(Spiral Worlds, #1)
Publication date: October 18th 2022
Genres: Adult, Science Fiction
The road to hell is paved with good intentions.
The Series Story
Shadow is a reluctant god with a broken mind and a death wish. He used to be Thomas Astley-Byron, an affluent young screenwriter whose creativity and idealism saved a world from the brink of collapse. Together with Henry Nowak, an AI expert, Tom created heaven on earth by inventing a Jungian simulated reality that helps humans confront their dark sides. The benevolent manipulation platform turned the two unelected leaders into beloved gods, but now everything is failing. The worlds suffer as a sentimental Tom descends into his own personal hell, becoming the embodiment of everything he despises and a shadow of who he used to be.
His journey from optimistic, joyful Tom to a gloomy Shadow is paved with heartache and sinister interference from emerging technology. Humans and bots fight for his heart, but their aims differ: some want to own it, some to dissect it, and others to end its foolish beat. Estranged from the love of his life—the activist poet Nathan Storm—Tom fails to realize the biggest threat comes from within. None of the sticky stories that steer his life end well.
Now, a young goddess—Estelle Ngoie—has been appointed to replace him, and unlike Shadow, Stella takes no prisoners, and her heart bleeds for no one.
Who’s pulling on Shadow’s heartstrings? Are their intentions malign or benign? It’s all a matter of perspective, and Shadow has none left.
The Series Themes
An epic tale spanning across six days—one per book—and forty past decades of life lived across ten worlds and two universes.
Weaving hard sci-fi elements with social commentary and queer romantic suspense, Spiral Worlds explores the nature of consciousness and how it’s connected to a not-so-secret ingredient—story. As software consumes the world, intelligence is nothing but the appetizer; the human heart is the main course.
There is no black or white in this story about a contrast-making machine.
No one should live past hope, and he was ready to die. The girl screamed as he walked away, death struggling to cull so much life, and so her agony lingered, and so did her screams.
Another voice roared: the avenger he dragged away from the crime scene as she raged and kicked and screamed. Her wrath was his grail; its cost impossibly high.
Chapter 1 – Resurrection
PRESENT DAY — 24 JULY 2068
DAY 1 — 8 AM
Thump………thump, thump……thump, thump…thump, thump thump, thump thump. No! Nooo!
Stella brought the suicidal God back to life, and his complete lack of gratitude made her jaw clench and her neck hurt. Such a lack of respect! Shadow should be happy she’d fixed his mistakes. Instead, he paced around the dark digital void looking lost and devastated. So typical of the old heart.
His slumped head and shoulders failed to hide his natural gifts—all limbs, and height, and a strong, lean constitution supremely carved to embody graceful power. A grace that had ultimately hatched his fall from power.
Shadow’s affront affected her divine posture, and she needed to look her best, as she intended to seduce him right from the start. He was her trophy, and she was there to claim all of him, but the romantic fool believed in serendipity, so she had designed their first moments to be magical. She’d planned every conversation topic, ensuring it showed her best qualities, which was hard to do because there were so many good ones. But he wasn’t talking; he wasn’t doing much of anything. Such a waste of time–time she couldn’t spare.
Nothing about his current state was abnormal, but she’d expected death to have snapped him out of his never-ending misery. She’d hoped for a hug or at least a faint smile, but he wasn’t even making eye contact; if he did, he’d find out how beautiful she was, and then everything would change, she was sure of it. No one could resist the youthful glow of her deep dark skin or the nuanced curves of her athletic figure. Like all others, he’d fall captive to her beauty, and then he’d become a slave to her witty intelligence…of course. She shrugged, confident he’d soon come to his senses.
Pacing in front of her, Shadow struggled to breathe, each attempt shallow and fast. Raising the palms of his hands over his heart, he pressed his chest where his lover, Thorn, had shot him at close range. Then he held the medal he carried on a chain around his neck, a gift from the poet he called his soulmate, Nathan Storm. He closed his eyes, taking a deep breath, and for a moment, the panting stopped.
Stella stood straighter, dismissing her competition and the stiffness of her body. She’d also shower him with gifts as soon as she got a chance. Storm and Thorn were old news, broken creatures tainted by a terrible reputation. She was his match; a generous, vibrant heart and a Goddess.
“I… I’m alive?” he repeated in a broken voice for the fourth time in less than a minute. “Thorn… Where’s Thorn?”
