Saturday, December 23, 2017

Promo Blitz: Sketched by E.M. Townsend

Date Published: November 2017

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Fledgling police sketch artist Piper Cooke has always been different.

Gifted with second sight, but cursed with a life of tragedy, she has survived the feral streets of Dixon and has triumphed over her troubled upbringing. Piper faces her biggest challenge yet, however, when her visions compel her to disobey police orders and send her right into the wicked grasp of a madman.

Her life should've ended back in the blood soaked suburban basement, but it didn't. Instead, the brutal trauma that should've been the end of her only makes her unique abilities stronger.

Years after her escape, a series of hideous visions force Piper out of hiding and back into the city that almost destroyed her years ago. Plagued by premonitions of doom, she finds herself compelled to track down Dixon's most twisted serial killer yet.

Follow Piper through a horrifically unsettling labyrinth of family secrets, corruption and the sickening workings of humanity’s darkest minds.


Chapter One

July 23rd 2012 12:35 pm

Dixon City - Suburbs

 She had given up on the hope of surviving this.

 Perhaps it was hours ago that the switch had been flicked in her brain, but it could have been minutes. It could’ve been days. Anything remaining of Megan’s sanity, that rational part of her that had the ability to form coherent thoughts had dissolved as quickly and completely as a sugar cube in a cup of scalding tea.

 The only thing she knew now for sure was pain. It had taken over her mind, hand in hand with a kind of fear that she couldn’t have possibly comprehended before. It was a combination that no one survives to talk about.

 Her world had been reduced to the basement she was being held in.


 She had assured Megan that the dealer was legitimate. The house had seemed safe enough. Nevertheless, a nervousness had blossomed the moment they stepped off the bus, and it had continued to grow in her stomach with every step the two of them had taken to the address Beth’s new online ‘friend’ had given her.

 “C’mon Megan. Don’t be a chicken shit,” Beth had scowled.

 Beth was scary when she was mad.

She always had been. Her narrow eyes and wiry red hair gave her an off-putting look that she’d used to her advantage since childhood. Beth had practically dragged Megan up the cracked concrete path that led to the house, her freckled arms so much more powerful.

There had been a dog barking in the background, she could remember that much. For some reason, its yapping had sent warning signals off all through her body, only increasing the tension that was building steadily inside her.

Megan had known that they were risking it by skipping school to buy drugs in the worst part of town. She’d seen enough horror movies to know that this was how all immoral teenage girls were punished. Instead of knocking on the door of a drug house, she should’ve been in first-period biology. But she wasn’t.

She hadn’t wanted to be chicken shit.

Megan blinked at the paneling and matted green carpet that decorated her prison. Beth had escaped. Of course she had, she had always been the stronger one. Thick boned and fearless like some kind of suburban Viking.

It hadn’t come as a shock at all when, through eyes clouded with tears, she saw Beth begin to successfully loosen her wrist bonds. Her skin had torn from the rope, and the blood that coated her hands like red satin gloves eventually helped her to slide free.

Beth hadn’t looked back at her when she slipped through the basement window. Her face had been so transformed with fear and outright panic that she looked more like a wild animal than a human.

It had been when Megan helplessly watched the soles of Beth’s sneakers disappearing through the casement window that the rational part of her mind had broken.

Two girls never escaped. There was always one left behind.

There was always one set of parents collapsing with grief in the background while the survivor’s family turned their elated smiles to the news cameras.

Megan Coogan, who had willingly allowed Beth to cheat off her in school almost daily. Megan Coogan, who had lied to Beth’s parents so that their daughter could make out with some nameless boy in the dusty corner of a playground.

That Beth would carry on, finish school, get married, get a job, maybe even have kids.

Megan Coogan would never leave this basement.

The sound of footsteps on the creaking stairs sent a surge of adrenaline through Megan’s system, drowning out her thoughts and causing her limbs to go rigid. Breathing heavily, she listened to the wood groan as he moved slowly down the steps, as if deep in thought.

The door opened carefully, and he stepped in the room.

About the Author

E.M. Townsend is an incredibly talented writer who hails from the Great White North. This amazing wordsmith crafts intricate tales of horror and suspense that will keep you up at night. S. Prescott Thrillers has named E.M. Townsend as one of the hottest new novelists in the genre.

