Book One of a new Young Adult Science Fiction Alien Invasion Apocalypse Series filled with action, adventure and a touch of the paranormal:
A teenager teams up with a human alien life form to prevent an alien apocalypse!
SEMI-FINALIST Kindle Book Review Awards
WINNER Best Book Description Award, 2015 Indie ReCon
RUNNER UP 2015 Beach Book Awards Festival, Young Adult Category
A New Sci Fi Series by Award-Winning Author Natalie Wright
Advance Reviewers Give H.A.L.F.: The Deep Beneath 5 Stars:
“Once I began, I couldn’t put it down … I anxiously await book 2!” ~Michelle Williams, Amazon Reviewer
“This novel grabs you at the beginning and it doesn’t let go until the end. The plot is well done and seems eerily possible. I can’t wait for book 2!” ~Stephanie S, Amazon Reviewer
“Wonderful read, can’t wait for next book. It had me up all night. Sci-Fi/Fantasy at it’s most unique. Many unexpected turns.” ~Amazon Customer
H.A.L.F.: The Deep Beneath
H.A.L.F. (Human Alien Life Form) is the product of genetic engineering. Created by the shadow government to be a powerful weapon in the coming alien war, he proved too powerful for his makes and has been sedated most of his life.
But now he has escaped his prison and taken his first steps in the human world. The sedation is wearing off. He has never been more alive. More powerful. Or more deadly.
Erika Holt is in the desert, escaping the heat and relaxing with some friends. But a typical night in the desert with friends thrusts Erika into a situation more dangerous than she ever imagined.
Circumstances push the Erika and H.A.L.F. 9 together and each must make a fateful choice. Will Erika help H.A.L.F. 9 despite her “don’t get involved” rule? And will H.A.L.F. 9 let Erika live even though he was trained to kill?
The two may need to forget their rules and training if either is to survive the dangers of the deep beneath them.
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
I live in the desert in Southern Arizona. Outside of the cities, there are miles of open range and undeveloped land. There’s a road that cuts west, coming within 10 miles of the border in places and it passes through a vast missile testing range. I drove through it a few years back on a very hot (100+) day. I got out at an empty roadside rest and was struck by how eerily quiet it was. Remote. Empty. Hot.
The idea that anything could be going on out there and no one would know about it stayed with me. One day while driving and running errands, this strange techno-rap song called Cowboys and Aliens (by Gram Rabbit) came on and the main plot for H.A.L.F.: The Deep Beneath popped into my head. I drove home and hurriedly scratched out an outline!
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
There are two main protagonists in The Deep Beneath. Erika Holt came fairly easily to me. I knew she lived in Ajo, a small former mining town very close to the border that’s seen better days. I’d been out there and met with some seniors at the high school and that helped me picture her and where she lived. Before I became a full-time writer, I used to be a divorce attorney and did a lot of custody cases. I’d represented kids and I used those experiences to help me create Erika – a smart kid with a lousy home life.
Tex, aka H.A.L.F. 9, was more difficult. He’s also seventeen but has lived his whole life in an underground lab. Oh, and he’s only half human. He’s on the one hand incredibly smart and trained to be a killer – so dangerous. But on the other hand he’s innocent. He’s had very little experience with relationships and has never been in the human world. It was fun to try to experience the world through his eyes. I especially enjoyed the scene at Sedona where he experiences his first sunrise.
Then there’s the antagonist, Commander Lillian Sturgis. I have to admit that in my first couple of drafts, Commander Sturgis read like a cardboard super villain. But with the help my of editors, I reworked her. I spent quite a bit of time working on her backstory, writing scenes that never made it to the book but that helped me understand where she was coming from. And I finally got to a point that I could see that from Sturgis’ perspective, SHE’s the “good guy.”
H.A.L.F.: The Deep Beneath
1998, Arizona, U.S.A.
Lucia lay on the well-worn couch, its cushions drenched with her sweat. Her shirt was hitched up, exposing her swollen belly to the hot air. It was July and storm season. The usually dry air was as pregnant with moisture as Lucia was pregnant with child. The swamp cooler chugged away, trying to lower the temperature, but it gave little relief. Perspiration pooled beneath her breasts heavy with milk. Lucia felt like a stuffed turkey roasting in the oven.
