The Kingdom of Heaven on Barnes and Noble

Hello! For everyone who’s been following my blog and following the posted updates of the sample chapters, I wanted to let you know that the release date of the book, “The Kingdom of Heaven”, is April 18 2023, and the book is now available for pre-order on Barnes and Noble dot com! This is an exciting moment in my life as I’ve worked for a very long time toward publishing a book, and seeing my book’s cover on their web page hits pretty hard. Here it is – in its full glory.

Thanks for following along!

Chapter 8: I Don’t Want To Shoot You

I learned to shoot a gun from the ground up. Cam wasn’t always alone in teaching me this; there were other instructors. One of them was a burly Sergeant named Jesse. He was a man in his 40’s with a receding hairline and a perpetual frown. I respected him, because he was the one who stopped me when I was making ridiculous mistakes. Cam never did that.

Cam’s idea of “teaching me to shoot” was all about being a fast and accurate draw.

Jesse put the horse more in front of the cart.

“A gun is force,” he said. “Deadly force. The power to kill. You’re goin’ to respect that. You respect anything with the power to kill ya.”

          I nodded.

          We practiced at first in DYNTEC’s indoor range. The first time he saw me holding the gun with the barrel pointed towards myself, he grabbed it and wrenched it out of my hand.

          “Keep your finger off the trigger,” he said. He had to get on me about that one several times.

          “But it’s unloaded!”

          “It’s always loaded.”

          “But I just unloaded it. You watched me.”

          Jesse said it again, more rough and serious. “It’s always loaded. Even if it’s unloaded, it’s loaded. You get my drift?”

I did; this form of rhetorical contradiction was not unfamiliar to me. I slapped myself mentally for questioning him. But he surprised me by restating himself in plain terms.

“You never point that thing at anything you’re not willing to destroy. Never at anyone you’re not willin’ to kill.”

          I knew Cam could hear, but he wasn’t listening. Now every time he moved his pistol I imagined a laser pointer coming from the end, and it moved around the room wildly, glancing across me a few times.

          We were dressed the same, he and I, at least during work hours. We usually wore black or gray shirts, like the other DYNTEC agents, long pants and jackets with long puffy sleeves when we had to be outdoors.

          I turned out to be a fairly accurate shot. Jesse nodded in approval once he was sure I had the basics down.

          “If you can pass the advanced course,” he said, “You can go on to Level Two.”

          “Level Two?” Was he saying what I thought he was saying?

          “Yes. A real, certified Level Two.”

          It must have been the discontent part of me, the part that could never sit still, that spoke next. “I want to do it,” I said.


The advanced shooting range was outdoors. That surprised me, because not many things were held outdoors in the Settlement. This was mostly due to lack of space. The city was tightly packed. It had to be, in order to fit the entire world’s population of 15 million into an area of 20 by 20 miles. In effect, this meant that within the walls of the city, there was little but city.

          The range was comparatively a very generous space, on the outer edge of the 1st Southwest District, directly next to the Wall. The 300-foot high outer wall of the Settlement was used as a backstop for some of the targets. I noticed that out here by the Wall, the air smelled a little different. Moist, perhaps. There was a wind blowing inward. I worried about toxins from the outside. The air outdoors was often unsafe to breathe, but we would have been warned if it was a bad day for air quality, so I was forced to shrug it off.

          Jesse ran the training course today.

          First, we went through a series of simulations. The “simulations” were rather rudimentary, in fact—I was made to hold my hands in ice water until they were numb, then try to load the rifle with stiff and shaking fingers as the clock ticked. I barely hit the targets; my accuracy suffered.

          “When you’re in a real situation,” said Jesse, “adrenaline will make it harder to fire. Trust me, I know.”

          There were a few other strange ones. The range did have a small building to accompany it; only two stories tall. After our short break, I walked out from the upper story onto a balcony overlooking the targets. They were out there on the gravel yard with sandbags behind them. There was also a crate down below, about twenty yards from the targets, with a rifle on it. Jesse followed me out.

          “Your next test is timed,” he said. “On start, you’re going to go down there, pick up the rifle and shoot the targets.”

          I eyed the stairs that led from the balcony to the ground. “Okay.” It seemed simple enough.

          Jesse stepped back. That should have been my first warning.

          He blew the whistle, and at the same time the floor dropped out from under me.

          There was a foam bag down there, and I fell into it with a splat. I hadn’t been prepared for that at all—as was certainly the intention. I struggled to sort out my head from my feet. I’d landed on my bottom and luckily didn’t seem to be injured.

The target! I was timed.

I rolled off the cushion and onto the ground, then stood up from my hands and knees. I ran to the rifle, loaded it and fired five shots, one into each target.

“Nice work,” said Jesse, a rare compliment. I flushed. “Stay down there.”

          I looked back, and noticed he was coming down with Cam. What could he want me to do that required both of them? Cam hadn’t been involved before, he’d been off doing other exercises at the far end of the range.

          Now he and Jesse approached me.

          “Your last test today is to shoot the targets again,” said Jesse handing me more rounds, “But this time, Cam and I will be standing on either side of the target.”

          At first I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I laughed nervously, but my laugher died as I realized he wasn’t joking. Jesse was giving me a look that indicated that he was absolutely serious.

          “Is… is that really…”

          “It is necessary. There will be times when you’ll need to aim at targets near other human beings. I don’t want you hesitating. You need to be confident.”

          This seemed to fly straight in the face of everything he had said before about not pointing the barrel of a gun in the direction of a person, but I didn’t dare question it any further.

          He and Cam moved down range.

          “Cam?” I asked tremulously. “Aren’t you scared that I’m going to hit you?”

