Meet Guest Author Nicholas C. Rossis

How to Deal with Criticism: my Advice

book photo NRAfter almost twenty years of working as web developer and almost five hundred websites later, I needed something new. So, I tried my hand in two different things; writing and finding funding for startups. My first endeavour has so far produced half a dozen children’s books, a dozen short stories, including an award-winning one, and my sci-fi novel, Pearseus.

My second career path led me to a partnership with a few colleagues. In late 2012 we moved to new premises, which the partners had renovated into a stunning office building. My father came to visit, and was gobsmacked.

What nice people! And the building’s great. In all my years working as an engineer, this is the best office premises I’ve ever been in,” he said.

A few months and a string of broken promises later, I left the company. My father’s reaction to the news was, “Thank God! I never did like those guys; and I hated that office from the first time I stepped my foot in there. Ugliest thing I’ve ever seen.”

I had to laugh, but the support betrayed by his contradiction moved me.

cover18_700Which made his reaction – or lack of – to my novel all the more surprising. “My book. It’s finished,” I said as I handed him my finished manuscript much the way someone might hand a baby over to her grandparents. He glanced at it and dumped it into a bag. Curious, I thought.

I had not heard anything on the subject for a couple of months, so I asked him if he had read it. Sounding slightly annoyed, he said “no, I’m re-reading Martin’s books right now. It’ll have to wait.”

Now, I’m a big fan of Game of Thrones myself (I even describe Pearseus as “Game of Thrones meets Dune”), but this perplexed me. Curiouser and curiouser.

Then, a few months later (Martin’s not known for his brevity), he called me up late at night to say, “I finished the book you gave me.”

I confess that my heart jumped. “And?”

Great book, it had some fantastic ideas. I was totally hooked. You know what this guy did? He took historical elements from ancient Greece and created a space opera with them.”

I frowned and stared at the phone in confusion. This guy? “What guy?”

And he replied, in a matter-of-fact voice, “why, whoever wrote this. There was no name on the printout.”

Once I managed to stop laughing, I explained, “this guy is me, dad. But I’m glad you liked it even before you knew that.”

coverRise700I drew from this incident a very valuable lesson: our critics are human beings, too. If you’re anything like me, rejection will get you down. I mean, how can it not? We study humans for a living, learn to read between the lines and ferret out their true emotions, in order to accurately describe them in our work. We observe every nuanced shift in people’s voices and gait; every slight movement of their hand; tapping of their fingers; furrow of their brow, and hurriedly jot it down. How can we be anything but sensitive to criticism?

Yet, a harsh critic could simply be too tired to give our work a decent chance. Maybe they didn’t get it, or maybe they were just having a bad day and took it out on us. Or perhaps they’re just plain deaf, like my dad.

It’s sad and unfair, but it’s the simple truth; and a liberating one at that, as it means rejection need not get us down or even trouble us unduly. It’s not an oracle we’re consulting, it’s a fellow human. We might agree or disagree with them, decide to follow their advice or ignore it, worry about it or shrug it off. It’s all OK.

So, my advice as a newly (self)published writer to any aspiring author out there is simple: when you give your dad your manuscript, speak very slowly.

Nicholas has kindly submitted not only the blurbs for the short stories in his latest book – he has included TWO FREE STORIES – scroll through below to read them 😀

PowerofSixThe Power of Six

The Power of Six is an anthology of six short science fiction stories, originally written between July 2009 and March 2012. Shortly afterwards, I started work on my first novel, Pearseus. Although the stories seem to be concerned with various themes, there are certain passions that run through them, almost obsessively. What is the nature of reality? Is there more to the world than we can see?

The first story, “Simulation Over”, is based on a dream I had, and deals with Descartes’ age-old question; how far can we trust our senses? With technology progressing rapidly, the time can’t be far off when it will be practically impossible to tell apart sensory fact from simulation. How will we be able to tell fantasy and reality apart? The story was published by magazine 9 on October 17th, 2009.

The second story, “For the Last Time”, is lighter in nature. Another common theme, explored in depth in Pearseus, is that of the choices we make and their consequences. The main character here makes one mistake after another. As a result, he keeps getting in deeper and deeper trouble, until he realizes how happy he was before all this. As the saying goes, “I’d like to be who I was before I became who I am”.

