Kieran Roark awakens in a wheelchair, unable to remember anything. As part of a classified experiment, he will have one year to learn his identity and recover his memory, or he will be euthanized by the state.
Scientist Berkeley Bennett has one mission: manipulate Kieran’s emotions in an attempt to bring back his memory. But when she falls in love with him, she is forced to make a harrowing decision that may cost Kieran his life.
What Kieran knows could save Earth from a coming war. Whether he believes the future is worth saving is another matter. Racing across an unfamiliar world in a body he does not recall, Kieran needs to discover who he was and, more importantly, who he is.
When I started Sleeper Protocol, I positioned the main character on a rough cut of land on the edge of the Royal Botanical Gardens in Sydney, Australia. I intended for him to spend his integration time, a full year, wandering all over the world, with one notable exception. I did not want him exploring a continent that I’d built as a shattered relic of what it once had been, but as I wrote from his perspective and tried to put myself in his shoes, I realized that not only did he need to know where his home had been – he needed to go there.
In the future world, it would have been really easy to have him just go – and that’s where I needed to spend some time building the world I’ve envisioned. The idea of a long hike across the central United States towards a walled micro nation across the Mississippi River was a good place to start. Arriving in a new Phoenix metropolitan area, I immediately took him to familiar haunts of my own. Flagstaff is one of my favorite places and from there the rest of journey flowed across places I know but haven’t yet explored as well as those that I love. Those were the easy places.
But, I still had to get him home. Getting him to Tennessee, where I am from, was relatively easy up to a point. There’s a lot of me in his character development, but I did not take him to an actual home. I took him some place better.
This is a view from my family’s farm in Tennessee, and not surprisingly, the site of one of the book’s most critical reveals. In the distance is Cherokee Mountain with its summit ridge obscured by the familiar low hanging clouds that gave the Smoky Mountains their name. At its base runs the Nolichucky River, about three miles away from this site. I’ve rafted and kayaked the river a few times in my life and vividly remember the precise spot where our hero crosses it and begins his final journey home. Once he crossed the river, I knew he could only be going to one place.
Getting him to this spot was a conscious effort. I had to determine where in this land he would have felt the biggest connection, and modeling his experiences on places from my own childhood were much more difficult than I would have guessed. It turns out that you are where you’re from. Going home late last year, when this photo was taken, I learned that.
Standing on that spot, looking down the “holler,” I started to cry. When I was first typing the story, I had no reaction. It was a casual thing. In the editing process, with one of the best editors I’ve ever worked with, there was marked correction along the lines of go deeper. By the time the final manuscript was done, I hadn’t realized how deep I went until I stood there in September.
I grew up about ten miles (roughly sixteen kilometers) away from the farm. We averaged a visit there every month or so, especially as my grandmother’s sisters began to fall into ill health. My dad and I cut firewood there all through my teenage years. I cut the grass there every summer. I helped hauled tobacco in from the fields as a child. When I left Tennessee, I left with the mistaken notion that the farm was just a special place. I was wrong, because the farm was home.
Sleeper Protocol is a lot of things, but at its core is the very notion of what we call home. Is it where we lived? Where we wandered? Or is it the one place in the world we connect to no matter where we are?
Mine is front and center in the novel. I hope you enjoy finding yours as much as I enjoyed realizing mine.
About the Author
Kevin Ikenberry’s head has been in the clouds since he was old enough to read. Ask him, and he’ll tell you that he still wants to be an astronaut. Kevin has a diverse background in space and space science education. A former manager of the world-renowned U.S. Space Camp program in Huntsville, Alabama, and a former executive of two Challenger Learning Centers, Kevin continues to work with space every day. He lives in Colorado with his wife and two daughters. His home is seldom a boring place.
Kevin’s short fiction has appeared internationally through Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, AntipodeanSF, Mindflights, Twisted Dreams Magazine, and most recently in the anthology Extreme Planets, available from Chaosium.