The Lily Cafe is thrilled to present author Jeremiah Ukponrefe and his debut science fiction novel Hive!
Author: Jeremiah Ukponrefe
Publisher: Punching Sideways Publishing
Publication date: March 7, 2021
Genre: Science Fiction
The Collective military has spent its years destroying the last remnants of The Hive, an alien force which devastated the old world, bringing forth the apocalypse , and ushering a new age of warring factions.
Alexander King is a Collective soldier who during a mission monitoring the outskirts of Zone 6, discovers evidence that The Hive’s presence is stronger than commonly believed. With his new information it becomes vital that the Collective acts fast, for if they don’t the world will be brought to it knees again in a second wave of destruction that will end humanity forever.
Astonishing, complex, and character driven. Hive is the first in a saga that will leave you begging for more.
CHAPTER ONE: The Market
Alexander King stood tall while the citizens held whispered conversations along the muddy streets. He did not bother to eavesdrop, as their words were nothing of importance. The glimpses that he did catch contained nothing but complaints.
The common peoples’ clothes had no relation to cohesive style. Wearing variants of shirts, pants, and older shoes, marked with tears and grime. Alex saw it as a pathetic display compared to his pristine military outfit, which projected his position within the Collective. His torso and pants matched in a sleek gray, while his boots were marked with a harsh black, muddled by small specks of dirt. His face was protected by a black mask that hid his identity, with the exception of his brown eyes.
The market was built on dirt, its upper layer slowly transforming into mud caused by the light rain that conquered the sky. Carts and stands were made mostly of wood, used for buying, selling, and trading goods that were needed for the common people. Food, clothing, liquids, trinkets, and other miscellaneous items dangled in view for all those who passed by, tempting them with a taste of remnants from the old world. The sellers got their merchandise with the same methods: thievery. Prior to Collective occupation of the dead city, the abandoned buildings had been raided, with the citizens then turning to claim that everything that they had was their own.
“Guard duty. We have to get out of this soon,” Alex said.
“Nothing wrong with it. It’s what we’ve been asked to do,” Takeo countered.
He stood a head taller than Alex and had a muscular body mass nearly double the size of Alex’s. Takeo’s clothing was the mark of a Collective soldier: a gray jumpsuit. He had slanted, hazel eyes and buzzed black hair. The two men differed not only in size but also in weaponry. Takeo held a pump-action R-90 shotgun, Alex an AK-47—both weapons of the old world.
“I’m bored of doing nothing,” Alex said.
“We’ve been given a great position,” Takeo replied.
Alex rolled his eyes. Takeo never one to indulge in his valid complaints, never willing to speak an ill word of the Collective’s inner workings.
Alex kept alert for illegal activity. As he scanned the busy market, he caught a glimpse of the inner city’s skylines—where he wanted to be, where gray clouds shrouded tall buildings, until he discovered an act worthy of suspicion.
A young boy in his mid-teens not far from Alex’s own age handed off a steel case to the first man in a long line of buyers.
“Three o’clock,” Alex said.
“We should call reinforcements,” Takeo stated.
“Just follow my lead.”
Takeo followed Alex’s footsteps while they marched toward the stand, leaving their designated spots and improvising a new position, forcing the common people to diverge.
Alex intervened within the line, cutting off the man whose hands were within inches of taking possession of the case. The young seller retracted the object while his eyes turned fearful.
Two others stepped forward within the confides of the stand, including a middle-aged man and woman, both showing the same scheme of expression as the boy held. The trio had the same loose brown hair and tan skin. A family.
“What are you selling?” Alex asked, deepening his voice with the hope that it would cause intimidation.
The citizens within the line scattered.
“You tell me,” Alex directed, confronting the boy.
The boy swallowed. “We are selling nothing but our own goods. Things that we own. Not stolen.”
The man put his hand on the boy’s shoulder, ushering him back to the woman.
“What’s inside the briefcases?” Alex asked.
Within the family’s stock Alex spotted six cases of similar caliber. He raised his weapon toward the boy’s head, wishing that instead the gun was a plasma weapon.
“It’s guns!” the adolescent blurted.
“I’ll call help,” Takeo chimed in. “The illegal selling of firearms has a harsh punishment.”
