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Dan Ronco

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Books by Dan Ronco
2031: The Singularity Pogrom
by Dan Ronco   

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Books by Dan Ronco - View all
· Unholy Domain
· PeaceMaker: A Thriller



Publisher:  AllThingsThatMatterPress ISBN-10:  0984621601 Type:  Fiction


Copyright:  2010 ISBN-13:  9780984621606

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Everything About Futuristic Thrillers and Hard Science Fiction

No one really has the guts to say it, but if we could make better human beings by knowing how to add genes, why shouldn’t we?

—-- James Watson, Co-discoverer of the structure of DNA

My new novel, 2031: The Singularity Pogrom takes Watson’s idea and raises the ante. Why not integrate artificial and human intelligence in these "better human beings"? Would the result continue to be human or perhaps something dangerous beyond our understanding?

Welcome to the violent world of 2031.


In the tradition of 1984 and 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, 2031: THE SINGULARITY POGROM explores humanity’s next great evolutionary challenge. Set in a violent near-future where human and artificial intelligence threaten to merge, 2031 is a clash of wills between software genius Ray Brown, his gifted but troubled son David, and megalomaniac Dianne Morgan, Ray’s one-time lover. 


David Brown’s unique ability to mentally communicate with Sentinel, the artificial intelligence running the Internet, marks him as a prime candidate for Dianne’s experiment to integrate human and artificial intelligence.  Holding his wife hostage, Dianne drives David toward a life-threatening unification with Sentinel.  Or is David a willing prisoner with his own plan?


Meanwhile, a rebellion brews.  Led by Ray Brown, African tribes unite to wage a bloody war to defeat Diane’s sinister organization, the Domain, and preserve humanity in its traditional role.


The tipping point arrives; in a gruesome delivery, David’s beloved wife dies birthing a son who seems barely human.  The antagonism between father and son grows into hatred as the boy matures.  By age six, Martin Brown’s powers already exceed David’s, and he plots to kill his father in order to claim Sentinel as his own.


Human evolution hangs in the balance as David, Ray, Dianne, and Martin clash in an epic conflict that comes to a startling and unexpected conclusion in 2031.


2031: The SINGULARITY POGROM delivers all the excitement of a thriller while also delving into provocative themes: the bioethics of genetic engineering, the question of what limit (if any) should be placed on technology, the problem of reconciling faith in God and respect for traditional humanity with the technological promises of artificial intelligence, and the age-old issue of family ties and the complex relationship between father and son.




Chapter One
Written by Dan Ronco

It was that time of the morning when the darkness reluctantly surrenders to an arriving dawn. An orange glow spreads along the horizon, heralding the start of another endless day.

The island’s desolate shore challenged his will every morning. Barely aware of the rumble of waves rushing toward the beach, Ray Brown ran at the tide’s edge. His world was the rhythmic flow of air rushing through his lungs and the crunch of rough limestone sand under his feet. Arms and legs pumping like a fine engine, his long, lean body traveled effortlessly along the slanted coastline.

Soon the dark outline of the barbed-wire fence would come into view.

This atoll, this god-forsaken island somewhere in the Indian – at least he guessed it was the Indian Ocean—had been his prison every day of thirteen years. Every morning he made his solitary run. He wasn’t sure why he ran, but the rising sun always found him loping along its circumference.

To his right, just beyond the point where the sandy coast turned into a sparse woodland of trees and shrubs, a ten-foot electrically charged, barbed-wire fence stretched parallel to the beachfront. A sentry had warned him that the charge was sufficient to electrocute a man, so he kept his distance. He remembered measuring the fence one morning many years earlier: exactly two hundred and fifty-four feet. That was back in the days when he still prayed for escape.

What a fool. He had really believed he would escape. Half a dozen tries and all failed. Almost seven years had passed since his last attempt.

The fence enclosed a small village of dirt roads, prefabricated sheds disguised as native huts and about a half-dozen suspicious guards. Crates of food, barrels of fuel oil and other supplies were delivered by helicopter in the dark of night. Ray didn’t see anyone this morning, but he knew his captors watched him closely; during his first year of imprisonment, he had discovered cameras hidden in the trees scattered across the island.

