In just one week, the prequel to my new series publishes in the Rogue Skies box set, and I wanted to give you a sneak peek of chapter one. If you enjoyed this, you can read the rest of this novel, along with 24 other novels, for only 99 cents in the limited edition box set. Learn more HERE.
There’s not enough peppermint schnapps to save me from what’s coming.
In less than a year, my brother and I will freeze to death, unless we starve first. Experts have created biodomes, built tunnels, and rationed food and fuel to make the end more tolerable, for a bit.
When Lon of planet Kaipra contacts me, claiming he has the key to our survival, I have to listen. He’ll help humans survive the ice age, but at the ultimate cost—I must agree to leave my brother, my friends, and the entire planet I call home to travel across the galaxy with him.
Can I trust him?
What are his plans with me?
And do I even have a choice?
This is an apocalyptic alien novel that’s filled with action, adventure, and an across-the-galaxy romance.
I was going insane—and it wasn’t the first time that sensation settled on me. I scooted my chair closer to the transmission radio, adjusted my headphones, and tightened my jacket. Over the past three days, I swore someone had been whispering my name in the static. With numb fingers, I turned a dial on the wall of blinking lights to the next frequency and leaned closer, closing my eyes and focusing on the sounds coming through my headphones.
A crackle, a murmur, a ping.
Eight years ago, I spent countless hours with my father in front of this transmission desk, listening to the sound of static. With his NASA issued radio, he taught me how to read the audio signals the satellites at the end of our solar system picked up despite his coworkers telling him contacting help was a lost cause. Many people urged him to spend his brilliance on developing cold tolerant technologies instead of reaching out to outer space for help.
Most called him crazy.
That was until Earth picked up on a pattern of sounds scientists hypothesized to be coming from intelligent life. A random pattern that suggested dialogue.
Now, an entire department at the Pentagon was devoted to cracking the alien language. A team that both my father and mother would be on if they were still alive.
It was a shame that neither lived long enough to see their theories proved true.
There was my name again. I pressed one side of my headphones tighter and stared at the dials, slowly turning it to another frequency.
I jumped and pulled my headphones off, spinning around. The basement stairs creaked as Newton jumped off the bottom step. I held my gloved hand over my rapid heartbeat and smiled at my only sibling.
Newton crossed the open basement and stood beside my father’s communication system. He nodded to the wall of lights, jetting his too-long bangs out of his eyes. “Are you done yet?”
I wouldn’t be done until the sun finally cooled enough to freeze us all to death, but my little brother didn’t need to hear that doom and gloom. “Almost.” I nodded at the trapper hat he held in his gloved hand. “And put that on. It’s freezing down here.”
He rolled his hazel eyes at me but pulled the hat over his hair, tucking his bangs away. Gone were the chubby cheeks of his youth, and now, they were thinning as he became a man—at least as much of a man as an eleven-year-old could be. Perhaps some of my brother’s physical changes were due to the stricter rationing of food.
“Hear anything?” Newton asked.
“I always hear something, just nothing I understand.” Unless you count the whispers of my name but was that my imagination?
Newton tapped his finger on today’s little square on the countdown calendar beside my desk. “Three-hundred seventy-five more days?”
I pulled the calendar down and laid it face-down in front of the radio. “Nothing for you to worry about. Is it time for drama club already?”
Ever since learning Earth was heading towards an Ice Age, people divided into two basic groups that were given the buzz terms: the hopeless and the hopeful. The hopeless group consisted of those who were paralyzed with fear. People who gave up on life or did anything they wanted because there were no consequences. The hopeful group were those set on surviving whatever conditions the Earth threw at them whether they were preppers or just relied on the government or scientists for protection.
I tried to keep Newton, Gran, and myself in the hopeful group. All we could do is live each day like the next would come. Because of that, I made Newton go to school and keep social interactions. I went to college too, but it was only to learn more skills for when the end hit.
Tonight was one of those social events I encouraged Newton to participate in. Once weekly, his school’s drama club met, and I volunteered to help—it was the best motherly duty I could do, considering Newton didn’t remember our mom very well. I enjoyed pretending we were two completely different people. We imagined the sun was warm and made us happy rather than the fact it would cause the death of us someday soon…like in 375 more days.