Alex turned to tell Takeo that help would not be needed when he discovered a new threat. Citizens with guns had their barrels pointed toward the Collective duo. Alex counted eight. All of them held measly pistols except for one BN-10 whose glowing, blue plasma sphere within its barrel was ready to cause death.
“Drop your weapons,” a citizen demanded. His voice, untrained in the art of authority, was shaky like his hands.
Both Alex and Takeo tested the boundaries, doing nothing to honor the request.
Alex spoke first. “If you do anything to harm us, I hope that you have a plan to leave the city because—”
“Drop!” Takeo warned.
Alex immediately hit the dirt. His action was followed by a screech then an explosion that drilled to the core of the rebellion’s forces. When he looked up he saw the outline of a Mecha suit floating in the air, propelled by blue flames on its back, and the threatening image of its arms being used as weapons.
Takeo and Alex quickly recovered. Takeo whirled to face the family of rebels while Alex released the safety on his AK-47 and sent a barrage of shots toward the rebel holding the BN-10. The man fell instantly withoutretaliating, signaling his lack of experience in combat.
The remainder of those who opposed the Collective attempted to disperse, but many of them fell due to the rain of plasma bullets.
Alex shifted his priority toward the initiator of the conflict. The father had withdrawn a revolver, but with a quick shot from Takeo he was slain.
“Grenade!” Alex screamed.
Takeo complied with his suggestion and tossed the black object within thetarp. A plume of white smoke came from the sphere, and the coughs of thewoman was heard. The boy made no sounds. He had escaped.
Alex pivoted and spotted that the adolescent had moved away from the stand, the opportunity to escape presenting itself in the chaos. But it was one that he did not take. Instead he opted to stare at the body of his father.
“Stay there!” Alex yelled, “Place your hands in the air!”
“You just killed my parents!” the boy screamed.
The boy advanced with the intent to defend his family’s honor, but Alex ended the sentiment, lifting the boy by his shirt collar and slamming him against the silver metal of an alternative stand.
“They should not have been involved in illegal activity!” Alex carried his voice for all the commoners to hear, to see who held true power. Not small sprouts of rebels. The Collective.
“I’m going to kill you!” The adolescent claimed while his knee embedded itself within Alex’s stomach. Alex threw him to ground, deciding that he would tolerate nothing less than complete submission. He imprinted his legs within the child’s face, torso, and legs. The others would need to learn. It would amount to rumors of his brutality, which in turn would add to his aura
“Go ahead. Tell everybody you know what happened here.”
Tears traveled down from the boy’s eyes, taking ownership of his lower face, dripping to his chin, and continuing on to the floor.
“We just wanted to protect ourselves!” he screamed.
“From who? You’re safe here,” Alex reminded him with annoyance.
“You’re an idiot!” the boy screamed back.
Takeo joined in his punishment and struck the boy with his foot, conjuring a stream of blood from his nose. Within Takeo’s grasp was the mother, not bothering to struggle against his authority.
“I’m not talking about anything human.”
“Trust me, I would rather be fighting it than watching you.”
“Go or you will have the same fate of your father.”
“Son!” his mother screamed, capturing his attention, “Let’s go.”
The adolescent struggled to stand. It was clear that he wanted to speak. As soon as he was able to rise, his mother took him, and the duo fled, crying in one another’s arms and showcasing their lack of bravery.
Those who were watching had returned to the schedules of what their day contained, but it was disingenuous as their eyes consistently slipped toward Alex and Takeo.
“That was awesome!” Patton yelled. Alex turned and found his unofficial protege leaping toward him with boundless energy, making the mop of orange hair atop his head bounce with movement. The boy of eleven had a smaller frame then others his age. His freckles were visible to the naked eye, and his deep-green eyes looked upon Alex with utter awe.
“Another day on the job,” Takeo claimed.
“That punk needed taken down.”
“Needed to be taken down. Remember your proper grammar or nobody will respect you,” Alex reminded him, annoyed that a child of his age still struggled with forming proper sentences.
Patton nodded to indicate his understanding. “Why not kill him?” he asked.
“Why does this kid ask so many questions?” Takeo wondered.
“I don’t know why I asked that,” Patton said.
“What do you think we should do next?” Alex asked Patton.
Patton pondered. His face morphed into that of a thinking man. His eyes crunched together, his teeth bit lightly into his lip, and his eyes narrowed.
