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Archive for July, 2011

Vacation Blogging

July 31, 2011 4 comments

Day 2 of vacation, and a rough one at that. I woke up, got out of the tent (yeah, a tent), got a campfire started and put the coffee pot on. Then the rain started. But it wasn’t beating me! I stood over the fire pit with an umbrella, blinded and hacking to protect my precious flames. Quarter hour later, when it really opened up, I surrendered and returned to the tent only to find a new battle needed to be fought against the leaks.

Now, some fourteen hours later, the skies are cloudless and beautiful. Weather.com still tells a tale of isolated thunderstorms but the skies above me sing a song of peace and tranquility. Or mother nature will be a bitch and wait until we fall asleep to unleash her wickedness.

In the meantime, things are going okay. If anyone was ever to ask me if they should take a two year old camping I’d laugh in their face and tell them they were crazy or possibly lacking some important grey matter. That’s in hindsight, mind you. Although, having said that, my two year old is finally calming down and getting over the excitement of everything to be more enjoyable. Patience, it seems, is winning out.

Oh, another couple of camping lessons – don’t split firewood in open toed sandals (near miss). Second lesson, don’t add wood to the fire in open toed sandals (not a miss).

The coffee? Yeah, 12 hours later I finally got it percolated and I must say it might very well be the finest cup of coffee I’ve ever had. Might be partially due to the taste of delayed victory.

In other news, I received a message from someone new on Twitter that is following me. His twitter name is @ashenclawrealm and he started following my blog out of either hopes I’d return the favor or because he enjoys my twisted sense of humor. In either case, I checked his out and found it equally interesting and thought provoking. If you’re into fantasy or useless trivia like I am, here’s the link to look into it: http://eyeonashenclaw.blogspot.com/

He’s also got a book out: “Covenant of the Faceless Knights” (by Gary F. Vanucci), available on Barnes and Noble and Amazon. I don’t readily have those links available but they can be found at his blog. Oh, I haven’t read or reviewed it yet either, but his blogs are well written so that bodes well!

Categories: Writing

A pre-release review teaser for Ice Princess

One of my pre-release reviewers sent me in her review for Ice Princess last night. I thought I’d keep it until I was ready to put the book out there but then I realized, why wait? Ice Princess is ready to go with the exception of cover art… so this gives people a chance to rush out and pick up the prequel, Wanted, to get ready for it!

Cover Wanted - PubIt

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0053KJ2QU

 

And here’s the review:

After reading the book “Wanted” by Jason Halstead, I was left wondering what was next for many of the characters. So I was excited to see that the author had written a sequel called “Ice Princess.” “Ice Princess” picks up about a year after “Wanted” ends, continuing the storyline with the original characters and adding some intriguing new ones to the mix. The author surprised me with a couple of twists and turns that I didn’t expect. The story moves quickly and kept me interested. Unlike some sci-fi authors who create settings that are so far-fetched they aren’t believable, Halstead writes about a future world that is very real and plausible. The author does an excellent job of exploring how far people will go to ensure their own survival. I thoroughly enjoyed “Ice Princess” and hope the author continues with a 3rd installment!

-K. Dawe

Categories: Writing

What to do when there is no box.

I was asked recently to write up a guest blog post for a place called Prinstsasia.com by Sherri Helms, the Senior Executive of Web Marketing over there. There was virtually no guidance given on what to blog about, so I was presented with a blank page. Ironically, that’s a lot harder than you might think it is! Typically we, as humans, like to have a frame of reference. We’re problem solvers, but without the problem we tend to wander. It’s not about thinking outside of the box, it’s about not having a box in the firstplace! I wonder what Shroedinger would have done with his cats in that environment…

So anyhow, I dug through some stuff I had and found something I’d written to myself a while ago where I answered some basic questions about why I wanted to write. I read through it and found the tiny spark of inspiration I needed. What followed was me writing about why writer’s write. Or at least why it is that I write. It’s not about the money – although I dearly hope someday the money angle begins to play a part in it. I am seeing better sales but it’s coming at a nearly glacial pace, rather than by leaps and bounds. I remain undaunted – success by hard work is all I know. I wouldn’t mind sampling a few other types of success, for the record, but until such time I’ll stick with what I’ve got.

So anyhow, to read the blog head on over to this link. It’s entitled “Have you ever inspired someone.”

http://blog.printsasia.com/2011/07/27/inspired-someone

Categories: Writing

Market Research

July 26, 2011 2 comments

This is a horrible attempt at trying to do some market research but what the heck, here goes!

My book, Wanted, is a near future sci-fi action / adventure about some rich kids that are stranded in the southwestern United States after their plane crashes. They hook up with a strung out actress who’s running from damn near everything, including herself. In the process they run into a crotchety hermit who’d like to put a bullet in the actress’s head and send the kids packing. In spite of his better judgement, he ends up actually being a good guy and helping them out. Damn good thing too, the alternative was leaving them to the mercenaries hunting them down for their own nefarious reasons.

