Dark Swarm Novel Title Logo

A violent force descends on Earth, threatening human sovereignty initially recognized as a viral outbreak. Jayce Morrison is infected but quickly becomes the most important person on Earth–able to read the Dark Swarm communications until the darkness overcomes him, turning him into a soldier for the enemy. Time is running out as his thoughts betray him.

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 Dark Swarm Young Adult Novel (preview)

“As engineers, we are going to be in a position to change the world – not just study it.” ~Henry Petroski

1 Chapter

Unacceptable

Detroit 2042

Nexus Space Station orbited the Earth as if it were a mausoleum, unfinished, unproductive, housing the buried dreams of humanity’s will to thrive among the stars, to evolve beyond the expected. Most disregarded the relic, only ten years abandoned, as just a circular array of lights that crossed the sky a few times a night.

However, some saw the lights as diamonds full of hopeful dreams, a pathway to limitless possibilities. Jayce Morrison was one of those young men so it was not surprising he took the news of an asteroid the size of a basketball smashing into Nexus badly. The asteroid obliterated one of the pods on the doughnut-shaped station, prying open the metal-and-carbon composite shell, exposing the inside to the vacuum of space. Debris bled into low Earth orbit. No one was hurt as no humans were on board, but the destruction had a cascading effect on all other LEO satellites.

Jayce snapped upright, squeaking the worn leather armchair in the TV room. He’d just read the disastrous alert about the Nexus Space Station, then read it again. He popped off the cushion. “No, no, no!” His grip tightened on the phone in his hand, the cracked screen pinching his finger, drawing the tiniest speck of blood.

Mel, Jayce’s father, was on the couch watching TV. His head spun toward his son as Jayce paced the living room. “What are you reading? You’re like a spooked rabbit over there. Did your name fall from first place on the Star Racer leader board again? You’ll get it back.”

“No, tragedy happened! An asteroid hit Nexus and blew a hole in one of the pods.” Jayce continued reading the article. “The debris is scattering into low Earth orbit. I can’t believe this. Other satellites are getting hit, creating a chain reaction. All of it is going to burn up in the atmosphere.” Jayce moaned loudly. “Nooooo. This is basically the death of my future. I thought they were going to finish the station. Now they never will.”

“You know NASA has no public support anymore. Too much to do on Earth. This country has never seen such a deep depression. What’s left of NASA operates on a skeleton budget.”

“I know. But…the economy is supposed to get better, right? People are already talking about how important space work is.” Jayce sighed. “I wanted to work up there. To research something. Live on the frontier. This epic-sucks.”

“I’m sorry, kiddo. You might have to settle on a new career. That’s just the way life goes sometimes,” Mel said.  

Jayce blinked and re-read the last chapter on the report. “No way. Some of the debris is gonna burn up in the atmosphere over our heads. Oh, I gotta see this.” Jayce tried to leap over the couch, but his foot snagged the fabric, sending him tumbling instead. He grunted and pulled himself off the floor, rubbing his now bruised elbow.

“Slow down, kiddo. You’re not so great at high speeds,” Mel said.

“Yeah, I know.” Jayce continued toward the front door, pausing before turning the handle. “Southeast. Hm. Road is no good. The view would be blocked by trees. Backyard, too.” Like a genie granting a wish, Jayce snapped his fingers. “Maybe the balcony.” He spun and dashed up the steps, bursting through his parent’s room and slipping out the sliding glass door to the balcony.

Jayce leaned against the railing and waited, craning his neck, eyes on the early evening summer sky.

A falling star burst into view, blazing a trail, barely visible through the tree in the back yard.

“Ugg, my future is dead.” Jayce fumbled with his phone, barely hitting record as the meteor vanished into the darkness.

Another fireball bloomed into view, followed by other, brighter, one. “Oh, damn. Wow. Pretty… but sucky!” Jayce leaned over the railing to watch and record another one. “This is gonna set NASA back two decades. They’ll never restart the Nexus Mission. They’ll be too busy rebuilding the satellites and cleaning up the scatter.”

A fourth, then a fifth fireball lit up the dark blue sky, the biggest one yet, burning hot, leaving a trail of smoke behind that captured the waning sun light.  

Jayce leaned over farther. And farther. He was entranced, oddly fascinated by the destruction.

“Wuh.” Jayce lost his balance and fell. He flailed like a featherless bird and plummeted, landing hard on the thick bush below.

Darius, Jayce’s older stepbrother, poked his head out of the bedroom window next to the balcony. “Holy crap, bro. You did not just fall off the balcony. You okay?” he called out laughing.

Jayce moaned. “No. I’m not okay. My future is dead.”

“Future? What about your present? Need stitches? Cast? Tissues?” Darius called down.

“No. I’ll live.” Jayce gave a thumbs up, sprawled in the shrubbery. “Bush gave me a decent break-fall.”

Darius chuckled. “I wish I got that on camera. That shit was funny. I totally saw you leaning and leaning and leaning even more.” Darius pointed across the yard. “Yo, that squirrel over there is laughing at you, too.”

