I received a digital copy of The Faith Machine by Tone Milazzo, courtesy of Storytellers on Tour, as part of the book tour, and today is my stop!
THE FAITH MACHINE BY TONE MILAZZO
GENRE: Science Fiction / Psychic Thriller
AGE GROUP: Adult
RELEASE: May 1, 2020
Welcome to the dangerous, clandestine world of ESPionage. Welcome to The Strip, where operatives on the fringe command teams of ‘Cards’: Agents cursed with subtle, specialized, and sometimes sloppy psychic powers. Dr Ken Park, Korean-American psychologist and spy, dares to lead six of these Cards. Together, they tackle esoteric threats the Department of Homeland Security cannot.
Park takes his team to Africa to retrieve the Faith Machine. Built by the Soviets to turn prayers into suffering, the psychotronic device fell into the hands of a demented warlord. Tragically, the mission fails and the madman slaughters hundreds of innocents while the machine burns.
They return to the States in disgrace, and into an ambush by the mysterious and brutal Casemen. Cut off from command and each other, the scattered agents rush to their safe house in the west. While spy agencies from around the world want retribution for the catastrophe in Africa. Park’s team outplays enemies left and right, while uncovering the true threat. There’s another Faith Machine, one destined to bring hell on earth.
Tone Milazzo is the author of Picking Up the Ghost, The Faith Machine, and the ESPionage Role-Playing Game.
Stories have always been Tone’s first love. When the first hunter told another about the one who got away, stories made us human. Stories lead to understanding. Fiction, religion, biographies, gossip, gaming, and history, it all goes into the slow cooker and out come stories.
To those ends Tone’s been around, professionally speaking. Marine, taxi driver, teacher, assistant to scientists, and coder. This breath of experience has given Tone a little knowledge about a lot of things, good and bad.
He lives in San Diego with his wife Melissa Milazzo (author of Time is a Flat Circle) and two dogs, all of whom are more capable than he is.
What Reviewers are saying:
“This one’s a whole lot of dangerous fun.” – Jonathan Maberry
“A captivating adventure jammed with characters who, though troubled, try to do the right thing.” – Kirkus Reviews
“If you’re in the mood for some fun, paranormally driven thriller spy-type action, check this book out. It’s a great read. ” – Chad A. Clark, GNHorror
To say the Colonial Motel was past its prime assumed it ever had one. Run-down, infested by a dozen kinds of vermin, and stuck between cities off I-94’s run through Indiana, the motor lodge was a good place to make a drug deal and a likely place to get robbed.
Which summed up Park and Ainia’s evening.
Dr. Ken Park sat, back against the bed, and stared at the lamp’s torn shade. He was no stranger to hallucinogens, but the woman’s psychic attack had sucker-punched him in the prefrontal cortex. His pistol lay on the stained carpet, empty and out of reach. Colors still pulsed and shadows twitched, but he’d straightened out for the most part. The trip felt like hours. The clock said fifteen minutes.
Sweat ran into his eyes as he crawled toward the open door after Ainia, his best agent. She’d chased after the psychic and her boyfriend. No telling what would happen out there if the woman’s card — jargon for psychic power — had set Ainia tripping too. The mission might be a wash. What mattered now though was her safety.
Ainia dropped into the doorway, curled in a squat, like a cat ready to pounce. She was dressed in a sports bra and shorts, hair cut short like a boy’s, body a tight coil of muscle, her life written across it in scars. Park knew most of the stories. None were pretty.
“Ainia,” he mumbled, “it’s fading. Just another ten–“
She closed her eyes and hissed.
He rose to his heels, hands up. “Stay calm, wait this out, and you’ll be fine.” An aggravated, hallucinating Ainia scared him more than the unexpected trip did.
She caught him looking at his gun. “Don’t bother. I’m fine.” She rolled inside, leaned against the bed, and covered her eyes. “Wouldn’t do you any good, even if it was loaded.”
He waited on the floor with her for a few more minutes, until the shadows stopped flowing. “I’m good now. How about you?”
She nodded. “Why’d you unload your gun? You should’ve been firing it.”
He gathered the pistol and empty magazine. “Those two were gone before I could draw. I didn’t want to risk shooting you.” He picked bullets out of the worn carpet, loading the pistol magazine with sweaty, shaking fingers. A round slipped out of his grip, arcing through the air.
She caught it and handed it back. “How sweet.”
He slid the magazine back into his pistol. “What happened to your shirt?”
“I tore it off, thought it was filled with bugs, hundreds of biters. In this place it might have been. Still, maybe the cops were right. Could that be some kind of aerosol weapon?”
