The chase continues. Doug and Chris Scott fought their way through what they thought was a rogue virtual reality program,
but which turned out to be something much more frightening and unfathomable-a true alternative reality. On the way back to Hong Kong where it all began, they died in a plane crash and awakened in an empty universe. Their only company is the mysterious Grasshopper Man, who serves as occasional messenger and guide.
Another young couple falls into the alternative bittersweet nightmare, computer programmer Stan Brent and his mathematician wife Audrey, in this second book of The Grasshopper Man series. Trapped in what they come to call The System with them are colleagues Mary Wells, Luke Simmons, and Jacob Ellery. The mercenary computer guru Ann Crenshaw and her two assistants, Todd Richards and Brett Thompson, follow them into the trap. They are pursued through time and place by Indonesian pirates, battle their way across wartorn France, relive harrowing episodes from their own pasts, and endure other adventures in Nepal, Irian Jaya, New Zealand, the U.S., and other times and places. Their only help comes from the enigmatic Jane, who was sent in to rescue Doug and Chris and became trapped herself. But how long will she be there to help?
On the outside, four homeless Chinese children from mainland China are trapped in their own adventures, intersecting occasionally with the others in The System.
The storylines continue to explore the nature of Reality as they continually prove that
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Read an Excerpt
The Blue PlaneBook Two of The Grasshopper Man Series
By T. Austin Campbell
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2011 T. Austin Campbell
All right reserved.
Chapter OneWaikiki Beach, Spring of 1988
Stan and Audrey Brent looked up Waikiki Beach at Diamond Head and then out to sea at the sun as it toyed with the horizon, slowly slowly approaching the edge, and then sinking rapidly into the sea. They had been at Duke's Waikiki Barefoot Bar and Restaurant many times and had seen many sunsets, but they never tired of it. Moments like this made you believe in God. They were interrupted by the arrival of the cute waiter clad in aloha shirt and shorts delivering a Hula Pie to share, a Duke's special, which they'd dug into with relish. They rolled the sumptuous decadence across their tongues. When they finished, though slightly bloated, they walked down the steps to the beach and turned left toward Diamond Head. Waikiki Beach had certainly changed in the decade since their first visit during their honeymoon and they had spent less and less time there as the years went by. Nevertheless, for old times' sake, they always stopped there for a few days. They usually timed it for the end of their yearly Hawaiian vacations, but this time it was near the middle, a break between longer stops on The Big Island with its still smoldering volcanoes and Kauai with its luxuriant tropical plants. One reason they kept coming back was for moments just like this one, where they could walk hand-in-hand in the foam of the spent waves rolling in. They reveled in the warm trade winds, the sparkle of the last rays of sun on Diamond Head, and sighed contentedly as dusk descended.
Audrey noted the sigh but had to ask him, "Are you still writing code in your head, or have you finally begun to relax?" She glanced at him, still admiring his tall lean body after ten years of marriage, perpetually surprised at how strong he was despite spending all day at a computer. He needed a haircut, she observed in a wifely way, his dark brown hair was short but beginning to curl a bit over his collar.
"You know I'm always writing code!" Stan grinned, "But yes, I am beginning to relax." He put his arm around her and stepped farther in so the waves washed up nearly to his knees. Stan thought of Xanadu Systems in Laurel, Maryland, where he was a computer programmer as well as a systems analyst. He had written everything from word processing packages to wacko esoteric specialty programs. His thoughts flashed—very briefly and with a bit of chagrin—to the period in his youth when he had been a renown hacker, one of the very best at breaking into supposedly secure systems just for the challenge. When they wanted to, he and Audrey could mix business with pleasure as Audrey was a finite mathematician at the business college of the University of Maryland a few miles down the road from Xanadu. She was better at turning her mind away from work than was Stan, but on occasion he would notice her staring off into space and realized that she was playing the mind games required to decipher the intricacies of a complex formula in her head. They were a couple of geeks who had met in graduate school, gotten married, and had been working for about ten years. "And how about you? You seem to enjoy Hawaii even more than I do," Stan bantered.
"Lava beds, botanical gardens, tropical jungles, peace and quiet? What an exciting life we lead!" Audrey said dreamily. Her cornflower blue eyes sparkled and a small smile curved her lips. The last rays of sun brought out the red in her auburn hair as she pulled it away from her lightly freckled face. She too was tall and athletic. Neither looked like the geeks they really were.
"Oh I think a lot of people would like to be in our shoes. Some would probably even give a body part or two to be here!" Stan replied. Some young Japanese tourists came running down the beach, vacationing hell bent for leather, as usual. Stan and Audrey quickly sidestepped to get out of their way.
She sighed and smiled suggestively, "So ..., I'm tired, but not that tired. How 'bout you?"
"I must confess, I was thinking along those lines, as tired and full of hula pie as I am," Stan replied with a teasing leer.
They walked slowly up the beach to their hotel, The Royal Hawaiian, and had mai tais on the lanai overlooking the beach. Then they rode the elevator up to their room, undressed, and fell into bed. They snuggled and brushed their lips and....
