Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Wednesday Promo- Alayna Williams

Science and magic make strange bedfellows.

In DARK ORACLE, Tara Sheridan swore off criminal profiling after narrowly escaping a serial killer who left her scarred for life. By combining Tarot card divination with her own intuition, she must help an intense federal agent find a missing scientist who has unlocked the destructive secrets of dark energy. The agent, Harry Li, draws her out of her self-imposed exile and back into the world.

The story requires a balance of science and magic. A scientist has gone missing in a particle accelerator explosion, raising the possibility that mini black holes have been generated...and devoured him. There's something mystical about that kind of power, the power of unseen dark energy and gravity that underpins the majority of the universe.

Tara also deals with the unseen, in a mystical way. As an oracle, formerly part of an ancient order called Delphi's Daughters, she sees beneath the surface using the magic of Tarot cards. She swore off the cards until Delphi's Daughters have asked her to help locate the vanished scientist in the wake of the particle accelerator accident, drawing her back into the shadowy world of telling the future.

Like Arthur C. Clarke said: "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." I enjoyed creating a mashup of science and magic that pulls from both hard science and the fringes of ancient mysticism. Taken to the extreme, both magic and science do behave similarly - mysteriously and unpredictably.

Alayna Williams has an MA in sociology-criminology (research interests: fear of crime and victimology) and a BA in criminology. She has worked in and around criminal justice since 1997. Although she does read Tarot cards, she's never used them in criminal profiling or to locate lost scientists. More info on her books can be found at


As a criminal profiler, Tara used science and her intuitive skill at Tarot card divination to track down the dangerous and depraved, including the serial killer who left her scarred from head to toe. Since that savage attack, Tara has been a recluse. But now an ancient secret society known as Delphi's Daughters has asked for her help in locating missing scientist Lowell Magnusson. And Tara, armed with her Tarot deck, her .38, and a stack of misgivings, agrees to try.

Tara immediately senses there is far more at stake than one man's life. At his government lab in the New Mexico desert, Magnusson had developed groundbreaking technology with terrifying potential. Working alongside the brusque but charismatic agent Harry Li, Tara discovers that Magnusson's daughter, Cassie, has knowledge that makes her a target too. The more Tara sees into the future, the more there is to fear. She knows she has to protect Cassie. But there may be no way to protect herself--from the enemies circling around her, or from the long-buried powers stirring to life within....

Something shifted inside the bag. Frowning, Tara turned it back up, tore it open to look inside. A piece of clear plastic poked into view like a prize in a Cracker Jack box. She reached in after it, fished out a small laptop computer covered in a plastic zipper bag. Jackpot.

She took it back to Magnusson's office, placed it on the desk before Harry.

"Where did you find that?" Harry's eyebrows crawled up his forehead, and he grinned.

"In the dog food. Magnusson evidently wanted whoever would feed the dog to find it."

"And no one doing a cursory search would have seen it." Li opened the greasy zipper bag to retrieve the computer. He punched the power button, drummed his fingers as it booted up. The screen blinked on, demanding a password.


Tara scanned the office, turning on her heel to fully absorb it. This place was where Magnusson had done his real work.

For the first time, Tara could feel the force of Magnusson's personality. Where much of the rest of the house was strictly utilitarian, as evidenced by the mismatched dishes and lack of interest in decor, this was his nest, feathered in books, paper, and bits of debris that spoke of who he was. A worn rug muffled her steps underfoot, stained with coffee. Maggie's dog bed was tucked in the corner, strewn with soggy rawhides. As Maggie didn't seem the type of dog to be far from her master, it implied Magnusson spent more time here than he did in his bedroom. Magnets cut in the shapes of cartoon aliens studded the file cabinets, holding notes of mathematical formulae. A chipped coffee cup on his desk proclaimed he was "#1 Dad," and held an assortment of very expensive fountain pens and mechanical pencils. No wonder he'd eschewed the cheap, government-issue ones from work. A half-evaporated energy drink sat open on the desk beside a paperweight carved to resemble a happy Tiki god. A telescope perched before the window was aimed somewhere over the tree line. Tara wondered what Magnusson thought, at night when the moon and stars crossed its glass eye. She wondered if Cassiopeia was visible this time of year.

