NINE PLANETS by Greg Byrne
Publication date: November 30, 2014
$16.95 trade paperback, ISBN 978-1-940076-17-1
$6.95 E-book, ISBN 978-1-940076-18-8
Publication date: November 30, 2014
Publisher: Dragonwell Publishing
Distribution: Ingram Book Company
In the world of despair, Father Nick’s Day is the only hope…
Peter Blackwell wakes from a coma into a world he doesn’t recognize. Without memory or identity, all he has are nine random images. Nine planets. Eight he can see, although he does not understand them, but the impenetrable ninth is the secret that two opposing and hidden brotherhoods have been seeking for nearly two millennia. Pursued, betrayed, Blackwell has twelve days to unlock his Ninth Planet and prevent terminal worldwide suicide. And his only ally is a manic assassin sent to extract the secret and kill him.
NINE PLANETS is a debut Christmas-themed science fiction thriller from an Australian author.
About the author:
Greg Byrne is an English teacher, grammar consultant, and lecturer. He enjoys exploring places, ideas, history, languages and science, dinners with friends, watching his family grow, and living life’s great adventure. His next projects are a young adult thriller with a twist, developing a grammar teaching system for schools, and writing a grammar text for ESL students. He lives in Perth, Western Australia, with his beloved wife and family and an overweight British Blue.
Father Nick’s Day minus seventeen hundred years
The harbour town of Patara
Province of Lycia
The thought comes upon Nikolas so abruptly and with such potency that he halts, astonished, panting with fright.
Take his own life? Drive steel into his own belly?
He almost laughs to drive out such mischievous wickedness, but it persists.
Kill yourself, Nikolas. There is no hope.
Chills crevice into the parts of his body where until now were only the delights of wine and the many pleasures of food, for the party he has just farewelled was lavish and he spent much. So was his wine cup poisoned with some venom of despair? Were thieves and slavemasters even now following him? For certainly the riches of his parents, dead only this month gone, are substantial and tempting, and now they are his.
It is then that he notices the sudden silence of the streets of Patara—so strange! If pursuers are abroad, they are making no noise of it. Only Nikolas and the wind are out this night, and it troubles him.
Still, there is only a mile to his house, and certainly the morning sun after sleep will settle such afflictions of the soul. But perhaps, he ponders as he strides, it is the same bleak despair that killed Umit his friend barely two weeks ago. For even Umit’s youth and great cheer and strength were not guard enough against hopelessness.
Nikolas is fighting the mad lust for steel and blood—his own—when he catches wind of something so wickedly foul it almost makes him retch. He turns, curious. Fish left to rot in a fisherman’s net? He knows immediately it is not.
Not even the most odorous catch could threaten to overpower him so violently.
He stops for a moment, covering his mouth, distracted from knives. This is no quirk of the wind, not the product of natural decay or ferment. Nor the acrid stink of a forge. But nothing obvious presents itself. The moon, a rich coin of promise and plenty, stands a handspan or so over the Acropolis up on the hill. The town breathes. A dog barks once, as though watchful.
Curious, Nikolas thinks, but as he turns to go, a dark figure emerges from the alley he has just passed, out past the house of Besim the leather worker.
Nikolas stares, thinking for a moment it must be an unwashed fisherman returning home. Yet the figure casts no shadow, seems instead to suck in light. And the stink surges at him in a putrid tide. This is no fisherman. Thoughts of knives vanish. He should be away from this place with all speed. The figure sees him and stops.
Nikolas draws shocked breath and his muscles lock. Neither is it human, he is sure, nor even the tormented spirit of Umit. No living thing could cast out so much smoke, a vile cloud that shudders the night and stops Nikolas’ breath.
Nikolas turns for home and hastens, very afraid.
But when he glances back at the next corner, in a blurred pounding of disbelief and panic and still half a mile from his house, the thing is following, and now it is gaining.
Nikolas rises to a sprint, though it is not much faster than he is already running. This is no common thief, that much is certain. And unless Nikolas can outrun it or hide, then he is sure his life will be forfeit as well, and he would rather take his own. He thinks of shouting, but the town seems bewitched, all too silent, dangerously so, and he doubts anyone will hear.
A hundred paces from his house, Nikolas turns the last corner, sees his house.
He is thinking how he will barricade his door and kindle fire to fight the thing off when, without any warning, his heart rises to a wild sprint, gallops at a rate he thinks must surely kill him, then slows. He stumbles, shocked, his chest swelling with space that it cannot possibly hold. His vision blurs.
The bark of a dog is cut off cleanly. Knife-clean. Without echo. The wind drops. Nikolas sucks air, stares frantically around and sees something he just doesn’t believe.
Only about thirty paces behind him, the figure has paused midway through a stride. Amid the smoke and fume, now strangely still, a single leg extends in a peculiar and quite impossible jut. It cannot balance there, surely. But it is, as though the world has halted for a moment.
Nikolas listens, more than a little afraid. Why can he move when his pursuer cannot?
And there, deep below hearing, in resonant strata he cannot even guess at, the world adjusts its stride, reconsiders its rhythm, pauses.
The world has turned aside for a moment, Nikolas thinks.
And he has turned with it.
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