Excerpt: Extinction’s Kapitan Gore tells his story

Tiger in the Jungle

A detail from Tiger in the Jungle, by Yuri Kravchenko.

As the corsair sub Extinction cruises the open waters of the Arctic Ocean, a cooling system on its ancient nuclear reactor fails. Brother Martin Scribb, kidnapped and made one of the crew, saves the boat with some quick thinking. He is invited to the cabin of Kapitan Gore, the boat’s commander. The monstrous master of Extinction reveals his story in this excerpt from chapter 21 of Carbon Run.

Martin Scribb sat in the captain’s great cabin, sweating. Extinction’s air was kept at a low humidity to resist corrosion, but here in Gore’s living space, the humidity had to be 90 to 100 percent, Martin thought. Tropical plants lined the walls, some with huge flowers with exotic scents that matched the thickness of the air. Mixed with the moisture and perfume was a whiff of decaying leaf litter. It was the smell of slow death. The only thing missing was the cacophony of insects mating, killing, and dying in a true jungle. The metal walls and deck were clear of the rust Martin would’ve expected in a humid environment. A special paint or coating fought off the inevitable oxidation.

Gore tapped at a tablet keyboard, his fingers dexterous despite their thickness and covering of tawny hair. The curved claws that the creature showed on Martin’s arrival were retracted, much like a real cat’s. Gore’s green-yellow eyes bored into Martin. “Well, Mr. Scribb. It seems you have saved Extinction.”

“Please, sir.” Martin picked up on the military forms of address favored on the sub. “I’m a brother of the Penitents of Saint Francis.”

“I see… Brother Scribb.” Gore grimaced, which Martin took as a kind of smile, though the teeth were that of a carnivore, not an omnivore. “Allow me to say thank-you. You are the hero of the hour.”

Martin, like most people who act quickly in an emergency, did not feel himself a hero. “If I had not acted, everyone on board might’ve died, myself included.”

“Indeed. And you are responsible for enough death, aren’t you?” Continue reading

Excerpt: Extinction and Kapitan Gore find a target

Image taken through a periscope

Kapitan Gore and Extinction find a victim.

In chapter 20 of Carbon Run, Brother Martin Scribb of the Penitents of Saint Francis is rising in the ranks of the corsair submarine Extinction. The sub prowls the Arctic Ocean, searching for ships carrying a valuable, illegal cargo. In this excerpt, Kapitan Gore finds what he’s looking for.

The decision to accept Kapitan Gore’s offer of “freedom and wealth” came easily to Martin. He had known plenty of the alternative since his disidentification, and although he still held hope of finding Molly Bain and the possibility of redemption in the eyes of the larger society, Martin saw Extinction as a way to hedge his bets. Gore would extract some sort of price for his generosity, though Martin had no idea what that price was.

One day, the captain invited Martin to the control room, where every officer, male and female, greeted him with contempt. Martin recognized Nelson, whom Gore introduced as his executive officer. Lurking near a holo-console was Reason, Gore’s tactical officer and well as chief thug. Continue reading

Excerpt: The truth about Anne Penn’s mother

Lauren Carr photo

Image courtesy Lauren Carr.

In chapter 18 of Carbon Run, Deputy Inspector Janine Kilel of the Bureau of Environmental Security visits the Penn Ranch, which is next to a wildlife refuge destroyed by a fire. Kilel believes Anne Penn’s father, Bill, sparked the blaze caused the extinction of an endangered bird. But her suspect has escaped, and Kilel hopes Anne will help her locate the suspect. But Anne is hostile, as is her friend, Gary Schmidt. During her visit, Kilel picks through belongings Anne salvaged from the fire, which also destroyed Anne’s home.

Kilel studied the holo-pic. The image was familiar. But it was faded and grainy. “Who is this?”

Anne cooled down. “My mother.”

Kilel tried to place the woman’s face. “What’s her name?”

“Molly. She died when I was very young.”

Molly! “She’s dead?”

“Yes! Why are you asking me about her?”

“What was her name?”

“Molly Penn.” Anne said the name as if Kilel were dense as stone.

“No, her maiden name.”


A shock went up Kilel’s spine. She had to check against something objective. She called up the BES database in her minds-eye and the answer came back almost before she finished composing the query. The photo in the database wasn’t the same as the holo-pic. But it was an image of the same person taken a few years later. Kilel addressed Anne. “Your mother is Molly Bain.”

“That’s what I said. What are you getting at?”

“Molly Bain is an environmental criminal. She was convicted of crimes related to the Spike. She escaped disidentification by turning state’s evidence against Martin Scribb.”

