Friday, June 7, 2013

Excerpt from Serving Time by Nadine Ducca


Yesterday we met author Nadine Ducca. Today read about her novel, my review, and an excerpt. If you like what you read, please comment and buy the book.

Blurb:

Life and death have been industrialized. The Forge, the birthplace of every soul, is a rumbling factory owned by the goddess Time, managed by Lucifer, and powered by the labor of demons and imps. In this dystopian world, a renegade interplanetary pilot running from his past doesn't stand a chance.

Handling Neptunian meth and dodging security cannons are all in a day’s work for Tristan Cross—not that he's one to complain. Working for the smuggling company StarCorp is an improvement over what he used to do for a living.

However, when StarCorp gives Tristan a one-way ticket into the brainwashed—and disturbingly suicidal—Loyal League, he decides to run from the company and start a new life in the only safe haven he knows: Earth. With the help of his brother, Tristan embarks on the most hazardous journey of his life, one that will place him at Time’s mercy. Little does he know the demons running the universe are craving a feast, and his own soul is the next item on the menu.

Review:


I’ve read a lot of books, so it isn’t often I come across one that is truly innovative. The quirky Serving Time, however, is something different. It seamlessly weaves together the science-fiction and fantasy elements of the story to create an outstanding read that isn’t a rehash of other stories. The fantasy elements dealing with reincarnation and True Selves are an interesting innovation, and the science fiction elements are believable without overbearing the characters and plot. All the main characters are fascinating and keep you cheering for their success. I especially liked the imperious goddess, Time, and Tristan, the former assassin, drug-running hero. Even the minor characters are well-developed and curiously believable despite the outrageous nature of the plot. The book kept me up late and never drags. I give it an enthusiastic five stars and high recommend it to fans of science fiction or fantasy or anyone who likes a quirky, out-of-the-mainstream tale.
 

Excerpt: 

PROLOGUE



In the beginning, the Logos created the universe. It was a lonely place, empty and quiet, so the Logos brought forth three goddesses: the Past, the Present, and the Future. With them came nostalgia, audacity, and uncertainty. The three child goddesses gazed at their creator with expectation, for now that Time existed, so could life.


Robert stood in the center of the astral circle etched on the hardwood floor of his living room. His brow creased as he studied the ring of symbols. His fingertips tingled. The portal was ready, and no matter how much a small—yet insistent—part of him wished to put it off, he knew the time had come to open it. He closed his eyes and recited the first two verses.

As the words tumbled from the edge of his lips, a blast of air whirled around him. The wind’s fingers plucked at his clothes and buffeted his face, so he crouched and lowered his head. Just one more verse to go. He yelled the final words, raising his voice over the increasing howling of the wind.

The living room dissolved into gray and blue smudges. With a sickening lurch, Robert felt his body somersault through the air. His concentration vanished into the wind, and he rolled over himself, his stomach wadding into a knot.

“Abaddon,” he whispered, “my Keeper. Protect me.”

Only the gale answered.

Something was wrong. Why was it taking so long? Why hadn’t he practiced the chant one last time before rushing to open the portal? If he had made a mistake—even the tiniest of mistakes—in the runes or the chant, he was as good as dead.

He cupped a hand over his breast pocket and felt the capsule within.

Cyanide.

He ground his teeth together. That isn’t the answer. He wasn’t ready to quit—not yet—and he refused to entertain that idea any further. He hadn’t worked for twenty years to end up swallowing a pill. My calculations are correct, he reminded himself as he weathered the storm. But the shrieks of the wind begged to differ.

Just when it seemed that his mission—and his life—had come to an end, the gale swept past him and vanished. Nonspace retreated, and Robert once more felt solid ground beneath him. He trembled from head to toe and waited for his stomach to stop shuddering before daring to open his eyes. Although he was gaining skill in the art of astral jumps—like learning to land on his feet—he hadn’t traveled to other planes often enough to suppress the wave of nausea that overwhelmed him after each trip.

He hesitantly opened one eye, and when he realized his calculations had been, in fact, correct, his heart skipped a beat. He was crouching on a barren white plane under a blazing white sky. He couldn’t distinguish a horizon, for there was none to see, only a tenuous mist a million miles away.