Jayce twisted in the bush and spied the furry squirrel on the nearby wooden fence. Sure enough, the rodent stared at Jayce, fluttering its thick tail in amusement. Another joined it. They really looked like they were snickering.

“Sure you didn’t break anything?” Darius called out, still smiling wide.

“Yeah. I’m fine.” Jayce rolled out of the bush. More meteors streamed across the sky, but he’d seen enough. He marched inside, smacking leaves and twigs off his shirt, and out of his hair.

“That shit just made my day,” Darius called out. “Thanks!”

“Anytime,” Jayce mumbled. He passed the kitchen, heading to his favorite overstuffed chair in the living room when someone knocked on the front door.

Mel sat up, looked at Jayce. “You mind getting that? I’m sore from work and I’d rather not budge from my spot.”

“You never budge from there,” Jayce mumbled and shuffled to the door. He used the peep-hole, as he did every time no matter what. His heart stopped. “D…dad? Robot.”

He looked at Mel as a light flashed into the home from the front window. Another light came from the kitchen window, one from the sliding back door.

Mel jumped out of his spot and rushed to Jayce.

“Wha…what’s going on?” Jayce said in a whisper.

“Yo! We see you. Got five secs to open this door. You hear me?” yelled a man from the front porch.

Mel looked around. “We gotta get outta here. Now. Where’s your brother?”

“U…upstairs. Room.”

Mel backed up toward the stairs, grabbing Jayce and pulling him close.

The back door rattled as someone pounded on it.

“No where to go. We’re surrounded,” Mel hissed. “Don’t worry. They can’t get in. Bars on the windows, unbreakable coatings. The front door has the security bars. They’ll keep them out.”

“I guess we gotta do this the hard way, dudes!” the man outside yelled.

The front door shook multiple times, splintering at the hinges. It wouldn’t be destroyed quickly, not with its metal reinforced frame, the two security bars and the deadbolt but the intruders were going to keep at it until it failed.

“Darius!” Mel yelled up the steps. “Basement! We’ll barricade the door. They’ll get in, take what they want and leave us alone.” He dashed to the door under the stairs and whipped it open. Dark steps led down to the washroom and storage. Mel hit the light switch.

Glass in the basement shattered and something exploded. Gas spewed in all directions inching toward the steps.

“Damn it,” Mel slammed the door shut. “I knew I should have put bars on those windows no matter how small they were.” He grabbed the kitchen towel and shoved it under the door to block the smoke.

The back door thumped loudly.

The living room window shattered but it was covered by security mesh that would keep the glass from breaking entirely.

Bam! Bam! Bam!

The front door weakened, its hinges twisting, the security bars bent inward with every hit. The robot was strong.

“Damn it!” Mel hissed. He was holding Jayce tight, arm around his chest. “Darius?” Mel looked down at Jayce. “Where’s your brother?”

“What do we do?” Jayce said, voice shaky. “Where do we go?”

Mel was speechless.

The door exploded from the frame and flew inward. Mel spun around, putting his back between the shrapnel and Jayce. He shoved his son toward the kitchen and turned to face the intruder.

A tall, yellow robot pushed into the home, ducking under the door jam, raising a machine gun. Machine-gun fire burst from the robot’s weapon as slugs pounded a straight line in the floorboards all the way to Mel.

Jayce gasped, falling to his knees. His throat was so tight he felt like he’d imploded and would never take another breath again.

 

Mel dropped next to Jayce and wrapped his arms around his son. “Breathe. You can do it. Slow and deep.”

“Stay still. Hands in air,” the robot ordered, its voice mechanical and harsh. “If you attempt to fight us, I will use lethal force.” The robot was not a Private Security Force Bot. K-Side, the most powerful cartel in Detroit, owned bots, too. The gangsters added stickers and graffiti, and a red bandana to the bot’s face, giving it an ominous appearance. The bots were simple AI’s, easily programable and only semi-autonomous. So simple was their programming that they would do the bidding of an Admin without question. The Gang Wars of 2035 put thousands of these robots in the hands of the cartels, leading to a stalemate with the local government.

Another intruder entered the home right behind the bot, a gangster in a clown mask, holding a snub-nosed machine gun. “Hands up, NPC’s! Try some stupid hero shit and I’ll cut you down.” The gangster’s voice was muffled by his mask but his intent was clear.

Mel rocked Jayce as he struggled to breathe. “Take whatever you want. We won’t stop you.”

“Oh, we will, Pops,” the clown gangster snapped. “We’re not here for your stupid shit.”

“Then what’re you here for?” Mel snapped.

“To recruit, yo. You know the deal. We takin’ one. This is how you pay yo’ protection fee.”

“We don’t need your protection,” Mel roared. Mel was not a small man. He was strong, bulging even, and worked out often, but was peaceful by nature.

“Oh, you need it. You wanna live in our hood, you play our game.”

The stairs squeaked. “Yo, don’t hurt anyone. I’m comin’.” Darius trudged down the steps carrying his backpack, his footfalls heavy and solid.

“Darius, stay upstairs!” Mel yelled, voice quivering.