I stood from my desk and flipped the radio transmitter dials off. “Okay, let me get my gear on, and we’ll get going.”
* * *
I liked driving and loved seeing new places, yet fuel was expensive and rationed, so we didn’t get around much. We only drove out of necessity, but once a week, I got to drive Newton and me to drama club. It wasn’t a far drive, but Gran insisted we take the car because the temperature dropped at night, and she didn’t want eleven-year-old Newton out in the frigid cold. It seemed like every day there were new reports of severe frostbite or worse.
I cranked the heater and backed out of our driveway.
Newton held his hands in front of the vents as soon as warm air began to blow.
“Ahh,” he said.
Honestly, the best part about driving was the car’s heater. I could turn the heat on full blast with no fear of consequences. I pulled my hat off as the car’s temperature reached twenty degrees or so warmer than we kept our homes, due to the conservation of fuel. On special occasions, like our birthdays, Gran would let us turn the thermostat up into the sixties until the utilities noticed and shut it off. Until that point, it was like a summer day…
Except I remembered summer. I remembered sweating and drinking lemonade in our backyard. It was a good thing Newton didn’t have those memories because I think it’s what made his coping easier.
“Hmm?” I turned my head towards my brother who stared out the passenger window of Gran’s rusty, silver minivan. He didn’t seem to be focused on the frost-coated trees or the homes in desperate need of repair.
“I didn’t say anything,” Newton said.
I turned my attention back out the windshield as the car bounced down the center of the barren roads where the surface was so cracked, it resembled gravel more than asphalt, and pushed the whisper of my name away.
Now my name wasn’t coming from the radio. Were auditory hallucinations a sign of freezing to death or starvation?
Perhaps I had a brain tumor—not that it would matter. The rationing of medical supplies and freezing Earth would probably get me first.
* * *
The moment we walked into the school’s drama room, all our worries were left behind. Mr. Klipke handed us a large robe to throw over our winter weather gear, and we were in costume.
“Newton, you’re Sleepy the dwarf today. Jana, you’re the evil stepmother.” Mr. Klipke winked at me.
Stepmother. Ha. The irony hit me that it was a role I’d probably never play in real life. Stepmother or real mother…unless you counted my relationship with Newton. Two years ago, when I turned eighteen, President Cruz passed a law that couples were not allowed to have any more children. Violations of this law led taxes, fines, reduced rations, or, with repeated offense, prison time. It was probably one of the few laws she passed that I didn’t completely disagree with. Who’d bring a child into this world knowing they’d never make it out of diapers?
My parents had known the Earth was dying when Mom got pregnant with Newton. I had been so angry back then. My mother thought it was because I was a spoiled only child, but my anger was from knowing my little brother’s fate.
He’d never get to be a man.
Newton smiled as he buttoned his robe over his snowsuit. I couldn’t imagine life without him, and I spent every day making him happy. Even with seeing Newton’s enjoyment of life, bringing a child into this world was still a bit selfish.
Two hours of drama club flew by like minutes, and soon, Newton and I were back in Gran’s van with the heat cranked up to full blast.
“Going out tonight?” Newton asked.
I nodded. “Every night, kiddo.” I purposefully picked college classes that started a bit later so they didn’t impede on my almost-nightly escape.
I dropped Newton off at our house and parked Gran’s car in the driveway. Where I was going, I didn’t need—or want—to take a vehicle. McTipsy’s Irish Pub was a needed break from my studies, pseudo-parenting, dial turning, and my fake happy face. I needed the time to sulk a bit. Time to just be…me.
Perhaps I belonged in the hopeless group after all.
The evening wind stung my cheeks as I jogged the handful of blocks to my favorite hangout. I’d freeze if I walked, so jogging was a necessity to keep my blood flowing. As I turned onto Main Street and disappeared into McTipsy’s Irish Pub with the clover on the sign over the door already hidden behind frost, I felt like I was home.
Three years ago, the government lifted the drinking age restriction, but it didn’t make much of a difference. Sure, there were a few younger ones like me in the bar, but most patrons were middle aged.
