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EE ISHERWOOD NFT AUHTOR HELP EDITION #01

This is the first in the series of NFTs for my collection of novels designed to help new authors. As an author and creative person, I always try to add value to whatever I’m doing, so rather than cutting and pasting my book into this text box, I’m stuffing the trunk of this NFT with some cool bonuses.

The obvious deliverable is the signature NFT edition of my book cover. Use it in-game, put it on a flash drive and drop it off the continental shelf, or display it on a digital billboard on Times Square. The use cases are only limited by your imagination.

Unlockable Content

The hi-res version of the cover (.avi and .gif formats). Use the best resolution for that Times Square idea!

I will gift the original buyer and a limited number of future buyers with a retail copy of the digital version of this book. Currently, due to publishing contracts I’m in, I can only send a copy from Amazon.

Special Bonus for Original Buyer

First buyer will get a signed paperback copy of Minus America. Soon to be a collector's item in its own right.

But that's not all...

Have you ever thought about becoming an author? In my case, I did IT work for 20 years, then woke up with an inspiration to write a book. That light bulb idea turned into a respectable career as a full-time author. However, I had some critical help right at the beginning which made all the difference.

If you are the original buyer, I’ll take a look at the first 2,000 words of your manuscript (or a friend's) and give you my feedback via email on how to make it better. This works best if you are unpublished, but I might be able to help if you have a published work that isn’t selling well. However, if you are writing your story in dirt symbols using a dialect of the bushmen of deepest Africa, I don't think I could do much for you. Without a complicated contract it is impossible for me to offer more than my best effort to read what you have and give my opinion, which I hope will more than pay you back for the cost of this NFT.

For buyers beyond the first, my offer to read your manuscript will depend on the royalty value of the NFT. If you send me your purchase confirmation and the royalty payment is more than a steak dinner, I’ll take a look at your work and offer feedback. If the world economy has crashed and people are being paid in bottlecaps, I might not get enough in royalties to help you. Also, since this NFT will be around long after I will, there will come a time when you won’t want the opinion of a guy who is doing flashy tricks in his wheelchair at the old folks’ home. Reach out to me prior to purchase to find out if I can help.

I will release five AUTHOR HELP editions of my novels as NFTs. Each book will unlock different features to help new authors get their first work indie published.

Thanks for checking out my work.

EE

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. There is nothing below this line. Please stop reading. .

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. OK. You caught me. I stand by what I said about not pasting in a whole book, but I figured it couldn’t hurt to put a two-chapter sample, so you can see I’m not a scammer. The five novels in the Minus America series combine for over 600 ratings on Amazon, averaging over 4.5 stars per book. My other series also have several hundred legitimate reviews of print, digital and audiobook versions. I’m not “somebody” in the indie publishing world, but I’m not “nobody,” either. .

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. # MINUS AMERICA .

CHAPTER 1

Air Force Two. Over the North Atlantic, heading west.

“Isn’t your shift about over, Ted?”

Ted MacInnis got caught in the middle of a yawn by John Jefferies, the Secret Service guy sitting at the in-flight workstation ahead of him.

“I’m going to sit here in the bullpen until we reach Andrews. I’ve got too much of this in me.” Ted held up his coffee cup, then pointed to his phone. “I also need to talk to my bratty sister.”

Ted was the backup pilot for Vice President Williams on Air Force Two. The chance of him being called up to the big seat of the Boeing VC-25 was about zilch, but the Secret Service guys insisted they always have three complete flight crews. He was currently tier two; leaving his post so the third-tier guys could have a shot was not the way to advance.

Jeffries laughed quietly. “I’ve got a bratty sister, too. Older or younger?”

“She’s younger by a few years but acts like she’s a teenager.”

They were due to arrive in Washington, D.C. at about 10 am, which gave him plenty of time to confirm his sister was going to be in New York when she said she would. Nothing worse than going to the big city to find she’d gone to the country for the weekend. It wouldn’t be the first time.

The phone rang in his hands. It was his sister. That didn’t surprise him, though, because he often thought they shared the same brain. It was like she knew he was about to call her, so she had to one-up him. He tapped the green button on the screen, ready to share that he’d been thinking about her.

“Hi, Becca—” he got out before she cut him off.

“Ted? Thank god! The news says there’s something coming this way. A wave of death!”

“What?” he said a little too loudly. Some of the others on the intelligence deck glanced over. “Tell me what’s happening.”

His sister went into hysterics.

“It’s on cable news! Ohmygod! They’re losing affiliate feeds all across America. People just disappeared! It started in San Francisco and it’s headed this way. What do I do? Where do I go? What about Kyla?”

“Rebecca, stay calm. I’m sure there’s some sort of explanation—” He was interrupted again, this time by alarms inside the aircraft.

One of the aviation guys yelled, “POTUS bumped us right to DEFCON 2, people!”

He put the phone to his ear, accepting this was for real. “Becca, I need to know everything you do. What’s on the television?”

His sister sobbed into the phone. “Ted, you have to save Kyla. She’s everything to me. Please!”

“I’ll do my best,” he answered, “but right now, I’m trying to save you. Talk to me. What’s on the TV?”

There were twenty others on the plane’s intelligence deck, sitting in two rows of computer desks with a walkway between them. They were all doing their part to keep the VP in tune with current events. Some listened to other air traffic in the area. Some studied the weather. A few were proper intel spooks.

Every workstation on the deck now reported trouble. One woman yelled out that several Russian Tu-95 “Bear” bombers were off the coast of Alaska. A man reported a pair of Chinese container ships were in trouble under the Golden Gate Bridge. Most of the rest was noise, all bad.

Rebecca’s response in his ear was a combination of sobs and pleading. He barely understood her.

“Becca, please calm down.” He had trouble staying calm himself, especially when all the alarms suddenly turned off.

John Jeffries, the Secret Service agent with whom he’d been joking, had pushed the big red button at his station. The lights on the plane changed as a result. The interior was now warbird red: danger close. The alarms turned off so the crew could work more effectively.

His sister didn’t give him the hoped-for intelligence, but he wasn’t going to hang up on her. If possible, he’d keep her from panicking further. However, the situation on deck was a hot mess, too.

John spoke into his handset. “Flight, this is Executive 5. I’m getting a scrambled call from Andrews AFB. They bounced a message from Peterson AFB. NORAD reported unusual electromagnetic activity in very low orbit above the continental United States.”

NORAD? Ted imagined nuclear-tipped warheads arcing high over the North Pole. It was a traditional scenario of a nuclear missile exchange between the United States and Russia. NORAD would watch them come in and ensure that the retaliatory missiles went out.

As if on cue, the plane leaned to the left. Standard protocol was to keep the VP away from any potential point of conflict, at least until the risk was assessed by the ghosts in the intel block.

Ted’s heartbeat went on a moonshot. He fumbled for his seatbelt, which had fallen off the seat hours earlier.

“Becca, I can’t say where we are, but I’ll get to you, okay?” The jumbo jet tilted as the first-tier pilot executed the emergency maneuver. He was veering the plane away from the eastern seaboard.

“No!” Rebecca ordered. After a fast sniffle, she continued, “Get to my daughter. You hear me? Make sure she’s safe! Call her right this instant, Theodore.” She paused for a few seconds. “Tell her I loved every moment I had with her.”

“I…will.”

“Love you, too, bro. Good-bye.” His sister hung up the phone.

“Rebecca!” he shouted reflexively, before falling into stunned silence.

Ten seconds later, the VP herself came scuffling in. She had to hold onto the desks to keep her feet.

Ted couldn’t believe his sister had hung up, but he was going to make good on his promise, so he punched the button for his niece. She was a programmer working for the Navy, so they had a lot in common. While it rang, he tried to listen to the VP.