          He smirked. “Come on, Alex. I’ve seen your spreads. I know how accurate you are. You can do this.”

          I clicked the cartridge into place. “What happens if I do hit you?”

          Jesse looked at Cam.

          “I’d do anything for the Settlement, same as you, Alex. It’s okay. Just do it.”

          They were standing confidently now on either side of the target, about fifteen feet apart from each other, feet planted, arms crossed on their chests.

          “Ready,” said Jesse.

          I took aim. I had broken out in a cold sweat. Don’t let my hands shake now.

          “Fire at will.”

          I couldn’t say it out loud now, but I found myself whispering “I don’t want to shoot you…” under my breath.

          I fired into the target dead-center. One, two, three, four, five.

          I lowered the rifle, weak with relief.

          Cam was already at my side, perhaps as eager to be out of there as I was to be done. He gave me a shrug and a fake punch in the shoulder. “See? I knew you could do it.”

          By now I’d realized that “being strangely open with physical contact”, though sometimes required for training, wasn’t a DYNTEC thing, it was just a Cam thing.

          Jesse raised an eyebrow as he strode back up range. “It’s good to be alive. Congratulations, you graduated to Level Two.” Then he turned to Cam. “Good job with your first trainee, Cam. That makes you two equal for now.”

          He turned back to me. “That means he’s not your boss anymore.”

          I allowed myself a small smug smile.

          In spite of his dry humor, Jesse was, as always, stone-faced. “You’re ready to start prep for your first mission.”

Chapter 7: Detractive Impulses

          My Profile was clean because the juvenile records were sealed, not because I was never disciplined in school.

          I was passive and compliant enough, but I couldn’t read minds like everybody else seemed to be able to do. It was hard, sometimes, to anticipate what they wanted. It was hard to choose language intentionally. It was hard to avoid pissing off the Educators.

          “Now then,” said Jordan, passing around small squares of synth-paper.

          “As I taught the class last period, everyone has Detractive impulses. For this exercise, you are going to think of a Detractive impulse that you’ve had and write it down on this piece of paper that I am giving you.”

          I stared at the paper. I twirled my pen, but my mind was as blank as the sheet. I always wanted to do what I was told. Surely that had to count for something. It wasn’t like I’d never done anything wrong in my life, but it didn’t feel right to name any of the incidents. Letting go of my mother’s hand and running off in the Sublevels – daydreaming in class –none of that was motivated by Detractiveness. Not as he’d described it yesterday.

          Maybe I just didn’t understand what a Detractive impulse was. Maybe if I had a few examples

          “You haven’t written anything,” said Jordan, walking by my desk.

          “I don’t… understand,” I ventured.

          “What’s not to understand? Just write down a Detractive impulse that you have. Any one will do.”

          “What if I don’t have any?”

          “You do,” he said firmly. “Everyone does.”

          I put my pencil to the paper, but I felt paralyzed. I was afraid of delaying any longer, afraid of resisting him, but I was also afraid that my answer wasn’t going to be good enough and he’d accuse me of avoiding the question.

          “B…but what if I don’t? I can’t think of anything.”

          He put his finger on my paper square. “Contradicting your Educator is a Detractive impulse. Write that down.”


          I was the last one to turn in my paper. Jordan collected them all, shuffled them, and then to most of the students’ dismay, he started pinning them up on the board in front of the class.

          We didn’t know whose was whose (except for mine, of course) but it was clear that most weren’t meant to be seen. It didn’t matter to Jordan.

          “Now you see, kids.” He waved at the papers, and read off a few. “I want to eat too much dessert— there you go—I want to go outside— there’s a good one. Or a bad one, should I say. Some of you have got the point of this more than others.”

          He turned from the board back to the class. “I think I’ve proved my point. Every one of you has Detractive impulses. But these are things that, with training, you can learn to curb. To change the way that you act, speak, and even think.”

          I couldn’t contradict him, because it was then that I understood the purpose of the assignment. The Settlement could see guilt within us, even if we ourselves could not see it. As such, it was up to the Settlement to decide whether to absolve, or to condemn.

Chapter 6: The Deep End

          In a larger room on Level 11, Cam double-tapped a wide pane of glass.

          This was the gym; one of the walls was mirrored and this time there were a few other DYNTEC employees around. Most of them were preoccupied with their own workout routine, doing push-ups, pull-ups, or lifting weights with various levers and pulleys.

          The black pane that Cam had tapped faded into transparency. Within its surface, an interface of lights and lines appeared. Behind the interface was an astonishing number of guns.

          The main display consisted of dozens of short pistols and long-barreled black rifles sitting on a shelf and hanging below on a rack, but there were other types of guns and weapons too, that I didn’t recognize, and a few knives with jagged edges that looked quite terrifying.

          I’d never seen anything like it before, at least, not in real life. I didn’t think I’d ever seen a real gun, let alone a whole case of them.

          “Is this… all of DYNTEC’s guns?” I asked.

          Cam laughed loudly. “No. This is a small fraction of what we own. DYNTEC has enough weapons to subdue the entire city if we needed to. This is the training supply case for Level-Ones. Just scan your Biometric and then pick the one you want from the glass. They’re numbered. You have to—and this is very important—you have to return it at the end of the day after training.”

          I nodded.

          “Otherwise, there are consequences up to and including termination. Level Two’s—like me,” his lips quirked, “can check them out for longer periods. So don’t worry about me, just worry about yourself.”

          I nodded again.

          “So check one out.”

          I looked at him questioningly.

          “Go on then, pick one. How about the little black Rivera down there? Number 42.”

          I held my Biometric up to the screen where Cam had put his. The display powered down and booted up again, and I selected the “42” where the lines on the case overlapped the Rivera.