Cover Wanted - PubIt

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0053KJ2QU

 

Anyhow, this book is doing well for me. Okay, not great by any stretch, but it’s my best seller (not to be confused with a real best seller that would give me F-U money… yeah, you know what I mean). Anyhow, what I want to know is why? What is it about this book that makes people pick it up over the other stuff? Is it pure cover art? Did I do a better job writing up the blurb on it? A better excerpt? The fact that it has a couple of 4 star reviews (out of 5)? Or is it genre – do people like the thought of blowing up a large city and trying to survive the aftermath (as the cover portrays)? The truth is the nukes take place before the story starts. Sure, I’ve got some explosions and impressive gunfire taking place, but that’s it for violence.

Hmm, come to think of it, I’ve got another near future sci-fi story with recent history of nuclear explosions. Maybe I should speak to a therapist about this… That story is Human Nature and it involves aliens and a woman trying to find a meaning to her life after her life is devastated. Ironically, sales have been picking up for that title as well lately. Cover art, in my opinion, is nowhere near as good though. Only one review that I can think of (editorial review too, so the 4 out of 5 doesn’t count on most sites).

Cover HumanNature - PubIt

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0053K3WXO

My question stands – for anyone who’s bought one of these, what made you do so? For those that have not, here’s your chance! In fact, how about you head out and buy them then comment here or email me (jason@booksbyjason.com) to let me know what tipped the decision in my favor? Heck, you want to earn extra points? Write a review after you buy it. I’ll even sweeten the deal – you buy and write a review, then let me know about it and I’ll let you pick two other books I’ve written and I’ll generate coupons so you can have them free!

Hmm, does offering bribery count as skewing the results of the study? If this were science, sure, but it’s not. Instead it’s called marketing!

You see I think I’m being devious here but the real truth is that if I were as smart as I think I am, I might be dangerous…

Categories: Writing

Current Events Suck

The current events in the world more or less suck. Who wants to write about eight year olds being hung in Afghanistan or terrorists blowing up helpless innocents in Europe? Casey Anthony’s free and Lindsey Lohan’s out of money (and class). No, I’m not dropping names in hopes of boosting my blog visibility, I’m just not interested in blogging about any of the natural or unnatural (see Lindsey Lohan above) disasters going on in the world currently.

So what else is there to write about? Loads! And this is where I spin this into something that A> I’m very serious and sincere about and B> something that is self-serving. Devious bastard, aren’t I? Or maybe just deviant…anyhow.

I’m here to talk about the short run and sorely missed science fiction television series known as Firefly! What? Why? Well many reasons. The first is my admiration of how Joss Whedon put it all together with the incredible characters and quirky but great storyline. It had a rich and believable background and physics that didn’t suck. Surprising, considering I don’t believe it had a Hollywood style budget behind it. Now his other shows, Buffy and Angel, never jumped out at me as being all that enjoyable. Not Mr. Whedon’s fault, I’m sure, just a difference of opinion.

But Joss Whedon was behind the camera. The people on the screen were actors and actresses that became a household nme for me. Nathan Fillion, Adam Baldwin, Jewel Staite, and Summer Glau to name my absolute favorites. As a matter of fact I’ve managed to find and follow Nathan Fillion’s twitter account and I have to say I still find him entertaining. Adam Baldwin played Jayne, the muscle of the crew who was occasionally a little thick-skulled. Hands down he was my favorite character. I have a thing for the strong and silent type – and no, it’s not THAT kind of thing. I’m a big and (often) silent guy myself so I identify with them.

Jewel Staite’s character, Kaylee, was colorful and vibrant. I keep checking but I haven’t found her in much of anything since that put her in a role I feel she deserves. Summer Glau, on the other hand, was the driving force behind me tuning out the world so I could watch Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, during it’s short career. She continued to impress me with her acting and screen presence just as she did when she played River on Firefly.

All right, but who cares what I think of these characters and people? Well this is where I try to twist the blog into something that is informative and infomercialish. Yes, I made that word up.

When I wrote Voidhawk, my first published book, I had watched Firefly (most of the episodes) and I was stricken with just how fun it was. I wanted to do something similar to it, but I didn’t want to rip it off entirely. After all, I wanted to create something, not just write some fan-fiction with no real originality to it. So I decided to see if I could switch genres and take it someplace entirely different. With Firefly Joss Whedon had already showed me that genre was merely a bit of putty that could be used and shaped however I saw fit. I picked the fantasy genre, because going anywhere else would just be science fiction and I felt I wouldn’t be able to do what I truly wanted to.

Next came the cast of characters. I needed a captain, but rather than the experienced and sometimes surly Malcolm Reynolds (played by Nathan Fillion), I wanted somebody younger, fresher, and even more prone to screwing things up. Thus Dexter Silvercloud was born. Dexter was all kinds of screwed up but he had a vision and a lack of impediments stopping him from achieving it. But youth and a lack of ethics alone wouldn’t get him far, he needed help…

Enter Kragor, Dexter’s dwarven friend and eventual first mate. Kragor was stubborn and loyal to a fault, not unlike Zoe on Firefly, but he had plenty of his own personality quirks and wasn’t nearly the awestruck follower that she was. Kragor was married though, and a jaunt through medieval outer space made for an extremely long distance relationship. The solution? The ship needed a cook! Not only that, but Jodyne was also wicked dangerous with a frying pan (either in melee or when thrown). Unlike Wash, Zoe’s husband, Jodyne adored Dexter as the son she never had (or wanted).