Darius avoided looking at Mel or Jayce. “Sorry, Dad. Last week they took my man, Angel. I knew they’d bust our door down one of these days.” Halfway down the steps, he added, “We can’t fight them and I won’t let you. Everybody knows they come for the strongest sons. That’s me.”

“What?” Mel stood and turned to the gangster. “I can pay you. You… can’t do this.”

“I can do anything I want, old man.” The gangster raised the snub-nosed machine gun to Mel’s chest.

Mel slapped it away as the gun went off, firing a round into the TV screen, shattering it.

The bot grabbed Mel’s shoulder and crushed it under its metal, three-fingered hand, then clocked Mel across the head with its much-larger machine gun, knocking Mel’s glasses off.

“P…Please…”

The bot let Mel fall to the floor. Jayce tried to rush to his father, but he’d never felt so tight in his lungs. He was gasping so deeply for air, he was near passing out.

“Remain where you are or suffer the consequence.”

Mel cradled his bleeding head. “This will break your mother’s heart…my…heart.” Mel’s voice cracked.

Jayce crawled to his dad and was taken into his arms. His brain buffered, on the verge of throwing up the ‘blue-screen-of-death’ his computer often did when it crashed.

“Make sure you tell Mom I’ll be fine,” Darius said. “Jayce, little bro. Relax. You’re turnin’ blue there. K-side only takin’ one of us. You do something better… somethin’ cool.”

“I… don’t… want you to… go.” Jayce’s tears flowed. The room spun around him.

Darius followed the K-side bot and gunmen out the doorway and to a convertible car decorated by neon light strips and colorful tagging.

Jayce passed out.

He woke to a sharp smell that seemed to reach into his brain and smack him around.

“Jayce. Wake up. You’re okay, son.” Mel was cradling Jayce on the floor of the living room. The neighbor, Mrs. Theodore, an older woman with curly white hair and deep wrinkles, took a white tube from under Jayce’s nose.

“Smelling salts. Wake up a bear during the dead of winter,” she said. “But I’d not recommend that. Makes for a grumpy bear.” She pocketed the salts in her long dress. “I’d still take ‘em to the doctor. Might need ta get an inhaler. Probably got a bit of asthma if y’ ask me.”

“Thank you,” Mel said.

“I’ll get outta yr’ hair, now.” Mrs. Theodore carefully negotiated the destroyed front door and left.

“You okay, son? You passed out. How do you feel?”

Jayce nodded but couldn’t speak.

The house was still and quiet. Time remained in a slow state.

Mel’s glasses were back on his face, but crooked and bent. His shirt was torn at the shoulder and blood soaked the fabric.  

The look on Mel’s face was tight, one of defeat and sadness.

Jayce blurted out, “You just let Darius go. How could you?”

“What could I do? They have bots and guns, Jayce,” Mel said, tears running down his cheeks. “Damn near broke my shoulder.”

“They do this all the time. You should have known K-side might come one day. We should have been prepared.”

“I’m sorry I didn’t have a plan. I wish there was something I could have done.”

“I guess this is just the way life goes sometimes, huh?” Jayce snapped, quoting Mel’s earlier quip about the destroyed Nexus Space Station. Jayce sat up and pulled himself out of Mel’s arms.

“Take it easy. Your mom will be home in a bit,” Mel pleaded.

Jayce stomped to the stairs.

“Jayce!” Mel yelled.

“Leave me alone!” Jayce snapped, matching to his room. He barged through his door and slammed it. His chest got tight again, making breathing hard. At that moment of confusion and sadness, he wanted desperately to never come out.

A handwritten note was placed on Jayce’s bed. It was from Darius.

Hey, brother,

                  I knew K-side was coming. I didn’t tell you or Dad or Mom because

 I didn’t want you to get all crazy and get hurt. And, trust me, they

would mess all of us up. Chris Maloney’s dad was shot three times last year. Remember that?

I’m ready to go. Been getting ready. I hope I can come back and visit, but you never know. They may send me to the ammo factory. Might go to the farm. Or might soldier up. Anyway, don’t worry about me. Keep up the coding. You’ll make real money one day.

I remember when my mom married your dad and I met you that day. You were, like, four. I remember thinking, who’s this little dorky white boy here? But you’re cool. Dorky for sure, but cool. I love you. Peace to you and Mom and Dad. See you around.

 

Tears came to Jayce and his stomach clenched. He crawled under his covers and tried to take a full breath of air. Failed.

Darius was smart, same as Jayce. Got all As, knew Python code better than Jayce. Darius also had a sixth sense and could read people. He didn’t deserve to be a conscript for K-side.

I hate this world. I hate this neighborhood. Something has to change.

Jayce sat up in his bed, took a deep breath. “The only reason K-side has so much power is because of all the bots they have. If they didn’t have those robots, they’d fall to the National Guard or the Private Security Force or whoever the government is.” Jayce’s mind fired a trillion neural connections faster than normal. “If I can figure out how to hack the bots I could disable them. K-side would disband and Darius could come home.”

Jayce stood, sat in his chair, and powered up his old laptop. “I can do this. Can’t just turn them off though. I have to corrupt their shitty AI somehow. I’m going to get Darius home.”

 

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