Tuners – Chapter One

Here is a sneak peak at chapter one of the Tuners. Don’t forget to secure your advanced copy over here at Patreon:

Jon Xiong’s earbuds crackled, overpowered by a blast of static. His music was interrupted like a radio station losing signal. In a silhouette of purple light, a blonde in a blue plaid skirt and a white button-up shirt seemed to step into existence in front of the Forever 21 sweater display a few feet from Jon’s location. She was the most beautiful girl he had ever seen, and he had a brief moment where he thought he had imagined her.

As real as anyone else, she pulled out a pair of pink headphones from her ear and stuffed them into a hipster backpack. She spoke into her phone, “I’m in U-42—In pursuit.”

She turned and crashed into Jon. They tumbled to the ground. She was on top of him. He looked into her crystal blue eyes and was utterly lost for words. He stammered, but nothing came out.

“Sorry,” she muttered and pushed herself up.

Jon lifted himself to standing, and by the time he had turned around, she was gone like she had evaporated like a drop of water on heated a skillet. The only thing that was left was her white smartphone with the pink case that she had dropped in the collision. He scooped up the device. The make and model were unfamiliar to him. The lock screen had a picture of her and another girl who might have been a younger sister.

Jon was seventeen, had spiked hair and a skateboard. A white cord snaked from his backpack to his earbuds. He was always listening to music, and the soundtrack of his life irritated his dad. His father always hounded him to take the earphones out and pay attention once in a while. Jon, on the other hand, wouldn’t know what to do with himself if he didn’t listen to music.

Blond hair and a blue skirt flashed by the window of the store. He dashed out after her. After a quick scan, he saw the direction she had gone. Jon followed and wove in and out of the people at the mall. At one point, he got stuck behind a large group of elderly women power walking in their jogging gear. Another group of girls sneered at him when he pushed through them.

Finally, he made it to a large intersection where the mall branched in several different directions. He looked every which way and didn’t see her. He thought he had lost her when he had noticed that she had gone down a set of stairs. It was a small service entry, so there weren’t any witnesses.

A man in a large coat held her by the neck. He had black hair, a black beard, and was missing a couple of teeth. There was a scar on his forehead. It looked as if someone had carved a star into his skull. The man held a blade to her throat. It was an odd weapon that erupted from his knuckles like if Wolverine had one giant fierce claw. She struggled to free herself but couldn’t escape his grip.

Jon thought fast and put his skateboard on the ground. There was a No Skateboarding sign right in front of him. As chance would have it, his favorite punk song queued up on the playlist always rolling around his ears. Jon kicked his feet off the ground and skated toward the staircase. A hefty mall cop from across the way saw Jon and yelled, “You, stop right there!”

He jumped the board onto the railing of the stairs. He ground his way down, and the black-bearded man turned at the last moment. The board cracked the man in the teeth, and the guy went sprawling down to the ground, dropping the blonde in the process. Jon whirled around and stuck his hand out. She took it, and he helped her to her feet. He locked eyes with her for a brief moment.

“You dropped this,” He said and handed her the device.

His heart pounded because he wasn’t sure what to do next. He didn’t talk much to girls much less saved one before. Jon had never been good with women. He didn’t really know what to say to them, and they always ignored him.

“Thanks. I got it from here,” she said and swiped the phone.

“Um—What about him?” He stammered.

She ignored him and turned towards the man sprawled out on the ground. The guy was rubbing his head and groaning. She pulled out her pink headphones, put them in her ears, and jacked into her device. She swiped at an app Jon had never seen before. Abby placed her hand on the man’s shoulder, and she said into her phone. “I got him. I’m tuning now. I just got a local to deal with. Hey, you—”

“Jon,” he said.

“Jon, could you go upstairs and get mall security? Don’t worry. This guy isn’t going anywhere.”

“Um—okay,” Jon said and turned toward the stairs. He got up two steps and said,

“Maybe I should just call—”

The blonde and the man were gone.

Seconds later, the overweight mall cop appeared at the top of the staircase, gasping for air, exhausted by his run across the mall.

