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The acclaimed actor’s shockingly prescient novel of speculative fiction “presents a near-future United States torn apart by civil war and deep racial strife” (Tampa Bay Times).

America today is teetering on the edge of the alarming vision presented in LeVar Burton’s debut novel, written more than two decades ago . . .

In 2012, the first African American president is assassinated by a white extremist—just four days after he is elected. The horrific tragedy leads to riots, financial collapse, and ultimately, a full-on civil war. In its aftermath, millions are left homeless as famine and disease spread throughout the country.

But from Chicago, a mysterious voice cries out . . .

To Leon Crane, a former NASA scientist now struggling to survive on the streets, the pleas he hears remind him of the wife he could not save—and offer him a chance at redemption.
To Jacob Fire Cloud, a revered Lakota medicine man, the voice is a sign that the White Buffalo Woman has returned to unite all the races in peace and prosperity.
And to little Amy Ladue, the cries are those of her mother, who disappeared during the devastating St. Louis earthquake—and who must still be alive.

These three strangers will be drawn together to rescue someone they have never met, a woman who holds the key to a new future for humanity—one remarkably brimming with hope.

“LeVar Burton brings a strong new voice to science fiction with this powerful, even disturbing, novel.” —Ben Bova, New York Times–bestselling author

“An amazingly good first novel.” —Rocky Mountain News

“I highly recommend this book!” —Whoopi Goldberg

ISBN-13: 9781538723739

Media Type: Paperback

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Publication Date: 09-13-2022

Pages: 320

Product Dimensions: 5.10(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.90(d)

Levardis Robert Martyn "LeVar" Burton Jr. is an actor, director, and educator who has been an icon for more than 35 years. He was the host and producer of the influential television program Reading Rainbow for more than three decades, and starred in the TV miniseries Roots and on Star Trek: The Next Generation. He lives in Sherman Oaks, California.

Read an Excerpt


By LeVar Burton

Warner Aspect

Copyright © 1998 LeVar Burton
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-446-60501-8

Chapter One

Leon Cane lifted the lid of the metal Dumpster and peered inside. He wasn't looking for food; he still had a few cans of tuna stashed away in the wooden crate he called home. Instead he was searching for reading material-books, magazines, newspapers-something to relieve the boredom that came with being homeless. On a good day he might come across a discarded newspaper or a dog-eared novel. Once he had found a copy of Scientific American, but he had thrown it away, the bitter memories too much to endure. Luck wasn't with him today, however, for the Dumpster was empty. Disappointed, he lowered the lid and continued down the deserted alleyway, the soles of his oversized shoes clopping loudly on the pavement. Like the books he read, the shoes had also been found in a Dumpster. They were two sizes too big, and rubbed his feet when he didn't remember to line them with newspaper, but he couldn't complain. A lot of people he knew didn't even have shoes. They went barefoot, risking cuts and infections, or wrapped their feet in plastic bags and strips of cloth.

Aware of the noise he was making, Leon slowed his pace. The back streets of war-ravaged Atlanta were dangerous enough without letting everybody know you were coming. Silence was the rule if you wanted to survive. Stealth. The thieves and murderers knew it. They waited like spiders in the shadowy darkness of doorways and burned-out vehicles, setting traps for their victims. Mercy and compassion were never offered, only pain and sometimes death.

But for every thief and cutthroat that skittered about in the blackness, there were a dozen people who had survived the riots and race war and wanted nothing more than to put the hurt behind them and begin the healing. For the poor and homeless, race was no longer an issue, no longer a reason to hate. When a person was cold and starving it mattered not if the helping hand offered was white, black, yellow or red. In the months following the war, thousands of shantytowns and tiny tent communities sprang up across the country in fields and city parks, and along deserted highways and country roads. Noisy, crowded affairs, often lacking fresh water and sanitation facilities, these new communities were a mixture of refugee camp, flea market and carnival. They were a place to go when companionship was desired or supplies needed, a place to share a joke, have a drink or find a shoulder to cry on.

At these makeshift communities, everything one needed could be had for a price: food, clothing, drugs, even sex. Some of the ones run by gangs offered guarded sleeping quarters where a person could enjoy a good night's rest without fear of being robbed. Others featured gaming tents and casinos, where robbery was a way of life. Either way, the same rule still applied: no one was ever turned away because of the color of their skin. Leon wiped the sweat from his forehead and looked up. The afternoon sky was a hazy gray. To the south vertical towers of cumulonimbus thunderclouds rose like snowcapped mountains high above the horizon, threatening rain. He stood and watched the clouds for a moment, lost in his thoughts, feeling a twinge of the same joy and wonder he had once felt as a much younger man.

