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Archive for September 18th, 2013

darklullaby_facebook_webAt a tavern one Friday night, astrophysicist Gabriel Diaz meets a mysterious young woman. Captivated by her beauty as well as her views on good and evil, he spends the next several days with her. After a while, however, he begins to notice a strangeness in her…especially the way she seems to take pleasure in toying with his conscience.

The young woman, Kamilah, invites him to Rize, Turkey, where she claims her family owns a cottage in the woods. In spite of his heavy workload and the disturbing visions and nightmares about his sister’s baby that is due to be born soon, Gabriel agrees to go with her.

But nothing, not even the stunning beauty of the Black Sea, can disguise the horror of her nature… In a place where death dwells and illusion and reality seem as one, Gabriel must now come to terms with his own demons in order to save his sister’s unborn child, and ultimately, his own soul.

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Reviews:

“Mayra Calvani is a masterful storyteller… Dark Lullaby is complex and compelling…” –Habitual Reader

“Dark Lullaby is an atmospheric paranormal horror that grips you from page one and refuses to let go until you’ve raced, breathless, to the end.” –ePinions

“Dark Lullaby is a page-turner. A horror story from the top shelf! You’ll love it.” –5 stars from Euro-Reviews

“This is a terrific horror…” –Harriet Klausner

“Dark Lullaby will capture you with its rich descriptions, its exotic location, and the need to uncover the dark secrets hidden within its pages.” –Cheryl Malandrinos, The Book Connection

“I loved this story, which started as a romance, then quickly evolved into a spine chilling horror, transporting you back to a land where folklore legends, based on truth are alive, and unimaginable creatures walk the earth.” -Susan Keefe, Amazon Reviewer

“…this story is exactly the kind of creepy tale that’s given me a new reason to keep the light on at night.” -Relasped Catholic

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Excerpt

 

Late that night, sipping red wine on the second-floor balcony after a mouth-watering meal of barbequed fish, Gabriel was overwhelmed by the feeling of impending doom.

He gazed at the woods surrounding them. Far away from city lights and civilization, he had never experienced such perfect darkness before. Only the full moon illuminated them with its clear silver light. His eyes turned upwards to the sky and he held his breath. There, crossing the southern sky in all its splendor, was the Milky Way. An arm of it, anyway. Layers upon layers of stars created that milky effect. Never before had he seen such a magnificent, clear sky, not even in Arizona or New Mexico.

“Look!” Kamilah leaned forward, pointing with her finger to the woods.

And for the first time, Gabriel saw the little lights.

This was no trick played on his vision. There they were, going this way and that with uncanny rapidity, to and fro, making a little witch’s dance in the distance, as if they were electrons and neutrons trying to collide inside an atom. Unpredictable, erratic, volatile.

“Do you believe me now?” Kamilah quivered with excitement.

“The lights are real, no doubt. But your explanation of them is something else. Fairies? What did you call them—cin? Spirits of the forest?”

“That’s what people here believe. You know, two years ago a team of foreign scientists came here to study these lights, but they weren’t able to find any explanation for them. They were trying to compare them to similar lights seen in the mountains of Peru. The Peruvian villagers, though, believe them to be aliens. Spiritual beings from another world.”

Gabriel remained silent as he studied the strange phenomenon. For a moment the lights  vanished. Then they re-appeared.

Kamilah began humming a soft melody.

Gabriel felt goose bumps rise on his arms and legs. That music…. He listened, entranced. He began to feel sleepy.

“Stop singing,” he said.

“I did.”

He could still hear the lullaby, though the sound had now turned very distant. But it was no echo. It felt as if something deep within the forest itself sang.

“I’m going to take a closer look,” Gabriel said, standing up with the glass of wine in his hand.

“No! Don’t bother them! Sometimes they don’t like the intrusion. They might get mad.”

“Don’t be ridiculous!” He was surprised at the sudden anxiety in her voice.

“I mean it!”

“You’re such a superstitious fool! I’m going to have a closer look.” He downed the rest of the wine and put the glass on the floor. A protesting Kamilah followed him.

“You don’t know what you’re doing!” she kept saying.

Soon he was outside striding to where the lights hovered. For somebody who had felt so ill this morning, his body felt marvelously supple and strong. The mountain air was cold, but his limbs were infused with an inner warmth, a warmth that wasn’t just physical, but also came from his intellect. Gabriel needed to know what these lights were. He needed to understand them. He couldn’t really explain his fervor to comprehend.

