Monday, June 28, 2010

No Pike Again This Week

Due to impending deadlines on another project, the next chapter won't be posted until July 18th. Talk to you then.


Obviously, I didn't make it this week. It looks most likely that regular posting will resume again sometime in August. Thanks for your patience.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Donovan Pike Podcast--Chapter 9

Click to listen.

Donovan Pike and The City of the Gods--Chapter 9

The jet almost leveled out. Pike pushed off from the bulkhead, and was able to stand again, though the cabin leaned to the left.

Pike’s first instinct was to run to the back of the jet. That was rumored to be the safest place in the event of a crash. The Ravenscroft jet was small, though. It was designed to hold 8 passengers. When it crashed, there wouldn’t be a safe place.

Unless Early Helton was a magician.

“How’s it looking?” Pike’s mouth was very dry.

“Not the best time for a conversation, partner,” Helton said. “If you want to be useful, why don’t try to put an eyeball on that Martian plane?”


“You never saw War of the Worlds with the Martian death ray?” Helton shook his head. “Kids these days.”

“I thought this wasn’t a good time for chit chat.”

“It’s not. I tend to babble when I’m lookin’ at certain death. Now leave me alone.”

“Certain death. Got it,” Pike said. He placed a hand on the door frame to steady himself and returned to the passenger area.

Gemma looked composed. She buckled her seat belt and nodded at Pike. There was no use whining about something you couldn’t change. Pike nodded back before taking a seat. He agreed. He and Gemma were more alike than either of them wanted to admit.

Elizabeth was on her knees in her seat facing the window.

“Uh, in case anybody cares, our wing is gone!” She turned around until her butt was on the seat cushion. “Did you guys get that? WE HAVE NO WING!”

Drake, in the seat next to Pike, looked vaguely amused.

“We still have one wing,” Pike said. “That’s something.”

He thought, but didn’t add, unless that bastard out there shoots it off.

Elizabeth shook her head rapidly, as if Pike’s words were the annoying buzz of a fly. She turned to Gemma. “Planes need both wings, right? Right?”

“Buckle your seat belt, honey, and shut the hell up,” Gemma said pleasantly.

Amazingly, Elizabeth obeyed.

The jet was losing attitude. Helton was trying to control their descent, something that was virtually impossible with one wing missing, even for the best of pilots.

Pike watched the patch of sky that was visible through the window nearest his seat. He did not see the enemy craft.

“What was it?” Gemma said from across the aisle.

“Some kind of experimental plane, armed with...with a weapon that fired a wave of black light. That’s what got the wing.”

Elizabeth opened her mouth. She thought better of speaking and shut her mouth again.

Gemma paled. Pike saw the truth in her eyes.

“You know something. What is it?” he said.

Now it was Gemma’s turn to shake her head. Pike got the feeling that she wasn’t refusing to answer his question. Rather, she seemed to be rejecting an idea that had just occurred to her.

“What?” Pike urged.

“That weapon. It’s sounds like–”

“This is it!” Helton’s voice was loud yet calm. “I’ll do the best I can.”

First, the jet tilted crazily. If not for their restraints, Gemma and Elizabeth would have been hurled from their seats. The back of Pike’s head slammed against his chair.

Then the plane spun. For a second they were upside down, and Helton’s curses could be heard from the cockpit. He managed to get the jet right side up, but now the nose was pointed at the earth.

They broke through the clouds and Pike saw the jungle below, a world of green getting closer by the second. Pike glanced at Drake. The only sign of anxiety in the older man was the frantic motion of his jaw as he chewed a stick of gum. He caught Pike looking at him and winked.

“Hell of a week, eh?” he said.

“You’re not the guy I’d choose to die next to,” Pike said. “On the other hand, at least you’ll stay dead this time.”

“We’ll see,” Drake said.

The jungle rushed up at them faster than Pike thought possible. The belly of the jet struck the treetops. The cabin was rocked and Elizabeth screamed. Pike thought Gemma would slap her, but Gemma – like the rest of them -- did not want to turn loose of her armrests.

The jet hit something else, wrenching Pike’s neck. The world outside the cabin windows had turned green. They were plowing through the upper levels of jungle growth. Pike wondered if the trees could possibly slow the craft without disintegrating it.