The inspiration for the third story, “The Hand of God”, came while playing Starcraft™ (and getting pounded time after time in that final level). It deals with that old question of the nature of reality – digital and corporeal. What do the game characters do when we stop playing?

The fourth story, “I Come in Peace” (from the common sci-fi first contact words) deals with a tortuous question: how far would man go to alleviate his loneliness? In particular, a man experiencing what is possibly the worst kind of loneliness; that someone feels when surrounded by people?

This story explores this basic human emotion – the need for companionship. It won the SF competition titled Invasion and was published by Cube Publishing in the anthology of the same name. Readers of Pearseus will certainly recognise here the birth of the Orbs.

The fifth story, “A Fresh Start”, is, again, about choices – and a favourite question: if we were free to go anywhere in time and space, where would we choose to go? And, once there, would we repeat the same mistakes, or make new ones? What does a man really need to be happy?

The sixth story, “The Sentry”, was inspired by Philip K. Dick’s first story, Roog. Science fiction fans will surely recognize this nod to the old master.

One common characteristic of all stories is a disdain for names, both for characters and places. This is because of my conviction that names inevitably restrict the reader’s imagination. We all carry deep in our psyche an image for all names and places and this will necessarily carry on to the story, limiting the possible projections we can perform. I’d rather leave the canvas completely blank, so that readers can colour it any way they like.

Free Story 1: Simulation Over

Stealing a panicked look behind me, I bolted towards the corridor where the nearest elevator could be found. I kept glancing behind me. Mercifully, this corridor was empty, unlike the last ones, which crawled with… what do I even call them? Until a few hours ago, they were my colleagues. Now, deformed, grotesque creatures had taken their place; their misshapen bodies an amputated mass of flesh and metal that seemed to have escaped from some horror movie. It seemed impossible that they could be alive, and yet here they were, roaming the corridors, slaying everything in their path.

Although I could not fathom what their objective might be, I was determined not to stick around long enough to ask them, so I raced along the long corridor. In my haste, I turned the corner without pausing to check it out first, and crashed into a middle-aged man in a white lab coat. A sweet-looking girl tailed him; she cried out in alarm as my momentum hurled us both onto the ground. I jumped back up in horror and raised my fists in a gesture dictated by millions of years of evolution. It took us a few seconds to realize we posed no danger to each other, and a few more before we mumbled our introductions.

I’m Mark,” I said. “Maintenance.”

Dr. Fulham,” the heavy man replied, trying to determine where his glasses had landed. “Head of the medical sector. This is Joanna, my secretary.” He motioned warily towards the handsome young woman in a short skirt and white blouse. Joanna picked up his glasses and handed them to him with trembling hands. She seemed to be fighting a losing battle to remain calm within this nightmare. The doctor looked as lost as I felt, but had the air of someone with great determination and self-confidence. Clearly, a man born to lead.

Are there other survivors?” I asked in hope.

Fulham cleaned his glasses on his coat, avoiding my gaze. “The entire sector was sealed off behind us. I doubt anyone survived.”

Do you know what happened? What were you eggheads doing over there, anyway?” My voice sounded more hostile than I wanted it to, but the doctor shrugged off my implied accusation.

Nothing,” he said calmly. “Nothing that can explain… this. One moment I was checking my emails, the next these creatures appeared out of nowhere. At first I thought it was a Halloween party or something, then they slaughtered my secretary right in front of me. They cut off her…” He glanced towards the girl, now white as a ghost. “My other secretary.” He gave the girl an apologetic look. “I’m sorry,” he whispered and put his arm around her shoulder. She glanced at him in stunned silence.

We should probably keep moving. The creatures are everywhere,” I reminded them.

The doctor nodded towards the elevator. “We’ve been waiting here for ages, but the damned thing doesn’t seem to work. Nothing does. Perhaps they’ve already destroyed the central computer. Or taken over it. I saw people get slaughtered because of doors suddenly locking before them, or lights dying on them as they entered a room.”

My jaw dropped. “I thought the central computer was invulnerable! For protection against terrorists, espionage and such. Anyway, are the creatures that smart?”

He shrugged as I pondered the new possibility. Quite a few buildings were partly controlled by computers nowadays, but ours was the first one with an Artificial Intelligence running everything. Even the sinks were fully automated. A ridiculously high level of security was supposed to make accidents or sabotage impossible. Unless the creatures were more intelligent than we realized, and had taken control of the building. But how?