The next character to enter the Voidhawk’s future was Jenna. In Jenna I needed someone who would spark controversy. Not with the reader, but amongst the crew and, in particular, the captain. Jenna was an elf wanted for espionage, a trumped up charge against her but against any of her kin perhaps not so manufactured. Jenna was, I suppose, my equivalent to Inara – only without the “whoring.” Jenna was elven, and elves had evolved into a more or less calculating and narcissistic people. Rather than being at odds with dwarves, whom they considered insignificant and beneath them, the elves were often at conflict with humans. It didn’t help that Jenna had picked up the fashion sense of her kin and used it, often, to make Dexter uncomfortable with her extreme lack of modesty.

With Jenna came another character, a girl born of elven captor and human victim. Bekka was her name, and she was special not only by her half-breed nature but also because she was a sorceress. Bekka was also shy and in search of people like her or at least a place where she felt she belonged. She wore baggy robes and shaved her head to disguise not only her race but also her gender. She took the greatest personal risk of all in approaching Dexter simply because in him she glimpsed someone she felt she could believe in. It nearly earned her a knife in the belly too. Bekka has no Firefly alter-ego.

So I mentioned my favorite character was Jayne. Well, I’d be remiss if I didn’t introduce my own ox into the mix. Enter Roshelle Evensun, but just call him Rosh or he’ll gut you and leave you for the scavengers. He’s crude and irascible, not unlike Adam Baldwin’s character, but Rosh has a lot of potential it takes him several books to discover. In the meantime he’s got the strength and lack of scruples needed to intimidate anything short of a minotaur.

Simon Tam, the doctor on Firefly, rambled and was typically at odds with one or more of the crew of the Serenity. So, too, was the next character I introduced, an estranged wizard by the name of Xander. Xander served as crew both because he had no place else to go and out of a misguided sense of obligation to Dexter for saving his life. Seldom does a day go past when he doesn’t regret his decision to stay with the ship, especially when his lips have been freshly split by either Dexter of Rosh.

The next character is truly original, or at least I think she is. Her name is Keshira and she might have once been a girl, but that was long ago and long forgotten. Keshira is now a magically created body housing the captured soul of that one-time girl. Specifically, Keshira is a pleasure golem. Yeah, that means what you think it does. Bo Derek would only rate a six or seven compared to this girl! She was built to serve her master, the problem was that Dexter opened up her crate prematurely without realizing who – or what – she was. That bound her to him, and much to Rosh’s dismay, having a personal servant devoted to his every pleasure was the last thing he wanted. Thus Dexter desires nothing so much as a means of breaking the bond he shares with her and granting her the freedom to be her own person.

After Keshira came Bailynn. Bailynn, I only now realized, is my version of River. Amazing that it took this long to realize it (Voidhawk’s been available since late 2009). Bailynn was a human girl stolen by elven raiders and corrupted with their magic. Yeah, most elves are dicks. Anyhow, they turned her into a nasty little creation called a slayer – someone able to be magically compelled to be the ultimate assassin with her own built in weapons. Not detachable lasers or adamantine claws, mind you, just the strength and ferocity needed to bite and claw the pieces out of just about anything. Capturing Bailynn, who was sent to kill Princess Jenna (oops – did I forget to mention that princess bit?), and then managing to free her from the elves is quite the adventure.

The final member of the original cast and crew of the Voidhawk is Logan. Logan is a priest with a secret. Not the kind of secret likely to result in being banned from instructing alter boys, but rather something far worse. Logan’s curse is exactly that, a curse that comes upon him during fits of rage or times when the moon is full. This Logan is no Wolverine, but he definitely fits the wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing job description.

That’s the original crew of the Voidhawk. Strange and usually terrible events befall them as they sail through the Void on a wooden ship named the Voidhawk. It harness the magical solar winds to go from one world to the next, seeking adventure, riches, and occasionally something almost noble – if the price is right. And that’s just the first book! My Voidhawk series has three books in it presently, with many more planned. If this interests you at all feel free to glimpse below to see the links to my samples and where it can be found on the web for purchase – either as an ebook or a grossly overpriced printed book. Yeah, don’t blame me, I had to set the price above the minimum needed to keep it at a profit on all of Createspace’s partners.

Amazon (Kindle): http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0053KJCSI
Barnes and Noble (Nook): http://search.barnesandnoble.com/Voidhawk/Jason-Halstead/e/2940012787736
Createspace (Print): https://www.createspace.com/3407909
Novel Concept Publishing: http://www.novelconceptpublishing.com
Smashwords (sample and full version): http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/61285
Sony: http://ebookstore.sony.com/ebook/jason-halstead/voidhawk/_/R-400000000000000254132
Kobo: http://www.kobobooks.com/ebook/Voidhawk/book-ncg1_P49u0GTTUnhwInJoQ/page1.html
Wattpad (sample): http://www.wattpad.com/1636103-voidhawk

firefly Cover Voidhawk - PubIt

Categories: Writing

Fed Up WIth Weight Loss Gimmicks!