“They’re gone,” Kamilah said.

His pulse raced. Midway down the clearing he halted, his eyes searching. Darkness enveloped him. Then he saw them again, right in front of him at the edge of the woods, as if they had moved closer in order to greet him.

He approached them, his pace quickening with each step until he was practically underneath the magical light dance. He had to bend his head back to look at them. He wasn’t aware of Kamilah behind him or of anything else. The trees, the grass beneath him, the cottage…everything disappeared. He was alone with the twinkling magical lights.

The lights seemed to lower themselves closer to him, the pinpoints dancing right above his eyes. Immobilized by the thrill of it, he was overcome with palpitations. He forced deep breaths, while never moving his eyes from the lights.

Once again a gentle, lovely lullaby reached his ears, distant at first, and then closer and closer, until the sound became deafening, and he had to cover his ears with his hands.

“Go away! Leave him alone! He’s mine!” Kamilah shouted behind him, anguish and misery warping her voice into an inhuman rumble.

The lights began swirling around his head. He felt his mind swimming in light, immersed in it. There was no feeling of malevolence, but there wasn’t benevolence either. He tried to define the emotions involved, but couldn’t. He lifted his hands and tried to touch them, but realized there was no matter to touch. His hands went through the lights as if going through a spectrum. In this illumination, oddly divine in nature, everything around him became visible with absolute clarity, as if the sun had abruptly risen and washed the world with iridescent white radiance. He had the sudden, bizarre feeling that the lights were trying to send him a message.

The lights vanished suddenly.

Absolute silenced reigned. Only Kamilah whimpered softly behind him.

He was stunned. He turned around slowly, unable to see her. When his vision adjusted to the blackness, he tried to speak, but couldn’t.

Kamilah was sitting on the grass with her legs tucked under her, her hands covering her face. Finally she rose.

“Why are you crying?” he asked, his voice shaking.

She threw herself at him and cried, hugging him like a lost waif.

“What’s the matter?”

But she cried harder, squeezed him harder.

“I thought they would hurt you!” she wailed.

He wrapped his arms around her, instinctively responding to her obvious fear and pain.

“I’m fine,” he murmured, staring in wonder at the darkness.

“What happened? What do you feel?” she asked, drawing away from him, her eyes pleading and probing.

“Nothing happened. I feel…. I can’t really explain. It’s indescribable.”

“But what happened when the lights covered your face? What did you feel? What did you hear? I need to know!”

“I cannot explain my feelings right now. Nothing happened. The lights…” He was at a loss.

“What did they say?”

“Say? The lights didn’t speak.” But he wasn’t a skeptic anymore. He didn’t have the right to mock her. He was awed, and deeply respectful of the unknown. All his beliefs had come tumbling down. He was unable to explain with his five senses what he had seen or felt. Yet it had been real, there was no question about that. He instinctively knew it had been real, and he had to accept that. The experience had involved other senses beyond the accepted five ones. Different concepts and ideas swirled in his mind, concepts and ideas which until now he had deemed impossible. Words like ‘spirit world’, ‘psychic’, ‘sixth sense’ raced through his mind as quickly as the dance of the lights.

“Are you sure? You didn’t hear anything?” Kamilah insisted.

“I’m sure.” The warmth had left him, and he felt very cold now. “Come, let’s go back inside.”

Together they crossed the clearing, Gabriel’s arm around her shoulders, Kamilah’s arms circling his waist.

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Crypto_sm

Title: Crypto

Genre: Mystery/Adventure

Author: James Stone

Website: None

Publisher: Twilight Times Books

Purchase on Amazon

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Prologue

 

Moscow pedestrians forced to walk past Number 2 Lubyanka Square generally do so on the other side of the street. It is not that the walkways are better on that side. It is not that the view is better. It is simply that citizens of Russia understand from the depths of their souls that the Russian Secret Police are hazardous to their health. Home to the Russian Secret Police for almost 100 years, the Lubyanka is the seat of contagion, a place to be avoided at all times and under all circumstances. Its current incarnation, the Federal Security Service, FSB, wasn’t believed to be any different from its predecessors.