“Will someone please tell me what the peacock on a pogo stick is going on?” she pressed.

Ted wasn’t a fan of her politics, but her down-home manner of speaking was refreshing after spending so much time among the upper brass of the armed forces. The politically-driven generals were the worst. They seemed to script their every sentence when on these flights.

His line kept ringing.

Jeffries replied, “Ma’am, a few minutes ago, NORAD reported a problem in the atmosphere. Possibly an EM event, like an airburst nuke or a solar ejection. I’ve been trying to raise them, but they aren’t responding.”

Vice President Emily Williams struggled to get closer to John down the row of workstations. The petite woman wore a prim black pencil skirt and fitting white blouse that made her appear thin and delicate. However, her code name was ‘firecracker’ because she was a ball of hate if you ever crossed her.

“Pick up,” he commanded the phone as he continued to keep one eye on the VP.

Two of John’s Secret Service partners maintained a respectable distance behind the vice president now that the red lights were on. Those men were tier-two as well. Working diligently for the chance to go to the big leagues on Air Force One.

“Is NORAD still on the air?” she asked.

“Ma’am, this is what I’m getting.” John pulled out his headphones, so the hissing sound could be heard by everyone in the compartment.

Ted’s phone stole his attention from the broadcast.

“Hello? Uncle Ted? What’s up?” Kyla’s voice was so calm and quiet he had to jam the phone in his ear to blot out the other noises.

“Kyla, thank god. Listen. There isn’t much time. Where are you?”

“Time for what?” she said with a laugh.

“Kyla! Listen to me! There’s been a disaster. Your mom called and said I had to come get you. Where the effing hell are you?” He’d never cursed in front of his niece. It was part of the refined Air Force persona he tried to nurture in front of most family members.

“For real? I’m doing a job on the USS John F. Kennedy. Why?”

America was under attack and she was on one of the biggest targets in the United States Navy.

“Stay there, Kyla, you hear me? Wait—There’s news here.” It was hard to juggle both emergencies.

An airman leaned into the aisle from a few workstations down. “Andrews just went offline. They were trying to get Peterson Air Base, in Colorado, but they’ve been dark for a few minutes.”

“This is Andrews, in Washington D.C.” John Jeffries tuned into a different frequency, but no one was speaking. “And this is Dulles tower. There is no way they aren’t broadcasting right now. It’s one of the busiest airports on the East Coast.”

Williams stood on her own because the plane had leveled out. Her voice was tense and direct. “Are these nuclear strikes? Are the cities gone?”

“No, ma’am,” the Air Force liaison reported. “I have no intel suggesting there were ground strikes on these locations.”

“What about air bursts?” she asked impatiently.

The guy seemed flustered. “I don’t have any actionable intelli—”

“Get it for me,” she cut him off deliberately before adding, “Please.”

She looked at the computer operators in the room, including Ted.

“Hold on a second, Kyla,” he said quietly into his smartphone.

“I know Andrews isn’t broadcasting, but maybe they’re listening. Tell them to get us some cover up here,” the VP ordered. “If POTUS sent us to DEFCON 2, everything should scramble into the air, anyway.”

Ted had a few seconds to observe Ms. Williams. At first, he recognized her job description made her a tier-two player as well, but he also noticed a hard edge to her earth-tone eyes, like she knew what would happen if she got promoted one more time.

Williams went on. “People, I don’t care what you have to do. Get me someone on the ground. I have to know what’s happening down there.”

Ted immediately wondered if his battlefield promotion was coming, too. He could be useful to the VP in the moment with a valuable asset on the ground. His niece was on the line at exactly the right time.

“Kyla, this is very important. Tell me what’s going on around you.”

He listened for a few seconds.

“Kyla?”

Ted had said it loud enough to get the attention of the VP, but all his focus was on the silence in his phone.

“Kyla!” he screamed.

.

Bonne Terre, Missouri

Tabby Breeze was about to lose her shit. Mom and Dad wanted her to participate in the family business, which was operating a tour company inside an abandoned lead mine, but today’s clients made her rethink all her life choices.

“I bet you get hit on a lot, don’t you?”

Tabby slowly turned to find the boy she’d been avoiding for the past forty-five minutes. The first tour of the day was usually reserved for school field trips, and today was no different. The stocky sophomore kid had found her the instant he walked in and hadn’t let her out of his sight since.

“No,” she deadpanned. “It literally never happens.”

High school boys were yesterday’s news. In two months, she was heading off to Missouri University of Science and Technology. Freaking college.

“That’s an incorrect use of literally, because it is literally, actually, happening now.” The kid rubbed his hands together like it was chilly, which it was, because they were deep inside the mine. “I like your braids, by the way.”

Mom had been a hairdresser in her younger days, and she still enjoyed working with Tabby’s long, brown locks. The back of her head was currently styled with three braids, instead of the usual two.

“Thanks.” Tabby rolled her eyes.

Her dad’s voice crackled from the small communications speaker next to the elevator. “Tabitha, are you there?”

That gave her the exit she needed from the relentless ladies’ man.

“I’m here, Dad. What’s up?”

“How many are left down there?”

She took a rough count, intentionally skipping over the back part of the crowd where her annoying charge waited.

“About twenty, Dad. I can get most of them on the next elevator up. Then we’ll be done with this group.” She couldn’t wait for that to become a literal reality.

“I’m sending the elevator down, now.” Dad chuckled on the open line. “I bet you’re going to miss this place, kiddo.”

“No, I won’t,” she replied. After a suitable pause, she added, “Maybe a little. I’ll miss you and Mom, though.”

“It’s coming down right meow.” Dad loved feline jokes, especially since her nickname was also a type of cat.

The boys snickered behind her, but she pretended not to hear them.

The machinery and wires sprang into action. It was only about fifty feet to the surface, but the equipment was about fifty years old, so it didn’t move with modern efficiency and speed.

While it came down, she made as if she was inspecting the speaker on the wall. Anything to keep from talking to that boy again.

“Annoying, aren’t they?” a girl remarked in a quiet voice.

Tabby glanced over and saw a teen she recognized by all the good questions she’d asked on the tour. “Hey there. What do you mean?”

“I heard Peter hounding you for the past hour. I know what it’s like.”

The two stepped closer to each other so Tabby could reply without being overheard. “I know, right? He’s certainly persistent.”

“Tell me about it. We dated for about ten minutes back in sixth grade and he won’t let me forget it.” The girl wrangled her long black hair over her ear.

Tabby didn’t want to tell the girl her tastes were bad, but she thought it.

The girl went on. “You’re lucky; you won’t see him after today. But the key is, if you ignore him, he eventually gives up.”

She gave the girl a secretive salute. “I’ll take that under advisement.”

The elevator finally arrived, and the security gate slid open with the screeches of oil-hungry hinges and wheels. Dad called it the jailhouse door because the wide-spaced bars looked a lot like they’d come from a police station holding cell.

“All aboard!” she called out.

The kids pushed and shoved their way into the car, but she didn’t tell them to settle down like she normally did. All she wanted was to get them inside and out of her mine.

She was stoked to go to college, but someday the mine touring business would be hers. Getting a degree in geology was step one to making it happen. Babysitting students was her misfortune while she waited for the next chapter in her life.

The annoying heavyset boy was one of the last ones on. To his credit, he pushed his peers into the car to make enough room for the stragglers. Besides Tabby, there were five or six others unable to fit.

“Damn,” she said under her breath.

“We can do it,” the big boy declared.

A couple more kids wedged into the packed car, but it wasn’t enough. She slid the jail door shut, sealing the people inside and cutting off the few still outside. It was her duty to make sure everyone was accounted for, so she had to wait for the next one with the leftovers.

