Monday, June 29, 2020

Excerpt & Giveaway: GATES OF MARS

The Halo Trilogy #1
Genre: Science Fiction / Detective (hard-boiled) 
Publisher:  Pumpjack Press on Facebook
Date of Publication: June 16, 2020
Number of Pages: 336

Scroll down for the giveaway!

The year is 2187. Crucial Larsen, a veteran of the brutal Consolidation Wars, is working as a labor cop on Earth. The planet is a toxic dump and billions of people are miserable, but so what? It’s none of his business. He’s finally living a good life, or good enough. But then Essential, his beloved kid sister, disappears on Mars. When Halo—the all-powerful artificial-intelligence overseeing Earth and Mars on behalf of the ruling Five Families—can’t (or won’t) locate his sister, Crucial races up-universe to find her. 

In the Choke, the frigid, airless expanse outside the luxury domes, Crucial uncovers a deadly secret from Essential’s past that threatens to shatter his apathetic existence … and both planets. Blending science fiction with the classic, hard-boiled detective story, Gates of Mars is a page-turning, futuristic thrill-ride featuring a gritty, irreverent anti-hero, Crucial Larsen. The first book of the Halo Trilogy, Gates of Mars is the eighth novel by award-winning authors, Clark Hays and Kathleen McFall.


"An indelible introduction to an interplanetary saga and its sublime characters."
Kirkus Reviews

"The authors' imaginations again run wild, this time a science fiction/detective series looking at what our lives may hold in the not too distant future if everything that can go wrong does go wrong. And they've done it with their trademark undercurrent of humor that lifts an otherwise dreary future into something resembling—do I dare say?—hope. Their best work to date. And the giraffes? You'll have to read Gates of Mars to find out. I'm already wishing they could write faster." —Renee Struthers, East Oregonian newspaper

"With twists and turns true to some of the best noir detective pieces—but with an other-world setting and futuristic society—along with psychological insights and connections, Gates of Mars is a riveting, unexpected story, filled with intrigue and change. Sci-fi and detective story readers alike with find Gates of Mars one of a kind, worthy of avid pursuit." —Midwest Book Review


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By Clark Hays and Kathleen McFall

10:20 a.m., August 31, 2187
Multnomah Ward, DuSpoles Consumer Protectorate Unit, Earth

     “Please state your full name and occupation.”
     The voice is soft, soothing, with an undercurrent of authority but not threatening. Perfect for me.
     I stare into the unblinking eye of the camera and think about the room full of security analysts and intel hacks listening in on the other side of the wall. Or the other side of the ward. Or on the other planet, more likely.
     They’re watching and listening like they need to be there, but that’s really ego on their part. Halo does all the work. It doesn’t need them, doesn’t need any human at this point. Halo is monitoring everything—the dilation of my eyes, the pace of my breathing, the sweat gathering in the small of my back, the clothes I wore to this little inquest and why. It knows what I had for breakfast—mirror-gin and a squirt of nut protein on a square of kelp cake. It knows my debt (too much), the kind of avatainment I watch (also too much) and the day I will likely die and how.
     Halo knows everything about me.
     Almost everything.
     Halo lives on data, and it’s identified a gap in my story. But the biggest, most advanced AI the two planets have ever known can’t piece together the missing data.
     I need to keep it that way to avoid death. Or worse. Like being sent through a labor-loyalty reconditioning module. But the truth is I don’t much care what happens to me right now. What I do care about is keeping Halo guessing about that data gap for at least twelve hours. That should be enough time.
     It’s going to be a long night. And day.
     “My name is Crucial Larsen. I’m an officer in the Law Enforcement Corps, Labor Division, Multnomah Ward.”
     After a small pause, Halo talks again.
     “Thank you, Crucial. May I call you Crucial?”
     “Sure,” I say. “May I call you Halo?”
     “Of course, it’s a common nickname.”
     Another pause, a learned pause.
     “Crucial, were you recently on Mars?”
     The pause is learned because the q-machines can do everything much better and faster than us, but Halo knows not to rush because speed tends to put humans, slow and sloppy, on the defensive. Sometimes that’s a good thing, and Halo knows that too. I guess I should take pride in the fact that it’s trying harder with me. Small victories.
     Halo already knows ninety-nine percent of everything about my time on Mars. But it wants to know the rest. It’s what’s in the one percent that counts, what it cares about.
     To be accurate, it doesn’t care. The Five Families want to know the rest. Halo does their bidding.
From here on out, anything I say will be cross-checked with a million possible answers, correlated with my tone and vitals and eye movements, and compiled into a billion possibilities that can be tested and retested and analyzed for probabilities, and all of that in half a millisecond as it tries to get me to talk too much.
     “I was on Mars,” I say. “But you know that already. You can only leave Earth on the Dart, and you run the Dart. Why don’t you be direct and ask me what you really want to know?”
     “Would you like some water? You are dehydrated.”
     “Water would be fine,” I say. “Or something stronger.”
     “That’s not allowed under the current circumstances.”
     “Exactly what are the current circumstances?” I ask. “Am I under arrest?”
     “Of course not,” Halo says.
     “I’m free to go?”
     “That’s not the case either.”
     I shift in my seat and try to get comfortable. “Then how about a cup of tea?”
     Tea, real tea, hasn’t grown on this dumpster fire of a planet in gods know how long but they brought it back on Mars. Up there, I had a variety called Irish Breakfast. It knocked my taste buds back to childhood.
     “Do you have a preferred flavor profile, Crucial?”
     “Something smoky?”
     “Irish Breakfast?”
     Of course, it knew that’s what I drank on Mars. “That’ll do.”
     “Excellent choice.”
     “I’m glad you approve, since you have no taste buds.”
     “Sweetener or cream?”
     I shake my head.
     A square on the silver desk slides back and a steaming mug of tea lifts up on a silent pedestal.
There’s a whirring sound as the optics adjust. The room brightens. It’s planned of course. To signal that the time for pleasantries has ended.
     “Why did you go to Mars, Crucial?”
     I didn’t want to go to Mars. I spent the first forty-one years of my life trying to avoid that very thing.
     “To find my sister, Essential Larsen. She disappeared. I was asked to help locate her.”
     “Did you find her?”
     “Yes. But I was too late.”
     “That must have been hard. You spoke to your sister before she disappeared. When was this?”
     I sip the tea. It burns the roof of my mouth. Halo can optimize temperature. This is intentional.
     “About two weeks ago, give or take,” I say.
     It’s a lie, of course, but it’s a half-lie, which is the best kind because I might be able to slip it past Halo. I did talk to Essential two weeks ago, but it certainly wasn’t the last time.
     Halo knows about that first call she made to me from Mars. It was recorded, like everything else. It was the call that started the whole supernova of events that landed me here in this sterile room being questioned by an all-knowing godsdamned machine.

To continue reading, please visit All the Ups and Downs blog, 7/2/2020 or later.

Clark and Kathleen wrote their first book together in 1999 as a test for marriage. They passed.

Gates of Mars is their eighth co-authored book.

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