By LeVar Burton

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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



“We have to keep in mind at all times that we are not fighting for integration, nor are we fighting for separation. We are fighting for recognition as free humans in this society.”

—Malcolm X

“Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.”

—John F. Kennedy

Chapter 1

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 boredorn 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 wild-flowers. 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 thunkthunk 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 stratosphere 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.

Chapter 2


Dr. Rene Reynolds looked up, studying the faces of those who watched her. Twelve men and seven women, experts in the fields of science and medicine—most of them representing major medical corporations—sat on folding chairs and observed her movements with keen interest. She found no warmth in their faces, but she found nothing to indicate a threat of any kind.

Dismissing her feelings as nothing more than a case of pre-presentation jitters, she turned her attention back to the computers, EKG and biofeedback machines, checking gauges and adjusting knobs where necessary. Her hands trembled slightly as she connected several electrodes to the elderly woman lying on the examination table in the center of the room. The woman’s name was Irene McDaniels, and up until a few short weeks ago she had been suffering from both Parkinson’s disease and cancer of the colon.

Rene heard a chair squeak as one of the visiting doctors stood up. She watched out of the corner of her eye as he walked across the room to the folding table set against the wall. On the table were a coffeepot, cups, paper plates and a tray loaded with cookies and snack cakes. Most of those in attendance had already helped themselves to the goodies. Rene smiled inwardly. Part of being a good scientist was never missing out on a free meal.

Beyond the table, the blinds covering the windows had been drawn tight to keep out the harshness of the summer sun. Even then the antique air conditioner, which was powered by a row of solar panels on the building’s roof, had to struggle to do its job. The room was stuffy, and Rene felt a trickle of sweat leak down her back.

She couldn’t complain about the heat, however, for the Institute was the only building on the block to even have air-conditioning, and one of the few places to have electricity for more than a few hours a day. Electrical power was rationed, like a lot of other things. Fortunately, the city of Atlanta considered the Hawkins Neural Institute important enough to give them extra kilowatt hours. What they received from the city went to operate scientific apparatuses and medical equipment. Nonessential items, such as the air conditioner, had to share the trickle of power provided by the solar panels.

Turning back around, Rene noticed her reflection in the large mirrors that covered most of the opposite wall. The woman who stared back at her was a twenty-nine-year-old African-American who, up until a few years ago, had spent most of her life in the pleasant suburbs north of Atlanta. She stood a trim five foot seven, with long straight hair that was probably the hereditary result of her great-grandmother being full-blooded Cree Indian. During her transition into puberty, Rene’s hair had developed a somewhat shocking white streak.

Most women would have colored the streak, but Rene considered it a badge of honor, a symbol that she was different from most people. It was that feeling that drove her in life, causing her to strive for goals most never dreamed of reaching. Even as a teenager, when other girls were going on dates or hanging out, she had been busy setting in motion her plans for the future, determined to achieve greatness in her life and do something that would benefit all of mankind. Graduating high school with a 4.0 grade point average, she attended Duke University, earning a Ph.D. in neurophysiology. After college she came to work for the Institute, quickly becoming one of the company’s top researchers.

On a small cart beside the examination table, in a gray padded case, was the culmination of years of Rene’s hard work. Rene opened the case and removed a handheld micro-computer called the Neuro-Enhancer. Two thin cables connected the Enhancer to a copper headband lined with electrodes. Stretching the cables out, she carefully slipped the metal band on Irene McDaniels’s head.

Rene had spent years mapping the neural networks of the human brain, using everything from nuclear magnetic resonance scanners to high-speed computers to record the firing order of each individual neuron. Working closely with computer designers and electronic engineers, she had developed the Neuro-Enhancer. The device repeated neuron firing orders, but at an increased rate, sending tiny electrical impulses shooting through the hundreds of electrodes lining the inside of the copper headband.

She had been looking for a cure for Parkinson’s disease, which slowly destroys a tiny section of the human brain called the substantia nigra. It is the substantia nigra that supplies the neurotransmitter dopamine to a larger area in the center of the brain, called the striatum, which controls movement and motor skills of the human body. As dopamine supplies to the striatum dry up, movements slow and become erratic, eventually grinding to a complete halt. Although Parkinson’s disease is not usually fatal, many of those afflicted die from injuries suffered in falls. Others end up wheelchair-bound, unable to move or even speak.

After only a few weeks of testing with the Neuro-Enhancer, Rene noticed a remarkable transformation begin to take place in her patients. In almost every case the uncontrollable tremors of hands and legs, characteristics of the disease, were completely eliminated. Motor skills and muscle strength also returned. In less than three months, ninety percent of her patients were again walking and talking normally.

Excited over the prospect that she might have actually found a cure for Parkinson’s, Rene was absolutely stunned when she discovered that treatment with the Neuro-Enhancer also resulted in the elimination of chronic pain, an increase in memory and, probably the most important of all, the complete regression of cancer cells within the body. The regression did not stop when treatments were halted, but continued until the cancer was completely eliminated.

With sixty-five percent of Caucasians suffering from skin cancer due to a depleted ozone layer, and with the steady increase in the reported number of cases of carcinoma, leukemia, lymphoma and sarcoma in the general population, the country was on the brink of a major health collapse. Since the Neuro-Enhancer had proven effective in the battle against all types of cancer, it could just be the invention of the century.

Adjusting the metal band on Mrs. McDaniels’s head, Rene inserted a coded micro CD, containing neuron firing patterns, into the Neuro-Enhancer’s microcomputer. If the visiting scientists had come to see a show they were going to be disappointed. There really wasn’t anything to see. No flashing lights or fireworks, no lightning bolts coming out of the sky like in the old Frankenstein movies, nothing but a mild hum and the readout of the instrument gauges to show that the device was even working. Nor was the healing visible to the eye. Cuts did not vanish with the wave of a wand. Tumors and infections did not run screaming from the body. The healing that occurred took days and weeks, not minutes and hours.