He narrowed his eyes and looked up at the goddess before him. She stood a few feet to the right, her slender, bare back turned to him. Her gleaming silver dress streamed from her shoulders to the spotless, featureless ground, where the fabric dissolved into ripples that flowed all the way to Robert’s feet. Her golden, waist-length curls spilled over her shoulder, and she twirled a lock between her fingers as she stared into the empty distance.

Robert pulled himself upright. He couldn’t bring himself to take that first step or utter that first word which would break the beautiful silence between them. He had so much to offer her…so much to gain from her.
The cream! His hand shot to his pocket. Nothing. His heart jumped in his throat. He patted his clothes and searched through his overcoat. Had he forgotten to take the cream along at the last moment? But that was impossible; he would never forget something so important.

Did they—?

He ran trembling hands over his entire body. Sweat dampened his armpits and clung in beads over his lip. He had read sufficient literature on nonspace to understand the dangers of traveling outside the boundaries of time and matter. Something supernatural inhabited those corners, and that something had sticky fingers.

But those creatures wouldn’t open my pockets—would they? He wiped the sweat from his face. Of course they would.

The wind had been prying at his clothes like an impatient child searching for candy, but Robert had hidden the tube of cream in his pocket and had zipped it closed. But now the cream was gone. Mugged in nonspace. A zipper. What was I thinking? Robert could flay himself for his stupidity. He glanced at the goddess, who stood in silence, either unaware of his arrival or uninterested. Just then, his hands came across something in one of the open pockets of his overcoat. He pulled out the white tube of cream and his jaw dropped open. Those tricksters. But now was not the time for revenge. He needed to concentrate on his mission.

As if sensing his rekindled determination, the goddess spoke. “What do you want?” Her lazy words wove their way across the emptiness toward him and wrapped themselves around him.

Robert cleared his throat. “Greetings, my Goddess. It is an honor to be in your presence.” His voice faltered and he swallowed. “My name is Robert Westbrook.” He bowed his head. A second flitted by. Another. He cautiously glanced up.

The woman standing before him had not stirred. The ripples in her dress gently swelled and receded.
Robert licked his lips. A pearl of sweat tickled as it ran down his temple. “I have dedicated my life to finding you. I am your humble servant.” He dropped to one knee.

“How interesting.” The woman’s sweet voice coiled tighter around him.

She turned, and Robert gasped for breath. Her eyes were two unsettling black pits speckled with stars—the cradle of the universe itself.

“Oh, my… I must say…” Finding words became more and more difficult. “Your beauty has no rival, my Goddess.”

The woman’s brow furrowed, and the corners of her mouth sank into an unflattering scowl. “Yes…beauty.” She lifted her chin. “That is why your kind represent me as an old man. With a beard and a scythe—and an hourglass. You call me Father?” She pointed at herself. “Look closely at me. Observe my brilliance! Now imagine me in a black cloak, lugging a useless hourglass and a scythe from one place to another!”

Without uttering a word, Robert settled his gaze on the ground. It was best not to infuriate her.
“Black is not my color!” she continued. “Have the Grim Reaper wear black if he so wishes. Not me! I am Time, overseer of the universe!”

Robert waited for her to finish with a bowed head, his lips pressed together.

“How did you arrive at my plane?” Time demanded. “For what reason do you dare interrupt my passage?”
Robert took a deep breath, cleared his throat, and in a smooth, unwavering voice, said, “I have dedicated my life to the summoning of Devourers and the travel from one astral plane to another. Years ago, the Devourer Abaddon, my Keeper, suggested I study your magnificence. Since then, I have spent my life honoring you and investigating how to contact you. Today, I have achieved my lifelong ambition. I am finally here, with you.” He smiled. Time did not look impressed. He swallowed and said softly, “Abaddon informed me of the state of the universe.”

Time awarded him a withering look. “So you know. Those beasts cannot hold their tongues.”

“We are living in interesting times.”

“And your prattle is boring me.” Time turned.

“No! Wait! My Goddess, I’m here to make a deal, if you would listen to what I have to offer.” Robert swallowed and his ears clicked. “I wish to buy a bit of time.”