Anne looked as if Kilel had told the young woman that her mother was alive. “You’re wrong!” Anne said. “She died after the Spike! Because of the Spike. That’s what my dad told me. It was a flood or something.”

“Molly Bain, formerly Mrs. William Penn, with one child, Anne Penn, was an AI researcher who programmed the drilling robots that failed on all the Algid Project methyl hydrate sites, causing a massive release of methane. The release started a cascading failure of the entire methyl hydrate bed in the Barents Sea, releasing millions of metric tons into the atmosphere, doubling its capacity to retain atmospheric heat for nearly a decade. Your mother killed 20 percent of the wild species on the planet. Your mother caused the worst mass extinction in 65 million years.”

“Stop it!” Mike stepped in front of Anne, blocking her from Kilel’s view.

The inspector shook with anger. She looked away from Anne and Mike, fearful she might lash out with her fist. A primal part of her wanted to strike Anne for the part of Molly Bain in the young woman, even if it was only a strand of DNA. She wanted to visit punishment on Anne for the sins of the mother for her environmental genocide.

“Stop it!” Mike repeated. “Anne was a baby. She had nothing to do with the Spike or what her mother did.”

Kilel breathed in and closed her eyes, fighting to regain control of herself. “You’re correct, Mr. Schmidt. Anne had nothing to do with the Spike or her mother’s crimes. And unlike her father, she’s not responsible for the fire that wiped out a species. But she is her mother’s daughter, and her father’s daughter.” Kilel glanced at the snag with the magpie nest. “That much is clear.”

Kilel turned on her heel and returned to the car. I can’t be here. I can’t control myself when I think of what that family represents. Sweat trickled down her neck and back, soaking the blouse under her tunic. She punched in the unlock code and the car came on. A blast of hot air blew out of the vent, before the artificial breeze cooled it to an office-like temperature. She ordered the car back to the highway and it kicked up dust from the unpaved driveway, leaving a cloud that obscured Kilel’s view of Anne Penn and Mike Schmidt in the rear view monitor.

Read more excerpts from Carbon Run. What do you think?

Excerpt: Churchill, Manitoba in the 22nd Century

Polar bear sculpture in Churchill, Manitoba

Churchill, Manitoba is one of the settings in Carbon Run. I mention this sculpture, though it’s not in the best condition in the mid-22nd century.

In this excerpt from the beginning of chapter 17 in Carbon Run, Martin Scribb, a disidentified man, has reached Churchill, Manitoba. Today, the community is a tiny port on the west shore of Hudson Bay. After the Warming in the 22nd century, I imagine the port as one of the important gateways to the newly opened north shore of Eurasia, now that ships can sail through the Northwest Passage and cross an ice-free Arctic Ocean.

The bartender was a huge, barrel-chested man with greasy hair and thick arms that tapered to fingers so delicate that Martin Scribb wondered if he was a jeweler or watchmaker in his spare time. He glanced at the brand on Martin’s forehead, and the message delivered by his scowl was clear: You are not welcome here. Get out. Patrons at the bar watched the faceoff, some leaning forward, expecting, or hoping, the bartender would lay Martin on the floor like a cheap carpet. Martin never argued with men or women like the bartender. Even if the attacker punched first, cops automatically took the attacker’s side, and the law backed them up. Continue reading

What’s for breakfast on the corsair sub ‘Extinction’?

Cockroaches eating a sandwich

Cockroaches are a unplanned protein supplement aboard Extinction.

In this excerpt from chapter 16 of my novel-in-progress Carbon Run, Martin Scribb, a brother in the Penitents of St. Francis, eats breakfast aboard the corsair submarine Extinction. The crew of Extinction call themselves “the damned.” Martin points to one character’s “brand,” which is a raised marking on the forehead indicating the planet’s worst criminals. Reason is one of the submarine’s petty officers, or “bosses.”

Reason herded Martin’s group into the crew mess, a narrow cabin with a long aluminum table. Benches lined each side of the table, which was covered with stains of all colors and crawling with cockroaches. The shit-colored insects were fearless, running up to each bowl of cornmeal mush placed in front of the damned as if they were puppies eager for scraps from their masters. Through his years of privation as a monk with the Penitents of Saint Francis, Martin learned to ignore crawling visitors, brushing away the submariner roaches with his hand. New crew refused to eat the gruel. Eventually, hunger forced them to dip their unwashed spoons into their food, which varied in consistency from watery chunks covered with an oily sheen to thin papier-mâché. Experienced crew valued the insects as protein, and they swallowed the unlucky bugs who slipped into the gruel and drowned. Some were eaten before their legs stopped wriggling.

