Excerpt for Jericho Johnson: The Cold War by , available in its entirety at Smashwords


Jericho Johnson

Take time back with the rest of the series of flipping awesomeness.



Book One: Gauntlet of Time

Book Two: Fixed & Ticked

Book Three: The Cold War

Coming Soon:

Book Four: Icarus Rising







Jericho Johnson:

The Cold War


by J.A. Stowell






This book is dedicated to my hot wife, beautiful daughters, awesome father and, once again, that undeniably loyal, courageous and creative BFF.

(Seriously, we took baths in sinks together when we were babies so if that’s not a BFF I don’t know what is).

I would mention my siblings but they haven’t even read my books so forget them.





Part I

The Beginning



Piper


The question was a simple one. So simple that the woman who had been asked it paused in hesitation long enough to have hundreds of volts of electricity surge through her.

Piper screamed and the wires binding her wrists, ankles and neck to the metal chair cut deep when her body jerked violently against the first torrents.

Why was this happening? She couldn’t recall what events had even transpired to get her here and she glanced around after the wave of jolts subsided, squinting against the bright light. No, bright lights. There were high powered beams facing on every side of her. That, coupled with her now severely blurred vision, took away any notion of taking in her surroundings.

Then Piper heard a sigh from somewhere beyond the lights. “You’re not making this easy, girl.”

“Who are you?” she asked, her voice weakened. “What do you want?”

“I’m someone who just wants answers, lass,” the man said. Whether it was from the fuzzy feeling in her mind or the fact that she didn’t get out much, Piper couldn’t place the man’s strange accent. “Now answer the bloody question.”

“What—” she closed her eyes and shook her head. “What was it again?”

The words were barely out of her mouth when the next wave of voltage came and she tried to scream but her mouth clamped shut and she bit her tongue, instantly tasting blood.

“I’ve got all day, lass, so if you’re thinking you’re going walk away from this and not be right banjaxed afterward then you’re one wee muppet of a feek, aren’t you?”

Piper spat out the blood that had filled her mouth. “What?”

“When are you from,” he asked.

Piper shrugged a shoulder and spit more blood. “Flagstaff—”

More electricity.

This time she was able to scream.

“Well, aren’t we acting the maggot today,” he said calmly and she thought she heard him laugh. “I didn’t ask where, love, I asked when.”

“Go to Helheim.”

More electricity.

“We’re going to have a whale of a time, you and I,” the man said and she heard his footsteps to her right echo on the floor. “But as much as I love making a right haymes of people I have to get a wee bit of information from you first, lass.”

Piper’s head was sagging forward, her chin almost touching her chest and her white blonde hair covered her face. She steeled herself for the next round of torture when she remained silent but it didn’t come and she raised her head slightly with effort.

“I know who you are, Piper,” the man said and his voice sounded extremely close.

Then she felt his hands on her shaking shoulders.

“I know you’re a Viking who hasn’t seen her homeland in donkey’s years,” he said, his head close to the right side of hers. “It’s not a secret anymore, lass. All I want to know is the specific year.”

“I never knew it,” Piper lied and a tear slipped down her cheek.

“Of course you didn’t, girl,” he said, sounding almost sympathetic. “Why, not until that handsome rogue from the future showed up and swept you off your feet.”

793 A.D. That was when he had first came to her.

“If you know about Jericho then you know what he’ll do to you when he finds me,” she said with as much bravery as she could muster but her voice was trembling.

The man’s laugh was hearty, like he’d just heard a favorite joke that he couldn’t get enough of. “Don’t you worry about the great Jericho Johnson, Piper. He won’t be able to find us here. If you really want to start worrying about someone, though, might I suggest the fella you’re lodging with?”

Archimedes.

Piper swallowed but said, “I will kill you.”

“Have a good think about that, lass,” he said, his voice deadly serious now. “There’s been showers of savages has told me that and I’m still here, if you haven’t caught on.”

“If you touch him I’ll—”

He turned the volts back on, this time with more current and Piper’s jaw locked up.

“What was that, now?” he asked innocently. “I didn’t hear that last bit.”