The roar of the engines and the crunch of shattering wood grew so loud Pike couldn’t hear Gemma as she shouted something at him. He could only make out the words “my father” before the jet struck something hard, bounced and turned on its side. A gigantic screech of wrenching metal told Pike the other wing was now gone. The limb of a tree, brown and green and deadly as a javelin, broke through the window between the heads of Pike and Drake.

The jet came to a stop.

Pike was at a 90 degree angle, with his knees above his head. He unbuckled his belt and used the arm rests to pull up. He climbed out of the chair and looked up at Gemma and Elizabeth, both hanging from their seats by their restraints.

“I’ll be right there.” Without the noise Pike felt like he was shouting.

“No. Help Drake first. He only has one good arm,” Gemma said.

Pike planted a foot between the backs of the two chairs. He punched the button that released Drake’s seat belt, then pulled the older man to the edge of seat.

“Still here, Donny Boy,” Drake said.

“Don’t remind me.”

There was a thud and a moan. Pike whirled to see that Gemma had freed herself and landed on her hands and keens. He helped her to her feet.

“I’ll get the girl. You see to Helton,” she said.

Pike worked his way to the cockpit, stepping carefully through the tilted funhouse the jet had become. He found Helton slumped against the instrument panel. Pike felt his neck. The pilot’s pulse was strong. He sat Helton upright. A gash on his forehead was bleeding. Helton moaned.

“Helton, you with me?”

Helton’s eyelids fluttered open.

“How you feeling?” Pike said.

“Like I was in a plane crash.”

“What a coincidence. Let’s get out of here.”

Pike helped Helton to his feet. The pilot insisted on flipping a couple of switches on the instrument panel before they exited the cockpit. The others were waiting for them.

“He’s been knocked around, but he’s alive,” Pike told them.

“What now?” Elizabeth said.

“We assess the situation,” Gemma said. She sniffed the air. “Is that smoke?”

A dark cloud drifted out of the cockpit, followed by the crackle of flames.

“Let’s get outside. Figure out where we are and go from there,” Pike said.

The main door was on the port side of the plane, the side closest to the ground. Drake turned the handle and pushed. The door didn’t budge. He threw his shoulder into it, to no avail.

“Judgin’ by the scenery out there, I guess it’s blocked by the vegetation,” Helton said.

Gemma immediately went to the back of the jet and threw open the emergency exit on the starboard side.

“How far?” Pike said.

“Not far,” she said. Gemma jumped. There was a soft thud and a gasp. Pike left Helton leaning against the bulkhead and rushed to the emergency exit. Gemma was sitting on the brown and green floor of the jungle, rubbing her ankle. The drop had to be sixteen feet or more.

“It’s not broken. Just a sprain,” she said.

Pike turned to find Elizabeth staring over his shoulder.

“Come on, Red. Elevator’s going down.” She nodded, and he lowered her by her arms out the door. “Bend your knees and roll.” He let go. The young archeologist did as he instructed, tucking and rolling to absorb the impact. She hopped to her feet and waved.

Soon, they were all on the ground. Helton had recovered enough to go next. Then he and Pike helped Drake off the plane. Finally Pike dangled from the exit, then dropped. Gemma was up and limping around by then.

The passenger cabin of he jet was engulfed in flames. They moved away, in case of an explosion.

“Where do you think we are?” Gemma said.

“My best guess is southern Mexico,” Helton said.

“Next question: will anybody be looking for us?”

“Probably,” he said. “This crate has a beacon that should have activated on impact. And there’s another one that I manually keyed before bailing out of the cockpit.” He glanced back at the burning craft. “It worked for a while, anyway. Somebody will show up sooner or later.”

“Let’s plan for later,” Pike said. “We need water now and, eventually, food.” He turned to Elizabeth. “Feel like a walk, Red?”

Her face lit up. “Sure. I mean, I just survived a plane crash. Now I’m going trekking through the jungle like Indiana Jones. I wish Amanda Reeder could see me now.”


“A girl I went to high school with. Her daddy had more money than God. She always said I would end up working for her. Last I heard, the SEC busted her daddy and took all his money. Amanda is working at a hair salon doing manicures.”

“Amanda Reeder can suck it,” Pike said. Elizabeth whooped and gave him a high five.

Gemma sighed and rolled her eyes. “She’s still the enemy, Pike.”