Leon had grown up in the town of Millvat, Pennsylvania, just across the Ohio River from the city of Pittsburgh. His father worked in a steel mill. His mother was a seamstress, baby-sitting on the weekends to supplement the family income. With three growing boys to feed there never seemed to be enough money. But his parents scrimped and saved, sacrificing so that Leon and his two older brothers never had to do without.? His mother, Jewel, instilled in Leon a strong sense of self and her passion for learning. She impressed upon him at an early age that in order to compete successfully with white men he would need to be similarly educated. By scrimping and saving, Leon's parents set aside enough money to send both him and his brother James to college, while Leon's older brother Richard followed in the footsteps of their father and went to work in a steel mill.

Leon graduated from Colorado State University with a degree in atmospheric science. After graduation, he had gone to work at the Center for Clouds, Chemistry and Climate, nicknamed C4, in La Jolla, California. He and a team of university, government and industrial researchers worked side by side to study the radiative effects of clouds upon the earth's surface, gathering their information from satellites, sensors and spy planes. He had been working at the Center for a little over two years when he met Vanessa Campbell, a registered nurse at the La Jolla Medical Center. She was tall and slender, extremely beautiful, with a smile that could melt glaciers and cause a lion and a lamb to lie down together. They dated, sharing a passion for the theater, old movies and moonlight walks along the beach.

They also shared a love for creating amateur works of art. Vanessa's speciality was watercolor paintings of wildflowers. She was very talented, several of her paintings winning awards and honorable mentions at local art shows. On picnics together in the park Leon would carry the food and drink, while she brought along a fresh canvas and her sketch pad. After eating, he would lie on the grass and watch her paint, or close his eyes and listen to her hum different songs. She always hummed when she worked, usually something lively and flowing like the images she captured on canvas.? Leon wasn't a painter. His artistic talents birthed in the bowls and pots he created on a pedal-powered potter's wheel. He loved doing pottery; there was something satisfying and almost magical about it: the smell and feel of the fresh clay when he kneaded out the air bubbles, the thunk-thunk of the wheel as his hands carefully gave life to a spinning bowl or pot, the heat from the kiln, which was always two degrees hotter than hell. Vanessa used to tease him that his pottery satisfied a primitive male urge somewhat akin to sexual desire. Maybe so, but she had no qualms about adding her feminine touch to his primitive urges with a well-placed buttercup or two.

They had been dating for only six months when Leon and Vanessa decided to get married, both equally certain that they had found the person they wanted to share their life with. A few weeks later they were married at one of the many twenty-four-hour wedding chapels in Las Vegas, Nevada. Leon's mother had been upset that they didn't have a formal church wedding, but she quickly forgave them when he flew her and his father out to California for a visit. One year and three months after the wedding, give or take a few days, Vanessa gave birth to Anita Luanne Cane, the most beautiful little girl in the entire world-at least in Leon's opinion.

Although Leon's work at C4 figuratively put his head in the clouds, his dreams went way beyond that, out past the strato-sphere and monosophere, to the great vastness of space. He knew humanity's future lay in space exploration and wanted very much to be a part of that future. His dream came true when an old friend introduced him to the head of the meteorology department at NASA. Four months later, Leon was offered a job with the space administration. It was an offer he did not turn down.

From a rented condo in La Jolla, Leon and his family moved into a modest three-bedroom home, just five blocks from the Atlantic Ocean, in Cocoa Beach, Florida. His job at NASA was to study meteorological and infrared information beamed back to earth from weather satellites to determine if space shuttles, their payloads crammed with parts and supplies for Space Station Alpha, could lift off according to schedule. With launches coming every three weeks, he had been kept quite busy. But he didn't mind: the job was rewarding and the pay terrific.

During his first six months working for NASA, Leon had noticed peculiar disturbances in the earth's weather patterns shortly after the launch or reentry of a space vehicle. It seemed every time a shuttle or rocket went up, or came back down, someplace caught hell with violent storms, tornados, even floods. At first he thought it was nothing more than a coincidence. After all, how could a rocket or shuttle launched in Florida possibly affect weather conditions halfway around the world? But the more he researched the matter, the more he became convinced there was indeed some sort of connection. The atmospheric disturbances could be traced all the way back to the earliest launches of the 1950s.