He knew every tree, every bush on Purgatory Island; that’s what he had named it. Every day an indifferent morning sun turned merciless in the afternoon. Every day the same salty breeze, the same warm rain. He forced himself to listen to the rumble of the surf, but nothing had changed. Nothing ever changed.

The morning was the best part of the day. And the worst. Morning brought him closest to the Almighty; drew him toward a belief in eternity; the golden sun turning darkness into morning, puffs of clouds drifting over a vast sea, salty air cleansing his soul. But morning also brought bitterness; made him remember how it had been when he could embrace his sons, when he had his work, when every day was an adventure.

When he had a life.

He would never see his sons again. Brian had been a beautiful boy of eight with sandy hair and a toothy grin. David, then eleven, had inherited his father’s gift for creating software.

Ray had attempted suicide on the tenth year of his imprisonment. Hopelessness had done it. There had been no planning, no analysis. One morning, after his run, he had dived into the ocean and swam toward the sun. It had felt so good, that swim. They told him he had been almost three miles out from shore before exhaustion dragged him under. He remembered the roar of the helicopter blades cutting through the air. He fought as the divers pulled him to the surface, but he was too weak to resist.

Time had imprinted the island in his mind. Just one clue— a tree, the shape of the beach, or a glimpse of the lagoon—and he knew his location. Purgatory Island would be in his mind until the day he died. Which would probably be on this god-forsaken island.

Sweat began to trickle down his forehead, but he maintained a fast pace, digging deep into his reserves. He wiped the sweat with the back of his hand and kept running.

God, I hate this island.

This slice of the coast, where a jagged coral peninsula stretched into the ocean, brought memories of another place. A long time ago, he lived in a rugged Oregon home overlooking the Pacific. He would sit on his porch, developing software, changing the world. The newscasters had called him a genius, brilliant, gifted. Now, they called him Devil and celebrated his death.

It was all a lie.

Time seems to slow down. I become aware of the steady thump thump of my heart, of life-giving air pulsing in and out of my lungs, of the contraction and extension of thigh muscles as I stride across the coarse sand. I imagine I can feel every cell of my body, working in unison, lifting me into another world which should be mine, but isn’t.

The outline of his hut, dominated by the tall cylindrical trunks and curving pinnate leaves of palm trees, appeared around the gentle curve of the shoreline. As he had done for thirteen years, he veered off to the left, splashed into the cold water and dove through a breaker. The ocean chilled him to the bone, and the cold water brought him back to this life, this reality. He swam parallel to the beach, letting the salty foam slide along his body, soothing his resentment, preparing him for another day.

I should have killed Dianne when I had the chance.

When he spotted the four-foot coral wall, he strode out of the water. Waves crashed against his back, then retreated as he walked up the sloping beach toward the wall. He guessed tribesmen had built it a century earlier to shield their village from the crashing waves of tropical storms. Now it protected his huts. He briskly dried himself with a warm towel hanging on the wall, leaving his sun-bronzed skin tingling in the breeze. As he did every morning, he braced himself with one hand and vaulted over the wall.

At fifty-five, he was in the best shape of his life. The morning run and the island food had chiseled his body into a lean, flowing chorus of muscle and tendon.

Shortly after his suicide attempt, Dianne had allowed David to visit him on the island. Only an hour, but he learned David had forgiven all his shortcomings as a father and still loved him. He also learned that David planned to assassinate Dianne as soon as he found a breach in her security. Maybe he should have urged David to put aside any thought of revenge and live a normal life, but someone had to kill that monster.

David also told him that Brian had suffered a mental breakdown and was being treated in an institution. David said Brian was making steady progress and had a good chance for a full recovery. David didn’t say it, but Ray knew that he was to blame. Being Ray Brown’s son was a heavy cross to bear.

Behind the wall were three modest structures— two huts and a larger community house— all constructed from the atoll’s coral base. His hut consisted of a bedroom and a rough bath, just like Paul’s. It was comfortable, and it became his hideaway when he needed to be alone. Although Paul was his best friend, there were times when solitude was crucial.

I should never have dragged Paul into this.