July 23, 2011 2 comments

I made a terrible mistake this morning – I let myself get critically annoyed with the people blasting out tweets advertising the latest gimmicks and producs for weight loss. One guy broadcast about how he lost 60 pounds in 6 weeks with such and such a product (even if I remembered the name I wouldn’t repost it out of a sense of civic duty). I tweeted right back that I lost 60 pounds over 6 months by eating less crap and exercising (push ups, sit ups, and walking / jogging). I couldn’t stop myself, but it opened up a proverbial can of worms.

Next time I glanced at my computer (thirty minutes, maybe?), I saw two people were congratulating me and two other people were offering more supplements and diet aids for me. I sent the first two some appreciative responses and let them know I was just replying, in a pissy way, to the boneheads trying to screw people over. To said boneheads I responded in a less than appreciative manner.

Now then, with all that said and done I felt obligated to take it a step further. I’m going to tell you the long lost secret to weight loss. It’s not a new product, nor is it some secret genetic code scientists have finally cracked. The long last secret of the ancients is this: STOP PUTTING SHIT IN YOUR MOUTH! Yes, that’s it. Stop eating crap. Donuts, deep fried garbage, burgers dripping fat, deserts drizzled in chocolate, the list goes on and on.

Step number 2: MOVE YOUR ASS! There’s no need to go crazy in the gym like I do. Hell, you don’t even need to go to a gym. I lost 60 pounds in 6 months by doing push ups and sit ups every morning, as well as walking and eventually jogging. No gym, just me and the floor. I couldn’t do 1 set of 10 push ups when I started too! Six months later I was at sets of 50. Nine months in I was at 5 sets of 50. Yeah, I was beyond weight loss at that point and working on getting bigger and stronger, but if I can do it, so can just about anybody else.

That’s it. Two steps. Eat less and move. Think it’s hard to do? You’re right, it is. Think you can handle it? Then you’re right, it is. For anybody who can figure that out the world is in your hands. The only suggestion I might offer is that when you do get hungry either A> drink a glass of water or B> get up and move. Replace the hunger to eat with a hunger to move.

Of course this is very high level but it will work. To streamline weight loss and get more out of it, check past blog posts I’ve made under the category of “weightlifting”. Yeah, most of them involve picking things up but there are a few scattered abou that explain the benefits of eating the right kind of food and at what times. It’s very important to understand one thing though – none of this should cost you a damn thing. To make one thing into two – I don’t want anything from you for it. Everybody has the right to have the body that they want to have, but the problem is all the media hoopla, supplement industry spam, and people trying to make a buck with bullshit gimmicks like the HCG diet and others that make us forget how simple it really is.

And regarding a magic pill to make the fat melt away? Not happening. Or at least it’s not happening without a prescription or the right contacts to get you into some black market chemical supplements. And no, I’m NOT going to write up a future blog post telling you how to do that or what specific stuff to take. If you want to go there I say good luck. In my opinion it’s your body and you’re right to put whatever into it you want to, so long as you’re not hurting anyone else by doing so. I’m just not going to empower anyone to do anything that they might not do responsibly or safely.

 

anti-fast-food-hamburger

Categories: Weight Lifting

Book Review: Divine Wine

When I was a kid I loved the classic vampire stories. As I grew up the stories changed until these days, they’re all about eternal love and how best to woo the heart of a teenage goth chick. Or, as Diana Trees puts it, they’re sparkly. In short, I have come to hate the vampire novel with a passion that rivals the depths of the emo self-pity felt by the average character in said books.

With that said, I happened across Diana Trees on Twitter and was immediately taken by the blurb on her account: “Vampires do not sparkle. They eat people.” How could I not dig deeper after reading that?! And so I did – for $.99 it was worth taking the risk.

I’ll admit I wasn’t sure right off the bat. The story felt a little odd at first, but not in a bad way. It had a nice flow to it and other than 1 or 2 exceptionally minor typos near the end of it, I was very satisfied with the mechanics of it. Sadly that is a rare thing in most interdependently published books, I’m sure even a few syntactical errors exist in some of my own books and those went through a publishing company.

The only problem I had with the book, if you can call it a problem, is how difficult it was for me to establish a rapport with the main character. After all, the main character is a vampire in a more traditional sense. She thinks and feels but she doesn’t pine away for some long lost love who has just been reborn into his or her great great great grandson’s body. The main character feels alien and vicious – and rightly so. Near the end I saw a bigger glimpse into her personal life that opened her up some. It was a good thing that showed character development. It made her feel a little more human without reducing her to glitter and sparkles.

Loved the introduction of some other supernatural beings without reducing it to the same old vampire vs. werewolf crap too. A fine job, Ms. Trees!

But there will be blood – and lots of it. Divine Wine does not lack in the blood and gore fest. I even contacted the author to mention I enjoyed her extremely gory book and she told me she appreciated the feedback and assured me I wasn’t to worry, the next one she’s working on has even more violence. Tuck the kids to bed and read it with the lights on and the doors locked!

