The End is only the Beginning....It wasn't the first time Lieutenant Travis Daniels had been far from his wife and son. Leading an elite team on countless missions, dodging death at every turn-it was what he was trained to do. And returning to his family was always his driving force... but this time might be different. Imprisoned for an unsanctioned intrusion into a hot zone, Travis and his elite team took a deal to assist in the colonization of Mars to evade the death penalty. While stationed there, Travis' only source of sanity were the brief video conversations he was allowed with his family. When the last transmission received showed choppy images of the city in darkness and blurs of humanoid creatures running through the streets, Travis and his team must decide to either stay on Mars or find a way back to his family-unknowing of the hell that Earth has become.
Kevin J. Howard was born in Mission Viejo, California, moved to Seattle at the age of twenty-one, and now lives in Puyallup. He hand wrote his first novel in the fifth grade and has been writing ever since. His first published novel, Faithful Shadow, is a return to the classic horror novel. Since writing Faithful Shadow he has completed four additional horror novels that will soon be published. In 2012, he won an award in the Las Vegas International Film Festival for his screenplay, Identical Opposites. Kevin's latest novel, Precipice: The Beginning, is now available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. The sequel, Precipice: The Retrieval, should be released in the summer of 2013.
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“I swear to God, turn that damn thing off.” Beth mumbled beneath her arm, covering her eyes from the camcorder’s light. She withdrew her arm and opened her eyes, rubbing away the lingering shards of sleep. Above her stood her husband of only four days, Sebastian, holding the camcorder they’d owned for only three days. Purchased the day before they’d boarded the largest ship to ever set sail, Festival of the Seas from the Presidential Cruise Lines. “Are you going to give it a rest or do I have to smack you in the balls?” Beth sat up with a smile.
“Sounds kinky,” Sebastian said, turning with his camcorder held before him, moving slowly to capture every inch of their balcony suite. He stepped before the mirror and waved, hamming it up for the home audience that would see it upon their return in seven more days. Sebastian began focusing in on the vanity, the small fridge and then toward the door.
“I don’t think we need to remember the bathroom.” Beth swung her legs over the side of the bed, resting her elbows on her knees. A light headache wouldn’t cease in the back of her head, steadily rising to a muffled roar. Too many drink specials last night during the show. She’d spent two hours of last night double fisting tropical drinks that can only be found aboard a cruise, drinking them with an ever-growing buzz while watching a musical journey through America’s night clubs. It had been a pretty decent show.
“One of these days, like twenty years from now, we’re going to be watching this and wishing I’d gotten the bathroom. Not to mention the closet here.” Sebastian opened the narrow door and filmed the interior, two white robes and two folded life jackets. Sebastian closed the door and turned back toward his wife, zooming in on her open mouth as she yawned. “Show me those pearly whites.” He turned the button from record to standby and set the camcorder on the vanity. He walked over to his wife and took her by the hands, pulling her to her feet to plant a firm kiss on her dry lips. “Drinks didn’t agree with you I take it,” he said as he pulled away, tasting her morning breath within his own mouth.
Beth gave him a firm poke to his ribs and a wink before moving to the balcony door. She paused a moment to wrap the red floral pattern sarong her mother had given her about her waist and opened the door. The sun was making its way into the morning sky, maybe just an hour or two past seven. She opened the door and closed her eyes against the warm gust of wind. The air was fresh, nothing like she was used to in Southern California. The sky over the water was blue and clear; no trace of the brown smog that hung over her hometown of Fullerton every day of her life. This truly was a wonderful choice for a honeymoon.
“Here, have some or you’ll get a headache.” Sebastian handed Beth a small cup of coffee. He took a seat beside her in a lounge chair and let out a content breath. “Now this is the life.”
“Worth the extra money to be on the back of the ship like this.”
