. Nels was still working on that.

He was only one man himself, so he only needed one room, as he always said. And the cold of the Canadian prairie wasn’t so bad. No worse than his winters in Denmark. The damp there got into you worse, he told everyone. Went right to the bone and you couldn’t get it out, no matter what you did.

Not that he wouldn’t mind one of those catalog houses, ordered up and the plans and pieces sent in on the train. And if this year went like he thought it might…well, hell, he might be building next summer.

He finished off the last of his beer and waved at Harold for another, just as Wally Lindback tapped him on the shoulder. Nels turned to look him over and shook his hand. “What are you doing here, boy? Aren’t you too young to be in a place like this?”

“Dad would kill me if he found out,” Wally said, with an agreeable shrug.

Nels laughed. “I’ll spot you a beer.”

“Thanks,” Wally said. “Saves me asking. You seem flush tonight.”

“Been a hell of day, Wally. Hell of a day. Sold the cattle. Got a fine, fine price, I don’t mind telling you.”

“That’s great. And you got that crop coming too.”

“Still have ta get it off,” Nels said, though his grin said he thought that would be no problem. He waved the bartender over and ordered a beer for Wally and another for himself.

“Dad’s still broken up about his,” Wally said, a shadow passing across his face.

Nels frowned. “Yeah, that’s a hell of thing. That’s farming though. And he’s not the only one. Hail took a lot of good crops this year. Not mine for once though, not mine.”

Harold brought the two beer over and Nels passed one on to Wally, peeling off some bills to pay the tab. He raised his glass and Wally followed suit.

“Yeah,” Wally said, taking a sip of his beer while he looked past Nels at the others in the bar. “I wouldn’t maybe go telling everybody about your good fortune. They’re liable to get jealous.”

“Oh folks here are good,” Nels said, unconcerned. “Most are good farmers like your dad. They understand that some years will be good, some bad. You learn to roll with what life gives you. Can’t do otherwise.”

“Yeah,” Wally said, taking another drink. “Yeah.” But he did not appear to believe it.

The Dane is now available for preorder:
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Excerpt: The Purpose of the System

In advance of the publication of The Purpose of the System on May 25, here is a short excerpt:

DISPATCH ONE

The air hisses, like a sigh expiring, as the airlocks link. Hidden gears turn, interlocking, the vessel and the habitat system speaking to each other, and at last the alarm sounds, notifying us that the doors are opening. The alarm continues to pulse, the light above the joined airlocks blinking red in unison with it. I adjust my metabolism, speeding it up from slow time, trying to time it so I reach my normal rates as the door opens and I have to move forward. I need to conserve my energy. There is no telling when I will be able to replenish myself.

Objective: CNS. Habitat A1.

A map of the habitat materializes in my mind as the thought is given voice. I see our path through the habitat to where the CNS is situated. Our target. The going will be easy until the first junction with the outer ring. After that, we will need some luck. Luck, the System’s Trojans and malware, and the System itself to guide us.

Only six of us exit the vessel, not the planned twenty-five. Those left behind did not emerge from the depths of stasis when the System alerted us to our imminent arrival. No information had been offered as to their status and I did not bother to query. They are no longer relevant to the objective.

I can hear the others whisper their invocations to the System, as we pass through the air lock, and I join them. “System guide us. System protect us. We will heed your call.”

The air in the habitat smells sweet, with hints of the sea, vegetation and earth, none of which exist here. The scent has been manufactured, I assume, for those that maintain the habitat. It seems an outrageous luxury in a place where strict functionality is the rule. The habitat’s purpose is to house the CNS, which runs the entire fleet. The Intelligence. There should be nothing extraneous, and yet the smell said otherwise.

We had infected the habitat. The System had, at least. Or other agents in its service. It was not important; we were all the System, all cells in its larger body, subjugated to the larger cause. We had infected this Intelligence, allowing our vessel to dock with the habitat and allowing us entry without being incinerated by the various firewalls. Now we had to evade its secondary security protocols, no mean feat for the six of us remaining.

I feel no fear, in fact, I feel nothing. My emotional dampeners are functioning. Logically, I know, we are all very likely to die. Our individual odds of survival are miniscule, our chances of success only slightly greater. But I am ready. We are all ready for what is to come.

DISPATCH TWO

I dreamed, I was certain of it, though such a thing was not possible in stasis. The images were fleeting, flickers in my data stream, enough so that I could almost tell myself they were messages from the System. But they were not. They were my own thoughts.

The unending streams of data—the intel and subvocalizations of my fellow chosen, my internal health sensors, and above all the System’s voice, with its constant intel updates and objectives—lulled me in my stasis, a comfort. That was what made the dream so disconcerting. It interrupted the streams, drowned them out, leaving me, in a sense, alone with my thoughts. It was utterly terrifying, or would have been, if I had not been in stasis, with my emotional dampeners active.