          There was a small whirring and hissing noise, and then a small trap-door opened under the firearm and dispensed it onto a tray, like a high-end vending machine. Cam reached into the tray, grabbed the gun and placed it into my hand.

          I held it awkwardly on top of my palm. It was heavier than I’d expected.

          “Cam?” I asked, hesitantly. “What am I going to be doing for DYNTEC?”

          He laughed again. “Basically nothing. Don’t worry about it. You’re only a Level One.”


          Cam was right. It did take eight weeks of training for me to buff up even a little bit. Even then, I didn’t look that different, I could just run a mile, lift over half my own weight and do ten pull-ups on a good day. I’d also been working on the basics of martial arts; the punching bag had a few good dents in it and I was trying to learn how to fight with a knife.

          When I wasn’t training, I was introduced to the other trainees and agents. Nearly all of them stopped by the gym occasionally, Cam told me—keeping in shape was a part of the contract. If you let yourself go too much, you’d be let go.

          There were other men and women, some older than me, some younger. Most intimidated me at first, but I figured I’d get used to it, and tried to fit in. I was one of them now. The culture seemed fairly competitive. There was no reassignment after being in DYNTEC. I realized, not without apprehension, that I’d never met a former DYNTEC employee. I asked Cam about retirement, and he said it was possible, but most retired DYNTEC employees didn’t advertise their former profession. They could even lie about it if necessary; have their history changed on the Profile.

          “Why?” I asked.

          “Helps you get along better with the civvies, if you really want to mix back in with them.” He shrugged. “We’re not exactly well-liked.”

          “What do you mean?” I was perplexed, I’d never heard anyone say anything bad about DYNTEC.

          “You’re so innocent,” said Cam, and I glared at him. “How about I show you how to do a Profile check,” he said. “You spend some more time doing Profile checks, you’ll learn what people are really like.”

          So I began to flex my powers as well. Every morning after physical training, Cam would provide me with a list of suspicious persons – so I got that bland desk after all! – and I’d read through their Profiles. I had a backdoor, too, so I could see everything the general public couldn’t see, and read all of their private messages too. At first it was a weird feeling.

          I never interacted with the targets; that would have been worse. Conversations through the Profiles are like being on the wrong side of one-way glass. Most of the time people don’t notice the glass is there. It’s only uncanny when something starts moving on the other side.

          “The system generates these lists automatically,” said Cam. “Just mark the ones you think might be Detractors. Thumbs up or thumbs down. You used to be an Educator. You know what the criteria are.”

          And Cam was right, too. Under the clean and polite public cover, people who’d been flagged by the system tended to be very lacking in the “social graces” Cam had described. And there was a lot worse than that too; sometimes just straight-up crime. It was a lot like grading papers, except with the awkwardness of reading people’s personal communications.

          Some of them were obvious, such clear obscenities regarding the Administrators and DYNTEC. I was shocked that people could talk this way about them—and well, about me. Wasn’t I a DYNTEC employee? Wasn’t I working to keep them safe from criminals? The first few times, the system showed me these conversations almost devoid of context and I flagged them without hesitation.

          Some of them were obviously Detractors. Any time somebody talked about wanting to leave the Settlement, I knew they were spreading ideas that could lead to the extinction of mankind. We had to wait. We couldn’t go out there and leech even more resources off the Earth. Detractors were unbelievably selfish people. Just for a look outside the Wall, they’d doom humanity.

          Some were less obvious.

Hi dear, Jamie isn’t feeling well today, she has a stomachache again. I don’t know what it is.

          Maybe it’s those cupcakes she had at school for the last two days in a row, do you think they made a bad batch?

          If they did they wouldn’t tell us, we all know what the damned food labs are like.

          This one, I had to think about. They only cared. They were concerned for their daughter. And not even in an unhealthy way—they just wanted her to survive, wasn’t that the goal? And what if something bad had come from the food labs? I had used to work there. It was only a remote possibility, I told myself – so much that the Lab Heads were justified in saying it was impossible. There was no way this had happened to their daughter. So why were they thinking of it? Because they were predisposed negatively toward the food labs? Sure sounded like it. They hated the place where all our food for the survival of everyone was made and grown.

          But… I kind of did too. Hated working there, anyway.

But that is just the way life is, nothing anybody can do about it. They were talking the way Detractors would talk. They deserved one negative mark, perhaps they would learn from it. I wasn’t hurting them; I told myself, they wouldn’t be brought up for review unless they had many violations.

          I pushed down my feelings and gave them a violation.

          There was an indoor pool on the tenth floor of the Central building.

          “You need to learn how to swim,” said Cam.

          For the life of me, I couldn’t imagine why. In all my time in the Settlement I hadn’t encountered any body of water larger than a bathtub. The very existence of a pool was an unimaginable luxury.

          He gave me two separate days to go down and “learn how to swim,” and when, on the third day, I still reported no success, he came down to “teach me how to swim”. He came out of the men’s locker with a pair of loose shorts and a white towel.

I had my hair pulled back in a slick ponytail, and stood barefoot on the edge of the pool. “Okay… show me,” I said, skeptical that he’d be able to show me anything that I hadn’t already tried.

          He responded by pushing hard with both hands against my back.

          In an instant, my feet were out from under me. I landed in the deep end with a hard smack, and flailed out wildly. Water was all around me. Water was under me. So much water. It was on top of me too—the world submerged into deep echoes. My eyes squeezed shut by reflex. There was water in my nose—in my mouth, as I had tried to scream. I clamped my lips together, but the chlorinated pool water burned my throat and lungs, and I found myself trying to cough only to gulp more. It had only been seconds, but I was drowning. Oh, Earth, I was drowning. I kept flailing, but I was sinking—sinking—I was going to drown in water barely higher than my head— but my feet were the wrong way around.