“You come up here!” The cop said between breaths. “Don’t—make me—come down there.”

The Tuners Are Coming

A couple of years ago, I started writing a trilogy about a group of teens who heard the sound of nearby parallel universes and could travel to them. It started with a conversation where my wife and I were talking about how malls are the same everywhere, and if there was a multiverse, Forever 21 would find a way to put a store there (this all happened while we were walking past a Forever 21 and commenting how if we stepped into a parallel world would we even know it).

This trilogy is probably the most exciting and action-packed thing I ever wrote. Because I had decided not to share it until the last book was done, it took some turns and twists I didn’t expect because I could always go back and rewrite the first book. I am ready to release all three, and I’m going to do it on the same day. If you want to get a copy before anyone else does, go to my patreon page. I am going to give you all three, and the best part is I’m not going to change the prices. That’s right, you get all three for the price of one.  Stay tuned to this space for more information. In the meantime, help support one of my colleagues with his new release, The Fringe Candidate. Here is a sneak peek at the cover art of book 1:

Aaron Frale ebook (1)In the void between universes, a secretive organization called the Tuners works to maintain peace in the multiverse. The stability is threatened when a group of religious radicals seek to burn all those who do not believe. Jon Xiong, a seventeen-year-old from Montana, gets caught up in much bigger problems when the cult members appear at his home. The order wants him because he has the ability distinguish the subtle differences of the cosmic background noise between universes. He can tune, and now he is a foot soldier stuck between those who would maintain order in the universe and those who would destroy it. Some gift tuning turned out to be.

Happy Black Friday!

timeburrito_kindleFirst off, as a thank you for being on this list, I wanted to give you the rare opportunity to download my most popular book Time Burrito for free. It will only be free on Black Friday, and I hate Black Friday Saturday. It’s a perfect read for that magical day every year where people trample each other for a deal. Speaking of savings, you can get all of the first five Teristaque Chronicles stories for 99 cents on Black Friday too. The next five stories will soon be in a collection as soon as I get to writing them.

In other writing news, I am currently in the middle of writing a trilogy about a group of people who can travel the multiverse. I am on Book 2 as of this newsletter. In the past, I would have attempted to get Book 1 in your hands as soon as possible and probably would have released it today. However, I am going to pull a Netflix on you and release all three books on the same day sometime next year. I encourage you to support me on Patreon if you haven’t already because I will give you all three for the price of one for patrons only. Go here to pledge your support (don’t worry, the charge won’t go through until the books are ready to ship).

In the meantime, consider one of my books as gift for a friend this holiday season. You can see all of them here.

Thank you all for your support. Readers like you are why I continue to do this.

The Robin Hood of Couches Special Edition

Today is your last chance to get the special Patreon members only edition of The Robin Hood of Couches! Thank you so much to all the folks who’ve already donated. Your support means a lot to me. You can secure your copy here on Patreon. If you want to skip all this Patreon stuff, you can preorder on Amazon here.

Thank you to everyone whose supported me already. Here is a sneak peak at the second chapter:

The Academy never prepared Reese for the smell of a body. It was a putrid, foul odor that was worse than the time he had found week-old leftovers from a steakhouse underneath the seat of his car. Since he hadn’t known what was inside the foil, he had unwrapped it and puked. The body of the man today festered in a drainage pool. The victim’s beard was matted and infested with bugs. According to the display hovering in the air in front of him, the DNA match was for Derrick Yusuf, a delivery handler for MotoCom. According to his supervisors, the man took a week off without giving a reason why before he died.

The local detective walked right into the display. Typically, it was rude to step into other people’s screens, but Reese had set it to private so no one could see what he was seeing. The cop poked at Reese and said, “Do you need to puke?”

“No, I’m fine.” Reese’s stomach had come a long way since the tinfoil surprise, but that didn’t stop the smell from making him lose his appetite for the rest of the day. Which was unfortunate because for lunch later on, his girlfriend treated him to this new Russian place with the best perogies in the city, and he didn’t eat a bite, claiming illness rather than recounting the memory of the smell with her.