Time gasped, and a cold breeze swept across Robert.

“Foolish little man! Buy a bit of me? How dare you insult me!” A purple mist rose from the ground, making Time’s dress flutter in bubbling waves and locks of her hair dance like serpents. She swelled into a fifteen-foot colossus, her silhouette overshadowing the white plane beneath her.

Robert clambered to his feet and braced himself.

“Many have tried to beguile me,” Time’s voice thundered from above. “Many have come to me speaking promises of glory or revenge, but none have succeeded. Why should you be any different?”

Robert sensibly stepped back and clasped his hands together. “Please forgive me, my Goddess. It was not my wish to offend you. I only wish for some time for myself…to enjoy the expanse of the universe around me. Surely you understand this modest man’s yearning? If only you had a little time to spare for me, for my purposes, for my—”

A little time to spare? Your people only understand divisions of me—you are too closed-minded to fully grasp my brilliance.” Time brushed her waving hair away from her face, her voice now breathy and low. “So be it.”

She placed a finger against her temple and closed her eyes. “Eight hundred and fifty-five billion, nine hundred seventy-five million, eighty-three thousand, seven hundred, and eleven years, two months, twenty-six days, four hours, thirty-seven minutes and nineteen…eighteen…seventeen seconds is what remains of me, if this helps your organic brain to understand my magnificence.” She crossed her arms, still scowling, still towering over him.

Despite himself, Robert smirked and muttered, “Ah, so now I know when you come to an end. Lucky I won’t be there to see it.” He raised his voice. “All I request is a little bit of you for myself. Not much, you see. Perhaps something as simple as one hair from the top of your head. May I ask how much time it would be?”

“Pluck a hair from my head? Preposterous!” Her voice echoed until it was lost, blended into the mist.
Robert’s lips curled into the beginning of a smirk. “I have an offer that might interest you, my Goddess.”

Those words made Time stop short. The winds receded.

“Just one hair,” Robert pressed. “In exchange for what I have to offer.”

Time gently pulled at her locks. “One of these…?” Slowly, her rage ebbed away and she shrank. “Well,” she murmured as she caressed her hair, “this one is quite long… I would say this one would be about nine hundred forty-seven thousand, six hundred and eighty-two years.” Her eyes locked onto Robert’s. “Does your eminence consider that an adequate amount?”

Robert’s stomach turned into a simmering lump of coal, and when he spoke, his voice came out dazed, hardly his own. “Oh, yes, it would be more than enough.”

“And what are you planning on giving me in return for my generosity? A heartfelt thank you? A dedication in your memoirs? I have been offered all that before, and have turned down whoever was foolish enough to believe I could be interested in honor. Surprise me, please. I would appreciate it if you were more original than the fools before you.”

Robert gave her a shy smile, although excitement pulsed through his veins. Now was his moment to shine. His hand disappeared into his pocket and came back out holding the unlabeled tube of cream. He held it on his open palm. “I bring this.” His voice rang out across the empty plane. “Especially made for you.”

Time leaned forward. “What is it?”

“Please understand I do not wish to insult you, my Goddess, my Time…but there is something I must tell you.”

“Tell me what?” She lifted an eyebrow.

“I have discovered an imperfection in your otherwise flawless complexion.”

Time’s starry eyes narrowed. She stared at him, her mouth now no more than a thin crimson line. Robert nodded to himself. She suspects something… Now he could chance being more direct.

He lowered his voice to a murmur. “You wouldn’t want people to begin traveling through them, now would you?”

Time gasped and her hands flew to her face. Robert’s chest swelled with pride, for he had discovered her secret, her shameful, embarrassing secret. He knew she had…wrinkles.

Her fingertips caressed the tiny web of crow’s feet at the corner of each eye. Robert waited in silence, still holding out the tube of cream.

Time straightened her shoulders and said in a huff, “You dare come here and distract me with your ridiculous request? And now you call me a wrinkly old hag! Presumptuous little man!” The constellations in her eyes shifted, and, for a speeding second, Robert thought he saw Sagittarius place an arrow in his bow.

