Book: Once Dead
Series Name: Rho Agenda Inception Series Book 1
Author: Richard Phillips
Genre: Science Fiction Thriller
Find It: Amazon
Jack Gregory, the CIA’s top assassin, bleeds out on a Calcutta operating table and is about to die.
But an alien entity has other plans for him.
If Jack is willing to act as a human host for this dark figure, he lives. Jack takes the deal. One year later, he is internationally known as The Ripper, fixer for hire, and finds himself increasingly drawn to dire, world-shattering events. Suffering strange premonitions and compulsions, Jack has more questions than answers. What destiny does this alien mind foresee? Why has it chosen him?
From bestselling author Richard Phillips comes a globe-spanning sci-fi thriller series with a twist … culminating in the cataclysmic events that set the stage for The Rho Agenda.
Sister Mary Judith limped slowly through the darkened slum that had been her home the last forty-eight years of her fading life. Her right shoe hurt her foot more than usual tonight. But her bunions weren’t likely to get better. And compared to the poor people whose souls she sought to save and whose bodies her clinic treated, she had no complaints.
Tonight that clinic had failed a three-year-old child and the woman whose tears still dampened Sister Mary Judith’s shoulder. Malaria had taken the little girl from her ’mother’s arms and into God’s. Salara. Such a beautiful name. A name that had been repeatedly sobbed into her left ear as the mother wept in her old arms.
She was so lost in the memory that she failed to notice the running man until he staggered into her, knocking Sister Mary Judith to the ground. Although pain lanced through her left hand, she did not cry out. But the cry of pain from the running man followed him into the darkness.
Rubbing her wrist, the sister flexed her fingers. It wasn’t broken. She’d always been blessed with strong bones and, thankfully, her advancing years had failed to rob her of that blessing. Apparently, the Lord needed her bones strong so she could continue to aid these people.
Struggling back to her feet, Sister Mary Judith glanced in the direction the man had disappeared. What had he been running from? Not really running. More of a barely controlled stagger, with one arm hanging limply at his side. Something had so terrified him that he had forced himself to flee despite injuries that would have curled a strong man into a fetal ball.
Turning to look in the direction from which the man had come, a new thought occurred to her. He couldn’t have come that far from whoever had injured him. If it had been a gang fight, perhaps others lay injured or dying.
Sister Mary Judith turned her steps in that direction. Despite their appallingly violent deeds, she had no fear of the gangs. She moved among them every day, an old nun who posed no threat to anyone, so unattractive that rape never crossed their minds, her clinic so undersupplied and futile that it offered nothing worth stealing. A doctor to set bones and sew up open cuts, boiled rags for bandages, boiled water for washing wounds, a few old surgical instruments, a surgical table, some basic antiseptics, some cots, and an old woman’s faith and hardworking hands. Nothing more.
At the entrance into the alley, she smelled death before she saw it, a smell that overwhelmed this place’s underlying stench. The smell propelled the old nun forward, adding an increased urgency to her shuffling steps. Over the years her eyes had become accustomed to the darkness night brought to these backstreets and alleys, but tonight’s moonlight eliminated the need for that talent, bathing the alley in its ghostly glow. And in the midst of that pale light, seven bodies drained their life’s blood into the mud.
Sister Mary Judith moved among them, kneeling briefly beside each victim to place a finger on the carotid artery. One man had fallen face down several steps from the cluster of bodies, as if he had tried to pursue the one who had fled the alley. And like the fleeing man, this one was shirtless, although, in the moonlight, it seemed he wore a shirt of blood. There was so much of it that the nun gasped when she felt a faint pulse in his throat.
Despite her advancing years, Sister Mary Judith was strong. Nevertheless, the thin layer of skin that covered the hard muscles beneath was so slick with warm blood she had difficulty turning the man onto his back. When she achieved it, her hope that she could save him withered within her soul. Like his back, his chest and arms were covered in shallow cuts. Worse, a deep wound penetrated his left side. Removing her scarf, the sister wadded it into a tight ball, pressing it as deeply into the wound as she could manage before rising to her feet and rushing back the way she had come.
Doctor Jafar Misra’s house was less than a block away, but Sister Mary Judith felt the weight of all her years as she hurried along, holding tight to the hope that God would allow her to accomplish one good thing on this sorrow-filled evening. When she reached the narrow door, it took more than a minute for Jafar to open it to her insistent knock. It took another half-hour to help Jafar load the man onto a rickshaw and deliver him to the darkened clinic.
By the time they had laid him on her surgery table, she could barely feel any pulse at all. She took the fact that he still lived as an indication that the Lord was not yet done with this man. If the man’s will was as strong as his jawline and lean musculature seemed to indicate, perhaps there was yet hope.
Doctor Misra, working by lamplight, with Sister Mary Judith assisting, bathed the wounds in Betadine and sewed them closed. Then, as she tied off the last knot, as if mocking their feeble attempts to save him, their patient shuddered and passed from this world into the next.
~ ~ ~
There was no tunnel with a beautiful light to beckon him forward. Jack Gregory hadn’t expected one. But he hadn’t expected this either.
A pea-soup fog cloaked the street, trying its best to hide the worn paving stones beneath his feet. It was London, but this London had a distinct, nineteenth-century feel. Not in a good way either. For some reason it didn’t really surprise him. If there was a doorway to hell, Jack supposed a gloomy old London backstreet was as appropriate a setting as any.
While his real body might be bleeding out somewhere in Calcutta, here Jack suffered from no such wounds. He stepped forward, his laced desert combat boots sending wisps of fog swirling around them. Long, cool, steady strides. A narrow alley to his left beckoned him and he didn’t fight the feeling. He hadn’t started this journey by running away and he’d be damned if he was going to end it running away from whatever awaited him.