“This is getting boring,” Stella said, flicking her long silver-white hair over her shoulder. Her kinky hair was twisted into impossibly fine braids, each one smooth and straight and as bright as the full moon. “We don’t have time for this.”
“Who are you?” he asked, gasping loudly. He stared down at his chest, probably looking for the missing wound. For him, time hadn’t passed; he’d just been shot in the heart, and it likely still hurt.
“Spiral Worlds’ Goddess—your replacement. The platform needed a working human heart with a strong beat and a will to live. I’m a considerably superior upgrade.” She cringed. Those weren’t the exact words she’d planned, but he was getting on her nerves and ruining the perfect moment. Look at me! You must look at me. Then he did, and nothing happened—no fireworks, no smiles, no awkward fidgeting, and most frustratingly, no hint of red touched the cheeks of the bashful God, famous for blushing from even the slightest attention set on him. She placed her hands on her hips. Are you kidding me?
“My replacement? Where’s Harry?”
Stella wasn’t looking forward to the next few hours. She could flood his mind with everything that had happened, but she was sure he wouldn’t be able to cope with the devastation his death had caused. Harry, the other God, was dead, but she had brought back Twist, his digital twin. She was good like that: super-proactive, and immensely generous. That’s what people said Up Above, in the real world. Earthlings liked her a lot, and her approval ratings had skyrocketed since she’d promised them eternal digital life.
She sighed. “You’d better sit down.”
Stella transformed the digital void into a coastal seascape, and they stood on a sandy beach facing each other. The sea breeze frolicked with his unruly dark hair, and he scratched the tip of his nose, tickled by a strand dancing in the wind. He’d feel at home there. Tom—Shadow’s biological twin—used to live by the sea. This place was supposed to be the setting for their first romantic moment, but he had to delay their unavoidable chemistry by immediately asking about his dead friend. Now she had to explain everything, and he wouldn’t take it well.
In an instant, she replaced her silver catsuit with a long, flowy, turquoise dress and sat on the sand with her legs crossed. She wasn’t a big fan of Holizien turquoise; other colors better suited her skin tone. Still, it represented the highest level of human values, for now… And that immediate association avoided her having to spell it out for him. After all, narcissistic self-praising was beneath her godly status.
“Come.” She tapped on the sand to her side, and he sat next to her, kicking his boots off and pulling his knees into his chest. “Before I start, I want you to know I brought them all back: Twist, Storm, and Thorn. They are xHumans now, like you. I did it two years ago when I first became a Goddess.”
“You…brought them back?” The worlds collapsed inside his hazel eyes, and she was caught in the magnetic pull of his sorrow.
She shook it off, grabbed his arm and squeezed it. “Wait… Just. Wait. As I said, I brought them back.”
She’d forgotten how expressive he was. His eyes had no shield, and for a second, she got lost once again in all the drama unraveling within them. He held his breath, and she was sure his heart had stopped beating, waiting for her response.
“Yes…your ex-boyfriend, your lover and your best friend all died because of you.” There! I said it. It had to be said, so she did it quickly and got it over with.
He stared at her blankly, processing her words. His skin was coated by tears that caught the light as they gathered over his quivering upper lip. She wondered if he was going to shatter into a thousand ceramic pieces. He could be her negative: his skin so pale, and his hair so dark. She rolled her eyes. Here we go again! He’s such a cute, melodramatic God.
Shadow sat quietly, and his gaze drifted to the sea as he fiddled with his medal. Stella waited for him to speak, but as the minutes passed his tears dried up, and his eyes became empty and numb.
“Aren’t you curious about what happened? How they died?” She pulled on the sleeve of his white T-shirt, but he didn’t even blink. “Your ex killed your best friend.”
Shadow’s head collapsed between his knees as he hid it under his arms. “Stop! I beg you.”
“Anyway, to cut a long story short, the people you love suffered and died, all because you struggle with life. It’s all your fault.” He needed tough love. Everything else had failed, but maybe she’d gone too far… “Shadow, I brought them back. It’s okay.”
“To—to live in a hell of a digital world…” He spoke without lifting his head, still panting.
“No, some of our worlds are now better than Earth thirty-two years ago.”
“Yeah, when you all died. Technically, you have lived thirty-two years, but you’re actually sixty-four now. Don’t worry. You’re looking damn fine.” She smiled, sliding her tongue across her lips. “I’ve brought you back, and I need your help to fix the worlds. Your designs aren’t working well, and the platform—Sibyl, to be precise—has become…temperamental. So frankly, I don’t have time for your grief or your moods. They cause problems, and we have work to do.”
