Welcome to the fifth day of the Cerulean Dreams blog tour. It will run until July 24th and will feature excerpts, new author interviews each day, and a video blog by the author. But first, here is the obligatory blurb about the novel to settle you into this dystopian world:
Orion, the last city of men. Deep within the desert, a secret lay waiting. Young women found dead in the street. A corporation that controls the sleep of a populace that never sees the light of day. Alexander Marlowe seeks to unravel the mysteries of Orion as he helps a young girl, Dana, flee the city. The closer they come to the truth, the greater the danger that hunts them. Follow them as they search beyond the boundaries of everything they have ever known for answers.
A few questions for the author:
If you had to go back and do it all over, is there any aspect of your novel or getting it published that you would change?
Not really. I like to keep moving forward. I believe that we have very limited time here, and I want to make the most of it. I have a lot of ideas and things I want to accomplish, so I cannot be looking back. After all, I do not wish to turn into a pillar of salt.
How do you market your work? What avenues have you found to work best for your genre?
Very aggressively in as many markets as possible. I spend a lot of time each day cultivating relationships with other writers, as well as new readers. I have been working on a handbook for simple marketing techniques for new authors, so I won’t spill the beans here.
Have you written a book you love that you have not been able to get published?
I wrote a small book called The Journey that is published, but is rarely read. It is one of those books that is hit-or-miss for most readers. I do not blame anyone for not enjoying the novel, as it does present a challenge to the reader to be very critical as they move through the prose.
Can you tell us about your upcoming book?
I suppose this would more appropriately be called upcoming books. I am re-releasing a YA novel, putting out a sequel to Bitten, releasing a new fantasy romance novel, as well as a plethora of short fiction serials that are digital-only titles. I like to stay busy.
Here be an excerpt for your enjoyment:
The clicks of her heels were like metallic raindrops in the hallway. Curled brown hair, layered and falling past her shoulders, danced around her face as she focused straight ahead. Cruel brown eyes pierced the darkness of the Cerulean Dreams’ 97th floor, the administration division.
Her dark black dress was business-like and only slightly feminine. Her visor was drawn over only her left eye. Segments of code and flashing images occupied half her attention, the other was on the empty hall that led to the singular room on the floor.
The walls were glassy, comprised of a hybrid of steel and plastic. Nearly transparent, they showed the slowly dwindling night and the approach of the sunrise. Already the horizon was a deep shade of red and orange as the sun struggled to make its daily trip from east to west.
The door had nothing printed on it: no door handle, no imprint recognition systems. It was a steel slab set in recess from the wall. There was no color difference between it and the rest of the hall. She stood in front of it militantly. Her posture was perfect, the slender fingers of her right hand held a single folder. Red-polished nails clicked against its surface.
“Access Granted.” The voice sounded omniscient.
She did not smile or nod.
The door slid away. Disappearing into the rest of the wall, a brightly lit interior was revealed, a sharp contrast with the rest of Orion. She stepped through, a toss of her hair as she waited for the door to close behind her.
The room she had entered was yet another hall. This one narrower than the previous one, lined with a single line of blue light that ran horizontal to the floor. It fluxed occasionally from blue to red.
It ended abruptly.
There was another recess.
This one was darker than the rest of the wall and devoid of the line of iridescent light. She waited again. Her visor flashed to an overhead view of Orion during the day, people bustling about their daily grind. They wore their visors proudly, chatting away. As the image faded out, letters spelled across the screen: Orion, the last refuge of man brought to you by Cerulean Dreams.
The recess disappeared into the surrounding wall. She walked through, ignoring the slew of commercials as they passed before her left eye. Upon closer inspection, one might have noticed that even though her left iris was brown, it radiated a deep blue with dark black lines crawling back into her skull.
The two previous hallways had been barren, simply metal carvings. This was a plush suite. The wall opposite the door was one large window that stretched from corner to corner, more than a hundred meters. Adjacent walls were covered in expressionist paintings, mostly digital reinterpretations; the originals had long since been destroyed.
