In life, we are plagued by the uncertainty of an afterlife, and it is often expected that when we die, everything will suddenly make sense. But when a group of strangers, similar only in their time of death, find themselves in the afterlife, they are faced with more questions than ever before. Are they in Heaven or Hell? If they’re in Heaven, why is there a Nazi wandering around? Why are there no children? If they are in Hell, what universal law did they break? Is there a way to repent and move on to a better eternity? At least one man seems to have some answers. Marcus, a Roman dead for 2,000 years, gains the group’s trust by leading them through the perils of their new reality. But soon it becomes clear that Marcus is only telling them half the story.
L. A. Barnes is public librarian in the southern US. She is a Nerdist podcast listening, South Park loving, Twin Peaks conspiracy theorizing, Stephen King reading and Joss Whedon worshiping geek. The Pit is her first novel. She plans to explore the Watchmaker’s universe through four more novels.
Sid and Nadia forge ahead with their terrible idea.
The Pit: Watchmaker’s Hell: Book One
PLAN H (NOTHING LIKE THE BUTT CREAM OF THE SAME NAME)
Marcus, Lauren, Regan & Max
Center of the Pit, Hell
WHY ARE YOU BACK?” LAUREN demanded. Of Marcus’ four-man team, she was the only one brave enough to ask the question. “And why are we meeting like this? Doesn’t this give us away?”
The look on their faces when he returned to the Pit after the end of the first battle was hilarious. Regan had been hiding her head in Jesusita’s bosom during the battle. As Marcus, Sid and Nadia entered to hugs and cheers from the group, Regan stood straight up, her whole face going slack. Max went from being convivial with the other soldiers to looking around at those nearest him like they were about to attack. Lauren, sitting against the wall with Reggie and Sun, immediately let out a string of expletives. Now they stood at the center of the Pit, meeting for the first time in the open.
Marcus’ centuries of experience gave him not only plan A and B but also plans C thru Z. He’d only covered plan A with Max because this was Max’s first foray into the Pit. Regan had only seen A and B because she’d only been recruiting for three months. Lauren rarely recruited because of her notoriety, leaving her equally inexperienced to the other two.
“Everything is still going according to one of my plans,” Marcus explained.
“What letter are we on?” Max asked, pointlessly since he knew the least of any of them.
“H,” Marcus answered. “Now listen up because I am not explaining this twice. Our cover is blown, but to pull this off, it needs to be. We can win the loyalty of any of them if we carry out this plan enthusiastically.”
Max reacted to the ‘our cover is blown’ part negatively. He kept looking between the group, Marcus and the exit. “Oh, God. We need to go. We need to run.”
“We don’t because I made a deal with Nadia and Sid—one that will make all your soldiers loyal to me as well.” Marcus countered. “I’ve promised to get the whole group out.”
“By my math we have less than an hour until the next battle,” Regan shrieked. “It’s not enough time.”
Marcus shrugged. “We will fail. Someone will be destroyed. But it is important that everyone in that group thinks we are working to protect them—to get everyone to safety. That is the lie we are selling with this plan.”
Max relaxed. “That would make every soldier in that group ours,” he enthused. “They’ve been talking about protecting the group since Alex was destroyed. We do this, they’ll think we are all comrades.”
“Wait, we have a huge problem,” Lauren interrupted. “The group is bigger than when you left. Some African priest showed up with another 50 people. Plus there are now a bunch of refugees—Koreans and Thai and Japanese—who are all avoiding Asia because of the battle. I counted. There are 150 people in that group now. How do we get a group that big out?”
“It’s a valid concern,” Marcus agreed. “Max is going to find me every man and woman in that group with any military experience. Regan, you need to search any friendly platform for weapons. But be quiet about it; we don’t want another group deciding we are a threat and targeting us.”
Lauren looked like she didn’t want to argue further but felt she had to. “This group is a problem because of more than its size. All those people added themselves because they heard someone in the Pit was looking for answers. They’re not people we want. That priest led the Africans over like a flock. And priests believe in good and evil, right? These people are Virgil material.” She waited, tense, for Marcus’ response. But moments like this were why Lauren had risen so far in Marcus’ ranks. It was a valid concern, well thought out and well put, offered respectfully. Marcus wouldn’t slap her back for saying it.
“This leads us to the very important second part of the plan.” Marcus waved them closer to him. “First we get them out, then we thin the herd. We need to get rid of anyone we wouldn’t have wanted because they are lazy, too stupid or useless. We also need to eliminate anyone who is clear Virgil material. The last thing we do is confront them with the truth.”
“Which version of the truth?” Max asked.
“Lauren’s!” Regan answered, clasping her hands together, nearly jumping up and down in the tight huddle. “That convinced me. And there are so many women in this group. If they knew why Lauren was in Hell, none of them would even listen to Virgil.”
In a rare moment of connection between the two women, Lauren looked touched by Regan’s endorsement. “You are right, Regan. I think this group needs to hear what Lauren has to say,” Marcus responded.
Lauren looked away, clearly embarrassed by the attention. Regan looked more triumphant.
“We need to remain flexible for this to work. Keep them moving. If they are determined, we may even let them talk to Heinrich,” Marcus explained, leading to another bad reaction from his team.
“How is that different from letting him talk to Virgil or Deborah?” Max begged.
“First of all,” Lauren laughed, “his English is terrible. He doesn’t explain himself well.”
“He sells a fantasy,” Marcus elaborated. “We offer the reality of why that fantasy is dangerous.”
“And if they choose his fantasy over our reality?” Max asked.
“Then we know we need to destroy them,” Marcus shrugged. “This is a process by which they eliminate themselves.”
Regan and Lauren were ready to carry out the plan. Max looked like he might be sick.
“Can you do this?” Marcus asked.
“Of course,” Max answered. “Now, how do we thin the herd?”