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Extract. "Nations Divided" by Steven P Vincent

Posted December 16, 2015 into Book Extract by John Birmingham

PROLOGUE


Rashid Sirhan opened his eyes at the sound of her voice, blinking quickly as he tried to adjust to the harsh overhead lighting. “Sorry, just napping.”

The nurse smiled kindly, the usual twinkle in her eyes. “I’ve got your pills, Mr. Sirhan. I’m glad you finally got some sleep.”

The young nurse filled his palm with a rainbow assortment of drugs, like his father used to with candy when he was a child. He shook his head at the thought, stuffed the pills into his mouth and washed them down with some water. The pills certainly didn’t taste like his childhood, but instead felt like one more insult heaped upon many others as he’d grown old.

“All done?” Her voice had an edge of menace. She’d probably had problems with other patients today.

“Mission accomplished.” Rashid opened his mouth to show her, then closed it. “I’ll look forward to my lollipop.”

She ignored the jibe and he closed his eyes again. As he relaxed and tried to ease back into sleep, Rashid heard the nurse push the drug cart to the next bed. Before he had the chance to drift off, he was gripped by a coughing fit, a dry and raspy reminder that he was down to one lung. The cancer that had plagued his body also destroyed his rest.

Just as his coughing subsided, Rashid heard a loud chattering sound from a few rooms away. The sound was unmistakable, akin to a half-dozen small firecrackers exploding in quick succession. Even before the squeals and shouts had started, he’d figured out what was happening: a standard-issue Israeli assault rifle was firing on full automatic. The IDF was here.

Rashid kicked off the covers and rolled out of bed, bracing as he landed hard on the ground. He’d be damned if he’d make himself an easy target or let the shrapnel from a frag grenade catch him in bed. Coughing again, he ducked low and listened. The gunfire relented for a moment, ripped off again, then stopped once more. The pattern – shoot and pause – hinted at one gunman.

Glancing around for a weapon, any kind, he ignored the noise and chaos around him as others fled the gunfire. He settled on a metal kidney dish and struggled to his feet, knowing this would be his last stand. Refusing to die on his knees, Rashid stood tall as the sound of the gunfire moved closer.

The door to the ward swung open. Rashid squeezed the kidney dish tighter as a male patient and a nurse ran through the door and towards him. The woman fell as gunfire found her, leaving a spray of blood in her wake. A second later, the man dropped as well.

The gunman walked through the door, dressed from head to toe in the uniform of the Israeli army and the triple chevron that revealed him to be a samal – a sergeant. Rashid stood as proud as he could, unwilling to let the Israeli see him take a backward step.

While Rashid had launched rockets into Israel before, likely killing civilians, he figured you had to be a special kind of killer to shoot up a hospital. Or the closest thing Gaza had to a hospital, anyway. He wasn’t sure how many had died, but as he lifted the kidney dish Rashid felt anger course through him.

The Israeli sergeant’s features betrayed no emotion as he brought the assault rifle up. Rashid swallowed hard and threw the kidney dish at the Israeli. The projectile hit the other man on the chest and then clattered to the tiles, the lamest possible resistance. Rashid didn’t care. He hadn’t run away.

It wasn’t

CHAPTER 1
As dignitaries descend on New York City for the signing of the historic peace agreement between Israel and Palestine, many remain skeptical that a deal will be finalized. Though both camps say that all issues are close to being fully resolved and that the massacre at Gaza’s Al Amal Hospital has brought the parties closer to a deal, the world has seen too many false starts on this issue to be certain of an agreement. Until pen touches paper, the stakes will remain high and nobody has more to gain, or lose, from the agreement than President Bill McGhinnist, who has worked tirelessly to resolve this issue before the end of his first term.
--New York Standard

Jack Emery’s eyes darted back and forth across the page, consuming the news for the day. He licked his finger and turned a page with one hand while he fumbled for his coffee with the other. The shock from the story on page five caused him to knock over his coffee cup, drowning the Post’s scoop about a Supreme Court justice being photographed at a titty bar.

“Damn it.” Jack reached for a napkin and mopped at the spill, trying his best to save the rest of the newspaper.

“Nice work.” Celeste Adams’ voice was heavy with sleep. “Good thing you never listen to me about the advantages of reading the news on your iPad.”

Jack looked up. Despite the mess, he couldn’t resist a smile as she leaned against the doorframe, wearing panties and a tank top. “Hey.”

“Hey.” She pushed herself off, walked toward him and reached for his plate. “Why’d you let me sleep so late?”

He swatted at her hand and his smile turned into a frown when she stole the remains of his bagel, biting into the last morsel. A smear of cream cheese remained on her lip. He stood, took her hands in his and kissed her deeply, using his tongue to lick at the cheese. She laughed and pulled away. They looked at each other for a second and then shared another kiss.

“Too cute to wake.” Jack gave her hands a squeeze, pulled away and made a show of eyeing her up and down.

She gave him a gentle slap on the rear, then rounded the table and took a seat. “Any of the papers survive your drenching?”

He considered the mess. “Not sure. They all look a bit moist.”

“Gross. That word should only be used to describe cake.”

Jack laughed as she grabbed the New York Standard and started to flick through it with the practiced eye of someone who’d edited the paper the previous afternoon. She never knew how to disconnect from her work, though it wasn’t like he could talk. He left her with the paper, walked to the kitchen and put a bagel into the toaster for her.

He thought about the strange situation that existed between them. Though Jack felt their relationship was equal to the one he’d had with his ex-wife – loving and supportive and exciting – sometimes it felt neither of them ever switched off from work enough to enjoy it. Celeste was living in a townhouse in New York and working as managing editor at the Standard, while he was living in Washington and working for President Bill McGhinnist. It had been that way for three years. He traveled to New York every second weekend, where they spent their time together feigning normalcy until he caught a late flight out of JFK on Sunday night. It was hard, but worth it.

The bagel popped. He gave it a liberal spread of cream cheese then picked up the plate and walked back into the dining room, stealing a glance over her shoulder at the story she was reading as he placed the plate down. It was yet another story about Israel and Palestine. The papers had been full of them for weeks.

“It’ll work.” Jack placed a hand on her shoulder.

“I’m not sure.” She grabbed his hand and held it to her body as she finished reading the story. Then she reached for the bagel, took a bite and started to talk with her mouth full. “There have been so many letdowns it’s hard to get too excited. Bringing them all into town was a ballsy move.”
He nodded and sat beside her. They’d discussed the Israeli–Palestinian peace agreement deep into the night. Both of them were hopeful – but neither convinced – that the two sides would agree on the final few sticking points and get it done. Things had moved a long way since the massacre at the hospital in Gaza a few months prior, but the deal was a complicated one to negotiate.

“It’d be huge for McGhinnist. It’s been a slog these past few years. He needs a big win leading up to the election.”

“Plenty of presidents have tried, and failed, to crack the Israel–Palestine nut in their time, Jack.” Celeste squeezed his hand gently. “If he’s relying on this to get him over the line then it might be best to start preparing for life after the White House.”

“He’ll win.” Jack’s tone made it clear he didn’t want to discuss the possibility of Bill McGhinnist losing the presidency.

“Just don’t get too invested, okay?”

Jack nodded. It wasn’t the first time she’d told him to be careful since he’d taken the job as special advisor to the President. While McGhinnist had no shortage of big ideas and a decent record of steering them through Congress, his popularity had taken a hit in recent months. Given America was still healing from the near takeover of the country by the Foundation for a New America and the full takeover by FEMA, Jack couldn’t blame the public for some political fatigue. Yet he still felt the situation was unfair. McGhinnist had halted the blanket monitoring of US citizens and limited other impositions in place since 9/11, but those successes were yesterday’s news – McGhinnist needed a new win.

The peace would be that.

Jack had spent nearly a year working with McGhinnist and US negotiator Karl Long to help shepherd the peace agreement between Israel and Palestine through complex negotiations and, at times, fraught decisions. Over countless meetings and phone calls, the sides had worked out problems large and small until, finally, they’d reached agreement on all issues but one: Israeli settlements. Despite this, McGhinnist had made the gutsy decision to schedule a date for the signing, hoping it would help to force a resolution on the last issue. McGhinnist had even authorized Long to throw out a few carrots if it meant getting a deal.

He’d be lying if he pretended not to care about the politics of it, given part of his job was to leverage wins like this into political gain for the President. But Jack’s primary responsibility, and the sole reason he’d agreed to work for McGhinnist in the first place, was achieving good policy outcomes. The peace agreement was one of those. Any political benefits were a bonus.

“McGhinnist needs this to show he can build something positive. He needs to prove he can do more than just remove the excesses of others. This feels different. It feels good. He’s going to get it done.”

“Well, I hope you’re right. He’s proven before that he can take on big policy issues and win.” Celeste pushed her plate aside. “Do you have much work to do today?”

“Not particularly. The President flies in later tonight, but he’s straight into meetings with Karl.” Jack thought hard, to make sure he hadn’t forgotten any appointments. “All clear.”

“Glad to hear it. I get the feeling this might be the last break you get for a while, so I want you to make the most of it.” She stood. “Now, are you coming or not?”

Jack’s eyes widened as she walked slowly out of the kitchen. With each step, she exaggerated the movement of her hips slightly. She raised her tank top over her head and tossed it on the floor, then paused and dropped her panties. As he watched her walk to the bedroom, Jack grabbed the last bite of the bagel left on her plate, stood and followed her.

It was good to be home.

***

Samih Khaladi waited at the crossing as dozens of cars blitzed through the intersection. He loved New York City, though not for the reasons most people did. It wasn’t about the skyscrapers, the bustle or the attractions. What moved him was that so many people – all kinds of people – could live so closely together in relative harmony and safety. It was chaotic, but it worked.

The lights changed and he crossed the street with his pair of security guards in tow, doing his best to stay a step or two ahead. If he had the choice, he’d go without the security entirely, but President McGhinnist had insisted the negotiators be escorted at all times when they were outside. Given Samih was representing Palestine in the peace negotiations, he had little choice.
He slowed as he caught sight of a Starbucks, then smiled and turned to his security. “I’m just going to get a—”

“Mr. Khaladi?” One of the guards interrupted, as the other looked at his watch. “We need to return to the UN building, sir. The lunch hour ends soon.”

Samih sighed. He hated being on a schedule. It wasn’t the guard’s fault, but it was annoying. “Okay, but first let me grab a coffee.”