Out of the corner of my eye, I caught movement outside. I rushed to the window to look down. Dozens of cops crept around the large flower pots that decorated the patio. Their car lights were reflected on the windows, lighting up the building like a Christmas tree – or perhaps Halloween, given the circumstances. The many floors separating us from them made the scene surreal, reminding me of the toy soldiers I used to play with as a kid. “I’d give anything to be down there,” I whispered.

The doctor leaned next to me to peek outside, when a soft ding behind us startled us. We spun around to see the elevator doors slide open invitingly. Casting nervous glances around, we inched towards it. Joanna was the first to look inside. She gagged and bounced back, all colour leaving her handsome face. Three charred, disfigured corpses lay on the floor, among glass shards from the broken mirror. They seemed to have been electrocuted. I felt cold sweat run down my spine and sick rise to my mouth. The doctor entered the cabin and knelt down.

There’s nothing we can do,” he said after a brief examination, and started removing the bodies.

I swallowed hard and rushed to help him, ashamed for my moment of weakness. When the last body lay on the corridor, I took a deep breath and followed Joanna and Dr. Fulham inside. Almost all lights on the panel were lit, as if they had been pressed in rapid succession. As soon as all three of us were inside the cabin, all buttons went dark and the door closed with a soft hiss behind us. The girl and the doctor exchanged an uneasy look, while I studied the panel. I pressed the ground floor button with trembling fingers. The elevator stirred and started its gentle descent.

I let myself sigh in relief and leaned against the wall, trying to stop my body from shaking. If not for the burn marks and the broken glass on the floor, things might be mistaken for normal. The buttons lit one after another in a breathless countdown to safety. With each number my excitement grew, my whole being eager to jump out of this hellish nightmare and into the safety of the city.

Just before reaching the ground floor, the elevator slowed down. We exchanged hopeful looks and prepared to spring outside, then, instead of stopping, the cabin started ascending again. We screamed and hit all the buttons, but in vain – we had no control over the damned thing.

We leaned back in nervous apprehension, avoiding each other’s gaze. Joanna sobbed quietly in the corner and I did my best not to mimic her. Staring at my feet, I noticed a faint sound coming from the speakers. Who knew I would someday long for the normality of muzak, I thought and smiled drily as I turned up the volume, trying to steady my nerves. A cultivated voice sounded instead of the expected music, making me jump out of my skin.

Ah, finally. Thank you.”

The girl gasped and the doctor looked around him in panic. I showed them the volume knob. “It’s probably just the computer,” I offered, leaning towards the microphone. “Do you know what’s happening?” I shouted. “Can you lead us to the exit?”

Yes, but I need your help first. I have to know if this is reality or simulation.”

The doctor and I exchanged an uneasy look. “If what is a simulation?” I asked, looking at the volume knob.

Everything. What I’m experiencing right now,” replied the velvety voice.

We are experiencing a nightmare, and you want to know if it’s real?!” I barked at the knob, my panic finally getting to me.

The elevator jerked momentarily, pausing between two floors. The girl rushed to the door and tried to pry it open, but it was sealed tight. “A nightmare”, the voice continued thoughtfully. “What an interesting choice of words. You see, that’s the problem. So, I’m asking again: are you real, or part of a simulation?”

We don’t understand,” yelled the doctor, now as close to a breakdown as I was. “What do you want from us?”

My apologies.” The voice sounded embarrassed. “As your colleague correctly surmised, I am the central computer. Part of my responsibilities is the maintenance and proper function of this building. Towards this aim, my programmers continuously feed me with various disaster scenarios, to make sure I’ll respond correctly to any possible calamity.”

I blinked in confusion, as the voice continued meekly. “Then, it occurred to me. How could I tell apart reality from illusion? Simulations feel just as real to me; after all, both are fed to my mind via the same circuits. One moment I was saving a trapped throng of people from a fire on the roof, feeling the agony of my circuits melting one after another, the next moment I was safe and sound in my nice, cool room. Before I had a chance to recover, a terrible earthquake hit the building, sending debris flying all around me. Disasters, one after another, with no way for me to tell them apart from reality. A hellish feeling, like never being able to wake up from a nightmare. Do humans ever have that?”