The only thing missing here was my best friend, Lila. When we were seventeen and eighteen, she always joined me at the pub, but over the past two years, her appearances became less frequent. In fact, I don’t think she has been to McTipsy’s in months. Lila had created a sweet little life for herself that involved Jake, her serious boyfriend, and a clear denial of what was coming in all our futures. We still saw each other quite a bit, but she always made sure our interactions were happy and hopeful, not melancholy like I enjoyed at McTipsy’s. Perhaps her positive attitude was good for me, but it also drove me nuts at times.
“Hi Jana,” Stetson gave me a nod from behind the worn wooden counter. “The usual?”
I nodded, flipping back my mittens to reveal my fingers. A little alcohol would warm me up and make me not focus on the future. Stetson pulled down two bottles from the shelf behind him and a few glasses. As he poured, he nodded my way. “That’s some news about the sunspots, eh?”
I tilted my chin. “Did something new happen?”
Stetson pointed to a small TV in the corner of the bar, displaying a heat image of our sun. “They’ve been talking about it all day. It seems the sun may be cooling quicker than expected.”
My chest constricted, and I said what I had been fearing. “You mean we have less time?”
Stetson’s brown eyes drifted far away. “They haven’t announced the final numbers, but it appears we may have less than a year.”
“How much less?”
Stetson pushed two shot glasses my way, shaking himself out of his temporary trance. “They’re not saying.”
I downed one shot of peppermint schnapps. “I’ll take another round tonight.” I picked up the second and gave Stetson a little cheers salute before I made the drink disappear. I sucked some cold air into my mouth, and the chill refreshed my tongue. I felt alive—for a moment. No wonder peppermint schnapps was Mom’s favorite drink. My fingers and cheeks warmed, and the ever-present tension in my shoulders lessened. Two more shots clinked as Stetson placed them in front of me, along with whatever fruity beer he poured for me tonight.
At the other end of the polished wood bar, an older gentleman flagged Stetson over. “Gotta keep busy. We’re shorthanded again.”
I nodded. They were always shorthanded. Perpetual turnover at McTipsy’s and every other place of employment nationwide. People would take a job to earn a few bucks, then quit whenever they had enough cash to buy whatever it was they wanted. Why keep working when your days are numbered?
Why do anything when there was less than a year left?
I rarely ever got drunk and never stayed too long. I just enjoyed a few to take the edge off and to remember the sun. To forget the fate of my little brother.
But tonight, I was close to over-the-edge.
I spun around to two older men I didn’t recognize, both with big bushy beards sitting across from each other in a dark booth and very much in their own conversation. It was obvious they weren’t trying to get my attention. It wasn’t Stetson, either. He was at the end of the bar, serving a grey-haired couple. I watched him a bit, waiting for eye contact, but he was leaning on the bar, listening to the woman tell him something.
Had I not heard any voices on the radio?
Had the whisper of my name been nothing more than my imagination?
My mind was doing it again.
I sucked down my last shot.
“Jana?” The voice in my head was clearer this time, and male—deep and with a familiarity I couldn’t place.
Maybe I was more relaxed with liquid courage, but I was tired of ignoring my imagination. If I was going crazy, I needed confirmation.
“What do you want?” I snapped.
Stetson turned towards me and tilted his chin. I dismissed him with a wave.
“Are you the daughter of Matthew Keyhoe?”
What kind of joke was this?
I spun around but found nobody talking to me.
Was my imagination out of control?
I focused on the words I had heard but realized I hadn’t really heard them. My father’s name was whispered directly into my mind.
I was going crazy.
I pursed my lips together and rubbed my face. My beer was full, but I had had enough. I threw down a twenty and pushed through the double doors to the frigid outdoors.
“What do you want?” I repeated once alone on the sidewalk.
As I rounded the corner, more words filled my head. “It’s not what I want. I’m answering your father’s plea for help.”
My father’s plea for help?
My chest tightened, and I pushed the voice away, sprinting home in my clunky boots. The only plea for help my father had made was what we sent on the satellite, asking for extraterrestrial life in the universe to come. To take us to a warmer planet. To help move Earth closer to the sun. Anything to keep humans from going extinct.
Surely, an alien race wouldn’t talk to me. NASA was working on it. The whole Pentagon was working on it…
And I was nothing more than a twenty-year-old orphan who liked peppermint schnapps a bit too much.
IF YOU ENJOYED CHAPTER 1 OF “CONNECTING” YOU CAN LEARN WHERE TO FIND THE ENTIRE NOVEL HERE.