|Corsair is currently on sale for just 99¢ |
You should steal it now while you have the chance.
Or, have you truly lived many lifetimes throughout the ages? And if you have, did you ever lie, cheat, or steal? Did you ever kill somebody? Did you ever know what it was like to be the villain?
Lots of ways to look at life, death, soul, incarnation and re-incarnation. In the Kings X Saga, all of them are in play.
Here is an excerpt from the newly released “Corsair: The King’s X Protocol” in which Sean Dedalus reflects on a lifetime. This one. The life he was leading before the dreams came again, before they coalesced into memory, before he recalled who and what he truly was.
Here he remembers a bad situation when he was presented with bad choices, when he did what he so often has done in the past... created more Bad Karma to burn.
Sean Dedalus strode into the sea at the same deliberate pace he’d held since leaving Madeline at the hotel bar. She had said many things. She’d been right about each one of them.
Dedalus needed to think.
There were rules. He had made them for a reason. Madeline had thrown them back in his face.
Stay one step ahead, every step, or you lose.
If you lose once, you get out.
When you get out, you disappear forever.
Or you die.
Everything about Corsair was borderline insane. And probably a step or two on the wrong side of that line. He’d created the rules to hide and stay hidden from the entanglements of life. He’d seen more than enough of life to know it’s never the people who hate you that you need to worry about. Worry is for the ones you love. That is where true pain comes from. And that is what Corsair, with his secrecy and his rules, was designed to protect him from.
Behind him in the sand he’d left a trail of everything he was wearing – his sandals, shirt, sunglasses, and eventually his pants with the phone still humming a pocketful of messages. He had not even turned to notice the many other people on the beach, staring in mild surprise as he shed down to nothing.
He walked until the water was deep enough to swim. In thirty seconds, he was beyond the shallows. After two minutes, he could no longer see the bottom. After twenty minutes, he had left behind the hotel’s little harbor, and was beyond the sight of anyone on the beach. After swimming for thirty minutes into deeper and deeper water, Dedalus knew this was not working. He was still not thinking clearly enough.
He paused where he was, treading water, taking long, hard breaths for several moments. Holding the last one, he dove deep.
The sea was nearly silent beneath the surface, and only seemed to get quieter as he passed through layer after layer of increasingly cold water. The light from the sun dimmed as it dispersed more with each fathom.
Sean, they saw you! Jack Gilliam knows you for Christ’s sake!
All true. Just as true as the fact that she was leaving him.
Dedalus had trained himself to hold his breath for two minutes if need be. He stopped his dive after one minute, turned and hung there, suspended in the frigid water, looking up at the pale disk of the sun warping and flickering at the surface.
It would take him nearly a minute to return for a new breath of air. He had put his own life in the balance. He would solve his problem here and now, identify this exposed weakness and correct the flaw, or he would die trying.
Now he could think. In this silence, he could remember. A time, a place, and three brothers.
10 years ago
Ian Connelly faced a death sentence. He was not a murderer. He was not even a traitor. At least not in the eyes of the law. But he had betrayed a confidence. The confidence, as it turned out, of a true murderer and an enemy of the crown, John Gilliam.
Connelly was a minor functionary in the grand battle between order and chaos. He existed near the border of those two worlds, and his forays into the dark and lawless lands were brief, shallow, and never involved more than delivering packages of unknown content from one side of that imaginary line to the other. He was hardly a criminal at all. That’s what had always made him so useful to those who were.
That notion – that he was hardly a criminal – is what led Connelly to such grave danger after he was arrested. Because no matter what he thought of himself, what he told his wife or the friends and associates who populated the respectable world in which he lived, Ian Connelly certainly was a criminal. The unknown contents of the packages he had carried from one world into the other turned out to be heroin, imported from the poppy fields of Afghanistan, refined in Hong Kong, and distributed to the streets of Belfast by men like himself and those who payed him to walk across that imaginary border between worlds.
Ian Connelly had bargained with the crown of England to escape prison. He had turned information about his associates over to the authorities as Queen’s Evidence. John Gilliam’s empire required retribution, that an example be set for others to see.
Ian Connelly was strapped to a chair inside a twelve-by-thirty-foot shipping container, hopelessly lost amid ten thousand identical containers somewhere near the docks of the Port of Belfast.
Carrying out his sentence, three young men stood before him. Three brothers, different in many ways.