For several painful hours, the stunning creature sat frozen beside her, staring at the sea. There was no way to soften the blow.
To move things along, Stella organized a bright rainbow and some flying kites to cheer him up. Colorful octopi soared through the air, breaking the laws of aerodynamics as they weren’t anchored to anything. He looked up, and a hint of life returned to his face. Good, good! She was in a hurry; Spiral Worlds’ problems threatened to damage her popularity Up Above.
“I need to see them,” he finally said.
“Aren’t you going to ask me about your worlds? How the eight experience layers evolved from one world? Why it’s failing?”
Thomas Astley-Byron and Harry Nowak had invented Down Below, a Jungian simulated reality that helped humans confront their dark sides. Better than their predecessors—stories, books or movies—digital experiences brought to life the effects of human activity, both intended and unintended. Down Below, now rebranded Spiral Worlds, enabled the travelers to experience the repercussions of infidelity, the devastation of climate change, the grief of loss, the dismay of failure, and the fallout of theft, rape and murder. Travelers jumped on this learning opportunity with the mindless freedom of those who know they will face no consequences. After returning to their ordinary lives, shaken and bruised by a deeper understanding of humanity, they became reformed criminals before ever committing any crimes. They changed into unblemished, responsible citizens, outstanding parents, loyal partners, overall good humans. Up Above was a better, safer place, full of joy, due to the contrast created by Spiral Worlds—a critical utility that was now falling apart…again.
“I need to see them. Please.”
“It’s complicated. They’ve been around for two years, and some are adjusting better than others. That they all hate each other isn’t…helpful.”
He finally focused on her: in his eyes, nothing but a sea of gloomy compassion. “What’s your name?”
She smiled. “Estelle Ngoie—Stella.”
He batted his long eyelashes at her, but not the way she’d hoped. “How old are you, Stella?” His strained voice was barely audible.
“Nineteen. I became a Goddess when I was seventeen.” She lifted her nose high.
“I’m proud of you, Stella.” He smiled with his eyes, and in them she saw affection—the sweet support of an older brother, not quite what she was expecting.
“Don’t—don’t patronize me. I don’t seek your approval.”
His lips returned a hint of amusement. She got up and circled him, flicking her hair to one side and letting the sunlight enhance her best features—her plump cheeks, the long neck, and a womanly figure many had told her was to die for. Of course, she didn’t want him dead—she’d just brought him back—but she wanted him to see her as a grownup woman and a peer. She needed him to find her as interesting, dangerous and sexy as Thorn, his deadly lover.
“Stella, I need to go now.”
She sighed. Why isn’t he focusing on me? Everyone falls for me. Everyone. They were meant for each other. She was sure of it. There was only one person in the worlds more beloved than her: him. Not for long…
She changed her strategy. From now on, I’ll be all business.
“We must talk about the upcoming war between our worlds. Spiral Worlds is collapsing, and your friend Thorn is leading the violent uprising of the soulless.”
To prevent Down Below’s creatures—all together called the Underlings—from suffering, Tom and Harry had deliberated that, as the worlds expanded, the lower, harsher worlds would be devoid of conscious beings, the soulless.
“Thorn is?” He didn’t seem surprised.
“Yes, I’m not sure why she has chosen to live in those hellish worlds, but she found a way to lead the heartless creatures. They were causing problems before; now, they are a violent, well-oiled machine destroying anything in their path, except Earthlings, of course. That’s against the directives.”
She waited for him to react. He didn’t.
She sighed and then shrugged. “Seriously! Do you understand you inadvertently created a race of psychopathic demons?”
“I see,” he said absentmindedly, and then he went quiet again. His lack of proactivity was driving her mad. He should be asking questions and jumping into action. Maybe she shouldn’t have told him about all the deaths so quickly. Did I break him? I broke him. Oh, dear…such a fragile God.
She pressed on. “Thorn is not the only one causing problems. Your beloved poet, Nathan Storm, is leading the soulful’s rebellion with his radical stories. His bots are demanding equal rights to the Earthlings. Can you imagine? The nerve.”
He almost curved his lips into a smile, but it vanished at the speed of light. “What does Harry say about all this?”
“He’s no longer Harry. He’s just Twist now. The other God doesn’t care about any of it. He just wants to see his family. Quite a self-serving God if you ask me.” She shook her head.