“There’s coffee back at the meeting, sir.” The guard was insistent. “I really must insist that we turn back.”

Samih felt his face flush. “The entire world will wait for me today if they have to. I’m one of the people trying to end the most intractable political conflict on the planet. I want a coffee, from here, so please wait outside for me while I go inside to get one.”

Samih exhaled loudly and the door to the Starbucks felt his displeasure, as he pushed it open with some force. His security didn’t seem happy and Samih didn’t like throwing his weight around, but he wanted a few more minutes before returning to the pressure cooker. He waited in line for just a moment and then he reached the front.

“How’re you today, sir?” An attendant struggled to feign interest. “What can I get for you?”
Samih swallowed his irritation and did his best to smile. “I would like a coffee please.”

The man stared at him blankly. “Which kind, sir? You’re supposed to know your order by the time you reach the front.”

Samih’s eyes narrowed as he considered the menu. “An Americano. A large one.”

Samih paid and moved to the end of the counter, struggling not to laugh at the inanity of the exchange. After being involved in negotiations over land borders, migration of peoples and security issues – all incredibly high stakes – he’d had to be stepped through ordering a coffee by a college kid. Thinking about it cheered him up.

As he closed his wallet, he glanced at the photo he kept inside and felt a pang of regret. All he wanted for his people was peace, for them to be able to enjoy fast food, entertainment, shopping malls and sporting games without the threat of extremist violence or Israeli gunships. He wanted a nation for them. All that remained was closing the deal and hoping it was accepted. Only a few short years ago, Samih would have been at the front of the line of Palestinians decrying this agreement. Worse, he’d have advocated and committed violence to stop it from being signed. He’d been caught in a cycle of hate that served nobody and only left people dead. It was why he kept the photo of his brother close.

After his brother had been killed by an Israeli airstrike in retaliation for an attack Samih had ordered, Samih had faced a choice. In his anger, he’d considered further attacks, but he’d mourned and seen another way. Forming a breakaway group of Hamas, he’d banded with the Palestinian Liberation Organization to take the battle to the unreformed extremists. The conflict had been bloody – moderates and hardliners engaged in open warfare on the streets, with Israeli gunships occasionally adding their own fire and noise to the mess. The moderates had won, at huge cost. Samih had been offered leadership of the new, unified Palestinian authority but had declined in order to focus on peace.

“Sir?” A Starbucks staff member touched Samih on the arm. “Sir? Your coffee is ready.”
Samih shook his head. He was always prone to deep reflection on the past, but it seemed to be happening more lately. He took the coffee. “Thank you.”

He walked outside and didn’t wait for his security to fall into line. The walk back to the UN building was uneventful. As he walked, he thought about the draft agreement. Though it didn’t give his people everything they wanted, or deserved, it was by far the best deal that could be achieved. A good deal, peace and a state were better than waiting forever for the perfect deal.
The agreement had to succeed.

Back inside the building, Samih juggled his coffee as he returned to his seat with the other delegates. Everyone had the same goal: resolving the last issue. Samih represented the Palestinians and Ben Ebron represented the Israelis, as they’d done for years, aided in the negotiations by the US Special Envoy for Israeli–Palestinian Relations, Karl Long.
The last person to enter the room was in some ways the most important – Liliana Garza, Secretary-General of the United Nations. She’d obliged US President Bill McGhinnist’s demands for the signing ceremony to be scheduled and for the talks to be finalized. Samih watched Garza as she walked to the head of the table.

“Gentlemen, I trust you enjoyed lunch?” She held her arms wide, a typically welcoming gesture from her during the tough negotiations. “If we’re to sign an agreement tomorrow, we have this session to resolve the final issue. We left off at—”

“Compensation for displaced Israeli settlers.” Ebron cut the pleasantries short, his voice sharp. “Israel is committed to finding a way through this issue and finalizing the agreement, but it mustn’t be at the expense of our own people. There needs to be a strong package that I can take to my government.”

Samih’s lips pressed together but he kept quiet. Though he found it hard to comprehend that the final sticking point after three years of negotiations could be payments to Israelis who’d annexed the lands of his people, he knew that without compensation there would be no peace. He’d learned the hard way that one wrong word could destroy much painstaking work.

Garza took the interruption in her stride. “I’ve had my staff working the phones during the lunch hour. United Nations member states have agreed to contribute forty percent of the compensation amount. The rest of the world has done its part, now it’s the turn of the others in this room.”
Samih was surprised by the news, but smiled sadly. “This is an area where the Palestinian people can make little contribution. We are not a rich people.”

Ebron flared. “Unacceptable. The Palestinians must contribute—”

Samih held up his hand. “However, upon achieving statehood, Palestine will set aside one percent of government revenue until one-tenth of the total is paid.”

Ebron’s mouth fell open slightly, before he seemed to catch himself and right his composure. “That’s a welcome gesture, Mr. Khaladi, and one I didn’t expect.”

Samih smiled. He’d planned on just that and the effect had been powerful. For the diminutive state of Palestine to make a financial contribution to resettling Israelis was a game changer. Samih had long argued the presence of the settlers was illegal, but in the interests of peace this concession had to be made. He hoped it would be enough.

Long tapped his signet ring on the table. It had stopped bothering Samih, because it appeared be a habit. “The President has authorized me to increase the contribution of the United States to twenty-five percent, but that’s as high as we’re going to go.”

“A very generous offer.” Samih nodded.

“Twenty-five percent remains.” Ebron sighed as he looked at each of them, as if the pressure of expectation was too much.

“Mr. Ebron?” Garza’s voice was gentle. “Do you need a recess to consult with your colleagues and consider Israel’s position?”

“No, that won’t be necessary.” Ebron sighed. “It burns me to my core that Israel must contribute financially to the displacement of its own citizens, but the pressure of tomorrow’s deadline and the aftermath of the Al Amal massacre leave me little choice. I agree.”

“Wonderful.” Garza beamed. “Any costs borne out of this agreement will be more than paid for by the peace and prosperity that also flows from it.”

“It’s agreed then?” Long’s eyes widened as they flicked between Samih and Ebron. “We have something to sign?”

“The agreement is suitable for Israel, if a little expensive.” Ebron placed his palms flat on the table. “I hope this can be the end of it.”

Now Samih felt the weight of expectation. He looked down at his notes, trying to think of any negatives for his people that he might have missed. He’d already gained the agreement of his leadership on the draft text, with the exception of the issues worked out during this final day. There was nothing in the last few resolutions that would prevent the deal being agreed. It was good enough.

“Well?” Long’s voice had an edge.

Samih looked up. He rested his elbows on the table with a smile. “My friends, this is an important day. We’ve achieved peace.”

The ever-serious Ebron leaned back and spun around on his chair, while Long slapped the table and sported a wide grin. Samih closed his eyes and allowed himself a moment of reflection. This occasion had been so long in coming, he never thought he’d see it. Thousands dead, generations ruined, years wasted. He hoped his people would welcome the peace on offer.

“Excuse me, Mr. Khaladi?”

Samih opened his eyes. Ebron was standing in front of him. “Yes?”

“I’d like to shake your hand.”

Samih stood, feeling all the weight of his sixty years, then shook the proffered hand. “This is a momentous day, my friend.”

“It is.” Ebron nodded and pulled his hand away, clearly not used to being so personable.

“We will sign the agreement tomorrow.” Garza joined them, the relief in her voice clear. “Twenty-eight days after that, there will be peace.”

***

“Zed Eshkol is professor of history at Yeshiva University, a position he’s held for nearly forty years. He lectures in Jewish history and his specialty is the politics surrounding the creation of Israel following the Second World War. He’s considered one of the world’s leading thinkers on the causes and consequences of conflict between Israel and its neighbors, including the Palestinian people.”

When the crowd started its applause, Zed planted his cane on the ground, pushed on it heavily and climbed to his feet. Letting the cane support him, he shuffled slowly to the stage. At the bottom of the stairs he paused, making a mental note to talk to the staffer who’d selected the venue. Zed wasn’t as spry as he used to be.

“Thank you, Ariel.” Zed spoke softly, short of breath, once he’d reached the top of the stairs. He patted the man on the shoulder.

Ariel beamed. “No problem, professor. Good luck with your lecture.”

As Zed moved to the lectern, he reflected that, while Ariel had promise, he needed to be molded. He adjusted the microphone, handed his cane to another staffer and gripped the sides of the lectern as if his life depended on it. After checking his notes were in place, he looked up to the packed theatre. That audiences still came to see him speak was a thrill to him.

“Thank you all for coming. My thanks also to Ariel, who’s organized a great program for us.” Zed smiled. “I do wish I wasn’t here tonight, though, or that we at least had a better reason to come together, but here we are. I’ll speak for just a few moments, then we’ll enjoy supper and reconvene for questions and discussion.”

Zed looked down at his notes and used the pause to catch his breath before speaking again. “Quite simply, my friends, the peace agreement that will be signed tomorrow is a betrayal of Israel and the Jewish people, who gained their freedom and a state of their own after one of the darkest episodes in human history.”

Zed looked up at the crowd. He usually didn’t like mentioning the Holocaust, but there was no way to avoid it this evening. “I’ll not speak of the Holocaust again, though many of you know that I survived it, but please be clear that the situation facing us tomorrow is the most desperate since that terrible chapter in our history.

“Israel has existed and grown despite being under the dark cloud of conflict. Every citizen has military training, its armed forces are potent, Mossad is rightly feared and a nuclear stockpile is the ultimate deterrent. Indeed, Israel has defended itself against aggression many times, often in desperate circumstances. It has never been belligerent, but always vigilant.”

Zed paused and looked around the theatre. For a hastily convened event, the turnout was excellent. It gave him hope that, while the vast majority of the world and the American public wanted a deal between Israel and Palestine, there was still a cohort of the faithful. Over nine decades, he’d learned that where there was a glimmer of hope, there was the possibility of deliverance.

He continued. “Through it all, Israel has showed remarkable restraint in dealing with this aggression. Sometimes against better judgment, it has tolerated and negotiated when others would have struck, resorting to retaliation only when it’s absolutely necessary. Israel invested in the Iron Dome, to stop rocket attacks, rather than spending more on jets and rockets to flatten the attackers.”

Zed started to cough. Turning away from the lectern, he raised one hand to cover his mouth, but made sure to keep the other in place. He felt as if knives were stabbing him in the chest as his body clenched with each cough, though he did his best to calm himself and bring it under control. A few members of the crowd shouted out for someone to help him.