At twenty, David was in the middle, four years older than Sean, eight years younger than Jack. He watched with the quiet anxiety of a boy waiting to be selected last for a playground game while Jack and Sean did their father’s work without him, leaving him behind. Again.
David had always been special, particularly to their mother. She had kept him close to her skirts for as long as he could remember, shielding him from many things that seemed to worry her a great deal.
He had never really compared himself to Jack. Jack was strong and unkind, moved mainly by his desire to inherit and control their father’s empire. Jack was dangerous.
Sean was different. David loved him. But then again, so did everybody.
It wasn’t until Sean grew older, and the differences between all three boys became more clear, that was when David began to associate being “special,” and even the love and protection of his mother, with pain. “Special” took form in her words as “God working in mysterious ways,” and something about him having “an angel’s spirit,” or what Sean sometimes told him was “a good heart.”
Sean was special too. He’d heard it said many times, and he knew it to be true. But the word meant something very different when people talked about Sean. Neither David nor Jack was as smart as Sean. Neither was as handsome, as fast, or agile. It was almost as if everything that was missing from his older brothers had somehow fallen to him. Where David plodded to keep up, Sean had to slow down so others could follow. Where Jack had a burning lack that pushed him like hunger, Sean didn’t seem to want or need anything. It was almost like he was born with the kind of wisdom most never achieve in a lifetime.
The character of David’s two brothers was visible behind their eyes, so that people tended to gravitate to Sean, and remain wary of Jack.
David created none of these feelings in others. Sean was loved and Jack feared, but they were both respected. David was ignored or, worse, pitied.
David was smart enough to know that he was not very smart. And he was observant enough to know that the differences between the brothers seemed to make their mother love him more and their father love him less.
He knew this night was a test of some kind. His father wanted him here. His mother did not. He knew that tonight was his chance to make an impression. Maybe his last chance.
Still, all he was asked to do was watch from within swaying shadows cast by a flashlight hung from a hook. To stand idle as Jack directed Sean through the “work” they’d come to do.
Jack rarely smiled. And when he did, his smile made others feel worse for having seen it. The rare curling of Jack’s lips showed a wicked kind of glee, a devil’s grin, most often brought on by another man’s pain. Tonight he smiled from the dark at Sean’s initiation into the family business – and at Ian Connelly’s pain.
“Again, Sean.” Jack commanded.
Sean Gilliam looked down at the sheen of fresh blood on his black gloves. His knuckles hurt a little bit from the bone beneath Ian Connelly’s flesh. But the pain was nothing. He could continue for hours if he wanted to.
But he did not want to. He looked at the soft man in the chair, listened to the weeping moan, and saw no point to this exercise.
This was not a lesson for Ian Connelly. He and David were here because their father wanted them here. It was a lesson for the young sons of John Gilliam. A lesson in fear and how to cause it.
For much of his life, Sean had also been shielded, by their mother, just like David, from the deepest realities of their family. He had been meticulously prepared by the best schooling money could buy to walk in the world of order and light. Yet, as all boys do, he had sought out the truth and wisdom of his father. From the age of eight, he had known where he came from, as well as the vast wealth for the mansion, the servants, and the schools. Sean had studied at the feet of his father to learn the ways of chaos and darkness as well.
His father had decided that at sixteen, Sean was ready to learn what it really meant to be John Gilliam’s son. He was here to learn from Jack.
“He’s had enough,” the boy protested.
“No, Sean. He hasn’t.”
Sean faced the fear and anguish of his victim with his eyes open. If this was a lesson, he would at least learn it well. He clenched his gloved fist with a grinding of blood-wet leather and delivered the next blow. Powerful, with a loud crack of flesh and a deadening thud against the bone beneath.
Sean stood still. Ian Connelly’s fading whimper was the only sound.
Sean kept his back turned to Jack’s voice. The sound, like the man, was grim and cruel.
“This man has betrayed our father. He has endangered our business, your livelihood and mine. Our family.”
“He is weak,” Sean countered without turning.
“Yes, weak. Weak enough to betray a trust. And there are many other weak men out there right now, Sean. That is why examples like this are set. So they don’t wind up like Connelly. You are protecting the weak from themselves.”
David stood by. He watched his younger brother receive Jack’s wisdom, do their family’s work, make their father proud.
For a long moment, Sean stood motionless, listening to Ian Connelly’s shallow breaths.
