Chapter 1

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Cyn

By Mark Carver


I saw the inconceivable mystery of a soul that knew no restraint, no faith, and no fear, yet struggling blindly with itself.

– Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness


PROLOGUE

CJ's throat burned, as if hot oil was being poured down her windpipe. She gagged and sputtered, then froze in a panic.

It wasn't oil. It was blood.

The thickest, blackest darkness she had ever experienced pressed down on her eyes like a hand clamped down over her face. The putrid smell of smoke, ozone, and burning flesh rushed into her nostrils and harsh noises snapped and popped next to her ears like birds pecking at her skull. She felt something wrapped around her body – dozens of wires squeezing her muscles, slicing into her skin.

Her confusion and terror was almost palatable, but one thought pierced the chaos.

I need to breathe!

Clenching the muscles in her core, she heaved with all her might and vomited blood and bile like a shotgun blast. It splattered against something very close and dripped back onto her face in large sticky droplets.

Despite her disgust, CJ greedily gulped foul-smelling air, then turned her attention to whatever was constricting her like a snake. Ignoring her blindness, the vicious sounds gnashing next to her ears, and the gobs of blood falling onto her face, she slowly slid her right hand out of its confinement, inch by inch. The first thing she did was lash out with her fist and then roar with pain as her knuckles collided with something cold and solid. But it moved a few inches.

CJ sucked in a deep breath and cold horror crept over her skin.

She was inside the stasis pod. Something had gone wrong and now she was trapped in an ergonomic coffin on an inter-dimensional jump ship. Paralyzing thoughts raced through her mind.

Did the ship crash? Was it being torn apart in another dimension? How badly was she hurt?

David...

She snarled like an animal as she lashed out with her free hand again and again. A sliver of flickering light flashed across her face with each blow as the lid covering the pod lifted up an inch or two, then slammed back down, making more bloody drops rain down on her face. She gagged and fought the urge to vomit again, slamming the palm of her hand against the pod lid with all her strength.

It popped open and a shower of sparks exploded above her. CJ screamed and turned away as scorching bits of metal and glass rained down. Panting like a rabid animal, she writhed and bucked and twisted. She didn't care about the web of wires wrapped around her, slicing through her suit and drawing blood.

She just wanted to get out.

Her right hand ached and throbbed but she commanded the pain to be silent. Bellowing like a bull, she grabbed a fistful of wires and yanked them from their sockets, freeing her torso. She bolted upright and quickly shimmied her legs out of the horrific cocoon. Circuits and electronics popped and hissed in and around the pod.

She was free. Now she had to get to David.

Gripping the side of the pod, she leaped over the edge and collapsed to the ground. Only then did she realize that her body was covered with bruises and lacerations. Blood poured into her left eye from a gash high on her forehead, her right pinky was probably broken, and her right thigh felt like a red-hot poker had been rammed through the muscle tissue. Spasms of pain and panic raced through her nerves like electric pulses. Her vision began to swim and for a moment, she thought she was going to pass out.

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