A large bureau sat against the right wall. Looming and shadowed, its contents were sealed. Several couches lay end to end along the left wall, glass tables before them: crisp and clean. A mammoth desk straddled the clear window; behind it stood a man.
His voice was strong, clear. “I want the figures to me immediately,” he spoke and then looking up, saw the woman. He motioned her forward and continued. “If OrionCorps cannot do as I ask, then I will seek out other alternatives.”
He paused, watching as the woman sat down gracefully, flicking her hair back. He nodded. “Right, right. I want to see Buchanan immediately.” Shaking his head, he touched his right temple and turned to the woman. “Susan, nice of you to drop in. What do you have for me?”
She did not bother to disengage her visor, leaving one eye occupied. “Quarterly reports of the sleep patterns throughout Orion. The increased melatonin levels are keeping sleep intervals to a maximum. This latest upgrade will have starling results. I have no doubts, Dr. Roth.”
Dr. Aaron Roth was a brazenly handsome man. Dark black hair streaked with gray from his temples and boyish blue eyes that sparkled when he talked belied his nearly fifty years of age. “What news do we have on the project?”
Susan shifted, crossing one leg over the other.
“Dr. Methias had a distressing report, sir.”
Roth rose from his chair and looked out the massive window at Orion. Signs screamed of advertisements, of places and objects that citizens craved, but did not need. “Distressing? Was there another failure?”
Susan cleared her throat. Placing the folder on the desk, she was not quite ready to reveal its contents. “The latest prototype has disappeared from the Messiah facility. There is talk that it has escaped.”
Roth sighed, his broad shoulders tensing as he continued to stare out at the city. Even from the height of the 97th floor, the blue visors of Cerulean Dreams gleamed as citizens went about their daily tasks by cover of night. “The Lurking Project was created so that there could be no disappearances. Prototypes of this nature do not simply get up and walk away. Have Cleaning Crews been through Methias’ lab yet?”
“Negative, sir. I wanted to come to you first before initiating any course of action. There is talk among his subordinates that he might have allowed the breach, designed the escape.”
Roth nodded, his azure eyes watching the unassuming populace as they sweltered in the humidity and thought nothing of danger or personal safety. Orion was a pinnacle.
“Have OrionCorps sweep the place. I was on the comm with Administrator Stratton at OrionCorps. He was worried about some disturbance in the Messiah district. Inform him that we have a hazard in the sector and want OrionCorps to investigate Methias, excluding his lab. We cannot have them snooping around sensitive sections of the research.”
Susan opened her mouth to speak, but Roth silenced her with a swipe of his hand. “Have Cleaning Crews move the lab immediately to the 98th and 99th floor of this building. I want to oversee this personally from here. Once the lab is moved, confine Methias to his personal residence and have OrionCorps sweep the cleaned building. Plant what you need to drive suspicion toward Methias.”
Susan nodded, her cold features hiding the fear that crawled over her spine. Although Roth seemed nothing more than a powerful mogul, he was cruel to the core. The very depths of his soul more darkened than the underbelly of the city.
“Very well, sir. I will have that enacted immediately.”
Roth stood impassive.
Susan cleared her throat, rising and taking the folder in her hand once again. She moved toward Roth carefully, hand and contents extended. “There is another matter, sir. I’m not certain if it is worth mentioning. However, it came across the network last night around the same time as the OrionCorps response to the Cedars Tower incident in the Messiah district.”
His face was a scowl.
“What kind of matter is it?”
She handed him the papers, which he accepted with a hard, quizzical stare. “Something that might prove to be connected to the Lurking project. It is too soon to verify, sir.”
He opened the contents, leafing through them quickly and then bending it so that he could read it more clearly. “Would you care to explain what it is that I am reading, Dr. Crowne?”
Stepping closer to Roth, she spoke. “As you are aware, the synaptic and neural patterns of every citizen of Orion are catalogued and monitored through my department on the 27th floor.”
Roth nodded, allowing Susan to reclaim the papers.
She cleared her throat again nervously. “We were compiling neural responses to the upgrades, running diagnostic tests on seventy-five percent of the populace as you had requested.”
