Prologue: RELIC by Theresa Danley

The anomaly caught the attention of NASA stargazers barely one week before the bright light interrupted their de-bate over what to name it. Gary Humphries, the stargazer who’d first detected it, insisted its sudden appearance from out of nowhere indicated an eccentric orbit and the dull lu-minescence of the object indicated a coma, albeit perhaps a very weak and fading atmosphere, but a coma nonetheless. He argued that a comet with severely diminished volatile compounds was still a comet and therefore it should be named after him just as all comets have been named after their discoverers.

Others argued the mysterious object was merely an as-teroid knocked wildly out of the asteroid belt, possibly hurled out from Jupiter’s gravity. It’s sudden appearance and near earth trajectory certainly drew interest, but as an asteroid, they argued it should be given its appropriate num-ber beside any name of Humphries’ choosing. But Humphries wasn’t satisfied with simply naming a small so-lar system body. He wanted his name on it, to forever be immortalized through a tumbling piece of space rock.

The debate had become quite heated, and highly sensi-tive instruments employed to settle the matter when the anomaly suddenly lit up. It wasn’t just any spark typical of a collision. This object suddenly glowed, brighter than any transient atmosphere typical of a comet. Instead, it could be likened to the sudden brightness of a supernova, but on a tremendously smaller scale. The observation came as a com-plete surprise. The light disrupted the instruments from de-tecting any ion or dust tails typical of comets but it was just as well. The debate over naming it dropped like a hot potato as scientists scrambled to explain what they were witness-ing—and what that might mean to planet Earth.

* * * *

Somewhere near Escabosa, New Mexico

The pitchfork flew erratically through the shadows, flickering within the orange dusk that filtered through the dry barn wood planks. The noise it made as it clattered against the fifty-eight Ford Tractor sent a chill down Samuel Livingston’s spine. Every nerve in his being screamed for escape as he scrambled through decades of dust layered on the floor. His arthritic knees punished him for his efforts and his jaw throbbed, dislocated at best.

He was living out one of those terrible dreams where he felt like he was running as hard as he could but was getting nowhere fast. He felt sluggish. He was aware of his wasted movements that propelled him no further, no faster. He sensed the danger close behind him. Just like the dream, he couldn’t seem to get away.

He didn’t get away.

That heavy hand caught him again. It was unreal that it had him and he knew this time, it wouldn’t let go.

“Don’t make me do to you what I did to Hadley,” a dark voice growled. “I don’t have the time.”

Samuel started to struggle just as a loop flipped over his head and drew tight around his neck, eradicating all the fight left in him. At the rope’s insistence, Samuel was pulled back to his feet. He tugged desperately to loosen the noose as the shadowy figure shifted to face him. Samuel didn’t dare look into those bloodthirsty eyes again. Gasping for breath, he could only focus on the blood-soaked sleeve where a fluke jab had just moments ago driven the pitchfork through the flesh of his captor’s forearm.

That stroke of luck had done little more than delay the inevitable.

“Now, I’ll tell you one last time. Get on the bucket.”

Samuel’s knees felt like cement. Just the thought of moving pained him but a jerk on the rope coaxed mobility out of them. The shadow man led him to the overturned bucket in the aisle between two box stalls. As he shuffled closer Samuel sought a way out but no opportunity pre-sented itself. Another jerk on the rope and he obediently stepped up onto the bucket.

The end of the rope flew into the rafters and slapped him on the backside as it flipped back down. The shadow tied it off. This was the end.

Samuel stood on that bucket.

Waiting.

Shadow man stood in front of him.

Waiting.

“Can’t you just let me go?” Samuel pled. “I won’t tell a soul.”

The shadow shook his head. “Can’t take that chance. You’ve said too much already.”

The shadow moved. Samuel winced but to his surprise, the man started walking away. “Where are you going?” he called.

The shadow paused and turned a half step. “I’ll let you finish this business.”

“What?”

Samuel clenched his fists if only to confirm that his hands had not been bound. That was the opportunity he needed--his chance for freedom. But surely his captor wasn’t so careless as to leave him with this escape. Samuel had never experienced such luck in his life.

“Remember Hadley?” the shadow asked. “He was clever, but I still found him. Keep that in mind, Sam. Hadley took me three hours holding a steady pace. If I have to catch you again, I’ll be sure to take my time.”

Samuel felt the blood drain from his face. His knees weakened. The rope itched.

“But I’m not going to worry about catching you a sec-ond time,” the shadow continued. “No doubt you’ll do the right thing.”

Samuel held his breath as the shadow turned back around. He swallowed hard and watched helplessly as that broad silhouette stepped out of the barn door framing an ominously bright star piercing through the bludgeoned sun-set.

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