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Sunfail

Sunfail, October 2015
by Steven Savile

Akashic Books
Featuring: Jake Carter
ISBN: 1617754064
EAN: 9781617754067
Kindle: B0150SC7HK
Paperback / e-Book
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"The end of the world is nigh...or is it?"

Fresh Fiction Review

Sunfail
Steven Savile

Reviewed by Debbie Wiley
Posted November 20, 2015

Science Fiction

A conspiracy is afoot and Jake Carter finds himself smack in the midst of it. Strange signs are emerging, both through the natural world and manmade. In fact, the sun itself appears to be failing and a worldwide blackout has everyone predicting the end of the world. Jake is dragged into a hidden world when he receives a phone call from an ex-girlfriend asking for help. Can Jake survive when the stakes are worldwide?

SUNFAIL is an intriguing and fast-paced story. In fact, I could easily envision SUNFAIL as a movie as author Steven Savile has a gift for crafting exciting action scenes. Even more stunning, however, is Steven Savile's talent at producing eerie scenes in the midst of the familiar. Whether the scenery is the New York City subway or underwater, the incredible details and eloquent phrasing create just the right sort of ambiance to make the worldwide conspiracy theory seem plausible.

Steven Savile weaves together a wickedly clever tale in which the action never relents. Jake is the sort of main character who will appeal to readers of action stories. He's working as a NYC electrician but has a background in Special Forces. His skills and prowess are outstanding, perhaps a little more so than I typically like as I'm more a fan of flawed heroes. If you like your stories fast paced and full of various prophecies and conspiracy theories, then look no further than SUNFAIL.

Learn more about Sunfail

SUMMARY

Dogs howl in the streets, running wild. Birds fall dead from the sky. Even the sun itself is failing. As darkness descends all hell breaks loose, terrorists strike hard and fast, taking out the army base at Fort Hamilton, Brooklyn.

Jake Carter, formerly Special Forces, is now an NYC subway electrician who finds himself dragged into a world of conspiracy and menace by a woman he hasn't spoken to in over a decade. When Carter finds two young men spraying graffiti across the subway station walls, he realizes these marks aren't gang tags or band names, they are a message, a call to arms spelled out in a lost language. The Hidden are communicating with each other.

Carter must now answer some impossible questions: How do you fight an enemy you cannot see? How do you stop some of the richest and most powerful men in the world when they own the shadows? And most important of all, how do you stay alive when the world around you is dying?

Excerpt

It started with the dogs howling.

Their desperate barks mingled in the dark to become a single dangerous note. They prowled the streets, claws skittering across the blacktop. Their eyes glowed feverishly in the shadows as their growls echoed off the stone, brick, and concrete to fill the night. They were the creatures of nightmare, driven mad by some unseen force. They ran the avenues, hunting in packs.

News reports were already calling Manhattan “Dogland.”

Above the skyscrapers and tenements storms brewed. The cloud formations were unlike anything that had been seen over the city before. It was more than just winter skies. They gathered, churning, swirling, swarming, promising the storm of the century. At first a flicker of wind would spring up, barely a breeze, but those flickers grew and grew until they were bullying people through the streets. As the wind raced through the canyons of the city it gathered in strength, feeding on the vitality of New York City as it whipped up the trash and yesterday’s news lining the gutter and tossed both equally high in the air. From that little flicker of wind a maelstrom grew, strong enough to pull lovers’ hands apart as they crossed Central Park, strong enough to panic horses and send their carriages careening across the six lanes of blacktop, uprooting saplings.

And then the rains came.

They pelted the brownstones and office blocks alike with bullet-hard drops, the deluge deafening as it drowned the world in a gray blur.

The sky itself was tortured, bleeding purple, sometimes green, sometimes blue-black, shot through with veins of lightning that barely lit the damned dark long enough to cast forked shadows on the ground. It seemed that the storms were never going to end, as though the sun itself had failed them, and then as suddenly as they began, the storms ended with the clouds rolling back across the heavens, golden rays spearing down. It was almost as if the city had been born again.