          One of my hands, trying desperately to grab anything, hit something solid.

          It was Cam.

          He was in the water too, and righted me by the arms until he’d pulled me up to the surface.

          I hated him.

          My sinuses were still burning as I coughed and desperately tried to use what air was left in my lungs to expel the water. I breathed in raggedly a few times, and then coughed some more. “I hate you.”

          “Good. Great. Whatever.” Cam was treading water. “I thought you might just be afraid of the water. That wasn’t so bad, now, was it?”

          “Are you kidding me? That was effing* terrible.”

          He was holding on to me by the shoulders to keep me afloat, and I was weighing him low in the water. I resented the fact that he was touching me, but I also knew that if he let go of my arms, I’d be headed straight to the bottom.

          “Well, you can talk now, so you must be all right. I’ll bet if I did it again you’d handle it a bit differently, huh?”

          “Screw you.” I splashed water in his face.

          We spent the rest of the day learning how to swim.

The pool still unnerved me. The bottom looked close, but it was so far away. I could drown. Die. I knew Cam would save me if it came close to that, but he didn’t exactly give off a reliable bedside manner.

After we got out of the pool room, and I was back in my normal clothes, my hair drying off, Cam came back from the men’s locker, now in a white shirt. “I know you’re angry,” he said.

I gave him a dry look.

“That’s not surprising. Go ahead and hit me.”

“What? Come on.” I was bemused. I might have been angry, but even in the water, I hadn’t been inclined to do anything more than splash him.

He spread his arms. “Well, go on. Do it. Punch me in the face. It’s the perfect time. You won’t get another chance like this.”

I was once again speechless. I dropped the towel I’d been using for my hair. “Are you serious?”

“I am, actually. You’ve never punched anyone in the face before, have you?”


“That’s why DYNTEC wants you to do it. Gotta have a first time.”

I curled my fingers experimentally into a fist, feeling a prickle along my arms that caused me to flinch. “You want me to hit you… because DYNTEC wants me to be able to hit you.”

“You have a mental block. How are you going to learn fighting skills if you don’t overcome it?”

“Fine,” I sighed. If DYNTEC wanted it, I might as well get it over with. I walked up to him and gave my fist a test swing for trajectory. Cam appeared to brace himself but didn’t move.

I moved again slowly through the swing. Yeah, that would do it. I held my hand right up to his jaw. I began again, but despite having a good start, something inside me made me stop inches away from his face.

“What’s the matter?” he asked.

I swallowed. “I don’t want to hurt you,” I said.

“It’s only fair,” said Cam. “What I did to you today was worse, and I’m going to do worse than that to you in the future. Don’t feel bad about it. It’s a part of your training.”

The near-drowning had been a part of my training too. I’d learned how to swim. It had worked. I tried to bring back the anger of a few minutes ago, but it wouldn’t come.

          Mildly and unenthusiastically, I punched Cam in the jaw.

          I could tell that I had still made a little bit of a dent, but he at least had the decency not to act like he was in pain. “That was pathetic,” he laughed, after getting himself to rights. But he didn’t ask me to try again, and I caught him rubbing his chin when he thought I wasn’t looking.

That night I went home even more sore than I had been after the weight training. I rubbed my arms and legs all the way down to the first floor and through the sublevels until I reached my own tenement building.

Chapter Five: Jerked Down the Path of Least Resistance

          I was an only child.

My parents’ Profiles and genome were clean enough to have a second, but like most people, they were dependent on the sizeable financial stipend issued for not doing so.

They both worked, of course. They spent their lives devoted to the Settlement, and wished the same for me. Therefore, despite the fact that they remained together and I was fortunate enough to live with them, I was raised more or less by the Settlement from the age of two, when I received the Biometric.

Children in the Settlement were not permitted to go outdoors.

There were many reasons for that, and all of them perfectly valid. Unsupervised minors were always in danger, prone to the formation of subcultures. Subcultures could promote crime, mischief, contraband, or even Detractiveness. Children below a certain age couldn’t be held criminally responsible as Detractors, of course, but sometimes they could say Detractive things and spread false rumors without realizing it, due to not yet being fully educated. Hence, it was better to prevent ideas from spreading laterally between minors. The very cohesion of the Settlement could be undermined; and as we all knew, the Settlement was humanity’s last hope.

None of that meant children couldn’t get from place to place, it simply meant they had to use the sublevels.

The sublevels connected all of the buildings in the Settlement. They were also the only place that really counted as “public space”, seeing as so many of them were now abandoned and disused.

The sublevels in use were clean and orderly.

The abandoned sublevels were a labrynthine place; and with so many entrances and exits throughout all 36 districts that fully blocking them off would have been impossible for even the Administrators.

It was said that some of these sublevels still connected to the outer parts of the Settlement, the districts that had been walled off from the main city and abandoned. I wasn’t sure, I’d never been there—that was an errand for rebellious teens.

In order to curb exploration, a rumor was permitted to grow. There was something down there, our parents told us, something scary. Something waiting on the very lowest sublevel, sublevel 35, to devour children. The form of the bogeyman changed depending on who was telling the story. Sometimes it was a great green gremlin that ripped children limb from limb and ate them. Sometimes we’d be told a far more reasonable sounding story about contamination with radioactive materials. These still sounded far-fetched to me—the idea of a rock that could kill with energy – before I took science class and learned about the atom. At any rate, I never went down there, so it didn’t matter.

          Although the system was supposed to deter rebellion, commerce won a rather large victory for us. There was an underground shopping corridor five miles in length that ran under the city from the 2nd Southwest District to the 2nd Central District. It had several offshoots, one of which bypassed us in the 4th Central where I lived.