“Sorry,” Pike said. “The enemy and I are going to look for fresh water.” He stepped close to Gemma. “You were trying to tell me something when the plane went down.”

“Later,” she said.

“Wait,” Drake said. He removed the big handgun for his shoulder rig and handed it to Pike. “Just in case.”

Pike stuck the gun in his waist band. “Come on, Red.”

That’s when they heard it.

“Choppers,” Helton said.

“More than one,” Gemma said.

“Probably Mexican military,” Helton said.

“We have a good relationship with the government,” Gemma said. “Maybe we can still get home today.”

The choppers landed south of them, on the other side of a dense wall of foliage.

They heard murmured voices and the tromp of many feet. Soon, the blade of a machete hacked through the brush and a white-garbed figure appeared. He carried an M249 light machine gun in his other hand.

“Not the Mexican army,” Pike said. Within seconds, twenty similarly dressed men faced them, each with a M249 pointed at Pike and the others.

A final man made his way through the opening in the growth. He was taller than the others. His black hair was slicked back and he had a thick black beard. He smiled when he saw Elizabeth.

“Gustav,” she said.

The man who had destroyed the pyramid at El Castillo pointed at them.

“Take the women,” he said. “And kill the men.”

To be Continued

© Mark Justice 2010

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Donovan Pike Podcast--Chapter 8

Click to listen.

Donovan Pike and The City of the Gods--Chapter 8

Chapter 8

As soon as the jet was in the air, Pike went to the restroom. He washed his face and tried to clean the blood from his arms with the restroom’s thin, inadequate paper towels. He checked his face in the mirror and found signs of fatigue but no indication he was coming down with the Gray Death.

“The only good thing that’s happened all week,” he mumbled.

Returning to the cabin, he found the atmosphere to be tense. Gemma was seated next to the red-haired woman from the Brotherhood of the First. The younger woman wasn’t restrained, though the large knife in Gemma’s hand was holding her attention. She had pressed her self as deeply into the chair as she could. Across the aisle, Drake appeared to be sleeping.

Outside the windows Pike saw only white clouds, dappled by sunlight.

“Donovan!” Gemma’s voice was filled with false enthusiasm. “Our guest refuses to answer any questions about the mass murder she participated in. Do you have anything you’d like to say before I show her to the door?”

At the sight of Pike, the man who had knocked her out, the girl seemed to sink further into the chair, if that was possible. There was naked terror in her eyes. Though she appeared to be close to Gemma’s age, the Brotherhood agent looked helpless and frail. Pike didn’t believe she knew anything about the killing of Gemma’s team. He wasn’t sure if Gemma felt the same way. She may have been bluffing. On the other hand, she could be planning to drop Red into the jungle 20,000 feet below. Pike wasn’t going to let that happen. For now, though, he would play along.

“Come on, kid, at least tell us your name,” he said. “That’ll make the story better years from now when we sit around, having a few beers and say, ‘Remember that time Gemma dropped Mary Smith out of a plane to her screaming death?’”

The girl cringed.

“Hey, your name isn’t really Mary Smith, is it? That would be a hell of a coincidence.”

She started to cry. Pike suddenly felt sorry for her. He tried not to let it show on his face.

“E...e...e..” she said between sobs.

“‘E’ what?” Gemma said.

“Elizabeth,” she whispered. “Elizabeth Crassberg.”

“Okay, Elizabeth Crassberg, anything you’d like to tell us before we say our tearful goodbyes?”

Elizabeth drew in a deep, shuddering breath. She wiped the tears from her eyes. “They recruited me when I was working on my Ph.D at Cornell. They called themselves the Aegis Corporation. The company had a great reputation. Privately-funded archeological research. They were doing some of the best – and only – work outside the world of academia. And after being in school that long, working for Aegis was like a breath of fresh air. I was there for a year before I found out the truth.”

“That Aegis was a front for the Brotherhood of the First,” Pike said.

Elizabeth shook her head. Talking about her work had calmed her a bit. “Not a front. Aegis is a real company, doing solid work. But the money comes from the Brotherhood. That fact isn’t publicized since the Brotherhood has a reputation that’s, ah, a bit on the fringe.”

“If ‘fringe’ means a bunch of freakin’ whack jobs, then I agree,” Pike said.