“Double damn,” she hissed through clenched teeth.

Three students remained with her.

“We meet again,” the portly kid said immediately. “My name is Peter, by the way.” He held out his hand to shake hers, but she sidestepped him so she could use the speaker system.

“Dad, a few of us didn’t fit. I’ll bring them up next.” It was another delay she didn’t need.

“Roger, Tabitha. It will only be a couple more minutes.” She wondered if he sensed the anxiety in her voice. He’d led tours, too, and certainly knew the stresses generated by high school kids.

The room became silent as the lift reached the top. She counted the seconds until the elevator was unloaded and sent back down. It would start with clanging from the gate up there… She couldn’t wait to hear it.

“I, uh. I’m not sure you heard me over the noise,” the boy said impatiently. “I’m Peter.”

The dark-haired girl scoffed, then whispered angrily, “Peter, dial it back, okay? I’m sure Tabby has an older boyfriend.” The rock walls inside the mine had a way of carrying whispers, so Tabby heard the words.

“I’d like to have an older girlfriend,” he replied, in a not-so-quiet voice.

Tabby pressed the button, desperate to hurry things along. “Dad? Send it down, okay?”

She waited to hear the whine of the motors up top.

“Come on, move,” she willed the machinery.

She was about to press the button again, but a loud crack came from inside the mine’s elevator shaft. A second, louder, boom rattled the metal gate. A burst of hot air shot out of the vertical tunnel.

“Holy hell!” she shouted. “Get back!”

She used her arms to push the students away.

Metal roared from inside the elevator shaft, as if the lift was grinding the rocky sides on its descent.

“Back!” she screamed.

The elevator car smashed into the ground with a deafening slam. A large boulder came down next, followed by a dump-truck-sized flow of dirt and other rocks that fell on top of it.

Smoky dust came out of the shaft, covering her and the kids with a layer of gray debris, as if they’d been crawling in it.

Seconds later, the power shut off, throwing Tabby’s subterranean world into absolute darkness.

.

CHAPTER 2

Newport News, VA

“I assume your weekend was as exciting as mine?”

Kyla Justice heard the question from her fellow coder, but she wanted to think of something exciting, if fake, to say in reply. Her partner, Ben Parker, knew she spent most of her weekends doing the same thing she did during the week: programming.

“I met someone,” Kyla said with a dab of mystery.

Ben stopped typing on his laptop and looked over. “That’s not what I meant, but— Get out! Where did you meet him?”

As she thought it through, it wasn’t a lie, though she didn’t have to explain their meeting was in the virtual world. She’d met an in-game character in one of her video games. They’d talked about their real selves for about sixty seconds, then it was back to killing the bad guys. As best she could tell, the male avatar on the screen was being played by a real gamer dude from the Midwest. Somewhere well over the horizon in terms of going out for drinks, like she wanted Ben to imagine.

So, she let the thought dangle for a moment, then cut it off. “I don’t really want to talk about him. We have to keep focused on these readings. The captain is moving the ship today and our jobs are on the line if this reactor containment monitor goes on the fritz again.”

The USS John F. Kennedy was the Navy’s newest aircraft carrier, but it shared the same problems as every ship launched in the past five thousand years. It had kinks, bugs, and weak structures that needed to be patched. And that was only the computer code. The mechanical pieces had their own issues.

“That was your code, not mine.” Ben laughed.

“That was our code,” Kyla corrected. They worked for the same contractor. “But I’ll tell you what. If you double-check what I’ve just entered, I’ll tell you all about my new man.”

“Yeah, okay. I can work with that. Let’s—”

Kyla’s ringtone went off. Phone calls were frowned upon by her hard-ass bosses, and the Navy bosses weren’t too happy about it either, but everyone took calls, even those who made the rules. It wasn’t a big deal.

“It’s my uncle,” she said. “He’s a big shot pilot for the Air Force.” She hit the green button. “Hello? Uncle Ted? What’s up?”

“Kyla, thank god. Listen. There isn’t much time. Where are you?”

“Time for what?” she replied. It was exactly like Uncle Ted to be dramatic.

“Kyla! Listen to me! There’s been a disaster. Your mom called and said I had to come get you. Where the effing hell are you?”

She held the phone away from her ear like he’d burned it with foul language. Something was really jacked up, if he was talking like that.

“For real? I’m doing a job on the USS John F. Kennedy. Why?”

Uncle Ted didn’t reply right away. There were sounds like he was in a busy flight terminal or something, so it was hard to understand what was going on.

“Uncle Ted? You there?”

The noise on the other end continued.

An overhead claxon sent Kyla six inches off her chair because it came on with unnatural suddenness, and she’d been focused so intently on the phone. The blaring signal prevented her from easily hearing or speaking to her uncle.

“What the hell is that alarm for?” Ben had to lean over and yell to be heard.

Kyla shrugged.

“Should we check it out?” Ben yelled again.

She waited before responding. The ship went through a million tests every day, it seemed, as the shakedown crew readied the carrier for sea trials. One day, it might be stress tests on the electromagnetic catapults. The next, the engines growled for hours.

The chances of the emergency claxons being an actual emergency were relatively low, because they were in port testing everything from the nuclear reactors down to the toasters. However, Uncle Ted did mention a disaster. Was he for real? She tried him again.

“Uncle Ted? Come on. Talk to me.”

His tone suggested he was serious, but his lack of follow-up made her wonder if it was bad timing on the part of the alarms. It canceled his ability to tell his punch line.

Ha, ha, Kyla. I’m kidding. I just called to say I’ll be in Newport News next week.

That was the type of immature stuff he sometimes pulled. Mom, too.

The phone’s screen showed the line had gone dead. She tried calling him back, but the line didn’t connect. She immediately dialed her mom, but that also refused to connect. Sometimes working low in the ship made service unreliable.

“Damn,” she thought.

After a full minute, the alarms on the ship turned off.

Kyla put a finger in her ear as if to rub away the pain. “I’m glad that’s over with. What a suck-ass test. I bet my uncle will call back in a few.”

They waited for a minute or two to see if the captain would make an announcement about the alarm, but it soon matched watching paint dry in terms of excitement.

She planned to dial Mom when she was on lunch; she’d probably put Uncle Ted up to his joke. In the meantime, she figured it was best to keep working. Deadlines didn’t care about alarms.

Ben was already furiously tapping at his keyboard, leading by example.

They worked for another ten minutes before the older man turned away from his computer.

“So. That was a weird interruption, huh? What were we talking about? Your dating life, I think.” Ben laughed.

Her belly clenched at the thought of having to explain she hadn’t really gone on a date. “Yeah, we—”

A sailor ran by the door but skidded to a halt and backed up. “What are you two doing in here? Having a father-daughter brunch? Get your asses to a battle station. We’ve been effing attacked!”

“Seriously?” Ben asked with disbelief.

“The alarm was real?” Kyla gulped. Though completely inappropriate in nature, she was glad the sailor saw them as father and daughter. Ben was a lot older than her. And married. And not her type.

“Yeah, it was real!” The sailor gasped for air. He looked around for others. “On second thought, you two civvies might want to stay in there.”

Kyla trotted to the door in case the sailor wanted to shut them in. “We don’t want to be stuck in here.”

“Yeah,” Ben added. “If there’s an attack, we can’t be down here at the bottom of the damned ship. What if it sinks?”

The young sailor panted and looked like he wanted to leave. “We’re in port. We can’t sink. Word is spreading: something killed everyone on the upper decks! Crew areas. Hangar. The bridge! All gone. Be glad you two are down here.”

The man ran away without a further word.

Kyla and Ben shared worried looks.

She glanced at her phone.

Maybe Uncle Ted hadn’t been screwing around.

.

