Excerpt from The Culling Dark by Bettyann Craddock, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Culling Dark

by Bettyann Craddock

The Culling Dark
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    Sep 2000, 490 pages

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Mr. Bellamy looked around and took a step closer, "You mustn't say things like that! They're coming!"

Felipé continued to shake his head.

"But they have to come! They can't abandon us!" His forehead was a mire of worried wrinkles.

Felipé put his hand on his shoulder, "For whatever reason. TERRA is not coming. Kruseos is our world now. I'm not saying they'll never come, but right now we know in our hearts that they will not be here for a long, long time."

Mr. Bellamy was horrified, admitting by his look that he knew, as Felipé knew, that the madness had only just begun.

"But come," Felipé patted him, "We are men. Let me tell you of something that will thrill you beyond your wildest dreams."

When they finally made it to Stessel's office they were forty minutes late. Stessel was livid. He paced his office like a caged animal. Rogers sat in the corner controlling the recorder. There was something new in the office and both men spotted it at once. The commander's chair had been covered in red. Behind the chair on the wall had been tacked a flag. An agency flag. Only something was terribly wrong.

Instead of a green circle on a field of white with eight blue stars on the left, it had been altered to a red circle on a field of blue with one white star on the bottom. Red for Alpha, Blue for Beta, White for Gamma. The colors of their coveralls. Whatever hesitancy had been in Mr. Bellamy's heart over what he had been told disappeared in that moment, as did his slouch.

Stessel glared at them through his fury, "Mr. Bellamy, you were ordered to bring this man to me at once and that precludes you from tending to your own business before mine!"

Mr. Bellamy snapped to attention, "Sorry sir. I thought you wanted dinner first so I let you finish at your leisure before the interrogation, sir."

Felipé, standing at attention, swelled his chest with pride. He had always liked Mr. Bellamy. Now, seeing what a good liar he was, he loved him even more.

Stessel's mouth fell open, "Mr. Bellamy, no one said anything about an interrogation," he turned to Rogers, "Erase that entire comment," and he said to Mr. Bellamy again, "this is an interview. An interview, Mr. Bellamy."

"Yessir."

Stessel looked him up and down. He objected to the way the man was standing, bowed, as if ready to fly. He said, "Bellamy, wait outside. I want to speak to you afterwards. You will receive two demerits for your behavior."

Mr. Bellamy saluted smartly, "Yessir!" and turning on his heel, he left.

The nerve! What had he been doing? Oh yes, practicing sitting down in his new chair. That was what had infuriated him. He was all practiced sitting down for the interview, and they had been late. Obscenely late. He had practiced so much while he waited for them that he started feeling humiliated in front of Rogers.

Nevertheless, he did it now, threw his shoulders back and moved slowly, commandingly, hands behind his back towards the chair, stopping for a moment to look on the new flag long enough that the attention of his audience was forced to look there as well. He then sat down with great heaviness, feigning grief.

Perfect, he thought. "Perez," he looked over a notepad, "did you enjoy your little jaunt into the wild?"

"No, sir."

He glanced up. Felipé was usually hostile. Someone must have told him that he and his wife were to be separated. So now he was going to pretend to be sorry. He said, "This isn't the first time."

"No sir."

"You enjoy it out there, don't you Perez?"

"Yessir."

Stessel leaned back in his chair and tented his fingers over his nose, "Look at me Perez."

He looked.

"You may stand at parade rest."

"I prefer attention sir. I have jeopardized the mission."

Copyright Bettyann Craddock 2000. All rights reserved.

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