The fog wasn’t any thicker in the alley. The narrowness just made it feel that way. Jack didn’t look back, but he could feel the entrance dwindle behind him as he walked. To either side, an occasional door marred the walls that connected one building to the next, rusty hinges showing just how long it had been since anyone had opened them. It didn’t matter. Jack’s interest lay in the dark figure that suddenly blocked his path.
The man’s face lay hidden in shadow, although it wasn’t clear what dim light source was casting the shadows. Still, Jack could see his lips move, could hear the gravel in his voice.
“Are you certain you wish to walk this path?”
Jack paused. “Didn’t think I had much choice.”
“Not many do.”
“You’ve thought about death?”
“Figured it was just a big sleep.”
The shadowy figure hesitated.
“Nothing so easy.”
“Heaven and hell, then? Enlighten me.”
“Keep walking this path and you’ll find out. I offer you something different.”
“Ahhh. My soul for my life, is it?”
The laugh rumbled deep inside the other’s chest. “I’ve been around a very, very long time, but I’m not your devil.”
“Then what are you?”
For several seconds, silence hung in the fog between them.
“Think of me as a coma patient, living an eternity of sensing the things going on around me, unable to experience any of them. I know what’s happening, what’s about to happen, but I feel nothing. Such immortality is its own special kind of hell. Humanity offers me release from that prison.”
“I’m not interested in being your vessel.”
“I have limitations. I can only send back one who lingers on death’s doorway, not someone who is beyond natural recovery. There are rules. My host must willingly accept my presence and the host remains in control of his or her own being. His nature is unchanged. I, on the other hand, get to experience the host’s emotions for the duration of the ride. I can exist in only one host at a time and, once accepted, I remain with that host until he dies.”
Jack stared at the shadowed figure’s face. Had he seen a flicker of red in those seemingly empty eye sockets?
“I don’t deny that there’s a down side. As I said, I don’t change a host’s nature in any way. But what he feels excites me and some of that excitement feeds back to my host. The overall effect is that he still loves what he loves and hates what he hates, but much hotter. He’s the same person he always was, just a little bit more so. And because my intuitions also bleed over, my hosts find themselves drawn to situations that spike their adrenaline. Because of that, few of them live to a ripe old age.”
“So you ride these people until they die, then move on to the next person.”
“I never said anything about this being a random selection. I have certain needs, and those can’t be fulfilled by inhabiting some Siberian dirt farmer or his wife. With all my limitations, I have a very clear sense of those who stride the life and death boundary, fully immersed in humanity’s greatest and most terrible events. I always choose a host from this group.”
“Alexander, Nero, Caligula, Attila, Joan of Arc, Napoleon, and hundreds of others, including another Jack who once roamed these London alleys.”
“Not a great references list.”
“It’s not about your notions of good or evil. Whether you want it or not, you are a part of it.”
“So my choice is to die now or to open myself to evil?”
“As I said, I can’t make you anything you aren’t. Hosting me merely amps up your inner nature.”
“And you expect me to believe that?”
Again the demon paused. “You pride yourself on your highly developed intuition, your ability to know if someone is lying to you. What is that inner sense telling you now?”
The truth was that, at the moment, it wasn’t telling him shit. Or maybe it was, and Jack was just too damn tired to listen. Jack stared at the shadowy figure before him, inhaled deeply, failed to feel a real breath fill his lungs, and decided.
“I guess I can live with that.”
~ ~ ~
Doctor Misra had filled out and signed the death certificate for one Jack Gregory, the name on the identification card in the man’s wallet. Sister Mary Judith watched as he took one last look at the chiseled face of the dead man on the table, shook his weary head, and departed.
Having swabbed up most of the blood that dripped from her surgery table, Sister Mary Judith straightened, placed her right hand in the small of her back and pressed, as if that simple act could drive away the pain that hard work and old age had placed there. Glancing up at the table and the stitched up corpse that lay atop it, she grabbed a white sheet from the freshly laundered stack, flapped it out, and let it fall through the air to slowly drape the body. As the sheet settled over the dead man’s face, she saw something that sent a shiver up her spine, a shallow billowing in the sheet where it covered his mouth.
Leaning close, she peeled back the cotton cloth, once again placing her finger on the carotid artery. One strong pulse brought her erect. Then the man’s eyes fluttered open. And as Sister Mary Judith stared into those deep brown orbs, a fleeting red glint within those pupils froze her soul. Unable to deal with the vision that engulfed her, her mind skittered to a safer place, leaving her lips repeating a single phrase, a mantra that would follow her through the remainder of her days.
“Dear Lord, The Ripper walks the earth.”
The author will be raffling off several items during the book tour! One winner will receive a $15 Amazon Gift Card and 4 winners will receive a copy of The Second Ship!
About the Author
Richard Phillips is the million copy bestselling author of the Rho Agenda Science fiction series and the epic fantasy series, The Endarian Prophecy. He has published fifteen novels and has just begun work on his next science fiction novel. Richard was born in Roswell, New Mexico and is a graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point. After his graduation in 1979, he qualified as an army ranger and began his career as an officer. Richard also attended the Naval Post Graduate School where he earned a Master of Science degree in physics. He completed his master’s thesis at Los Alamos National Laboratory and served as a military research associate before retiring from the military in 1996. Richard went on to lead a number of software development projects at Lockheed Martin Space Operations and General Dynamics, before becoming a fulltime author. He lives in Phoenix with Carol, his lovely wife of thirty-nine years. They enjoy travelling the world together, playing golf, and hiking.
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