He shook his head, stood, and jammed the pistol back into its underarm holster. “The cops didn’t know what they were dealing with. It sure wasn’t like any drug I’ve ever tried. I think the woman was the psychic we’re looking for. Everything went weird after she hit that snuff bullet.”
“Snuff bullet? I thought that was some kind of asthma medicine. What if she’s not psychic? What if it’s in the drug itself?”
“Then we’d be in a lot of trouble. Fortunately, cards are in people, not chemicals. It’s psychosomatic. Ingesting the drug just activates her card.”
The empty spot on the floor between their bags reminded Park of his failure. The bait had been too good. A ten-pound bag of sugar pills, pressed to look like Sudafed. The tweaker and her boyfriend had snatched it and run. “Shit. Have we ever had a mission go south so fast before?”
She stood and loosened up her neck. “Doesn’t matter. We fall, we learn, we get up, and try again.”
He checked himself in the bathroom mirror. His hair was stuck to his forehead with sweat. “I look like crap.”
She pulled a yellow lacrosse ball out of her gym bag and idly began rolling it back and forth between her hands with hypnotic grace. “At least we identified the target. I bet you’re glad we didn’t have the real stuff with us.”
He washed his face. “That’d be great if we were here to flood the market with dummy meth. But our mission was to evaluate the psychic. Now they’re gone, and I didn’t even get a chance to talk to her.”
“You think an addict is Project Dead Blind material?” She took her turn at the sink.
He peeled off his sweaty coat and shirt. “They deserve a chance, like everyone else. The new girl, Agent Gabby, she’s in recovery and has a lot of potential.”
The hotel phone rang. She stopped the ball, balancing it on the back on one finger. “Is that who I think it is?”
He shrugged and went to pick up the phone. “We won’t know until we answer will we?” He lifted the receiver. “Hello?”
“Hi, Dr. Park. It’s Exposition Joe.” He nodded at Ainia. She threw her hands up and stepped back. The chipper-voiced teen continued, “You ever heard of urban decay?”
“I’m…” Park sighed, bracing himself for another asymmetric conversation with Project Dead Blind’s precognate. “I’m aware cities aren’t exempt from the force of entropy. If that’s what you mean, Joe.”
“Kinda. More like the people who are all about it. They take pictures of ruined old buildings and post them online. Sometimes they break into places, like this water park in Indiana, Splash Down Dunes. It used to be an amusement park called Enchanted Forest. I guess it’s still amusing, if you think about it –“
“Are you saying our target robbed us, then ran off to an abandoned water park?”
“Something like that. When you go there, you’ll see what you need to see. Hey, I gotta go. Say hi to Ainia for me.” Joe hung up.
He put the phone back in its cradle. “Joe says hi.”
“Yeah. Great.” She rocked the lacrosse ball on the back of her hand. “What else did he say?”
“He told me about an abandoned water park near here.” Park powered up his satphone and called up the map.
Ainia flipped the ball over, snatching it in the palm of her hand. “‘Near here’? How does he know where ‘here’ is? He’s not on this mission. I don’t trust Joe.”
“The same way he knew the phone number to this room.”
“That doesn’t answer my question.”
He didn’t have an answer that would satisfy her. “But he’s never wrong. Let’s see this abandoned water park.”
She dropped the ball back into her bag. “If you’re lucky, the balloon animal guy will still be around.”
“I can make my own balloon animals,” he said, a note of defensiveness in his voice.
She cast a skeptical look in his direction, but reconsidered. “You probably can, too. Dork.”
Real Name: Ken Park or Park Hyun-Ki
Born: 1985 Centreville, VA
Lives: Washington DC
Appearance: Asian (Korean), black hair, black eyes, 5’7″, thin build
A spy before he graduated from sixth grade, Agent Park self-trained in sleight of hand, lock picking, information gathering, technology, and surveillance.
He came to Project Dead Blind’s attention after exposing his eighth grade math teacher for selling grades in an elaborate sting operation, which started with statistical analysis of data, and ended with Park averting a violent confrontation with the teacher and his three sons. He sealed them in their car with fast-drying epoxy.
Since then, I’ve groomed Park to be the field leader for the Office of Intergovernmental and External Affairs, as my knees weren’t going to be up to the job forever. I guided his education through a BA in Cognitive Psychology, a PhD in Abnormal Psychology as well as the best training the private sector has to offer.
Park is skilled and capable, but soft, maybe too soft for this work. I intended for him to be my successor, but I’m starting to wonder if his leadership has hit its limit in the field.