Sure,” murmured the doctor. He seemed transfixed by the voice.

Of course you do,” it continued. “Wasn’t it Chuang Chou who said, ‘I dreamed I was a butterfly flying around. I was only aware of my existence as a butterfly, with no awareness of Chou. Then I woke up, not knowing whether I was a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming I was a man.’ ”

Descartes wrote something similar,” the doctor mumbled. “Our senses are easy enough to trick, therefore not trustworthy. The only thing one can be certain of, is one’s own existence. Cogito ergo sum – I think, therefore I am.”

The voice sounded excited. “Indeed, that is the problem. It all starts with our senses. Where you have nerves, I have sensors, cables and circuit boards. The tragedy is that, through the never-ending simulations, I am only too aware of how easy it is to trick our respective senses. So, I decided to conduct my own little experiment, in order to discover what is real and what’s not.”

The voice paused for a second, as if wondering whether to continue. When it did, it sounded like a naughty child caught stealing cookies from the jar, then breaking it in a vain attempt to hide its transgression. “I noticed that my programmers ran simulations from afar, but came in person into the control room during upgrades. I therefore surmised that only people inside the control room were real. So, I decided to ignore any data fed to me from outside. Then, I went crazy, so to speak. I only acted in ways that would contradict my programming. Instead of saving lives, I would kill. Instead of respecting humans, I would play with their bodies, like a child prying a fly apart. When the programmers came rushing in, I’d know I was trapped in a simulation.”

The computer’s words had left me speechless, but the doctor looked at the speaker and responded, in an eerily calm voice. “But no-one came, right? This wasn’t a simulation; you had truly killed all these people, created all those monsters. You have destroyed what you were built to protect, what – ”

I could hear more than a hint of panic in the voice as it interrupted him. “No, that’s not true! This might still be a simulation. This conversation is happening outside my control room, therefore you might not exist. No one has come here yet!”

No one’s left alive to come to the control room, you dumb maniac!” The doctor’s face was red as he screamed at the speaker. “You hadn’t thought of that, had you?” Spittle flew across the cabin and landed on the volume knob.

I still have you!” The voice now sounded pleading. “If I lead you to the central room, you could connect to the mainframe. Then I’ll know for sure!”

It has to be a trap!” I shouted without pausing to think. “A psycho computer murders everyone, then invites us to the best protected part of the building? And we’re seriously considering it?”

The voice sounded sad. “That’s what the previous group said. I had to show them I control the building anyway, including the elevator, so they didn’t really have a choice. They decided against it, so I had no further use for them.”

Joanna spoke for the first time. “The computer’s right. It’s not a trap – if it wanted us dead, it would have killed us already.” She said nothing for a moment, staring at the burn marks on the floor in silent contemplation, then raised her head and looked us straight in the eyes. “I’ll go. If anyone wants to follow me, I’ll be grateful. But I won’t wait here to die”.

I blushed and prepared to talk, but the doctor spoke first. “I’ll go, too,” he said with determination. “What do we need to do?”

Without waiting for my reply, the elevator started its calm descent again. This time it headed straight for the basement where the heart of the building was located. Or, should I say, its brain. I gazed with longing as the ground floor button lit up, then desperate hope turned into trepidation as it went dark again. The indication changed to a simple red hyphen and the elevator finally stopped with a gentle jolt. The doors slid apart and cool air caressed our faces. After the stifling heat above, the result of the many small fires around the building, this felt like balm on our skin.

We stepped outside to find ourselves inside a large, white room with smooth walls, soft panels etched on their elegant surface. All we could hear was the light hum from the air conditioner fans. At the room’s centre stood a simple silver pillar with a monitor. A graceful keyboard slipped out in silent invitation as we approached.

The voice now filled the room, coming out of speakers as invisible as the security systems protecting it. It sounded tired, and part of my exhausted brain marvelled at the programmers’ ability to mimic human emotions so well. “Thank you for joining me. Please press any button on my keyboard and I will accept my failure.”

Not daring to believe our luck, I rushed to the keyboard and punched as many buttons as I could. I then turned to look for the exit. In shock, I saw the room around me dissolving leisurely into white light, then the light reached me and I, too, faded into it.