Air Force Two

Ted felt as useless as any point in his entire life. He sat among high-level security and communications people engaged in frenzied threat assessments, status reports, and data gathering. His lame job remained being backup for the pilot of the plane, and that outcome was less likely than ever now that things had gone wrong.

“I’ve got someone on the ground, ma’am.” The Air Force liaison held up his hand.

“Go ahead, son,” the VP replied dryly.

“It’s the USS John F. Kennedy. They’re sitting in port at Newport News, Virginia. I have a Marine on the line.”

Ted launched out of his seat. “My niece is on that ship!” He held up his phone, as if it were proof.

Ms. Williams glanced at him but went right back to the other officer. “A Marine? Where’s the captain of the ship?”

“I tried. I think we’re lucky to get this guy. Would you like to talk to him?” The Air Force officer made it sound like he wanted her to say yes.

She took the handset. “This is Vice President Emily Williams. Who’s on the line?”

A loud bang came out of the speaker before the man replied. “The vice president? Holy hell! We’ve got a shitstorm here! We were attacked! Decks of Navy were just wiped away. We have bad guys coming down for the rest of us!”

“Where’s the captain?” she replied in a businesslike tone.

More cracks blared from the speakers, but there was so much it came out like white noise.

“Did you get that?” the Marine yelled in the phone. “Send us more G-D shooters!”

“Marine, I need you to stay calm—”

Ted desperately wanted to ask about Kyla, but now wasn’t the time. Even family had to take a back seat to matters of the nation.

“They’re here!” the Marine replied.

A few moments of gunfire was followed by silence. The line went dead.

“Ma’am, my data shows a Fleet Anti-terrorism Security Team was already training on that ship,” an advisor relayed. “That’s why you were talking to him. A platoon of FAST Marines should be able to handle anything.”

Ted wasn’t so sure. He’d heard “regular” Marines weren’t big fans of those specials.

“Anything…” Emily echoed. She remained in the middle of the aisle for half a minute, like a schoolteacher worried about her pupils, but then she seemed to come to a decision.

Ted punched the button for Kyla on his phone, but it wouldn’t go through. He was angry, but not shocked; system overload was expected during times of crisis.

“Tell me who’s left.” Ms. Williams pointed at an Army officer. “Is Europe still online?”

“Yes, ma’am. I hear bases in Germany, England, the works. I even get traffic from bases in the Middle East.”

“Good.” She then pointed to a Navy woman. “What do you know about our fleets? Is the attack on the JFK local or fleet-wide?”

The woman looked at her screen, then to the VP. “So far, I’ve heard from Sixth Fleet in Naples and Seventh Fleet in Japan, but I can’t raise Fleet Command ten miles away in Norfolk. Still trying.”

“Excellent. Keep on it. I want a list of every ship and command you talk to. This could be important. Start with bases on the East Coast. We have to know who is still operational below our feet.”

Emily strode down the lane and stopped next to John at his Secret Service console.

“Mr. Jeffries, have you heard anything from the president?”

He looked up and shook his head. “No, ma’am. I’ve been pinging every phone number I know. There are no agents answering anywhere near POTUS.”

“Are you sure he was in the nest?”

It was slang for his home turf in the White House.

John nodded. “Unless someone kept me out of the loop, his schedule says he’s hosting some children this morning to talk about school lunches and whatnot. He should be there.”

“Good, I want—”

The plane tipped sideways before anyone could think about holding on. It was a lot like being on an innertube going into a high-banked water flume.

A second later, every alarm on the plane went back into panic mode.

.

Poor Sisters Convent, Oakville, MO

“Sister Rose, would you be a dear and go prepare the heirloom seeds? I believe today is the day we will plant them in the greenhouse.”

In her previous life, she was known as Becky Hatcher, but after she accomplished her novitiate and chose to live her life inside the convent, Abbess Mary Francis assigned her the name of Rose. Fitting, since she enjoyed working with the soil.

Rose bowed to Mary Francis, rather than respond by voice. When she advanced to full member of the order, she accepted the vow of silence, which she took seriously. Except for one time when she woke up shouting after a bad dream, she hadn’t spoken a word for almost a year.

She believed it was her cross to carry.

The underground cellar was a cool, dry storage area perfect for keeping the seedlings, but there were many other supplies down there, too. The nuns tried to be as self-sufficient as possible, so there were work tools, stockpiles of personal hygiene items, and pallets of Bibles. Those they gave to anyone who came to the front door.

There were also small casks filled with wine. Most of those sat up in the front, because they were often needed for the daily service. Sister Ann had the large frame and muscle mass necessary to move them, much to Rose’s relief. Even the act of looking at them wore her out.

To make money to support their order, the nuns planted grapes and ran a small in-house winery. It perfectly complimented the tiny bakery where they made bread for dozens of churches in the area.

She walked beyond the casks to find what she sought.

“God, please help us plant and harvest a crop for your glory.” While she didn’t talk aloud, she always talked to God in her heart. “But first, please help me find them.”

The long shadows of the dark chamber made it difficult to see, but she had the patience to let her eyes adjust. Modern conveniences, such as flashlights, were frowned upon by the abbess, and Rose had never crossed her.

She looked on the small shelves where she expected the seeds, but they weren’t there. It was almost completely dark in the corner of the basement, so she took a few minutes to meditate with her eyes closed. When she finally opened them, her vision had adjusted some more, and she saw the small storage bin.

“Ah ha!” Her day was back on track.

Rose secured the large cup and popped the top. About a hundred small seeds were inside. All she had to do was drop them in water, remove the duds, and present the rest to Sister Mary Francis. She would order Rose and the other sisters into the greenhouse with tiny picks and shovels, like they do every week. Other vines, which they’d prepared in the previous months, would then be transferred to the vineyard.

Sister Rose held the container to her bosom and cradled it in prayer.

“Please help us have another bumper crop.”

She turned to go back toward the distant light, but an unusual sensation made her stop. The hair on each arm stuck straight up, as if magnetized by the roof.

“Oh my,” she thought.

Her only defense was prayer, and she wielded it with the same certainty as a trained martial arts expert. After a minute or two of communing with her holy defender, she was prepared to continue. The fear and odd feeling were gone.

“It’s been too long since I was alone like this,” she thought.

She carefully clicked off the light switch and closed the heavy metal door at the top of the steps. There was no reason to lock it because there was nothing of value inside. Wine, bread, and seeds. Who would want any of that?

Sister Rose had almost forgotten her moment of anxiety in the darkness, but when she came back into the common room with her earthly treasure, a similar feeling of dread washed over her, and she almost dropped it.

Her sisters were gone.

Abbess Mary Francis had been sitting in a wooden chair between the kitchen and community area. Her religious habit now draped over the chair—as if she’d undressed and placed it there. But there wasn’t enough time for that, to say nothing of the impropriety.

Sister Ann had been in a lounge chair reading the Bible. Her simple clothing was in her place. Rose also noticed her shoes and socks were left on the floor.

The convent wasn’t known for practical jokes, but Rose supposed she might be witnessing the first in its history.

She was careful to set the seeds on the kitchen table, as the abbess would not approve if she dropped it, no matter the reason why.

Rose could not call out to end the prank, though she thought about it. This was so out of character as to be scandalous. How did they coordinate such an activity?

Rose walked into the oversized kitchen. She fully expected to find her leader, or Sister Ann, or at least someone else who didn’t know about the joke. However, when she went into the room, her skin crawled again.

There were more abandoned piles of clothing.

End of sample. Thank you for reading. The story continues for five books.

Minus America (and what happens within / characters / situations / worlds / artwork) are Copyright (c) 2019 by E.E. Isherwood. All rights reserved. NFT contents licensed for non-commercial use only.