“I’m surprised. All you corporate types puke your first time on the scene,” the detective said.

“Most of my colleagues are here to expose fraud and get big paychecks when they find the CFO skimming off the top. I’m here to find the truth,” Reese said.

“What? You didn’t get into Corporate Investigations for the finder’s fees and the big payday? If you want to make a difference in the world, you should come to collect the city paycheck with us.”

“Then I wouldn’t have access to the best equipment, and I couldn’t afford those subscriptions on a cop’s salary.”

“It’s the equipment, he says. Yeah, yeah, you’ll be driving your Maserati at the track on weekends. We appreciate the funding CI gives us but try to remember this is a crime scene. That body’s a real person, and don’t touch anything.” The cop walked out of the screen view, and Derrick’s information came back up. His crawler was now downloading social media info. Mr. Yusuf apparently liked to cure his own meats and made his own cheeses. It was an esoteric hobby when everyone’s entire house was a giant 3D printer these days.

The truth of the situation was that Reese enjoyed the tech available to even the lowest-level investigator, but it wasn’t the real reason he decided to attend the CI Academy, a school that only admits .07% of the applicants every year. He suffered through the sleepless nights of study, grueling physical activity, and endless skills training because he really wanted to make a difference in the world.

When the CIs weren’t driving their Maseratis at the tracks on weekends, they were making the world a better place. It was a high-profile CI who brought down the most notorious drug lord that made crime bosses of the past like Guzmán and Capone look like the awkward kid brother. CIs brought down an entire terrorist network that almost snuck a dirty bomb into the Olympics.

A lot of people criticized the CIs and said they were only out to protect their bosses’ payday, but no one ever mentioned that, by protecting corporate interests, the people’s interests were protected too. The cop wouldn’t understand any of it. He’d think Reese was a CI chasing another payday when the reality was that this new recruit cared just as much about solving the murder as the police did.

Since the victim had a couple of anomalous shipping discrepancies, CI was called onto the scene too. Despite the cop’s misgivings, Reese wouldn’t need to touch anything to find out everything he needed to know. Microprinted nanites swarmed the scene, scanning everything and uploading it to the CI cloud. They were spawned from a top of the line set of implants. The chip in his arm and ocular enhancer in his right eye were years ahead of what someone could get installed at the mall. In fact, the injections wouldn’t even be available to the public for another five years, and by then, CI would no doubt have upgraded him.

While the profile of the murder victim was being built, Reese swiped away his display and decided to snoop around the crime scene. It didn’t take a forensic scientist to figure out the cause of death. The man’s head was caved in with a blunt object. The wound was messy and created by many swifts strikes, as if the killer lashed out with rage. From the angle of the blow, the perpetrator was of average height.

From the looks of it, the body would have gone unnoticed for a while if a couple of kids hadn’t decided to race their sticks down the storm drain. According to the social media reports, the man didn’t have anyone close enough to report him missing. A few friends grumbled at him for standing them up, and a regular gaming group questioned why he didn’t show, but there were no police reports filed. From his phone and email history, he sparingly called home. CI was quick to submit the documents for the release of personal records, and it was even easier when there was a body. Reese was sure the local police didn’t even have email access yet.

There also didn’t seem to be much motivation in his social circle for his death. No one seemed to be more than lukewarm to him. That left the shipping reports that flagged CI to investigate the potential profit loss. According to the report, Mr. Yusuf was a lead handler for MotoCom’s automated shipping service, and his vehicles seemed to be expending more energy than they were scheduled to use, which meant that he was moonlighting and MotoCom wanted a cut. All cars were driverless, but robots were not quite ready to tackle the task of moving a package from the back into the unknown circumstances of someone’s home. So the driverless trucks would park outside a house, and the handlers would bring the box to the door.