Someone gripped his arm and he heard Ariel’s voice. “Professor, are you okay? I’ll ask for an early recess.”

“No!” Zed coughed again and then looked up to Ariel, his voice sharp. “Just give me a moment.”
“Okay, professor. Take your time, at least.”

Zed kept his back to the audience as he brought the coughing under control. Finally, the worst of it subsided and he returned to the lectern. “My apologies for the interruption, ladies and gentlemen. I frequently find that my body is my toughest critic these days.”

The crowd offered sympathetic smiles and small laughs. He continued. “Israel’s restraint hasn’t been enough. For decades the world has judged and threatened Israel, twisting the arm of its leaders to show further restraint, make deals and repudiate its right to exist, peacefully, within its own borders.

“Yet while Israel has attempted to co-exist with its neighbors and the Palestinians in the hope of peace, it’s never enough. Israel’s enemies aim for total annihilation while the world expects capitulation to the demands of cutthroats and criminals.

“Thankfully, strong Israeli leaders long resisted those demands. But now, weak leaders are happily slitting their own throats. A massacre perpetrated by a madman, sad though it was, has pressured Israel’s leaders into signing an agreement that is evil. It will split an Israeli state that should always be strong.”

Zed paused. He’d thought long and hard about the next part of his speech. “The United Nations and the USA are revisionists who helped to grant Israel its freedom only to convince the country’s leaders, now, to abandon much of that freedom – to act, to defend itself, to exist within its own borders.

“This agreement mustn’t be signed. It represents the eradication of an Israeli state at the height of its power, the betrayal of our people and a disgrace before God. Every free-thinking Jew the world over needs to stand against this travesty, or history will judge this generation as the one that killed the dream of Israel!”

Zed felt an enormous wave of pleasure and relief wash over him as applause roared. He smiled slightly and gripped the lectern until the noise receded, then waved a hand lazily in the air and signaled for a staffer to bring his cane. It would take him an eternity to get down the stairs again.
By the time he’d managed the journey and taken a seat, most of the rest of the crowd was busy getting supper in the foyer. Zed wasn’t interested in making small talk. Instead, he wanted time to himself before the questions started and other eminent speakers joined him on stage.

But he never got the chance. A man approached and leaned down to speak to him. “Professor Eshkol? I’m David Kahlon. May I have a moment?”

Zed smiled softly, unable to help himself but careful to hide it. Men like these were as regular as clockwork. “Of course.”

Kahlon nodded and sat. “Professor, I wanted to pay my respects on behalf of the Jewish Home. Many of my colleagues share your views.”

Zed laughed. He’d closely followed the statements of Jewish Home – one of Israel’s major conservative political parties – about the peace agreement. “It’s a shame the government does not. I think it’s important that those with a public voice continue to advocate sanity.”
“Couldn’t agree more, professor. I’ve been asked to sound you out, again, for your interest in becoming a citizen of Israel and running to join the Knesset.”

Zed shook his head softly. This felt like the thousandth time he’d been asked to join the Israeli parliament. But he was old, tired and comfortable. He’d had his chance at the spotlight after surviving the Holocaust and helping to establish Israel, but had chosen instead to make his contribution in academia.

“Professor?” Kahlon pressed.

“Your request just takes me back some years.” Zed smiled. “I think you know my answer. I’m an old man.”

“But—”

Zed held up his hand. “No. Please respect my decision. I’ll continue doing all I can to speak against this peace process, and to support the right conservatives with my voice during Israeli elections, but that’s the sum of my contribution. I’m not a man for the limelight, Mr. Kahlon. Now, please excuse me.”

There was a tinge of regret in Kahlon’s smile, but they shook hands and he left. Zed forgot about him quickly. He had a lecture to finish.

3 Responses to ‘Extract. "Nations Divided" by Steven P Vincent’

Dave W is gonna tell you...

Posted December 16, 2015
Aaaaand....bought.

Halwes mumbles...

Posted December 17, 2015
Try going to a barbie and putting a the Palestinian point of view. People look at you like you've stuck a turd under their noses.

Respond to this thread

Dave W puts forth...

Posted December 21, 2015
Aaaaand...enjoyed. The three books are excellent, cracking reads. Thanks Mr Vincent for the writing and JB for the tip.

Respond to this comment

Respond to 'Extract. "Nations Divided" by Steven P Vincent'

Extract - State of Emergency, by Steve Vincent

Posted June 10, 2015 into Book Extract by John Birmingham

Out this week from Momentum. I enjoyed Steve's first one. The Foundation.

PROLOGUE
“Twenty seconds.” One pulled a balaclava over her head. “Gun it.”
The driver nodded and put his foot to the floor, the engine roaring as the vehicle sped across the Harvard Bridge and onto Massachusetts Avenue. The windows were tinted, so the pedestrians who glanced at the vehicle as it sped past couldn’t see the deadly cargo inside.
“Ten seconds. Everyone check in.”


As the van took a hard right onto Vasser Street, the rest of One’s team checked in. The team – four in the van with her and one located strategically on a rooftop near the campus – were as slick as ever. One smiled under her mask. She didn’t need to do the check and knew they’d be ready, but fifteen years of habit was hard to break.


One was jolted in her seat as the van mounted the curb and then pulled to a stop. Two slid the door open, climbed out and broke into a run. She too was running as soon as her feet hit the ground. Three and Four would follow, while Five would stay at the wheel. As she moved, there were squeals of panic from nearby students. She ignored them. They were irrelevant unless they got in the way.


The team crossed the sidewalk and reached the entrance of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Department in seconds. She pointed at Four and he moved into the building with his submachine gun raised. The others followed him in and they split into pairs.


“Remember, we’re looking for Daryush Daneshgahi.” She paused. “We need him alive.”
From the foyer she went left with Two, while Three and Four went right. They had intelligence that Daneshgahi was a creature of habit and would either be in his office or his lab. She had her weapon raised and was moving briskly when an alarm started to wail. It was a surprise it had taken this long.


Her headset crackled. “One, this is Six. Campus police are starting to arrive.”
One spoke into her voice-activated microphone. “Copy.”


They reached Daneshgahi’s office and took up positions on either side of the door. One waited as Two turned the handle and pushed the door open quickly. She entered the room and swept from side to side with her submachine gun, then quickly lowered the weapon. The office was well lit and empty. There was nowhere he could be hiding.


She cursed under her breath and the distant boom of a high-caliber rifle seemed to punctuate her profanity. Six was on the rooftop, tasked with keeping any police away from them, and he’d started the boom boom. While a few officers weren’t a problem, with each passing second more would arrive.


She left the office with Two in tow as she spoke into her headset. “He’s not in the office. Moving to check the cafeteria.”


As she rounded a corner, a shot boomed. She flinched but kept moving toward an MIT police officer, who stood with his pistol drawn. He looked about fifty and very scared. Her silenced weapon barely made a sound as it delivered two rounds into the officer’s chest. His eyes widened as crimson blossomed on his blue shirt. His pistol fell to the floor with a clattering sound as his body followed. One fired once into his face and didn’t break stride as she stepped over him, with Two behind her.


Her headset crackled. “This is Three. We’ve got him. We have the target. He was in the lab.”
“Good job.” She felt a mix of relief and satisfaction. “Begin exfiltration.”
She pictured the entirety of the exfiltration in her head as she moved. The snatch teams would move through the buildings and then onto the lawn, southeast across the campus. Five would drive to pick them up, while Six would shift position to cover Killian Court and their escape route before withdrawing. The whole team would be in and out with Daneshgahi in less than seven minutes, as planned.


She waved at Two and they moved south through the building and out into the courtyard. Once outside, they kept moving, scanning their surroundings and the top of buildings for shooters. The few students that remained ran when they spotted the armed commandos. Maybe MIT grads were intelligent after all. Smarter than their campus police, anyway.


She looked at her watch. By now Six would have taken his final shots. He’d be abseiling down the Maclaurin Building and moving to meet them at the extraction point. Radio silence meant no hitches. It had gone reasonably well so far and they were in the last minute of the operation. Nobody challenged One and Two as they reached the edge of the campus and crossed Memorial Drive.


She glanced at Three and Four, who were already crouched with weapons raised and facing outward. Two joined them in a covering position while she looked at Daneshgahi, face down on the lawn with his hands cuffed behind his back. She lifted him up. His face was the illustration of terror, but he kept quiet. Looked like he was pretty smart too.


A shot drew her attention and she turned towards it. She needn’t have bothered, because her team put down the police officer quickly. A few seconds later, Five pulled the van to a stop in front of them. She slid the door open, bundled Daneshgahi inside and climbed in. Their prisoner gave a small whimper of protest as the rest of the team joined them.


Six arrived at the van just as One was closing the door. The sniper’s breathing was heavy and something had obviously taken longer than it should have, but he’d made it. She didn’t need to ask and he didn’t need to answer – if he hadn’t made it, he’d have been cut loose. That was the business they were in.


As the door slammed shut and the engine roared, One looked over to Daneshgahi. The Iranian computer scientist was watching the floor and she could feel the fear radiating off him. She took the hood that Two was holding out to her and placed it over Daneshgahi’s head. He started to cry.

CHAPTER 1


FEMA would like to assure the public that, despite the recent terrorist attacks, its ability to provide disaster assistance remains intact. Staff are working hard to provide coordinated relief to all locations affected by these attacks. Citizens in need of support or those with something suspicious to report are encouraged to contact the new National Security Hotline.


Federal Emergency Management Agency
News Release

Jack Emery stared at the news bulletin as the massive Reuben sandwich in his hand continued to sag. Though he was meant to be on vacation, you couldn’t take the news out of the newsman. He took a bite without taking his eyes off the screen, his brain working overtime to process the ramifications of what he was seeing. A half-dozen attackers – good ones – had gone to a lot of trouble to snatch one MIT student.


A chunk of corned beef and a dollop of sauerkraut breached the edges of his sandwich and fell onto his lap. He cursed, placed his lunch back on the plate and mopped at the mess with his napkin. It didn’t help. He looked like a freshman who’d been touched in the nice place by a cheerleader. Jack shook his head and looked back at the screen as he picked up his Coke.
A hand on his shoulder made Jack jump and spill the drink. He looked around, angry, until he saw Josefa Tokaloka’s smile beaming down at him. Though it had been only a year since they’d seen each other, the large Islander looked like he’d aged a decade. Jack grinned widely and stood to wrap his arms around Jo’s enormous shoulders. It felt like hugging a bronze statue.