It’s a novella and something I finished in a few minutes while waiting for the babysitter to arrive. Get it on Kindle or Nook – I recommend it for anyone who wants to spit in the face of the current trend in undead romanticism!

divinewine

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0050YUZTM/ref=cm_cr_mts_prod_img

Categories: Writing

Problem Solving or When Your Making Cars You Have All The Time In The World

The subject above was pointed out to me multiple times earlier this week. Why and by who? Well thanks for asking. By some highly placed and very intelligent engineers from Chevy Cruze General Motors plant. They were at my plant helping us to diagnose a problem that had our production facilities handicapped. Between engineers and IT support personnel we were inundated with expertise.

The point behind it all is that the IT folk, led by myself, were focused on finding the root cause of the problem and fixing it. In the process we restored service and we working, without diagnosing what caused the initial (or subsequent) outages. Root cause analysis is essential, of course, but as the production oriented engineers pointed out – you’ve got all the time in the world to troubleshoot as long as you’re making cars.

You wouldn’t think it would be possible to be operational without knowing what stopped you from doing so previously. Me neither, but it can and does happen. The focus is on production in manufacturing. Production and keeping the customer running. Everything else is secondary. In our case we isolated an entire section that was not necessary for production to run and in doing so we have eliminated the problem. Further root causes analysis is slated to take place this weekend and the problem will be resolved. Not to mention future tasks that involve increased diagnostics and tools, designating a task force of specialized technical and experienced people, and establishing an efficient but effective emergency change management process.

The moral story behind this is that there’s a line between what is needed and what is wanted. Sure, I’d love to have all the answers resolved right away, but that wasn’t what was needed at the time. We needed full production, and that’s what we established. That’s specific to that incident and industry. In other realms it is a lesson that still applies. I need a place to sleep safe from threat; I want a 20,000 square foot stone keep with a moat and modern amenities. That may be facetious but it remains a somewhat sobering thought when applied realistically.

For example, I may not like the fact that I am slated for over 70 hours of work this week in dealing with this issue, but I need a job to put food on the table and take care of my family. I may want to be unemployed so I can focus on writing and spending time with family and other hobbies. Needs always outweigh wants, both personally and professionally. I don’t suppose there’s a time when most, if not all, of us forget that.

cruze

Categories: Uncategorized

Social Media At Work?

I’ll admit I don’t know the history of Twitter. I didn’t know a thing about it until a couple of weeks ago when I boldly entered the Twitterverse. It took me forever to get on MySpace and even after I did I never cared much for it, for a variety of reasons. Next came Facebook, which lost its mystique when it opened up to the masses. Still, people flocked and since it allowed me to leave MySpace behind, I was happy. I’ll admit I enjoy how Facebook allowed me to hook up with people I’d lost touch with over the years.

Then social media took a turn. Lots of people have been blogging about it, and I guess I’m just another d-bag trying to capitalize on that, but I still wouldn’t do it if I didn’t think it was worth introspection. Social media is still used for the purposes listed above, but it’s also used in a capitalistic sense. Heck, I use it that way more and more myself! Tweeting about my blog, my writing, my samples, my giveaways, my everything. Sure, some people want to know and it’s useful, but others could care less. My goal, of course, is to get more people caring more and more about it. In order to do that though I have to reach the right people and try to convince and coerce others to give it a shot and (hopefully) get hooked.

More and more that’s what I see on the Social Media sites and services I use. Granted, for what I’m attempting to achieve the majority of the people I network with are in similar positions. Before I started into the realm of marketing I was annoyed by people contacting me in such a manner. These days I think almost nothing of it. It’s funny how the line in the sand can shift between selling out and growing up.

Categories: Uncategorized

Ice Princess – only a preview

As I’m ramping up to release Ice Princess it occurred to me that I haven’t put a sample out about it yet. Well it’s time to fix that! Of course the funniest part of this process (to me) is that I suspect my attempts to build anticipation and excitement about the looming release may be affecting me more than anybody else!

###

Sarah fought the urge to take her helmet off. The sun had hidden behind the red cliffs to the west and the wind whistled fiercely through the open bed of the old army truck. Even with that relief she was still miserable and hot. Too many layers of clothes that were too tight on her combined with brutal desert sun and not nearly enough water.

Occasionally somebody would try to say something. A joke or a complaint, but it seldom sparked a response. Open mouths meant another hole the dust could blow in, even though most of them wore rags over their mouths. Sarah shifted her grip on the worn rifle in her hand and glanced around. She shared the back of the truck not only with the two large crates of questionable medical supplies, but also five other men. They were all dressed the same, shapeless in their collections of desert camouflage, but they knew she was a woman. They also knew her well enough to know it didn’t matter. She was off limits and one on one she could prove it.

The shade only made it worse. In the sunlight any sweat that dared to drip below her helmet was evaporated. Now it left streaks down her neck and forehead, itching as it moved the tiny particles of dust. She bit back a groan of annoyance and only barely noticed the glint from the top of the eastern ridge.

Sarah froze, her eyes widening. She studied carefully, catching another brief flash of reflected sunlight. Something was up there, something metallic or otherwise shiny. Something that could have easily been the scope of a sniper’s rifle.