Paul Martino was leaning over a sizzling stove preparing breakfast when Ray entered the community house. The scent of eggs, toast and, most of all, coffee was familiar and pleasing. Their captors had provided an ample kitchen with an oven, microwave, two-faucet sink, refrigerator and an oak table with two chairs. The adjoining room contained several computers and a hologram viewer, which allowed them to receive satellite news.

Balding, with a potbelly and thin arms, Paul hadn’t aged well on the island. Once the publisher of a leading on-line magazine, Paul had also been a prisoner all these years. Thirteen years earlier, they tried to stop Dianne Morgan from releasing PeaceMaker, a horrific computer virus. They failed, and PeaceMaker shut down the Internet, bringing transportation, communications, power and virtually every other industry to a crunching halt. Dianne had planned to blackmail the governments of the world into sharing power with the Domain, the clandestine organization she led. Ray eventually terminated PeaceMaker, but not before it caused massive death and destruction. The Domain captured him, framed him for the virus attack and faked his death. Dianne’s revenge was this wretched island.

“You plan to stand there like a block of wood or are you going to help me?” Paul asked in his soprano voice, looking over his shoulder at Ray.

Maybe it was his voice, but many people thought Paul was gay. In the years before their imprisonment, guys had always been coming on to him, but he was straight. Paul had dated a handful of women, but none of those relationships lasted more than a few months. No real male friends, either. For some reason, he and Paul had hit it off, right from the start. Twenty-five years, and they were still the best of friends. Behind his back, some people had called them the odd couple. Big joke.

Ray placed his hand on his forehead, looked at the ceiling and said, “Let me see if I can guess what you’re making.” He paused a moment and said, “This is a tough one, but I predict scrambled eggs, wheat toast and coffee.”

“Man, you’re hilarious,” Paul said, shaking the eggs in a frying pan over a low flame, “You should have your own holovision show. Probably be the biggest hit on the island. Right now, however, why don’t you make toast.”

As Ray put bread in the toaster, Paul said, “Hell of a job. We finally found your strength.”

Ray checked the coffee, poured a cup for each of them and sat at the table. He took a sip, made a face and said, “Don’t know how you do it, but you can make fresh coffee taste two days old.”

Paul said, “God, you’re amusing,” and divided the eggs between their plates. When the toast popped up, he placed two slices in each plate, brought the meal over to the table, and sat down.

“I saw on the news this morning that the Domain just hit one billion citizens,” Paul said while buttering his toast, “There was a ceremony where the President awarded Dianne some sort of medal. Although we made her late by a decade, it seems that Dianne has achieved everything she wanted.”

“Did she have his arm twisted behind his back?”

“Even though the Domain controls technology,” Paul said, “I still find it amazing that the U.S. doesn’t treat them like the criminals they are. It reminds me of the Cold War, where the U.S. and Soviet Union lived in so-called peaceful coexistence.” He bit off a piece of toast, chewed and swallowed, “Except that the Domain coexists within the U.S. and many other nations. It’s a cancer, spreading across the globe.”

“There’s still hope,” Ray said, shaking pepper on his eggs, “Almost six billion people have refused to join.”

Ray tried not to think about Dianne. She was the most amazing woman he had ever met, and once they had been lovers. Alone in his bed at night, he could still imagine the silky feel of her thighs, the hot excitement of her mouth and the demanding pressure of her hips. Maybe it was pride, or maybe depression, but he had refused to speak to her since she imprisoned him on the island. Not that it mattered; she was the leader of the Domain, the most powerful organization in the world, while he ran laps on Purgatory Island.

“People continue to join the Domain and who can blame them?” Paul said. He paused, then smiled, “Maybe people will come to their senses, and I hope you’re right about most refusing to join. Although it would be the first time.” Paul stopped chewing on his toast and cocked his head slightly to the side, as if recalling something important, “On the other hand, the law of averages is working in your favor.”

Ray was about to reply, when he noticed something bobbing in the ocean well beyond the breakers. Maybe a log riding the waves? Staring for a moment, he spotted several other logs. “What the hell,” he muttered as he stood up and walked to the window.

Paul joined him at the window, staring past the breakers, “What are you looking at? I don’t see anything.”