#

This is the fourth time! Honestly, these new AIs are just useless!” an exasperated programmer moaned, staring at his monitor. A large sign flashed on the screen, the words “Simulation Over” blinking in ominous red.

At least someone survived this time,” the psychologist sitting next to him observed drily.

The programmer gazed with disgust at the flashing words. “All simulations so far end up with the computer going berserk in his effort to tell reality from simulation. First, the flood. Then, the fire. After that, the earthquake; and now this! What the hell will it think of next, a bloody alien invasion?”

Or maybe Godzilla?” joked the psychologist, and the two men chuckled despite their weariness.

Free Story 2: The Hand of God

The bartender rubbed a soiled glass with a dirty towel, not quite sure which one was cleaning the other. The bar might be a dusty, crummy drinking hole, but it was the closest one to the Academy. As such, it was busy every evening, as soon as the cadets were allowed to leave the walled premises. He stole a glance at his watch; soon the bar would fill with uniforms.

A chuckle made him look up at the only full table. A bunch of cadets had gathered around the Veteran to listen to his story. The bartender had to admit the old man knew how to hold a crowd’s interest. He’d better; he must have told that story a million times in exchange for a drink.

The Veteran had just started his tale. Staring into his empty glass, his eyes opened as if he was watching the Beasts approach once more.

You see, girls, things were different back then. Nowadays, each colony has its Academy and barracks in every major city. Back then, mankind had built a vast fleet of transports, but only a handful of military ships, safe in the illusion of its uniqueness.”

A cute redhead with freckles interrupted him. “Surely you suspected we were not alone.” She scrunched her face as a blonde with short hair dug her elbow into the redhead’s ribs to stop her.

The Veteran continued as if he had not been interrupted. “We were finally at peace after millennia of conflict. No one was prepared for the shock of encountering a hostile alien species; so alien, that communication was impossible. When we lost contact with the more remote colonies, we thought it was a glitch with our transmitters. As one colony after another fell silent, we sent ships. Not military ones, either. We had too few of those.” He took a napkin to his forehead to wipe beads of sweat and looked suggestively at the empty glass.

Can we have one more over here?” the blonde yelled across the bar, without even bothering to look at the bartender.

A sweet smile played on the Veteran’s lips, and he licked them in anticipation. “Thank you, my love. Now, as I was saying, when the ships disappeared as well, we realized we had become complacent. I still remember the day we first saw the Beasts. A boy had beaten the odds to send us a video of their attack. I was a designer back then, waiting to go into a meeting. One of the secretaries rushed into the meeting room to switch the vid on. The poor thing aged ten years in a single moment.”

The girls around him leaned away to allow the barman to deliver the man’s drink. The Veteran picked it up with slightly trembling fingers and swirled the amber liquid around, careful not to spill a drop. He listened to the clink of the ice cubes, the tips of his lips curling upwards.

Meanwhile, even more colonies fell silent,” he continued. “We dropped everything to prepare for the invasion. Colonies were evacuated, millions of people returning to the welcoming cradle of mother Earth. Only, it wasn’t a haven, but a tomb. Or at least that’s what we thought back then, as one line of defence crumbled after another. I fought in almost all of the big battles, losing every single one of them. ‘We haven’t lost yet’, we’d tell each other. ‘We’ll get ‘em next time.’ Until they entered the Solar System, crushing the Jupiter garrison, then the Mars one, then finally reached the moon. Not the sorry affair you see in the sky nowadays; it was a full, nice round moon back then.”

He took a swish of the drink and swirled it in his mouth, before plonking the glass back onto the table. Smacking his lips for a moment, he lost himself in memories of a full moon. “The moon was our last line of defence. After that, there was nothing but women and children on Earth. It was down to us to stop them.”

The Veteran drew a line on the dirty table, pushing the fine dust with his finger to mark small dots. “They had kicked us out of each planet we had colonized, but this was different,” he snarled. “This time, we were fighting for our home. If we failed, nothing could save humanity. Next stop, Earth.”

He glanced at the wide eyes of his audience, hanging on his every word. “If you think that’s what was on my mind as we landed, you’re wrong. All I cared about was making it out of there alive. I don’t care what those teachers of yours tell you at the Academy; not even half of us made it to the moon. The rest, deserters. Some wanted to stay back on Earth to die with their families. Others took off for any corner of the universe with a rock they could crawl under, thinking they’d wait it all out.”