“We should go and make sure we record what he looks like and also write down everything he did.”
“I guess it’s because if anything bad was going to happen with us, then he would-get away with what he did.”
Before Alex could evaluate the answer, his thought process was interrupted by their savior within the Mecha suit.
“Alexander, you are needed. Commander Ives would like to speak with you.”
Alex became worried. He had either done terribly wrong or exceedingly right.
“Congratulations,” Takeo said.
“No. If somebody calls you, it means a big deal. It has to be good,” Patton claimed.
Alex smiled. He valued the boy’s innocence.
“Can you take care of this sector?” Alex asked Takeo.
“Didn’t you just see me with a shotgun? How great my aim is? You just took care of a fourteen-year-old. You’re the one who needs help,” Takeo jested.
“Take care of this old man,” Alex demanded of Patton, who agreed to do so with excitement.
Alex then turned and headed toward Ives, rifling through his memories and searching to find a moment that he had failed the Collective. All he was able to recall were the attacks he had made on citizens without backup, increasing the city’s already shaky tension, but each time it was a necessary act.
Guardians Gate separated the lives of the citizens and the Collective, comprised entirely of wood. Just tall enough that one could not vault over it with the sheer will of their body. It stretched as far as Alex’s eyes could view, lacking proper defense and containing only signs that were hammered crudely into the wall displaying messages that said the wall was off limits for those who had not been granted access and to anyone other than a duo of guardians who controlled the sliding gate.
Alex was allowed entrance, and his vision came to confront the spectacle of the city. His feet left muddy ground and stepped onto hardened concrete road. The stands in the market were replaced with the skyscrapers of the old world where outbreaks of greenery interrupted the flow of gray ground. Vehicles that had once taken up space in the middle of the road had been pushed to the sides of the street, creating an open mid-lane aisle. The vehicles varied in type but all held the same exterior: rusted bodies and broken windows.
The barren street was occasionally interrupted by a passing vehicle or group of military occupants wearing outfits identical to Alex’s. They were heading toward their jobs for the day—some having the privilege to leave the city’s mammoth walls.
When Alex arrived at the barracks he projected an image of servitude. He smoothed his uniform and narrowed his eyes to remain watchful for suspicion. Human or otherwise.
It was an old building with many floors used for the intent to bed guests of the city. When he first came, he had been shocked at the quality of the bedding. He had grown used to nothing but hard floors while finding slumber under the protection of a tent. But it had not bothered him. Men of the Collective lived important lives fueled by purpose, not comfortable ones.
A pole stood in front of the building. On it was a white sheet that contained a blue circle: the mark of Collective territory, waving within the light wind.
Alex stepped into the building illuminated by flickering light that ran on the unreliable source of solar power. It switched off completely when the sun had not been in consistent abundance. When he reached room 108, he knocked.
“Come in!” Ives boomed.
Alex complied and entered.
Ives’s gray hair had grown longer since Alex had last seen him. It had once been buzzed like most men of the Collective, but it had now been styled so that the sides remained short. But along the middle it was spiked slightly. His once clean chin had sprung a coarse beard, and his green eyes showed exhaustion, accented by dark circles underneath them.
The room was bare except for a sleeping roll in the center and two desks standing beside one another, which lived in different states. One had stacks of paper jumbled messily into piles. Maps, diagrams, and paper clippings, relics of the ancients, all lived on the left desk. The right showed the heights of the old world. A silver disk projected a blue hologram of a Hub that flickered and turned. Its surface was cracked, with vile liquid dripping down its surface. The origin of the Hive’s power.
“What happened in the market?” Ives asked.
“There was a family selling illegal guns. I pursued them.”
“No, I had Takeo with me.”
“It was a family. The father, but the wife and son lived.”
“Good. You’re being promoted to commander,” Ives continued.
Alex felt an instant surge of relief. He had finally been granted a position that he deserved.
“Here,” Ives said, tossing a small, flat hexagon toward him.
Alex caught the object, and upon brief inspection he realized that it was a helmet. A gift that all commanders received to cement their status.
“Try it,” Ives urged.
Alex placed the hexagon on his neck, feeling a slight sting while its claws dug into his neck, bonding with him. He willed the helmet to take its true form. Black metal fiber sprung from the origin point and came to protect his entire head. The only visible part of his identity were his brown eyes.