Her head sagged onto her chest again and her eyes dimmed while the wires cut deep into her neck. Then someone jerked her hair hard, pulling her burned face back up. “Now, you listen to me, girlie. Either you tell me what I bloody want to know or I’ll nab that wee holy Joe of yours, slam him in this same seat and make you watch until he’s a right blackened sausage.”

Piper’s eyes were fluttering and her head was spinning. She couldn’t make out anything but the outline of her assailant. “I already said—”

He slapped her across the face and everything went black.

“I said tell me, you manky bogger!”

“793…” she heard herself say.

“What?”

The room, lights and her attacker came rushing back and her eyes flickered on them slightly. “793 A.D. that was when he…”

“How old were you then, lass?”

She didn’t answer due to the room blacking out again and she received a brutal shake, causing the wires binding her wrists to cut to the bone. “Tell me!”

“Eighteen,” she screamed before she started crying. “Please, just leave me alone…”

He released her and walked into the darkness again. “Right, then, now we’re sucking diesel,” she heard him say good-naturedly. “You’ve been grand, lass, just grand. Always a pleasure.”

Piper was shaking hard while she watched the blood flooding from her wrists and down her stomach from her throat. “Just kill me,” she said weakly.

She heard his footsteps to her right. “And have you die all meaningless on me? Not likely. But I’ll see you around, you wee feek, you. Oh, and top o’ the morning to you.”

Then he turned the electricity back on and Piper screamed—

And sat up in her bed.

“Piper,” Archimedes said groggily from next to her and his hand laid on her back. “Baby, what’s wrong?”

Piper flew from the bed and rushed into the side lavatory, shutting the door and flipping on the lights. She shook while she inspected her unmarked wrists and neck in the mirror and when her breathing started to finally regulate she slid down the wall to the floor and pulled her legs to her chest.

“Just a dream,” Piper whispered with her eyes closed. It had felt so real, though.

She stood after a few minutes and composed herself before opening the door to find Arc on the other side.

“I’m fine,” she told him with a quick smile. “Just a wild dream, is all.”

“Did it have me in it?” he asked, extending his hand and she took it.

“No.”

“Then tell me tomorrow. We got a rebellion to run in the morning,” he said with a smile. “You’re the worst bed partner in the world, by the way.”

Piper suddenly pulled away from him. “I’ll be there in a minute. I have to make a call first.”

Archimedes groaned. “Come on, Pipe, it’s in the middle of the night.”

“It will only take a minute,” she said and headed for the door.

Once she was in the hall of the apartment complex she queued up her holotab.

“Call Jericho,” she said and the spinning icon appeared while she waited for him to answer. She knew it was early morning in Flagstaff but also knew he would be awake because he never slept. Ever.

When the icon turned red, meaning Jericho didn’t pick up on his end, Piper frowned and tried again.

“Hey, whoever-you-are,” Jericho’s holomail started off and she sighed but let the message keep going so she could at least hear his voice. “Apparently I’m unavailable even though you know that everyone’s phones are literally attached to our arms now so this voicemail is all but pointless,” she smiled when she heard him get interrupted by a child’s voice. “What? No, I already told you that you couldn’t—Sloan, don’t you dare!” he sighed heavily. “Aaand she did anyway. Worst kid ever. So, if you’re still there leave me a message and I probably won’t get back to you.”

Piper left a message explaining she was sorry if he was busy but needed to tell him something and to call her back when he got the chance.

She walked to the end of the hall and looked through the thick glass down at the snow-covered streets of Anchorage.

She tried to call Jericho again one minute later. Piper didn’t leave a message this time. She took in a deep breath and let it out slowly before looking into the night sky and whispering, “Where are you, Jericho?”




Jericho



Seattle, Washington 1986

My eyes rolled back up in my head when I took my first good whiff of the Starbucks espresso, relishing the absolute perfection.

“You look like you haven’t had a cup of java in years,” the waitress who’d just delivered my order joked to me.

I sat back and smiled at her. “It’s been a while, let me tell you. I know for a fact that I haven’t had Starbucks in literally a few years.”

The waitress nodded but seemed confused. “Well, we’ve only been in business for almost two years and just opened our sixth store on the far side of the city. Are you from here?”

Shaking my head, I took my first sip and almost died. Geez, but it was amazing. “No, just a big fan,” I said. “I can totally see this place as a worldwide, caffeinated power-house one day.”