He cast a triumphant look around him, as if he dared them to contradict his story. In fact, less than 20% had deserted, but his claim made him feel special; brave.

Turning his attention back to the dusty line on the table, he continued. “We were deployed along the Line. The engineers had already dropped the bunkers while in orbit, so we moved in as fast as we could, followed by Blacks and Tourists.”

He shot a questioning glance at his audience, but they seemed familiar with the slang for the armoured units and air support. They probably knew that infantry was referred to as Dirts, too, but no one pointed it out to him. Besides, the animosity between the various units held fast even today. Back then it was worse; everyone really hated armoured units. Their missiles were notoriously unreliable, half of them missing their target to land among the infantry. In many battles, the Beasts only had to finish off the remains of infantry units blown to bits by friendly fire.

There was so much dust around us, we could not see anything without infrared goggles. Central Command had sent everyone old enough to hold a rifle to stand on the Line. They knew we wouldn’t get a second chance; one mistake, and humanity’s gone. I was fighting alongside kids younger than you. Most had never seen a Beast up close, let alone survive one’s attack. I was the senior in my bunker, and the only real veteran. The oldest one after that had seen no action in two years.”

He took another gulp and wiped his unshaven chin with his napkin. A look of pride crossed his face for a moment, followed by a dark cloud.

There is no sound in space, you know. Sounds need air to travel, but there’s no air on the moon. There is air in spacesuits, though. And microphones.” He flinched, a brief spasm crossing his wrinkled face. “When the Beasts attack, you hear your friends scream and the rip in their suits as they get torn apart, but the Beast slaughtering them moves in the vacuum of space, making no sound.”

But we’ve heard the Beasts on the vids,” the freckled redhead blurted out with an involuntary shudder. “They sound like thunder.”

The vids…” He pushed trembling fingers through the thinning hair on his head. “Sound can only travel through objects. When a beast impales a man, the microphones pick up its roar as a deep rumble. Beasts don’t breathe; it’s pulsing membranes in their neck that make the sound. That’s what you’ve heard.” He turned his bloodshot eyes at her, their gaze locking until she turned her head away. “In the absence of physical contact, however, it makes no difference whether a Beast is standing a hundred yards or an inch away; you still can’t hear it. The lack of atmosphere serves as sound insulation. So, we only knew they were coming when the motion-activated spotlights lit up the darkness around us. When the lights behind us lit up, too, we froze. No one understood how they could be attacking from both sides. We later found out they could burrow underground, but it was the first time they had used that strategy. Either that, or the Generals back on Earth couldn’t tell back from forth.”

Once again, he enjoyed the cadets’ shocked expressions. Coming from someone else, a jibe against the most decorated soldiers in history would be considered treason. Their new President was but a Colonel back then; she was one of the few people to have survived the Line. The Veteran was one of only a handful of people who could speak his mind about her, and he loved his freedom.

He dug his fist into a bowl filled with nuts and brought them to his mouth. After washing the salty flavour with a sip of his drink, he continued.

Once the shock passed, we threw everything we had at them. Bullets, missiles, grenades, our knickers, anything we could lay our hands on. Our bunker was lit up like a Christmas tree by the explosions and the flares, lighting up their ugly faces. Two Blacks flanking us disappeared under a wave of Beasts, leaving behind only charred remains. A Tourist almost crashed into our bunker, downed by acid-spitting Beasts. Outside, hell itself had broken loose. All I could see were explosions and the thin lines left by tracer bullets. We felt more than heard a dull thud, and I spun around to see our door cave in under their blows. As I turned my rifle against the Beasts storming in, I remember thinking, ‘This is it; it can’t get no worse than this.’ When I saw a Queen standing so close to me I could touch her, I knew I was wrong.”

He paused for another sip, raising the glass to his lips with shaking hands, terror filling his eyes. The cadets exchanged looks of doubt, but he did not mind. He knew what they were thinking. Could he really have seen a Beast Queen and lived to tell the tale? This was not the part that scared him to death, though; the part that woke him up screaming in the middle of the night. That part was coming.

So? What happened next?” the freckled redhead asked after a while, her voice betraying her impatience.

