The Baltimore Post-Examiner is pleased to present an excerpt from Roderick Vincent’s The Cause. He is the author of the upcoming Minutemen series about a dystopian America. The book can be purchased at Amazon.
Plot Summary: The second American Revolution will be a fire lit from an internal spark.The year is 2022. America is on the verge of economic and social collapse. The government has made individual freedom its enemy. African American hacker Isse Corvus enters a black-ops training camp. He discovers the leaders are revolutionaries seeking to return the U.S. back to its Constitutional roots. Soon the camp fractures. Who is traitor? Who is patriot? Corvus learns that if he doesn’t join The Cause and help them hack the NSA’s servers, it could mean his life. If he joins, he becomes part of a conspiracy to overthrow America’s financial oligarchy. NSA Director Titus Montgomery is building a system to pacify America’s instigators. He is told by the President rule of law must be maintained at all costs. What happens when martial law meets revolution? The Cause is a dystopian thriller taking many topical issues to the next logical level. The dense web of the NSA’s previous generation’s surveillance system has been supplanted by a new, more ruthless one. Robotic warfare, drones, quantum computers, Anonymous, the NSA, and a cast of conniving characters, this novel takes you on a manifest journey on how a new revolution could be born.
Part I The Abattoir
“Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose
sight of the shore.” ~André Gide
May 13th, 2026
There it is—a blue marble in the blackness of space, sweeps of white fuzzing the spherical surface, so small you can put your thumb over it and blip it out of existence. The Earth, suspended in the darkness, silent and fragile. But this is deception. It’s moving very fast, and just because you can’t see and feel it, doesn’t mean it’s not the truth.
The moon photo of the Earth was shot by astronaut Timothy Skies, who said if he could drag the world’s politicians up into space, choke them by the necks and say, take a look at that, you bastards, perhaps there might be a way forward. I don’t share his optimism, but it’s a perspective few have had the luck to experience—witnessing another gravity—standing in greyish moon dust, kicking up clumps of it only to see it slowly float in a snow flake sprinkle back to your feet.
I liked the shot and kept it tucked underneath my SWAT uniform and flak jacket, pinned over my heart. A good luck charm through the bank heist gun battles, the crack house raids, and the L.A. riots that erupted in 2022. It was then, through the conflagration of 7th Street when I saved Timothy Skies and his wife from the Charleston Building under a hail of sniper fire.
The day before, nearly all of us were called in for riot duty. The National Guard had been called up, but hadn’t arrived. We lined up outside L.A. Superior Court looking like helmeted centurions. We stood shoulder-to-shoulder uneasily with our full-length polycarbonate riot shields in front of us, black truncheons in hand. The crowd was massed in front of us on Erwin Street, an ocean of humanity boiling in a sea of anger over sweeping cuts to city pensions. L.A. was going bust, and the 6:00 news had carried the hard reality. Fissures of angst were like cracks in the pavement over promises that couldn’t be kept.
Two DARPA BigDogs stood on each of our ends, machine guns mounted on their backs armed with rubber bullets. Taller than the old models, they stood head-high. Their strange, articulating black metal legs were in a standstill march, as if about to charge. They had attached heads to the things. As the red camera eyes within swiveled back and forth, the dogs glowered, showing their sharp, metallic teeth.
This was a mistake, I had told Sergeant Smith. You don’t want to agitate the crowd. You don’t want to antagonize. You want to play defense. Smith told me it was above his pay grade, that a level of curiosity above him was eager to know how they’d
Even with my helmet capped over my ears, the crowd’s yelling and shouting grew to a wave of stadium noise. The air vibrated with tension. The mob just in front of us hurled rocks, yelled out taunts. Then someone threw a Molotov cocktail at us and the guns atop the BigDogs started firing. The first row of instigators went down, but the second line had shields—some metallic, some like ours. Canisters of tear gas were lobbed into the crowd but many of the protesters had masks. Like insects, their rage pitched higher into a war cry. Then the line charged.
