Publishing a novel, has been a quest. A life-long adventure filled with twists and turns; crammed with countless, crazy moments. The Surrender Game and the birth of the Guardian War Chronicles, for me, was a childhood dream come true, and not an easy feat.
But… once those personal milestones are reached, a choice then needs to be made.
Take some time off and focus on other areas of interest?
Stop? Mission is accomplished, dream completed, so why continue?
Of course I’m going to continue. I enjoy telling stories, being as creative as my mind will allow, and getting lost in my imagination. I’ve heard nothing but great things about my first novel (shameless plug), so there’s no reason to quit. Must… keep… going. Keep the adventure alive and kicking.
The sequel to the Surrender Game is nearing “full completion.” Still has to pass through the hands of the Alpha Readers, but it’s getting there.
In my youth, I was as deep as I could be within the realms of science fiction, and medieval fantasy adventure stories. Those “realms” were places I felt comfortable. The goal, was to write a science fiction novel, my way, in my own voice.
My bucket list also includes writing a fantasy series.
Included in today’s installment is the first chapter of my new fantasy series, Island’s Keep. Enjoy.
Ripped away from a blissful reverie.
Dreaming again, of a place he couldn’t visit.
At the center of the king size bed, alone, wrapped in a black comforter, he snored soundly. Despite the air conditioner blowing cool wind throughout his bedroom, he felt the warmth of the mid-day sun overhead, pouring down on him from a cloudless sky.
Reunited once again with that place he was forbidden to go, he walked a long stretch of coastline. He kicked off his flip-flops mid-stride and the sand pushed up between his toes with each step. Barefoot, arms swinging, relaxed, and finally free from all the board meetings, staff interactions, budget talks, and responsibilities at work, he sauntered alongside the water with the island wind rustling through the palm trees high overhead to his left. To his right, the endless sea of blue stretched out and merged with the sky in the far distance.
A flock of gulls flew low beside him. The birds skimmed the ocean surface and squawked their greeting before passing him by and continuing their journey.
Pant legs rolled up mid-calf; he was drawn to the shore-line.
When his feet touched the warm water, his eyes fluttered closed and his arms stretched to either side. His palms faced the sky, his chin turned to the sun, absorbing as much as possible, taking it all in, before he wasn’t allowed to visit any longer and was forced to leave.
Sea water lapped his knees, soaking into his pants. Sea spray kissed his cheeks and arms. Birds flew circles above him. The warm summer wind snaked through the jungle’s overgrowth up and down the shore, wrapping around him, soothing, caressing, and a strange sound filled both ears.
Standing knee deep in ocean water his eyes flittered open to a distant, squawking, repeating distraction, which was severing him from the comfort of the natural world he so relished. The wind vanished. The birds flew away. The sea calmed, and receded from his feet.
Torn from the beach, he was yanked from the sand and pulled into the sky as though he was filled with helium. The sounds of the island vanished far below to be replaced with the squawking disturbance.
He ascended into the air, faster and faster, watching the island disappear from sight, becoming a dot of green in the far distance surrounded by shimmering blue, and he was woken from a dead sleep; plucked from that place of perfection. Depriving him of his utopia, returning him to the chilly bedroom of the real world.
Jonathan Brand reached to his end table to silence the intrusive notification flashing, vibrating, and repeating its noisy routine to get his attention. Fumbling across the surface of the smooth wood, he pressed a translucent screen on his tablet; silencing the racket. “Yes… This is Brand. What is it?” Dropping his head into the comfort of the pillow he pulled the blanket up to his chin, hoping to again quickly find that place he longed for.
“Sir, this is Nicky in the control room.” Her employee picture appeared in the corner of the screen. “I know it’s late and I apologize, but we have activity in the Canopy Library.”
He forced his eyes wide, blinked away the fatigue, and stared at the high ceiling. “Highly doubtful. Describe the activity, please.”
The camera feed inside the small, one room island library materialized on the tablet monitor, and he turned his head to watch.
Observing the library footage with a careful eye, Jonathan pushed off the blanket and swung his bare feet to the carpet. He sat on the edge of the bed, leaned close to the screen, and ran both hands through his dark, disheveled hair.
