by Massimo Marino
This is the first in my special feature on Massimo Marino. Today we take a look at Daimones, the first book in the Daimones Trilogy. You can also read my blog post on the second book in the series, Once Humans.
Dan Amenta wakes up one morning to discover the world has changed ... the Apocalypse has arrived.
Death, destruction, and disaster are spreading around the globe. Yet Dan and his family remain untouched. He begins to fear they are the only three people left alive on Earth. They are not. Efforts to survive and make contact with others reveal disturbing truths about the human extermination. Dan finds Laura who discloses even more. Her presence - a young, sexy, disruptive girl - adds questions about what is moral and ethical in this new reality.
Then supernatural experiences reported by other survivors force Dan to seek explanations from his own past. Memories of childhood hallucinations strike him with sledgehammer force, bringing him face-to-face with a secret millions of years old. Planet Earth is in the hands of an older power, one Dan never envisioned and dares not disobey...
"Even with the best of intentions, cruelty is just around the corner."
No hint suggested the day would be any different from all others. I arrived at work as usual, after leaving my daughter at school. A too bright Monday morning and sunny for early February. The weather had been mild during the weekend, much warmer than it should for the season.
My wife, Mary, complained about the warmth, worried this would be no good for plants and the garden.
“See, everything is waking up. All the buds on my wisteria? The poor thing will become…well, hysterical if the temperature should drop—and it will—below freezing again.”
Indeed, those days felt like early spring. I liked that.
The whole winter had been harsh with average temperatures way below freezing. To leave home and take my little princess to school on my way to work was an exercise of will—even more so when activities started at 6:15am and it was still dark outside.
“I go to bed and it’s dark. I get up, dark…yet again! You know how it bothers me,” I told Mary every time she asked, “What’s going on, sweet pea? You’re pensive.” She still called me that even though it had been years since we were high school sweethearts and I’d played quarterback for our school team.
Thank the Lord, she never said it in public. No one protects a “sweet pea” quarterback or fights to catch his passes! And let’s not even think about the harassment from team mates.
Mary had just turned sixteen when we first met. Something of young lovers remained between us, even after twenty-two years, a twelve-year-old daughter, and life in three countries. We had an easy way to keep count of the time the two of us had spent together: ten years of dating, ten of marriage and then our first and only child. Total number of years? Twenty, plus our daughter’s age.
When I got to work, I waited as usual for the gate to open. I kept an eye on incoming traffic and made sure nobody came out at the same time. The gate was a solid slab of metal and it stood next to the guard house, a bulky construction with tinted glasses and dark concrete walls. Sliding slowly on its rails, the mechanism gave a long enough pause to realize you had been accepted to a place not meant for everyone.
I could never tell whether anyone was seated in the guard house or not. The first few times I crossed that gate I wondered if I needed to wave good morning to some invisible man. Now I would simply drive through, conscious of my right to cross the thin threshold separating those inside from the rest of the world.
I drove into the underground garage; my place, Number 98, waited for me the same as every morning. I had to cross another barrier before entering the parking lot. Had to swipe the badge and be greeted by the welcoming green light. A beep confirmed the security system recognized me. I went down the ramp slowly, giving the gate below time to open, enough to let me pass without having to wait. With the years, my timing had become impeccable.
Inside the garage, people had to drive at walking speed to reach their numbered parking slot. Mine was in the last row so I had enough time to realize something obstructed my place. I slammed on the brakes refusing to believe it. I raised my hand ready to smack something and hit the steering wheel in exasperation. For, as I approached my slot, I saw that two wood crates had been left there.
The underground parking also served as a reception area for the Publications Department. Slots in the middle section had been eliminated to give room to the storage areas where all deliveries received by the Pub's colleagues were collected and where confidential publications were packaged for expedition. No one thought that arrangement to be efficient and sustainable. At times, I had to wait for small crate lifters to operate. A short wait but frustrating when colleagues waited for me at a meeting. Complaints to Human Resources and Logistics & Operations had so far produced no results. And now this.
I stepped out of the car to check whether any of the storage workers were around. At 8:10, the place was still rather empty. A few cars were parked in the garage that morning. For sure, they belonged to colleagues on business trips who were accustomed to leaving their vehicles there and taking a taxi to the airport.
The crates were empty. I could move them away or park somewhere else. I chose the first option since no one could see me move them. They weren’t particularly heavy. I only had to slide them a short distance, zero risk of injuries or other silly things like tearing my trousers or jacket.