Laughing, the waitress said, “Yeah, I don’t think so. Starbucks will probably never leave Seattle but it sure is good coffee,” then she left me with my espresso.

And my company.

“So, this is your idea of a brilliant date, is it?” Blu asked in her beautiful Australian accent, sweeping her blue locks back and leaning a chin on her fist.

“No talking, woman,” I told her, my eyes closed while I took my second sip of awesome. “And yes, this is my idea of a brilliant date, thank you very much. I mean, come on, Starbucks came out with their first espresso two days ago. Are you kidding me right now?”

It really was romantic, actually, and she knew it.

We weren’t dressed like anyone from the 80s but we had thrown on our plainest clothes before leaving Flagstaff so we wouldn’t draw too much attention.

“This place smells funny,” the little girl who happened to be sitting right next to me said, wrinkling her nose and glancing around in disapproval.

“Shut it, child,” I told her. “I don't know you and therefore see no reason to bring you back to the future with me.”

Sloan, the big-mouthed six year old, who had been informing us for the last three months that she was now seven, snorted at that. “Our world is a gazillion times better than this one.”

Okay, so maybe some of the romance was dispelled because I'd given in and brought a kid along for our trip to the 80s but I couldn't say no to her for some reason.

Sighing, I sat my cup down on the table. “We’ve been over this, Sloan. It’s the exact same world but at different times.”

“Doesn’t look like it.”

“Well, it is.”

“Not from where I’m sitting,” Sloan said, sighing quietly and glancing away in an uninterested manner.

“Oh, that’s right. I forgot that the world looks different from two foot off the ground.”

Sloan glared at me, narrowing her eyes and opening her mouth to say something harsh in return. When nothing came, though, she nodded slowly and said, “Well played, sir.”

Blu took this opportunity to grab my espresso and try a sip before coughing and shaking her head from the taste. “Cranky, that’s awful.”

“Really?” I said, pulling my cup away from her. “I would’ve thought you were used to the taste of awesomeness by now,” I added with a wink.

“You croc,” Blu laughed, kicking my feet under the table but I noticed her wicked smirk stayed on her face and she laid her hand on mine.

Sloan rolled her eyes at us. “You guys are gross.”

Before I could insult the kid further by holotab went off, indicating that we’d been in 1986 for exactly two hours.

It also indicated that it was time to go back to 2345 and fight the good fight but I tapped the spinning icon before it drew unwanted attention.

“Tell me you didn’t just hit the snooze button on your destiny,” Blu groaned, glancing at her own holotab quickly. “Seriously, we’ve a war to win, babe.”

“It’s the future, Blu. We’ll get back at the exact moment we left without incident.”

“I’ve told you dozens of times, love, your painted sidewalk theory on time-travel isn’t right,” she said, looking at me seriously. “Us leaving still lets a strand of time go off on its own without us in it.”

I was almost one-hundred percent sure I was in love with Blu. Honestly, she was amazing and everything I ever wanted in a girl. She was around five and half foot tall and had long, flowing blue hair, a gift from her former parents before she was born, that reached her lower back.

But Blu wasn’t one to let things go, something that drove me completely insane at times.

“And I recall telling you dozens of times that a rogue strand of time without us in it doesn’t matter,” I told her, finishing my espresso.

Blu just nodded but I was able to read her mind—no, like, I could literally hear her thoughts whenever I wanted—and I saw she wasn’t satisfied with my answer. You would think that being able to read your girlfriend’s mind would help in about every avenue and byway presented on relationship road and that you could avoid every lover’s quarrel thrown at you.

Take it from me, pal, it doesn’t help. Couples are just destined to fight sometimes. No way of dodging that one. If you don’t believe me, then you try the mind read thing. I bet you all the money in the world the next fight you’ll be involved in will be about privacy.

Blu didn’t like the fact that the rogue alternate reality we’d never see again might have all of our friends dead in minutes.

I know. What a Worrying Wendy, right?

“I want to go back, anyway,” Sloan said, sliding off her stool and vanishing from sight. She was a short thing. “It’s hotter than Helheim here.”

Blu narrowed her eyes at me when she heard the child repeat slang straight from the Jericho handbook.

