Welcome to one of the January 18th stops on the blog tour for the Rho Agenda Inception Series by Richard Phillips, organized by Silver Dagger Book Tours. Be sure to follow the rest of the tour for more excerpt spotlights, guest posts by the author, and a giveaway! (More on that at the end of this post.)
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The Rho Agenda: Inception Book One
by Richard Phillips
Published 5 August 2014
Genre: Science Fiction Thriller
Page Count: 448
Add it to your Goodreads TBR!
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 Rho Agenda: Inception Book Two
by Richard Phillips
Published 6 January 2015
Genre: Science Fiction Thriller
Page Count: 401
Add it to your Goodreads TBR!
After the riveting events of Once Dead, Jack “Ripper” Gregory remains host to a homicidal alien bound to his soul. Now Jack has been hired for a suicide mission: journey to South America and rescue an imprisoned shaman. One problem…both the National Security Agency and a gang of neo-fascists are hot on his trail.
Neither group plans to let Jack live.
At stake is the immeasurably powerful Sun Staff, an ancient alien artifact that in the wrong hands will alter the course of human history. With the clock ticking, Jack must find and rescue the shaman before sinister forces get to him first. When Jack comes face-to-face with his equal—a stunningly beautiful NSA agent—he wonders if he can still pull the trigger and save his mission…even if the decision costs him his very soul.
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.
Tupac Inti leaned against the bars, his dark eyes drawn to the gathering storm in the Palmasola prison courtyard a dozen feet below his cell. In the eighteen months he’d been imprisoned awaiting trial, he’d seen lots of violence, much of it initiated by neo-Nazi gang members of the Unión Juvenil Cruceñista, or UJC. After all, they had access to money, and that meant the Disciplina Interna, the prison gang who ran Palmasola, left them alone. Real guards rarely entered Santa Cruz’s notorious prison town, preferring to maintain a perimeter defense to prevent escapes, leaving the internal governance to the prisoners themselves.
Tupac had been lucky. Lucky to be as big as he was. Lucky to be one of the many Quechua people with muscles hardened by years swinging a pick in a Bolivian mine. As he watched the eight swastika tattooed pricks converge on the newcomer, Tupac knew that this man had no such luck. The guards were either too disinterested to intervene or they were looking forward to the show. Tupac suspected the latter.
The object of neo-Nazi attention stood bare-chested in the filth strewn exercise area, having just completed a vigorous workout that had left his upper body glistening with sweat in the hot, late-afternoon February sun. What he’d done to get on the UJC’s bad side Tupac didn’t know. It didn’t take much. The man had no tattoos that would have placed him in a competing gang and he was Caucasian, a definite plus with the neo-Nazis. But, from the scars that crisscrossed the man’s chest and back, he was no stranger to getting on someone’s bad side. Whatever the newcomer had done, here in Palmasola, being on the UJC’s bad side was the equivalent of a death sentence.
To look at the man, you’d never know he was about to die. He wasn’t big like Tupac, just over six feet, with lean muscle that rippled beneath his skin at every movement. But it was the man’s eyes that fascinated Tupac. As those eyes surveyed the men closing in on him, they held no trace of fear. The sight triggered the memory of a black leopard he’d once spotted in the high Amazon. Hungry, hunting eyes, glistening with animal eye-shine. It sent a sudden chill up Tupac’s spine.
When the UJC’s champion stepped forward, it was no surprise. Clean shaven with short blond hair, at six-foot-six he was almost as big as Tupac. Although most Bolivians of German descent were good, honest people, that didn’t apply to Karl Liebkin. Until his arrest during an elite police unit raid on the UJC’s headquarters, he had been a rising star in the neo-Nazi subculture, claiming more than two dozen personal kills. Being in Palmasola hadn’t hurt his body count. Karl liked to keep his victims alive, handing their broken and bloody bodies over to his comrades for final disposition. Their screams often continued for more than an hour.
It was why nobody screwed with these guys. But from that look in the newcomer’s eyes, he was about to.
When Karl made his move, it was as if the newcomer had seen it coming before it began. With an easy grace that wasted no energy, the newcomer shifted his weight, letting the shiv slash by the side of his neck with less than an inch to spare, using the motion to coil for the counterstrike that put all of his two hundred pounds into the open hand impact, directly into Karl’s windpipe. The blow dropped the bigger man to his knees, sending a bloody froth bubbling over his lips.
The newcomer’s spinning side kick impacted the side of Karl’s skull, directly over his right ear, the force of impact snapping his head to the side and dropping him on his face with blood from the shattered eardrum leaking down. From the jail cells and the crowded alleys that surrounded the conflict, shouts and cheers rose up, growing in volume as the newcomer picked up the shiv and cut Karl’s throat from ear to ear, sending a fountain of red neo-Nazi blood spurting toward his stunned companions.