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Minus America NFT Author Help Edition #01

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Minus America NFT Author Help Edition #01

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EE ISHERWOOD NFT AUHTOR HELP EDITION #01

This is the first in the series of NFTs for my collection of novels designed to help new authors. As an author and creative person, I always try to add value to whatever I’m doing, so rather than cutting and pasting my book into this text box, I’m stuffing the trunk of this NFT with some cool bonuses.

The obvious deliverable is the signature NFT edition of my book cover. Use it in-game, put it on a flash drive and drop it off the continental shelf, or display it on a digital billboard on Times Square. The use cases are only limited by your imagination.

Unlockable Content

The hi-res version of the cover (.avi and .gif formats). Use the best resolution for that Times Square idea!

I will gift the original buyer and a limited number of future buyers with a retail copy of the digital version of this book. Currently, due to publishing contracts I’m in, I can only send a copy from Amazon.

Special Bonus for Original Buyer

First buyer will get a signed paperback copy of Minus America. Soon to be a collector's item in its own right.

But that's not all...

Have you ever thought about becoming an author? In my case, I did IT work for 20 years, then woke up with an inspiration to write a book. That light bulb idea turned into a respectable career as a full-time author. However, I had some critical help right at the beginning which made all the difference.

If you are the original buyer, I’ll take a look at the first 2,000 words of your manuscript (or a friend's) and give you my feedback via email on how to make it better. This works best if you are unpublished, but I might be able to help if you have a published work that isn’t selling well. However, if you are writing your story in dirt symbols using a dialect of the bushmen of deepest Africa, I don't think I could do much for you. Without a complicated contract it is impossible for me to offer more than my best effort to read what you have and give my opinion, which I hope will more than pay you back for the cost of this NFT.

For buyers beyond the first, my offer to read your manuscript will depend on the royalty value of the NFT. If you send me your purchase confirmation and the royalty payment is more than a steak dinner, I’ll take a look at your work and offer feedback. If the world economy has crashed and people are being paid in bottlecaps, I might not get enough in royalties to help you. Also, since this NFT will be around long after I will, there will come a time when you won’t want the opinion of a guy who is doing flashy tricks in his wheelchair at the old folks’ home. Reach out to me prior to purchase to find out if I can help.

I will release five AUTHOR HELP editions of my novels as NFTs. Each book will unlock different features to help new authors get their first work indie published.

Thanks for checking out my work.

EE

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. There is nothing below this line. Please stop reading. .

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. OK. You caught me. I stand by what I said about not pasting in a whole book, but I figured it couldn’t hurt to put a two-chapter sample, so you can see I’m not a scammer. The five novels in the Minus America series combine for over 600 ratings on Amazon, averaging over 4.5 stars per book. My other series also have several hundred legitimate reviews of print, digital and audiobook versions. I’m not “somebody” in the indie publishing world, but I’m not “nobody,” either. .

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. # MINUS AMERICA .

CHAPTER 1

Air Force Two. Over the North Atlantic, heading west.

“Isn’t your shift about over, Ted?”

Ted MacInnis got caught in the middle of a yawn by John Jefferies, the Secret Service guy sitting at the in-flight workstation ahead of him.

“I’m going to sit here in the bullpen until we reach Andrews. I’ve got too much of this in me.” Ted held up his coffee cup, then pointed to his phone. “I also need to talk to my bratty sister.”

Ted was the backup pilot for Vice President Williams on Air Force Two. The chance of him being called up to the big seat of the Boeing VC-25 was about zilch, but the Secret Service guys insisted they always have three complete flight crews. He was currently tier two; leaving his post so the third-tier guys could have a shot was not the way to advance.

Jeffries laughed quietly. “I’ve got a bratty sister, too. Older or younger?”

“She’s younger by a few years but acts like she’s a teenager.”

They were due to arrive in Washington, D.C. at about 10 am, which gave him plenty of time to confirm his sister was going to be in New York when she said she would. Nothing worse than going to the big city to find she’d gone to the country for the weekend. It wouldn’t be the first time.

The phone rang in his hands. It was his sister. That didn’t surprise him, though, because he often thought they shared the same brain. It was like she knew he was about to call her, so she had to one-up him. He tapped the green button on the screen, ready to share that he’d been thinking about her.

“Hi, Becca—” he got out before she cut him off.

“Ted? Thank god! The news says there’s something coming this way. A wave of death!”

“What?” he said a little too loudly. Some of the others on the intelligence deck glanced over. “Tell me what’s happening.”

His sister went into hysterics.

“It’s on cable news! Ohmygod! They’re losing affiliate feeds all across America. People just disappeared! It started in San Francisco and it’s headed this way. What do I do? Where do I go? What about Kyla?”

“Rebecca, stay calm. I’m sure there’s some sort of explanation—” He was interrupted again, this time by alarms inside the aircraft.

One of the aviation guys yelled, “POTUS bumped us right to DEFCON 2, people!”

He put the phone to his ear, accepting this was for real. “Becca, I need to know everything you do. What’s on the television?”

His sister sobbed into the phone. “Ted, you have to save Kyla. She’s everything to me. Please!”

“I’ll do my best,” he answered, “but right now, I’m trying to save you. Talk to me. What’s on the TV?”

There were twenty others on the plane’s intelligence deck, sitting in two rows of computer desks with a walkway between them. They were all doing their part to keep the VP in tune with current events. Some listened to other air traffic in the area. Some studied the weather. A few were proper intel spooks.

Every workstation on the deck now reported trouble. One woman yelled out that several Russian Tu-95 “Bear” bombers were off the coast of Alaska. A man reported a pair of Chinese container ships were in trouble under the Golden Gate Bridge. Most of the rest was noise, all bad.

Rebecca’s response in his ear was a combination of sobs and pleading. He barely understood her.

“Becca, please calm down.” He had trouble staying calm himself, especially when all the alarms suddenly turned off.

John Jeffries, the Secret Service agent with whom he’d been joking, had pushed the big red button at his station. The lights on the plane changed as a result. The interior was now warbird red: danger close. The alarms turned off so the crew could work more effectively.

His sister didn’t give him the hoped-for intelligence, but he wasn’t going to hang up on her. If possible, he’d keep her from panicking further. However, the situation on deck was a hot mess, too.

John spoke into his handset. “Flight, this is Executive 5. I’m getting a scrambled call from Andrews AFB. They bounced a message from Peterson AFB. NORAD reported unusual electromagnetic activity in very low orbit above the continental United States.”

NORAD? Ted imagined nuclear-tipped warheads arcing high over the North Pole. It was a traditional scenario of a nuclear missile exchange between the United States and Russia. NORAD would watch them come in and ensure that the retaliatory missiles went out.

As if on cue, the plane leaned to the left. Standard protocol was to keep the VP away from any potential point of conflict, at least until the risk was assessed by the ghosts in the intel block.

Ted’s heartbeat went on a moonshot. He fumbled for his seatbelt, which had fallen off the seat hours earlier.

“Becca, I can’t say where we are, but I’ll get to you, okay?” The jumbo jet tilted as the first-tier pilot executed the emergency maneuver. He was veering the plane away from the eastern seaboard.

“No!” Rebecca ordered. After a fast sniffle, she continued, “Get to my daughter. You hear me? Make sure she’s safe! Call her right this instant, Theodore.” She paused for a few seconds. “Tell her I loved every moment I had with her.”

“I…will.”

“Love you, too, bro. Good-bye.” His sister hung up the phone.

“Rebecca!” he shouted reflexively, before falling into stunned silence.

Ten seconds later, the VP herself came scuffling in. She had to hold onto the desks to keep her feet.

Ted couldn’t believe his sister had hung up, but he was going to make good on his promise, so he punched the button for his niece. She was a programmer working for the Navy, so they had a lot in common. While it rang, he tried to listen to the VP.