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Thursday, December 21, 2017

Promo Blitz: Sebastian by Elizabeth Johnson

Romance, Women’s Fiction
Date Published:  April 2016
Publisher: Aldage Books Publishing

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Sebastian was turned into a vampire on his eighteenth birthday by his mother, whom he thought had died ten years earlier. His mother teaches him how to live amongst humans without spilling human blood. Almost two centuries later, his mother is killed and he blames humans. After a year of brutally killing humans to exact vengeance, he comes upon the young child of a woman he just killed. He can't bring himself to hurt the girl, so he names her Hanna after his mother, and finds a family to raise her. He anonymously provides for her, making sure her new parents have all the money they need to ensure she has a good life. Sebastian disappears from Hanna's life to better himself for all the killings he has committed. Although Hanna is out of his life, Sebastian can't get her out of his head, and believes his love for her is like a father. He reappears in her life seventeen years later to see how she is faring, only to see that Hanna has grown into a beautiful woman. He falls in love with her all over again, but this time as a lover. He plans an "accidental" meeting, which does not go well. Before Sebastian leaves Hanna once again, he learns that vampires and wolves are after her. Now it is up to Sebastian to secretly guard Hanna's life.

Other Books in the Sebastian Series:

Sebastian 2: Dark Times Arising
Publisher: Aldage Books Publishing

He lifted his hands to wipe the tears, and as his hands moved from her cheek to the corner of her lips, he longed to kiss her.

Hanna could tell what was on his mind and for a mad second, she also wanted to kiss him; she wanted to understand why she was suddenly attracted to him. For a second they stared at each other and then their lips met and moved against each other with want. The kiss was all that Hector had dreamed that it would be; he felt alive; with his eyes closed, his head was spinning with desire, and he pulled her closer to him as if his life depended on it.

For Hanna, it was nice; at first it made her stop hurting inside, but something felt wrong and different in her head; it was not like she had felt with Sebastian; then the thought of Sebastian jolted her brain and she pulled away at once.

While Hanna and Sebastian embark on dealing with the pain of their separation from each other, Hanna continues to gain more enemies all hungry for her powers. With all the wars raging, Sebastian finds it hard to walk away even though Hanna made it clear she didn’t need him. But later, Hanna discovers a revelation about someone, news that may help heal their sufferings but would it be enough or is it too little too late for their love …

Publisher: Aldage Books Publishing

Sebastian's eyes close as he tries to welcome the inevitable, but then she speaks again and this time, she calls him "S." In his weakened state, excitement surges through him; Sebastian wonders if he is hallucinating again. He knows troubled minds conceive desperate ideas that bring about all sorts of imaginations, and he is sure that he is hearing things that aren't real. "S, can you hear me?" Hanna pleads.

Mason Benedict continues his quest to resurrect his wife, Annemarie, and to gain the gift of light that enables vampires to exist in daylight and walk under the sun. His fame grows and many vampires join his army at the prospect of becoming day walkers. For this to happen, Hanna's blood and powers must be siphoned. Sebastian and Hanna must be found; imminent war is brewing. Hanna finds that she must also defend against the malicious Hilda Denali of the wolf tribe. Hilda blames Hanna for the curse on her tribe; her mission is simply to kill Hanna and cleans the wolf curse. Although Sebastian and Hanna are united again, there is a third wheel in their union, Hector, who has decided that Sebastian must die, but will his plans work? Sebastian and Hanna must decide whether to fight for their freedom or to run.

Conquest of Power is the much anticipated third book in Elizabeth Johnson's captivating Sebastian vampire romance saga.


Chapter 12

I got back home just before dawn. I was caught between the excitement of meeting her again and the way I had left things with her. My body tingled all through the day. I could not rest. I could not get her out of my head or control how happy I was inside. I watched the clock, impatiently waiting for the time to fly, by but it crawled along. I silently wished I had the power to walk in the sun, just to see her reflection. Her face and her scent consumed me all day long. It felt like torture having to wait for the sun to go down. I knew I should rest, but it was impossible to do so. How could I sleep when I was already dreaming of her? I replayed our conversations repeatedly in my head, and my body melted at the thought of being with her again.

At last, it was safe to go out. Looking my best, I drove to the art and music centre. I wanted to get there before she did, just to watch her arrive. I impatiently sat in my car and waited until she arrived. She pulled in driving her Toyota Corolla and got out of the car. I saw her looking around as if searching for someone. I wondered if she was looking for me. As usual, she looked breath-taking. I opened the car door to get out and cautioned myself not to make any fast moves in my attempt to get to her. I looked up at her again to see where she was. Someone was with her. I could tell who it was by the awful smell that greeted my nostrils. I became annoyed at myself for not getting out of the car sooner and angry at him for being here. I was not aware that he took lessons here too, although I am not surprised, seeing as he follows her about like a pet dog.