We dug our back feet into the pavement anticipating their surge. A Peacekeeper drone flew over and dusted the crowd. Too late.A melee. Chaos. One of the BigDogs charged through the crowd. One of the last things I remembered was a severed arm inside its jaws. The wall of police split apart by the spears of arms and legs unafraid of the whacks of our clubs. I began clubbing peopleuntil the swarm fell upon me, kicking and beating me until I fell
The day after, the city was still in flames. A gang had looted a gun store and targeted police and pedestrians not smart enough to flee for cover. Some of the wounded we pulled to safety, but a couple of people were already shot dead. Red pools of blood coagulated in the streets. Bloody boot prints led to the cement blockade four of us hid behind in a vacant lot. Crouched down and pinned by snipers firing from rooftops, we saw a group waving inside the Charleston. Fire licked the walls out of the windows of the second and third floors. Billowing plumes of toxic black smoke gusted into the air. Soot rained down on us cloaking our uniforms in black flakes and ash. It was snowing in L.A., a blizzard of flames spreading throughout the city.
Another spray of bullets cracked around us. “Hold your position,” Sergeant Smith ordered. “The BigDogs are on their way.” I smiled at him and took a big breath. He grabbed my arm, but I shook him off. He looked at me knowingly as I darted out into the fray. Many officers in the department were fooled by what I did. Some thought it a play against the robots. But it hadn’t been so long since I had been declared fit for duty. The guys who knew me guessed the reason I jumped off the gangplank into a sea of gunfire had nothing to do with heroics or saving police jobs as much as it did about having nothing more to lose. It was a monster dare, diving at the jaws of the Kraken. A game of chicken I was willing to lose.
The ground lit up underneath me. Dodge-and-weave and run like hell. Automatic fire punctured the streets, the roads opening like spores from a seedpod. The Charleston puffed in little white mushroom clouds from M16 rounds as I ran toward the middle of the street. I hopped into the armor plated SWAT-H mobile and put it into drive. Gunfire pinged against the sides and roof. I threw it into reverse and drove ass-ended straight up to the Charleston’s front door so Timothy Skies and the rest of the occupants could pile in.
Three months later, in the summer of 2022, Timothy Skies invited me to one of those Apollo 15 nostalgia dinners in Tucson. A token of gratitude for what he called the courageous officer. A sentimental thing for me to do—to go to such an event. But as a boy, astronomy fascinated me. For my thirteenth birthday my father gave me an Orion Dobsonian telescope. On the weekends we could afford it, we’d drive away and camp, hike out into the darkness and set it up on an open field or weedy bluff and gaze at moon craters and the lumpy lunar landscape. Then we’d rotate it toward the rings on Saturn, watch the perfect geometry of water and ice in retrograde motion. Farther out into space the gassy clouds of the Orion Nebula hovered above us in a creamy light. Back then, the highway miles between the campsite and L.A., and the light years to Alpha Centauri seemed to be about the same.
What my father would never know was how such a small, seemingly innocuous gift, would shake history. How it would change not only my future, but turn the eyes of the world.
The Timothy Skies Space Benefit Dinner was a champagne affair, a five-thousand-dollar-a-plate kind of fundraiser to send a man to Mars. Hosted by Virgin Galactic, banners posted around the place read: Let’s Take the Next Step for Mankind. The clutter of cross-table chitchat bounded over the clink of flutes and origami napkin swans. The penguined waiters answered to a nod, bustling around us with monogrammed white towels tucked over their sleeves, refilling our glasses the moment they hit half- empty. Mr. Skies and I sat next to one another. Presented as the hero, I found all of the fawning over the ordeal embarrassing. I wasn’t there for glory or gratitude and became annoyed as the story heightened from basic fact to tall tale.