Ray pointed to the right, “Way out on the horizon, looks like several logs, but they are shooting over the waves, so they can’t be logs.” Water sprayed to the sides as the “logs” powered over the waves. “Paul, those are anti-gravity hovercrafts. Look how fast they’re coming! Small hovercrafts.”

“I see them,” Paul said, squinting, “What the hell are they doing here?”

For the first time in thirteen years, an oscillating siren screamed from within the barbed-wire camp. This would not be just another day.

“They’re coming to get us,” Ray shouted over the siren.

“To save us or kill us?” Paul asked.

Ray bolted out the kitchen door and ran to the surf’s edge. Now he could hear the whine of the hovercrafts as they flew inches over the water. Shading his eyes from the blistering sun, he counted three—no, four hovercrafts rushing toward shore. The two in front each carried two passengers, while the two in the rear each bore a single passenger.

Freedom, his mind roared. They have to be rescuers.

From behind, Paul yanked on his elbow and shouted, “Over there,” pointing in the direction of the barbed-wire enclosure. Four guards, each armed with a laser rifle, ran onto the beach, followed by two Daniel androids, the all-purpose model manufactured by the Domain. Ray had seen the Daniels put down riots in newscasts, but this was the first time he had seen them on the island. They were about six feet tall, built in the image of a pleasant-looking young man. However, each android was armed with a laser rifle.

Ray had built the original Daniel in his workshop back in 2012 with the intent of providing a robot that would be a helper to humanity. These monsters were another perversion of his work by Dianne Morgan.

The androids galloped across the sand, their human-looking bodies silent as ghosts. The lead Daniel pointed its laser at the boats and fired an intense beam of white light as it ran.

The guards waited for the androids to catch up. They spoke briefly and then split up, with one Daniel and a guard running toward Ray, while the others ran to intercept the hovercrafts. Ray watched the android lumber toward him, each stride sinking into the sand. The Daniel seemed to be of medium build, but its body must be heavily armored.

“Let’s get the hell out of here,” Paul shouted over the crashing surf, and they started running.

Pumping arms and legs energized Ray’s mind. His life depended on staying ahead of his captors until the men from the hovercrafts arrived. He wasn’t sure who these men were, but anything was better than another day here.

“Stop,” a guard screamed at them, “Stop or we’ll shoot.”

Paul and Ray ran toward the rising sun, which cast long shadows through the palm trees. Ray was in the lead with Paul puffing behind him. Paul’s running soon became labored, so Ray slowed to stay with him. Glancing over his shoulder, Ray saw a guard gaining on them, although the robot was falling back, struggling through the sand with short, choppy strides. He estimated the guard was about three hundred yards behind. If Ray didn’t do something, the guard would soon be within firing range.

The bark of distant gunfire came across the island, followed by the much louder roar of an explosion. He hoped the blast had obliterated their captors.

Troubled by Paul’s slowing pace, he knew they should seek cover in the forest. Ray shouted, “Follow me,” and cut toward the interior of the island. Paul trailed behind, gasping for breath. Ray feared the soldier’s laser weapon, but he again slowed his pace for Paul. Once they scrambled over the crest of the beach, the landscape changed to dark rubble covered with scrub trees and bushes. Hoping to lose their pursuers, Ray led Paul in a winding run through the scrub. He heard Paul stumble and turned to see him on his hands and knees, gulping air, drenched in sweat.

This wasn’t working; he might be able to outrun their enemies, but Paul wasn’t going to make it.

“Get out of here,” Paul said, gasping for air. “I’ll try to slow them down.”

Ray pulled Paul to his feet and looked around, “Listen to me,” he said, holding onto his friend’s bicep. Pointing toward a thicket, he said, “Hide in the bush behind that big palm. I’ll draw them off, and then you get the Marines.”

Ray backtracked a few strides until he caught a glimpse of the oncoming soldier, turned and ran toward the interior of the island, making plenty of noise. He felt the heat of a laser beam as it scorched the trunk of a nearby tree. Racing ahead, he fought his fear as he zigzagged in and out of the brush. Another beam flashed over his shoulder as he sprinted through a grove of coconut trees. He leaped over a fallen branch without breaking stride, his pursuer less than one hundred yards behind.


