Please read along for an excerpt of The Kabrini Message.
Hovering in a small shuttle against the endless backdrop of black and stars, Mark Ranier wiped the faceplate of his suit to get a better look at the
destruction. He squinted as he took in the scene, attempting to wrap his brain around what had happened. From what he could tell, a support stanchion had caught the arm of the torch, breaking it at a joint. The broken segment had pushed backwards into the torch, smashing its hastily rigged control panel. The torch must have ignited as it rammed into the coupling, and it had already cut halfway through the massive metal link holding the two ships together.
“Mark,” Lou said. His face was strained. So was his voice. “We can’t shut it down!”
A shudder raced through Mark’s body as his mind suddenly made the terrifying leap to the only logical conclusion of their situation. If they wanted to save the Network—mankind’s only form of contact with the Kabrini—there was no turning back. Not to the City. Not to Earth. Not to anywhere other than the Barge’s pre-programmed course to oblivion in the darkest depths of space.
The Secret of the Oracle
Fifteen Years Earlier
The Big Safari
Bradley Prescott never saw it coming. He certainly never heard it. He didn’t cry out or do any of the things people do in the movies when they get shot. He just fell. He was dead. It was that simple. He was alive
before, and now he was dead.
Jennifer Prescott, on the other hand, did all of the things people do in the movies when they see someone get shot. She stared, she pointed, she screamed, she ran, she fell down, she got up and, mercifully, she fainted. If she had continued running, she probably would have been hit too. But now collapsed in a heap in the tall grass, Jennifer was hidden from view and safe for the moment.
Jeffrey Driscoll watched from the edge of the woods where he had dropped like a ton of bricks as soon as he heard the shot. He wondered what he should do. If he tried to crawl to Mrs. Prescott, the movement of the grass would give him away.
He considered running, but he felt a nagging responsibility for having forgotten his very own personal first rule of guidesmanship: the richer people get, the stupider they get. He knew they couldn’t really be that stupid or they wouldn’t stay rich; but these wealthy folks sure took a lot for granted. The Prescotts, a loaded couple in their early 60s, were as easily
confused and naïve as two little children. He had told them repeatedly never to go anywhere without him…but as he was breaking camp, the filthy rich idiots had run ahead.
Driscoll silently cursed them now as he lay motionless in the grass. He was positive that Bradley Prescott III’s last living thought was, “How dare you kill me! I’ll sue!” And he probably would—or at least his estate would. The trouble was they would probably sue Driscoll. This guide business really sucked. Driscoll despised escorting these senseless affluent assholes through the jungles of Africa, and he’d been threatening to quit for some
time. And this looked like a real good time.
But Driscoll’s sense of duty won out. So he concentrated his gaze on the thicket across the river, where he was fairly certain the shooter was hiding. Driscoll then proceeded to fire an entire box of twelve gauge shotgun shells into the thick underbrush, the gunshots exploding in earsplitting echoes throughout the jungle. He had to stop once to reload and let the gun cool off for a minute. Seeing absolutely no movement in the thicket, he dove
across the grass and landed a few feet from where Mrs. Jenny Prescott lay. He dragged her back, half-conscious, to the camp, thinking all the way that he should have just left her there and got the hell out. Now there was one, possibly two, people dead. And if this woman didn’t recover, guess who’d be left holding the old bag? He snickered at his clever pun.
By the time Driscoll reached the camp, Jennifer Prescott was awake, sputtering, and gasping something about dear old Brad. Driscoll threw her into the back of the Land Rover and proceeded to beat what he was certain must be the all-time speed record between Khartanga and Moombato Bay. He never entertained the slightest notion of going back for Bradley, as
Mrs. Prescott seemed to think was so important. “There’s no point going back for your husband…he’s dead!” Driscoll shouted toward the backseat. Mrs. Prescott continued her pleas until he reminded her, in graphic detail, of that instant before Brad fell, when a rather large part of his head started off for town ahead of them. Only then did she shut her trap. Actually, Driscoll’s cram course in Creative Anatomy did more than shut her up. Now she was in shock, Driscoll realized with a twinge of guilt. But at least she was quiet…and alive.
Later that night, Driscoll sat alone in a dark corner of a small, dingy bar in Moombato Bay, where he got very drunk as he tried to figure out what had happened. What had he missed about that spot? Why would that place be so damned important to somebody? There’s nothing of any value there. Nothing. He took another swig from his beer. Well, that wasn’t quite true. The place was a study in natural beauty, and the Prescotts weren’t the first to visit that lush area of pristine jungle. He had taken other tourists through there himself, and he knew other guides had as well.
Though most of his friends in Africa would never guess, Jeff Driscoll was a dropout from Princeton’s prestigious Astronomy program. In fact, he had been fascinated with the stars since the age of ten. Not coincidentally, that was the same year his dear old alcoholic dad hit rock bottom. Tom Driscoll got off work at the auto parts factory at four o’clock every evening and headed straight to the local pub, where he bellied up to the bar and drank for four hours straight. Each night like clockwork, at eight fifteen on the dot, Tom would stumble into the house reeking of cheap gin just as Jeffrey and his mother were washing the last dishes from dinner. Seeing the crazy look in his father’s glazed over eyes, Jeffrey would race upstairs and hide out in his room for the rest of the night. He’d spend countless hours building his own telescopes from scratch, studying constellations and poring over books about the universe…anything to escape from the grim reality that festered downstairs. As he tinkered with his telescope parts, he’d slip on his headphones and turn up The Ramones full blast to drown out the sounds of his wasted father yelling, sobbing, and breaking dishes. Jeffrey would gaze out his bedroom window at the endless vista of stars and daydream about visiting space—where he imagined it must be peaceful, silent, and completely safe from raving alcoholic lunatics.