The shopping corridor had glass ceilings to let in the light. Glass ceilings! Although most places simply used solar power, no panels can beat the efficiency of direct sunlight.

          Kids and teenagers who could escape for a moment would walk up and down the corridor, window shopping. None of them could buy anything, since there was no way for them to have any money— their digital cash accounts weren’t even issued until they turned 16. And they could only loiter for a few minutes before the security would show up to report them to their parents and clear them out. Simply put, the tracker in the Biometric caught anyone who wasn’t where they were supposed to be before too much time could pass.

Still, I envied them. I never got away like that, since my parents were too upstanding to let me engage in such behavior. I enjoyed walking through the corridor whenever my mother took me to an appointment or extra-curricular. It was nice to get a glimpse of the sun.

          The schools didn’t have windows, but they did have ultra-violet lights to boost mood. And most people used tanning beds. They used to say that you could measure a kid’s will to live by the amount of time they spent in front of the UVs. Whether that was cause or effect was a matter of speculation.

Since I was compliant in nature, with a strong sense of self-preservation, intelligent enough to get good grades, and had no major ambitions in life, I was more or less jerked down the path of least resistance.

Chapter Four: No More Worlds to Conquer

Every part of the Central building was largely the same in color and nature. Smooth, gray hallways led to smooth, black rooms. There were plenty of stairwells, but I chose the elevator. It was a seamless ride from the meeting rooms on Level 30, down to Level 12.

At least Level 12 had windows. At the end of the hallway was a narrow view out on the city. It wasn’t particularly scenic from this angle, but I thought it was impressive in its own way. I looked down into a deep crevasse between two buildings, an alleyway filled with a jumble of fire escapes.

          No building in the Settlement had windows above the 25th floor. There was a good reason for that, too. When our ancestors had built the city, they hadn’t wanted to look over the wall. I guess it was just too depressing for them to have to see the scorched earth, the wasteland that they’d ruined. A total climate disaster had left no green anywhere. No trees. No forests. No fertile land able to produce crops. It was why we’d resorted to growing food in labs. Every job in the Settlement was necessary for the survival of the human race. We had to be completely self-sufficient— a closed system, as it were— while we waited for the Earth to heal herself.

          I came to door 200. I had never thought seriously about working for DYNTEC before, and was already growing nervous again after my initial relief. The organization was all about saving the world, and stopping crime, and all that. Those were high stakes. High stakes, big guns, cool tech. The name stood for “Dynamic National Technologies, Incorporated”, though for most people it had long ceased to be an acronym.

          And I was… well… lame. Not exactly badass. Maybe even a bit of a wimp. Hopefully they’d just assign me to a desk or something. Nice and comfortable, in a back corner. But no, that would defeat the purpose of keeping me moving, wouldn’t it? There was no chance of that. My hand started to shake as I prepared to scan my Biometric.

          The door opened.

          A man was waiting on the other side to greet me.

          “Hi there,” he said. “You must be Alex. I’m Cam.”

          Cam was tall; a good head taller than me, and had a scraggly blonde beard. I could tell that he probably worked out. He was wearing something similar to a black track suit and had a smile that was a notch more sincere than the Administrator’s, though laced with something that might have been irony.

          “Nice to meet you,” I said.

          “Come on in,” he invited me. I followed him. The ceilings were higher here, and running florescent lights hung in irregular configurations that were probably somebody’s idea of art.

          I wondered what part of DYNTEC we were in. Headquarters? Unlikely.

          “Welcome to the Level-one gym and training center for DYNTEC,” said Cam, answering my unspoken question. “If you’re wondering where the gym equipment is, that’s on the 11th floor. You’ll probably have to spend a few weeks here before you’re ready to go on to any assignments.” He looked me over with a critical eye. “You don’t seem too excited to be here.”

          “Just nervous,” I said. It was true.

          “Don’t be,” said Cam. “You got promoted to DYNTEC. You’re already more powerful than 99% of the population.” This seemed to amuse him. He took a seat in a rounded, plush chair by the wall. There were two others nearby. “Think of me as your friend.”

          He must have seen my skeptical look because he said, “I love welcoming new recruits, doing orientation, and all that. It’s my favorite job because I get to be lazy and sit in the cushy chairs.” He leaned his neck back on the pillow and put his feet up on the coffee table. “Why don’t you sit?”

          I sat delicately on the edge of the seat.

          “So why did they send you to DYNTEC?” Cam asked me.

          I felt my tongue clamming up. “I… I asked for reassignment from the food labs.”

          “Oh, yeah. That’s one way to get in, I suppose.”

          My curiosity welled up a little, but I was too timid to ask.

          “The other way,” said Cam, who evidently loved to talk about himself, “Is the way I got in.”

          “How did you get in?” I indulged him. Perhaps I could loosen up just a little bit around this guy.

“Oh, you know. Usual story. Flunked out of school as a teenager – didn’t have much of a head for numbers or memorization. The Administrators caught me exploring around the off-limits parts of the sublevels. I was trouble, but without any real Detractive purposes. Just enough trouble to be useful. They offered me the choice between juvie and working for DYNTEC. I chose to work for DYNTEC.”

          “Nice,” I said, not sure what else to say.

“All right, Alex,” said Cam, getting up. “Come on with me and I guess I’ll show you around the downstairs.” He got up and I followed him to the far end of the long room. “That’s an interesting name. You were named after a man, did you know that?

          I shook my head. “So what?” Most names in the Settlement were gender neutral.

          “So what?” Cam laughed. “I like you already. The man you were named after conquered the world. That’s your new job.”