Jo crushed him in a bear hug. “Making a mess as usual.”


Jack laughed and pulled away. “It’s good to see you, Jo. Meeting up was a great idea.”


“No problem, it’s been a while.” Jo’s smile slackened slightly. “Plus, I figured you could do with some human contact that didn’t involve people shooting at you.”


Jack nodded and jerked a thumb at the screen. “Can you believe it?”


“Given recent events?” Jo frowned. “Yeah, Jack, I can.”


Jo had a point. Jack had only been back in the US for a few weeks, but in that time there had been a dozen attacks across the country, all professional and brutally successful, targeting critical infrastructure and public gatherings. No group had claimed responsibility and no suspects had been identified. Casualties were mounting, panic was spreading and the authorities seemed impotent to stop the attacks.


“They’re all connected, Jo. I’m sure of it. If I didn’t know any better, I’d think it was the Foundation reborn.” Jack hated thinking it, but even though over a year had passed it felt like just yesterday he’d been fighting to stop Michelle Dominique and her corrupt think tank. He’d gone to hell and back to stop her, but not before Dominique had sparked a war, taken control of the largest media empire in the world and almost gained control of Congress.


Jo shook his head. “Doesn’t fit. The FBI tore them to shreds and their entire leadership is dead or before the courts.”


“Yeah, you’re right. But these are professional hits.” Jack sat back down and gestured for Jo to sit on the lounge chair opposite. “Makes Syria seem almost civil.”


Jo laughed softly as he sat. “How was it over there? You did some good work.”


“Tough. There’s not a lot of hope.” Jack had spent the last three months in Syria covering the siege of Homs. It had been hard, but had also provided a rich vein of stories for his new site, which focused on long-form investigative journalism that the rest of the news media could bid on to broadcast. It was the perfect deal for everyone: he had the skill and not very much money, while they had the chequebooks but had cleared out most of the journalists with the skill.


“So why Vegas?” Jo looked around at the table games and the slot machines. “Given your particular vice, I figured this would be one of the last places you’d want to spend time.”
Jack followed Jo’s gaze. While the attacks – and the fear of more – had subdued Vegas a bit, you could never fully clear out the stags and hens, the corporate getaways, the tourists and the addicted. They were like moths to flame. While there was gambling everywhere, it didn’t interest him. The booze did, though he was more in control of it these days. But what really drew him to this particular desert in Nevada was the fact that it was probably the least news-conscious place in America. Day and night passed without notice here and if it didn’t involve gambling, sport or entertainment then it didn’t rate a mention.


He thought he’d needed that time away from the news. After he’d won his second Pulitzer for the stories about the Foundation, he’d spent months working to get his estranged wife’s body repatriated from Shanghai and organizing her funeral. He’d thought that watching her casket being lowered into the earth would be a release, an ending. He’d been wrong – more pain had come up inside him. After that, he’d tried burying himself in his work. He’d thrown all of his effort into the new site. Then, needing stories to tell and an escape, he’d traveled to Syria. Upon his return, he’d wanted some time away from the news. In theory.


“I like it here.” He exhaled slowly. “Hell, I’m just glad to be back in the States, to tell you the truth. The site is going well and I’ve hired some other contributors. It was time for a break.”
“Glad to hear it.” Jo smiled slightly. His face looked gaunt and tired. “EMCorp wasn’t the same when you left, you know that?”


Jack raised an eyebrow. “Wasn’t?”


Jo’s smile widened. “I retired a few weeks after you left, Jack. I’d love to say it was because you weren’t there, but it was actually the love of my life who forced me to quit.”


“Your wife?”


“My heart surgeon.” Jo laughed and tapped his chest. “This fucking thing should have killed me, but the good people at New York Presbyterian kept me ticking a bit longer.”


Jack couldn’t believe it. Jo was the toughest hunk of meat he’d ever known. “Sorry I wasn’t there, mate. Why didn’t anyone let me know?”


“Well, I was too busy being cut open. I think Celeste wanted to tell you but Peter stopped her. He said you had to be left alone to heal. I don’t think she was very happy about it.”


Jack winced at the mention of her name, but before he could reply a drinks waitress approached. Given the length of her skirt, it was a good thing she had a beaming white smile and cute eyes, or else Jack might have struggled to look elsewhere. They made small talk for a moment before Jack ordered a beer. Jo went with ginger beer. As she shuffled off to get their orders, Jack’s eyes were locked onto her legs.


Jo gave a long, booming laugh. “Fall off the horse, Jack?”


Jack turned back to Jo, feeling himself flush red. “I never stopped liking women, Jo.”
“The booze, I mean.”


“I limit it to a couple these days.” He shrugged. “Hard to be a saint all the time.”

1 Responses to ‘Extract - State of Emergency, by Steve Vincent’

Barnesm ducks in to say...

Posted June 10, 2015
Needs more zombies.

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Respond to 'Extract - State of Emergency, by Steve Vincent'

Sample chapter: A Protocol for Monsters

Posted May 21, 2015 into Book Extract by John Birmingham

Prologue. The Autopsy.

“Bit of a thickhead,” muttered Emmeline as she leaned into the job of taking off the top of the xenomorph’s skull. A few of the others laughed nervously. It wasn’t a particularly funny joke, but they needed the release. She had already burned through one large blade on the heavy duty autopsy saw. This thing really did have a remarkably thick skull. Thick enough that she wondered how much room could be left inside for the brainpan, especially given how much of it’s cranium was taken up by an outsized mouth and hundreds of needle-like teeth. All of them clotted with human flesh.

The noise of the cutting implement came through the radio interface of her biohazard suit as an unpleasant whine, almost a hot scream.

Professor Emmeline Ashbury set her features in stone as the last of the resistance gave way and the heavy bowl of bone came loose. She grunted in relief. Her arms were growing tired and shaky. She was going to have to get one of the others to break open the chest cavity.

“Compton should be here,” said Metcalf.

“Professor Compton is not here because Professor Compton gets a little wobbly spooning dog food out of a can,” said Emmeline as she pried off the top of the creature’s skull. “Face planting into my post mortem examination is not the best use of his time.”

The heavy skull cap came away with a sticky pulling sound and revealed a bizarre cranial cluster that looked like it was all brain stem and cerebellum. Or perhaps cerebella, given the multiple nodules she could already see.

“Jesus, that looks like spaghetti and meatballs,” said Wally Hicks.

“No. You’re wrong, Wally,” Emmeline said. “More like tagliatelle con spinaci and meatballs. Or maybe cervelli agnelli.”

There was a pause while the junior staff waited for her to translate the obscure reference. Probably wetting themselves in fear of being called on to explain.

“Lambs brains,” Emmeline said. “See?” She snipped one of the structures free of the tubing that connected it to the other cerebella and popped the tiny lump of grey matter into a stainless steel tray.

“It’s not really grey matter,” she added, for the benefit of the video recorder. “More greenish and purple I’d say. At any rate, first biopsy, Master Hicks.”

The helmet of Wally’s biohazard suit dipped forward in acknowledgement and he carried the tray away to cold storage. They would take a small cut of the tissue to examine here on the Longreach with the equipment the military had flown out for them, but the real work would begin back on the mainland when the bodies of the xenomorphs arrived at Area 7.

The rest of the team leaned in over the corpse to get a better look at the cerebral mass as Emmeline extracted it from the skull. The eyes of the thing stared sightless and milky at the theatre lights. There were two large black orbs, but at least another eight smaller eyeballs between and around them, not unlike that of a spider. With so much visual data to process Emmeline had expected to see enlarged occipital lobes, but there no lobes of any kind. No single cerebrum at all.

“Jesus that’s grotesque,” said Metcalf. “It’s nothing like the Greys.”

“No reason why it should be,” Emmeline said patiently. “We have no idea yet where these creatures originated or how they got here. But their technologies aren’t Grey.”

“More like fucking Dark Ages,” came Metcalf’s reply inside her helmet. His breathing sounded harsh in the helmet speakers and she could see his features were shiny with sweat behind the faceplate. The DoD man was not new to this sort of operation. He was familiar with extremophile possibilities. But like all of them, he’d been shocked at what they’d found on the oil rig. And, like all of them, he knew there’d be no sweeping this one under the rug. This wasn’t a lone spaceship, it’s crew cold and dead for thousands of years, crashing into the desert hundreds of miles from the nearest speck of civilisation.

There were witnesses, over a hundred of whom had not been eaten by… by whatever this thing was. They would already be out there telling their stories. Selling their phone cam images and videos.

The Office would have to move quickly. Not to contain this, or even to control it, but rather to control the fear and confusion that would spread from it as a contagion. Emmeline knew all about containing fear and confusion.

“Abdomen next,” she announced.

“Scalpel?”

That was Cadence Ramsay, the molecular biologist who’d joined the Office from the European Space Agency just three months ago.

“I don’t think so, Cady,” said Emmeline. “Not if its scalp is any guide. I think we might need a bayonet from one of those marines out by the door. A sharp one.”

“Way ahead of you, Professor,” Jack Metcalf said, turning around to the second stainless steel trolley and producing a long, evil looking knife. It was not a medical instrument.

“I see you were a boy scout before you became a licensed killer, Mr Metcalf. Think you’re up to doing the Y-incision?” she asked. “I’m afraid I need a few minutes to get my strength back after sawing through it’s thick skull.”

“Not a problem.”

Metcalf set to the task of cutting a deep Y into the upper torso, so that they might peel away the skin, but like Emmeline he found the going tough.

“It’s like leather,” he said, and the sound of his voice in her helmet speakers told Emmeline he was gritting his teeth. “Really. Shitty. Leather.”

The creature’s hide seemed to be inked with some form of display. Tattoos, she thought. It was also covered in weeping sores and pustules, which gave way easily before the blade erupting with a greenish yellow discharge. Other blemishes, which looked like giant warts, proved so tough that Metcalf was eventually forced to cut around them. It took him a few minutes to make the whole incision and when they peeled back the skin she could see why. The dermis was up to an inch thick in places and as tough as old boot leather, save for those areas weakened by lesions and suppurating ulcers. There were enough of these that the creature’s hide presented more as a patchwork than a whole intact derma.