“What?” I asked innocently. “She’s a raider kid, Blu. God knows she’s heard way worse than—” I trailed off when Blu addressed me mentally, conscious that I could hear and see her mind loud and clear.

It involved the cancellation of a certain make-out session that hadn’t happened yet. Blu had been getting good at the whole mind-reading bit of my powers. I mean, at first I thought that I was automatically the one with the upper hand because, well, I was the one dipping into the mind of anyone I chose with no restraint. But Blu, because she was a genius with a four digit IQ, had somehow developed ways of using it against me, calling it b-mail or brain mail. She learned that she could send me messages whenever she chose and even go so far as to attach images to her mental messages if she chose.

“Fine,” I sighed, standing. “Watch your mouth, kid. I’ve had my glorious espresso so let’s go back to the freezing war and save everybody.”

We left the Starbucks and walked toward the alleyway across the street where we’d arrived two hours ago. “Your cars look stupid,” Sloan told me, holding my hand while we crossed the street.

“It’s 1986,” I said, glancing at the rather stupid-looking vehicles that passed us. “Cut them some slack. They don’t have iPhones, the internet or Facebook yet so none of these people have quite found their purpose in life. And this isn’t even my time. I’m not scheduled for birth for another four years or so.”

Sloan frowned at that, which was what she always did when she didn’t quite understand something. Or when she was just being normal. The kid frowned a lot, is what I’m saying. “When is your birthday?”

“August 16th.”

I heard Blu’s mind pulse in a bizarre way and I glanced sideways at her when we entered the short alley. “What?”

Blu shrugged. “It's nothing, really,” she said. “But that’s not actually your birthday.”

My frown trumped Sloan’s this time. “What makes you think that?”

“Science,” Blu said simply, grabbing Sloan’s other hand. “Let's go.”

I was still frowning but I initiated the jump back to 2345 and the three of us melted into the fabrics of time and space, the asphalt below us transforming into the steel grates of the Rebel base in Flagstaff.

For those of you who are wondering if I fixed up a new gauntlet of time the answer to that question is no.

Gauntlets are so 2342.

Time was mine to command in almost every way, this being something that came stock with my Paladin status while my strength, lightning, mind control, almost complete invincibility and regenerative abilities when I wasn’t were now, even though featured in Paladin package, almost secondary. It was always there, I found out, but I just needed a trip inside a certain Citadel with a certain Partisan to discover most of my powers.

But I’ll get to that later.

After getting the gift of time-travel back, though, there were a few things I did first before anything else.

“Master Johnson,” Evonne Mitchells, butler extraordinaire, said when the three of us materialized in the hanger bay. “How was your date, sir?”

“Fantastic, Mitch,” I told him.

“It wasn’t a date,” Blu added. “How long were we gone?”

“Precisely, madam?”

“Sure.”

Evonne checked his pocket watch. “Almost two seconds, madam.”

Yes, that’s right. Evonne still rocked a pocket watch after being in the year 2345 for almost four months now.

Like a boss.

“See?” I said to Blu, who was already stepping into her white jumpsuit. “And you were worried.”

After zipping her suit to her chin Blu turned to me. “We have a Paladin drop coming up, Jericho. Go get your game-face on, love.”

She headed for the north side of the hanger to the elevator with Sloan close behind. “Don’t forget to tell me my correct birthdate when I get back, professor science,” I called to her and she held a hand up in farewell without even turning around before she entered the elevator.

Evonne fell in step next to me when I passed him and he gave me my long coat. “I’m assuming nothing’s changed in the last ten seconds?”

“No, sir. Commander Red is still awaiting your response from the call placed five minutes ago.”

“Right,” I said, stepping onto the lift and queuing Red on my tab.

“It’s Bear season, Paladin,” Red, Blu’s elder sister, said, her face appearing above my wrist when I selected the holochat. “Got a couple of blokes here that haven’t seen you in action as of yet but would like to. I know how much you like blowing minds.”

“Good to see you, too, Commander Red,” I said conversationally. “Who’s flying me in?”

“Who else, Jerry?” I heard Sam’s voice say and Red’s screen shook when the big Aussie grabbed her wrist and turned the camera to face him. “Good to see you, friend. How was the coffee?”