Finally, he reached a decision. He had only begun to turn to face Jack when David rushed forward.
David understood the lesson, sensed Sean’s hesitance, and seized the moment to prove his worth. David rained gloved fists down upon the already beaten man with animal fury and human ugliness.
As the cries of Ian Connelly ceased and the blows continued, a new sound filled the dark space, one that Sean would never forget.
Jack began to laugh. Loud and uncontrolled, a perverse joy rose higher and higher in their teacher as David began to pant, losing his breath from the effort.
Sean turned away from David and studied the unchained delight on Jack’s face. The first sight had sickened him. The second enraged.
Finally, when it seemed like the blows might never stop, Sean grabbed David by the shoulder and yanked him away from the unconscious victim.
David strained to return, a wild man lost in blood.
Sean overpowered him and pinned him to the steel wall of the container.
David’s eyes stayed wild for several moments – until Jack’s rising laughter brought an equally wild smile to his face.
Sean held David to the wall as a hideous fit of laughter convulsed his body.
As the scene began to lose its appeal, Jack’s laugh reduced to a snorting chuckle. David calmed along with him until Sean released his grip.
“Okay, I guess that’ll do.” Jack pulled a .38 caliber handgun from his coat pocket. “Now we finish making an example of Mr. Connelly for all to see.”
Jack looked down at the barely living body, slumped in its bonds. Without turning, he raised the gun, hand-grip first, toward Sean. Sean did not reach for it.
“Our father was clear to me, Sean. He wants you to do it.”
Eventually Jack turned toward him, to meet the boy’s defiant eyes across the gun held out between them. No word was spoken for several moments, until his lips slowly curled into the devil’s grin once more.
Jack turned and held the gun out for David.
“How about you, Dave?”
Sean saw the animal fade and doubt flash across David’s face.
Then David’s head bobbed in a single nod.
“One shot, in the head,” Jack instructed.
David took the weapon in two hands almost as if he’d never seen a gun before.
Sean watched and understood as David’s mind reached the place he had come to just moments before. The place where you just aren’t sure of what you’re doing, or why you should do it.
Their father wanted Sean to cross that line - the line of not being sure. That was the plan, the reason for all this. He wanted Sean to come out on the other side of that doubt in the form of a killer. A murderer. An asset.
But Sean had already reached a place of certainty, and he had gleaned his own meaning from the lesson. He knew, and had known for the last several minutes, that he did not want to be both judge and executioner in a world where men like himself, or his father, could make the rules up as they go. Who is to say a man like Ian Connelly deserves to die? Or to live for that matter? Not him. Not his father. And certainly not Jack.
“Be like steel, brother,” Jack said to David. “The first time is the hardest. Even Sean is afraid. But you’re not. I can see it in you.”
Sean could see David using Jack’s words to fight the doubt, using the teacher’s strength and certainty to find resolve.
He watched his brother turn the gun in his hand, gripping it the proper way as his wide eyes turned to the motionless body in the chair.
Sean could see something in David slipping away as he stepped closer. He heard Jack hold a breath as their brother lifted the gun. He knew that Jack was smiling without having to look.
“Do it now, brother. It only gets easier.”
Sean stepped forward and took the weapon, slowly and steadily from David’s shaking hand.
“It’s all right, Dave,” Sean said without emotion. “I’ve got this.”
David looked at Sean, his chance fading as his doubts grew.
More than anything else in the world, Sean wanted to go home, to hide one last time behind the fierce protection of their mother. But that time of his life was about to end. The world he was about to enter was no place for a soul like David’s. One of them would have to be certain, in exactly the way their father wanted him to be, so the other could hold onto doubt a little longer.
Sean had finally learned the proper lesson. He was John Gilliam’s son. There was no escaping that. And there would always be work to do.
To the sound of Jack’s laughter returning behind him, Sean raised the gun toward the beaten man in the chair, pulled back the hammer with his thumb, aimed as steady as stone, and pulled the trigger.
He opened his eyes to find the pale disc of the sun undulating on the blue surface of the Mediterranean Sea, some twenty-five meters above him. He had reduced his every possible distraction and doubt, each phantom of the past and fantasy about the future to a single point of focus, the present moment.
He had seconds to live.
Refreshed, aligned, and properly motivated, he kicked gently for the surface, conserving what oxygen remained in his blood. Sean Dedalus moved once again as he knew he always must, steadily, moment by moment, toward his next breath.