Title: DIE BACK (Book One of the Alchimeia)
Author: Richard Hacker
Publisher: Del Sol Press
In 272 AD Egypt, an enemy thwarts an attempt by League Inkers, Thomas Shaw and Nikki Babineaux, to obtain the Alchįmeia, a document holding alchemical secrets. Sensing his impending death, Thomas secures Nikki’s promise to keep his son, Addison, from the League, an organization defending the time continuum. After his father’s death, Addison inherits a mysterious pen, accidentally inking himself into the consciousness of a man who dies on a muddy WWI battlefield in France. Hoping to make sense of his experience, he confides in Nikki, his best friend and unknown to Addison, an Inker. Keeping her promise to Thomas, she discounts Addison’s experience.
Fixated on the pen, Addison inks into a B-17 bombardier in 1943. The pilot, whose consciousness has been taken over by someone calling himself Kairos, gloats over killing Addison’s father and boasts of plans to destroy the League. As Kairos attempts to wrest Addison’s consciousness, Nikki shocks Addison out of the Inking. She confesses her knowledge of the League. When Kairos threatens to steal aviation technology, she she sends Addison and his partner, Jules, to an Army test of the Wright Flyer in 1908. Believing they have succeeded, they return to find the continuum shifted and Nikki knowing nothing about the League.
Inking back to his father’s mission in Alexandria, Addison and Jules hope to get his help in returning the time continuum to its original state. Instead, Addison’s father gives him the Alchįmeia to hide in a crypt at the Great Lighthouse on Phalos. On their return to the present a Kairos agent murders Jules, her consciousness Inked into the past. Addison follows the clues, Inking into Pizarro in 16th century Peru. He finds Jules in the child bride of the Inca emperor. His plan to find the technology and save Jules without destroying the Inca civilization is thwarted by a fleet of Inca airships. Captured, he is taken to Machu Picchu. With Jules help, they find the stolen schematics, but are confronted by Kairos. He stabs Addison, forcing Addison’s consciousness back to the present and traps Jules in the 16th Century. Addison returns to another altered world. Nikki no longer exists, the world is at war with the Inca, and Manhattan lay in ruins.
Addison Inks his father, learning the origins of the League. Thomas urges Addison to uncover their enemy with the help of his colleague, Maya. Putting suspicion on another inker, Cameron, she insists he must be killing Inkers and acquiring Pens. In a final attempt to stop him, they entrap Cameron, only for Addison to discover Maya is Kairos, his enemy. She kills Cameron, also wounding Addison. He chases Maya, who intimates that she holds his mother’s, Rebecca’s, consciousness. Confused he delays, giving her time to scrawl a name with her pen before shooting her dead.
Inked away when Maya died, Kairos finds himself, not in his intended host, Hitler, but in a German infantry soldier POW in the Ardenne during the Battle of the Bulge, WWII. Hoping to repair the shift in the time continuum, Addison brings the League Pens together with the fate of the world and everyone he loves at stake. He awakens to a dissimilar world, but Jules and Nikki exist. And with life there is always hope.
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About the Author
Richard Hacker is a longtime resident of Austin, Texas who now writes and lives in Seattle.
His writing has been recognized by the Writer’s League of Texas and the Pacific Northwest Writers Association. In addition to his writing, he provides editing services to other writers and is the editor of an online science fiction and fantasy journal, Del Sol Review. His three published humorous crime novels ride the sometimes thin line between fact and fiction in Texas. DIE BACK, his first fantasy thriller novel, has been published by Del Sol Press.
When not writing he’s singing in a vocal jazz ensemble, cooking with a sous vide and a blow torch, or exploring the Pacific Northwest with his wife and his springer spaniel, Jazz.
Website Link: http://www.richardhacker.com
Twitter Link: @Richard_Hacker
Facebook Link: http://www.facebook.com/RWHacker
After hanging up, he recalled Maya, a woman his father had dated a few years ago. I guess they stayed in touch. Flipping through the contents of the file, he found a piece of paper, folded in half with a date and a name written by hand, circled with a felt tip marker. This must be one of the MIA’s.
Died in the Battle of Cantigny on May 28, 1918
Emmett Earl Pike
All he had to do was fill in a form and this had the bonus of a paycheck at the end. I’ll never get another chance to help Dad complete anything. Addison rarely used pens, opting for his laptop and the tablet his father had given him as a Christmas present. However, it seemed a good time to give his inheritance a road test. After finding the form Maya mentioned in the file, he lifted the fountain pen from its resting place once again. Where do I put the ink? He fumbled with it a bit, then found he could unscrew the bottom, revealing a small chamber. Opening one of the bottles, the ink moved as if alive, a green vaporous fog hovering just inside the neck. A small glass eye dropper lay nestled beside it. He placed the dropper’s glass tube into the ink, squeezing and releasing the bladder to draw the green liquid. He squeezed the dropper again, releasing ink into the chamber. Screwing the bottom of the pen back on with his now green ink-stained fingers, he wiped the pen with a soft cloth he found by the ink bottle.
No wonder the ballpoint was a big hit.
As the mantel clock struck noon, he turned back to the page. Placing pen to paper he scratched the nib across the surface, copying the date from the slip of paper he had found in the file. Addison then scribed the name:
Emmett Earl Pike
He scanned the papers on the desk for the second name, when his body violently seized, as if he’d been given deadly neurotoxin. His stomach caught in his throat squelching any scream over a deafening jet-like roar. Ice cold air froze him to numbness, the world a vast kaleidoscope of color and pattern, his mind exploded into billions of particles, until he lurched from the chair face first into the muck.