He collected his thoughts. “Believe me when I say I would never call you anything other than beautiful. Your beauty is what inspired me to fabricate this cream, to protect you from harmful cosmic agents. Please take it. 
Do not let anything alter your perfection.”

Time glared at him, her lower lip trembling. Her shoulders sagged. “My perfection is gone—adulterated! Millions are using my cursed wrinkles as interstellar highways.” She sighed and let her head drop in defeat. “They come and go. With each voyage, they make the furrows run deeper. I do not know what to do.”

Robert caught his breath. “W—what?” His hand trembled. “No, no! Time, who’s using them? I never heard of anybody traveling through your wrinkles! They’re so insignificant that physicists haven’t discovered them yet, much less developed the technology to send spaceships through them! This cream is for you to erase the lines from your lovely face before anyone recognizes your flaws and tries to exploit them.”

Time cocked her head, locks of hair falling over her face. “What species are you, again?”

“Human.”

The stars in her eyes dimmed and she waved him away. “I was referring to the Vermeen. They have been using my misfortune to their advantage for so long.”

“Oh.” Robert lowered his hand and the tube disappeared into his closed fist. He bit his cheek. So somebody with the correct technology had discovered Time’s wrinkles. But wait—that shouldn’t be a problem. If all went well, an alien race he’d never heard of would lose a priceless method of transportation. With Time almost ready to do business with him, he couldn’t care less for the Vermeen and their interstellar highways.

He splashed on a renewed smile and once more offered the cream. “It looks like you should teach those Vermeen some respect.”

Time gazed at him, surprise crossing her face. Robert couldn’t blame her for her distrust, for he had studied the occult journals of others who had traveled to this astral plane before him. Seekers of the past had feared the goddess and treated her as nothing more than a heartless, supernatural creature. Yet for some reason, one after another had insisted she owed them favors and chastised her with their petitions. Robert knew better, especially now that God had left the universe.

A thin smile formed on Time’s lips. “Let me see.” She snatched the tube from his upturned palm. She uncapped it, squeezed it, and sniffed the pink cream.

“Now, I must inform you that this is only a trial,” Robert said. “It took me months of investigation, over a dozen active ingredients, and more than one failure. I completely trust its safety, but I cannot be sure of its potency until you try it. If it works and you accept my request, I will make you more.”

“Yes, yes,” Time answered without looking at him. She dabbed the rich, pearly cream onto her finger, sniffed it again, and patted it across her face. “Here,” she said as she handed back the tube.

With both hands, she massaged the cream onto her forehead and the corners of her eyes while Robert waited and held his breath. All of a sudden, the untrusting, scowling avatar of Time vanished, and Robert found himself gazing upon a radiant woman made up of everything he could ever desire.

“This feels wonderful!” she said. “I am fed up with all those Vermeen taking advantage of my flaws. As if it is not embarrassing enough to look at myself and have my crow’s feet greet me, having mortals use them to travel is simply humiliating.”

Robert gave her a lopsided grin but kept silent. He was too busy praying for his concoction to work.

Once Time had finished spreading the cream across her face and neck, she let out a quick sigh.

He watched her for a few anxious moments, then leaned forward. “Do you feel it working?”

“Not yet. Wait.” The stars shivered excitedly in her eyes. She tilted back her head.

Robert’s heart drummed against his chest while he screwed the lid back on the tube. Then the inevitable happened. The hem of Time’s dress trembled. Her hands shot to her face.

“I felt it!”

Robert jumped. “Are you sure?”

“Yes! A wrinkle closed while a Vermeen vessel was in mid-trip! That ought to teach them!”

She locked her gaze onto him. The constellations inside her eyes sparkled brighter than ever. “It works. Make me more.”

Robert grinned and bowed. “I will be honored to, but only in exchange for you-know-what.”

Once he had selected the precious hair he wanted for his own, Time yanked it out and handed it to him. Robert’s eyes softened as he held the golden thread in his open palms. Then, without further hesitation, he rolled it up into a ball, popped it into his mouth, and swallowed it.

He had achieved his goal, and now time stretched out ahead of him, as endless as all of creation. He would observe humanity’s plight for the better part of a million years. He would watch it rise and expand, and he would watch it fall if he had to.

Oh, he expected to enjoy every moment of it.