“His name is Cody Rollins.” She said.
Cody’s gamer profile appeared in the opposite corner of the screen. Brand inspected the static picture of the young boy with shoulder length tan hair, wearing a simple long-sleeve white shirt, black leather vest, and dark breeches. Around his waist was tied a thin rope belt, and his feet were protected with leather boots.
Nicky continued, “He lives in the Canopy region. Eleven years old. Only child of Bruce, and Gwen Collins. Cody’s friend, Nora Bellows.”
Nora’s profile appeared under Cody’s.
“She’s thirteen and from Canopy.”
Nora’s picture revealed a young teen with long dark hair tied in a ponytail dangling midway down her back. She wore a gray kirtle hanging to her knees and a white long-sleeved undershirt. Beneath the tunic, she wore black cotton pants and leather boots.
Nicky finished the profile. “She has two older siblings, with their own families, on the other side of the village. The Bellows are next door neighbors to the Collins’ family. Cody and Nora are inseparable and have been best friends since early childhood. They’ve been frantically searching the books now for almost three hours, Sir. As if they’ve discovered something and are trying to piece it together. I have my theories. Could be the Library Anagram. At this pace they’ll have the entire library finished within the next few hours.”
Brand dragged his hands down his face and sighed. “This is hardly monumental, Nicky. You know how many visit the libraries.”
“I understand, but they’re not reading the books, Mr. Brand. They’re just… flipping through them, touching corners. Running their fingers over the pages front and back, inspecting each page up close before placing it back on the shelf or setting it aside on the table, one book after another. They make a pile and write something on a sheet of paper and then move on to the next book in line. I believe they may be onto something. At first they were working together side-by-side. Now, they’re at separate ends of the room, moving towards the center. They’ve developed a routine.”
Nicky pivoted the camera remotely from her control platform and attempted to find a decent viewing angle. The wooden cross beams along the ceiling obstructed their full view of the library table, and neither could read the written words on the parchment, or see the titles of the books.
“I’ll be right down.” He shot from the bed and dashed to the closet.
The CEO of AgroTech snatched the thin translucent screen from his tabletop charging station, and compressed it to the size of a deck of cards. He dropped the tablet into his robe pocket and slid his feet into a pair of slippers.
From his end table he snatched up his keycard, glasses, and a small tin filled with breath mints.
Exiting his bedroom and descending the stairs to the main floor, the ceiling lights activated and soft violin music played through a series of speakers built in the wall. Tying the robe tight around his waist, he spoke her name, and a small image appeared in the upper corner of his glasses lens. “Nicky… I’m on my way to the office. Go back to the start of the day, before they entered the library. Send the compilation when I request it. I’m about to have a difficult meeting. I’ll need all you can find.”
Her image vanished, and at the bottom of the staircase Jonathan pushed open the glass door to his spacious office.
His keycard and mint tin clattered onto the conference table and careful not to break the fragile screen, he gently placed the tablet beside his notepad and pen. From a corner closet he withdrew a white shirt and black sport jacket with matching pants, and tossed the robe to the corner of the bathroom floor out of sight.
Staring at his face in the mirror, he smoothed his dark hair forward with swipes of his fingers and wiped the crust from the corners of his tired eyes. Leaving the shirt’s top button undone he wiggled into the sport jacket. “Coffee.” He spoke to the far wall and the machine activated while he slid on his pants.
Barefoot, he sat at the head of the conference table, exhaled hard, folded his hands on the surface and spoke to the wall. “Call Robert.”
After three rings, the old man appeared on four large monitors hanging from the office walls.
“Evening, Dad.” Jonathan said.
Robert Brand’s paled, wrinkled face filled the screens. “John, what a pleasant surprise.” The father looked at his watch and squinted. “Good to see you. It’s been some time.”
“Too long. Sorry I haven’t called. It’s been busy around here.”
“I understand the work. I’ve sat in that very same chair. Apology accepted. My apologies though, you caught me in the middle of dinner. You’re up late. Must be important.”