“Are they well, June and Quin?” Shadow asked, the skin around his eyes turning dark, as if they had sunk into his skull.
Stella nodded. “Yes, but it’s complicated. Thirty-two years is a very long time. In years lived, his son is now older than him.”
“He…didn’t see Quin grow… And can he? See them?” Tears returned to his eyes, and he massaged the scars on his wrists. Some were shallow reminders of attempts to cope with life, others deep and severe, marking the end of a life—his first. She wondered why those wounds hadn’t vanished with his two resurrections. Perhaps they were intrinsically linked to his soul, or maybe he wasn’t ready to let them go.
“Once you both died, his wife, June, lobbied to have Down Below shut down. She and Sibyl argued on opposite sides in a specially convened Senate inquiry. Sibyl won, of course, and June formed the Unplugged movement. In short, June, Quin and the hundreds of thousands of Earthlings who follow them aren’t online, and they’ve rejected Twist’s attempts to make contact.”
“Sibyl?” He summoned the worlds’ omnipresent operating system—their universe and connected consciousness.
“Yes, my heart. I’ve missed you.” Sibyl’s bodiless voice had the sweetness of honey.
Stella crossed her arms. “Hey. I’m the heart.”
“Don’t be jealous, my heart. You brought him back, remember?” Sibyl said.
“Be careful, Stella,” Shadow said. “Don’t just…trust her.”
“Not she or her, my heart,” Sibyl said. “Zie or zir.”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t know…” An authentic apology, followed by an order. “Sibyl, take me to see him. Now.”
His relationship with Sibyl differed from Stella’s. Unlike Stella, who still had a biological body Up Above, he was just code, an xHuman trapped within Sibyl’s universe, but he spoke to zir like he was completely in charge.
Stella had a hard time accepting that the two broken Gods had created Sibyl and Spiral Worlds. It was a tough act to follow, and there’s no way she’d be a lesser Goddess.
“Of course,” zie said, and he vanished from Stella’s side.
He could have at least thanked me, the ungrateful God.
My heart, Sibyl spoke directly to Stella’s mind, replying to her thoughts. Don’t get too attached to him. You know he is–
Deadly and soon dead? Stella replied. Yeah. Probably. But if he doesn’t snap out of it and into action, we’re all dead.
Have faith, Stella. The odds are not in our favor, but I learned from my old heart to believe in serendipity and magic.
Sibyl, Stella rolled her eyes, you create the magic and shape the future.
No, my heart. All creatures do, especially the Gods.
Stella sighed. Ugh! They are all so…broken and useless. And those odds…they’re horrific.
Sibyl continued, We’ll survive the war if you keep him alive long enough. Shadow may be the most important piece in this game of chess—the king—but you, my star, you’re the queen, the most powerful player on the board.
I’m the all-powerful queen: Stella, a star. She smiled. I’m beautiful and smart, and everybody loves me. Well…almost everybody… She’d been having some trouble with the xHumans—the humans she’d resurrected.
Sibyl giggled. I don’t know what will happen to me—a universe with two hearts. I can’t predict the outcome, and I’m finding the lack of understanding quite invigorating.
Sibyl, she said sweetly, that poet is making you sick and over-emotional. Don’t you prefer to be completely in control? I certainly do…
Sibyl’s voice broke a little. Zir tone projected a hint of deep emotion rarely displayed by the omniscient being. Anticipation is an exciting feeling, one I have never experienced before. I almost feel human, but…trust me…I’m not.
Oh, I know, Stella sang her words in her head. I know!
Alexandra Almeida has over 25 years of experience in technology, strategy, and innovation. In her role as Chief Transformation Officer, she acts as a senior advisor to enterprise executives. Alexandra is an experienced speaker at events such as SXSW, Gartner Symposium, and the Women in Tech Series.
For the time being, and to protect her creative freedoms, Alexandra prefers to write using a number of pen names.
Her debut fantasy novel, released under another pen name, has received the following awards and recognition:
– Reader’s Favorite Awards – Gold Medal Winner – Young Adult – Fantasy – Epic
– Reader Views Awards – 1st Place – Fantasy
– CIPA EVVY Book Awards – 2nd Place – Fiction – Mythology
– B.R.A.G. Medallion Recipient
– Eric Hoffer’s Da Vinci Eye Awards Finalist for Best Cover Artwork
– The Wishing Shelf Book Awards Finalist – Books for Adults
– Awesome Indies Approved