“The amount of radiation rises and falls all the time. I’m not a scientist. You figure it out,” Ives stated while his finger imprinted on one gray earpiece and taking a conversation with the other.
“Any choices for your squad?” He asked Alex, refusing to acknowledge the apparent changes within the restricted side of the city—an area that was riddled with radiation from the Hive that prevented the landscape from being Collective soil.
“Takeo. I would also like—”
Ives placed his hand in the air to silence Alex. “You get one choice. We have a new transfer for you from Zone 5.”
Alex kept his facial expression tight so that he show outward disappointment. Patton would have been the perfect subordinate. He held great potential, and with another commander the boy would be raised as nothing but fodder.
“Your new private’s name is David Merlin. He’s in the armory. Meet him. Tell him from now on you’ll be hunting Hubs.”
Alex was given a ride from the personal escort of Ives. The escort took unconventional roads to arrive at the armory with speed, probing Alex with questions on how he felt about being promoted to commander. He was both afraid and excited, but he shared only his excitement.
The armory was within the heart of the city where layers of the many occupancies within the environment were on display. The Collective took the forefront. Flags with their symbol were placed in strategic locations and waved among buildings and checkpoints, acting as a reminder of who held control. Some had been transferred from the old world, many had been created anew. The new flags were made of looted white materials on which the blue circle of the Collective had been painted. The flags of the old were created using the power of machines, pristine and accurate in their designs.
Heaps of hardened gray substance lurked in various areas, reminding all those who set their eyes upon it of what had befallen the world: a failed invasion by an alien force.
The citizens had left nothing but chaos when they controlled the city. Corpses were left on the ground due to petty squabbles, the citizens’ only legacy.
The armory had three wings, two of which extended to the left and right. The third stretched backward. It was a single floor with a flat roof, a simple external design that did not match the greatness within.
The inside of the building had been cleared for Collective activities. Directly forward was Research and Development—Alex’s destination.
Within the building were various compartments. Some had been boarded up with wood. Those that had been were not watched by Collective military. The expansive weaponry of Zone 6 was guarded with lazy contempt.
Alex was annoyed. Then remembered he was a commander.
He approached a man who slumbered in a chair. His jacket was unbuttoned and his torso spilled openly onto his pants, avoiding the expectation of it being constantly being tucked.
“Wake up!” Alex demanded.
“Who are you?”
“A commander. You would be dead if I were an enemy. Stay alert!” he warned.
From the corner of his eye Alex could see that the others who had been sent to watch the weaponry perked up, shifting from laziness to awareness. This made him wonder what else he could accomplish with his efforts.
Research and Development was the largest compartment in the armory. The theory of its existence was that the structure had not been completed when the world fell, leaving it empty prior to Collective reoccupation. It was a perfect state to create new weapons using remnants of old ones. Some who worked within it structured inventions together, others acted independently. Sparks, fires, paper charts, holographic images, hustling bodies—all played a role within the place, centering around large tables acting as bases where technology could be taken apart and resembled to forge new creations. Most of them led to nothing important.
To find David, Alex had nothing but a physical description. He was told to find a man in mid-life with dark skin.
“I can help you with anything you need,” a high voice from behind offered. The man matched the dark skin that was required, but his skinny frame and old age left Alex worried. Plus, his brown eyes communicated kindness, an useless asset in their upcoming missions.
“In complete honesty,” the kind man said, “I’m searching for a minute off work, and you looked lost.”
“I’m looking for David Merlin.”
“That would be me.” David extended a gloved right hand and shook Alex’s with a limp grip.
“I’m Alexander King. A commander. You’re joining my squad.”
“I didn’t think that I would have to join one,” David muttered.
“You’re not military?” Alex asked with disappointment. He wanted the strength of Takeo on his side, not the uncertainty of a private.
“I … well, yes. I technically work within it, but I came here to do this,” David stated, pointing to the innovative events within the room. “I am best suited here.”
“The Collective sees things differently.”
“And I’m not questioning their judgment. I’m just conveying information,” David stated.
“The amount of resources put into all this is a waste,” Alex claimed with a scoff.
“I don’t mean to offend, but you’re incorrect,” David said.
He led Alex down to a table with nothing on it but a blue circle wrapped within the confines of metal claws. A useless artifact.