“Will someone please tell me what the peacock on a pogo stick is going on?” she pressed.

Ted wasn’t a fan of her politics, but her down-home manner of speaking was refreshing after spending so much time among the upper brass of the armed forces. The politically-driven generals were the worst. They seemed to script their every sentence when on these flights.

His line kept ringing.

Jeffries replied, “Ma’am, a few minutes ago, NORAD reported a problem in the atmosphere. Possibly an EM event, like an airburst nuke or a solar ejection. I’ve been trying to raise them, but they aren’t responding.”

Vice President Emily Williams struggled to get closer to John down the row of workstations. The petite woman wore a prim black pencil skirt and fitting white blouse that made her appear thin and delicate. However, her code name was ‘firecracker’ because she was a ball of hate if you ever crossed her.

“Pick up,” he commanded the phone as he continued to keep one eye on the VP.

Two of John’s Secret Service partners maintained a respectable distance behind the vice president now that the red lights were on. Those men were tier-two as well. Working diligently for the chance to go to the big leagues on Air Force One.

“Is NORAD still on the air?” she asked.

“Ma’am, this is what I’m getting.” John pulled out his headphones, so the hissing sound could be heard by everyone in the compartment.

Ted’s phone stole his attention from the broadcast.

“Hello? Uncle Ted? What’s up?” Kyla’s voice was so calm and quiet he had to jam the phone in his ear to blot out the other noises.

“Kyla, thank god. Listen. There isn’t much time. Where are you?”

“Time for what?” she said with a laugh.

“Kyla! Listen to me! There’s been a disaster. Your mom called and said I had to come get you. Where the effing hell are you?” He’d never cursed in front of his niece. It was part of the refined Air Force persona he tried to nurture in front of most family members.

“For real? I’m doing a job on the USS John F. Kennedy. Why?”

America was under attack and she was on one of the biggest targets in the United States Navy.

“Stay there, Kyla, you hear me? Wait—There’s news here.” It was hard to juggle both emergencies.

An airman leaned into the aisle from a few workstations down. “Andrews just went offline. They were trying to get Peterson Air Base, in Colorado, but they’ve been dark for a few minutes.”

“This is Andrews, in Washington D.C.” John Jeffries tuned into a different frequency, but no one was speaking. “And this is Dulles tower. There is no way they aren’t broadcasting right now. It’s one of the busiest airports on the East Coast.”

Williams stood on her own because the plane had leveled out. Her voice was tense and direct. “Are these nuclear strikes? Are the cities gone?”

“No, ma’am,” the Air Force liaison reported. “I have no intel suggesting there were ground strikes on these locations.”

“What about air bursts?” she asked impatiently.

The guy seemed flustered. “I don’t have any actionable intelli—”

“Get it for me,” she cut him off deliberately before adding, “Please.”

She looked at the computer operators in the room, including Ted.

“Hold on a second, Kyla,” he said quietly into his smartphone.

“I know Andrews isn’t broadcasting, but maybe they’re listening. Tell them to get us some cover up here,” the VP ordered. “If POTUS sent us to DEFCON 2, everything should scramble into the air, anyway.”

Ted had a few seconds to observe Ms. Williams. At first, he recognized her job description made her a tier-two player as well, but he also noticed a hard edge to her earth-tone eyes, like she knew what would happen if she got promoted one more time.

Williams went on. “People, I don’t care what you have to do. Get me someone on the ground. I have to know what’s happening down there.”

Ted immediately wondered if his battlefield promotion was coming, too. He could be useful to the VP in the moment with a valuable asset on the ground. His niece was on the line at exactly the right time.

“Kyla, this is very important. Tell me what’s going on around you.”

He listened for a few seconds.

“Kyla?”

Ted had said it loud enough to get the attention of the VP, but all his focus was on the silence in his phone.

“Kyla!” he screamed.

.

Bonne Terre, Missouri

Tabby Breeze was about to lose her shit. Mom and Dad wanted her to participate in the family business, which was operating a tour company inside an abandoned lead mine, but today’s clients made her rethink all her life choices.

“I bet you get hit on a lot, don’t you?”

Tabby slowly turned to find the boy she’d been avoiding for the past forty-five minutes. The first tour of the day was usually reserved for school field trips, and today was no different. The stocky sophomore kid had found her the instant he walked in and hadn’t let her out of his sight since.

“No,” she deadpanned. “It literally never happens.”

High school boys were yesterday’s news. In two months, she was heading off to Missouri University of Science and Technology. Freaking college.

“That’s an incorrect use of literally, because it is literally, actually, happening now.” The kid rubbed his hands together like it was chilly, which it was, because they were deep inside the mine. “I like your braids, by the way.”

Mom had been a hairdresser in her younger days, and she still enjoyed working with Tabby’s long, brown locks. The back of her head was currently styled with three braids, instead of the usual two.

“Thanks.” Tabby rolled her eyes.

Her dad’s voice crackled from the small communications speaker next to the elevator. “Tabitha, are you there?”

That gave her the exit she needed from the relentless ladies’ man.

“I’m here, Dad. What’s up?”

“How many are left down there?”

She took a rough count, intentionally skipping over the back part of the crowd where her annoying charge waited.

“About twenty, Dad. I can get most of them on the next elevator up. Then we’ll be done with this group.” She couldn’t wait for that to become a literal reality.

“I’m sending the elevator down, now.” Dad chuckled on the open line. “I bet you’re going to miss this place, kiddo.”

“No, I won’t,” she replied. After a suitable pause, she added, “Maybe a little. I’ll miss you and Mom, though.”

“It’s coming down right meow.” Dad loved feline jokes, especially since her nickname was also a type of cat.

The boys snickered behind her, but she pretended not to hear them.

The machinery and wires sprang into action. It was only about fifty feet to the surface, but the equipment was about fifty years old, so it didn’t move with modern efficiency and speed.

While it came down, she made as if she was inspecting the speaker on the wall. Anything to keep from talking to that boy again.

“Annoying, aren’t they?” a girl remarked in a quiet voice.

Tabby glanced over and saw a teen she recognized by all the good questions she’d asked on the tour. “Hey there. What do you mean?”

“I heard Peter hounding you for the past hour. I know what it’s like.”

The two stepped closer to each other so Tabby could reply without being overheard. “I know, right? He’s certainly persistent.”

“Tell me about it. We dated for about ten minutes back in sixth grade and he won’t let me forget it.” The girl wrangled her long black hair over her ear.

Tabby didn’t want to tell the girl her tastes were bad, but she thought it.

The girl went on. “You’re lucky; you won’t see him after today. But the key is, if you ignore him, he eventually gives up.”

She gave the girl a secretive salute. “I’ll take that under advisement.”

The elevator finally arrived, and the security gate slid open with the screeches of oil-hungry hinges and wheels. Dad called it the jailhouse door because the wide-spaced bars looked a lot like they’d come from a police station holding cell.

“All aboard!” she called out.

The kids pushed and shoved their way into the car, but she didn’t tell them to settle down like she normally did. All she wanted was to get them inside and out of her mine.

She was stoked to go to college, but someday the mine touring business would be hers. Getting a degree in geology was step one to making it happen. Babysitting students was her misfortune while she waited for the next chapter in her life.

The annoying heavyset boy was one of the last ones on. To his credit, he pushed his peers into the car to make enough room for the stragglers. Besides Tabby, there were five or six others unable to fit.

“Damn,” she said under her breath.

“We can do it,” the big boy declared.

A couple more kids wedged into the packed car, but it wasn’t enough. She slid the jail door shut, sealing the people inside and cutting off the few still outside. It was her duty to make sure everyone was accounted for, so she had to wait for the next one with the leftovers.