Jonathan half shrugged. “It could be nothing, but I needed a second opinion on something. Some activity in the Canopy Library. Two teenagers, Cody and Nora, flipping through the books, one after another.”
The CEO transmitted the gamer profiles so Robert could inspect the players.
“Nicky likes to think they’re on to an idea. She can’t get a decent angle on what they’re writing on the parchment, because those ceiling cameras are deactivated, but it seems to be an area of interest. Will you permit me to reactivate all the ceiling cams, rows 110 through 114 so I can keep a better eye on them? I felt compelled to ask since it was your decision to shut them down, and I didn’t want to step on your toes. The Sollon Batteries are fully charged and ready for reactivation. I double checked the network on my way here. I’d also like to share the footage so you can see their activity first-hand, and I hope you have some time. Nicky, send us the video please.”
Father and son settled into their chairs and quietly watched the coverage, before either spoke again. Jonathan sipped his coffee, while Robert sat unmoving at his kitchen table leaning toward the screen to hear every word spoken. He had Jonathan pause one time for a bathroom break.
Through the course of the morning, the active cameras followed the two young islanders along their main road, throughout the Canopy Village. The children worked their chores in silence and when engaging in conversation they discussed trivial topics of daily living. Jonathan played the video at two times speed to breeze through the mundane. While most of the non-essential cameras had been deactivated over the years, Jonathan and his father were able to pick up snippets of conversations between the two while they meandered through their community.
They changed into play clothes, and chatted near the communal garden. After a brief, quiet conversation about the chickens they briskly walked a side trail to the small Canopy Library at the outskirts of the village. Along the way they spoke in hushed tones, and soft whispers. Now and again one would look to the other and they’d share a collective giggle.
Struggling to hear their voices, ear turned to the speaker, leaning close to the screen; Robert sucked in a breath and pointed. “There! Pause there!”
Nicky froze the image, and Jonathan, who had just poured a fifth cup of coffee, lowered the mug from his lips.
Robert said, “John, listen to what they say. The porch cam catches it. Go back, Nicky. Little further… Start there! Go back and watch him again! Turn up the volume to full. I almost missed it all. It’s faint.”
The video rewound, and they watched it a second time.
Robert waggled his finger. “Wait for it. There, slow it down twenty-five percent! Nicky, can you sharpen it up? Enhance the audio, please? Bring up the multi-screen and show us each angle.
“Phase out the background noise, the wind, and birds please. Try and tune out the static. When Nora speaks, do a screen switch.”
The young boy was looking up to his taller friend, and the camera centered his face on the monitor. Through the computer’s slow motion capture abilities, Nicky sharpened the image and cut out the background interference and was able to concentrate on the words.
In almost a whisper, the boy said. “‘Not by sight’. Which means it must be by touch. I found something yesterday, Nora. I’m not lying to you.”
The camera traded out Cody’s face for Nora and she muttered back, “but that doesn’t make sense. We’ve read it a hundred times. We ‘see’ with our eyes. We can also hear words, Cody.”
Cody looked beyond her, lost in thought. “The shadow’s arrow, a secret revealed.”
“Why inside the library? Why this library?”
“There’s an order to it.” Cody spun around. “It’s in a library. I know it. I can feel it.”
Jonathan pressed the tablet screen, and the video paused while the children walked into the library. After a moment of silence Jonathan looked to his father. “If they know what they’re looking for, we may have to fire up all the unused cameras. If they’re on to something, if they decipher the Library Anagram, it’ll change the dynamic of Island’s Keep for the next decade, at least. The clue discovery will open doors which have never existed before. All we need to do is release the updates, bring the cameras from hibernation, blast out a notification through all the open channels and social media, and life will change forever, for everyone.”
Robert sat in his chair, breathing heavy through his nostrils, and said, “Nicky, could you give my son and I some privacy, please? Good work today, Nicky. Nice catch.”
Her voice uttered back, “I’ll keep an eye on them. Thank you, Sirs.”
Nicky disconnected, and Robert pushed the empty dinner plate to the edge of the table with the back of his withered hand. The former CEO leaned toward the screen. Brow furrowed, lips turned down, he stared at his son, and after a moment of quiet tension Robert tapped his finger on the table. “Let me ask you something, Jonathan. Something you, nor I, nor any other operator of Island’s Keep has ever asked another, since the game’s inception.”