Tara paused to examine a poster of the earth at night tacked up onto the rough plaster wall. Taken from a satellite, it showed the bright illumination of cities and power sources, leaving the rest of the planet to its soft, sleepy darkness. Dark and light, the chiaroscuro was exquisite, the energy and black seeming to seethe together as a living thing, full and empty at the same time.

Her fingers traced over the titles of Magnusson's books: Black Holes: The Armpits of the Universe, A Unified Theory of Quantum Physics, Field Theory Equations, The Tao Te Ching. She picked the last one up and flipped through the pages. The philosophy of dark and light, again. Cryptic notes were scribbled in the margins, some legible, some not. She paused at a dog-eared page and a trio of passages Magnusson had underlined:

"Spokes are tied together form a wheel. Yet, it is in the hollowness that the usefulness of the wheel depends.

"Clay is sculpted to make a vessel, but it is in hollowness that the usefulness of the vessel depends.

"Just as we take advantage of what exists in the physical world, that which can be touched, we should recognize the usefulness of nothingness."

Beside these, Magnusson had scribbled: "How to detect that emptiness, that immeasurable and fluid darkness?"

She thought back to the articles she'd skimmed in Magnusson's file, about his research interests in dark matter and energy, in the vast portion of the universe that was unseen. Her eyes flickered back up to the poster. If he was right, then only a small proportion of matter-light matter-would be visible, like the city lights. The rest of the universe, like the earth, would be in darkness.

Had Magnusson come too close to this darkness?

A car engine roared and died in the driveway. Hearing the clomp of boots and a key in the lock, her head snapped around. Harry rose from the desk, unholstered his gun. Maggie bolted toward the door at a dead run, collar jingling and claws scraping on the hardwood.

Maybe she was a better guard dog than they thought. Tara followed Maggie and Harry to the entry.

A young woman pulled her keys out of the lock. Her jaw-length hair was dyed jet black, with blue highlights. She wore a long black coat two sizes too big for her that smelled like patchouli. Her waffle-soled black combat boots flopped unlaced, snapping against the floor as she walked into the foyer. Kohl-rimmed eyes were fixed on Maggie, who bounded up to her and pressed her paws to the girl's shoulders. The girl giggled, wrapping her arms around the dog.

"Cassie?" Tara asked. Though she looked nothing like the file picture of the clean-cut girl beaming beside her father, the resemblance was unmistakable: the same startling blue eyes, the thin frame.

"Who're you?" The girl stepped back, eying Tara and Li with suspicion.

"I'm Tara. This is Harry. We've come to find your father."

"Do you work with him?"

"No. We're not with the military. We're with Department of Justice."

Cassie took a deep breath, and her lower lip shook. "He-"

She took a step back and tripped over the dog as a gunshot rang out. The leaded glass of the kitchen window shattered, and Tara lunged forward. The girl, the dog, and Tara fell together in a tangled pile as the plaster foyer wall blistered open above them.


"Alayna" is also known as Laura Bickle, the author of Embers from Pocket Juno.


Christine Young said...

Sounds like an interesting story and an interesting lady.

Alayna Williams said...

Thanks, Christine! Tara was a lot of fun to write - a heroine with a history.

Keena Kincaid said...

The book sounds fascinating. I've loved the idea of mixing science and magic since Bab 5 introduced the TechnoMages. Good luck with the story.

M Pax said...

Secrets of dark energy ... that interests me oodles.

Best of success to you, Alayna.

Nancy Lennea said...

Ooo...great excerpt. I love the dog-food hiding place!Sounds like a wonderful story. Good luck!

Dinah Menil said...

You know, you can find San Francisco criminal attorney here

Alayna Williams said...

Ah, the B5 technomages! I remember them fondly. :-)

The dark energy portion of the story involved a lot of fun research. I learned a bit about particle accelerators, the risk of mini-black holes being generated, and the amount of the universe that's actually dark matter. Very exciting stuff! I have to confess that research is one of my most favorite parts of writing.