The normally minimal traffic had been further reduced to the vanishing point by darkness and a snow storm. This was even more so on the small street that ran behind the Lubyanka. No one witnessed a black ZIL limousine turn in at a narrow portal, curtains drawn for privacy. And another. And another.

The parade of quiet limousines disgorged, one after the other, a flow of equally quiet men who slipped into a doorway manned by guards who needed to see no identification. The quiet men made their ways to a top floor cloak room where they divested themselves of their overcoats. An astonishing array of braid and brass emerged. Generals abounded. There were some bear hugs of greeting, and some good humored banter, but they were mostly subdued, out of character for these normally demonstrative men. They waited, grouped together along lines of affiliation, and talked quietly. The director had not yet arrived.

An aide appeared and beckoned them into the adjoining conference room. He indicated that the director had entered the building and was on his way up. The men looked around and counted noses. They could be sure that those already present constituted the totality of the gathering. The director would not have arrived otherwise.

The conference table was in the shape of a long U. Cards were in place for each person. The director’s seat was at the head. The choicest seats were along the outside, at the extremities. The worst seats were on the inside. Those unfortunate to occupy the inside seats felt that they were in a fish bowl. People overlooked them from every direction. They felt especially vulnerable from the rear.

Each arrival looked with mixed curiosity and apprehension to see where he was placed. Some swelled with satisfaction. Others were stabbed with dismay. Those favored naturally felt that their positions had been mandated by the director. The others tried to tell themselves that the director had nothing to do with it, that the cretin who set up the table was at fault. None questioned their positions aloud. They stood at attention behind their appointed chairs.

The director was one of the most powerful men in Russia. As the head of the FSB, he controlled all overseas espionage, including an unknown number of exceptionally trained assassins. He also controlled all domestic intelligence and counter intelligence. Following time honored practice, he had set up a variety of sub-organizations, each with its own head, each intensely jealous of the others. The director balanced each against the other, thus keeping them mostly away from his own throat. Then too, there were always the assassins. Hence, the anxious readings of the entrails of a freshly slain conference table for omens of the future.

The director strode into the room and took his seat without a word. There was a general scraping as the others seated themselves. The director cleared his throat and spoke to no one in particular. “Comrades, the President sends his greetings. He asked me to tell you he appreciates the way in which you are carrying out the business of keeping our homeland safe.”

There were polite smiles and nods. They recognized the opening ploy and flowed with it. The director’s gaze scanned the table and settled on a small, elderly man at the far corner of the table. “Comrade Alyushin, what can you tell us about the American Situation?”

The assembled group looked at Alyushin, the Director of Planning and Analysis, with wooden expressions. They tended to treat him and his staff with contempt. His group was widely viewed as a pasture for those who didn’t have the good sense to retire when they should. However, he and the director were old compatriots, so they would give him a polite hearing. Alyushin removed a pipe from his mouth and spoke quietly to the director as though they were the only two in the room.

“The Americans have severe internal political and economic problems. Their lawmaking bodies keep switching parties, and their current president is widely viewed as having little international affairs sense or strength. Their economy is in shambles, only slightly better than the Europeans. Their obsession with global warming, and other things they call ‘political correctness,’ has made them vulnerable to terrorism and increasing dependence on foreign energy and other natural resources.

The group as a whole seemed to become more alert and more focused on Alyushin. A thinking man might not know where this was leading, but would be sure the director was responsible for the direction. A prudent man would watch and listen carefully.

Alyushin continued, “In short, it appears the Americans are in the worst shape since just before the ‘Great War’ and are basically paralyzed internationally.”

The director looked around the room. “If I have understood this presentation correctly, we have to contend with a country that is seriously weakened, and a president who is not in a position to respond internationally. Does that conform to your understanding?”

There were general nods around the table. No one was willing to disagree until he knew the name of the game.

The director turned to a General of the Army. “Please report on the combat readiness of the Army.”

“Highly satisfactory, Comrade Director. Regular combat divisions are at full strength. All are equipped with the latest combat weapons. Morale is high, especially in the division that recently completed an exercise.”

“Did you use the new cryptographic equipment?”

“We did indeed. It performed flawlessly.”

The director nodded his satisfaction. “You might explain this new system to the rest of the group.”