Stan looked out the window of the plane at the beautiful green paradise known as Kauai. Small wonder Kauai was so green, he thought, recalling that the guidebook claimed that some areas had as much as 460 inches of rain a year! They could feel more of the shackles of their real lives—their work-a-day lives—falling off as they entered the small airport at Lihue, went through the maddeningly slow process of getting their luggage and rental car, and hit the road on their favorite drive in all the world. They headed north then angled west following the coastline. They succumbed to their hunger and pulled into the sprawling Princeville Resort and were soon having a light lunch of poke—a Hawaiian mainstay (pronounced po-keh in Hawaiian) which consists of seasoned diced raw fish, kukui nut, and seaweed—and luau pork sandwiches. The restaurant nestled in beautifully landscaped grounds above a lovely bay edged by misty volcanic peaks. They smiled at each other as they ate and held hands across the table on occasion, finally feeling truly relaxed.
They meandered the grounds for a bit, then continued their drive to the Limahuli branch of the National Tropical Botanical Gardens almost beyond the end of the road. Limahuli occupies an area where some of the first native Hawaiians settled. Despite being nerds and geeks at home, when they traveled they loved learning—broadening their interests and knowledge. They loved all the -ologies—anthropology, archeology, geology, ecology, and botany—and especially sought out sites with interesting civilizations, both primitive and advanced, and interesting geology. Some artifacts of the ancient settlement are still visible at Limahuli. The terraced gardens and ancient irrigation channels were being carefully excavated and restored. Stan and Audrey thought that there was no more important site on the Hawaiian Islands than Limahuli because it displayed many of the reasons Hawaii was unique. Hawaii is the most isolated land on earth, a range of unique animals, birds, and insects evolved here to pollinate the unique plants that had evolved in the isolation. For example, the plant tourists called "cabbage on a stick," alula, looked nothing like its ancient ancestor, a bellflower, and would have become extinct if botanists had not rappelled down a cliff face to pollinate the last remnant plants and begun cultivating them at Limahuli.
The brochure told of a Hawaiian tradition that young warriors, to prove their manhood, hauled large logs to the peak of Mount Makana in Limahuli, set them afire, and sailed them out to sea on the trade winds. Unfortunately, the practice had been discontinued because of the dangers to gardens and people! Stan thought, "Wow, I'm glad I didn't have to do that to impress Audrey; I'm not sure I'd have managed it!"
Stan and Audrey were nearly alone in Limahuli while hordes of tourists nearly stopped traffic on the coast roads trying to glimpse humpback whales. Stan was scornful of the ignorance of the whale watchers. Humpbacks did not even evolve in Hawaii but merely migrate there annually to bear their young in the protected waters among the volcanic islands. On the other hand, tourists ignored a true Hawaiian: the rare nene—pronounced nay-nay—the Hawaiian goose, which could only be found in Hawaii. When Captain Cooke arrived in Hawaii, there were probably 25,000 nene; by the 1950s there were only 30 geese left. Thanks to a concerted breeding and protection program, it was estimated that there were about 500 now. Ahhh, the scourge of Disney!
They walked arm-in-arm around the grounds for a while, following the trail and reading the leaflet that described the various plants and their uses by the early Hawaiians or the problems caused by the invasive species introduced later by Western settlers. Then they drove south to the famous Smith Family Luau, a tradition for their first night on Kauai. The gates opened about 5:00 o'clock with truly bad mai tais or beer. Stan and Audrey would have happily arrived at two minutes to six, just in time for the imu ceremony—the digging of the roast pig out of its pit—but they had learned to arrive earlier to secure a table with a nice view of the singing and dancing that followed the feasting. They watched the pig, actually two pigs tonight, being exhumed and carried ceremoniously to the kitchen for preparation for serving along with a potpourri of traditional Hawaiian dishes and tourist favorites. As they waited their turn to approach the buffet, they talked about the time that they had stumbled across Jurassic Park—at least the entrance to Jurassic Park—back in the jungle not far from the Smith family compound. They had soon learned from some waiters that sets for this now-famous movie were being constructed all over Kauai.
They arrived at their condo in Poipu rather late but were met cordially and given directions to their lodgings and the key—and a pile of pool towels they probably wouldn't use.
The next day they had a nice breakfast of tropical fruits, broiled fish, and Danish pastries at the Sheraton, then drove the brief distance to the Allerton branch of the National Tropical Botanical Gardens. The land had successively been home to a Hawaiian Queen, a sugar plantation magnate, and most significantly an artist and an architect. Its gorgeous cove with a small hill surrounded by a creek was made famous in the opening shots of the old TV show "Paradise Island." The Allertons had bought the property from the O'Brien Sugar Cane Plantation to build a summer place and had picked perhaps the most beautiful spot on the island. It had been used in too many movies to count. In respect to the beautiful setting, the Allerton family had built a modest cottage belying their wealth, but lavishly landscaped the area with tropical plants, not just from Hawaii or the South Pacific, but from all tropical areas.