“What would that be?” Jonathan relaxed into his chair.
The old man paused and then nodded his head, remembering a moment from his past. “First, to be honest, and I can’t believe I’m telling you this after all these years, when I was your age, I wanted this whole fiasco shut down. Can you believe that?” He leaned back in the kitchen chair, and looked to the ceiling above the table, lost in his memories. “There was something about the entire operation, which always felt unsettling. We were playing with people’s lives. We wriggled our way through the legal system, paying for loop-holes, discovering cracks in the paperwork, and finding back doors just to see if Island’s Keep was even possible. Can a person’s life become legally forfeit, by signing their name to our contract? That was the big question. We coerced human beings into trying something that had never been done before.
“Real people like you, and me. Of course, over time, those feelings went away. I pushed those emotions deep down and I then focused on doing my job, because there was always that nagging side of me which longed for the end game. I needed to know how Island’s Keep finished. I wanted to live long enough to see it conclude.
“My question, Son, from one operator to another, what do you see after the endgame? What do you think will happen, if someone actually makes it inside the Obsidian Fortress? It was that one question which haunted me for years. It was that question which made me reconsider my entire role in all this. What happens at the end?”
Jonathan popped a breath mint, “First of all, highly doubtful. If they do manage to survive the fortress, they’d be one of the richest people on Earth for certain. What happens after that, is anyone’s guess, really.” He shrugged and crunched the mint.
Robert waved as though he was shooing a fly. “Not that. Yes, we’d have a winner, John, someone will become wealthy beyond their wildest dreams, but what do we tell them? How do we tell someone who’s been living that lifestyle what their reality truly is outside Island’s Keep? We never thought it could ever get this far, but let’s not think on that for a moment. Let’s say we have a winner… doesn’t matter who it is, tomorrow, or a hundred years from now, what happens after?”
“Dad… in three hundred years, no one has solved the first clue. The public clue. The easiest clue. That’s what I think.”
“Humor an old man. What happens if one of them wins?”
John rolled his eyes and looked away. “What happens if the kids solve the game, together? Or, in a group? What do we do if an entire region organizes a hunt? Do they split the winnings if they all find it together? Do we send one representative to make contact with them, or, do we kidnap the winner in the middle of the night and take them off site and show them the real world? Let’s think about that for a minute. Dad… you’re asking impossible questions, and talking about things which may never happen, in my lifetime, or our future generation’s lifetimes. Island’s Keep may never end. It was designed to last only a decade. We’ve been running continuously now, 24-7, without fail, for three hundred years. It could run for a thousand years, if we do it right. The clues and the riddles, those ancient mysteries and puzzles have been long forgotten. Nothing more than buried relics of the ancestors. Until today. This is a monumental occasion, Dad. We have a responsibility to the audience to continue what was started.”
“What audience? No one watches anymore.”
“To this day, it still has a cult following, and you know this as well as I do.”
Robert shook his head. “What happens when the population outgrows the island? Resources are pushing their limits right now. Island’s Keep is busting at the seams. I receive the reports and see the numbers too, you know.”
The CEO recognized he was being dragged into an argument. His defenses were ready. “We still send in our non-player characters and ensure the regions have what they require to sustain themselves when times get tough and then alter the script as needed. Resources are hardly scarce and even if the population doubled tomorrow, there’s more than enough land to house everyone island wide.”
“Those people have been a game piece in someone’s fantasy world for three centuries.” Robert crossed his arms. “This should have ended when children were being born.”
Jonathan walked out of sight to pour another drink and spoke across the room. “No disrespect, Dad, but Island’s Keep should have ended after the Cindy Lampree incident.”
They both shared a moment of silence and then a hearty chuckle. Father smiled when his son returned to his seat. “They didn’t see that one coming did they?” Robert asked him.
“Could you imagine what the producers were thinking at the time? It’s always been unscripted, but… they couldn’t have prepared for such a wildcard.”