Evangelists took to the subways and the street corners, preaching a brand-new gospel. This time, they swore on their holy books, the end truly was nigh. They asked the question: “Have you made your peace with your god?” It didn’t matter what creed or denomination, all of the gods old and new were ready for your confession, they promised. And why not? It was the end of the year, why not the end of the world as well?

They always talked about the end of the world, nuclear winter, mutually assured destruction, asteroids colliding with the earth, knocking Gaia off her axis, the sun imploding or burning out; there was always a cult somewhere in the city that believed all of these eventualities and more. As each year wound down, each decade ticked over, they’d crawl out of the woodwork to claim we were killing our planet. Fear is part of the cycle of life; it’s as simple as that. Fear that tomorrow will be different. Fear that it won’t. But with the storms and the dogs and everything else, so many portents everywhere you looked that couldn’t be ignored, it felt different this time. They even had a hashtag for it on Twitter, #sunfail. It trended for six days. On the seventh day there was no Internet.

It was only natural that people panicked, that manners faded and the rules of polite society crumbled and slowly broke down. They were thinking about survival in terms of the fittest making it to the other side of the darkest days. People whispered their deepest fears: the earth was poised to strike back, to prove just how temporary we were as a species, motes in the eye of time. They barely dared to breathe the scariest thought of all: We are the dinosaurs of our age, lumbering toward extinction.

Tempers grew short, arguments were solved with fists, knives, and, more times than the stretched-thin law could cope with, guns.

A new culture thrived, not the old gangs of the seventies that the city had worked so hard to stamp out, not the old turf wars and tagging, but rather ordinary everyday people banding together, and more dangerous than any of those old gangs because they were fighting to protect their homes and livelihoods from looters and thieves. These “watches” coalesced in alleyways and vacant lots and abandoned buildings, putting down markers to divide the city into entirely new territories and claiming these places were protected. People drew comfort from their presence. The idea was simple: together we are strong.

Graffiti began to appear on walls and doors and mailboxes, old symbols that hadn’t been used for centuries: the Eye of Horus, the Blood of Isis, the jackal head of Anubis. Other symbols joined them on the weeping bricks of the beaten city, strange unions of letters and images as though the alphabet had mated with a bestiary. The shapes couldn’t easily be deciphered, but clearly carried meaning and significance, eerily beautiful and terrifying, and yet still somehow elegant. These weren’t gang tags; they were devotions.

Yes, there was still beauty in the crumbling city.

It was just a different kind of beauty.

It didn’t take long for the street-corner evangelists to drop their Bibles. The holy book didn’t make a good shield. Morning, noon, and night, they clutched fetishes of feathers, scales, and tiny pots of blood, more like shamans and snake oil salesmen than Bible thumpers. They spoke of trials and warrior blood and hell on earth. The cops steered clear of them, not wanting to be tarred by the craziness. What did it matter if people bought a few protective talismans or had wardings inked into their flesh to fend off the evil spirits?

It didn’t take long for people to start claiming they saw the dead walking the streets, pacing through the Bronx and Brooklyn, standing uncertainly on the sidewalks in Weehawken and Hoboken, lost, silently shaping words in Long Island City and Astoria. It was collective hysteria. Revenants couldn’t return for justice denied them in life. That kind of talk was infectious though. Long- buried superstitions bubbled to the surface. The Day of the Dead wasn’t just a holiday from south of the border now.

And yet not everything came to a standstill.

The subway trains still ran, even if cars clogged the streets, the highways, the tunnels. The good people of New York still went to work. Businesses still operated, even if reduced to a skeleton staff. Life went on. The city was bent but not broken. Bowed but not beaten. It was bleaker than before, but this was the city that never slept, this was the city where dreams were made. It had survived so much. It would survive so much more.

And then the birds began to fall from the sky.

Tiny feathered bodies plummeted to earth, their eyes wide and stunned, their wings flapping uselessly against gravity as they squawked and cried, sounding far too human in their fear as they fell. Even the pigeons, already street-dwelling scavengers, were completely grounded.

But worse was the silence that followed.

There wasn’t a bird left in the sky above New York.

That was yesterday.