Leon theorized that the different layers of atmosphere surrounding the planet-a soupy mixture of nitrogen, oxygen, argon, carbon dioxide, hydrogen, ozone, methane and a dozen other elements-behaved less as a gas and more as a semi-solidified gelatinous substance when compressed by the earth's gravitational field. Ripples were created in the upper atmosphere during the exit or reentry of a space vehicle, much like the ripples on the surface of a pond when a stone is tossed into the water. These ripples traveled outward as invisible gravitational waves, disrupting weather patterns in places where the layers of atmosphere were thinner.

He took his findings to his immediate supervisor, but was dismissed with a laugh and a wave of a hand. Disheartened, Leon brought his report home and tossed it on his desk, where it stayed until he decided to go public with his findings. Afraid he was placing his career in jeopardy, Vanessa tried to talk him out of his decision. But Leon refused to listen, convinced he was doing the right thing. Ultimately, it was Leon's conscience that led him to share his findings with the press. His report appeared as "Do Space Launches Affect Our Weather?" in the March 2011 issue of Scientific American. It was a good article, well written, backed up by dates, figures and facts. The results were disastrous.

Radical political organizations, opposed to the space program and looking for a reason to shut it down, jumped on Leon's article as a means to pressure Congress into giving NASA the axe. His article was beamed around the world by way of the Internet, with dozens of news reporters and talk show hosts twisting the report into a prophecy of doom. Once the fire was lit it could not be stopped. Leon was subpoenaed to testify about his findings before a congressional committee task force, as were several of his co-workers, his supervisor and the head of the Space Administration. Once they got started, the hearings lasted for four weeks and were carried live on national television, with highlights and commentary presented each night on the six and eleven o'clock news. Congress and the President of the United States, already struggling with a failing economy, inflation and racial tensions, saw the situation as a chance to direct public attention and concern elsewhere. The shuttle program was suspended, as were any future plans for the space station. Almost overnight, Leon had gone from being a simple scientist who loved his job to the Antichrist of the space program. With the suspension of the shuttle program, thousands of NASA employees were laid off. Thousands more were laid off by multinational corporations whose business centered around shuttle launches, satellite deployment and space technologies. The economic impact on the Florida communities of Cocoa Beach and Titusville was devastating. Within only a few weeks, they became little more than ghost towns. Leon was also laid off, but he lost much more than just his job.

Three weeks after Congress gave the space program the axe, someone threw two firebombs through his living room window. His wife and their three-year-old daughter died in the flames that engulfed his home. Leon's mother had tried to teach him how to share her love for God, but even as a child, Leon found it impossible to respect a God who could allow the world to be so full of pain. Science had become his religion. Now, he had nothing. Homeless, alone, his heart sick with grief, Leon had left Florida with the intention of returning to Pennsylvania to see his mother. His father had died the previous year from a heart attack, and his brothers were living in other towns, but his mother still lived in the same house Leon had grown up in. Both the house and his mother represented happier times, times of comfort and simplicity.

But Leon never made it to Millvat; he got only as far as Atlanta, Georgia. On November 13, 2012, he arrived in the city of Atlanta with only the clothes on his back and twenty dollars in his pocket, arriving just in time to witness the riots following the death of President-elect Lawrence Everette.

He had watched as thousands of angry people ran through the streets, smashing windows, overturning cars and setting buildings on fire. Downtown Atlanta became a war zone as police officers squared off against armed protesters. Hundreds of people were killed in the fighting; many more were wounded and maimed. The gutters ran red with their blood, and the night was filled with screams. He hadn't gotten caught up in the madness that swept the city during the riots, hadn't looted, robbed or even raised his fist in anger. The truth was he didn't care. Life no longer had much meaning for him. His world had become an empty wooden crate, one meal a day-if he was lucky-and a tattered, faded picture of the wife and daughter he had lost.

Leon Cane lowered his gaze, pushing back the memories that always brought tears to his eyes. He stuffed his hands into his pants pockets and continued slowly down the alley, searching for something to read to kill the pain.


Excerpted from Aftermath by LeVar Burton Copyright © 1998 by LeVar Burton . Excerpted by permission.
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