She rubbed her naked stomach. I hope you don’t plan on stayin’ too much longer. It had been a week since her due date passed with not so much as a quiver of a contraction.
Though she was hot and uncomfortable, Lucia didn’t have much else to complain about. She’d gone from living on the street to the small apartment on the base that had been her home for more than nine months. The apartment wasn’t fancy, but it was clean and furnished with simple but well-made furniture. Meals were delivered to her door like room service. It was a prescribed diet that tasted a bit like bark bathed in dirt, but it was free, and she didn’t have to cook it. The first thing I’m gonna do when I get this thing out of me is eat a double bacon cheeseburger, fries, and a chocolate shake.
A nurse visited her daily to take her blood pressure and give her prenatal vitamins. Lucia even got a massage once per week. “It enhances blood flow to the fetus,” the massage therapist had explained.
But instead of feeling like a pampered princess, Lucia felt like a girl locked in a tower. She’d had no contact with anyone from her former life, such as it was. And the armed guards outside her door reminded her that she was not free to go.
Lucia had willingly given up ten months of freedom. It was a small price to pay for the promise of what lie ahead for her. Easy street.
Lucia had never known an easy street. She had been walking on the sidewalk outside the food bank from which she’d come when a black sedan with darkly tinted windows pulled up beside her.
Instinct told her to walk faster, and she did. But the car kept pace. Lucia knew better than to look behind her. “Keep your eyes forward and never make eye contact,” her friend Melina had told her. Curiosity got the better of Lucia. She looked back at the car.
There was a clean-cut white guy in a dark suit in the front passenger seat. He rolled down his window. “Do you need money?” he asked.
“I’m not that kind of girl,” Lucia said. Her threadbare shirt and stained jeans had been hand-me-downs when she’d gotten them. She wore sneakers that were one size too small and no makeup or jewelry. Lucia didn’t carry a purse to steal, and no one would mistake her dirty well-worn clothes as the threads of a streetwalker. So what do they want with me?
It was nearly evening in the worst part of town. The sidewalks, typically full of people loitering in front of small mom-and-pop stores, were now empty. There was no one around to see it if the men in the car decided to snatch her.
Lucia broke into a run, wishing there were more people around. She felt the car still stalking her. Her heart hammered away in her chest, and a thin film of sweat covered her back. Lucia’s hands were so sweaty and her arms so shaky that she dropped the bag of groceries that she’d gotten from the food bank. It was all the food she had to get her through to the next week, but she couldn’t worry about that now. All she could think about was putting one foot in front of the other.
When Lucia got to the crosswalk, the light was red. The man in the car shouted out to her, “It’s not like that. We’ve got honest work for you. A thousand bucks just to sit down and talk about it.”
Lucia did not turn to look at the man. She caught her breath as she contemplated what to do. Ahead was the way to the makeshift shelter where she and a few others lived. If she got across the street, she could go there. But that also meant leading the men to a dead end and to her street companions. If she turned right and kept running, she may make it to the library. It was still open. There she would be safe. And she may be able to outrun them. They had to wait for the cars in front of them to get through the light. If she stayed … Lucia had never had a thousand dollars all at one time.
But no one ever approached someone on the street and offered honest work. She turned and looked into the rolled-down window. There were two men with neatly cut hair, wearing dark suits with white shirts and nondescript ties. They didn’t look like drug dealers or pimps. Clean-cut white guys in an impeccably detailed but simple black sedan? They’re either feds or Mormons.
“A thousand cash now to go to an office and talk to some doctors,” the man said. He flashed a wad of cash at her. “And if they accept you and you accept them, a quarter mil.”
Lucia’s past jobs had consisted of working at a car wash, cleaning houses and being a bike courier. And at the present moment she was without employment entirely. She didn’t even have a GED. She’d never see that much money if she worked her entire life.
“You say it’s honest? What kind of honest job pays that much to homeless people?” She tried to look the man in the eyes, but he wore dark sunglasses that kept his eyes and any thoughts they’d betray secret. With the sun now low in the sky, there was no need for such dark glasses. Honest people don’t wear sunglasses in the dark.