Stan and Audrey rode with some other tourists down the hill to the gardens and then set off by themselves to enjoy the beauty. The rest of the tourists went up to the waterfalls and the statuary. Stan and Audrey, who had long ago realized that they were basically loners, walked down to the beach to gaze at the beautiful cove and dream about owning it, before they started working their way toward the plantings.
"Excuse me," said a voice behind them. They turned and noticed a rather heavyset Hawaiian woman standing on the front porch of the Allerton Cottage. She had a hibiscus flower in her hair and wore a red and orange muu muu that matched the flower. "Haven't I seen you people around here before?" she asked.
"Well, we have been here a few times over the years," Audrey replied.
"Have you ever been inside the house?" the woman asked.
"No, we thought someone lived here, the librarian I believe."
"True, but that's me. So, how 'bout a quick tour of the inside?"
Stan and Audrey jumped at the chance and excitedly followed the woman through the carved door. The house was still quite well appointed, as if at least some of the original Allerton furniture remained. They thought with envy how great it would have been to live here, even for a while. "In another reality," they both thought. The woman showed them around and took them back to the entry door where two men, introduced as Fred Gwynne and Wolf Hartung, stood talking and apparently waiting for them. The men had friendly smiles and wore the obligatory aloha shirt, khaki shorts, and low work boots. Gwynne had the build of a weightlifter. Hartung, on the other hand, was lean and athletic and his eyes tended to regard them as if running scans and processing them through a computer.
"Fred and Wolf are going to the Allerton Retreat area and we thought you might like to go along with them. Very few tourists have ever seen it."
"I never even knew there was such a place. Sure, if it's not too much trouble, we certainly have the time. Thanks."
Stan and Audrey looked at each other and smiled in anticipation as they followed the men outside to a nearly new Land Cruiser. The men opened the back doors and waited while their guests slid into the leather seats. When the doors were closed, they noted that the glass was darkly tinted and guessed that it was virtually impossible to see into the van from the outside. They thought nothing of it at the time, their minds filled with the opportunity to see the Allerton Retreat. In another situation, they would probably have wondered why there was a glass partition between the front and back seat. The van took off at a fast and bouncy clip. They could feel themselves going uphill rather quickly. When they reached the top of the hill and leveled out, the windows suddenly turned opaque.
"What's going on?" Stan called out in alarm, "Excuse me, what's with the windows?"
There was no answer. Stan automatically tried the door; it was locked. The van suddenly stopped bumping and accelerated rapidly as it pulled onto a smooth road.
Audrey said, "We're on a major road. I thought we would stay on the grounds. There is something weird about this!"
Stan rapped on the partition, and asked loudly, "What's going on? Where are we going? We thought the Allerton Retreat was on the grounds of Allerton Gardens."
Getting no answer, he banged the glass with his fist and said, "Where are we going? This is beginning to frighten my wife."
A voice finally came through a speaker in the ceiling, "Don't worry, just sit back and relax. This place is rather secret and we take precautions to keep it that way. It's not too long a ride."
"Secret?" Stan said, "Is it some kind of atomic test site?" He banged his fist on the seat and sat back as he realized there was nothing else he could do.
They rode along for perhaps another half-hour, slowed and turned right onto another rough road along which they bounced for perhaps ten more minutes. They stopped at the bottom of a hill. The Land Cruiser's door opened and the two men stood waiting, their faces expressionless.
"Get out," Hartung ordered.
The couple looked around. They were in front of a long Quonset™ hut. They could hear the hum of air-conditioners.
"Just relax and follow us," Gwynne directed.
"What are we doing?" Stan asked through clenched teeth. "This doesn't look like a retreat."
"We are at a new facility which we think you will find very interesting. Just follow us."
"What are you going to do with us?" Stan asked, trying to keep his voice from shaking.
"Relax," Gwynne said, "you're not in any danger. We're just a courier service. After you've done what we need, we'll return you to Allerton."
Stan thought quickly, but could see no option but to go with them and see what they had in mind. He might have been a bit more heroic if Audrey had not been with him, but he worried about her safety. These men looked benign enough, but there was a very sinister underlayment that scared him.
"Okay, lead on."
The men led them through a door with a security lock and then down a long hallway. They passed through a metal door into a small conference room. The men motioned them to sit and then left the room, closing the door behind them.
"What the hell is this?" Audrey said, trying to modulate her slightly squeaky voice.
"I have no idea, Audrey, but they obviously want us for something." Stan laid his hand gently over hers. They looked around furtively as they waited.
In about ten minutes, a man in a business suit came in. His hair was very dark but his skin was quite pale, as if he spent the majority of his time indoors. His suit and his briefcase looked expensive. He had a sharp featured face with very intelligent, very cold, grey eyes. He dropped his briefcase on a chair. He sat across the table from the couple and looked at them intently. "You are obviously not at the Allerton Retreat," he said mildly. "I don't want you to be worried. We want you to do something for us. If you do it satisfactorily, you will be released, I assure you."
"We've been told that before," Stan said, "but if you've been abducted, it's rather hard to believe everything that your abductors tell you."
Excerpted from The Blue Plane by T. Austin Campbell Copyright © 2011 by T. Austin Campbell. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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