Paul crouched in the shadows of a tall, leafy bush, still breathing hard, keeping his eye on the path Ray had just taken. Paul had wiped out his tracks, but he wasn’t sure it would fool his enemies. Sweat rolled down his forehead, attracting insects that buzzed and dived at his face. When a laser flashed in the distance, he rose to his feet, straining to see through the brush, ready to flee. No one was coming. He settled back on one knee, relieved the laser wasn’t meant for him. Then his stomach clenched; Ray must be running for his life. A second laser flashed, further away this time.

Run, you bastard, run.

Looking in the direction of the laser flash, Paul spotted the outline of a soldier rushing through the bush. The man disappeared into thick underbrush, but Paul listened until the enemy’s footsteps faded away. Paul’s breathing was still labored, but his strength was returning.

Once again, he heard footsteps, but these were slower and heavier. His eyes searched back along the original path, trying to locate the source of the sound. Then he saw a Daniel lumbering through the brush. The android ran with short, unsteady strides, as if each step required a massive computation. Paul figured the uneven terrain made running difficult.

The android stopped and bent over to examine the trail. It dawned on Paul that this robot would not blindly follow its human partner; it seemed to be thinking on its own.

Paul froze when the Daniel stood up and rotated its head in a complete circle. His fingernails were digging into the tree in front of him, so he tried to relax. The android turned around and walked back along the path, stopping at the point where Ray had dashed into the brush. Paul could barely see the android through the trees. Once again, it rotated its head in a complete circle. It seemed to Paul that the thing was trying to make up its mind: follow Ray’s tracks or search for him.

Suddenly, it turned around and began lumbering back in Paul’s direction. It’s coming after me. He tried to sneak away, but the android must have heard him, because it lifted its weapon and spread a laser arc that hissed into nearby brush. Terrified, Paul started running, hoping the undergrowth would keep him out of the robot’s gun sight.

The brush grew thicker as he ran inland, until he came to a wide pond that covered the interior of the atoll. He was familiar with the pond, so he didn’t hesitate to splash through its turbid water, but he lost his footing in the slippery muck and almost fell. He recovered and splashed through the waist-high water, terrified that the android would get a clear shot at him before he made it to cover on the other side. Finally, his feet crunched dry sand. Gasping for breath, he collapsed behind a thick coconut tree.

The android appeared on the other side and aimed its weapon in his direction. A white-hot beam narrowly missed him, burning deep into the trunk of the coconut tree. He jerked his head back, but another beam hissed past as the Daniel splashed into the pond. A series of beams flashed past Paul’s head and shoulders, pinning him behind the tree.

There was a much louder splash and he peered around the tree trunk. The android was flailing about, with its head and shoulders underwater. Knowing he would never get a better opportunity to escape, Paul ran through the scrub on a diagonal away from the pond. The deadly hiss of a laser forced him to dive behind a mahoe tree, its thick, heart-shaped leaves providing good cover.

Something was wrong with the monster. It was standing in the middle of the pond, firing wildly into trees and brush on the other side.

The android stopped shooting and walked toward the far edge of the pond. It was clearly having trouble navigating the slippery muck and almost fell again. Suddenly, it turned in a circle and sprayed intense white beams in all directions. Paul pulled his head behind the mahoe tree, but none of the laser shots came close.

When he looked again, the Daniel was standing still in the center of the pond. Then it hit him; the damn thing is blind. He realized that the water must have damaged the robot’s circuits when it fell. He had read somewhere that a Daniel could employ heat-seeking sensors to supplement its vision, but the water might have damaged those, too. It couldn’t see anything, so it must be listening for a sound that would give away his location.

If he distracted it with a noise, he could escape. Paul glanced around until he saw a softball-sized chunk of coral, but it was in the open about three yards away.

He waited until a soft breeze sighed in the trees, then slowly lifted his foot and carefully placed it on the sandy rubble. He froze when the robot’s head rotated in his direction. He knew that if he were wrong about the android’s vision, a cascade of deadly beams would cut him to pieces.

The Daniel appeared to focus directly on him, then snapped around and sprayed laser beams several yards to his left. The laser’s hiss covered his second step, which placed him alongside the chunk of coral. He bent down and picked it off the rubble, then threw it as hard as he could into a grove of trees on the other side of the pond. The android spun around and charged, spraying white rays into the grove.