The victim’s job was to sit in a truck all day and deliver packages when it stopped. Robots were no doubt already being conceived that could replace Derrick and his coworkers, but until the robotics companies could guarantee that a robot wouldn’t trample a kid playing in the lawn when it went to deliver a package, humans were still needed for deliveries, especially furniture. Derrick seemed to deliver a lot of it.
However, unlike driverless cars, which had the backing of many large companies to get them on the road, the multipurpose robot that could move a couch didn’t have as many industry giants because the real money was in digital property. Since all buildings constructed after a certain year had 3D printing technology built into their very walls, companies had been selling people the right to use their designs for a subscription fee.
Because objects could materialize from the 3D printers in the walls of most houses, the act of shopping every week for the latest fashion had become an antiquated thing. People really didn’t own anything anymore. The stylish handbag was the digital right to reproduce that handbag. As soon as the owner canceled their subscription, they no longer had the right to produce the purse, so the 3D printers would strip it down atom by atom and use the material for whatever active subscriptions were there. It was the ultimate in recycling.

Since most people 3D printed everything in their lives, Derrick’s job was a niche industry. The other odd part was that people very rarely had furniture shipped. People who kept the shipping industry alive did it because they would insist that 3D-printed wine didn’t taste the same, or wanted a printed book signed by the author with the assurance that the author’s hand really did touch that page. The bulk of shipped items consisted mainly of small objects that a collector or an enthusiast would pay absurdly high prices for in order to prove that its molecules weren’t stacked up by a 3D printer.
A collector wanting furniture that didn’t come from a 3D printer had to have deep pockets. Derrick bought wine from a vineyard once as a gift for his girlfriend, and it was the most expensive thing he ever purchased in gift form. And in all honesty, when his girlfriend wasn’t looking, he had the same wine 3D printed and could not tell the difference. He thought that the whole shipping industry was a gimmick to squeeze money out of wealthy people.

However, the furniture deliveries didn’t add up. Derrick delivered to many different addresses and never the same one twice. Each delivery was to a different name. Even an enthusiast wouldn’t have that many alternate identities. The only possibilities were that the mystery person was paying a new person every couple of days to receive the furniture and then coming to pick it up later, presumably to hide its final destination, or the person was laundering money, and most of the shipments were fake. It was a possibility that Derrick doctored his reports and got a payout for no delivery.
However, laundering money in the shipping world was pretty complicated. Since the truck had an internal scale that would track the weight coming on and off, Mr. Yusuf would have had to hack the system and trick the onboard computers into believing that furniture was being delivered, in addition to paying off all the movers under him to corroborate the story. The furniture was loaded on the truck at one of the mega-warehouses that were initially constructed by Amazon. He’d have to do some digging to see where the furniture came from because the mega-warehouses were the world’s largest middlemen.

Reese was sure the crime and the massive influx of furniture had to be connected. Even though he wasn’t supposed to investigate the murder, he knew he’d be the one to figure it out. If he could leave the world a better place than he had inherited, then he could count his new job as a win. The first step would involve checking out the last shipment Derrick ever delivered, an apartment full of furniture to a Tyrell Bryant.

The Robin Hood of Couches Cover Reveal

The Robin Hood of couches is coming out soon! Check out the cover art below. Remember, if you want to get the special Patreon members only version of this book with bonus content place a $5 or above donation before 7/25/19 ($2 donations will get the regular eBook edition in advance of everyone else). If you want to skip all this Patreon stuff you can preorder on Amazon here.

coveredited

Thank you to everyone whose supported me already. Here is a sneak peak at the first chapter:

Tyrell’s life was officially over. He elected to spend his last precious moments fiddling with the controls of his couch. When he had first learned of the impending disaster, he decided on Fluffy Cloud, which made it feel like he was drifting through the air when he sat on the billowing white cushions. Now, after a few swipes and taps on the display hovering in front of him, he selected College Futon. The molecules in the couch rearranged themselves to a hard, uncomfortable mattress on top of a black metal frame.

College Futon
felt right. Let them take a sad futon when they took everything he owned. He went for the TV next. He closed the couch app on the screen hovering in front of him and opened the TV one. He always liked 360 Display with HoloSport Playback. He could see the football fly from the rear wall of his apartment to the front as if it were in the room. He turned off 360 and pulled up 1970’s Vintage Wood Panel Tube. The TV screen that enveloped his living room faded away, and an old tube TV with wood paneling appeared on the other side of the room from his futon.