Martin savored his meals, remembering the days in the hot sun of the eastern reaches of Pacific West when a drink of water was all he could expect for days on end. He relished chewing on a piece of gristle or a sliver of carrot. On some days, moldy crusts of bread appeared, which the damned devoured in seconds. The scraps came from the bosses’ mess, or the captain’s cabin. As he sized up his shipmates, he noted that none were starving, though none were thriving. The cook–an unseen psychopath–was adding nutritional supplements to the gruel, possibly antibiotics as well. Ranchers once did such things to cattle and sheep. Why not do the same thing to the damned? Continue reading

A Hankering for Linzer Tortes

Linzer tortes

Linzer tortes. Bill Penn makes these aboard Aganippe.

Life on a tall ship, or any ship, revolves around the galley. But like the kitchen in a busy home, the galley is the domain of one person, the cook, who is nothing less than a dictator. Bill Penn knows this, and when he has a hankering to bake something good, he has to suck up to the cook aboard the brigantine Aganippe, which is sailing across the Arctic Ocean. In this excerpt from chapter 15 of my novel-in-progress Carbon Run, Bill attempts to persuade the ship’s cook to let him get creative.

“Let me make some, Cookie.” Bill Penn held out his hands in supplication in the Aganippe’s galley. “I’ve got a hankering.”

Cookie crossed her arms, frowning as if Bill had asked to drink the last of the vanilla extract, just to get at the alcohol. Bill didn’t want any such thing, but she was not one to let any crewman–not even the captain–mess up her galley. Her real name was Hiromi, but according to time-honored tradition, the crew called her “cookie,” or “cook.” To efficiently feed 55 hungry men and women, Cookie depended on order, a place for everything and everything in its place. Bill’s request was anathema. “Bill, I like you, but my galley is my castle, and I don’t want anyone rummaging around in it. What if you break something?”

“I know what I’m doing! I baked on the old Emperor Qin. I know the rule: leave it as you found it.” Bill grabbed a broom and swept. “I’ll clean the counters and the floor so well you could eat off them.”

Micah Panang, watching the conversation with a cup of black coffee in her hand, moved out of the way. Continue reading

Rage and the Policeman

Three birds

Photo courtesy PhotographyCourse.net

Janine Kilel is an inspector in the Bureau of Environmental Security, and she’s a major character in my novel-in-progress, Carbon Run. In this excerpt from chapter 14, she’s investigating a serious environmental crime on a wildlife refuge, as well as a suspected oil smuggling operation. She visits the ranch of a suspect, and she confronts Anne Penn, the daughter of the suspect and her boyfriend, Mike Schmidt. Kilel now suspects that Anne is committing further environmental crimes involving a species of bird. 

An automated signals monitor on a BES satellite sent Kilel more information via her minds-eye. A live video feed was operating on the edge of the wildlife refuge. The monitor gave a GPS location, and Kilel eyed the refuge in the direction of the coordinates. Nothing appeared out of the ordinary. The video feed was set to update on a new priv-chan, and Kilel could not see what was on the feed. Kilel ordered a scan of com company records, and the scan reported that Anne Penn had purchased the priv. Kilel cursed silently; the com companies were in a constant battle with BES over encrypted private channels.  Enterprises bought them to protect trade secrets and negotiations. Individuals bought them to hide everything from illicit affairs to criminal conspiracies. BES regarded the channels as subversive and a nuisance, though they were perfectly legal, provided they weren’t used for banned activities. Abuse was rampant. The channels were also expensive, and Anne Penn wouldn’t have spent so much money unless she had a reason to hide something. She’s lying about communication with her father. Why else would she buy a priv?

Kilel stared at Anne. “What’s going on in the refuge?”

Anne swallowed. “What do you mean?”

Kilel struggled to keep a wave of contempt from showing on her face. I ought to arrest Anne Penn as an accessory to an environmental crime, but I don’t have backup and Mike Schmidt’s reaction is unpredictable. Kilel started for the GPS coordinates of the video feed’s origin. Anne and Mike followed. A dusty haze hung a inch or so off the burned ground of the refuge, still marked with small evidence flags. Kilel followed a path of beaten grass used by Anne and Mike. Movement in a tree on her right caught her eye. She gaped as a male Klamath magpie with its red breast patch flew across her field of vision, screeching in alarm. “What in hell…” Continue reading

A Journey to Extinction

Night vision image

Image courtesy Department of Defense

In the world of Carbon Run, my novel-in-progress, the Warming has turned remote outposts into bustling cities, including the port city of Churchill, Manitoba, on Hudson Bay. Because of its access to the Northwest Passage, and the new ports of northern Russia, Churchill is now a major waypoint for goods. Martin Scribb, a monk who is officially a non-person, arrives at the town as he seeks out Molly Bain, an artificial intelligence expert. He makes a new friend, who goes by the name “Reason,” but this friend takes him to a destination completely unexpected. Here’s an excerpt from chapter 13.