Paul ran in the opposite direction, knowing that the deadly laser hum would muffle his steps. The android kept shooting, but not at him.

In a moment, he was safe.


Sweat glistening on his body, Ray ran for his life. Not the long, loping strides of the morning; now his feet churned up the rubble as he strained to stay ahead of his pursuer. His chest heaved powerfully as he weaved his way through the brush.

He stopped to catch his breath, leaning against a twisted pine tree. He had run in a broad semi-circle, knowing he needed to double back to reach the men in the hovercrafts. If they were still alive. He listened for his pursuer, but the woods were silent.

Ray moved quietly through the undergrowth, listening for footsteps, looking in all directions. The atoll wasn’t large, maybe two square miles. There were only so many places to hide. His enemy could be ahead.

Peering through the brush, he looked across the turbid water of the pond. He crept forward, trying to stay under the cover of the trees and brush. Pausing behind a palm tree, he again looked across the pond, then caught his breath; a Daniel stood motionless in the center of the pond, waiting to ambush the unwary.

Ray wondered if Paul had eluded the android, but there was no way to tell. He looked ahead, searching for an escape route that would keep him out of sight. Then a branch snapped not far behind.


Boots crunched on sand; the soldier was coming closer. Ray was about to make a run for it, but he froze when the robot’s head rotated in his direction. Leaves rustled behind him, and he turned to see the muzzle of a laser rifle pointed at him. A broad-shouldered Domain soldier was hiding in a thicket, ready to kill if he tried to escape. The soldier’s lips curled into a nasty smile as he stepped out from the thicket, making a low rattle as he pushed through the branches.

It’s over. There’s no place to run.

A cascade of intense white light ripped past him and severed the soldier’s arm. The man’s scream was cut abruptly when another beam burned into his face. The remains of his body fell backwards, and Ray turned to see the Daniel still aiming its laser in the direction of the soldier. The android fired again, with the white-hot beams making little puffs in the rubble around a lifeless slab of scorched meat and bone.

Finally, it stopped firing. With its weapon still pointed in his direction, the Daniel awkwardly splashed out of the water. Ray froze, hoping that the android wouldn’t spot him.

Why had it fired at a Domain soldier?

Ray held his breath as the monster passed within ten feet of him. He was amazed when the android walked past the soldier’s remains and disappeared into the brush.

It’s blind!

Maybe there is a god.


When Paul emerged from the brush, he saw half a dozen lifeless bodies, both Domain soldiers and rescuers, stretched out in the sand. The scorched remnants of a Daniel were scattered around a circular depression in the beach, with wisps of black smoke coming from the center of the circle.

Paul heard someone shout, “Mr. Martino,” and then a muscular African man stepped out from a grove of trees. Two men followed: a white guy armed with a rifle, and a Hispanic man carrying a missile launcher. All three men were wearing form-fitting wet suits, with goggles hanging loosely around their necks.

The black man ran up to him and said, “Where is Mr. Brown?”

Paul looked the man over. Everything about him raised alarms. Several inches over six feet tall, angular with long, rope-like muscles that seemed to bunch up in his neck, he gave the impression of a coiled spring. But it was the man’s eyes that worried him: dark, deep-set, without a trace of compassion.

“Who are you?” Paul asked.

“My name is Nkumah and I’m an enemy of the Domain. That’s all I can say until we’re safe. A sub is waiting a few miles offshore.” Nkumah grabbed Paul’s arm and dug his fingers in painfully, “We have to get Mr. Brown off the island immediately. Our mutual enemy has launched robot planes.”

Paul didn’t trust this man, but after thirteen years on the island, he was ready to take a chance. He tried to pull away from Nkumah, but his arm didn’t come free until Nkumah released it. Trotting, Paul led his rescuers in the direction of the pond. His bicep throbbed with each step from Nkumah’s grip, but he refused to give the bastard the pleasure of seeing his pain. He was barely half-way to the pond when a familiar voice called him, and Ray popped out of the brush. Paul’s relief surged as his friend approached.

Maybe we’ll get off this island after all.