When the conversation switched to outer space, my neighbors at the table spoke with syrupy voices, imitated friendliness and love for their fellow mankind. They toasted one another with full flutes, bubbles gurgling over the rims. They showered compliments on each other as lavishly as lobbyists spending on senators. They orated the future of technology, its merits on the world and how it would transform Mars and the moon into clones of the Earth. There were speeches. A red carpet rolled right up to the dais. People cheered—standing ovations no matter how lousy or unrealistic the touted goal was. Everyone euphoric, wired into the same dogma with the delusion the event itself was some fiery rocket lift-off to wow you into their belief system. The yappy lot slavering they were on the cusp of a new millennium in human space travel.
I had a moment of enlightenment after Skies’ bold speech on fusion and exploring Earth-like planets light years away. I saw delusional eyes, the need to believe, heavy gravity under teary lids. But the audience wasn’t going anywhere—that was the reality of it. Still, they clung to the idea as a priest chases Paradise. Perhaps they saw the familiar world ending, or at least turning the wrong corner. Technology was the drug of deceit, saving us from ourselves. But with current technology, it would take 40,000 years to get to Alpha Centauri—200 times longer than the average lifespan of a civilization.
People don’t like to see the truth in something until it’s too late—then it becomes shocking. Human behavior is history’s broken record. Perhaps with Mother Earth supporting eight billion humans, each wanting his own share of the pie, gobbling up every scarce non-renewable resource in sight, they scratched the itch of a sixth sense. Perhaps they sniffed an undefined new world order coming, one that would shake the trees of humanity. It wasn’t what the myopic politicians were selling, not what you’ve been lead to believe, but nonetheless it was out there, a dormant cataclysm waiting at the end of a windy road.
A year later, deep in a tunnel where darkness reigned, the image of humanity’s emptying tank would come back to me. Our leader, Seee, would say, “When a giant falls, expect the ground to shake as he gets up to chase you, not yet realizing he is already dead.”
We got to talking, Mr. Skies and I. I admit there was an expectation corked in the back of my mind, that he might say something about his space experience that would be life-altering. But I left disappointed. I was the Neil Armstrong who hadn’t taken a step forward, but instead took a leap back. It was July 20th 1969 in reverse, and I should have known better.
Beyond Mr. Skies’ moon-trip experience, we spoke about current affairs. He was one of the technology zealots at the table who told me the pace of innovation is parabolic. “Yet we still don’t have a man on Mars,” I countered.
“Well, NASA hasn’t helped, has it? Their budget has been squashed into oblivion.”
“So you think fund raising will get you there?” I asked.
“It’s what we’re here for, isn’t it?”
“Thank God for Richard Branson,” I remarked, eying the man three tables down sitting next to CEO Blake Thompson and a throng of senators. “What will you have to give him in return?”
“He wants to be the first man stepping out, doesn’t he?” I asked. “Isn’t he pushing past seventy now?”
“Who cares? The man is an inspiration.”
“Certainly a man who can buy a lot of inspiration.” I smiled.
“Whatever gets us there.”
Talk was swift and pointed. His wife Melanie was more pleasant and called me the handsome gentleman. “Would the handsome gentleman like another glass of red?” Perhaps a dynamic stretched between the two of them I wasn’t catching, but Mr. Skies shook me off, jumping out of his seat and walking toward the Branson table. Gratitude had been paid.
Another gentleman at the table by the name of Bloom picked up the baton of the broken conversation. “You don’t believe in technology then, Mr. Corvus?”
I looked at him seriously. “What has been the enabler of humanity’s population explosion?”
He shrugged. “Medicine.”
“True,” I said. “Certainly longer life expectancies and finding cures to some of the most fatal diseases.”
“The advancement of technology? Yes?”
“But what else?”
“I don’t know,” Mr. Bloom said, staring at me. “You tell me.”
I smiled at Mrs. Skies, who was listening in on the conversation. I saw youth stripped away by the stress of a husband’s fame, premature fissures of age within the lines of her neck and forehead. “An abundant food supply which has only been possible with cheap and abundant energy.”