“Espresso, actually,” I told him, smiling. “And it was divine.”

Sam’s face vanished and the screen shook again when Red retrieved her forearm from him. “Get off, croc,” she said before turning her deep red eyes back to me. The sisters had their hair and eye color chosen before birth, something that seemed to be the norm in Sydney, Australia, the leading place in scientific breakthroughs for almost two-hundred years, they told me.

And also one of the only inhabitable places left on the planet.

“We’re ready when you are,” Red said and the lift shuddered when it halted and Evonne and I stepped onto the catwalk. “You’ll be escorting Lieutenant Guy and his men.”

“Location?”

“Almost a hundred and fifty miles south of Flagstaff. The Bears are setting up some kind of installation in Old Phoenix. You’re going to help Guy get inside and blow the joint sky high.”

“What, the building they’re in?”

“No, crazy,” Red said incredulously. “The whole flipping city, mate. I don’t want any more hidey holes for the bleeding Bears left if I can help it.”

We had made it to the other side of the catwalk and entered the elevator that led to the chopper hanger. “So, just to clarify,” I started, hitting a button and the doors slid shut behind us. “You want me to destroy the entire city of Phoenix, Arizona?”

“Right.”

“And no one lives there?”

“Negative. It’s been empty since the First Snow hundreds of years ago. Nothing but ice spiders and Bears now.”

“Okay,” I said, nodding. “Just wanted to make sure we were on the same page. We’re on our way up.”

I exited the holochat and leaned against the elevator wall, letting my head rest against it while I closed my eyes.

It had been almost five months since my showdown with Dr. Cross in Anchorage, Alaska. Cross, the elder brother of Archimedes, was the one who’d fished my remains from my first attempt of saving the world and rebuilt me to be his mindless powerhouse drone.

Needless to say I had a little to say about that.

When I’d got to Cross, though, he’d already made another Jericho, a perfect one, he said, without the robotic extremities and other faults like, you know, free will. The battle ended with me getting my butt handed to me and a fist all the way through my chest and back.

Had it not been for Sybil, my Partisan, who reminded me what I was capable of, I would’ve died instead of commandeering the perfect Jericho body and saving myself.

Sorry. That’s a lot of info to toss at you, I know, because I can’t just assume you’ve heard the first two tales I recorded.

“Master Johnson?” Evonne asked quietly. “Are you well, sir?”

I nodded, my eyes still closed. The last five months had flown by in a blur and though I’d made lots of progress on my Crusade, there was still oodles to go before I was complete.

“I’m good, Mitch. Just tired, I guess. Not literally tired, though, because, well, you know why, but I feel like I need a holiday.”

“Permission to overstep my boundaries, sir?”

I opened my eyes and looked at my oldest friend. “Sure, man. Let’s hear it.”

Evonne thought for a moment and he looked like he wasn’t wanting to say what was on his mind. I guess I could’ve just read his mind but ever since I learned to control it months ago I decided that hearing everyone’s thoughts all the time wasn’t the best idea.

And it was just plain rude sometimes.

“You are quite powerful now, sir, and many, many people rely on you and those powers most desperately.”

I was quiet, listening. He was right so far.

“But you were not born this way. I fear that you have too great of a responsibility too soon and that, though you can physically take anything, your mind cannot.”

If you think that sounded harsh, you don’t know Evonne. The new words of wisdom he’d just imparted to me was one of the reasons I’d went back for him months ago. The guy understood me without us having to talk out things, which was invaluable to me at that moment in my life. He also reminded me of my past life, which not only kept me realizing how different I was now but also kept me grounded to my roots.

“Listen, Mitch,” I started. “I appreciate the concern but Sybil—”

“I don’t trust Sybil,” Evonne said suddenly, surprising me big time.

“She doesn’t have a secret, crazy, evil plot cooking, Mitch, trust me. You can’t just not trust someone because you haven’t met them.”

“Yes, I can.”

“Look,” I said. “I can’t explain it in a way you’d understand but I trust her and, if you can’t, then trust me.”

“Jericho,” he said, surprising me a second time. Master Johnson was what he’d called me for years. He only ever called me by my first name one other time and it was when we were about to die. “This is not your time, people or war and when you’re not blindly following the orders of a mysterious woman no one else has ever seen nor heard before you can be found blindly following the orders of Red, a woman not even thirty years of age that now has you on your way to blow up an entire city and kill thousands of men who you’re only against because she has told you that you should be.”