When Ray joined them, Nkumah said, “It’s tight, but we can make it. The Domain launched its fighters at least fifteen minutes ago.” Concentrating on Ray, he said, “We’re leaving. Come with us— Morgan can’t risk leaving you alive now.”

“Wait,” Ray said, “Who sent you?”

Nkumah said, “We can discuss that when you’re safe,” and then the three strangers started running back toward the beach. Paul heard something crashing through the brush, coming in their direction.

“That damn android is following the sound of our voices,” he said to Ray.

Ray looked at Paul and said, “You want to play tag with that robot?”

“Screw you.”

Ray grinned, and then took off after the strangers, with Paul close behind. Nkumah glanced back, a hint of a smile playing across his lips, and kept running.


Ray reached the beach just as a light rain began. The sky darkened, but didn’t turn black.

The strangers’ hovercrafts were narrow, with a seat behind the steering wheel for the driver and one in the back for a passenger. Compact propellers underneath and at the rear of the craft allowed it to fly inches above land or water. Ray watched the black man gracefully step onto the small craft, then slide into the driver’s seat.

Who is this man? Why has he risked his life to rescue me?

Nkumah started the engine, and the hovercraft lifted off the ground and spun to face the ocean. He signaled Ray to get into the back seat.

“Don’t go with them, Ray,” said a sultry, all-too-familiar voice.

It’s her!

He turned around and was shocked breathless. Dianne Morgan stood on the beach about twenty feet away, dressed in a tight white blouse and blue slacks that complimented her athletic figure. Her face was too thin, too masculine to be beautiful, but her pale blue eyes demanded his attention. Old feelings resurfaced, and his chest tightened.

“Come back to me,” she pleaded, “We’re for each other, no matter what.”

The wind blew across the beach, but Dianne’s dark hair didn’t move. He realized it was a hologram, a life-size, three-dimensional image of her, but that didn’t make it easier. A long time ago, before he recognized her for the tyrant she was, he had been in love with her. He hadn’t spoken to her, hadn’t seen her up close, for more than a decade. She couldn’t hide the lines in her forehead, but she was still the same amazing woman.

Almost beautiful, he thought, not able to take his eyes off her.

“I know this man,” she shouted above the hum of the hovercraft, indicating Nkumah, “He’s an assassin— one of those anti-technology fanatics. I don’t know what he wants with you, but don’t trust him.”

Her voice had deepened over the years, and it was even more compelling. Ray glanced at Paul and then turned to Nkumah, “Is what she says true?”

The stranger glared at Dianne’s image. “It’s true that I have fought the Domain in Africa for years. This creature has the appearance of a woman, but she’s a destroyer.” Ray noticed that Nkumah’s big hands were balled into fists. “We fight her and the Domain because they are slaughtering my people. You can understand that, you’ve seen her evil up close.” He roared, “How many thousands has she killed already? How long before she crushes all of us, leaving only the Domain?”

Dianne’s sudden appearance had thrown Ray off-stride, but now his hatred for her came raging back. Dianne had expanded her power over the years, mutating into a deranged colossus straddling humanity. She divided humanity into two castes—Domain citizens and primitive humans—and reserved all new technology for the Domain. Never had one person held such power.

Thirteen years on Purgatory Island because of this woman.

Ray slid into the hovercraft and fastened his seatbelt. He was disgusted with his sudden weakness for Dianne. Turning his back on her, he shouted, “Let’s get the hell out of here.”

“You’ll never get away, you bastard,” she shouted at him, walking forward.“ You were always a fool. I’ll hunt you down.” He leaned forward in the boat to keep his balance. Her voice carried over the hum of the engine, “I know why Nkumah wants you, but nobody will believe your story.”

The hovercraft rushed forward, carrying them above the surf.

Her voice screamed over his shoulder, “You still love me!”

Ray held onto the sides of the speeding hovercraft, trying not to look back. When they were clear of the breakers, his resolve weakened and he looked over his shoulder. Dianne’s hologram was standing on the beach, hands on hips, still watching him, but slowly receding into the morning sun.

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Beyond Understanding by richard cederberg

In this fourth and final installment the intrepid crew is taken to the limits of their endurance as they brave a subterranean world filled with dangers and bizarre wonders. When Th..  
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