Bloom nodded, seemingly pleased with this response. I allowed myself some time to take a better look at the man. He had soft brown skin, a sleek Middle Eastern look. His beaked nose fell off his face in a huge arc below his shifty eyes. He tickled his pencil mustache, twiddling the end of it between his finger and thumb. “Have you ever been hungry, Mr. Corvus? Haven’t eaten in more than a couple of days?” He shifted in his seat, grabbed for his flute of champagne and twirled it in the glass. After drinking, he put it down and picked up his spoon, glaring at his reflection fastidiously.
“No,” I said. “But you must be about to make a point.”
He stabbed a piece of prime rib off his plate and thrust it into his mouth. He chewed with zest, shoving a lob of it in one side of his mouth so one of his cheeks ballooned.
“After about three days without eating, you get a bit antsy. You find yourself weakening, and suddenly those dormant animalistic tendencies encoded in your genes wake up and want to do something about it. Socialization skills vanish in a flash. Now imagine we have that problem on a grand scale.”
“We do have that problem on a grand scale,” I said.
Smiling with a twisted sense of playfulness, he seemed to weigh every word, measuring each response by a rub of the chin, or dropping it on a counterbalance with a tug of the ear, scrutinizing its content through the tines of his fork. “I guess that’s a matter of opinion,” he said, pointing the fork at me. “I would disagree.”
“Africa is not a grand enough scale?”
“Yes, Africa is a tragedy, but I don’t consider it grand scale.
Perhaps you are sensitive about that being African-American? I’m talking about when the supermarkets have bare shelves.”
“There’d be riots of course, but we have that now. We—”
“We have riots for differing, debatable reasons,” he said. “But what about you? How long do you think you could last without food before succumbing to the primeval, before you might resort to cannibalism, for example?”
I laughed as he produced a lopsided smile. “I think I could last for a pretty good time,” I said.
Bloom smiled again politely at the remark. Picking up his wine glass, he tipped it to me, an almost whimsical salute, or was it one of a challenge-accepted?
The rest of the conversation felt like an interview. His questions were laced with intent but then would suddenly veer off course. From peak oil to peak population to war and destruction, we talked about it. He seemed unconvinced. He told me we were living in a world where moral climates had no atmosphere. He seemed the type to mole up in a motel room and glue himself to the green glow of a computer screen. A hacker, subverting vital information, ruining lives, twiddling his pencil mustache in rhythm to the keys that were the preludes to the concertos to come. These sorts of men I was familiar with, and I had a strange sense I was talking to a kindred spirit even though our views were in discord.
He rested his hands on the table as if he were about to go into prayer. “Mr. Corvus, you seem to be a cynic.”
“People have called me worse.”
Bloom laughed. Then, after his high-pitched guffaw sputtered, he paused and his smile went cold. “Kill your father and a cynic is born, is that it, Mr. Corvus?” He watched my reaction as I stood up. I bumped the table, and the plates and glasses clattered. He leaned back abruptly in his seat and said,
“Sit down, Mr. Corvus. The Company knows what really happened.”
Perhaps even then Seee was watching, wondering, listening through the avatar Bloom, whom later I would find out was one of Basim Hassani’s personas. By that time, Seee must have known I had been accepted to The Farm. Seee—breathing me in, probing me with cameras and the wandering-eyed henchman recruiter strategically seated opposite my side of the table, wondering if I’d make it through CIA camp. I never asked Seee whether preemptive surveillance from The Company was part of standard routine, or his own precise machinations before we even got there.
Roderick Vincent is the author of the upcoming Minutemen series about a dystopian America. The first novel, titled The Cause, will be published by Roundfire Books on November 28th 2014. He has lived in the United States, England, Switzerland, and the Marshall Islands. His reviews and short stories have been published in Ploughshares blog, Straylight (University of Wisconsin, Parkside) and Offshoots (a Geneva publication). For more information, visit: www.roderickvincent.com