I was completely speechless. I stared at him and he stared right back until the elevator stopped and the doors opened.

“The hero and his dinosaur,” someone said and we turned to see Beck Sparks standing outside the door, her arms folded and the ever-present smirk on display for us to see. “Ready to go kill stuff, Master Johnson?” she added sarcastically.

Evonne broke his gaze and stepped around me, selecting the lower level. “Do be careful, Master Johnson. I look forward to your triumphant return, sir.”

I stepped out and the doors slid shut.

“What’s up with him?” Beck asked and we headed down the hallway to the next hanger. “He seemed more animated than usual.”

“Nothing,” I told her. “I guess you’re coming with us?”

“You know it,” Beck chuckled, falling in step beside me. “Looking forward to the fireworks, actually. Ooh, you know what? Maybe if we’re close enough we can even hear a few good screams.”

Even though Beck was almost completely synthetic and about as inhumane as a person could get, thus making me disregard everything she said half the time, I couldn’t shake Evonne’s words my mind.

But he was just overreacting. I mean, I knew what I was doing now, right? I had a goal in sight. A purpose, if you will.

Right?




“To all passengers, this is your captain speaking. I would like to inform all of you that all complaints you probably will have in the next, oh, ten minutes or so are to be directed to Commander Red upon our return because she put me in the bloody pilot seat on this one, mates.”

Sam’s cabin addresses normally put a smile on my face but it didn’t that day. What with my mind on all of Evonne’s last words.

The enormous chopper we were in wasn’t actually a chopper to me but since my notion of helicopters were severely outdated the massive, powerful aircrafts of the future were deemed simply choppers and were quite common to see just about everywhere.

“You alright?” Beck asked me from where she was strapped in across the cabin. Her appearance had changed somewhat over the months and her hair had started growing back, just like Blu had said it would after I’d given her some of my super-blood. Man, it felt like ages ago and not, in fact, the five months it had just been. Beck, who’d become accustomed to the buzz cut she’d been rocking when her hair had started falling out due to her expiration date creeping up, wasn’t exactly ready to don locks again and had kept the sides of her head shaved, allowing the black hair on top to form into a Mohawk at first and then, after it had grown so long it toppled over, Beck said her hair was complete.

It was strange to look at, don’t get me wrong. I mean, the sides being buzzed and the long, black hair on top looking almost normal in the high ponytail she always kept it in.

But the style suited her personality-wise. It told all that she didn’t care, that she could do major damage and that she wasn’t one to be trifled with.

I thought about just telling her yes but since it was just the two of us in the hold I said, “I’ll live. Mitch is second guessing me, is all.”

“Oh,” she said, frowning. “Well, forget it and get your head in the game. I don’t want another Vancouver on my hands because you decided to overthink your entire existence again.”

I glared at her. “I’m fine.”

Vancouver was where I’d lost my powers months ago while on my way to Anchorage. In the end Red and Sam were both killed during our escape from the rotten inhabitants of the ruined city.

After discovering the full extent of my abilities weeks later, I’d simply went back in time for them and now they were both alive and well.

That was when Blu and I had our first fight.

Since I knew that they weren’t around in my time anyway I’d just grabbed the two of them and jumped them forward three weeks later with me, something that Blu was most furious about, saying that I might as well have went back and stopped Hitler from committing suicide or saved the Titanic from sinking.

I tried to explain that was the very reason I had brought them back with me. They were dead in our time, they would miss the rest of the road trip from hell and, most importantly, there would be no ripples this way but she wasn’t convinced.

In the end she sort of forgave and made me promise not to abuse my power over time ever again, no matter the cost.

To which I almost sort of agreed to.

We’d been flying for around twenty minutes at top speed when Sam tabbed us. “We’re approaching the drop point, Jerry. You’re going to babysit Guy and his men and help them breech Old Phoenix so you're basically going to be solo for the next couple of hours. Beck and I are to move in only after you take out whatever defenses the Bears have cooked up for us.”

“Sounds good,” I answered, standing and pulling my hood over my head. “How high are we?”


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