Tyrell got up and clicked the big thick knob of the set. The screen changed from an I Love Lucy rerun to the technicolor world of Green Acres. He laughed as he flipped the channels with an actual dial. “Don’t touch that dial,” he said and cackled.
The replica was so authentic. He even had to bang the side of the TV when the picture went out. He could have saved so much money per month if he had done this earlier and stripped the furniture in his apartment to the basic models and lowered his service plans. But now it was too late; his bank account was not only negative, but it was so negative that his next paycheck wouldn’t even make it positive again.

He would have been fine if his son’s school waited till withdraw the tuition Wednesday like they said they would. Instead, every little five-dollar transaction got hit with an overdraft fee. Tyrell was addicted to chipping in five bucks to any Kickstarter campaign that seemed halfway exciting or had a heartwarming story behind it. The little charges created a giant negative cash flow when the overdraft fees got involved.

Tyrell had yelled at the customer service representative of the bank. He had called the fees a tax a on poor people and would rant to anyone who would listen about how banks could charge as many fees as they wanted, but the only people it would end up hurting were the people without money. He had screamed and yelled, but in the end, could do nothing to prevent the loss of everything he owned.

He plopped back down on the futon and enjoyed the last few moments on a hard, uncomfortable surface. The screen hovering in the air popped up with a message and a countdown timer marking the final minutes he’d own a couch:
Couch+: FINAL NOTICE: Your payment was unable to process. Enter alternate payment method now?

When Tyrell failed to enter an alternate payment method, the couch dissolved when the timer reached zero. With no molecules strung together under his rump to form a College Futon, he hit the floor with a thump.

The TV went next:

TV HERO: Payment failed: 3rd NOTICE. Please enter a new payment method now to avoid disruption of your service.
In the course of the next few days, every object he owned disappeared until he was left with an empty apartment. He thanked his lucky stars that his bathroom was tied to the rent and wasn’t on a subscription service. He still had another couple of weeks to figure out that impending disaster.

_______
The 3D printer built into the fabric of his walls was the deluxe edition, and the payment bounced like the rest of them. Now he couldn’t even print a new couch even if he could restart his service. He sat down in the middle of the empty room and a pit formed in his stomach. Tyrell’s ex would be dropping off his son tomorrow, and once she saw the state of his apartment, everything she ever said or thought about him would be confirmed. He knew what would happen next. She would march his son out the door, and the state would evaluate his fitness to be a father. Because of a few overdraft fees, he would never see his son again.

His paycheck had hit the account a week ago. The negative balance was slightly less negative but still not even enough for a meal. Tyrell was hungry because even the food in his fridge (not to mention the fridge itself) was on a subscription service. He was lucky that lunch was a perk at his place of employment, so he at least got one meal a day plus whatever he could shove into his pockets.

Tyrell pondered borrowing some money to clear the balance and at least re-up his kid’s room subscription service. His mother had less money than him. His father was in prison, and his friends always owed him money. That left payday loans, which were worse. He’d owe more money than he could afford in interest and be right back where he started. However, the black hole of payday loans was tempting. Maybe his ex would be a little more sympathetic when she saw he spent his last dime on his son.

Tyrell wrung his hands and cursed the overdraft fees. There were fees to keep his drone technician license up-to-date. There were fees for phones, utilities, and roadways. Every time he encountered a necessary task from the government, there were fees. There were late fees, overdraft fees, neighborhood associations fees, parking fees, and the ultimate scam, the electronic processing fee.

It also didn’t help that most of his paycheck would go to his ex. The money was supposed to be for his son, but he saw her nails and hair. They weren’t cheap to maintain. He cut that thought before it could go any further. Whenever things got rocky, he’d blame her for their problems, which led to the divorce. It wasn’t until he almost lost his son that he realized he had some of the blame to share as well.

He sat in an empty apartment and waited for his life to crumble.

The doorbell rang.

He tiptoed toward the front door. His footsteps echoed in the empty apartment, and the noise was unsettling. He almost didn’t answer the door, but the doorbell was persistent. He swung it opened, and a white guy with a long beard and thick glasses said, “Tyrell Bryant?”

