Fellow writer and podcaster AR DeClerck has a new release coming out on March 28th. Today I have an exclusive excerpt for you!
Rand Niall Hazen. He rolled his name over his tongue. Would he still be Rand when he landed wherever it was he was going, or would he be irrevocably altered? Changed by the trip into someone, some thing, different? Would she be different?
Rand shook off his bizarre worry and zipped his rucksack. He couldn’t take much, but a few bottles of water and several packages of dried food would suffice if he managed to survive the journey. He looked up when Lane opened the door. His brother leaned against the frame and crossed his arms.
“You still wanna pretend you’re coming back?” he asked.
Rand winced. His brother was never one for small talk, and he refused to entertain the thought that Rand was coming back. “I’d rather.” He shouldered his back and glanced at himself in the mirror. Khaki work pants, woolen undershirt and his thick sackcloth coat. If it was cold he could bundle in the sweater, if he was hot he could strip. He clapped his wide brimmed hat over his ears and straightened his posture.
“You look like god damned Indiana Jones.”
Rand ignored his brother’s taunt. His heart was in his throat, his stomach rolling.
“None of the probes we sent through showed us anything on the other side.” Lane continued, not telling Rand anything he didn’t already know.
“Aren’t you the one who suggested I go after her?” he snapped, tired of Lane’s constant nettling. It was how he dealt with worry, Rand knew, but that made it no less annoying.
Lane straightened, his eyes narrowing with that violent look of concentrated anger that meant he was close to his own breaking point. They had no one else, and Rand loved his brother fiercely. A love, he knew, that was returned, even if Lane always added a bit of bullshit to go with it.
“It was either that or watch you kill yourself on the edge of that fucking hole.” Lane stalked closer, until they were an arm’s length apart. His voice dropped as he stared hard at his younger brother. “Why does it always have to be you, Rand?”
Rand felt a second’s worth of confusion, but Lane’s next words mapped out his brother’s point.
“When that hole appeared in the middle of this godforsaken desert I knew it would be you. Nobody else would come looking for answers, no one else would stick their nose into something so obviously dangerous.”
“If you’re trying to tell me that this is my fault, get a clue. It’s no fucking secret.”
Lane leaned a little closer. “You’re the smart one, Rand. The brother with the brains and I have always been proud of that. That’s why it drives me crazy when you’re a complete idiot. She followed you out here because she loved you, but also because she wanted to know the truth as much as you did.” Lane shook his head. “If ever there was a woman crazy enough to put up with you, it was her. Hell, you can’t even say her name.”
“Before the town went, we thought about pulling back.” Rand admitted, and Lane’s eye widened a fraction. “But she talked me out of it. We were close to figuring it out.” As for saying her name, that was something he still couldn’t bring himself to do.
“The shit that comes out of there is beyond anything we’ve ever seen.”
“It’s the future, Lane. It has to be. That, or some parallel dimension that’s blended with ours on an atomic level. But it’s so close to our stuff, with some pretty major improvements.”
“We know tech can travel through, but there has never been a scrap of organic material from the other side. If you go I don’t think you’re coming back.”
“You said it yourself. I’m the smartest bastard in the universe as far as we know. I’ll figure out a way to get back. I’ll bring us both back.”
Lane didn’t reply, but he nodded once to show he’d heard. He stepped back and his face bled the emotion like a river until nothing was left but stone cold indifference. That was Lane the assassin. Lane the mercenary.
“What are you going to tell the General?” Rand asked. Lane’s boss was a hard ass and didn’t take well to surprises. Rand’s disappearance into the hole would be one hell of a surprise.
Lane’s shoulder went up. “He’ll get over it. What’s he going to do, follow you?”
Rand chuckled. General Tightass would never risk his own precious hide to jump into the hole.
Rand followed Lane down the hallway and out the front door. The sun was sinking below the horizon and the desert breeze was brisk. Lane looked over the rise to the hole. A few months ago a town called Verity Pines had been sitting there, the people going about their business as usual. Life this far from civilization was hard, and Verity had only a hundred and fifty citizens to its name. One day a strange black hole had appeared at the edge of town, sucking sand and tumbleweeds down its gullet. Rand had been one of the first on the scene, his quest to prove time travel was possible leading him to the small town and its spinning vortex. Over the months as they’d studied the hole amazing pieces of very complicated tech had come flying from it, prompting the General to send his brother and several platoons of men to guard this new national treasure.
“Why do you think it grew so fast?” Lane asked as they walked over the dunes toward the edge of what had once been Verity Pines.
Rand couldn’t answer with any certainty. “Gravitational anomaly, lunar cycle…” He shrugged. “The readings coming off the edges were spiking and we thought about evacuating….”
Rand winced at the remembered sound of the void as it suddenly grew to hundreds of times its original size. Once a three foot span, now it enveloped all of Verity Pines. In only moments the whole town had been swallowed up by the engorged breach in the fabric of space and time.
“I should have gone back to town.” Rand thought of her smile as she begged him to “run back to camp and grab my laptop”. He’d always given in to her when she smiled like that.
“You’re going after her now.”
They walked more slowly as they approached the edge of the chasm. Rand hitched the bag up on his shoulder, suddenly apprehensive. This was no swan dive into the Mediterranean. What swam in the depths of that rippling black tidal pool was unknown and likely outside anything he’d ever even imagined. He stared down at its mirrored surface, looking at his own reflection. It wavered and shimmered, distorting him. He looked at Lane, who stood impassively by. The only way Rand knew he was affected by his leaving was the way his eye twitched a bit on the upper lid.
“You ready?” Lane asked.
Rand drew in a deep breath. This was for her. If she was out there, somewhere in space and time, he had to know. He had to find her and do whatever it took to bring her home. She had trusted him to keep her safe and he couldn’t give up until she was. “Yeah.”
Lane surprised him by moving quickly, enveloping him in a hug. It only lasted a moment, but it gave Rand the courage he needed. When they broke apart Lane stepped back again. “I hope you don’t expect me to wait around.”
Rand wanted to laugh, but he knew Lane would never stop watching the hole, hoping he would return. “Nah.” He choked the words out past the raw lump in his throat, hanging out somewhere past his tonsils. “You’ve got so much more to do.”
Lane took another step back and Rand knew that was all the goodbye they would get. He turned his back on his brother and stared at the center of the hole. He glared over his shoulder as Lane cleared his throat expectantly.
“This is what you’ve been waiting for.” Rand gave himself a pep talk. “She is over there. She has to be. Jump in the hole and stop being such a pussy.”
“Today might be nice.” Lane inserted with his usual sneer.
“Yeah.” Rand said with a sigh. “Or tomorrow, if this works out right.”
“See ya, brother.”
“See ya.” Rand lifted his foot and stepped off the edge of the universe into a rabbit hole even Alice would have run from.
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About the Author
AR DeClerck. Wife. Mother. Writer. Food assassin. Reading ninja. Music lover. All-around goofball. Self-proclaimed nerd.
AR grew up in the mountains of Western NC, and currently lives along the Mighty Mississippi in Illinois with her husband, 2 daughters, 2 dogs and a wily cat. She spends her days working with people with kidney failure, and her nights creating worlds of romance and adventure.