Then, like the black leopard, the newcomer was among them, whirling and slashing, killing the first two before they realized their danger. The first of the survivors to regain his senses bull-rushed the red-eyed demon, but the attacker’s attempted tackle was met with a Judo flip that converted his momentum into a flailing arc toward an impact that would break his ribs. In the midst of the flipping motion, the newcomer slid his left hand up the Nazi’s face from chin to eyes, his fingers thrusting, ripping, and tearing the blue and white orbs from their sockets, leaving them dangling down their owner’s bloody cheeks as he writhed on the ground.
Then the shirtless man stood clear, Karl’s shiv in his right hand. Though his breath panted out, it was clearly from battle lust, not exertion. Four down, four to go. And when those four backed away, the newcomer dropped the shiv and turned his back on them, stepping across Karl’s body on his way back to his cell as wild cheers shook the red brick hell-town.
And as the newcomer made that walk, Tupac got a good look into the man’s strange eyes. It was a look that left him cold.
The Rho Agenda: Inception Book Three
by Richard Phillips
Published 19 May 2015
Genre: Science Fiction Thriller
Page Count: 418
Add it to your Goodreads TBR!
With the final chapter of the Rho Agenda Inception, all secrets will be revealed. Who is the alien mind haunting Jack “The Ripper” Gregory? What is the purpose of the immensely powerful Sun Staff? And how will the culmination of these events set the stage for the Rho Agenda?
In this page-turning sci-fi adventure, the NSA’s most brilliant hacker is abducted and the world stands on the brink of cyberwar. The Ripper and his ghost team commandos are called to action, battling a host of enemies ranging from a genius tech-billionaire and the Chinese government to an emerging superintelligence capable of bringing the world to its knees. With every threat in play, Jack must confront his alien passenger and regain some semblance of self-control. As the origins of the Rho Agenda come to light, Jack struggles to embrace his destiny. But how can even one such as he prevail against an existential threat to humanity?
They say that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. Unfortunately, Calcutta couldn’t make that claim.
Jack Gregory had always craved danger’s adrenaline rush. But in the two years since his Calcutta deathbed experience and his subsequent rebirth atop the old nun’s surgery table, that craving wrapped him like an anaconda, hard enough to make him question the nature of his near-death encounter. Whether or not the mind parasite that had accompanied him back across the life-death threshold was a hallucination, it had changed the way he experienced this world. And if Jack didn’t get control of it, that amped up craving was going to render him every bit as dead as most of the world thought he already was.
Opening his eyes, Jack set the phone down on the night-stand and shifted his gaze to the naked twenty-three year old Polynesian woman who lay sprawled face down on the opposite side of the bed. The right half of her body lay uncovered, revealing a very shapely hip and thigh. The curve of her right breast where it pressed into the mattress was almost enough to make him climb back into bed to reawaken the fire within that lovely body.
But the phone call he’d just received made it clear that his Kauai vacation had come to an end. The bedside clock read 7:15 a.m., so it was 1:15 p.m. in Maryland. Levi Elias had taken the initiative to book Jack a ticket on the first available flight back. That meant an inter-island hop to Honolulu, followed by the redeye to Los Angeles. Another five hour flight after that and he should arrive at Baltimore Washington International sometime tomorrow afternoon.
After a quick shower, Jack slipped on a pair of Dockers, his sandals, and a wildly floral Hawaiian shirt before stuffing the rest of his things into a small canvas duffel. He wiped down his Glock and set it topmost in the bag, then zipped it shut. Because he would be flying commercial, he’d have to chuck the gun into a dumpster before he headed to the airport. Although it didn’t fit his hand quite as nicely as his favored Heckler and Koch, here on the island, the Glock had been easier to come by. Oh well. Easy come, easy go.
With one lingering glance back at the sleeping woman, Jack opened the door and stepped out onto the walkway that ran along the beach, his bag slung over his left shoulder. Jack paused, feeling the ocean breeze ruffle his brown hair. The waves breaking on the beach fifty yards from where he stood produced the wonderful rushing sound that sucked the cares right out of his soul. Jack took a long, deep breath and savored the salt taste on his tongue. He was going to miss this.
Walking down the path, Jack spotted a dumpster and, after a quick glance to ensure he was alone, dropped the gun inside. Fifty yards farther, he reached the parking lot, climbed into his rented white Camry, and turned onto Poipu Road. As he began the thirty minute drive to the Lihue airport, Jack marveled at his readiness to sign on for this NSA operation. Even though he’d previously agreed to make himself available to the NSA as a private contractor, he had the right to accept or decline such contracts as he saw fit.
There was only one reason he had accepted this particular assignment: Janet Price. The last time he’d teamed with the deadly NSA agent, Jack’s actions had shocked her. He recalled seeing the distrust shining in Janet’s beautiful brown eyes, just before she’d turned her back and walked away from him in Miami. That memory had left a bad taste that he couldn’t seem to wash away. Three weeks on an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean had failed to expunge it.
Perhaps this time he could prove that he wasn’t a rampaging psychopath with a death wish. And if he could convince himself of the same thing, so much the better.
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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