I saw myself standing before the Intelligence, blood pooling at my feet. I felt a touch of pain that was rapidly dimmed, my body responding with adrenaline and other dampeners. There was a taste of tin in my mouth. Blood as well, I realized. In my hands was my still-beating heart. I held it up to the Intelligence as though in offering.

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Now Available: The Purpose of the System

THE PURPOSE OF THE SYSTEM

SCIENCE FICTION

CLINT WESTGARD

The System guides, the System protects, and they will heed its call.

The habitat appears defenseless, but is it? There are strange gaps in their communication, strange odors that no one can place. The System has given them their orders and has an explanation for everything.

But that explanation is called into question when members of their team start to getting killed. Those remaining have to ask themselves the unthinkable: is the System out to get them?

A science fiction story about a mission gone wrong in the vast depths of space.

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Now Available: Border Crossing

BORDER CROSSING

A THRILLER

CLINT WESTGARD

It all seemed routine, until it wasn’t…

George O’Bannon is just minding his own business, trying to get through the Sapurzo border crossing. When he gets pulled in for an interrogation by the border guards, it seems a nuisance. But it will soon prove to be much more than that.

As the questions about his past mount and his answers grow more and more evasive, George will have to decide just what he is willing to risk to get across the border, and if it is worth his life.

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Excerpt: Border Crossing

In advance of the publication of Border Crossing on May 18, here is a short excerpt:

The moneychangers surround the bus as it comes to a halt next to the concrete platform that leads to the border post, their arms uplifted as though to welcome a returning hero. There are shouts of dolares and pesos as passengers begin to descend to arrange their exit papers. Some huddle with the moneychangers to negotiate, but most force their way through the crowd and go to the long line that leads into the border post.

George descends with the rest, squinting and looking about, somewhat confused. There are two lines, one snaking into the post, and the other, more formless, leading to some counters lined by glass outside the building. Like ticket booths at a stadium. As he looks at the various signs, trying to ascertain which line he needs, a wiry man sidles up to him.

You need to go there first, señor,” the man says, speaking in accented English. “Get the paper. Then you go inside.”

Gracias,” George says, glancing at the man.

You need a bus?” Here the man points at a bus parked in front of the one George arrived on. “Our bus goes on to Liberia. Still space for you. Twenty neuvo pesos.”

That’s all right,” George says. “Thank you.”

Your bus ends here,” the man says.

I know,” George says, with a nod, already moving to the first line the man gestured to.

On the surface, chaos reigns. The line is disjointed and shifting, with people forcing their way forward and others drifting away before they reach the windows, for no apparent reason. The moneychangers, bus touts, and other sellers ebb and flow around the line, along with others whose purpose George cannot identify. One of these approaches him, a tiny man, who looks as though he can’t be older than sixteen, wearing a faded blue uniform and cap.

Tendría usted que venir conmigo,” the man says.

George frowns. It seems unlikely this boy is here in any official capacity. “Necesito mis papeles,” he says, in his halting Spanish, gesturing to the windows. The man repeats his demand and George shakes his head, turning away, making clear his intention to remain where he is.

The man is waiting for him after he receives his exit papers and moves toward the second line within the building. “Tendría usted que venir conmigo,” he says, sternly.

George frowns in irritation, preparing to dismiss him once and for all. “You better go with him,” the bus tout says, materializing from somewhere within the crowd. He nods in the direction of the youth and George looks at him closely for the first time. Though there is no insignia on his cap, or badge on his uniform, he does have a handgun clipped into a holster on his hip. Somehow George did not notice it before. He swears to himself.

Tendría usted que venir conmigo. Continue reading

Now Available: The Apostate

THE APOSTATE

SCIENCE FICTION

CLINT WESTGARD

With her self restored but not her body, Laila has only one goal in mind. To have her revenge upon the Grand Regent for all he has done to her. First, though, she needs to find her way home across the universes.

That is easier said than done. The Grand Regent’s agents in the Watchers’ Order are still pursuing her. As is the Society of Travelers. And the Seeker lurks somewhere, waiting for his moment to strike.

Laila has a plan, though, and a few tricks of her own. But she will soon discover that not everything is at seems and there is no one she can trust.

Spanning multiple universes and the complexities of the human mind, The Apostate, continues the incredible journey begun in The Forgotten. The second volume of The Sojourners Cycle is an unforgettable science fiction epic that encompasses the fates of universes and humanity itself.

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Now Available: Drifting

DRIFTING

A THRILLER

CLINT WESTGARD

The rodeo is over and Dane and Colton are on the run.

They flee down back country roads in the dead of night with the law in hot pursuit. All over a woman lost and a dream beginning to sour.