Although I didn’t train anymore, my body still enjoyed the results of those past years of football practice—semi-professional level—and the task took only a few seconds: no sweat. I drove into my parking spot. Weird. Things like that were not supposed to happen as workers had a list of unoccupied places which could be temporarily used rather than the ones assigned to personnel.
With my badge in hand, I walked toward the third security point to cross. I swiped it and entered the monthly code on the keyboard. Invisible eyes were witnessing and recording entries for that morning, the same as for every other day. The transparent bullet-proof glass doors opened and let me in to the buffer zone, a concrete walled box with a painted red little square on the floor.
The procedure asked for me to stand still on the red mark without moving while something or someone evaluated my credentials. I hated this last step. After all the security steps I’d gone through so far, I had to be indeed worthy of credit to be allowed into the premises. Maybe guards verified at the same time whether I looked suspicious or dressed nicely? I almost questioned the invisible guard about those crates but I hesitated. This was something to sort out with the Hospitality Team instead. They look after logistics and other annoying stuff.
Besides, if I had moved or wiggled too much while standing on the little red square, the glass door behind would have opened and I’d have to go through the whole procedure again, sometimes suffering the lecturing guard and waste even more time. I am sure they took pleasure in making us wait. I stood as still as I could...and waited. It took a few seconds more than usual and I thought to complain when finally a green dot appeared. I heard the welcoming beep as the opaque entrance glass doors—also bullet proof—slid aside and I was allowed in.
The view had always been spectacular, especially on sunny days. From the parking level entry, one accessed a hallway dotted with settees aligned along its gray walls. In front, a huge glass wall spanned the whole height of the building and showed a magnificent view of Lake Lemano and the mansions of rich Swiss and foreigners wealthy enough to enjoy the scenery from their large estates.
After a last glance at the glorious day unfolding outside the glass wall, I started down the stairs to reach my desk one level below. The entire organization believed in full visibility so, to foster collaboration and communication among personnel, it had no offices...just open spaces and vast halls filled with large desks.
No cubicles, a la North American style, but shared spaces in between with desks arranged in islands of four separated by panels with a transparent top-third. Though you couldn’t look at what your colleagues were doing, you had a clear view to establish eye contact; everyone sat in sight of everyone else. Hard to say whether this architect’s dream resulted in any real increase of communications between teams. I still have my doubts.
Entering the hall, I peeked to see whether my highest-ranked collaborator and friend, Rose, had gotten in already. We had an established tradition between us: the morning cappuccino.
“Hi, Rose. How’s it going?”
“As usual. The guys from Microsoft say they should be able to finish the sprint in time.”
“Good, good start for the day. Cappuccino?”
Sprint was the term used to describe the set of tasks to be implemented during a period of three weeks. I led and defined the effort for a major collaboration platform of the highest security. It included all possible technical bells and whistles, video conferencing, and social networking to support all the initiatives running worldwide with our constituents.
Highly confidential matters were discussed on our system, especially on the encrypted video conferences and we enforced an absolute off the records policy. Journalists and others, I am sure, would have loved to eavesdrop what we heard those days, particularly Arab League discussions with the Americans.
Everything we did to support and enhance the platform was required yesterday and costs or efforts were never a factor. High pressure constantly, criticisms always abundant, congratulations scarce. The kind of demanding task and thankless job anyone sane in his head would avoid. How in the world I ended up in that trap is still an open question. Anyway, as the only director who had been able to herd the cats, we had released a working platform in spite of everything and within the agreed timeline.
A few desks away, an American consultant sat, hired and imposed on the team to speed up the project and automagically solve all scenarios. He looked at his emails, showing no interest in our conversation or our whereabouts. The guy only knew one thing well and kept selling that as an IT panacea: A framework—and not among the best ones—to create websites. He advocated the solution as the ultimate silver bullet.
It proved no good for us; rather it had been the source of problems and discussions during many of the past months. Much time and money miserably wasted. Yet, somehow, he had secured the ears of influential characters. Despite the lack of promised working prototypes, and even with failing all tests and missing deadlines, he succeeded in imposing his view. A spin doctor, cum laude. Could not happen at a for-profit organization where pennies were counted.
“To a hammer, every problem is a nail,” we said on the team but we called him ‘the screwdriver’. We were confronted with stubborn nails and we needed a sledgehammer. Screwdrivers do not understand nails, so he wanted us to cut a slot on the head of every nail. Makes sense? Of course not. He kept neglecting crucial details about the project, things like ‘nails have no threads’. We judged his solutions and vision as simplistic. There were other forces at play so our judgment didn’t matter at all.