Sebastian nodded, feeling there was no need for words. Moments of contentment such as this were few and far between. Not that he’d ever admit this to another living soul but he had trouble finding moments of peace, even the smallest ones. His genetics took hold of him at times, anger brewing through his bloodstream as it had through his father and grandfather, even his two sisters. Was there such a thing as genetic rage? Sebastian had never really put too much thought into it. He just used it to fall back on when people watched him snap, keeping their distance on the highway as he flew by with his middle finger held up high and his mouth streaming vulgarities. That had become his everyday routine, anger on the road, trouble with the bills, and then there was the slowly growing issue of his increasing waistline. Beth had helped him immensely. Her beautiful smile melted the rage like ice on the surface of the sun. Because of her he was able to come home to their apartment, take a deep breath, and show his teeth in something other than a snarl. Because of his darling wife, he was able to lie back in the lounge chair and let himself go. Even if for only a week or so, knowing full well the vacation would end and he’d be back on that same highway trudging through thick traffic an hour each way. But for now, this very moment, he let his lips stretch across his face as he slipped on the shades he purchased in Honolulu.
“Are we going to the art auction today?”
Beth thought a moment, shaking her head. “Kind of boring.”
“True, but if we go to all three of them they enter us into a raffle to win a free piece of art.” Sebastian let the words hang a moment, wondering if he himself even wanted to go. They didn’t have a ton of money to spend, but art was his favorite souvenir. He’d purchased an oil painting of a small Mexican village on their trip to Mazatlan. “I mean, they will have free champagne,” Sebastian said, sweetening the deal.
“No more booze…until dinner.” Beth smiled.
Beth sat forward and slapped Sebastian in the shoulder. She was a physical person by nature, hitting him playfully, but with a surprising amount of strength whenever she remembered something or thought something was really funny. “I’m going to get the sunscreen.” Beth stood, stepping over the chair while reaching for the door. “Need anything?”
Beth went into the room and lifted the suitcase onto the bed, shuffling through layers of shorts and tank tops for the sunscreen they’d purchased from the gift shop on the fourth deck. A twenty-seven dollar bottle of sunscreen was well worth a thorough search. Sebastian turned in his chair and lifted up his shades, watching her through the tinted window. The outline of her blue bathing suit bottoms could be made out beneath the thin fabric of the sarong. His mood shifted quickly as it often did, giving him the incentive he needed to rise from his chair and sneak back into his cabin. Beth heard the door and looked slightly back over her shoulder as he snuck up behind her, knowing full well where his normal dirty mind had taken him. After all, this was a vacation for them both.
“What do you think you’re doing?” Beth said coyly, turning to wrap her arms about his neck.
Sebastian leaned forward and kissed his wife, taking it slow as they had more than enough time to lead into the inevitable.
Their passion was doused by an overhead alarm beeping continuous at an unbearable volume. They covered their ears and ran toward the door, opening it to peek out into the hallway. An extremely overweight man of perhaps fifty years of age ran by them, huffing as he went.
“What’s going on?” Sebastian screamed, his voice either buried beneath the alarm or ignored by the portly fellow.
“This is your captain speaking.” The captain’s voice echoed throughout the ship, his thick Italian accent making it sometimes difficult to distinguish most of his announcements. “All passengers and crew quickly return to your rooms or the nearest enclosed space. Put your life vests on and brace yourselves for impact. Repeat. All passengers and crew put your life vests on. This is not a drill.” The intercom clicked off but the alarm continued to sound.
“Impact from what?” Beth was screaming, her voice shaken from the captain’s words.
Sebastian felt his stomach shrink and became nauseous, lightheaded from the noise and the confusion. He turned toward the bathroom and then back to the balcony. The captain’s voice had been crisper than normal, perhaps knowing the importance of the delivery. He went to the closet and pulled open the door, grabbing the life vest. He slipped the vest over his neck and handed one to Beth, both of them struggling over the three sets of ties in the front.
“What do we do?” Beth asked.
Sebastian held out his hands and motioned for Beth to stay put as he hurried over to the balcony. The word “impact” circled his mind as if an airplane were towing a message for him to read over and over again. If they were going to hit something he might be able to see it, to put this into perspective. He threw open the door and stepped out onto the balcony, turning his neck as he saw the distance between the ocean and the horizon rapidly merging.
“Oh my God,” Beth said softly as she stepped beside him, looking up into the wave as it rose above them, dwarfing the ship to look more like a tub toy than an all impressive ocean liner.
Beth took her husband’s hand and squeezed it tightly as the wave took them.