Metcalf and Hicks pulled back the skin to reveal a bone cage.

It was not like a human rib cage, with individual ribs held together by muscle and fibre. Instead, the creature’s torso, and presumably its vital innards were protected by a solid fibrous mass of something like cartilage.

“I think we’re going to need a very large pair of bolt cutters,” Emmeline mused.

“Or a chainsaw,” said Metcalf. His voice was flat. She did not think he was joking, but she could never really trust her own judgement in such things.

Emmeline checked the large clock on the opposite wall. 19:43 hours.

“Lets just try the bolt cutters first. We do have them?”

“Yep.”

They had two more corpses of this type to examine. And the enormous one on the gurney in the hallway outside. It was obviously a different species. Possibly even from another genus or family. She would come at it last, learning what she could from the smaller creatures first. This was going to be very long day. It had not turned out at all as she had expected.

29 Responses to ‘Sample chapter: A Protocol for Monsters’

Surtac is gonna tell you...

Posted May 21, 2015

Nice. Looking forward to the rest of it.

When can we expect to see it, please?

John Birmingham mumbles...

Posted May 21, 2015
Probably Octoberish

Brother PorkChop mumbles...

Posted May 21, 2015
What year?

Paul_Nicholas_Boylan has opinions thus...

Posted May 21, 2015
Don't push it. He said October. Let it be.

Murphy swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted May 21, 2015
If you rush him, he'll kill a Stark.

Brother PorkChop ducks in to say...

Posted May 21, 2015
He can kill all the Starks he likes, just don't touch the fluffy, cuddly little Boltons.

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ShaneAlpha ducks in to say...

Posted May 21, 2015
Time to get your own back JB. There's sure to be a monster that develops a taste for possum.

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insomniac ducks in to say...

Posted May 21, 2015
It appears that writing from Dave's POV in the primary trilogy of trilogies (I'm calling it) opens up many more opportunities for secondary stories than your other trilogies might have.

Also, can't wait for more.

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GhostSwirv swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted May 21, 2015

JB as I immersed myself in Emmerline's investigation of the origin of the species, with the able-bodied assistance of Jack & Cady, I couldn't help but wonder if at some time in the post-October future all of the interweaving chapters and e-books etc., detailing the non-Dave characters and events of Emergence, Resistance & Ascendance would be accessible in a some chronological digital form.

So that one could read the whole grand adventure not just through the eyes of TheDave but through every other character significant to the overarching story as it happened to them - regardless of what Hooper was up to.

Whatever was sacrificed in speed would be supplemented in the depth of knowledge and suspense about what was happening to everyone else ... besides TheDave worrying about where his next meal and booty call was coming from.

John Birmingham would have you know...

Posted May 21, 2015
I have plans.

GhostSwirv mumbles...

Posted May 21, 2015

Blofeld has plans.

Sudragon swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted May 21, 2015
And a cat.

Paul_Nicholas_Boylan swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted May 22, 2015
And custom made threads. Imagine Blofeld's interactions with his tailor.

Lulu reckons...

Posted May 22, 2015
"Do you have a fabric which won't show cat hair easily? It's a white cat, so nothing dark, thanks."

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HAVOCK21 mumbles...

Posted May 21, 2015
OCTOBER..that would be both the FIRST of October and October this fkn year ...BOYLAN!!!!

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Ceramic asserts...

Posted May 21, 2015
Ooh, nice little taster.
I like the line 'she knew all about containing fear and confusion'. How she tried to describe the grey matter exactly was funny, and totally something i'd do. Interesting stuff John.

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Rob mumbles...

Posted May 21, 2015

I want to buy more JB books ( right after I buy a hoodie)

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Peter Bradley mumbles...

Posted May 21, 2015
Very nice description of an autopsy. I am interested in what the application of molecular biology will elucidate. I suppose the first question is are they DNA based?

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Peter Bradley puts forth...

Posted May 21, 2015
Very nice description of an autopsy. I am interested in what the application of molecular biology will elucidate. I suppose the first question is are they DNA based?

Respond to this comment

she_jedi swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted May 21, 2015
I can feel a 'squeeeeeeee' coming on. Shut up and take my money :)

Respond to this comment

Sparty2 ducks in to say...

Posted May 21, 2015
"Area 7" -Matt Reilly shout out? I expected it to go all "the thing"!

John Birmingham reckons...

Posted May 21, 2015
Yep. Totes.

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@DrWom puts forth...

Posted May 22, 2015
I'll have weeping sores and pustules, which give way easily before the blade erupting with a greenish yellow dischargeWith my scrambled eggs thanks
Love the Awesome JB

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Grand Admiral Thrawn swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted May 22, 2015
that seems to be alot of spacific information about some aliens there alittle curious about that and if that may be some sort of skylord hint?

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GhostSwirv puts forth...

Posted May 22, 2015

All these references to Greys, Area 7 and alien crash landings has me of a mind of the short-lived television series ... "Dark Skies" - from the mid-90s.

An alternate historical perspective on the events of the 20th century, framed through the lens of a covert war between opposing alien forces hoping to colonise the Earth.

... of course you know all this JB, because you have plans.

And a cat

Maybe a favourite tailor or two

And a penchant for White Ruler-Of-The-World-Safari-Suits

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Anthony asserts...

Posted May 22, 2015

And a hovercraft...


Grays and spaceships...


The expanding Birmoverse gets curiouser and curiouser said Alice!


Roll on October.

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sibeen ducks in to say...

Posted May 23, 2015
I read this two days ago and haven't been able to get the Hot Chocolate song "Emma" out of my head ever since.
You Bastard!

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Adrien Hopkins would have you know...

Posted November 4, 2015
The suspense is killing me, I want more, and I expect it will be better then gruel

John Birmingham mutters...

Posted November 4, 2015
It went off to the editor today.

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Respond to 'Sample chapter: A Protocol for Monsters'

Sampler: A Soul Full of Guns. A Karin Varatchevksy ebook

Posted May 5, 2015 into Book Extract by John Birmingham

“I really like your weapons,” said Martin Gnoji.

Karen smiled and leaned towards him as though to share a secret.

“They’re not really mine,” she stage-whispered.

Gnoji let his eyes drop to her artfully arranged cleavage.

“They look real to me,” he said, and tipped his head back and laughed. It was an ugly laugh. Louder than necessary, even in a noisy room, full of chattering idiots and a jazz band. Colonel Varatchevsky knew what he was doing. She had seen men behave this way many times. Beautiful women did. All women did.

It did not bother her. She was in control, although she was not trying to sell him anything. He might well leave her gallery tonight having purchased some artefact, or painting or even one of the exquisite and ancient weapons which were the object of the evening’s exhibit. Many of her guests would. But Martin Gnoji was not merely Karen Warat’s guest or customer.
He was Colonel Ekaterina Varatchevsky’s target.

A waiter appeared bearing a sliver tray crowded with champagne flutes, chilled coconut water, and a couple of designer beers of impressive obscurity. Karen took a champagne for herself and one for the owner of the fourteenth largest biotech firm in the United States. The glasses appeared to be identical but were not. The drink she carefully lifted from the tray for herself was in fact apple juice and the crystal flute in which it sparkled had been delicately etched with a small identifying mark. A two-headed eagle from the old imperial Russian coat of arms.

Colonel Varatchevsky’s idea of a useful joke.

A hundred and fifty people crammed the small two-storey gallery now, and most had thrown themselves at the complimentary drinks as soon as they’d cleared the velvet rope. An unusually warm day and an open bar made for a lively evening and a quantifiably greater number of commissions. For every crate of Bollinger she laid on, the gallery would make 1.4 additional sales. The math had long been proven. A crate of Bollinger was expensive, of course. But the fine wares of the Warat Gallery were even more immoderately priced.

The largesse was already working. The early buzz of conversation had climbed up into something just short of a roar, as the increasingly tipsy guests spoke in louder voices to be heard over each. The band, a kicking little four-piece from Brooklyn, specialised in riffing on iconic TV show tunes of the 1960s and 70s. They picked up the tempo as the room start to take off. Gilligan’s Island segued to Mission Impossible and a few red dots, denoting a confirmed sale, appeared next to a number of paintings, an Etruscan shield and a sixteenth-century Kris dagger from Surabaya. Most of the serious offers, she knew, would come over the next hour as she worked the room. The largest sales would be made in private the following week.

Karen Warat, as she was known, admired and even loved just a little by the gallery full of glitterati, would do well out of this evening. She would look after the small and very select stable of artists she had gathered to herself over recent years. The critics and media mavens, who had enjoyed a private showing earlier in the day, would not to be so gauche as to openly fawn, but their carefully restrained praise would add another layer of significance to the reputation of The Warat Gallery, enabling the well regarded owner to further her reach, her consequence and her power within the city’s art world; all of this done with the intent of drawing men like the braying, breast-ogling Martin Gnoji into her circle, and into the targeting reticule of the Main Intelligence Directorate of the Russian Federation, whom the woman known as Karen Warat, served with great distinction at the rank of full colonel.

Karen linked her arm through Gnoji’s, drawing him away from the small circle of vulture capitalists and merchant wankers with whom he’d been talking. One of them tried to complain about the wifi reception, but another glass of champagne put paid to that. Ekaterina, or Karin, as she was in her secret heart, where she imagined she could still hear her mother and father calling her by the name, said, “Come with me, Martin, there’s a young lady you simply must meet, one of my artists. I think you’ll like her very much.”

And because Martin Gnoji was a little a drunk, and Karen Warat was both very beautiful and possessed of a strangely irresistible force of will, he did as he was told. The man whose private company had just developed a working prototype for an implant which could accurately measure an individual’s calorie intake, and who had set all of America’s tech giants against each other in a frenzied bidding war for an exclusive license to the technology, allowed himself to be led into Colonel ‘Karin’ Varatchevksy’s honey trap like a gormless teenager.

Karin did not know why Moscow had deemed Gnoji and his invention a suitable target. The implant was a consumer technology with few military or security applications that she could imagine. Perhaps the targeting order had come from the GRU’s Economic Security Department, perhaps from the Science and Engineering Service. The precise origin of her tasking was irrelevant. Moscow did not often directly reach out to her, one of their prime assets in the US, not after the disastrous exposure of the SVR’s deep cover operations in the Anna Chapman case. When they did, however, she knew her orders to be matters of the highest import to state security.