“Double damn,” she hissed through clenched teeth.

Three students remained with her.

“We meet again,” the portly kid said immediately. “My name is Peter, by the way.” He held out his hand to shake hers, but she sidestepped him so she could use the speaker system.

“Dad, a few of us didn’t fit. I’ll bring them up next.” It was another delay she didn’t need.

“Roger, Tabitha. It will only be a couple more minutes.” She wondered if he sensed the anxiety in her voice. He’d led tours, too, and certainly knew the stresses generated by high school kids.

The room became silent as the lift reached the top. She counted the seconds until the elevator was unloaded and sent back down. It would start with clanging from the gate up there… She couldn’t wait to hear it.

“I, uh. I’m not sure you heard me over the noise,” the boy said impatiently. “I’m Peter.”

The dark-haired girl scoffed, then whispered angrily, “Peter, dial it back, okay? I’m sure Tabby has an older boyfriend.” The rock walls inside the mine had a way of carrying whispers, so Tabby heard the words.

“I’d like to have an older girlfriend,” he replied, in a not-so-quiet voice.

Tabby pressed the button, desperate to hurry things along. “Dad? Send it down, okay?”

She waited to hear the whine of the motors up top.

“Come on, move,” she willed the machinery.

She was about to press the button again, but a loud crack came from inside the mine’s elevator shaft. A second, louder, boom rattled the metal gate. A burst of hot air shot out of the vertical tunnel.

“Holy hell!” she shouted. “Get back!”

She used her arms to push the students away.

Metal roared from inside the elevator shaft, as if the lift was grinding the rocky sides on its descent.

“Back!” she screamed.

The elevator car smashed into the ground with a deafening slam. A large boulder came down next, followed by a dump-truck-sized flow of dirt and other rocks that fell on top of it.

Smoky dust came out of the shaft, covering her and the kids with a layer of gray debris, as if they’d been crawling in it.

Seconds later, the power shut off, throwing Tabby’s subterranean world into absolute darkness.

.

CHAPTER 2

Newport News, VA

“I assume your weekend was as exciting as mine?”

Kyla Justice heard the question from her fellow coder, but she wanted to think of something exciting, if fake, to say in reply. Her partner, Ben Parker, knew she spent most of her weekends doing the same thing she did during the week: programming.

“I met someone,” Kyla said with a dab of mystery.

Ben stopped typing on his laptop and looked over. “That’s not what I meant, but— Get out! Where did you meet him?”

As she thought it through, it wasn’t a lie, though she didn’t have to explain their meeting was in the virtual world. She’d met an in-game character in one of her video games. They’d talked about their real selves for about sixty seconds, then it was back to killing the bad guys. As best she could tell, the male avatar on the screen was being played by a real gamer dude from the Midwest. Somewhere well over the horizon in terms of going out for drinks, like she wanted Ben to imagine.

So, she let the thought dangle for a moment, then cut it off. “I don’t really want to talk about him. We have to keep focused on these readings. The captain is moving the ship today and our jobs are on the line if this reactor containment monitor goes on the fritz again.”

The USS John F. Kennedy was the Navy’s newest aircraft carrier, but it shared the same problems as every ship launched in the past five thousand years. It had kinks, bugs, and weak structures that needed to be patched. And that was only the computer code. The mechanical pieces had their own issues.

“That was your code, not mine.” Ben laughed.

“That was our code,” Kyla corrected. They worked for the same contractor. “But I’ll tell you what. If you double-check what I’ve just entered, I’ll tell you all about my new man.”

“Yeah, okay. I can work with that. Let’s—”

Kyla’s ringtone went off. Phone calls were frowned upon by her hard-ass bosses, and the Navy bosses weren’t too happy about it either, but everyone took calls, even those who made the rules. It wasn’t a big deal.

“It’s my uncle,” she said. “He’s a big shot pilot for the Air Force.” She hit the green button. “Hello? Uncle Ted? What’s up?”

“Kyla, thank god. Listen. There isn’t much time. Where are you?”

“Time for what?” she replied. It was exactly like Uncle Ted to be dramatic.

“Kyla! Listen to me! There’s been a disaster. Your mom called and said I had to come get you. Where the effing hell are you?”

She held the phone away from her ear like he’d burned it with foul language. Something was really jacked up, if he was talking like that.

“For real? I’m doing a job on the USS John F. Kennedy. Why?”

Uncle Ted didn’t reply right away. There were sounds like he was in a busy flight terminal or something, so it was hard to understand what was going on.

“Uncle Ted? You there?”

The noise on the other end continued.

An overhead claxon sent Kyla six inches off her chair because it came on with unnatural suddenness, and she’d been focused so intently on the phone. The blaring signal prevented her from easily hearing or speaking to her uncle.

“What the hell is that alarm for?” Ben had to lean over and yell to be heard.

Kyla shrugged.

“Should we check it out?” Ben yelled again.

She waited before responding. The ship went through a million tests every day, it seemed, as the shakedown crew readied the carrier for sea trials. One day, it might be stress tests on the electromagnetic catapults. The next, the engines growled for hours.

The chances of the emergency claxons being an actual emergency were relatively low, because they were in port testing everything from the nuclear reactors down to the toasters. However, Uncle Ted did mention a disaster. Was he for real? She tried him again.

“Uncle Ted? Come on. Talk to me.”

His tone suggested he was serious, but his lack of follow-up made her wonder if it was bad timing on the part of the alarms. It canceled his ability to tell his punch line.

Ha, ha, Kyla. I’m kidding. I just called to say I’ll be in Newport News next week.

That was the type of immature stuff he sometimes pulled. Mom, too.

The phone’s screen showed the line had gone dead. She tried calling him back, but the line didn’t connect. She immediately dialed her mom, but that also refused to connect. Sometimes working low in the ship made service unreliable.

“Damn,” she thought.

After a full minute, the alarms on the ship turned off.

Kyla put a finger in her ear as if to rub away the pain. “I’m glad that’s over with. What a suck-ass test. I bet my uncle will call back in a few.”

They waited for a minute or two to see if the captain would make an announcement about the alarm, but it soon matched watching paint dry in terms of excitement.

She planned to dial Mom when she was on lunch; she’d probably put Uncle Ted up to his joke. In the meantime, she figured it was best to keep working. Deadlines didn’t care about alarms.

Ben was already furiously tapping at his keyboard, leading by example.

They worked for another ten minutes before the older man turned away from his computer.

“So. That was a weird interruption, huh? What were we talking about? Your dating life, I think.” Ben laughed.

Her belly clenched at the thought of having to explain she hadn’t really gone on a date. “Yeah, we—”

A sailor ran by the door but skidded to a halt and backed up. “What are you two doing in here? Having a father-daughter brunch? Get your asses to a battle station. We’ve been effing attacked!”

“Seriously?” Ben asked with disbelief.

“The alarm was real?” Kyla gulped. Though completely inappropriate in nature, she was glad the sailor saw them as father and daughter. Ben was a lot older than her. And married. And not her type.

“Yeah, it was real!” The sailor gasped for air. He looked around for others. “On second thought, you two civvies might want to stay in there.”

Kyla trotted to the door in case the sailor wanted to shut them in. “We don’t want to be stuck in here.”

“Yeah,” Ben added. “If there’s an attack, we can’t be down here at the bottom of the damned ship. What if it sinks?”

The young sailor panted and looked like he wanted to leave. “We’re in port. We can’t sink. Word is spreading: something killed everyone on the upper decks! Crew areas. Hangar. The bridge! All gone. Be glad you two are down here.”

The man ran away without a further word.

Kyla and Ben shared worried looks.

She glanced at her phone.

Maybe Uncle Ted hadn’t been screwing around.