“As always, we had a few citizens who waited until the last moment. Not necessarily out of spite, but perhaps lethargy or forgetfulness. However, mere minutes before the OrionCorps response to the Cedars Tower, there was an anomaly with one of the upgrades.”
Roth seemed annoyed by her explanation.
“Alexander Marlowe, sir,” she replied.
She handed him the folder again, showing him the dossier on Marlowe. “Ex-military, OrionCorps for a few years. Works in the private sector now. He is the anomaly?” spoke Roth.
“Not him necessarily.”
Roth sighed impatiently.
“Please do get to the point, Dr. Crowne.”
She shuffled the papers. “Of course, he has been ignoring the upgrade pretty steadily, making a point to divert his visor from recognizing it. He was in pursuit of someone last night when the upgrade was overridden by the network and the mainframe forced him to download or else sever the connection.”
“So he received the upgrade at that time?”
She shook her head.
“Activate remote viewing system,” she said, looking past Roth. The window tinted, plunging the room into darkness; from the center of the room a light emerged. The panel was several meters wide on all sides, like a massive pulsating square. “An engineering technician was at his station when this series of events took place. As per Cerulean Dreams procedural code, we catalogued the interaction and stored it for future reference.”
Roth crossed his arms over his chest.
“Well, let’s see it then.”
“Activate visual/audio link.” The screen showed Marlowe from above as he entered the stairwell. His lips were moving, but there was no sound. “We seem to be having difficulty with the audio.”
Roth exhaled irritably.
“Anyways, we watch as he climbs the stairs. Cedars Tower had a visual link on each floor. We see him reach the 49th floor. Things get a little blurry here since we only have a few visual ports on the floor.”
They watch as Marlowe is manhandled by the ogre of man for a few moments before the tide is turned. “Shadows make it difficult to make any kind of identification of the attacker, or of Marlowe himself. Though, we followed him this far and can reasonably discern that it is indeed him.”
“What exactly should I be looking for here? Why is this such a matter of urgency?”
Susan touched her temple.
“Fast forward to 4918,” she commanded.
“4918?” echoed Roth.
“You will see, sir.” They watch Marlowe scout the door and then enter. There is no audio. Only shadows in the interior, hundreds, thousands of them. “Do you see it, sir?”
“Shadows, probably squatters,” he answered angrily.
She paced toward the screen, pointing with one of her perfectly manicured figures. “There is only one registered neural signature in that room. One, sir. Not ten, not a hundred, certainly not thousands as this video would lead us to believe.”
Roth moved around his desk and toward the screen. The shadows moved and contorted. “Right there, stop program,” he spoke, his hand pointing at a sliver of light resembling a humanoid form. “What in the name of Orion is that?”
Susan smiled: she had been right to bring it to his attention. “That, sir, is the damnedest thing I have ever seen. I had the network go over it again, stripping away layer mapping to reveal some semblance of identity.” She turned back to the screen. “This is what we made of it. We removed the colors from the imaging and transferred it to a black and white background, darker shading for thermal signatures.”
The image shifted.
The light diminished and there were only two shadowed forms. “You see here that the other shadows fall away. We can tell that this figure here is Marlowe, the blue hue of his brain patterns signifies a network connection, at least for now.”
Roth pointed at the other figure, the lithe, demure frame. “What about this one? There is no residual uplink coloration. What or who are we looking at?”
“Things get very strange, very quickly, sir. I think we are able to reestablish audio for a moment, but we lose the connection––permanently.”
“Permanently? That is impossible. No one in this city is ever unplugged from this building. Even when inactive, there is always an open signal.”
Susan smiled, her raptor’s smirk that of victory for she was in control of the knowledge. “Precisely, sir. That is what makes what happens here so important. We remove another layer and we can plainly see it is a woman. It is what she says that I think you will find most interesting.”
The visual uplink jostled a bit. The imaging crackled as they watched Marlowe interact with the mystery woman. Then, the voice echoed and the words that were spoken startled Roth more than he was willing to show. “…the Lurking,” was all that issued from the garbled feminine voice.
