So here's my latest. It's about ready to go to the publisher, and as usual, I'll be taking down all but a short sample once it publishes. This one was written as part of a package deal. When I sent them the proposal for the Chucklers series, they said they liked the writing and the story, but that it didn't really fit their "normal" readership. Still, they said they would take it as long as I would also agree to write at least two books in one of their niche sub-genres. Those niches included things like kaiju, sea-monsters, dinosaurs, zombies, and the like. I thought about it, came up with another proposal about prisoners from the future sent back into prehistory, and they went for it. Here is the result... NOTE - This one is shorter than most of my writing, coming in at just under 75k words. It's also written in more of a pulp style than I typically write. And as usual, please sound off with whatever mistakes you find. Thanks folks. __________________________________ JUNE 17 2147 AD Chapter 1 It was a beautiful June afternoon when Sean's world collapsed in on him. It hadn't started that way. As a matter of fact, he was in a great mood as he walked from the drone terminal to the slidewalks. He'd successfully proven his code to his team, and they had selected his project to present to management next week. The resulting feeling of accomplishment made everything seem brighter. The air was cleaner than normal, and beautiful blue skies with nary a cloud in them reflected his mood as he stepped onto the slidewalk entrance track to the faster inner tracks. He barely noticed the accompanying surge of acceleration as he stepped onto each successively faster track until he was walking along the traffic ribbon at a relative speed of more than fifty miles per hour. Having made his way to the fast tracks, he walked leisurely for the few minutes it took him to make it to the northwest quadrant suburb exchange. Wind whipping through his hair, he smiled to himself. The warning sign ahead let him know he had two minutes to navigate his way back to the outer slidewalk. He stepped from the 50mph track to the 45mph, weight shifting expertly as he adjusted to the slightly slower speed, still moving across to the 40, the 35, the 30, and so on until he reached solid concrete at the entrance to the northwest exchange. His comm chimed as he walked briskly toward the northwest slides and he turned his wrist to see the smiling picture of his daughter on his wrist comp. He smiled. "Accept call." As soon as he heard the line click he spoke. "Hi kiddo. What's goin—" The sobbing robbed him of his words, and he stopped where he stood, suddenly oblivious to the foot traffic that bustled around him. "Caroline? What's wrong, baby?" It took her several tries before she could get the words out around her sobs. "I'm hurt, daddy. They hurt me bad." Heart suddenly pounding in his chest, Sean swallowed, trying to get the words out. His earlier elation evaporated with her words. "Who hurt you? What happened? What did they do?" "Da—" There was a click and Caroline's picture faded to black as the line went dead. "Caroline! Caroline!" People around him stopped and stared as he shouted into his wrist comp. Sean ignored them as he tapped his comp and called up the AI. "Waiting," the comp announced. "Call police!" "Calling." *** The police were already outside his apartment building when he arrived ten minutes later. Breathless from running, Sean tapped his comp so it displayed his holo-ID for the investigator posted outside. "I'm Sean Barrow," he panted. "I made the call. Is my daughter all right?" The man looked at the holo and tapped his helmet. Sean knew his visor was looking at the holo coding and comparing it to information in various databases. "I'm sorry, Mr. Barrow. I don't know what's going on inside. You can go on in and I'll let the investigator in charge know you're on your way up." Sean rushed inside without another word. If the LEO at the door couldn't help him, he needed to find someone who could. He caught his breath in the lift pad as it took him to his floor, where he was greeted by another investigator. She was a woman of slight build, but her demeanor left no doubt that she was all business. "Mr. Barrow?" "Yes. Is my daughter all right?" "I'm sorry, but before I can discuss any details, I need to see your ID." Once more he flicked his holo on. She looked at it and nodded. "Now, how is my daughter?" The woman hesitated. "I'm sorry, but I need you to answer a few questions." "Investigator…" he looked at the badge on her body armor, "…Medeiros?" She nodded. "Candace Medeiros." "Look, I sent recordings of the call she made when I called you guys. I don't have anything else I can offer. Now I need to see my daughter!" "Mr. Barrow, I'm sorry, but I can't let you in there just yet. We're still investigating, and we can't let you contaminate the scene. Once the Medical Examiner gets here and fin—" "Medical Examiner?" Sean latched onto the words. He reached out to steady himself on the wall, but he misjudged the distance and staggered. He swallowed convulsively as his throat swelled and his sinuses filled. "Caroline." It was a whisper, but it echoed in his ears with the rushing of his pulse, as his groping hands found the wall. Leaning heavily against it, he slid down to sit on the floor and began crying. *** Not again. Please, please, please… I can't go through it again. The words kept spinning about in his head, making impossible to think straight. Present and past became muddled as he recalled the same feelings when his wife had disappeared twelve years earlier. Their apartment was trashed, and there were obvious signs of a struggle, but whoever had broken in left no prints or DNA evidence whatsoever. To be sure, there were other signs that something had happened. There was the broken coffee table and