###

They negotiated the shoals and eddies of the slowly moving crowd, the small conversational knots of privileged guests, and the ever-changing groups of admirers which gathered around this or that objet d’art. Karin-as-Karen kept up a smooth line of small talk, leaning in close to Gnoji to impart some diabolical titbit of gossip or scandal as the object of her gentle slanders came into view.
“That’s His Honour, Judge Herbert, who sat on that Apple and Xaomi thing,” she whispered. “You know, don’t you, that the auditor he put into Apple was the boy he used to share reciprocal hand jobs with under the desk in the law library when they were both at Northwestern?”

Gnoji loved it of course, not least because of the perceptible lensing effect which chased them through the gallery. Everywhere they went, heads turned to follow. All except one, Karin noticed. A striking young woman, with an even more striking facial tattoo. She looked an exotic mix of races in her black leather pant suit, a child of some imperial misadventure perhaps. Indochinese and African-American, thought Karin Varatchevsky, whose own lineage was nearly pure White Russian with a leavening of Nordic genes to account for her naturally blonde hair colour. The woman seemed engrossed in her screen, which was odd, given it was a merely a static image. The champagne she was most definitely not drinking had gone flat. And unlike most of the other guests, she seemed so deeply invested in not noticing her host that Karin’s own attention was inevitably drawn to her.

“Oh Martin, you absolutely have to meet Jon Maberry,” Karen trilled by way of delaying their passage across the room. “Jon runs a charming little money mine up in Vermont, don’t you darling. I remember him telling me all about you and your diet gadget before it was on HuffPo.”
Jon Maberry had done nothing of the sort, but he was not about to pass up an introduction to the man sitting between converging tsunamis of Apple and Google money. He had been fiddling with his iPhone, looking as though he was having trouble with it, but he put the device away as soon as Karen introduced Gnoji.

“Look at this guy!” smiled Maberry, showing off at least twenty grand worth of dental work. “Hottest woman in the city on his arm, hottest tech in the world in his back pocket.”

Gnoji beamed happily, hamming it up by patting his pants and crying out with mock panic, “Oh noes! It must have fallen out on the way here.”

Karin let the rich white men enjoy their mutual self regard while she discreetly observed the woman who was discreetly trying to remain unobserved in turn. Unlike the tattooed girl, Colonel Varatchevksy’s trade craft was extremely well-honed. She only needed to keep the American agent within her peripheral vision for a few moments to be certain she was no art student or goss-blogger playing out of her league. There was the issue of her fascination with the lock screen. But more telling was the Hello Kitty purse she had tucked under one arm. It seemed rather heavy for such a childish affectation; undoubtedly because of the handgun she’d tucked away inside. Karin caught only the merest glimpse of the pistol grip poking up out of the purse, but that was enough.
“Oh, you boys,” she scoffed at some slightly off colour joke Gnoji and Maberry had just traded between each other like a note passed in class. “Jon, I’m sure you and Martin will get up to all sorts of capers and hijinks, but I simply must introduce him to Cally.”

“Is she hot? Why not introduce me to Cally? I thought I was your favourite?” grinned Maberry.

“You are my favourite, Jon,” Karen said. “But Martin adores her Nantucket series, don’t you Martin?”

“Those cool fucking paintings of the old flintlocks? Hells yeah. I’d buy them all! I like art when I can tell what it is.”

“I’ll bet you do,” smiled Karen, her eyes twinkling with good cheer. “Come along.”

She linked arms with him again, letting her hip brush against his as they threaded through the crowd. Gnoji pushed his own hip back into hers so strongly that she had to adjust her step or be shunted into a table full of finger food. She rubbed a hand up his arm, certain that if she looked down she would see the effect she was having on him.

She did not look down.

“Cally!” she called out over the crowd, waving and drawing the attention of a tall woman in her mid twenties, with a spectacular mane of black hair. Her eyes were large and they widened in obvious delight when they found the gallery owner who had done so much to advance her career.
“Hi Karen! Hello… you,” she grinned goofily and innocently at Gnoji, refusing to stare at the bulge in his pants as plainly as the girl with the facial tattoo had refused to look at Varatchevsky.
Karen felt the pressure on her hip fall away as Gnoji was drawn into the orbit of this new and exotically beautiful creature. She would normally have been pleased. The fly had landed in the middle of her web, but her internal alarms were singing loudly. She did not know where the Asian girl had come from. She had no idea which agency had sent her. But she was certain one of them had placed the woman inside the gallery, probably at short notice. She wasn’t very good at her job, indicating a rushed and poorly resourced effort on behalf of American counter-intelligence.
Unless she was private security for one of the one-percenters gadding about, drinking too much champagne and contemplating a vanity purchase. Unlikely, thought Karin. There was private security here tonight, but all of them had checked in with her own people. They had to, to get their weapons past the front door.

No, this girl was doing government work and doing it poorly.

She sensed Cally straining to keep a smile fixed on her face. Martin Gnoji had quickly moved the conversation from her exquisitely detailed pen and ink drawings of flintlock muskets onto a topic where he felt more confident; the fascinating fellow who was Martin Gnoji.

A fool's tongue runs before his feet, she thought in her native language.

“Martin was just telling me earlier how your work had caught his eye, Cally,” Karen Warat said, taking Gnoji’s empty drink and deftly replacing it with a fresh glass of Bollinger.

“Fuck yeah,” said Gnoji. “They’re sexy fucking drawings, Cal.”

Cally’s smile was still strained, but at its edges there was the genuine pleasure of every artist who has just been paid a compliment for their work. Karen had taught her well, and she didn’t immediately implore him to buy one. That tawdry exchange would fall to the gallery owner.

###

“Now you two stay right here,” Karen said. “I’m not running away. But I do have to love you and leave you for just a moment.”

The sudden fright in Cally’s wide brown eyes was matched only by the expression of rat cunning that crossed Gnoji’s face. He would be thinking, Karin knew, that a poor young artist was no match for a master of the universe like him. He would be thinking that the twelve billion dollars Business Insider had just valued him at made him the most interesting and irresistible plate of man meat in New York. It was exactly as Karin had planned. And when he reached peak-tumescence she would whip away the delicious and unobtainable young artist, switching her out for an even more apparently unobtainable prize.

No. Not herself.

Another trained artist. An entrapment savant.

But the presence of the tattooed counter-intel officer had queered that move, at least momentarily. Karin slipped away from Gnoji and Cally with practised grace. She smiled and exchanged brief pleasantries with nearly everyone she passed, but did not allow herself to be drawn into conversation. She gave the impression of a woman diligently about the business of ensuring all her guests were properly looked after. As she crossed the room, her phone buzzed. A BlackBerry, the latest model. She opened the image file attached to the message she had just received, a picture of an Egyptian dagger with a price and consignment number.

It was a prearranged signal that her cover had been blown and she was ordered to exfiltrate the city as quickly as possible. The unusually high price of the artefact told her that American security officials were already en route. The consignment number was an encoded address; a safe house.
Colonel Ekaterina Varatchevsky maintained her poise and stayed in character as she parsed the crowd, seeking out those facial tattoos, and scanning for any support the spy catcher might have. It was possible, even likely, that her pursuers had put the woman into the scene because she was so conspicuous. She would draw the eye away from other, better camouflaged operators. Karen smiled a passing hello at the Judge she had defamed to Gnoji a few minutes earlier. If the tattooed and slightly inept agent was a decoy, that spoke to an adversary with more finesse than the FBI. It might mean she had come to attention of Clearance or even Echelon.

She veered off the path she had been taking, headed for her office in which a small go-bag waited inside the safe. If the Office of Special Clearances and Records had her in the scope she would not have time to collect even a basic escape kit. She would simply have to move quickly and pray to evade the initial sweep. At least she could be thankful she had almost certainly not come to the attention of Echelon. She knew of a whole FSB network liquidated by just one of their operators, a woman who had disappeared nine cell members without ever appearing on the threat detectors herself.

Karin was sweating now – but only lightly, the thinnest sheen making her forehead shine under the gallery’s LEDs, and most of her guests were red faced and mopping at their brows already. It was a warm night and the old building’s A/C struggled with the body heat of the crowd. She weaved around a stand displaying a nearly complete set of armour from an officer of the Eastern Han Dynasty, but found her way blocked by a knot of revellers who were so deeply engrossed in discussing that week’s House of Cards episode that they did not even notice her.

They did notice the first scream, however. Everyone did.

25 Responses to ‘Sampler: A Soul Full of Guns. A Karin Varatchevksy ebook’

Dave W has opinions thus...

Posted May 5, 2015
Hooked. Totally hooked.

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WarDog mutters...

Posted May 5, 2015
You blood tease Birmingham!

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Surtac swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted May 5, 2015

Very nice - I want the rest of it now. So when is it actually due?

Btw JB, are you looking for typos yet? Its got 'sliver' rather than 'silver' on the first page.

insomniac puts forth...

Posted May 5, 2015
Regarding the typos, what happens to any we spot with the paper books? Do you personally correct each copy purchased or just stick to those still in bookshops or do you just let them go?

John Birmingham would have you know...

Posted May 5, 2015
Yes, I will take in typos.

John Birmingham has opinions thus...

Posted May 5, 2015
It's written. Entirely. What's not sorted out is who gets to publish it. It needs to be global release and there are three potential publishers. To quote The Highlander, "There can be only one."
I predict tears before bedtime

Murphy_of_Missouri puts forth...

Posted May 6, 2015
Well, and his slacker of a research consultant needs to finish the read through. The other three jobs I have do have a habit of slowing me down sometimes.
There will be a few weapons recommendations thus far.
M

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Paul_Nicholas_Boylan mutters...

Posted May 5, 2015
Love it. But cannot help comparing Karen to Caitlin.

John Birmingham is gonna tell you...

Posted May 5, 2015
Karin knows Caitlin and vice versa. Little multiverse easter egg for you.

damian has opinions thus...

Posted May 5, 2015
Yes, the signal to that effect in this extract was pretty clear. Good stuff. When they call it intertextuality people make fun of it and some people get confused and call it plagiarism, after which things can get a bit unfunny, even the hilarious things (that's the only reason bizarre phrases like "self plagiraism" exist). Of course everyone else just thinks in terms of references, nods, winks and building an oeuvre and all that. You'd be crossing the line if you claimed you had Karin in mind when you were writing Caitlin, but I'm pretty sure everyone would forgive you.
Peter Temple has Jack Irish turn up for a cameo in Truth. This sort of thing is catching.