Martin woke up to darkness and jostling. He was no longer in the house on the Churchill waterfront. The room was small and close, and he smelled bodies and heard moaning. Water sloshed against his leg and he sat up. His wrists were bound and he lost his balance, falling against another body. “Watch yourself, asshole.” The voice was unfamiliar and despairing. Martin shook his head to push out the last cobwebs of sleep, but his mouth was dry, and his stomach heaved. Nausea threatened to explode, but he kept down his gorge. He was in some sort of vehicle, but it moved with an odd pattern. The movement slowed, and it swayed from side, yawing and pitching as if it were at sea. The slap of water against the walls of the room confirmed it. The boat slowed to a stop and Martin felt a nudge, as if the boat had bumped against something.

A rusted metal on metal grind pierced the silence. The noise came from above, and Martin looked up. He saw pinpoints of light, but only within a square of blackness. Then a shape blocked the stars, and Martin heard the muffled click of rubber on metal; someone was descending a ladder or stairway. “Everyone! If you speak a single word or make any noise, you’re dead!” It never crossed Martin’s mind to say anything; he had no idea what was happening, and could not see anything. “Someone will place night-vision glasses in your hand. Put them on!” Continue reading

Business and pleasure in the Arctic Free Zone

Wine and glasses

Photo courtesy Jaunted.

In the world of my novel-in-progress Carbon Run, the Arctic sea ice has completely melted, creating new trade routes and economic opportunities. A brief war that ended in a stalemate resulted in the creation of the Arctic Free Zone, an area where no single nation holds sway and where virtually anything goes, economically. That includes trade that in other areas of the world would be illegal. In this opening scene of chapter 12, entrepreneur Molly Bain shares a drink with a business partner.

The lounge servbot set the glass of 2090 Château Ste. Michelle Columbia Valley Sauvignon Blanc before Molly Bain as she sat alone at a table in the bar of the New Ocean clipper Aurora Borealis. Tiny waves riffled the liquid’s surface, reflecting the power of the Arctic winds on the snow white nanotube fabric spread taut on the ship’s yards. Molly sipped, her coral lipstick leaving no trace on the crystal. A short, gray-haired man in a business suit took a seat at another table a few feet away, and he nodded in silent greeting. She acknowledged him with a glance of her amber eyes. Fingering her 24-karat gold necklace, she drew the man’s attention to her smooth neckline and her full décolletage.

“I admire your choice of wine.” The man had a Scandinavian accent. “The art has fallen on hard times.” A servbot waited by his table for his order.

Molly turned up the corners of her full mouth a millimeter. Molly had an oval face, skin the color of polished beech, and her auburn hair was arranged in the current fashion of East Indian traditional styles. A length of small diamonds covered the lighter skin beneath her part from her crown to a point below her hairline, forming a sparkling widow’s peak. “It’s amazing that the wines produced in the lower continent are still this good, Mr. Nordland. The Spike has destroyed winemaking everywhere else.”

“Please, call me Kristian.” The request by Nordland was really a plea. “After all these months, Mrs. Bain, we should be on a first-name basis, don’t you think?”

Continue reading

Medical nanobots fight cancer in the 22nd century

Nanobot concept image

A conceptual image of a nanobot injecting a red corpuscle. Image courtesy OMICS Publishing Group.

In the 22nd century world of Carbon Run, robots of all shapes and sizes are as ubiquitous as cars and cell phones are today. That includes tiny robots, which I prefer to call “nanobots,” although some writers like “nanites” or “nanomachines.” In this scene from chapter 11, Colonel Raleigh Penn of the Bureau of Environmental Security is undergoing tests to determine the results of an experimental treatment for a glioblastoma multiforme, the worst kind of brain tumor. Dr. Morris Pierson is the researcher, and Dr. Irina Korsakov is his lead assistant.

“Irina Korsakov, with subject Raleigh Penn.” The lock clicked, and the pair stepped into a room divided by a partition. A desk with two large monitors took up one side. A tall, heavy piece of equipment, labeled a “Quantum Movement Imager,” occupied the other half. An adult could stand inside with plenty of elbow room. Korsakov guided the Colonel into the imager and asked him to place his feet on two marks shaped like the soles of shoes. Korsakov departed and appeared behind a pane of glass that allowed her to observe the Colonel. “How are you feeling?” Korsakov said, her voice coming from a speaker.

The Colonel pushed down a fresh bout of anxiety. “Fine.”

“Good. I’m going to lower the imaging ring now. The light above you will dim.“

“Yes, doctor, I’ve done this several times before.” Continue reading