This is today.

The swimmer launched himself off the side of the boat, jumping high into the air, kicking and shrieking with laughter as he cannonballed through the surface. He disappeared beneath the spray, and then surged back to the surface, the ripples lapping around his shoulders, neck, and head. He slapped at the water, dived and resurfaced, shaking the surf out of his hair. There were good days, there were great days, and there were days like this. This was what life was all about.

The sun, high in the clear blue sky, was picture-postcard bright. He’d lit out and headed straight for the marina, knowing he’d find Pauline waiting. They’d set out the minute he was on board, and with the engine humming, he’d stripped out of the button-down shirt and vest and slacks while Pauline played the letch, enjoying the strip as he turned and bared his ass to her wolf whistles. He had the ocean to mask just how much he enjoyed his wife looking at him.

She joined him in the water. There wasn’t anyone else for miles in any direction. He checked his mask, adjusted the mouthpiece of his tank, and then dove down, letting the water come together again over his head, the ocean swallowing him whole.

The quality of light changed down here; the sunlight filtered through in shafts of emerald and gold. Around those slanting paths were shadows, dim but clear. A school of vibrantly colored fish swam through the gold into the green before disappearing into darker water. They were captivating to watch. He ducked away from the light, his languid strokes carrying him slowly deeper as his eyes adjusted to the dark. Air bubbles rafted up beside his face. The steady inhale-exhale of the breathing apparatus was Darth Vader–loud in his ears. He glanced upward, seeing Pauline splashing about near the surface. He smiled around the ventilator. He was in the mood to go deep.

Kicking downward, he sent himself on a steady glide toward the ocean floor, kicking again every dozen or so feet deeper he went. It was only a couple of hundred feet to the seabed, and now that his eyes had become accustomed to the gloom he could see just fine. This aquatic world was in constant motion, schools of small fish darted past, surging around him, above him and below. As beautiful as it was, there was something in their rapid dart-twist-dive motion that kept him alert as he swam deeper. The fish were agitated. That wasn’t a good thing. They weren’t reacting to him as if he was a predator, but something had them skittish. It was dumb to ignore the fish. He wasn’t dumb. Scanning the dark waters, he didn’t see the telltale shadow of a shark or any of the ocean’s more deadly swimmers.

He pushed on another fifty feet down, keeping his strokes smooth and strong, enjoying the silence beyond the dub- dub of his pulse in his temples and the white noise of the bubbles he breathed out. He loved it down here.

Part of him wished he could stay down here forever, swimming lazily above the beds of coral and watching the stands of seaweed and clusters of underwater flowers undulate beneath his shadow.

He watched as a tiny crab hustled along through the sand.

Then something caught his eye.

In the long sliding silence between breaths, he was sure it was the shadow of some huge marine hunter. His pulse quickened. To one side the ocean floor sloped away, the shallows dropping off a shelf and deepening into a wide trench. The light thickened long before he could make out just how deep it was.

That only piqued his curiosity.

He swam closer, turning on the small flashlight fitted into his goggles, and peered down into the dark shadows, each stroke taking him deeper.

He didn’t trust his eyes, but he wasn’t deep enough for the pressure to bring on any hallucinations. He wasn’t drunk or high or just plain crazy, but what he saw didn’t make any sense.

After staring for a minute, the swimmer kicked down hard, moving as close to the impossible landscape as he dared.

It was like nothing he’d ever seen.

A hidden world.

His first crazy thought was that he’d stumbled across Atlantis. He struggled to take in the sheer scope of the underwater city. In the distance he could barely make out the distinctive shape of pyramids towering above other drowned buildings. At the foot of them, a big, crouching sphinx guarded the place.

He checked his air. He was down to less than quarter of a tank. Nowhere near enough to explore the drowned city. So he made a judgment call and kicked for the surface. A minute later, his head broke through to open air.

He pulled the mask off and spat the mouthpiece out. The sunlight was blindingly bright; he squinted into it. He was no more than a hundred yards from the boat. He waved for his wife, shouting to get her attention. Pauline waved back. He didn’t stop waving until she got the message. A few seconds later, the roar of the boat’s engine echoed across the water as it glided toward him.