I followed behind them, walking at a slower pace and listening to their conversation. He bored me with his silly talk, and I just wished he would go away so I could have a moment with her. Not knowing what to do with myself now that her attention was elsewhere, I quickly walked past them, pretending that I had not seen them. Disappointed that she did not notice me, I carefully opened the front door to go inside not wanting to repeat the disaster from before. Then she called out. “Hi!” she said.

I looked back to see who she was greeting and saw her eyes on me. “Oh, it’s you again.” I pretended as though I was just seeing her for the first time today.

“Yes, it’s me. Were you expecting someone else?” she joked.

I smiled; glad I had her attention at last. “No, not really,” I said, and she smiled back. I tried not to look at the boy next to her. Although I could not overlook the stench oozing from him, I did not want to look at him unless I really had to.

“Oh, how silly of me. You two haven’t met, have you? This is my friend, Huritt Denali, and this is—” I did not take my eyes off her as she tried to introduce us. “Sorry, I don’t even know your name,” she said.

“Sebastian,” I responded.

“Sebastian,” she repeated slowly. I loved the way she said my name. “What a lovely name you have.” She smiled. “Er—Huritt, meet Sebastian.”

I looked in his direction just for a second and greeted him with a nod of the head out of courtesy to her. His hands were already stretched forward for a handshake, but I ignored them. I could see the anger in his eyes, although I think he tried to control it for her sake. I refused to let him distract me and focused my attention on Hanna, who seemed as excited to see me as I was to see her.

“I looked around for you earlier,” she said.

“Did you now?” I asked, secretly happy that it was me she was scanning around for earlier.

She smiled and turned to Huritt. “Huritt, I will see you around later, okay? I want to have a chat with Sebastian.” I looked over at him just to see his reaction because I knew he would be fuming inside, and I was right. His eyes were like thunder, and I enjoyed his little expression of detest or anger or whatever it was he was trying to express. It didn’t bother me one bit. I still had not found out what he was, but I hoped for his own sake that he was not what I suspected him to be. Glad that he was gone, I now had Hanna’s full attention. She was looking at me.

“I didn’t think you would come,” she said.

“Why not?” I asked.

“It’s nothing, just that I got the feeling I upset you yesterday with something I said.”

“And I told you that you didn’t say anything out of place. I’m sorry for my behaviour yesterday. It was uncalled for. It’s just—I get like that when the subject of my mother is raised.”

“I promise not to talk about her again,” she said. I smiled. It felt amazing standing here talking with her. I have never felt like this with anyone.

“Thank you. That’s very polite of you.” She brushed her hair away from her face—I like it when she does that.

“So, what do we talk about then?” she asked.

“Anything you like,” I replied.

“Are you sure? You would let me know if there was something you aren’t comfortable with? I mean, sometimes I just ramble on, you know, without thinking.”

“Don’t worry about it. I am a good listener, and I have all the time in the world to listen to you ramble.” We both laughed.

“You see yourself as a gentleman, don’t you? I mean, for a teenager like myself, you are quite something.”

“I try my dandiest to always be on my best behaviour,” I replied and quickly added, “but by all means, let me know if you prefer the bad-boy image. It may surprise you what I can become in a short space of time.”

“No this will do just fine,” she replied. I noticed her blushing, and I was glad that it had something to do with me. Then she said, “Why do I feel like there is something mysterious about you, like something you are not telling me. I don’t know, I just get this feeling like—”

“Like what?” I asked.

She paused and looked at me. “I don’t know what it is, but there is something about you, and I just—I just want to know you more. I kind of want to spend more time with you. I’m sorry, I am doing it again. We just met, and already I am asking you to be generous with your time. I have no right—”

“There is nothing to be sorry for,” I said gently. “I like talking to you,” I reassured her.

“But I’m scaring you off.”

I looked at her and could tell she was genuinely worried. I wanted to put her little heart at peace and made light of her worry. “I’m still here. That should tell you something. Look, I don’t know what’s going on in that head of yours, but there is nothing I don’t like about you. I promise you, it will take a lot for me to be scared off.” I chuckled, and I could see in her eyes that she was feeling more at ease.

“I’m keeping you from your lesson, aren’t I?”

“No, you are not,” I replied, and she smiled shyly and bit her lower lip. That’s another thing that is beginning to grow on me.

“What are you here for anyway?” she asked.