dishes, and the blood stains and spatters on the walls and carpet, but the only DNA had been Connie's. The police had been sympathetic, but she had been the seventh such missing person case in his neighborhood in a year's time. They called the mystery abductor "Mr. Clean" for the lack of evidence he left. And when he was no longer a mystery, they called him the "Mr. Clean Killer". Mr. Clean eventually slipped up when victim number ten's dog bit him as he attacked the woman. The dog's teeth had punctured the protective suit he wore and he'd become enraged at the animal, killing it with a chair. But the damage was done. DNA retrieved from the dog's mouth led the police to the killer, and the man confessed to a total of sixteen abduction murders. In exchange for leniency, he showed how he had created a hermetically sealed suit of synthi-skin under his clothes, complete with gloves and a rebreather. The man was a chemist, and had easily gained access to everything he had needed to create the clean suit. Eventually, he led them to a burial site outside of the city, showing where he'd buried each body. Since he had confessed, there was no trial. There was a single day when Sean had been asked to testify about Connie's disappearance and that was all he'd heard about it until a week later when he'd received a synopsis from the police. By that time, his wife had been gone seven months, and the initial shock of losing her had resolved itself into a twisting ache in his soul that he had learned to live with. He knew it that if he let it, the pain would destroy him, eating him up. So he pushed it down deep within, and elected to spend his time and energy on the more positive goal of raising and protecting Caroline. He'd taken that role seriously, and had become much more safety conscious. Part of that entailed installation of a security system in their new apartment. It wasn't top of the line, but it was the best that Sean could afford, and included sonic and visual stunners, gas, and an auto-dial connection to the nearest security station, all activated with the press of a button. But Caroline hadn't had a chance to hit that button. The system also had several motion-activated, high-resolution video cams and in his shock, Sean didn't think to tell the police about them. It wasn't until later that night, after the police had put him up in a local hotel that he'd remembered. He opened his wrist comp and accessed the cloud storage where his security feed stored for forty-eight hours. He copied the footage to his wrist unit, sent a copy to Inspector Medeiros, and braced himself before watching the feed. There was no sound. He hadn't been able to afford the system upgrade. But video was horrific enough. He watched as four young men in hooded beach shirts shoved their way into the apartment, striking Caroline across the face. He watched as they did unspeakable things to her, leaving her laying naked on the kitchen counter while they rampaged through the house. He saw her regain consciousness… activate her wrist comp. That was when she called me. One of the boys must have heard her speaking. He ran into the room, slammed her arm down on the false granite counter. That was when her call got cut off. The kid slammed her arm into the stone counter over and over, until pieces of the wrist comp scattered across the smooth surface… all while his daughter screamed in silent agony. When the boy stopped, her forearm had an unnatural bend in it, as if she had an extra joint between elbow and wrist. The kid fished around in a drawer and grabbed a knife, waved it in front of Caroline's face. Sean could see him shouting something at her, and her head shook back and forth as she cried. And while there was no sound, it was easy enough to see her mouth as she repeatedly screamed the word "no" at him. The other boys came into the room and there was some sort of discussion while Caroline sobbed on the counter, eyes clenched tightly against the physical and emotional torture she endured. But they snapped open as the knife plunged into her chest, and her mouth opened in another scream. Four boys. Four plunges of the blade. The cameras caught it all. Every torturous detail, and Sean forced himself to watch each second. Unable to sleep, he watched the video again. And again. He watched several times that first night, memorizing the faces of the street thugs who had raped and tortured his baby before killing her. The video was clear, crisp, and damning. It had allowed the inspectors to easily identify and apprehend the killers, and Sean watched as they were brought in, comparing the faces in his memory to those of the monsters who exited the police cruisers. He continued to watch the video every day for the next five months as the case wound its way through the court system, stoking the fire of his anger in a way he hadn't allowed himself to do when his wife died. This time there was no distraction, no reason to disassociate himself from the case. That reason had died with his daughter, and he looked forward to seeing the resolution of this case. He wanted these delinquents to suffer the way his daughter had suffered. It should have been an open and shut case. It should have been. But politics and nepotism intervened. One of the boys was the nephew of a high-level politician, and the video evidence was suddenly found to be "suspicious". Defense counselors trotted out expert witnesses who testified that the digital coding of the file appeared to have been tampered with. They brought out some of Sean's co-workers who unwittingly damned his case by proclaiming him to be the best programmer in their division. By the time the closing arguments were given, the Defense had cast enough doubt on the viability of the evidence that there was no way the jury was going to convict. Sean left before the verdict was announced.