“I assure you, there is nothing illegal involved. We work for the government.” The man flashed a badge, but Lucia couldn’t see it well enough to tell what it said. “It will all be explained at the meeting at our offices. And after hearing about the job, if you decide not to take it, you still get the thousand.”
Lucia had left her last foster home at fourteen, and now at nineteen, she’d been on the street for close to five years. Her funds had always been measured in tens, not thousands. Lucia thought of what she’d do with that thousand dollars. She’d take Melina out to a steak dinner, and they’d eat until their bellies were nice and fat. And she’d have enough to pay for a GED class and a locker to store her books in.
Against every instinct and contrary to every rule of the street ever taught to her by Melina and other friends, Lucia got into the backseat of the car. She was alone in the roomy seat that smelled of leather and aftershave and money.
The meeting turned out to be in a small office in a two-story building on the east side of Tucson. It was well after five, so the receptionist desk at the front was empty. The two men, still wearing their dark glasses, escorted her to a small conference room where an older man and a middle-aged woman sat at a round table.
They introduced themselves as Dr. Randall and Dr. Sturgis. But they didn’t look like medical doctors to Lucia. The man, Dr. Randall, was nearly the age of a grandfather. He had kindly pale, grey eyes behind thick glasses with black frames. His hair looked like he’d missed a couple of haircut appointments, and his clothes were at least two decades behind the fashion. Dude look’s like he’s straight out of the 1970s.
Dr. Randall explained that if she qualified, she’d be a surrogate mother. “You will receive a thousand for this meeting today, another five thousand to complete medical testing for fitness. And if you are qualified and if you deliver a live birth, you will receive a quarter million dollars plus a lifetime pension,” he’d said.
“What’s a pension?” Pension sounded a bit like parole, and if a pension was anything like parole, Lucia was sure she didn’t want a lifetime of it.
“Pension means that you would get a monthly payment. And lifetime, well, of course, that means for the rest of your life.”
That sounded a lot better than lifetime parole.
“Money for the rest of my life? For being a surrogate mother? Me? You’re trippin’,” Lucia had said. Lucia was too busy most days trying to find food and avoiding the dangers of living on the street. She wasn’t about to bring a kid into her world, so she’d never thought much about being a mother.
“I assure you that I am not trippin’,” Dr. Randall said.
Dude tryin’ to be cool, but I bet he ain’t never been close to cool.
“I ain’t exactly mother-of-the-year material, Doc.” They had found her coming out of a food pantry. Lucia hadn’t been to the homeless shelter for a shower in over a week. Her long, black hair was dirty and oily. Her skin was dark enough to hide a lot of the dirt on her, but she knew it was there. They could probably smell her from across the small round conference table. Why me?
The female doctor with piercing blue eyes spoke. “You are healthy, aren’t you?”
“I ain’t been to the free clinic in a long time, so I can’t say, but I guess I am.”
“And you do not smoke, use drugs or drink alcohol?”
“Then you are more fit to birth a child than most women in America,” she said. The woman’s lips pulled back in a thin-lipped grin that revealed a row of perfectly straight, overly white teeth. But the smile did not reach the woman’s steely eyes.
If Lucia had met only with Dr. Sturgis, she likely would have said no, taken her thousand and run from the place without looking back. There was something about the woman that she didn’t trust.
But Dr. Randall had reached out his spotted grandfatherly hand, patted hers with it and smiled warmly at her. “It’s a chance for a better life. What do you have to lose?”
Lucia had no family, no property save for the $9.82 in her pockets, and only a few acquaintances like Melina that she’d met on the street. All she had to lose – all she had to give – was her freedom. Ten months of freedom traded for a life of financial ease. She’d buy a house where she and Melina could live. She’d be able to go to the market and buy enough food that she’d never feel hungry again.
Lucia pushed herself up from the couch and waddled to the bathroom for a washcloth. She padded to the small kitchen, filled the cloth with ice and lay down again, resting the ice pack on her forehead. The ice brought instant relief from the heat.