          Now he was saying confusing things. “My job?”

          “Well, our job. DYNTEC’s job. The world was a lot smaller in Alexander’s day, of course. But years ago, we ran into the same problem he did.”

          “What’s that?” I clasped my hands behind my back politely.

          “No more worlds to conquer.”

          “I thought DYNTEC was supposed to save the world,” I said.

          “Sometimes you have to conquer things to save them,” said Cam. “If you don’t think so, you’re naïve.”

          Well, I wasn’t naïve. I knew you needed control over something to manage it properly. I’d just never heard it put that way before.

          We came to a wide set of stairs, and started to descend. I still hadn’t seen any DYNTEC employees except Cam.

          “We can say more or less what we want here,” said Cam, as if reading my thoughts, ironically. “The only people who can monitor our profiles and the logs for DYNTEC rooms are the Administrators. And they hardly give a damn about social graces as far as we’re concerned. By the way—has anyone ever told you you’re very pretty?”

          I reddened, mildly offended. Comments on physical appearance, especially positive ones, were simply not made in the Settlement, except as a form of sexual advance.

          “Screw off,” I said.

          He just laughed.

          “I’ll report you.”

          “Try. I just told you they don’t care here. Anyway, don’t worry. I don’t mean it.”

That made me even more irritated, for some reason.

“You should try it. Saying something edgy. It’s fun.”

I wanted to simply clam up, but he was giving me such an odd choice. “No.” I crossed my arms.

“Good!” He grinned. “That’s good. I like no. No is edgy. You’ll have to learn how to say no around here.” The grin fell to a smirk. “More on that later.”

We had reached the bottom of the stairs.

There was a hallway there, with doorways and various stairs branching off it, and I realized that most of levels 10-14 must be accessible to DYNTEC employees only. Their largest headquarters was only a block away in the West Central district, but they still had a decent office space in the Central tower. The windows here showed mostly the sides of other buildings, since we were well below the standard height limit. Still, off in the distance, I could see the brown edge of the Wall just above eye level. The sky was a pale gray.

Cam led me aside into a room that was open to the hall with a large tile doorway. The room was octagonally shaped and had a mix of black and white paneling. There was a single swiveling chair in the center, fixed to the ground. Around it was a semicircular arrangement of desks and monitors.

“The first part of your initiation,” said Cam, “is that I need to reprogram your Biometric to give you the proper security clearance. Normally we’d do background checks first, but the Administrators have already done extensive background checks on you, and they said you’re clean.”

“So I’ve been told.” I chewed my lips, feeling as though I was hiding something. What was it the Administrator had said? Clean as humanly possible—but nobody’s perfect. In retrospect, it was more worrisome. She must have found some kind of dirt on my Profile she had simply chosen to ignore.

“Sit,” said Cam.

I sat in the curved plastic chair.

He grabbed my hand—I tensed. He was touching me. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d been touched by anyone. Surely it had happened by accident, in a narrow hallway or something. But this was different.

          He took hold of my wrist and flipped it palm-side up, where the Biometric was implanted. “Activate it,” he said.

          I tapped my middle finger to my palm. The tiny part of the Biometric that ran close to my skin lit up with a pinprick of bright blue light. The nearby monitor registered it and booted up, displaying my Profile.

Cam picked up a small device from the desk that looked a bit like a barcode scanner and held it close to my wrist. “Don’t move,” he said. “You have to stay within range while it calibrates.”

Then he activated his own Biometric, linked it to a second touchscreen, and started swiping and tapping through screens for an onboarding process.

          It only took a few minutes. He put the scanner back where it came from and I withdrew my hand.

“There. Now you can come into this building on your own. You can also enter any civilian dwelling, backdoor any civilian’s Profile, and check out Level-one approved weaponry.”

          I could…? Now? Already? I couldn’t have been more bemused if he’d casually told me I had been granted super-strength and the ability to turn invisible. I raised an eyebrow.

“Oh yeah baby.” He grinned. “We’re gonna get you some firearms training.”

Chapter 3: The Theory of Relativity


I snapped to attention at my desk. I hadn’t been paying attention— had drifted off again into a daydream about trees, and a conservatory filled with lush greenery.

The Educator raised an eyebrow.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I’ve missed the question.”

“What is two plus two?” asked the Educator again.

Two plus two? I blinked. This was Social Studies, not math class.

“Four,” I said, blankly, hoping.


I flinched.

“As I have just been explaining to the rest of the class, Alex, one of the most essential parts of life in the Settlement is choosing language deliberately. It is in this way that we can be sure that we say exactly what we mean, and that we do not place undue strain on our listeners, and that we do not leave ourselves open to any accusation of Detractiveness. Alex, what is two plus two? And this time, please choose your language deliberately.”

Now I knew where this was going.

“I think two plus two is four,” I said.

“That is correct,” said the Educator. “The principle which you have demonstrated,” he continued (but I knew this) “is called General Relativity. Of course, in day-to-day life it will not be necessary to apply General Relativity so strictly, but here in the classroom we must train with it for the sake of form, as you put units on equations in Math class—in my Social Studies classroom any deviation from General Relativity will be graded down appropriately.”

He was addressing the class, now, no longer focused on me in particular. I looked around, and everybody was safely ignoring me again, so I relaxed. I squirmed in my seat—if only I had just a bit of synth-paper. Not even to draw on, as this would betray the fact that my thoughts were elsewhere. Just to fold, maybe, or tear. I chewed my fingernails.

“In the Settlement it is permitted to state definitively that “two plus two equals four”. That is because the vast majority of human beings happen to share your opinion. In principle, however, Relativity keeps us from stating our opinions as fact. In the classroom we use it because it trains our thinking to always remember, with technical precision, that absolutes do not exist.”