She feared that moving would draw attention to her. The cliff was on the short side of two hundred feet and probably half that to the east of the road. That and the fact that the truck was moving did little to calm her racing heart. A good sniper could have made the shot with his eyes closed.

“Hey!” Sarah called out loudly enough to overpower the combined sounds of the wind, tires, and the trucks diesel engine. The others glanced at her, moving as little as possible out of efficiency or laziness. It didn’t matter, she figured movement would be what triggered an attack, not her telling the others. Unless the sniper could read her lips. “Sniper on the eastern ridge!”

She saw wide eyes that echoed what she imagined her own expression had been. The two men sitting on her right glanced up. Only one of the men on the opposite side turned to look. She cursed. It was obvious now. “Fucking amateur!”

He looked back at her, surprised, then his eyes narrowed behind the rag he used to filter out the dust. He met her glare for glare until Vince, the man on her right, rumbled loud enough for them all to hear. “I don’t see nothing, you sure?”

“No, couple times in the same spot I saw a flash. There’s no metal or buildings up there, what else could it be?”

To make matters worse, the trucks engine quieted. It slowed, taking a curve in the road that had once been wide enough for at least four lanes. Now fallen rocks and the occasional strategically placed derelict vehicle narrowed it to something the truck could barely fit through. Sarah risked a glance and saw that, past a hill made of dirt and sand, a river cut across the canyon. Leaning back to give her line of sight ahead of the vehicle, she saw a road block with two armed men waiting. Behind them was a large bridge that spanned the Colorado river.

“We’re here, be cool,” The man across from her said. Sarah glanced back up to the canyon wall and breathed a sigh of relief. The sniper, if it had been one, was behind some rocks that the turning road had put between them. The range had to be at least half a mile now too. The relief also brought a return of her earlier feelings of irritation. The sweat had gotten worse, thanks to her anxiety, and now her entire neck and upper back was itching.

“Don’t get out,” John, the man across from her, said as the truck slowed to a stop. She had worked with him before and knew his name wasn’t really John. It didn’t matter to her, but she did wonder what he’d been born with. John had vouched for her and got her the job, so she owed him that much.

The man in the passenger seat waited until one of the guards approached. He got out slowly, hands evident to show he had no trouble in mind. He did have a pistol at his side, but it was confined by a buttoned strap over the grip. Sarah looked away quickly, forcing herself to ignore the obvious and keep an eye out for anything that seemed amiss — strange clouds of dust being kicked up, smoke, or even noises that were out of place. She’d seen them all at meets that went bad in the past.

The passenger door shut, bringing her attention back from their surroundings. She glanced at John and he gave her a brief nod. She returned a tight lipped smile. It made her feel good to have someone notice her, but she knew better than to show it. Among men like these it would be taken as a sign of being girly. Next would come the leers and the jokes, and before she knew it somebody would start grabbing or pinching and expecting a good time. Then she’d have to shoot off somebody’s dick or ram her antique grenade somewhere that the sun never shined. She could save the girly stuff for between fights with her sister.

The truck jerked forward, threatening Sarah for a moment with the possibility of falling out of the open tailgate. She recovered her balance quickly, clutching her gun nervously. The tension in her neck and shoulders drained when she realized the truck was moving slowly and heading across the bridge. Only two lanes remained, the other span on the east, formerly the south-bound span, was piled high with rocks and trashed vehicles at both ends and along the sides. It made the remaining span a perfect killing zone. The tension returned in spades.

Twenty minutes later Sarah’s nerves were no less calm. The road to Moab had been turned into a high desert slalom course with boulders and broken down hulks of vehicles or machinery. Beyond that, down a slight hill, the once welcoming town of Moab lay nearly pristine and untarnished by the ruin of civilization. The only thing missing, as the sun dipped lower into the western sky, was electricity.

People lined the streets, watching the truck. They were armed, though only a few of them held weapons in hand. Sarah stared back at them, not letting her eyes linger on any one for long. Some men, some women, and very few children. All in all she fought to keep her disdain off her face. The last thing she needed while trapped in a virtual mountain stronghold was to piss off the natives.

The truck pulled off onto a side street, rumbling along through the otherwise silent city. It stopped before the Allen Memorial hospital. Among buildings that looked old and run down the small hospital reminded her of abandoned Native American ruins she had seen once on a job that took her into Southern Arizona.

“Let’s get this stuff inside!”

Sarah pulled her attention away from the building and hopped down from the back of the truck. She winced from the impact on her cramped legs, but moved aside without complaint so the others could climb out with her. A final survey of the surrounding area, complete with houses in various states of disrepair, and she slung the rifle she carried over her shoulder.

Sarah helped carry the first box in, taking through the lobby but stopping when some locals at the registration desk told them too. It was placed beside a wall, then for lack of any encouragement to do anything else, Sarah and Vince walked back out to the truck, pausing only to let Reggie and the inexperienced Matt take their box into the building. They rejoined John and a tall Mexican man named Tony by the truck.