“What lessons did you enrol to take?”

“Oh. Piano lessons.”

“Seriously, I shouldn’t keep you. I’m very good with the keyboard. I am just here to pass time really. I hate being stuck at home doing nothing. You should go before you miss your class altogether.”

“What if I want to stay here with you?” I asked.

“Why would you want to do that?”

“Why? Because I like you, and you’re growing on me,” I said.

“I kind of thought I heard you say that before,” she said.

“No, I did not. Earlier I said that there is nothing I don’t like about you.”

“It’s all the same. And I like that you like me. Isn’t it too soon to tell that you like someone? I mean we just met not too long ago.”

“Maybe. You said you liked me yesterday after only five minutes. I’m allowed to tell you I like you too aren’t I? It doesn’t really make any difference to me the length of time in between. I’ve liked you since I first set eyes on you,” I said.

“Is that true?” she asked. “Even with blood oozing off my face?” I smiled and looked away. I didn’t know what to say to that. I do not like to remember the day I swung the door in her face. “I have said something you don’t like, haven’t I? I can tell. Although you are smiling, your eyes look pained.” I wondered how she could read me so well just by looking at me.

“You’re right. It’s just that I still regret the circumstances in which we met.” She stared at me and was looking into my eyes as if she was searching for something.

“Yeah, but there’s more isn’t there? I can see you’re trying very hard to hide something.”

“Like what?” I was puzzled.

“Oh God, I am doing it again. Sorry. I don’t know why I keep doing this. It’s just that when I’m around you I get this—this feeling, as if I’ve known you—it’s weird. You must excuse me. I’m ruining it all.” She was about to go.

“No, don’t go. I’m—I’m not offended. I meant it when I said I like you, and if it means you are going to act strangely sometimes, I—I don’t mind at all, as long as I get to spend time with you.”

“Really?” she asked shyly.

I nodded and replied, “Yeah, really.”

Then she smiled and looked relieved. “It feels right you know,” she said quietly.

“What feels right?” I asked.

“Being friends with you,” she responded.

I don’t think there is anything about her I can fault. In my mind, it feels like I am drunk, only it isn’t anything like that. I am just so happy to be with her, and I have never felt like this in my life, both, either as a human or a vampire.

For the rest of the evening, we sat outside by her car talking, which she did most of, while I listened. She enjoyed talking, and I, in turn, loved listening to her. She spoke about her childhood. I would ask her a question about when she was younger, and she filled in the rest. I loved it because she told me those things I missed while she was growing up. Every night she told me a different story. We skipped music classes almost every day that we met. She felt guilty all the time because she thought she was depriving me of my lessons. I convinced her that I was old enough to make my own decisions.

After about two weeks of hanging out together every evening, I already knew most of the things about her that I had missed. Occasionally, she would ask me questions about my past, such as wanting to know the kind of childhood I had. I noticed she never mentioned my mother again, and as it was my fault. So I decided to tell her about her. I tried to answer her questions truthfully, telling her the little I remembered about my human life. I told her how I felt when my mother died, and how lonely, depressed, and angry I became. I told her my mother had been killed and was found on the side of the road. I told her that she died when I was just eight years old, which is still very true, considering I was only talking about my human life.

Then she said, “I wonder what I would do if my mother died. I can’t see her dead, you know. I can’t think of it. Thoughts of her dying scare me. If someone were to hurt her, I don’t think I have it in me to forgive such a person.” My mind immediately went to that night I had her birth mother in my hands, and I regretted killing her all over again. This is one secret that can never come out, I thought, or I risk losing her forever. I tried to get the thought out of my head because she usually can tell when I am hiding something.

“I have not seen your friend, er—what is his name again?” I said quickly, changing the subject, not that I cared about him.

“Oh, Huritt? Poor Huritt.”

“Why poor Huritt?” I asked.

“It’s nothing really,” she said.

“No, please tell me. I want to know.”

“Oh, okay. He kind of likes me, I think. Okay, a little more than I think he should, you know. But the thing is, he told me he doesn’t like that I’m friends with you because he and I don’t spend any time together since I became friends with you.”

“Oh, well,” I said in reply.

“Is that all you’re going to say?” she asked.

“What do you want to hear? That I prefer to be in his shoes? Because the answer is I don’t. I love being with you, as long as my presence does not bother you. Does it?”

“No, it doesn’t. I love being with you, too.” She flashed me that smile that I have come to adore. I looked at her and was swelling inside, because of what she just said. She looked away shyly, and I dropped my gaze.