We all nodded.

And then mercifully the lecture was over, and we broke out the synth-paper.

Educator Jordan passed out markers from a box; we were making cards for the local DYNTEC workers of the 4th Central division.

I took the card and started drawing. I was still thinking about the tree. I put down a curling line; under my fingers it almost became a tree. I forced myself to stop; what was I thinking? This card was going directly to DYNTEC, and while I knew that they protected important things like trees and so forth; I’d been picking up sensitive vibes around the subject, like it would be Detractive to talk about. I had a good sense of when to avoid certain subjects. I drew a DYNTEC patch and their little chevrons.

“Do write something on the cards,” said Jordan. “We are sending these cards to thank the DYNTEC agents, who put their lives on the line to keep our community safe.”

“Are they coming here?” asked one of the boys eagerly. His name was Taylor.

“No,” said Educator Jordan.

“Oh,” he said, disappointedly. “I thought maybe. We had the lab workers come to class last Career day.”

“DYNTEC agents can’t do that,” said Jordan. “They’re very busy, and also, their work is very secret and dangerous, so they can’t show themselves in public.”

I knew that; it would ruin their ability to catch criminals by surprise.

“How is it dangerous?” asked Taylor. He wouldn’t have asked if he had no idea; it was clear he idolized the agents a little bit and wanted to hear more. Every child had some kind of obsession; mine was with plants, but if his was with the cool agents, I couldn’t fault him.

“They have to fight and arrest dangerous people,” said Educator Jordan, in a tone no more exciting than if he were listing the times tables. “Detractors, and other types of criminals.”

He went on passing out cards.

“Jordan?” said Taylor again a little bit more excitedly, raising his hand a little bit.

“Yes, Taylor.”

“What’s a Detractor? I mean…” he shrank a bit. “Exactly. I know what it is, but like.”

“Good Gaia.” Jordan didn’t raise his voice or anything, but he frowned a little bit. “You are in the fourth grade. Has no one ever given you a proper definition of a Detractor?”

To his surprise, most of the class shook their heads.

I was less surprised. No one had ever told me, but it wasn’t hard for me to put it together from context, by the way people said it. You just know. You just figure it out.

“Kids these days,” said Jordan, shaking his head. He leaned back with his two hands on the desk. “Detractive behavior is something that you do, but a Detractor is something that you are.”

The way he said “you” put me on edge.

“Anybody can do something Detractive, or potentially Detractive. This is behavior that does exactly what it sounds like: detracts from the goals of the Settlement. Takes away from the good of society. A Detractor is someone who tells and believes lies, who insists on absolutes, which alienate others; who wants to gather up more than their fair share, who wants to live in secrecy, and keep things all to themselves. In their secrecy, Detractors hide the fact that they are violent, malignant, hateful to the entire Settlement, and at their heart they want to destroy us all.

“My goal as an Educator is not only to keep you from doing Detractive things, but to keep you from being Detractors.” He shrugged a little. “When you grow up, I mean. A child can do Detractive things, but they can’t be a Detractor, at least not until they’re an adult.”

              “At the same time, though, we can know a Detractor by what they do. A Detractor is the opposite of a model citizen, and a person doesn’t become a model citizen by accident. If you don’t work to be a model citizen, you’ll always be sliding toward Detractiveness. There’s no default! There’s no neutrality. You must constantly train your mind to move away from Detractive thoughts and impulses. Even the best person is a mere careless slide away from becoming a Detractor. Anybody could become a Detractor, even someone who was once a model citizen. That’s why you always have to pay attention to the people around you.”

          We all looked around us, at each other, as though we could see Detractors. I shifted uncomfortably in my seat.

          “Remember, kids.” He smiled. He was one of the only teachers I had who sometimes smiled, though I always felt it was more a private joke with himself than it was for us. “If you see something, say something!”

Chapter Two: Jumping off the Job Ladder

“Alex.” The Administrator met my eyes, and I flinched. She was a gray woman, not just of hair, but of countenance. Her entire appearance, from the starched legs of her pantsuit to her straight shoulders to her bloodless lips, was like marble; but her eyes were only nearly gray. They were the icy, bleached blue of a January sky, threatening to snow, and her pupils were chips of flint, tiny flecks that suggested she could see past my flesh into my soul, and loathed what she found there.

It was more than enough to intimidate a civilian like myself. To complete the statuesque illusion, her angular body stood a full six feet and one inch.

          I looked away, but she continued to stare down on me. “Your resume is impressive,” she said. “Perhaps too impressive.”

          I shrank. I knew I’d been sent here because of my failures. Only an absolutely desperate case would be sent to the top. There were only two possible ways for this meeting to end. Reassignment, or termination. I crossed my fingers for reassignment.

          She took a seat at the polished black table. It stood on metal legs with black rollers at the bottom. I sat down across from her, though unprompted. The room itself was of polished black substance, glass and metal, with narrow seams along the wall panels. Any of them might be one-way glass, but I couldn’t be sure.

          Her Biometric activated a screen on the tabletop, and she scrolled through my job history. She was in the highest echelon; there was nothing she couldn’t see.

          “You’ve been… an Educator. Content Writer. Food Service Worker. Maintenance Technician. Food Lab Tech. It was the Head of the Food Labs that referred you to me.” And her gaze was back.

          I gave a barely perceptible nod. I could feel the sweat beading up on my forehead. Her eyes were too piercing. If only she would look away.

          “That’s a lot of jobs. You know, people here are taught to specialize early precisely to avoid these types of scenarios.” She pronounced “scenario” in a posh way, long on the a.

