Saturday, June 19, 2021

Dire Redemption by Ishmael O. Ross - Book Tour + Giveaway




Action/Thriller

Date Published: Feb 7, 2021

Publisher: The Unseeing Eye



A man is running for his life. An army is deployed to hunt him down. He has no right to be there, he has no right to live. He is not considered human.

A man is on a mission. He is looking for the hunted, for those denied humanity. He is trying to save them, to deliver them to safety, to give them a chance of life.

The year is 2058. The world’s powers have stabilised, the citizens of the newly formed super-states are living in peace and prosperity. But when safety is a privilege of the fortunate, liberty is a radical idea. For those born on the wrong side of the wall surrounding the Federated States of Europe, the price of privilege is unimaginably high.

When fate brings the two men together, they struggle against time, hostile forces and their own prejudices, towards a conclusion, neither of them would have thought possible.


Excerpt
THEY WERE WEAK, half-starved and exhausted after the weeks-long journey through wastelands and strange forests, through abandoned villages, and burned-out towns. Only the weather turning colder every day reminded him that they were no longer in Africa. They had met no people on their way. The few they had seen had run away long before they could make contact, or ask any questions. They ate what they could find, and whatever the strange forests provided, but it was scarce, barely enough to keep them going. They never stopped, only for a short rest every once in a while. The land of promise was there, must be there, they had only to find it, to endure a little longer, maybe one more day, maybe two.

When the smugglers had brought them to the shore in life-boats, they had shown them a general direction then abandoned them in the cold night. The people had been confused and directionless, but they had stayed together and begun walking. Jonas and Moses had stuck together ever since then, with a few younger men clinging to their sides like an entourage.

By the time they had arrived at the wall, there were only the six of them left. The others had either given up, seeking refuge in the ruins of abandoned buildings or died of starvation and exhaustion along the way. Those who had stayed behind could not be persuaded to move on, and Jonas was sure they would die out there, alone, in the cold wilderness, as the weather was turning against them day by day. He pressed on among the more determined few, not wasting effort to try and save those who wanted to be left alone. It was their choice, and Jonas had made his own too. He chose to live and to live well, and free. It was only a question of getting to Europe.

Looking at the wall now he thought that must be it. A place as well guarded as that must be rich. The people on the other side seemed to have much to protect. He could not understand what they defended themselves from; there was nothing in the forest to threaten anyone. Perhaps the war reached this far, or maybe slavers were coming in to take the people, like they had in Africa. Either way, the wall itself was reassuring in a way, promising safety and protection for those on the inside. It was only a matter of getting through somehow.

There were no doors, no gates, nor any other entrance; the wall was seemingly endless, continuing well into the darkness in both directions. Jonas was contemplating moving a little farther, to see if there was any chance they could gain entry, when Moses beside him broke the silence.

“We climb.”

That was all he said, and nobody argued. Jonas knew he was right, that the shortest way was straight in, that if they tried to find a point of entry they might be stuck on the wrong side for days or even weeks, without food or shelter. He knew he probably would not survive that. Maybe some of the younger men would, but not him. He was too weak to even think about it.

They chose a spot halfway between two watchtowers that were some distance away, far enough that they could not see if there were people behind the dimly lit windows, and Jonas was sure they would not be seen either. The darkness and the distance were on their side.

The wall looked as tall as three men, but as the outside was pockmarked and rough, he could find foot and handholds easily enough. Every muscle in his body protested at once when he pulled himself up. He felt faint, his hands threatened to let go, but he climbed on with the last of his strength. He knew he would scale that wall if it cost him his life. He pressed on, grunting, wanting to scream out loud, but he was too afraid to make a sound.

Twice his toes slipped, and his hands were chafed on the rough concrete as he tried to hold himself up. His fingers ached, his arms went numb. He stopped for a breather, looked up, and saw that he had cleared most of the height. A little more effort, then. Glancing to his right, he saw Moses climbing a few metres away, while one of the younger ones had almost reached the top. Jonas smiled. We will make it.

There was a yell and a thud as one of the climbers fell. The young man dropped from a great height and now lay on his back, moaning. Jonas was beginning to wonder if the man could ever get up again, and if it would be wise to go back and try to help him, when the searchlights lit up. Blinding white light flooded the wall, and suddenly the climbers projected long black shadows, criss-crossing under them in two directions. Then a gunshot rang out, and the moaning stopped. Jonas looked down. Half of the fallen man’s head had been turned into a pool of blood.

Then another shot rang out, and the adolescent boy who had almost reached the top, fell without a sound, hit the ground, and never moved again. Jonas screamed and started pulling himself upwards as fast as he could. He heard another shot. Another man fell. He pressed on harder, Moses panting beside him. He’s still breathing then.

One of Jonas’s fingernails broke, but he never noticed it. He tried to pull, but his shoulder gave out, red-hot pain stabbing his left arm and his back. He let go with one hand, hanging by his right and felt his feet starting to slip, when a bullet burrowed itself into the concrete, just where his head had been a moment ago. He tried to lift his left arm, but there was only more pain. He grunted with a low gurgling sound that rose into a roar as he raised his arm, pushing through the pain, and grabbed the new handhold the burrowing bullet had made in the wall’s surface.