“I feel bad, though,” she added. I looked at her.

“I just chose you over him and am happy about it. It’s selfish of me, don’t you think?”

“Sometimes, we need to do the thing that makes us happy. You can’t please everyone without hurting yourself. Allow yourself to be happy.”

“Wow, he has wisdom as well. You are really something,” she said laughing, and I snickered.

I had to go hunting. This time around, I needed to go far to find a bigger game to feed on if I was to be around her this much. I did not want any temptation. I wanted to start early so I could return before dawn. I had not told her yet that I would be leaving earlier than usual. I wish I didn’t have to leave, but it was important that I feed for both our sakes.

“Hanna,” I called. She turned and looked at me. “I will be leaving early today. I have to go somewhere important.”

“Is it far? Can I come with you?” she asked.

“I wish you could, but you can’t—er—I have to leave now before it gets too late. I’ll see you sooner than you think, though,” I said, annoyed at myself for having to leave her, but it was necessary that I feed. She looked sad that I was leaving.

“Cheer up,” I said. “At least now you get to take those lessons that you tell your parent you come here for.” She laughed, and I was glad she was feeling better.

“Okay. Will I see you tomorrow then?” she asked, still a little disappointed that I was leaving.

“Of course, where else would I be?” I raised my hand to touch her face, feel her warmth, and just reassure her that I would be seeing her soon, but I could not. I did not want to get too close. Reluctantly I pulled it back and put it in my pocket and just walked away.

About the Author

Elizabeth Johnson enjoys books and even loves writing them better. She started to write books at a very young age. The author finds writing very exhilarating and is very passionate about her characters. Some of her plots come from dreams she's had, however, 99% of her stories are pure fiction. She is a hopeless romantic and that reflects in most of her books. She currently lives in London with her family.

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Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Promo Blitz: Where Lives Lead by Gabrielle F. Culver

Contemporary Women’s Fiction
Date Published:  September 2017

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Where Lives Lead is a contemporary tale of love and sacrifice as different paths attempt to unite.

Mindy and Blaine enjoy a life of marital bliss in upstate New York.  The fire is still lit on their marriage as they still experience romantic dates in the Hamptons, however, Mindy realizes that she wants more and that is to start a family.

She manages to chase this desire regardless, while planning a gala with her favorite charity and opening a new design school in New York.

Blaine has many projects on the horizon including the acquisition of a new hotel out west and the family business, but the most important will enable a new cast to arrive in Crystal Shores. He is expanding to the film and entertainment market in addition to his hospitality empire. A venture which requires the expertise of his mother, Harriett, and an avant garde writer, Genevieve, who grasps the essence of the Shores and results in a promising project. Mindy decides to support his dreams with conditions.

Will Blaine find the time to help Mindy realize her dreams now that he is more successful? Or will a move to the west coast delay their plans? Wherever their lives may lead all directions still point to the serenity of his first development and Crystal Shores. 

Where Lives Lead is available for purchase in both print and ebook formats.

About the Author

Gabrielle F. Culmer is a lawyer and has received degrees from universities in New York, Chicago and the United Kingdom. She is also the author of four previous novels, including "Arrive by Dusk," and "Restoring Patterns" and two collections of poetry, including, "Glenely Bay and Nostalgia from Paris." In her spare time, she enjoys traveling to Europe and New York, and riding horses.

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Monday, December 18, 2017

Promo Blitz: One Season by Louis White

Contemporary Fiction
Date Published:  October 2017
Publisher: White Tiger Media

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Angelo Astone has just been recruited by the Tassie Devils to play in the National Australian Rules Competition. The 18-year-old from country Victoria is about to fulfil his life’s dream of playing professional Aussie Rules, however, trouble awaits in unforeseen ways.

Todd Thomson, the club captain and one of the best players in the competition, has a drug problem and is grooming young players to sell for him. Off the field, the club is $20 million in debt and a boardroom crisis is looming as opposing powers struggle to get their way. Two of the board members, Wang Li and Rahul Patel, from China and India respectively, not only want to buy the club outright but also want to host a NARC match in their home country and will do anything to get that opportunity.

One Season depicts one topsy-turvy ride of a professional sporting club who think the only boundaries that exist are the ones marking the oval.

About the Author

Louis White is an established freelance journalist who resides in Sydney, Australia. Throughout his career he has contributed to leading publications such as The Australian, The Sydney Morning , The Age and The Australian Financial Review newspapers, along with other prominent consumer magazines and websites.