“Yes, comrade.” The general appeared to gather his thoughts. He began quietly. “What you are about to hear has been one of the most closely guarded secrets of Russia. Until the recent maneuvers, less than a hundred people knew even of the existence of the system. It went by the code name ‘Solid Ice.’ Its concept is no less grandiose than the total security of all Russian communications, from those supporting our diplomatic missions down to the lowest radioman in a rifle squad.”

Murmurs rolled around the room. The general continued, becoming more animated. “I can see that the significance of this breakthrough captures your imagination. With total communications security, we will be able to conduct the most sensitive diplomatic activities without fear of exposure. We will be able to exclude all outside intrusion into our affairs. And, best of all, we will be able to prepare for any military action without revealing the associated troop and logistics movements. I foresee the day, not long distant, when the despised U.S. National Security Agency will be put completely out of business.” The general basked in a round of general applause.

A man in civilian clothes, whose applause had been more polite than enthusiastic, leaned forward and cleared his throat. “How long distant, Comrade? What is the nature of this new miracle, and how fast can it be fielded?”

The general looked modest. “Not really a miracle,” he responded, “just the genius of our mathematicians and physicists. You see, since before the Great War, encryption has been based on the fact that any communication can be represented by a sequence of numbers. Further, the number set can be limited to ones and zeros. Scramble the numbers according to an algorithm known only by the sender and receiver, and the result is difficult to read. Not impossible, until a recent advance by our mathematicians. Our encryption is now unreadable by any practical method, even with the most advanced computers expected to be available in the next decade.”

The man in civilian clothes spoke again. “Assuming I accept that the messages are unbreakable, what prevents someone from watching radio traffic between units and inferring what is happening?”

“Another of our advances. Our new radios hop frequencies at very high rates, so they don’t stay on one frequency long enough to be detected. The same algorithms used to encrypt the core message are used to control the frequency hopping, so it’s doubly impossible to see who is doing what and where, or even that anyone is doing anything.”

“Next,” said the civilian, “how do the systems ensure command and control from the top to the bottom?”

“There, we’ve copied the American concept of combat net radio. Each unit, at whatever level, has its own network. The commander at that level is in his network and also in the network of the next level up. And so on, to the level of the prime minister. Also, we’ve put in a twist that allows higher levels to override all lower levels and take direct control.”

“Next,” said the civilian, “when will the new system be completely fielded?”

“Twelve months. That includes not only the new combat radio, but also all communications by any element of the Russian government. All will use the new master encryption system.”

“Impressive,” said the civilian. “Two final questions. You mentioned ‘practical methods.’ What about impractical methods? And how did the funding for such a program sneak through?”

The general flushed slightly. “It is theoretically possible, given enough computing power, to break any encryption. However, the computing power to attack our new encryption is decades away.”

The civilian stared at the general for a long time. The silence lengthened painfully. At last the civilian murmured, “You are certain? Absolutely certain?”

The director chose to step in at this point. The lack of love between the civilian and the general was well known. “As certain as anything in an uncertain world,” he said briskly, looking around the room. “To answer your other question, no one in this room except me knows how the funding was ‘sneaked’ through.” He turned to the general, eyes cold. “Have the new system fielded within the year. Fully.”

As if on cue, the door behind the director opened, and his aide entered with an arm load of folders. He began distributing them. They were dun-colored and marked “MOST SECRET.” Each folder had the name of a department, or organization, inscribed in the corner.

After the aide had left, the director looked around the room again. No one had opened his folder. “These folders describe projects each of you is to set in motion. Each of you is to return to his organization and began work immediately. Completion is to be one year from now. If you have problems, surface them immediately. No excuses will be accepted a year from now.”

The director abruptly stood and left the room. The others sat for a while wondering whether the meeting was over, wondering also what this new project might be. Finally, someone gathered sufficient nerve to leave. The logjam broke, and the parade of ZILs began quietly carrying their anonymous cargoes into the night.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dr. Stone has a Ph.D. degree in electrical engineering, and numerous international certifications in computer security. He has worked at NSA, NASA, and the Department of Defense in various capacities, as well as having been a professor of engineering at a major university.-He recently retired from engineering and plans to devote himself to writing.

Dr. Stone is originally from Arkansas, discovered his wife while at the University, married her while in college, and has never regretted a moment of their lives together. They currently live in Arizona, have two grown sons (one with a Ph.D. in computer engineering and the other is a clinical psychologist and director of a clinic at a major university medical college). Between the two of them, there are five grandchildren, three of them triplets.

 

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