Reggie and Matt joined them a few minutes later, preceding another man wearing a white coat. He was older, in his sixties, with a shiny strip of nothing on top of his head and some gray fuzz along the sides. He walked up to them, smiling widely and pulling a cooler on wheels behind him. “We really needed this, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate it!”

“You can show us,” The man running the job said as he came around the side of the truck. His name was Shawn Miller, but Sarah knew little about him. John had done all the subcontracting for the hired help, other than the driver.

“Right! Yes, of course, sorry about that.” He reached into his coat, causing all of them to tense and a few guns to shift. The doctor didn’t seem to notice. He pulled out a couple stacks of bills, fresh looking money at that, and handed them to Shawn. “Here you go. And water, as much water as you can drink! It’s all clean and good. We’ve got people running constant purification off the Colorado. Gets all the mud and anything from upstream out of it.”

Shawn flipped through the money, appraising it quickly. He nodded, satisfied, and turned to the others. “You heard the man, grab yourselves a drink if you want one, we earned it after that drive!”

Sarah’s wasn’t the first hand in the cooler. Plastic jugs of different sizes, no doubt used and reused many times, were filled with cool water. It was far from cold, but a dark room in a desert basement could feel like refrigeration after all the sun they’d had. She forced herself to take it slowly after the first few refreshing gulps.

“Food too, it’s the least we can do. There are some camp sites still set up you passed on your way in to town, you can stay there tonight. Our hunters should be back in soon, if they’re not already. They’ll bring in some food.”

Sarah paused long enough to offer the doctor a smile. She wasn’t too sure what passed for edible animals near Moab, but she also knew she wouldn’t turn it down unless it happened to be another person. She couldn’t imagine being that hungry.

She slipped over and grabbed a couple more bottles of water, shoving two in her pockets and holding a third in her hand. She shrugged when John stared at her, then had to take a drink to hide her smile as he and the others did likewise. She figured the doc wouldn’t have told them to drink all they could if he didn’t mean it.

The ride back to the campsite was a little more relaxed. With the expensive cargo delivered, there was no reason to worry. That and the extra leg room made it almost a pleasant experience. Or at least as pleasant as was possible for Sarah under stifling body armor and too many layers of clothing.

The camp required no real set up either. They occupied four cabins, Sarah and John splitting one while the others split up amongst the other three. Each held framework for bunk beds and a full size mattress. The mattresses were long since gone, but that left a plank of wood in the full size and enough flat metal bands in the bunks to offer a makeshift hammock.

After staking their claims they made their way back out to the first cabin where Shawn and his driver were bunking. They already had a fire pit going and an old steel grate ready for whatever critter was unlucky enough to serve as dinner.

The sun was nearly finished with the day, having long since slipped past the eastern ridge of the valley. They gathered around the fire for warmth. John pulled out an old canteen and took a sip from it, something Sarah noticed and raised an eyebrow at. He smiled and offered it to her, which drew the interest of a couple of the other mercenaries.

Sarah stared at it then shrugged and picked it up. Without thinking about it, she took a drink and nearly coughed it back out. It burned her throat and assaulted her sinuses. She finally managed to finish swallowing it down then took a ragged coughing breath. “Paint thinner?” She finally gagged out.

He chuckled and took a heavier swig of it. He grimaced slightly, then offered it to Vince, who turned it down. Tony looked interested, as did Matt, but Reggie waved it off. Sarah took a heavy pull off her water bottle to rinse out her mouth then shook her head and sighed.

“I bet you’re pretty under all that gear,” John ventured a few drinks later.

“Don’t go there,” Sarah warned.

He laughed and held up a hand. “Don’t worry, I’m just pointing out the obvious is all. I know better, I remember what you done to that Mexican that tried to get a piece.”

“Hey!” Tony leveled a glare at John, but John only flipped him off.

“Relax amigo, the guy was Mexican. I didn’t say he was a wetback or nothing. Didn’t say he tried to mow her lawn or anything like that. Just that he was Mexican. Same as I’m white and Reggie over there is so damn black he’s almost purple.”

Tony stared at him then shook his head and laughed it off. John might have been feeling warm and fuzzy but anyone who knew him knew he was crazy fast with the pistol on his hip and only a wink of an eye slower with the knife on his other hip. Sarah laughed as well, drawing attention away from the two and trying to diffuse the situation. “Wonder if that guy ever did walk straight again?”

“You kick him in the balls?” Matt asked.

John barked out a harsh laugh. “She pinned one of his nuts to his thigh with a fucking fork!”

The others grimaced and groaned, a few even reaching subconsciously to protect themselves. Matt’s jaw dropped open until he saw Sarah staring at him with a wicked gleam in her eye. He clamped his jaw shut and took a half step back.

“Dinner time!”

They all turned to see two figures approaching from the road. Rifles were slung over both of their shoulders and one held several rabbits in each hand. “Hey there y’all! Three cottontails, two jackrabbits. The jackrabbits are kinda stringy, but they eat all right.”

There was something about the girl with the rabbits that seemed familiar to Sarah. She studied her openly for a moment, then glanced at her companion. Her hair was cut short, but not so short it would be spiked up. Black and uneven, Sarah imagined Moab had nothing that passed for a hair stylist even though the other woman looked put well together. There was something about the brunette that nagged at Sarah.