He trod water.

He didn’t dare leave the spot until he could mark it. It wasn’t like underwater cities turned up every day.

In the distance, he saw blue lights as thousands of ethereal, glasslike sea creatures were swept ashore by the wind.

It was hard not to think that there was something very wrong with the ocean.

Sitting in a darkened office that wasn’t hers, staring blankly at a computer screen she shouldn’t have had access to, Sophie Keane came to a decision.

What they were doing was wrong.

She’d known it for a while, suspected it for even longer, but confronted with the cold hard truth she knew she had to stop them or die trying. She owed the world that much, in expiation for the part she’d already played in this whole nightmarish mess.

But if she was really going to walk down this road she couldn’t walk it alone.

She reached into her backpack for a still-boxed burner phone, and tore away the shrink wrap. She fitted the battery, slipped the back into place, and thumbed it on. A second later the small screen lit up.

She dialed the number. In this day and age of contact lists, this was one of the few numbers she still knew by heart even though she hadn’t dialed it in years.

The call connected, the other end rang. And rang. And rang. Finally there was murmur, the voice warm and familiar. She’d missed hearing it. Getting his voicemail was good. She had a better chance of making it all the way through to the end of her apology without him interrupting her train of guilt.

“Jake,” she said. She paused, licked her lips, and took a deep breath. “It’s me.” She closed her eyes, but that didn’t help. She could see him, arms folded, giving her that Are you really going to do this? stare she remembered all too well. She opened her eyes, concentrating on the computer screen instead. The truth was there. She used it to gather the courage to continue. “Don’t hang up. Please. I know it’s been a long time, and I know you don’t want to hear this, not now. It’s too little, too late, but I need you to know I’m sorry. There are a lot of things I want to say to you, so many I don’t even know where to start, and there’s a clock ticking . . . I’m in trouble. I need help. I can’t do this alone. You’re the only person I can think of to call. Something is about to happen. Something bad. I’m not even sure how bad. No. I’m lying to you again. I know precisely how bad it’s going to be.”

Something clattered somewhere nearby, a small sound, but Sophie started, half-rose from her chair, eyes scanning the room. Nothing. The door was still shut, the lights in the hall still off. The only dim illumination came from the emergency strip-lighting out in the hall. Okay, deep breath. “Look, I’ll call again, I promise. I’m sorry. I’m sorry for everything. You didn’t deserve what happened. What I did to you . . . You’re going to hear stuff about me. Bad stuff. I’m not who you think I am.” She hung up before she said anything else. She was starting to unravel. She needed to focus. Stay strong.

She had lied to him again. He wasn’t the only person she could turn to. She made a second call, reaching out to The Watchers. She knew they’d take her call. They’d been waiting for it ever since they approached her all those weeks ago and tried to turn her against her paymasters. It was a short call. She only said two words: “I’m in.”

“Good,” the voice on the other end of the line said, as if her participation had never been in doubt. “You know what you need to do. They won’t remain hidden for long.”

The line went dead.

Pocketing the phone, Sophie rose and moved soundlessly over to the door. She peered through its frosted glass, but didn’t see any movement out there. She turned the knob carefully, willing it to stay silent as she opened the door a crack.

Still nothing.

A little more.

Nothing.

She waited, listening, then finally slipped out through the narrow gap into the hall. She pulled the door shut behind her rather than let the hydraulic arm close it automatically, making sure the catch didn’t click as it dropped into place. When she was sure it was safe, Sophie turned away from the office and moved quickly for the fire escape and the stairs. It was all about speed. Now that she’d made that call, she felt better about her decision.

No looking back.

Sophie exited the building fast, disappearing into the city like ghost.

She wasn’t the only ghost.

Once the Hidden’s man was sure she was gone, he stepped out of the darkness.

“We were right,” he said, seemingly speaking to the empty room. “She’s turned. I’ll take care of her.” He raised a finger to his ear and terminated the call by pressing down on the earbud he wore, and followed Sophie out into the city.

She wouldn’t get far.


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