“What? She did not just say what I think she said?”
The uplink contorted. Blinking angrily, it then exploded into a shower of fiery rain and blackness, the signal lost. Susan touched her temple once more. “Visual complete. Resume OS procedures.”
The screen lifted and the windows cleared again, the tint dispersing. Roth leaned against his desk, his arms crossed over his chest. “What did I just witness?”
“The network could not explain what happened. We went over what Marlowe’s visor catalogued and processed right before the blackout.”
“And?” Roth asked exasperatedly.
“He received the upgrade as per Cerulean Dreams network policy. At the end of the download, he interacted with the woman who mentions the Lurking project. His melatonin and oxytocin levels skyrocket, and his neural activity is off the charts. He has full synapse connectivity before the connection is severed.”
“His mind imploded?”
Susan opened the folder once again, showing a sheet of data to the mute expression upon Roth’s face. “In a manner of speaking. More appropriately, his mind is working at one hundred percent or as near as a being can without system failure. There has always been fear that complete use of the brain would be more than the physical body could handle. However, Marlowe’s brain functions are of such a high resolution that it is impossible to say what happened.”
“If pressed, I would say that his mind overrode the network, severing the connection completely on accident,” remarked Dr. Crowne, her confidence restored.
“Is reconnection possible?”
“Absolutely, the hardware for the uplink still exists. All that has happened is the companion software has been destroyed by the neural processes. We can remote connect, but how long that could take, or what resistance we are going to face, is difficult to predict.”
Roth shuffled through the papers, stopping at a printout of the stripped layer mapping of the interaction in 4918. “What about this woman? What do we know?”
“I have my suspicions. I think she might be what has gone missing from the project, what Methias said had escaped.”
Roth clicked his right hand against his chin as he looked at the picture. His blue eyes were intent upon the two figures. “Where are they now?”
Roth threw the paper down, resuming his looming presence behind his desk. “I think it would be safe to assume that Marlowe and this woman are together. OrionCorps would have turned over an un-coded woman immediately. The fact that she was not found and there was an OrionCorps response seconds after this confirms that suspicion.”
Susan touched her temple, watching the stream of images and information that passed through her eye. “They activated the suicide protocol outside of Cedars Tower, disappearing into the adjacent building. They have not been recovered. They could be anywhere in the city.”
Roth linked his hands together, resting his chin upon them. “Who would have called OrionCorps in? Why would there have been such a prompt response?” mused Roth.
“Buchanan. Stratton answers to Buchanan. There is no way a mass solider deployment like that could have been authorized without Stratton. But why?”
Roth leaned back in his chair, linking his hands behind his head. “I think that is a question best answered by Buchanan, don’t you?”
Susan nodded, swallowing hard.
“Contact his office. I want him here immediately,” spoke Roth calmly.
Nodding again, Susan turned.
His voice stopped her. “Oh Susan,” he began.
She looked over her shoulder. “Yes, sir?”
“Have Armon look into this Marlowe situation immediately. I have a feeling that we will want to speak to Mr. Marlowe and his companion very soon.”
Susan bowed. “Of course, sir.”
She turned stiffly and exited the room, disappearing beyond the recess into the cold interior of the Cerulean Dreams building. Roth turned his chair and looked out upon Orion. The sun was a bulbous sliver on the horizon to the east. It was going to be an interesting day in the utopian metropolis.
Bio: A psychologist, author, editor, philosopher, martial artist, and skeptic, he has published several novels and currently has many in print, including: The End of the World Playlist, Bitten, The Journey, The Ocean and the Hourglass, The Path of the Fallen, The Portent, and Cerulean Dreams. Follow him on Twitter (@AuthorDanOBrien) or visit his blog http://thedanobrienproject.blogspot.com. He recently started a consultation business. You can find more information about it here: http://www.amalgamconsulting.com/.
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Visit http://thedanobrienproject.blogspot.com/ and follow the blog for a chance to win a Kindle Fire!