John Birmingham is gonna tell you...

Posted May 5, 2015
I've always liked the idea of burying crossover treats in the text. After all, it's one of the main advantages of writing multiverse fiction.

Paul_Nicholas_Boylan puts forth...

Posted May 6, 2015
I didn't realize. But now that I do, I'm going to pay closer attention. This most certainly kicks up the cool factor up to 11.

Murphy_of_Missouri puts forth...

Posted May 6, 2015
I've got Ascendance but have not read the finished copy. Did the Easter egg we discussed for that novel make it in?

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she_jedi is gonna tell you...

Posted May 5, 2015
EHRMERGERD!! SO good! More please :)

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Yank Across The Sea mumbles...

Posted May 6, 2015
Excellent as always! How long before we get more e-books from your other series like Axis of Time and The Wave? I remember reading somewhere that you were planning on revisiting them.

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Therbs asserts...

Posted May 6, 2015
Noted the Echelon reference, one of their agents eliminating an FSB network, "a woman who had disappeared nine cell members without ever appearing on the threat detectors herself."

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Rhino has opinions thus...

Posted May 6, 2015
Good stuff!
Like the character very much.

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Stevo is gonna tell you...

Posted May 8, 2015
Love the books, great airplane reading as I commute back and forth between Sydney and Moscow where I work most of the time.
So, please excuse the pedantry, but in Russian patronymic naming practice why does Karin have a male surname? Her father or husband would be Varatchevsky. Normally (not 100% rule but quite exceptional for a slavic name) her name would be Varatchevskaya. To succeed in the FSB/GRU you would need to hold to traditional Russian values.
Anyway, I thought perhaps there is an interesting background story here...

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Mike mutters...

Posted May 9, 2015
Awesome, global simultaneous release pwns!
In todays day and age, it's just silly to have staggered releases - it annoys customers and leads to piracy.

I'm happy your muse seems to have taken up permanent residence in your noggin. Several books a year is... awesome!

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Adrien Hopkins puts forth...

Posted November 4, 2015
Has this been published yet, I've looked to no avail

John Birmingham would have you know...

Posted November 4, 2015
No, but it went to edit today. Very soon. Get on the mailing list if you want to be sure and get an early low price.

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Alex Lavery is gonna tell you...

Posted December 24, 2015
Hi John,
I just finished Dave's trilogy and have the first book of Without Warning under my belt. I loved the concept of Dave, it was original and refreshing, gotta have some more of that. Maybe something like all 12 champions take it to the Horde, chewing monster brains like energy bars. Now I'm hungry.
Thanks again,
Alex,

John Birmingham reckons...

Posted December 24, 2015
Coming right up, Alex. If you want an early warning, sign up here. http://eepurl.com/bxdqjP

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NBlob ducks in to say...

Posted December 24, 2015
SWMBO is pissed with you & Annabelle JB. For the first time in N years my gift hasn't been obvious. If I get jocks & socks I'll be pissed off to. My bottle of Ciroc we'll help me get over it.
Happy Christmas, Kwanza, Tet, Mid Summer, Mid Winter, non faith based celebrations or day off to all the Burgers.

Paul_Nicholas_Boylan would have you know...

Posted December 25, 2015
I don't celebrate the Tet Offensive until January 30th, but thank you for the mention. Most people ridicule my reverence.

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Respond to 'Sampler: A Soul Full of Guns. A Karin Varatchevksy ebook'

ASCENDANCE - PROLOGUE

Posted April 28, 2015 into Book Extract by John Birmingham

Prologue

Los Angeles

Wasn’t no mystery to it.

Jellybean knew where all the customers got to. ‘Cept for the neediest fiends, they was all hunkered down in the hovels as evening fell, watching cable news and hiding from monsters.

Da Bean shot a dark, Pepsi-flavoured stream of spit through the gap between his front teeth. A thin tendril of sticky-sweet drool dropped onto his Lakers singlet, staining it. Right now, looking over the empty car lot in front of the Retread Warehouse, the only souls he could see were the ones Stross owned, looking bored with business. Moping around in front of the ‘done clinic. That was some telling shit. The corner with the methadone clinic was always busiest. There were a couple of packs of runners here and there, little kids, not running anywhere right now, on account of having no fiends to step and fetch it for.

“Monsters,” said Jellybean, shaking his head.

At first they’d been great for business. Dope fiends spilling out on the streets to party, everyone talking a big game about n’Orleans. And when the Army and that dumb cracker kicked ass outside of Omaha? Man, that was like Christmas and Thanksgiving got high and had themselves an orgy with July 4’s hot sister. Fiends were kickin’ it. Not just fiends though. Everyone, the whole city. You could hear music all over and there was fire works and everyone was out on the street, and then that Super Dave asshole turned up in LA to party in person?

Damn. They banked some foldable currency that day, Jose.

Not much since though.

And not today, that was for damn sure.

Couldn’t hear no music now either, but you could see fireworks in the gathering gloom, if tracer rounds counted. You could hear the crackle and hammer of automatic weapons all over LA. Sometimes, like just now, long ropey streams of fire, all orange and yellow, flew up from the earth, racing away into the sky. You heard sirens, of course. But they weren’t racing towards the gunfire. Not always. The sirens howled everywhere. Fat Skin told Jellybean the cops weren’t even busting motherfuckers for open carry. Not even hassling, bro! They just pointing, saying, monsters-be-that-a-way-son. Go git.

And that was terrifying, because Jellybean Johnson might not go to Church these days, but those nuns they beat the fear of God in deep. And flip over the fear of God you got a fear of the Devil and all his works.

Devil’s work was what happened down n’Orleans. And the Devil’s fiends be those sabre tooth orc motherfuckers with Gozilla’s own cojones. Them and the dragons and the fuckin’ zombies they got shambling around the ass end of Nebraska now.

Jellybean searched for the gun at his hip, even though he could feel the weight of it there. He just needed to touch the grip, to reassure himself.

Thing was, the Mayor? He’d lost his shit. Weren’t one damn monster anywhere inside LA. They all out in the desert getting smoked by the air force. But whitey already freaked the fuck out. Open carry was proof of that.

That’s what scared Jellybean. White money was the most powerful gang in the city. It didn’t just rule, it reigned. It was an absolute fucking monarch.

Didn’t need demons coming in here to tear this city down. It was gonna tear itself apart because the king had gone mad.

Jellybean could feel it coming.

Wait.

No.

He could hear it.

Screaming.

Not just the random screaming of some bitch gettin’ schooled by her old man. Or someone gone crazy on bath salts or something.

A lot of screaming by a lot of people.

They could hear it down on the corners too, he could see that.

Dog-10 and The King Johnson were already weapons out, hard up against cover. Knees bent, Dog-10 leaned into the corner of the 7-11 and bobbed his head around, gun first.

Jellybean heard the flat crack of the pistol, slightly muted by distance. But only slightly.

Two shots, a pause, then three.

Then all at once everything broke open down on the streets. The corner crews blasting away at nothing da Bean could see yet. The runners running, screaming, adding their tiny high-pitched cries to the swelling crowd noise that rolled on them like a big surf.

He fumbled his own weapon free, looking for something to shoot. All those rational thoughts about the total absence of monsters on the streets of LA - all gone. Jellybean saw movement, a few blocks away. Not just a few people, but hundreds of them, maybe thousands. All running and screaming, all coming straight at him. The gunfire sounded less and less impressive, as the roar of the crowd swelled and swallowed it. First Tonik broke and then Fingaz, and then all of Mr. Stross’s soldiers were running.

Jellybean found himself doing a stupid dance, a little two step. One step towards the rusted ladder would carry him to the ground. One step back towards the AK leaned up against the roofline.

No way would Officer fuckin’ Friendly be letting Jellybean Johnson step out with a Kalashnikov. But that sort of artillery was precisely what a captain needed to own this area of operations.

That’s what Stross always called the hood. The area of operations. Didn’t matter which hood. It was always the area of operations to Mr Stross.

Jellybean stood, dancing from toe to toe, at the broken, grimy parapet of the Retread Warehouse, with his mouth hanging open as a human tide washed over Mr fuckin' Stross’s area of operations. You could see those peeps were running from something, not towards him. So many of them screaming, looking back over their shoulders, sometimes stumbling and tripping because they had. Getting ploughed under, trampled by the madness of the herd.

Well, fuck Stross and fuck his operations, da Bean decided. He turned and ran as fast as his stumpy, overstuffed sausage legs would carry him towards the creaky ladder that would deliver him to the ground. He had time, just enough time he was sure, to jump into his ride and lay down some tyre smoke headed for anywhere but here.

He had no idea what the crowd was running from, but it had to be something as bad as n’Orleans. Had to be monsters for real this time.

His hand drifted to the gun at his hip as he made the ladder and put his foot on the first rung. But of course he couldn’t climb down while he was holding a big ass .45.

And then he understood that he couldn’t climb down at all. Because he was too late. The monster was already here.

Standing – no, floating! – actually floating like a magic motherfucker directly below him, in the dark, shaded lee of the Retread Warehouse.

Jellybean didn’t stop to take in the show. He got a quick impression of some long thin streak of evil misery, somehow drifting a foot or so above the ground, and his balls crawled up into his body and kept on going. They crawled so high, so fast they might have choked him if he hadn’t reacted with the quick wit and immoral ruthlessness that had allowed him to rise so high in the esteem and organisation of Mister Area-of-Operations Stross.

Without thinking on consequence Jellybean Johnson aimed the silver-plated big ass Colt and unloaded half the clip directly into the melon of that spooky floating motherfucker directly beneath his feet.

Slip a few crumpled dollars in the Dave's G-String here.

22 Responses to ‘ASCENDANCE - PROLOGUE’

KreepyKrawly reckons...

Posted April 28, 2015

Yah! great stuff, now all I gotta do is get home and d/l from Kobo..... I'm not sure I can wait that long...

*Hops around like a little kid needing to pee...*

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insomniac has opinions thus...

Posted April 28, 2015
That's it. I am leaving work now and going straight to Dymocks. It had better be there.

insomniac has opinions thus...

Posted April 29, 2015
I has my hands on the precious - Dymocks on George St if anyone is innerested. Not in the new release section nor on the blockbuster table but definitely prominent on the end of an aisle.