One October night, a few weeks after Jeffrey turned eleven, he and his mother stood side-by-side at the kitchen sink washing dishes. As she rinsed the last plate and handed it to her son to dry, a cool breeze gusted through the kitchen window, rustling the curtains and sending a chill down Jeffrey’s spine. And then something strange happened: The clock clicked over to eight sixteen. Jeffrey and his mother stood by the sink staring at each other in silent expectation. They both held their breath, listening for the familiar sounds of tires screeching on the driveway followed by the front door slamming. A dog barked in the distance. And then…nothing. Jeffrey’s father never stumbled through the door that night or any night after that. The drunken bastard had disappeared into thin air.
For the next seven years, Jeffrey’s mother showered him with love and attention, constantly struggling to fill the gaping hole Jeffrey’s father had left behind. She worked two full-time jobs just so she could buy every telescope part and constellations book her son’s heart desired. Although Jeffrey was a precocious child who excelled in math and science, his teachers often referred to him as a “lazy genius”. Things just came too easily for him—and in reality, he wasn’t so much lazy as he was distracted.
By the time he turned twelve, his passion for the great beyond was often overshadowed by his obsession with beautiful girls. Jeffrey was a charmer, an athletic kid with rugged good looks and rippling muscles. He played baseball and racked up a record number of homeruns during his high school career. “It’s all physics,” he once told his mom when she asked how he always hit those balls out of the park. “It’s like I can see the trajectory in my head when the ball is coming at me.”
Although he was clearly a brainiac, Jeffrey kept this bit of information under wraps for the sake of his reputation. Every few weeks, he could be seen walking arm in arm with yet another cheerleader or homecoming queen, each more gorgeous than the last. The nerds Jeffrey quietly beat out at the Science Fair year after year absolutely despised him: Jeffrey Driscoll, the magnetic, handsome genius who seemed to have it all.
Driscoll’s mother was absolutely delighted when her only son scored an Astronomy scholarship to Princeton—though she suspected it might have had something to do with the attractive, young biology professor on the interview panel who spent more time fluttering her eyelashes at Jeffrey than asking him questions.
As a Princeton freshman, Driscoll treasured the many hours he spent in the observatory—but he quickly grew bored of his Intro to Astronomy courses, which focused on fundamentals he’d been secretly studying in his bedroom since he was ten years old. So once again, he turned his attention to beautiful women…both on and off the Princeton campus. For nearly a year, he wined and dined the loveliest ladies throughout the Tri-State area until his bank account—and his scholarship funds— ran completely dry.
In the wee hours of a brisk April morning, Driscoll staggered toward campus after an interesting evening with a gorgeous Psychology TA. So TA stood for Teacher’s Assistant? He could think of something else T and A stood for. He wore a smear of crimson lipstick on his neck and reeked of Scotch. Then he spotted it: a bright yellow flyer tacked to a telephone pole, flapping in the wind as if trying to get his attention. Driscoll snatched the paper off the pole and read:
Need Extra Cash?
“Hell yeah, I do!” he slurred loudly in response as he
swayed on the empty sidewalk.
“You bet your ass!”
Become a Tour Guide in Africa!
“Africa?” He stared at the flyer for a few moments before folding it up and jamming it in his pocket. “Okay, then. Why the hell not?”
Less than two months later, Driscoll found himself in Moombato Bay, where he quickly learned the art of African guidesmanship. And now, with five years of experience under his belt, he was like a cynical old veteran guzzling beer in a grimy local bar.
|Author, J.R. Egles|
But things were different this time. He had set off with two of their best high-spending American big shots, and now one was a basket case and the other was Jungle Pizza. This was definitely not travel brochure material. When Driscoll had taken Mrs. Prescott to the station earlier that day, he assumed they would lock him up at least until the old lady could coherently
confirm his story. But after questioning Driscoll, the Police told him he was free to leave the station as long as he did not leave town, which he couldn’t do even if he wanted to. The cops had impounded the Prescotts’ Land Rover, Driscoll’s only means of transportation, and poor old Bradley never had a chance to pay him his fee—which meant Driscoll couldn’t really afford to do anything but stay put.
He took another long, slow drink of beer. Now that he had time to think about it, the Police really hadn’t seemed that put off or surprised at all by the whole jungle fiasco. In fact, they almost seemed prepared for it—which was a little fishy because, around here, no extension of the government was ever prepared for anything.
It suddenly occurred to Driscoll that there was only one thing about that spot in the jungle today that was different from any other day: Bradley Prescott had been in it.
Driscoll dropped his boots to the floor with a loud thump and sat up in his chair straight as an arrow. He had been set up. He began to wonder if he had killed the man in the thicket. He hoped now that he hadn’t. It wouldn’t do his reputation any good around here, and somebody, somewhere, might be slightly annoyed with him for eliminating their hit man and almost fouling up an otherwise successful assassination.
When he was leaving the Police barracks earlier that day, he had noticed a Jeep and a truck heading off in the direction he had just driven in from…to recover the bodies, he knew. He also knew that in this place you could buy anything if you knew the right people. And he just happened to know all the right people—and tomorrow he intended to buy a look at the death
certificate of Bradley Prescott.