When we came back from our cappuccino, the consultant—even though now formally hired he still acted as such—had left the place for unknown destinations. Surely busy with bending people's opinions and buying support at every occasion. Grinding his way, or ‘screwdriving’ around, and forcing some head rolling in the process: move away or get crushed.
The cell phone beeped: Time to start working and accomplish something, I thought. A message from the HR Chief: “Dear Dan, did you receive our meeting invitation?”
Our invitation? Who was he referring to? From the details, I had to be in the Board Room in five minutes...with him and the ‘screwdriver’.
“Rose, I just got summoned to an urgent meeting with Carl and Brad. If I don’t come back,” I said half-jokingly, “gather my stuff into a box, will ya?”
Rose looked at me with a worried expression. We’d had discussion after discussion covering the unsustainable situation we faced. The entire team, a group of twelve now about to arrive one after the other for their day of work, had envisioned every possible scenario involving changing jobs, projects, duty stations, or even resignation. Everyone expected me to prevent all this from happening.
I climbed the stairs to the level of the Board Room, thinking what would be my reaction if I had been shown the door. We’d recently had various meetings with big brass in the organization explaining why we were wasting our time and money, and had detailed the reasons, too. We received orders to halt an evolving project to favor some already failing chimera of an extremely quick solution requiring very little budget and exceeding functionality: the typical silver bullet. So annoying.
To think that not a single person on the upper floors had any idea what silver bullets were. They do not exist in computer science, or elsewhere. I hadn’t realized yet what strong external support the new hire had.
I entered the Board Room without knocking at the door. It was a large rectangular space with floor-to-ceiling wood panels; a grandiose oval table throned in the middle, capable of seating thirty people on leather chairs of the highest quality. Screens on the two long walls allowed for video conferencing. The side facing the lake had the usual glass wall overlooking the gorgeous scenery. The institution never saved money and spared no expense. It dealt with big heads used to luxury and, thus, needed to impress as part of doing business with them.
Carl and Brad were already seated and Carl greeted me first. “Thanks for coming, Dan. Please have a seat.”
“Hi, Carl...Brad.” Now I didn’t doubt what the meeting was for that early in the day: I knew the answer but I asked anyway. “Is anyone else going to attend?”
“No, just the three of us,” said Carl, “and allow me to go straight to the point…”
I interrupted him. “Brad is here so I think I can guess why we’re meeting. Brad and I have divergent visions on how to proceed and toward which goals.” I grinned. “I am surprised this comes right after some recent proofs of the weaknesses of his proposed solution.”
I didn’t even look at Brad. I cared only for Carl, with whom I had frankly exchanged opinions about the whole thing.
Carl went on describing how everything in the institution should perform as in a Swiss clock. All parts and wheels contributing and turning in unison so that the mechanism could do its job. I had been a great wheel so far but I didn’t spin with the others anymore.
An overused analogy and often strident with reality: the clock ticked before hiring the help so Carl threw out the baby with the bathwater. He seemed to recite from a lesson of a spin doctor. He kept talking, not sounding convincing at all, or even like he was convinced himself. He came to the conclusion of his speech.
“The Board has decided to terminate your work contract with us. Your last day of employment will be on the 31st of May, in accordance with the legal deadline outline in the staff handbook. So as to provide you with as much time as possible to plan your future steps, we agreed to free you from any obligation to work until your legal deadline as of today. We confirm this does not affect your rights to your salary through 31st of May as well as a prorated 13th salary and holidays not taken during the period. You will find more details in here.”
Carl handed me an envelope which I took without looking at it, smiling.
In a way, I felt relief. All these months seemed like fighting against windmills. The issue had nothing to do with aiming at a better platform. Someone wanted to achieve a firm stance in a power struggle which had begun in the previous months. The COO had been forced to leave only weeks before. I acted as his right arm in many initiatives, besides the one I led. I became an impediment for someone, or considered to be one, refusing to put lipstick on pigs.
Carl raised his eyebrows and caressed his chin. The hint of a smile raised his lips. “You’re reacting way better than I guessed. This morning, I tried to imagine how this meeting would unfold and nothing I could think of comes close to this. Are you…happy?”
“Look, Carl…” No one paid attention to Brad, who kept watching Carl and me having this conversation, acting as if he wasn’t in the room or had nothing meaningful to say. Probably the latter.