They cleaned up and changed–Ainia into blue coveralls and ball cap, Park into a black suit with clipboard in hand. The agents climbed into her pickup, orange in the yellow light of the parking lot. According to the GPS, the remains of Splash Down Dunes were an hour’s drive away. Night gave way to dawn as they pulled off the highway and parked by the gate.
A man on a dark green-and-black sport motorcycle in matching racing suit and helmet pulled into the parking lot, a hard-shell backpack strapped to his back. He circled around the lot, leaving the way he came. Ainia watched him go. “Didn’t expect to see a rice-burner here in Harley country.”
Park slid a pair of lock picks out of his belt buckle. “Maybe he’s looking for a way out?”
“Just cruising on by, that look suspicious to you?”
“Like he wants to be seen?” The padlock on the gate popped open in Park’s capable hands. “Sounds like every guy on a motorcycle.”
The agents wandered the park together, looking for what Exposition Joe said they needed to see. Weeds burst through seams in the concrete and asphalt. Despite their abandonment, the tangle of fiberglass tubes and water slides retained their cheery disposition. Bright primary colors retained their vibrancy; a touch sun-bleached on the edges. Marred by spray paint and scuff marks, the park showed telltale signs of skateboarder appropriation.
Ainia fished her lacrosse ball out of the coverall’s pocket and bounced it off a concession stand. “Sun’s up. Sure no one’s going to notice us out here like this?”
“They’ll notice. They won’t care. With a suit, clipboard, and the right attitude you can go anywhere. Watch.” He demonstrated by glaring at the horizon like it was late. “You’d be surprised where this expression has taken me. Having you along as a contractor– that seals the deal. Let’s point in case someone is looking.”
“There.” He pointed.
“Nothing. It doesn’t matter, just point with me.”
She aimed her finger halfheartedly with him.
“See? We look like professionals.” He grinned.
She rolled her eyes and wandered between a pair of concrete dolphin statues, one of which had “Suck your own dick” spray-painted on its side. She sized up one of the park’s taller slides. “How about I take a look from higher ground?”
Park nodded. “But be careful, this place is condemned.”
“Don’t worry. I’m a professional.” She jumped up on the side of a tubular water slide and scaled its twenty feet, swinging hand over hand as if she were on a set of monkey bars. “You know, because I’m wearing coveralls.”
She got to the top of the slide, outlined against the early morning light. “Here, let me point at something.”
Ainia pointed in the distance for a second before dropping her arm and squinting, then dropping to her belly, hiding.
Park watched her from ground level. “What’s up?”
“I hate to admit it, but I see a light. In the shelter on the top of those long red slides. Toss me the binos.”
He threw a small pair of binoculars up to her. “Sounds like a good place for a lab. Above the rest of the buildings for ventilation, no neighbors to see anything suspicious, pour the waste down the slide. I bet the pool at the bottom is disgusting.”
“Doesn’t look like a lab to me. The psychic, her boyfriend, and a lot of five-gallon jugs. He’s shaking one and its insides are burning.”
“That’s not good. They’re using the ‘shake and bake’ method to cook meth–throw everything in a bottle and–“
A series of loud pops interrupted him.
The distant lab erupted in a ball of smoke and fire.
Ainia dropped the binoculars down to Park. “I think our problem just solved itself.”
3 of Diamonds
Real name: Guadalupe Gutierrez
Born: 1993 Dallas, TX
Lives: Brooklyn, NY
Appearance: Latina (Mexican), brown hair, brown eyes, 4’10”, athletic build, numerous scars
Card: Acquired Savant Syndrome (Reflexes), Synesthesia, Migraines, Poor Impulse Control, Fidgety
Agent Ainia had an active, angry, and violent youth. As Guadalupe she had been a capable fighter, but something happened after a bender of destruction. Her third fight in as many hours sent her into a coma. Three days later, she awoke a different person.
This agent is convinced she’s the reincarnation of the Amazon warrior Ainia, from the Achilles myth. Ainia’s post-trauma fighting techniques follow no known martial art. Rather, she says Amazons simply “follow the music.”
Post-injury, Ainia exhibits the symptoms of mild brain damage. In addition to the aforementioned synesthesia, she is fidgety and carries a lacrosse ball to bounce off nearby surfaces in creative and challenging ways to keep her body busy.
Thank you to Tone Milazzo and Storytellers on Tour (@sot_tours) for giving me the opportunity to read this unique and quirky book!
Thank you for reading. ❤