God, the stink of rotting flesh. Throat dry, goddamn smoke. What is that foul stench? Thunderous detonations like the footfalls of mighty giants slam into the ground, shaking the earth. Rats scurry, but nowhere to hide. A whistle blows in the cool, moist dawn air. I’m…in a trench? Men, their drab uniforms stained with mud and blood, rock anxiously, morning light reflecting off mounted bayonets.
Where in God’s living hell am I?
Sarge shouts, “Over the top!”
I don’t want to move, but I’m not in control. Up and over the mud wall of a trench, the weight of a pack straining my back, the rifle heavy in my hands. A man to my left flies backward as if jerked by a cable, his cry muffled by explosions, his chest ripped open, organs spilling into the muck. I, we, plod forward through mud. A rhythmic takka-takka-takka, tat, tat, tat in the distance and more explosions vibrating through my feet.
Sarge yells again, “Stay together! Look sharp!”
A battlefield? But how? A slap on my shoulder. I look to my right to see a kid my age with blue eyes and a dirty face shadowed beneath a WW I doughboy helmet.
“Emmett, this is it! We’ll show these Huns!”
I hear words tumble from my mouth. “Yeah, Jake. Don’t get your arse shot off.”
A scowl crosses his face like I’ve never seen from my friend before. “Not to worry, Addison. You won’t be here for long.”
Bayonet in hand, Jake slices a deep gash across his palm. He steps in toward me. “Time to say goodbye, Addison.” His bloodied hand races toward my face.
What the hell—
A fiery white blast, like a blow of Thor’s massive hammer, slams me to the ground. My insides hurt, my head throbs. I try to get back up, but, oh god, my legs. Gone. God. Jake? I see his blue-eyed face, the remaining half looks startled, his shoulder and arm and part of his torso ripped off. The mud smells of death. Falling back I see blue sky with large billowing white clouds floating like great ships at sea. So peaceful, so calm, so…
My body’s an empty shell. Matter flows into me—each corpuscle and vein, tendon and bone, organ and muscle. Am I dying? Or coming back to life? Like the wax of a spent candle, I am fallen to a puddle of life.
Addison gasped, acidic vomit rising in his throat. Flailing, he fell backward, his chair crashing to the floor. He clawed at the carpet, in a blind panic, slamming into a wall. A caustic taste of death and cordite lingered in his mouth. He reached for bloodied stumps, but found legs, the agonizing pain gone, but still a memory. He pulled himself up, his back to the wall. Clammy and cold, his green ink-stained hands shook, each shallow breath struggling to keep up with his racing heart.
The mantel clock in the hallway chimed. How much time have I lost? Addison looked at his watch, both hands at twelve. The clock continued, the twelfth strike reverberating through the room. Noon? Of the same day? He found his cane, leveraging himself into a standing position by his desk. The fountain pen rested innocently on the paper, a small green smudge at the end of Emmett Earl Pike. He tried to screw the cap back on, but his shaking hands made the task difficult. After several attempts he succeeded, weaving the fine threads of pen and cap together. He laid the pen back into the safety of its box and placed it in the bottom drawer of the desk, which he locked. Still light-headed and trembling, he limped out of the study, closing the door behind him.
In the kitchen, he tossed open the refrigerator door, pulling out a PowerJolt.
What the hell was that? Jesus. You’re losing it, Addison.
He struggled with the can. Losing his grip as he thrust the push tab down, the can spun away, PowerJolt splashing across the island counter. Reaching for the errant object, he hurled it across his kitchen, the can banging and clanging against cabinets and pots.
He didn’t smoke, but the urge for a cigarette, a Camel, consumed him. Hell, I’d take a Navy Cut off a Tommy in a heartbeat. He rifled through the back of a drawer at the end of the counter until he found the cigarettes and matches his father thought had been hidden. Marlboros. No Camels? This would have to do. Fumbling with the box, he slipped one between his lips, lit it, inhaling, only to choke and cough as the smoke burned his throat.
It felt so goddamn real, like I was actually there. The artillery fire, the stench of the place, and Jake. I knew Jake. We trained together, drank together.
He took another tentative drag, coughing up another puff of smoke. In his dreams he walked and ran. But this experience didn’t feel like a dream. He had run across a damn battlefield.
And those two girls we met before we shipped out. I married mine. Esther. Esther Lawrence. We made love my last night of leave. God, I remember her. The soft skin, the curve of her hips.
Addison floated in the memory of Esther, a woman he couldn’t know, a woman old enough to be his great-great grandmother. He tamped out the cigarette on the granite counter, and grabbed a loaf of bread and some peanut butter. Something normal. Something he did every day. Something unlike whatever just happened.
There’s got to be an explanation. If I’m having a hallucination, it’s one realistic multi-dimensional hallucination. I must be stressing out. PTSD, that’s what the shrink said after I killed Beth. Maybe with Dad dying and all, it’s coming back.
He lit another cigarette, this time taking a long drag, the smoke rising, twisting and turning away. A moment of calm flowed through him. He knew the feeling from playing baseball and soccer prior to the accident. Standing on a field, the game turning into a righteous shit storm, all hell breaking loose, his body strong, his mind sharp, his determination hardened like forged steel. In that moment of calm, his father’s words emerged.
“You, my son, are an Inker by calling.”