While living in the United Kingdom, Louis White wrote articles for The Times, The Guardian and Financial Times newspapers. He also completed an Executive MBA from the Cranfield School of Management.

He has covered a wide variety of subject matter in his reporting, though his passions lie in the areas of business and sport. In this novel, One Season, he has managed to successfully combine both.

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Friday, December 15, 2017

Promo Blitz: All Systems Down by Sam Boush

Date Published: 8 February 2018

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24 hours.
That’s all it takes. 
A new kind of war has begun. 

Pak Han-Yong’s day is here. An elite hacker with Unit 101 of the North Korean military, he’s labored for years to launch Project Sonnimne: a series of deadly viruses set to cripple Imperialist infrastructure.

And with one tap of his keyboard, the rewards are immediate. 

Brendan Chogan isn’t a hero. He’s an out-of-work parking enforcement officer and one-time collegiate boxer trying to support his wife and children. But now there’s a foreign enemy on the shore a blackout that extends across America, and an unseen menace targeting him.

Brendan must do whatever it takes to keep his family safe. 

In the wake of the cyber attacks, electrical grids fail, satellites crash to earth, and the destinies of nine strangers collide.
Strangers whose survival depends upon each other’s skills and courage.

For fans of REVOLUTION, Tom Clancy, and Thom Stark’s MAY DAY, ALL SYSTEMS DOWN is a riveting cyber war thriller which presents a threat so credible you’ll be questioning reality. 


The sun rising over the Yalu River was the best part of Pak Han-yong’s day.

It began with darkness. In the distance, on the far side of the river, his homeland lay swaddled in unbreaking night. The fields and the factories, the port and the mills all slept. Then the horizon would lighten, from black to blue to gold, and the three faraway smokestacks appeared from the port city of SinĒ”iju; first as silhouettes, then as gray fists, casting long shadows.

Next, the sun. Crimson light burned at the edges of red pine forests and reflected off the rice paddies. River, land, and air awoke to the glory of the Supreme Leader and the world’s chosen people. Tears sprung, as they always did, as light brought his beloved North Korea to life.

He observed it all from his desk on the tenth floor of the Shanghai Hotel in Dandong, China, across the border from the land of his ancestors.

China. After two years, Han-yong still had trouble internalizing the wealth of this nation. The Chinese lived in skyscrapers, profligate buildings of steel and glass. So different from his home city of Chongjin, where families lived modestly in single-story “harmonica homes,” so named because of their resemblance to the tiny boxes that make up the chambers of a harmonica.

On Fuchun Street, ten stories below, cars bustled. Unnecessary, extravagant. In Chongjin, nearly everyone was content to ride a bicycle or take public transit. And when they did drive, his people didn’t smoke like the Chinese. If you smoked, you wouldn’t catch the constant engine problems of your soviet-made Volga or ZIL.

Even from thirty meters above, it was apparent how the well-fed Chinese had been made soft by water that flowed reliably and electricity that ran all day. Food here wasn’t rationed by the gram. No one in China grew strong and clever from struggle and strain. There were no hardships here. And for that, he despised the Chinese, military allies or not.

“Long live the Shining Sun of North Korea,” he said. These people aren’t better than us. We have nothing to envy in the world. He lowered himself into the seat of his desk, rearranged his mouse so it squared perfectly with his keyboard, took a final sip of tea, and continued to monitor the attack that had started hours earlier.

Today, Han-yong fell into his routine, despite the enormity of the day’s events. Routine was the scaffolding that held his life together. He had woken in the earliest hours, barely speaking to his five roommates in the converted hotel room, had slipped into his pressed uniform, and spit-polished the single silver star on his shoulder. Then, after quickly wiping dust from the portrait of the Supreme Leader that hung alone on the wall, he’d moved to the common area to drink his tea and work until sunrise.

Two years of waiting, and today it has finally begun. He rubbed his hands together. Every day Han-yong worked here, visited the canteen, and bunked in his room. He rarely slept more than five hours. And never, in those two years, had he left the tenth floor of the Shanghai Hotel.

For all the differences between China and North Korea, there was only one that mattered, and it was why Han-yong was here at all. The Internet. On the North Korean side of the river, the global Internet, for all practical purposes, did not exist. There was a limited internal network that pointed to a handful of websites. But North Korea had fewer Internet protocol addresses in the whole country than could be found on a block in some Imperialist cities.

Here in China, though, the Internet reached nearly every corner of the globe. And because of that, Han-yong and the other elite hackers of Unit 101 could touch a banking system in London, a hospital network in New York City, or a data center in Tokyo.