David’s eyes darted around the room prior to pressing a button within the middle of the object, supposedly activating it. Nothing came from it but a spark.
“That’s supposed to impress me? That will do nothing in a firefight,” Alex said.
“I’ve kept it a secret for a reason. If I can develop it further, I—”
“Forget about it,” Alex interrupted him.
“If you saw the next step,” David stuttered. His hands picked up a glowing, blue crystal sticking out of an organized toolbox that was at the far end of the table. “This is an impulse crystal.”
Alex looked to him unimpressed.
“It’s the source of power for EMPs,” David explained.
“Focus on learning combat. It’s all that matters now.”
“What makes you sure?” a man asked. “The Collective thinks human development is of importance.”
Alex turned to see that the eavesdropper was an elderly man. His deep-green eyes were projecting dangerous curiosity. Alex held his tongue. Speaking ill of the Collective could have him removed from his newfound position.
“My loyalty belongs to the Collective. I want what’s best for us all,” Alex said to the newcomer.
“Should belong to yourself,” the man replied.
“Who are you?” Alex pushed, desiring to know the identity of one who outwardly defied the Collective.
“An engineer. Innovator. Many things.”
“I’m asking for your name.”
The man paused. His eyes squinted, and he coughed as a reaction to the simple question. “Connor East. Officer.”
“Oh, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have been—”
“See you soon,” Connor promised. Then he turned away, released a second cough, and returned to the sea of diverse workers in a rushed exit.
“Have you seen him before?” Alex asked, suspicious of Officer East’s lackluster dedication to the Collective.
“The only information that I’ve acquired is he’s a new transfer from Zone 4.”
“It makes sense he doesn’t understand. Zone 4 is in the middle of nowhere. Here we’re constantly under the threat of attack. You need to learn how to protect yourself and our squad.”
“I’ll be sure to find a way.”
“How many times a week are you training?”
“I’ve spent the majority of my time here.”
“Spend it there.”
“Noted,” David said as his hand returned back to his pathetic invention.
“What are you making?” Alex asked, irritated by David’s lack of focus toward his message.
“They’ll exceed anything seen that came before it. I believe these crystals will cause an enemy’s weapon to turn off.”
“You believe? It doesn’t work, then.”
“Your lack of progress will be reported.”
“It would be best to wait.”
“These impulse crystals. They’re rare and it’s not well known that I have one within my inventory. Once my invention’s complete, nobody will be bothered by the fact that they were used.”
“You not allowed to use these?”
“Come with me.”
Alex turned and shot David a look of disgust, angered by the dishonest rat given to him as an underlying. David followed without further complaint.
Officer East had not gotten far as he walked between the lines of innovation on the tables, making small compliments to the creators.
“Officer East!” Alex called.
“Tell him of your crimes,” Alex demanded, forcing David toward confession.
David staggered with a reluctant stride. “I’ve been working on a secret project, but it’s for the overall benefit of the Collective.”
“Tell him what it is,” Alex said.
“It’s a shield,” David admitted.
“Innovation. Impressive,” Officer East said.
Officer East’s positivity set approval for David to continue speaking. “It uses impulse crystals to—”
“Impulse crystals? Illegal. Confiscate them,” Officer East snapped.
“Of course. How should he be punished?” Alex asked.
“Your subordinate. Your choice.”
“I want you on the training ground seven days a week,” Alex said, turning to David. “That’s what will save us. Not your inventions.”
Excerpted from Hive by Jeremiah Ukponrefe, Copyright © 2021 by Punching Sideways Publishing.
About Jeremiah Ukponrefe:
Jeremiah Ukponrefe is a Vancouver based author and stand up comedian. He has written articles for The Runner, The Reel Anna, and Envie Magazine. His debut novel Hive is releasing March 2021, the first of The Arcane Volumes Series. As a comedian his style is a mixture of clever observations with a subversive darkness, all performed under a veil of innocence. He has performed in the Comedy Ring, Rick Bronson’s House of Comedy, and Yuk Yuks. He is really hoping this comedy thing works out.
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The author of this book, Jeremiah Ukponrefe, retains all rights to the excerpt published above, which may not be copied, reproduced, modified, sold, or distributed without the author’s express permission. To contact Jeremiah Ukponrefe to request permission to utilize the above excerpts, please send your inquiry to Kat via the Contact page.
Thank you so much, Jeremiah!