“Well hey there gorgeous,” John said, eyeing up the girl with the southern drawl. Sarah winced. John knew enough to leave her alone and she wasn’t sure why that was, given he seemed to have no sense when it came to women when he was sober.

“Hey yourself tall, dark, and stinky,” She riposted with a thin smile.

“It’s called pheromones baby,” John leered. “I bet you got an all I can eat buffet going on there.”

The southern belle rolled her eyes again and tossed the rabbits she carried onto the picnic table. She started to turn away when John reached out and grabbed her arm just above the elbow. “Hang on now baby, how about—“

Even with her eyes already on the scene, Sarah was stunned by what happened. Her body reacted before her brain did, but even that wasn’t fast enough. A flash of dark hair and a figure moving so quickly it was a blur circled around the girl, using the southerner to block John’s line of site until it was too late. Sarah had her gun raised halfway up by the time John had been flipped backwards. The brunette was crouched low and obviously the cause of his sudden relocation. She scrambled onto his back, her knee jabbing into his lower back. She grabbed his hair in her fist and yanked his head back so the knife she held in her other hand that had been blacked was pricking in the hollow just below his ear.

“What the f—“

“Nobody touches her without asking permission first,” The brunette hissed at him. “Got it?”

John sputtered for a moment, then grew quiet as she twisted the knife and caused a trickle of blood to run down the line of his jaw. “Yeah,” he muttered, “I got it.”

The knife pulled back enough so that the dark haired girl could smash his face into the ground. She stood up and turned to her surprised companion. She reached out and wrapped her hand behind the girl’s neck and pulled her in for a fierce kiss that left little doubt as to whom John had been supposed to ask permission from in the first place.

The brunette broke the kiss then turned and stared at Sarah and the others with a determined look. Sarah felt the rush of familiarity again, but still could not place it. She lowered her gun, realizing the fight was over. A glance at the others and she saw only a couple had the presence of mind to have their own guns readied. She waved at them and they, too, relaxed their stances. The two women retreated, hand in hand, though the southerner still had a dazed look on her face.

“You all right?” Tony asked, coming over to kneel next to John.

John groaned and spat onto the ground. It was a mix of dirt and blood. “Fucking dykes.”

“When you gonna learn to keep it in your pants?” Sarah’s question drew a round of forced laughs from the others. It cut the tension, but left her staring after the two girls until they disappeared into the dusk.

* * * *

“What was that?”

“Lost your accent,” Tanya noted.

Jessie stumbled, her foot catching on some uneven pavement. She caught herself, glancing back to confirm that she had tripped on a pothole, then hurried to catch up to Tanya. She pulled the girl around, catching her swinging wrist to do so. “Stop it! What was that? Was that real? Did that really bother you that much? Is there—”

“You were in trouble,” Tanya interrupted her. She looked down at Jessie’s hand on her arm, then back up at the former movie star. “No woman left behind, that’s all.”

Jessie stared at her, then tightened her grip when Tanya tried to pull her hand away. “Bullshit. Don’t fucking lie to me Tanya. We’ve been through too much. I’ve been through too much!”

“Jess, get a grip,” Tanya snapped, yanking her arm free. “I’m sorry that I’m not drooling over you. I’m sorry your clinging to me because it’s the only thing you’ve got left. Carl’s gone! Your career’s gone. The world is a shitty place and there’s not a fucking good thing about it. I’m not going to lie to you and tell you everything’s going to get better.”

Jessie stared at her, her mouth hanging open. Tanya continued, barely pausing to take a breath. “I’m not in love with you – I’m not even attracted to you. You’re welcome to stay with me, but I’m tired of feeling like I’m walking on a tightrope around you. If you can’t handle it, that’s fine, I can. Jessie, you’re not my mom. You’re not my girlfriend. You’re not my sister. We’re just two people in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

Jessie continued to stare. Tanya looked away, blinking as she did so, and walked quickly through the deepening night towards the lodging they’d been assigned at a place that had once been called the Gonzo Inn. The city council had wanted to keep an eye on them when Russell brought them in late last year, now even after they’d been accepted they hadn’t bothered trying to find another place to stay. Up until a few moments ago it had been good enough for Jessie, now she wondered if anything would ever be good enough again.

###

Ice Princess is the soon to be released sequel to Wanted. It will be available at the usual places (Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Smashwords, and Novel Concept Publishing). If you’re interested, check it out – or check the prequel (Wanted) out.

Jason Halstead can be found on the web at the following locations:

Webpage: http://www.booksbyjason.com>
Blog: http://booksbyjason.wordpress.com
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Books-by-Jason/161622180537541
Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/3527553.Jason_Halstead
Twitter: http://twitter.com/#!/booksbyjason
LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/pub/jason-halstead/7/ab4/514
Wattpad: http://www.wattpad.com/user/JasonHalstead

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Jason-Halstead/e/B0049AXHP2/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1309130738&sr=8-1
Barnes and Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/Jason-Halstead
Smashwords: http://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/JWHalstead

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