“Junior Lieutenant Pak!” The gruff voice of the senior lieutenant shattered Han-yong’s reverie and brought him spinning from the window, springing to his feet, fingertips raised to eyebrow in salute. “You are to come with me.”

The senior lieutenant was very different from Han-yong. He was loud and assertive, tall by North Korean standards, and good-looking enough that he probably did well with women when he took leave—an amenity provided only to senior officers. But, most grating, he was a traditional military officer, untrained in online warfare, and knew just enough to stick his fingers where they didn’t belong.

Still, there was nothing to do but obey.

They waded the corridors in silence, past the desks where scores of other hackers from his unit sat immersed in a war that had begun with an attack on an Imperialist supercarrier only hours earlier. As Han-yong sauntered through the ranks of Unit 101, his pulse quickened with pride. They were the elite, plucked from grade school from across the country and enrolled in Command Automation University in Pyongyang. They had trained with the singular focus of learning to hack into secure enemy networks. They had become warriors. Instead of tanks or drones, their weapons were in code. They had mastered digital viruses, worms, the dedicated denial of service attack, trapdoors, and botnets. They had simulated cyber war amongst themselves and infiltrated foreign targets. At every stage, they had been tested and evaluated, and only the most gifted had come to wear the uniform.

The senior lieutenant stopped the door that led to the stairwell. “The colonel has ordered a meeting with you,” he said, one hand placed haughtily on his hip, not bothering to meet Han-yong’s eyes. He’d assumed the pose of a Manchurian guerrilla fighter from the war movies. “You will speak when spoken to and answer all inquiries in full.”

Han-yong couldn’t help himself. “Sir, what inquiries?”

“About the interconnect logic bombs,” the senior lieutenant snapped, unlocking the door. The stairwell beyond was devoid of decoration, except for a creamy swirl on the vinyl tile, like the pattern on the lid of a paint can. “Hurry now.” And he started up the stairs, feet tapping a marching rhythm.

The Imperialists of North America had many weaknesses, but Han-yong had been ordered to focus on the power grid. The system was a relic of the 1960s, set up with no thoughts for security, but instead as a way to balance the supply and demand for electrical power across vast swaths of territory. In their arrogance, the Americans had organized just five power-grid interconnections across the entire country, electrically tied together and operating at the same frequency.

While it may have so far proven a sufficient way to balance loads—power companies with little demand could transfer electricity to areas with greater demand—the reality was that a single significant disturbance could collapse all of the systems tied to the interconnection. And Han-yong did not have the means to cause just a single disturbance.

He had the means to cause thousands.

The project was code-named Sonnimne, after the smallpox gods of Korean mythology that long ago crossed the Yalu River. It was both a nod to the new pestilence they would unleash and a reference to how the plague had already spread in secret, machine to machine, substation to substation.

Han-yong had planted logic bombs—malware that could be triggered in response to an event—in substations across the United States. It had taken months of steadfast work. The difficulty was writing the combustible code within a Trojan application in a way that was at once difficult to detect, easy to spread, and powerful once deployed. While the wait and the work had been excruciating, the payoff would be enormous. And imminent.

They reached the top of the stairs, and the senior lieutenant produced a key to open the gray-painted industrial steel door. The eleventh floor was reserved for high-ranking officers, their quarters, and computer servers that required additional security.

Sweat beaded on Han-yong’s brow. The colonel ranked just three steps below a general, and was likely the most senior military official Han-yong would ever speak to in his career. A slipup here might find him dishonored and discharged, or eating rats in a reeducation camp.

They rounded the first corner through the carpeted corridor, where Han-yong noticed, with more than a little satisfaction, that the smell of mildew pervaded every bit as strongly as in the floor where the junior officers worked. The senior lieutenant pulled up short in front of a door with a brass room number in the Western style. Before they could knock, a man inside bellowed, “Junior Lieutenant Pak Han-yong. Come in. Come in.”

The voice was not what he’d expected. Friendly. Jovial, even. Han-yong poked his chin through the doorway.

Nothing about the scene that greeted them was as he had imagined. The hotel suite was gaudy by North Korean standards. The walls, which should have been bare except for the requisite photograph of the Supreme Leader, were decorated with paintings of mountains and birds in a style that Han-yong vaguely recognized as Japanese.