“We both know what is going on in here. We’ve discussed this endless times.”
I clenched my jaw and clutched the sides of the chair fighting the urge to stand up. I sighed. “We, nope, you guys will waste even more resources. I can’t tell you how painful it is to deal with this nonsense we are forced to pursue. It is not going to be my problem anymore and that is a relief, believe me.”
The meeting had undoubtedly come to an end. No further discussions needed, a scenario played already. Brad left the room without saying a word while Carl and I remained seated. When alone, Carl had been more sympathetic.
“What are you going to do now, Dan?”
“I’ll go home, relax, cure the acid reflux afflicting me these past months. Remember my words, Carl. At the next Global Meeting, there will be no system to show. Ours, de facto, is to be wiped out and retired. The new one will be recycled to do something else, much smaller in scope, less ambitious. Unable to work as intended or reproduce what we did so far. It falls short now, it will fall short then. At most, you get a new website.” I laughed bitterly. “The most expensive website ever with a newly hired CTO to act as its webmaster. Congratulations.”
Carl grinned and did not argue. “I need you to go through some formalities…”
Everything fit now, the parking place occupied with the wood crates; the delays in passing through the gates. Security knew that today I would have only a virtual presence on the premises.
“Your badge is disabled by now.”
How predictable. Poor Rose, I thought. She had to collect my stuff for me and put everything in a box. The rest of the list was quick: email account, the blackberry, various cards…
“We need those now. I am sure you understand.”
Of course I did. Badge, corporate credit card. I also handed him the lunch card. “I have still some 100 Swiss Francs on it. I guess you’ll be able to credit the next salary?”
Carl chatted with me all the way to the wardrobe. Then we headed straight to the employee entrance at the garage level, as if to make sure that I would vanish without incident of any sort or wouldn’t talk unchecked to anyone. Still early in the morning, the entire meeting lasted no more than ten minutes; employees were arriving and starting their work day. No time for goodbyes. No one noticed.
“Is the Chairman in? I’d like to say goodbye.”
“He’s traveling. I'll tell him.”
“I see. Well, nothing holds me here now. Have a good one, Carl.”
The sliding doors opened and I reached my car while texting Rose on my iPhone. “Rose, get that box. I’m fired. Leaving now. Talk to you later.”
“WHAT!!!!” I read her laconic answer, immediately received.
I repeated, “Talk to you later.”
I had mixed feelings. Had nothing to blame myself for, had done everything right. I refused to oil squeaking wheels or lick boots. If something was wrong in the project, I frankly reported all risks and listed the reasons why, too. I never took offense or anger from constructive criticisms, always considered the facts, trying to never get personal. And it led me to this end result. We were in a world where facts were being ignored and trains were leaving the stations, speeding up toward… Nothing.
Daimones is an unusual post-apocalyptic novel in that even the apocalypse occurs quietly. It is a book of reasonable believable reactions in the face of an unreasonable reality. Dan and his wife and child appear to be the only humans left alive. They prepare for the inevitable degradation of resources and search for other survivors.
The author immerses the reader in the thoughts of an intelligent, well-educated person facing the reality of living the rest of his life with all the "things" of our society, but without the society. It's not just about how you survive, but how you live your life in terms of values and behavior. If you want zombies and blood-soaked violence, this is not the book for you. If you want a book that makes you think a little deeper about values and the continuous misbehavior of mankind, read and enjoy.
About the Author
Massimo Marino comes from a scientist background: He spent years at CERN and The Lawrence Berkeley Lab followed by lead positions with Apple, Inc. and the World Economic Forum. He is also partner in a new startup in Geneva for smartphone applications: TAKEALL SA. Massimo currently lives in France and crosses the border with Switzerland multiple times daily, although he is no smuggler.
Daimones is the first volume of the Daimones Trilogy and is based on personal experience and facts with an added "what if" to provide an explanation to current and past events. It is his first novel.
Daimones is the recipient of the 2012 Paranormal Romance Guild Award Reviewers' Choice in Science Fiction, and the Seal of Excellence in Quality Writing from both the Awesome Indies and the indiePENdents.org association.
In September 2013 Daimones won the Hall of Fame - Best in Science Fiction Award, shortlisted by the Quality Reads UK Book Club.
The second volume, Once Humans, starts seven years after the events narrated in Daimones. The Communities led by the Selected are about to thrive and peace and security reigns on Eridu ... not for long.
He also writes short chilling, twisted, horror stories, including Stranded Love.