.

Air Force Two

Ted felt as useless as any point in his entire life. He sat among high-level security and communications people engaged in frenzied threat assessments, status reports, and data gathering. His lame job remained being backup for the pilot of the plane, and that outcome was less likely than ever now that things had gone wrong.

“I’ve got someone on the ground, ma’am.” The Air Force liaison held up his hand.

“Go ahead, son,” the VP replied dryly.

“It’s the USS John F. Kennedy. They’re sitting in port at Newport News, Virginia. I have a Marine on the line.”

Ted launched out of his seat. “My niece is on that ship!” He held up his phone, as if it were proof.

Ms. Williams glanced at him but went right back to the other officer. “A Marine? Where’s the captain of the ship?”

“I tried. I think we’re lucky to get this guy. Would you like to talk to him?” The Air Force officer made it sound like he wanted her to say yes.

She took the handset. “This is Vice President Emily Williams. Who’s on the line?”

A loud bang came out of the speaker before the man replied. “The vice president? Holy hell! We’ve got a shitstorm here! We were attacked! Decks of Navy were just wiped away. We have bad guys coming down for the rest of us!”

“Where’s the captain?” she replied in a businesslike tone.

More cracks blared from the speakers, but there was so much it came out like white noise.

“Did you get that?” the Marine yelled in the phone. “Send us more G-D shooters!”

“Marine, I need you to stay calm—”

Ted desperately wanted to ask about Kyla, but now wasn’t the time. Even family had to take a back seat to matters of the nation.

“They’re here!” the Marine replied.

A few moments of gunfire was followed by silence. The line went dead.

“Ma’am, my data shows a Fleet Anti-terrorism Security Team was already training on that ship,” an advisor relayed. “That’s why you were talking to him. A platoon of FAST Marines should be able to handle anything.”

Ted wasn’t so sure. He’d heard “regular” Marines weren’t big fans of those specials.

“Anything…” Emily echoed. She remained in the middle of the aisle for half a minute, like a schoolteacher worried about her pupils, but then she seemed to come to a decision.

Ted punched the button for Kyla on his phone, but it wouldn’t go through. He was angry, but not shocked; system overload was expected during times of crisis.

“Tell me who’s left.” Ms. Williams pointed at an Army officer. “Is Europe still online?”

“Yes, ma’am. I hear bases in Germany, England, the works. I even get traffic from bases in the Middle East.”

“Good.” She then pointed to a Navy woman. “What do you know about our fleets? Is the attack on the JFK local or fleet-wide?”

The woman looked at her screen, then to the VP. “So far, I’ve heard from Sixth Fleet in Naples and Seventh Fleet in Japan, but I can’t raise Fleet Command ten miles away in Norfolk. Still trying.”

“Excellent. Keep on it. I want a list of every ship and command you talk to. This could be important. Start with bases on the East Coast. We have to know who is still operational below our feet.”

Emily strode down the lane and stopped next to John at his Secret Service console.

“Mr. Jeffries, have you heard anything from the president?”

He looked up and shook his head. “No, ma’am. I’ve been pinging every phone number I know. There are no agents answering anywhere near POTUS.”

“Are you sure he was in the nest?”

It was slang for his home turf in the White House.

John nodded. “Unless someone kept me out of the loop, his schedule says he’s hosting some children this morning to talk about school lunches and whatnot. He should be there.”

“Good, I want—”

The plane tipped sideways before anyone could think about holding on. It was a lot like being on an innertube going into a high-banked water flume.

A second later, every alarm on the plane went back into panic mode.

.

Poor Sisters Convent, Oakville, MO

“Sister Rose, would you be a dear and go prepare the heirloom seeds? I believe today is the day we will plant them in the greenhouse.”

In her previous life, she was known as Becky Hatcher, but after she accomplished her novitiate and chose to live her life inside the convent, Abbess Mary Francis assigned her the name of Rose. Fitting, since she enjoyed working with the soil.

Rose bowed to Mary Francis, rather than respond by voice. When she advanced to full member of the order, she accepted the vow of silence, which she took seriously. Except for one time when she woke up shouting after a bad dream, she hadn’t spoken a word for almost a year.

She believed it was her cross to carry.

The underground cellar was a cool, dry storage area perfect for keeping the seedlings, but there were many other supplies down there, too. The nuns tried to be as self-sufficient as possible, so there were work tools, stockpiles of personal hygiene items, and pallets of Bibles. Those they gave to anyone who came to the front door.

There were also small casks filled with wine. Most of those sat up in the front, because they were often needed for the daily service. Sister Ann had the large frame and muscle mass necessary to move them, much to Rose’s relief. Even the act of looking at them wore her out.

To make money to support their order, the nuns planted grapes and ran a small in-house winery. It perfectly complimented the tiny bakery where they made bread for dozens of churches in the area.

She walked beyond the casks to find what she sought.

“God, please help us plant and harvest a crop for your glory.” While she didn’t talk aloud, she always talked to God in her heart. “But first, please help me find them.”

The long shadows of the dark chamber made it difficult to see, but she had the patience to let her eyes adjust. Modern conveniences, such as flashlights, were frowned upon by the abbess, and Rose had never crossed her.

She looked on the small shelves where she expected the seeds, but they weren’t there. It was almost completely dark in the corner of the basement, so she took a few minutes to meditate with her eyes closed. When she finally opened them, her vision had adjusted some more, and she saw the small storage bin.

“Ah ha!” Her day was back on track.

Rose secured the large cup and popped the top. About a hundred small seeds were inside. All she had to do was drop them in water, remove the duds, and present the rest to Sister Mary Francis. She would order Rose and the other sisters into the greenhouse with tiny picks and shovels, like they do every week. Other vines, which they’d prepared in the previous months, would then be transferred to the vineyard.

Sister Rose held the container to her bosom and cradled it in prayer.

“Please help us have another bumper crop.”

She turned to go back toward the distant light, but an unusual sensation made her stop. The hair on each arm stuck straight up, as if magnetized by the roof.

“Oh my,” she thought.

Her only defense was prayer, and she wielded it with the same certainty as a trained martial arts expert. After a minute or two of communing with her holy defender, she was prepared to continue. The fear and odd feeling were gone.

“It’s been too long since I was alone like this,” she thought.

She carefully clicked off the light switch and closed the heavy metal door at the top of the steps. There was no reason to lock it because there was nothing of value inside. Wine, bread, and seeds. Who would want any of that?

Sister Rose had almost forgotten her moment of anxiety in the darkness, but when she came back into the common room with her earthly treasure, a similar feeling of dread washed over her, and she almost dropped it.

Her sisters were gone.

Abbess Mary Francis had been sitting in a wooden chair between the kitchen and community area. Her religious habit now draped over the chair—as if she’d undressed and placed it there. But there wasn’t enough time for that, to say nothing of the impropriety.

Sister Ann had been in a lounge chair reading the Bible. Her simple clothing was in her place. Rose also noticed her shoes and socks were left on the floor.

The convent wasn’t known for practical jokes, but Rose supposed she might be witnessing the first in its history.

She was careful to set the seeds on the kitchen table, as the abbess would not approve if she dropped it, no matter the reason why.

Rose could not call out to end the prank, though she thought about it. This was so out of character as to be scandalous. How did they coordinate such an activity?

Rose walked into the oversized kitchen. She fully expected to find her leader, or Sister Ann, or at least someone else who didn’t know about the joke. However, when she went into the room, her skin crawled again.

There were more abandoned piles of clothing.

End of sample. Thank you for reading. The story continues for five books.

Minus America (and what happens within / characters / situations / worlds / artwork) are Copyright (c) 2019 by E.E. Isherwood. All rights reserved. NFT contents licensed for non-commercial use only.

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