For nearly ten months Lucia tried to find the catch. But the only catch she’d ever found was the requirement of secrecy. She’d signed a paper promising that she’d tell no one anything about the surrogacy. The fine print stated that the penalty for blabbing was life in prison. Once it was all over, she’d be relocated and given a new identity. “Like a witness protection program,” Dr. Randall had said. The secrecy and relocation didn’t bother Lucia. Who was she going to tell? Melina was her only friend, but she’d only known her for a few months. Yeah, Melina would worry for a while, but Melina would forgive her when she showed up with wads of cash. And like she’d argue with being relocated from living in the streets to a place with a ceiling and four walls?
The doctors had answered every question she’d put before them. All except for one.
“Who’s the mother and father? I mean, for this kind of money, it must be someone famous, huh? Like will I carry the president’s secret super baby or something?” Lucia had never succeeded at anything, and she had to admit a strange thrill at the idea that she could be a part of something important.
“Or something.” It was the only answer given.
Without a straight answer from the doctors, Lucia’s imagination tried to come up with its own answer. She imagined she carried a clone baby made with JFK’s DNA, or maybe a super baby that was part Arnold Schwarzenegger, part Madonna.
But no matter how many scenarios she worked out in her head, they all felt wrong. For a reason she couldn’t explain other than to say it was a mother’s intuition, Lucia felt sure that the being inside of her wasn’t human. Or at least not entirely human. While the medical doctors that Lucia regularly saw had assured her that the severe morning sickness she’d endured would end when she started her second trimester, the horrid sickness continued, month after month. She’d also suffered horrible stomach cramping that Lucia thought for sure were contractions but which the doctors said weren’t. Lucia felt as though her body was trying to eject the baby out of her. Like it was a foreign object that her body wanted to expel. Lucia knew it was probably silly and irrational, but she was afraid of the baby inside her. Like what is a tiny baby going to do to you, Lucia? Worst it can do is spit up on you, she chastised herself.
Lucia had taken to referring to the baby as ‘the little monster’. She rubbed her swollen belly again and the being inside her kicked. The little monster kicked hard, or at least it seemed hard to Lucia. She’d never been pregnant before, so she had nothing to compare it to.
It kicked again, and Lucia drew her hand away. Just a few more days, little monster.
The ice had helped a bit, but still rivulets of sweat dripped down her sides. The little monster kicked again, but this time straight up into her rib cage. The kick was hard enough to force air from her lungs.
Lucia thought of the quarter million, and it eased the pain a little. Considering the lifetime pension relieved the discomfort quite a bit more.
Though she doubted the being she held inside her was normal, she could not deny the maternal feelings that nature had given her. She had no desire to try to keep the little monster, that was sure. But she didn’t wish it harm either. Whatever it was, she hoped it would be well taken care of.
With nothing else to do, Lucia had time to think. Maybe too much time. She thought about the ever-present armed guards milling around outside her door. When she first started her job as a surrogate, the guards had been all business and rarely talked to either her or each other. And at first, she thought they were stationed outside her door to protect her and the baby she carried.
But as the months wore on, they’d loosened up quite a bit. She heard them outside chatting with each other and laughing throughout the day. And they said ‘hello’ and ‘good morning’ to her when they saw her. One day she had moseyed outside to get fresh air, and she hadn’t gone more than ten feet when one of them came after her.
“Where ya’ going?” he asked.
“Just taking a walk. Need to get some air and stretch my legs.”
The guard looked back at the other and shrugged. “I’d like to let you do that, but we’ve got orders to keep you here.”
She’d thought about continuing her walk anyway to see what he’d do. But he tapped his rifle, and she returned to her apartment. She then knew that the guards weren’t there to keep her safe, but to keep her from running. And with the military component of the whole thing, maybe what she carried inside her was somehow dangerous. And if it was dangerous, what would they do to it?
But she wouldn’t be there to protect it. As soon as it was born, it would be taken away, presumably to its adoptive parents. And she, Lucia, would be relocated and given a new identity so even the little monster could never track her. Sometimes she was a bit sad that she’d never see it again. Never see the baby she’d taken care of for so long grow up. Never know what became of it. But then the little monster would thrust its tiny body against her belly, and her feelings of maternal concern for it would abate.