Rene flipped a switch on the computer console. On the wall behind her a projection screen lit up, displaying the readouts of Irene McDaniels’s pulse, blood pressure, EKG and biorhythm. She flipped another switch and a video movie appeared next to the readouts. The video showed Mrs. McDaniels as she was eight weeks ago: suffering from the advanced stages of Parkinson’s disease, barely able to walk or get out of a wheelchair, unable to feed herself or even speak clearly. Rene allowed the video to play uninterrupted for a minute, then turned to face her audience.

“Welcome, Doctors. I’m glad that you could be here today. Thank you for coming.” She picked up a small laser pointer and switched it on, aiming the tiny red dot of light at the screen. “The lady in the video is Mrs. Irene McDaniels; she is a patient of mine. These pictures were taken a little over two months ago. As you can see, Mrs. McDaniels suffered from Parkinson’s disease. Like many who are afflicted, she was no longer able to move about without the aid of a wheelchair. Nor could she feed herself or engage in normal conversation. Prior to coming to the Institute, she had been treated by several other doctors in the Atlanta area with a variety of different medicines, including levodopa. Unfortunately, what little relief the drugs provided proved to be only temporary.”

“What about fetal tissue implants?” someone interrupted. Rene turned and offered a slight smile. Even after thirty years, the implanting of brain cells culled from aborted fetuses into the striatum of a patient was still a controversial operation. Not only were moral issues raised, but surgeons often disagreed as to which of the two sections of the striatum should receive the implanted tissue. There were also debates about how much tissue was needed, how to prepare it for transplant, and whether to place large quantities in a few locations or small quantities in numerous locations.

Rene paused the video. “Fetal transplants were a possibility,” she said, nodding. “But if you look at the patient’s medical charts, in the folders handed out earlier, you’ll see that Mrs. McDaniels also suffered from colon cancer and was in poor physical health.”

She paused to allow time for the visiting doctors to check the charts before continuing. “Performing craniotomies on the surgical controls, as in fetal tissue transplants, can result in the formation of blood clots. Patients have also suffered strokes and heart attacks while undergoing such operations. Even if the surgery is a success there’s still the danger of side effects, such as respiration problems, pneumonia and urinary tract infections. With Mrs. McDaniels’s poor physical condition, I felt that such an operation would not be safe.”

She unpaused the video and fast-forwarded the film. The image of Irene McDaniels jerked and shook like a high priestess in a strange voodoo ritual. Rene slowed the action. “This footage was taken a little over two weeks ago.”

The video showed Irene McDaniels sitting at a table, writing a letter. Gone were the herky-jerky movements of her hands and head. Gone too was the unsmiling, unblinking facial expression typical of those who suffered from the disease. The last section of video, taken a few days ago, showed Mrs. McDaniels working in a backyard garden, pulling weeds, planting flowers and performing a host of tasks that should have been impossible for someone suffering from Parkinson’s. Rene looked away from the video screen to study the reactions of those in the room, amused at the stunned expressions on the faces of the visiting scientists.

“Bullshit. It’s a hoax,” someone in the back row whispered, loud enough to be heard. “The woman in the video is an actress.”

Rene stopped the video and shook her head. “I promise you that Irene McDaniels is no actress. If you look in the folders you will find complete medical reports from four of Atlanta’s top doctors. If Mrs. McDaniels is an actress, then she’s good enough to fool all four of them. She’s also talented enough to fake blood tests, X-rays and lab work. And as you can see by the reports, not only has she been cured of Parkinson’s disease, she has also been cured of colon cancer. Even the melanomas on her arms and the back of her neck have disappeared.”

She paused to allow the information to sink in. Several doctors flipped through the folders given to them, reading the day-by-day progress of five of Rene’s patients. The others stared intently at the charts displayed on the projection screen.

In the back row sat a large Caucasian man, powerfully built, his face and arms covered with a patchwork of dark brown skin grafts. Rene recognized the man, having seen his picture in numerous scientific journals. He was Dr. Randall Sinclair, one of the nation’s foremost authorities on the treatment of skin cancer. Dr. Sinclair made worldwide headlines three years ago when he invented “skin fusion,” a process of grafting skin from African-Americans, and other dark-skinned ethnic groups, onto Caucasians in order to increase skin pigmentation to stop the spread of skin cancer. The process was often effective, but it was very expensive and only the very wealthy could afford it.

The Neuro-Enhancer, on the other hand, was affordable and would be available to everyone. It was a cheap cure-all for the masses. With so many poor and dispossessed people dying from lack of even minimal health care, the Enhancer would go a long way toward bringing the country back together. If Rene never did another thing in her life, the Neuro-Enhancer would have made her existence meaningful.

It was Dr. Sinclair who finally broke the silence. “So you’re claiming that this device of yours”—he glanced at the papers in his hand and cleared his throat—“a Neuro-Enhancer, also attacks cancer cells?”

Rene shook her head. “Unlike chemotherapy and other common treatments, the Neuro-Enhancer does not directly attack cancer cells. Instead it stimulates the neurons of the human brain, activating regions not normally used. Those regions have a direct effect on a person’s health by not only increasing the body’s natural ability to fight off infection and disease, but promoting a process of regeneration as well. In other words, the Neuro-Enhancer allows the body to heal itself.”


On Sale
Sep 13, 2022
Page Count
320 pages

LeVar Burton

About the Author

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.

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