“How did they recruit you to their cause?” Gemma said. She no longer held the knife in a threatening gesture. It rested across one thigh.

“You really don’t get it,” Elizabeth said. “There was no recruitment. The Brotherhood isn’t a cult. It’s like an ancient order of monks, interested in preserving history.”

“Would it be rude to point out how well you guys preserved El Castillo?” Pike said.

“You don’t know that. Maybe Gustav didn’t do this. Or if he did, he could have been working for someone else.” But Elizabeth didn’t sound like she believed her own theories.

Pike had a different idea.

“What if the Brotherhood of the First has divisions you don’t know about?” he said. “Maybe there’s the PR department – the guys who meet the new recruits and tell them they’re doing noble and important work. Somewhere else there’s a not-so-public division. The black ops department.”

“Ridiculous,” Elizabeth said.

Pike recalled his conversation with Jimmy Swift.

“If the Brotherhood really wants to protect historical artifacts, then they would need the means to enforce that protection,” he said.

“They have a security force,” Elizabeth said. “It’s purely defensive. The Brotherhood is a peaceful organization. They don’t go around blowing stuff up.”

A shout came from the open cockpit.

“We got trouble,” Helton announced.

Drake was instantly awake, his hand on the weapon inside his jacket.

Pike rushed to the cockpit. Helton pointed forward. The jet was barely above the cloud cover. Pike was confused for a few seconds. He didn’t know what the pilot was pointing at. Other than the clouds and blue sky, there was nothing there. Then Pike saw it.

It was little more than a dot. As he watched it grew larger.

Another aircraft was headed for them.

“Smaller than us,” Helton said. “Faster.”

“How can you tell?” Pike squinted, desperate to make out any features of the other craft.

Helton held up a pair of Steiner military binoculars. Pike took them and sighted on the other aircraft.

“Maybe they’re just lost,” he said. “Or we are.”

“Maybe,” Helton said. “Tell me what you think after you get a good look.”

Pike raised the binoculars. The magnification of the Steiner was fantastic. Once he steadied his hand and found the target, details jumped out. The other jet was black with smaller wings than he’d seen before.

“Is it experimental?” he asked Helton.

“Has to be. Otherwise I’d recognize it. But that ain’t what’s botherin’ me.”

“What do you mean?”

“Look again.”

Once more, Pike focused on the target.

“Now concentrate on the area right above the cockpit,” Helton said.

An object protruded from the top of the plane. It was cylindrical and, like the jet, it was black.

“What is that?” Pike said.

“No idea,” Helton said.

“Is it a weapon?”

“If it is, this will be the shortest dogfight in the history of aerial combat. We got nothin’.”

The other jet was now close enough that Pike didn’t need the binoculars. Its speed was incredible. It must be 90 percent engine, with a seat in front.

“Got any ideas?” Helton said.

“Just one,” Pike said. “Run.”

Helton grinned. “We can’t outrun her, but I can head inland. Maybe find a place to set down.”

He turned to the doorway of the cockpit. The door was held open with a bungee cord.

“Hang on to somethin’, people. I need to make a course adjustment.”

Helton pulled the wheel to the port side, and the Ravenscroft jet responded. As the jet began its turn, Pike saw something on the other craft that disturbed him.

There was a series of flashes from the odd cylinder on top of what he now thought of as the enemy. Unusual flashes, like discharges of electrical energy. Only the light wasn’t white or yellow, like lightning. It was black, like the jet itself.

Black lightning.

As Pike watched, the flashes of black started to spin around the tip of the cylinder, creating a dark pinwheel.

“What the hell is that?” Helton said.

“I don’t think we wanna know.”

As if responding to Pike’s words, the spinning black flashes coalesced into a ebony beam. The beam instantly crossed the distance between the two aircraft. The Ravenscroft jet shuddered.

Helton cursed. The jet tilted wildly and Pike slammed into the bulkhead.

“What happened?”

‘Nothin’ good,” Helton said. “That Star Trek ray gun just sliced off one of our wings. We’re goin’ down.”

To be Continued

© Mark Justice 2010

Monday, June 7, 2010

The Return of Donovan Pike

The serial resumes on June 13, and will hopefully remain weekly until it's complete.

During the hiatus, I've had an offer to publish the novel in book form. I'll have more about this as the story nears its end.