The ice was nearly melted. Her thick hair was wet with the cool water. Lucia tried to sit up but was wracked with a sudden sharp, shooting pain throughout her core. She’d been told that labor pains could be sudden and intense. But no one had warned her that she’d feel like she’d been split open like a gutted fish.
Lucia rolled off of the couch and managed to push herself up. She called out to the guards, but they didn’t come. My luck the one time I need them, they take a coffee break. She stumbled to the kitchen where the cellular phone they’d given her was on the counter. Another round of spasms seized her. Liquid ran down her legs as she reached for the phone. Lucia opened the phone, her fingers unsteady. She hit the sequence of buttons they’d made her memorize to call the doctors. She hit the wrong number more than once and cursed the tiny buttons. It seemed to Lucia that it would have been quicker to just dial a regular wall phone than mess with the cellular.
While she waited for an answer, another powerful contraction hit her and she screamed. Lucia fell to the floor, still clutching the phone. She landed in a pool of hot, sticky liquid. Blood. Lots and lots of blood. No one warned me about the blood. Her hand shook, but she managed to hold the phone to her ear. A voice on the other end said, “Yes, Lucia?”
“It’s coming!” she screamed. She let the phone fall as she grabbed at her stomach and writhed in pain.
Within a few minutes, a paramedic crew arrived. Lucia thought it odd that they wore surgical masks, and flimsy white papery suits covered them from head to toe. She could see only their expressionless eyes, their faces a literal mask. It was like they were dressed to handle toxic waste or something. What the hell is inside me? The sight of the medics in hazmat suits made her shake with fear.
They swept her up onto a gurney, wrapped a blood pressure cuff around one arm, put an oxygen mask over her face and stabbed her other arm with a needle to start an IV. They did all of this while rushing her out of her apartment and into the hot sun.
Lucia’s eyelids became heavy, her mind fuzzy. A sedative. Before she slipped off to sleep, she heard helicopter blades and a hot wind swept over her body.
Lucia’s eyes fluttered open. There was no way to know how long she’d been out or where she was, but her pain was gone. She blinked, but at first saw nothing but a very bright, white light overhead. She blinked again and through the slits of her still-heavy eyelids, she saw that doctors surrounded her. They wore the same paper hats and masks that the paramedics had worn. The steady beeping of a medical machine droned over the murmur of the doctors.
How many docs does it take to deliver one baby? Though her vision was blurry, she counted at least five. She didn’t know much about having babies, but she was pretty sure it didn’t usually take five doctors to deliver one. Panic seized her at the thought that perhaps her life was in danger. Maybe the little monster had finally ripped the hole through her belly that it had been working on for so many months.
Though only their eyes were visible, Lucia tried to focus to see if Dr. Randall was among them. He had seemed so kind. Surely he wouldn’t let anything bad happen to her. But she didn’t see Dr. Randall. She did, though, recognize one of the doctors. It was Dr. Sturgis with the steely blue eyes that Lucia had met all those months ago. Dr. Sturgis looked right at Lucia while the rest of the doctors had their eyes on her abdomen. Lucia wanted to see what they saw, but there was a drape stretched across her body, hiding her stomach from her view. Lucia wanted to ask if it was going okay and was the little monster healthy and would it be all right and go to a good home. But her mouth was as dry as a cotton ball. When she tried to speak, all that came out was a croak.
“She’s awake. Push more Brevital, stat,” said Dr. Sturgis.
Within seconds, Lucia felt herself being pulled down as if a hand of darkness had hold of her. She was helpless with drowsiness at a time when she wanted to be awake and alert to what was happening to her. The room was filled with the bloodcurdling screech of the infant the doctors had pulled from her womb.
They didn’t lift it over the drape to show it to her like they would have done if it had been a normal pregnancy with a normal birth of a normal child. Lucia didn’t need to see the thing to know it wasn’t normal.
Ordinary babies didn’t sound like that. Before Lucia fell wholly into the drug-induced darkness, she had time to form one last thought. I’m glad that little monster is out of me.
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