He pulled. Jonas wasn’t sure he was getting anywhere, but he pulled again. The world blurred, he felt like throwing up, but his empty stomach only produced acid. He pulled again, pushing with his feet. He heard a sound like a bullet bouncing off a wall near his head, but he no longer paid attention to it.

Another gunshot was followed by another thud as a body hit the ground below. Jonas pulled harder then, reaching up, he felt a ledge. He pulled with all his strength, pushed up with his right foot and tried to move his body over the top. For a long moment he hung there, half way between the top of the wall and falling; between salvation and certain death. He glanced down and saw four unmoving bodies. Then, with a last effort, he pulled himself up and lay on the top of the wall, shaded from the searchlight, panting.

He heard a rustle from one side. Raising his head, he saw Moses not far from him, trying to crouch up from his prone position, while still staying in the shadows. Jonas collected his remaining strength and got up as well, keeping his body folded and his head low. He felt the duress that had given him the strength to climb melt away, and his body began to tremble. Jonas smiled. Almost there. Moses looked at him, and nodded, the same approving nod he had once given Jonas on the boat, which now seemed a lifetime ago. Jonas nodded back, still smiling. Moses’s lips began to curl up too, when new searchlights lit the top of the wall, flooding them with a white glare. They leapt down at the same time.

It was a long drop, and Jonas rolled on his back when he reached the ground until he came to a halt. His legs ached, his left ankle was in pain. He had hit his head, and the world became a blur. He could faintly see Moses get up and limp away, disappearing into the shadows without looking behind. Jonas realised he was on his own now.

Then there was a short burst of rapid gunfire. Jonas strained his eyes, trying to see if Moses had got away, but he could only see the motionless darkness, contrasting with the sharp beams of searchlights as they swept across the black grass. He pressed his trembling body against the stone wall as tightly as he could and dared not move. He lay low to make sure the lights did not follow him. He tried to be as still as he could, holding his breath and closing his eyes until the dull pain in his head subsided somewhat, and the trembling quieted down. When he opened his eyes to look around, nothing moved, and even the searchlights began to fade. He lay there for what seemed to be a long time after the lights died away, but nobody came for him. There was no more sound of guns being fired.

***

Lance Corporal Peter Markovic approached the tunnel’s exit, checked his gear one last time and made sure his position was being correctly transmitted so his movements could be traced. He was on lone duty, expecting a quiet night, but with nobody to clock him he had to rely on the built-in systems. Finding everything in order he stood at the bottom of the ladder leading up to the surface, waiting for this patrol time to start. He always arrived a few minutes early, not wanting to risk anything at the last moment. His behaviour was monitored, and he was sure that a record of keenness and punctuality would help any future promotion. He suppressed a yawn, mentally rehearsed his route once more, gave the voice command for the gear to report his departure, turned on his torch, then began climbing the ladder with slow, deliberate steps.

***

After a few more minutes of lying still, when he felt sure that nobody would find him, Jonas got up and instinctively reached for his only possession, a small photograph he carried in his pocket, only to discover it was gone. He crouched down and felt the ground with his hands for the little frameless picture. The grass was hard and crumbled under his palms into pieces of charcoal, but he felt nothing else. He got down on his knees and swept the ground with his aching hands, but the photograph was not there. Sweat broke out on his forehead.
What if I lost it on the other side?

Then something seemed to move far ahead in the darkness. Jonas stopped. He held his breath. Nothing. He looked for more movement, but only saw the motionless night. He began to crawl backwards slowly, and as carefully as he could, then pressed his back against the wall once again when he reached it and tried to stay still. Everything remained quiet, so he let out a shallow breath, thinking about risking to get up, when he felt a familiar texture under his palm. Jonas picked up the frayed piece of paper and kissed the treasured image with a deep sigh. It was the only thing left he could hold onto.

He put the photograph back into his pocket, then started to creep away from the wall, moving as slowly as he could. He dragged himself on shaky elbows, keeping his head close to the ground. He could feel the hardened grass crumble underneath him. He smelled burned leaves and smoke, mixed with a stinging chemical odour.

After a long crawl, Jonas finally crouched up and looked around. The towers were far away now, and there were no searchlights visible. He waited and listened. There was no movement. He tried his legs; his ankle still hurt, but he ignored the pain. He got up and started to run with a limp.

It’s over! At last! As he ran, he felt all the pain in his body melt away, his hunger subsided, and the feeling of cold and the dampness of the alien weather no longer bothered him. Jonas laughed, first just to himself, then out loud. He focused on gaining speed. He ran with heavy breaths and unsteady steps, but with the strength of determination and hope. He had almost forgotten what hope felt like, but now it was giving him life and making him light, urging him forward, making him feel that he could run forever. He ran into the darkness, into the freedom, into his new life, across the burned flatland, towards safety. The next moment he ran into a sudden sharp light and saw a soldier pointing a gun at him, shouting something he could not understand.

 


About the Author


Ishmael O. Ross is an author, technical writer and software architect. His stories appeared in The Scarlet Leaf Review and The Opiate magazines. Dire Redemption is his first novel.

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