“Who’s asking?” Tyrell said.

“We have a delivery for you,” the man said, and a screen appeared between them with a signature box. Tyrell reached out and signed for the package with a flick of his finger. The man went back downstairs to get the shipment. Tyrell racked his brain for what it could possibly be. The various Kickstarter campaigns would always come with a reward, but they would still be digital.

In fact, he couldn’t remember the last time he had a physical object shipped to his house.
It was way more expensive to order an object like a fancy new kitchen knife and have it delivered than to pay a low monthly fee for a fully stocked kitchen of any utensil he desired. Only elderly people like his grandma had kitchens with all these drawers and cabinet space. Before his subscription ran out, he’d punch in the tool he needed, and it would appear on the counter in front of him. When he was done, it would disappear along with the mess. It was much better than loading the dishwasher, like when he was a kid.

Only collectors and wealthy people seemed to own physical objects anymore. He had a friend who would buy the hundred-dollar tier on Kickstarter just to buy a physical copy of a book because he liked the way the pages felt. He used to think his friend was such an oddball. However, his entire collection of Kickstarter reward books disappeared when the EliteCloudPlatinum digital storage space had expired. He would not make fun of his friend anymore because of what he’d give for a book or something to take his mind off his encounter with his ex tomorrow.

The bearded man didn’t come back with a book or anything that could even be misconstrued as a reward for supporting a crowd-funded campaign. It was a couch, a large brown sofa with a stain resistant finish.

“Where you want it?” the bearded man said.

“I didn’t order this,” Tyrell said.

“If there is a problem with the order, take it up with the place you bought it from. We are just the delivery service.” The man rolled his eyes. His partner set the couch down and leaned against it.

“No, what I mean to say is you got the wrong address.”

“Are you Tyrell Bryant? At this address?”

“Yeah.”

“Then all this stuff is yours.”

“What do you mean all?” Just as Tyrell said that, two more large men hefted a twin-sized bed up the stairs. It was the perfect size for his son’s room.

“You can refuse delivery—” the bearded man began.

“No, you can put that over here, and that bed can go in the smaller of the two bedrooms under the window,” Tyrell said. His prayers had been answered. Even if it was a mix-up, maybe he could keep the stuff long enough to clear his account and give his son a place to stay for the week.

For the rest of the night, the movers lugged a two-bedroom apartment’s worth of furniture up three flights of stairs and down the hall to 307. He was getting the full service from lamps to a new bed, and even kitchen utensils (including a cart to store them in). He also got a network-enabled TV, not that it would do any good without subscriptions to any of the streaming services. To his surprise, he even got a bookshelf with enough books to make his friend jealous. What really amazed him was an archaic piece of technology called a Blu-ray player. He hadn’t seen one of those since he was a kid. Physical movie players disappeared when collections went digital. Some of the movies included were ones he remembered watching as a kid in his pajamas with his father. However, oddly enough, there were new movies too, even though companies stopped making Blu-rays years and years ago.

Before he could ponder any further, the bearded man shoved a stylus in Tyrell’s face and sent him a request to share a screen. “Sign here to verify that it is all here.”

“Since I don’t know what supposed to be here, sure, I’ll sign,” Tyrell said. The bearded man and his colleagues walked out the door. He could hear them mumbling something about rich people as they went for the elevator. Tyrell would have been right there grumbling with them if his apartment wasn’t fully loaded with subscription-free furniture. The couch itself must have been worth years of Couch+ service, and it was sitting in his place.

Tyrell was pretty sure it wasn’t illegal to accept gifts, and for all he knew, the furniture was a gift. It was addressed to him, and while he didn’t know all of his neighbors, he was pretty sure a person who could afford to have furniture delivered wouldn’t live in his apartment complex. He was sure they lived in compounds with private lakes in the center. Even if they did come looking for it, he’d give it back. All he needed was a few weeks to get his bank account back on track.
Until he knew otherwise, he decided to treat it like it was his own.

That was until the police showed up on his doorstep a week later.