Neither the past nor the law can be escaped though, as they will both soon discover. And the consequences will be fatal.

A story of two modern day cowboys gone astray on a long night.

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Excerpt: The Apostate

In advance of the publication of The Apostate on April 27, here is a short excerpt:

The address, I saw when I arrived, was for a strip mall set off a busy street. There was laundromat, a barbershop, a pizza place, and a Chinese food place advertising its homemade jerky. There was another shop on the far corner with a faded sign and awning where it was not immediately obvious what was on offer within. A front of some sort, I thought. There was a payphone on the street corner—no phone box, just a pole bent at an odd angle with a phone attached—and a wide-eyed man was carrying on a loud and scattered conversation. “I just need twenty bucks man. That’s all,” I heard him say, and felt a familiar itch begin to work inside me.

I turned away, before it had a chance to grow more insistent, and went to find the entrance to the offices above the shops. It was around the side from the mystery store, and I went up the stairs, noting the well-worn carpet. At the top of the stairs there was a directory, which I scanned until I found what I was looking for: 214 Regency Services Limited. I followed the arrows down one of the hallways past closed doors to offices, disconcerted by the silence emanating from the hall. Was there anyone in any of these? I began to feel quite certain that this whole enterprise was a mistake, a waste of a precious free afternoon that I could have spent doing something else. I thought again of the man on the phone below and the itch returned. That was enough to push me on toward the office.

I knocked on the door and several painful seconds passed without any indication that there was someone within, during which I told myself again and again that I should turn and go. The door opened, revealing a young man about my age with a welcoming smile and shaggy mop of hair. “Welcome, Laila,” he said. “I’m so glad you decided to come.”

I could only muster a nervous smile in return as he ushered me inside. He continued to chatter away, trying to set me at ease, but I did not listen to what he was saying, my doubts about coming here returning sharply again. This was a mistake. My roommate had been correct. It was a cult and I was just one of the susceptible fools being drawn in. I was led into a large conference room overlooking the parking lot below, and the congenial Regent, as they referred to themselves, told me to make myself comfortable and that he would return in a moment.

There were three chairs in the room, looking oddly out of place in the rest of that empty space. I sat in the one facing the other two, understanding what was expected of me. A few minutes passed and I tried not to fidget or think about the man on the phone below or why I was here at all. Just as I was preparing to stand up and leave, the door opened and the man who had welcomed me entered, still smiling, followed by an equally gregarious woman. Both of them were dressed in bland white and black clothing, as though they were administrators in some office. I half expected them to launch into a discussion on supply chain or risk management.

The woman gave me a generous smile. She had long, tightly coiled hair that she had pulled back behind her head, and it danced behind her as she spoke. “My name is Opal, and this is Hector. Thank you so much for coming today. We have so much to tell you about our faith. But first, what brought you to us?”

I squirmed in discomfort under their gleaming eyes. “I read some of Mayan Codexes and The True Nature of the Multiverse.”

It is De Gofroy’s finest work, in my opinion,” Hector said with an encouraging nod.

It was interesting. I…I guess I wanted to find out more.” The room seemed uncomfortably warm, though the windows were tinted to stop too much light from coming in.

Of course,” Opal said. “We are happy to answer any questions you might have. First we’d like to find out a little more about you. You know how we do that?”

The Protocol, yes,” I said.

What we will do today is not the Protocols,” Opal said. “That only takes place at our Protocol Centers. For our initial meeting, we do what is called a pre-script.”

Oh,” I said, and cleared my throat.

It’s something De Gofroy developed,” Hector said. “The Protocols are too difficult for most new initiates to go through. It’s overwhelming. The pre-script helps to open your mind to the Protocols. Helps prepare for the changes you will undergo. I will not lie to you—the Protocols of the faith are difficult. Not everyone is able to endure them. The pre-script will tell you if you have what is required.”

I thought this was all supposed to help me,” I said. My throat felt dry, and I wanted to ask for a glass of water.

Oh, it does,” Opal said with the certainty of a true believer. “I cannot begin to tell you how. You’ll have to experience it yourself.”

Hector nodded firmly. “I was lost, completely adrift with my life. The understanding that I have gained from De Gofroy’s teachings and the Protocols has completely reshaped me. I understand my place in the universes now and I know what must be done and the part I will play. You will be a magnificent vessel.”

I looked from face to face, their eyes shining with belief, in a way that made me feel uncomfortable. I wanted that certainty. I wanted the vague sense of emptiness and unease that had haunted me for so long to dissipate. Yet everyone said the Regents were mad, a cult, with no greater understanding of the universe than any other religion. All of it lies. There was something about De Gofroy’s book that had struck a chord in me, though, about our infinite selves. I felt that, and I wanted to understand more.

Shall we begin?” Opal said.

I nodded.

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