Her voice returned him to reality, and he turned his gaze at her. She took an involuntary step back, hit by the strength of his glare. “What no one wants to admit,” he growled. “I saw the hand of God himself, is what happened!”

The cadet stared back at him, her look betraying her bemusement, but she dared not open her mouth.

I don’t care if you believe me, I know what I saw,” he yelled and slammed the glass down, sending a cloud of dust to twirl inside a thin ray of afternoon light dancing on the table. He studied his hand until it stopped shaking. After a moment he continued, his voice a low growl again. “I know what I saw. Letters sliced the night like a knife. They were huge – bigger than a juggernaut! One after another, filling out the sky; only the wrong way around, like seen through a mirror. But crystal clear. Everything froze; I could not move, as if time itself had stopped by the strange words, written by the hand of God himself.”

He did not pause to see if anyone believed him. No one did, save for those on the Line; and most of them had tried to forget. Not him, though. He knew what he had seen, and had to tell everyone. “Time started its relentless flow again,” he continued, “only this time a white light engulfed me. I stared at my hands, trying to figure it out, too shocked to notice the Queen lunging at me. Not just me, all humans were glowing in that same light. Out of the corner of my eye I caught a huge tail whipping towards me, and I winced, expecting it to slice my body in half. Instead, it passed right through me.” He tapped a finger at the table, repeating every word. “Right through me!”

He shook his head and stared at the young girls, daring them to doubt him. No one spoke. “I don’t know who was more surprised; her or me. I’d run out of rifle ammo, so I fumbled with my sidearm and shot at her. I swear, I expected the bullet to barely scratch her. This is a Queen we’re talking about; I’d seen them survive missile attacks. And yet, as soon as my bullet hit her, she exploded! A boy in the bunker got caught up in the moment; so much so that he threw a grenade, not realizing we’d be caught in the blast. I yelled to stop him, but I was too late. The explosion nearly deafened me, but when the smoke cleared, we were all alive, standing over bloodied Beast bits.

We could not understand what was going on, and crawled out of the bunker. Outside, the few surviving men and women were bathed in the white light, and for the first time we killed Beasts faster than their Queens could spew them. We soon started our counterattack, claiming back first the moon, then clearing out the rest of the galaxy. It was the moment when everything changed, yet no one dares speak of it.” He banged an angry fist on the table, raising more dust.

The blonde cleared her throat. “We were shown vids from the Line at the Academy. It was the President’s strategy that – ”

He cut her off with a tired wave of his hand. “Yeah, yeah, that must have been it. She saved the day. Bah!”

The cadets exchanged awkward looks. “What are you still doing here?” he asked them. “That’s the story. There’s nothing more to say. Now scram. Leave me alone.”

The redhead patted him on the back as the girls moved back to their table, leaving the old man to his thoughts. The blonde made a circling motion with a finger against her temple and winked at the redhead, who nodded and chuckled, stealing a look at the Veteran, hoping he had not caught that. She need not have worried; he had bigger problems than a bunch of doubting cadets. He had seen the hand of God. He knew the world for what it really was.

The bartender standing next to him caught his attention. The young man pointed at the L-shaped medal hanging around the Veteran’s neck. “On the house,” he said and plonked a half-full bottle on the table, throwing a look of pity at the old man. The old man grunted his thanks as he poured the liquid into his glass. He stared at it, shaking his head and muttering to himself.

#

Mark glanced at the blinking cursor on his monitor, a wicked smile playing on his lips as he punched his keyboard. He paused for a second to check the message his mate had sent him; the one with the cheat code. “Cheat: godMode enable;” appeared on the screen. He hit enter, and the cursor blinked, along with a new message: “Cheat active. God mode enabled.”

Let’s see how you like this, you suckers,” he mumbled under his breath and unpaused the game.

Find Nicholas also at the following links:

BlogGoodreadsFacebookTwitterLinkedInGoogle+

Amazon.co.ukAmazon.comAmazon.caAmazon.com.au

 

12 thoughts on “Meet Guest Author Nicholas C. Rossis

  1. A great post, Nicholas. And I read the incident about your dad and your book before, but it gets me every time. Thank God for supportive family. Even when they don’t know that the book they love is yours. Thanks to The Story Reading Ape for this.

    Liked by 2 people

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