          “I’m not lazy,” I stressed. “I did my best in every job. I tried. Really, I tried. I wasn’t detractive. I was just…”


          “They just weren’t a good fit,” I finished lamely.

          “Five jobs and no good fit.”

          She was going to kill me.

          I probably deserved it. A failed educator, failed content writer, failed food server, failed maintenance technician, failed lab tech. At this rate I’d never be any use to the Settlement at all.

          “Please,” I begged. “Just give me another chance. I want to work for the Settlement. I’m loyal. I care about the future of humanity; I do.”

          The Administrator looked away from me for a moment (blessedly), seeming to give it some thought. Finally, she said, “Indeed. I’ve seen your type before. You’re a good person. Everything on your profile is clean—well.” Her pale lips turned upwards slightly, though nothing changed in her eyes. “Nobody’s perfect. But you’re as clean as humanly possible. You’re right. You just need to find the right fit.”

          I was stunned, but relief washed over me. I was right. Thank Earth.

          “You’re bored. That’s all.” Her voice took on a patronizing, friendly tone, though still nothing in her face changed. “You have to move on. You want a new assignment. You can’t do just one thing, can you?”

          In the food labs, I’d spent 10 hours per day painting food-growth cultures on to hosting plates. These cultures would later become all manner of colorful facsimiles – hot dogs, cupcakes, salads. It was brainless, but it was last-ditch work for a person who’d been reassigned from four other jobs. Still, I’d thought maybe I could be happy with the chance to work with organic materials. I’d wanted to see the cultures grow; maybe I’d even get to see the cells divide—maybe even into plant and leaf-like materials.

          Instead it was that—just that. Standing at an assembly line, using a paintbrush of clear solution on the plates as they glided by. Nothing ever, ever changed. Day to day, hour to hour, minute to minute, bending, brushing, bending, brushing. It was awful, and when it started to break my mind and my back, I had complained.

          “Complained” was a kind word for what I’d done, as in fact I’d cried like a baby. Wept in front of the plant manager during inspection; begged him to let me go. Because of that moment, I now knew that I was a weak person at heart. At the time, I hadn’t cared if there were no jobs left for me. I’d hated it so much there that I’d felt I’d rather die than stay another day.

          And so, I found out what happens when you jump off the bottom of the job ladder—you get sent to see an Administrator.

          Everyone else seemed to manage a normal job somehow. She was right, there was something wrong with me.

My first job had been an Educator, my dream career. As a child, I’d always envied the Educators, since they seemed so self-possessed. They had all the knowledge and all the answers, and the freedom to move about from place to place in just the way that children didn’t.

I’d loved the job, but after I confessed scandalous thoughts to a guidance counselor, I’d been reassigned. The full details, of course, are too embarrassing to discuss, but the long and short of it was that working with children had made me feel… estrogenic. Motherly. There was no shame in it, of course, since it was confessed and dealt with promptly, but anyone with an estrogenic temperament is forbidden from working with children, and so I was promptly reassigned.

          “I have an idea,” said the Administrator. “Why don’t I assign you to work for DYNTEC?”

          I was stunned again. “Dyntec,” I echoed. Really? DYNTEC was a different dream, the dream of every more adventurous kid in the Settlement.

          “You’ll have new assignments there all the time,” she said. “I challenge you to get bored in DYNTEC. It’ll keep you on your toes.” Without warning, her lips moved upwards, almost imperceptibly. “Dismissed.”

          And the meeting ended far more quickly than it had begun. I stood up, my head spinning. I started to back awkwardly out of the room.

          “Ah, wait,” said the Administrator. “I haven’t told you where to go, have I? Their locations aren’t listed in the Index like other facilities. Go to room 200 of this building on level 12. Cam will meet you there. You won’t have to tell him that I sent you.”

Chapter 1: The Tree

          I saw a tree, once.

          I was ten years old. We lived on the first floor of a tenement building—my mother, my father, and I. I could see it from my bedroom, which had a window into an alleyway. A little helicoptering seed had blown over the walls and into a dirt-filled crack between two concrete blocks.

It was scarcely big enough to be called a “tree” yet, but I knew what it was, because I had seen pictures of saplings, and the tough brown stem wasn’t like the blades of grass that poked up occasionally around the Settlement.

          Over three weeks I watched it sprout up. First the thin stem, then, slowly, a single leaf that uncurled hesitantly like a little tongue tasting the air.

          By the end of the third week, it was gone. I watched them remove it. They came with rubber gloves and spades.

          The next day I told my Educator about the tree. “What are they going to do with it?” I asked. I felt a bit sorry for the little plant, brave enough to try and grow out of doors.

          “They’ll take it to a conservatory,” she said.

          “What’s a conservatory?” I asked.

          “It’s a special place where plants are kept,” said the Educator.

          That piqued my interest. I hadn’t known that any plants were kept in the Settlement; I’d been told they were all dead for a long ways round, if any were even still alive on earth.

          I wanted to see a real tree, a live tree in full growth, like in books. I wanted to go to the conservatory. I decided I wanted to be a part of the plant removal crew when I grew up.

          I never did join the plant removal crew. Ultimately, it was a different path that led me back to the tree.

Book Update!

Thanks everyone who’s followed this blog! My book’s preorder campaign is continuing to progress, now at 9% of the total goal. That means I still need 678 people to pre-order the book in order for it to go to print.
Meanwhile, I have a cool new cover design – self-illustrated, of course!

“There was only one person in this town caught in the grip of an evil cult – and that person was me.”

Please consider pre-ordering your copy of this new conservatively-minded dystopia over at ! This is a story about the dangers of biotechnologies, surveillance, government control, and Malthusian environmentalism, and how they will be defeated.

As well, there is a book trailer to watch on YouTube.