Robert shook his head and looked to the tabletop. “She changed it all. Cindy Lampree is the sole reason this show has gone on for so long. If they dug into the background checks a little further, they would’ve had at least an idea about Lampree and her martial arts training.”
Jonathan nodded his agreement. “Island’s Keep started as an idea, wanting to work. Of course it worked on paper, but real life? Like you said, we never thought it would ever get this far. They changed the rules and we had two choices: quit, or adapt. If the original settlers were forbidden to speak of the outside world, forced to play the game within the guidelines and rules, out of fear of leaving, their real life experiences on the island then become completely unpredictable. We had to expect the unexpected, including the unforeseen, like children being born, weddings, funerals, or Cindy Lampree, or a found clue. We had to adapt to them. Am I wrong?”
“How would you respond?” Robert leered at him. “What if you found out that your ancestors, the ancient ones, the ones that can see you from the sky, hear every word you speak, invisible spirits watching you through each and every living thing, all of your life, it’s all a grand deception. Island’s Keep is nothing more than a lifestyle designed, nothing but an illusion and a narrative passed down from parent to child. The life they’ve been living is a complete lie, for Earth’s entertainment purposes. How would you react if you found out? If you discovered your existence was a fabrication, a game, how would you respond? They have nothing to relate to beyond their world.”
“I can’t see it like that.” Jonathan shook his head and sipped his coffee.
“What do you see?”
“We should be taking pages from their book of proper living. No war. No bloodshed. Simple sensible politics with reasonable treaties. Barter and cross-trading services and goods between all four regions. Group thinking. Group labor. Closeness. The true definition of community. If we sit them down, and tell them monsters don’t exist beyond the horizon, at least not the kind they’ve learned about over the years, they probably won’t even believe us. If we explain to them what the real world is all about, or, let’s say we lie to them, Dad…We tell them those stories they were raised with… were all myths and none of it is true, the skyline is safe, there is no evil beyond the horizon, they’ll probably decide to stay on Island’s Keep, regardless of the winnings and their new opportunities. I think I would.”
“Do you truly believe that? Would you stay?”
“The money will mean absolutely nothing to them. Defeating the fortress, finishing what their ancestors started, will be more than enough victory for these people. Once the game is won, if it’s won, the legends will change. Everything will change. New stories will be told. New heroes will rise. Island’s Keep isn’t really a game anymore. It’s a way of life. It’s a new and improved civilization of the Brand family’s creation. If nothing else, we should try and see it through to the end, shouldn’t we? And then deal with the outcome when it happens? The greatest, longest running TV show in history. It needs to have an end, and the discovery of the clues could bring us to that end. We need to at least finish what the family started. Don’t you think? We should allow it to unravel naturally. Wouldn’t grandpa approve? Wouldn’t great-grandpa approve? I approve. Dad… if they follow the clues, if these kids work through it, if the search continues, AgroTech is going to make…”
Robert cut him off, and gave his consent. “Ok, Son, you’ve made your point. Bring it all out of hibernation. Reactivate all dormant cameras in all four regions, update the systems island wide, and send out the media notifications. I want a report when the updates go live, when the cameras are networked, and the news stations start responding. I’ll follow your lead on this, Jonathan. You’re in charge.”
“Understood, and thank you, Dad. This was nice, and we’ll have to do it more often. I’ll send a report when the ball starts to roll.”
Robert bid his son goodnight and disappeared from the monitors. After a moment of silent contemplation, Jonathan clapped his palms together once, spun the office chair around in a circle, and spoke her name.
“Nicky,” her image appeared. “We’ve been given the green light. Let’s bring Island’s Keep back from the dead. I’ll be down there in a minute.”
The award winning science fiction novel, Volume One of the Guardian War Chronicles, The Surrender Game is available for purchase on Kindle for only $2.99. Free, with Kindle Unlimited. Please subscribe in the provided area to receive a notification of new posts by email or feel free to like my Facebook page to receive information about the Surrender Game, the Guardian War Chronicles, and other installments and series to come. Please give this a like if you like it, share with others to help spread the love, or leave a comment if you wish. Be good to each other. Chase the dream. Chat soon and see you at the next one.