The room was not sleeping quarters, but an office far larger than the room Han-yong shared with the other soldiers. At the center of the space, a heavy-grain oak desk displayed unrecognizable artifacts: three swords on a wooden rack, an unfolded fan with red tassels and a painted orange sun, a clay jar in the shape of a boar, and a half-dozen other oddities that Han-yong had never seen. They were beautiful, and he felt guilty for admiring the work of foreigners.

The colonel himself was also a surprise. A crisp military uniform did nothing to hide his bulk. No one Han-yong had ever met carried more than a few pounds of extra weight. How could they, when even prison guards and soldiers, who received the best rations in the country, still lived off just enough to fill their bellies?

“Junior Lieutenant,” the colonel began, leaning back in his chair, “your commanding officer tells me we are ready to move forward with project Sonnimne. And I understand that you have implanted code throughout the US system of interconnects?”

“Not exactly, sir.” Han-yong hesitated, unsure of how much technical detail to provide. “I created a zero-day exploit. A new kind of virus, sir. It uses entirely original code.” The colonel raised an eyebrow. “That means it can’t be detected by malware filters,” Han-yong continued. “The virus triggered a patch update in the operating systems of the high-voltage distribution facilities and spread throughout.”

The colonel inclined forward, his chair squealing under the weight. “What do you mean by ‘spread throughout?’ How many facilities have the virus?”

Han-yong paused, careful to give the correct information. “All of them, sir. All of the distribution facilities in the United States now have the virus.”

The senior lieutenant let out a dry cough. Otherwise, for several seconds no one moved or spoke. Han-yong shifted his weight between feet.

“But … that must be thousands,” the colonel said.

A trickle of sweat trickled down Han-yong’s brow toward his eye, but he ignored it. “Yes, sir. There are over nine thousand electric-generating facilities and over three-hundred thousand kilometers of high-voltage lines spread between them. These substations alone carry seventy percent of the most-hated nation’s electricity. They all have the virus.” The sweat droplet fell into his eye. He blinked it away.

“Do you mean to say that we have a virus that can wipe out seventy percent of the American electrical grid?”

“No, sir. When the majority of the US power grid goes down, the lower-voltage lines won’t be able to sustain the added load volume. They will topple under the stress. This virus will wipe out one-hundred percent of the American electrical grid.”

The colonel’s mouth hung open as if he were about to speak, but couldn’t, while the senior lieutenant wore a self-satisfied smirk that reminded Han-yong of a least weasel with a bellyful of stolen eggs.

The colonel’s jaw tightened below a layer of fat. “If the virus is dispersed so completely, then why has nothing happened? The lights are still on in the West.”

Now it was the senior lieutenant’s turn to explain. “The virus has two stages. The first is the spreading stage, which is only recently complete. The second stage is activation, when the logic bombs that have been hidden in the code will deploy. We are ready to deploy that on your order, sir. Today, if desired. Along with the hundreds of other attacks Unit 101 has prepared.”

Han-yong nodded, proud that his efforts fit so well with the whole. Each team member had his own projects designed to attack global enemies; separate and equally deadly projects to take out Imperialist infrastructure. Some cyber soldiers had built malware to disable railways. Some had built code to choke airline traffic. Still others had built viruses to cripple the Imperialist military communications.

“At your command, we can activate the logic bombs with a keystroke,” the senior lieutenant continued. “The virus will cause the power grid to overheat and self-immolate. I have no way of knowing how long it would take to repair, but every time the Americans try to rebuild the lines, we can bring them down again.”

At that, the colonel laughed heartily, the fat of his jowls jiggling with mirth. “You both are too young to appreciate the irony in what we are about to do. You see, when the Soviet Union collapsed decades ago, our system also faltered. The subsidies that had sustained us fell away, and our power plants rusted into disuse. Our streets went dark. And many of our cities are still without power, as you know. The fatherland is still in the dark.”

Han-yong nodded. All too well, he knew of the humiliations his countrymen had suffered under the sanctions of their enemies.

“But our time has come,” the colonel continued. “Like the thousand-li horse, we are too swift to be mounted, too elegant to be cowed. At last, it has all come together. The fight has only begun, and already the enemy falters. So now we will strike at the heart. Today we will lash out with this and everything we have. This is our chance to repay, blindness for blindness, a world that sent us into blackness.”

About the Author

Sam has worked as a wildland firefighter, journalist, and owner of a mid-sized marketing agency. Though he’s lived in France and Spain, his heart belongs to Portland, Oregon, where he lives with his wife, Tehra, two wonderful children, and a messy cat that keeps them from owning anything nice.

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