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Dave W ducks in to say...

Posted April 28, 2015
TEH AWSM.
I've Bezo'd the e-tome and this little taste (first one's free!) will tide me over 'til I get home.

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NBlob ducks in to say...

Posted April 28, 2015
You are a very bad man. Almost as bad as GreyBread.

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WarDog mumbles...

Posted April 28, 2015
Got my dispatch confirmation from Boomerang this arvo.
Thanks gods (or suitable facsimiles) I don't have to wait out the month I though I was going to have to yesterday :-)
Downside is I know I'll consume it in a couple of hours.

balri is gonna tell you...

Posted April 29, 2015
Same

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matt asserts...

Posted April 28, 2015
Sitting on the Syrian border waiting for my download of Dave ...

insomniac would have you know...

Posted April 29, 2015
Considering that it may be code for something, "Syrian border" forms the following anagrams, placed in the sentence for context.

Sitting on the errand boy, Sir, waiting for my download of Dave ...

Sitting on the randy bore, Sir, waiting for my download of Dave ...

matt reckons...

Posted April 30, 2015
Nothing so grand insomniac - and actually Paul, its actually quite pretty this time of year. Everyone's got to be somewhere :)

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Murphy puts forth...

Posted April 29, 2015
Jellybean . . . where do these names come from? ;)

Anthony reckons...

Posted April 29, 2015
JB is a secret Android fanboi?

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Anthony mumbles...

Posted April 29, 2015

Downloaded and sat up all night reading it.

Comments reserved till later to avoid spoilers...

Halwes would have you know...

Posted April 29, 2015
Does anybody here have a job to go to ?

Lulu would have you know...

Posted April 29, 2015
Where else do you think we're accessing the internet?

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HAVOCK21 has opinions thus...

Posted April 29, 2015
fk me!

I'm in fkn Corryong and the boks in fkn bacchs. SO FKN NOT HAPPY!


SRSLY!...you should be slapped eight fkn ways from christmas for doing that biminghum!

Murphy swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted April 29, 2015
Wahmbulance en route.

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pitpat swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted April 29, 2015
Yep locked and loaded on the various devices. Thanks for the prodigious output. Might even get time to finish it before the spoiler thread opens.

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she_jedi mutters...

Posted April 29, 2015
With the prologue and Mr Stross's "area of operations", did Mr Charles Stross not succeed at his book writing gig and pursue a different career in the universe of The Dave, or is this a coincidence? :)

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Rhino mutters...

Posted April 30, 2015
Must have ... this is why we need teleportation ... for my instant gratification. Don't want to wait all weekend for mine to get here.

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JG asserts...

Posted April 30, 2015
Nice stuff, JB. I like your characterisation of Jellybean. Lots of fun ahead per usual with Dave3 (Ascendance). Will pick up a hard copy over the next week.
Haven't been on here much since switching from a smartphone to a dumbphone (ie phone calls only) in the past month. Frustrating and slow (ie only accessing the internet when I have access to free wifi), but it's saving me heaps of money and plenty of time previously spent online. Some advantages to being offline these days, although I'm still adjusting to bring unconnected until I get wifi fixes 3 or 4 times a week. Will see how it goes. May switch back to a smartphone, but it's not nevessary.
Anyhow, I look forward to reading Ascendance soon.
Cheers, maestro.
Joanna

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"Harry vs The Dragon" by Lord Bob of Nowhere. Fanfest 2015

Posted March 29, 2015 into Book Extract by John Birmingham

Just when you thought too much Fanfest was barely enough, this arrives in the royal mail from Nowhere. (The post is notoriously unreliable from Nowhere).

“Oh no you don’t, you ugly bitch” muttered Harry as he pulled the cyclic to full power and pushed the collective over to port. The jet of flaming sulphurous lizard belch washed over the starboard side of the Apache gunship, bubbling paint off the composite body, but as far as Harry could tell causing no real damage. The rev counter peaked momentarily into the red as Harry Windsor rocketed down the canyon between towering office blocks. He could feel it in the meat of his arse and without conscious thought rolled the cyclic back to seventy percent. Only one hundred and fifty feet off the bitumen he thundered past the windows of brokers of all types, pursued by the most unlikely of bogeys, an honest to god, fire- breathing dragon. Out in open country Dragons as soon as they were located, usually roasting a mob of cattle like a highly-mobile Hibachi, were promptly dispatched by A10’s top-shelf brand of ‘splodey goodness, but in The City collateral damage was deemed too high for rockets and such profligate pyrotechnics, so it was back to duelling one on one with cannon fire against Dragon fire. Just like in the original Battle of Britain the RAF and Army air units engaged invaders over London and that’s where Harry and his co-pilot gunner Fat Tony came in. Fat Tony mused it was all well and good to destroy some poor- arsed farmer’s livelihood, but as soon as the striped-shirts precious assets were on the line, things were different, but being nobody’s fool, Fat Tony kept his opinions to himself.

Since his return from the ‘Stan Harry had been spending far too much time on ceremonial duties. It seemed a little blubber-eel had taken up residence just above his belt-line and his hands had lost the stains and callouses of a man who worked for a living. The lads in his unit took endless pleasure in pointing these and his many other failings out to him when he joined them for manoeuvres and exercises, the cheeky buggers. Being born into “The Firm” came with blessings and curses, most recently the blessings came and came again in the supple form of Princess Mi-Niko of the imperial family of Japan, part time snow-boarding champion, part time princess and full time good sort. But a gentleman wouldn’t skite about that to a rough-headed bunch of lads like those in his unit. Much.

But distractions as pleasant as Mi-Niko aside he really should concentrate on the job at hand, which bizarre as it was, was gaining on him and putting his arse at serious risk of imminent barbecue. He kicked hard on the port pedal, rolled the cyclic up to eighty and executed a ragged, but effective turn down another canyon of corporate phallic substitutes. The damned dragon was only a half a block behind them now, her great leathery wings remarkable in their ability to scoop great volumes of the thick London air. Nimble, seriously pissed off and deadly she pursued the Apache with the single minded focus of a raptor eyeing a fat pigeon. This strange clattering foe had killed her friend, as far as dragons could be said to have friends, which was roughly less than zero, but either way it was a grave affront which could not be allowed to stand.

“This aint getting us nowhere” muttered Harry as his elocution tutor rolled in her grave. “Time to mix it up.” He pointed the nose at the sky and poured on the power. In barely a blink he was above the aircon units and satellite dishes which crowned the surrounding office towers. He rolled the Apache over and dove for the Thames at full power she screamed up to almost 200 knots, briefly leaving the great lizard behind. Flashing past The Tower wherein Harry’s relatives close and distant for the best part of 600 years had dispensed a particular brand of choppy justice, He eyed an opportunity. How often would you get a chance like this? So for no good tactical reason Harry barrel-rolled the Apache under the London Bridge pursued by a Dragon intent on toasting him like a focaccia. “Now, back to business.” Harry mused. The Dragon seemed intent on closing with the Apache for “a bit of grapple” as Harry’s unarmed-combat instructor was fond of calling the deadly business of taking an enemy to the ground & ensuring you were the only one who stood up. “What say we do some damage?” Harry asked. Fat Tony clicked his mic once in assent and as Harry executed another pedal turn to starboard, which would earn zero points for gracebut a full ten as it bought his primary weapon to bear, Fat Tony opened up with the screaming horror tucked under the Apache. Flowing with inertia like a martial artist Harry Crab-Walked the Apache to port as the M230 Chain gun spat 625 30mm High Explosive Dual Purpose rounds per minute at the Dragon. (Presumably the dual purposes were “Fuck” and “You.”) The mighty lizard affronted by such impudence jinked to starboard, folded her port-side wing and attempted to roll under the fire. Fat Tony’s targeting helmet followed as smooth as you could like and he was rewarded with bloody chunks of leather being torn off the still partially extended wing. The Dragon, not at all liking this turn of events, turned tail and flew back into the financial district. Harry followed as Fat Tony tore chunks of Dragon meat from the flank of the retreating beast with burst after burst of chain-gun fire. The great lizard screamed in shock, pain and outrage hundreds of decibels of fingernails on chalkboard with a little stretched-cat mixed in for good measure. This was inconceivable; she hadn’t fled from a fight, well ever as far as she could remember. But self-preservation sang loud and she searched desperately for a bolt hole.

Losing her grace with the integrity of her wing membrane she bounced off the glass front of an investment-banking house and in a spectacular shower of glass fragments, larcenous forecasts, ergonomic furniture and a tiny percentage of really good cocaine, she dove for the yawning maw of a tube station entrance. “That ain’t good” said Fat Tony as the great beast lit up the entrance to the Tube station with a gout of roiling flame and stink and charged down into the underground sanctuary. “No, but I guess it’d be Someone Else’s Problem.” replied Harry as the great spiked tail demolished a smouldering news stand before disappearing below.

“Hotel Romeo Hotel 41. Hotel Romeo Hotel 41. Target 1 splashed, Target 2 has gone to ground. St Pancras Tube Station” Prince Harry radioed to his forward air controller. “Door closing, Mind the gap.”

40 Responses to ‘"Harry vs The Dragon" by Lord Bob of Nowhere. Fanfest 2015’

NBlob mumbles...

Posted March 29, 2015
AWSM art & unbelievable turn around. I submitted this, went & got Fish and Chips (why can't fish shops do good chips?) ate, logged in as I had a post dinner smoke and its up. The bunnies deserve a pay rise JB.

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insomniac reckons...

Posted March 30, 2015
Nice bit of well described actiony goodness

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Paul_Nicholas_Boylan ducks in to say...

Posted March 30, 2015
That was unexpectedly enjoyable. Very much.

But isn't it St. Pancreas?

NBlob is gonna tell you...

Posted March 31, 2015
I believe you may be getting confused with the Sainted Liver. Insulin is pretty impressive, but in no way qualifies as a miracle.

Paul_Nicholas_Boylan ducks in to say...

Posted March 31, 2015
What do you know of spiritual faith, barbarian?

NBlob asserts...

Posted March 31, 2015
A nice man gave me a pamphlet once. Confusing with all that, "there is but one Dog" & "Father, Son & the Holy Goat," selling my neighbour, mixed thread fabric etc." but he was quite nice.

Paul_Nicholas_Boylan is gonna tell you...

Posted March 31, 2015
When I gave you that pamphlet I mistakenly believed you were searching for truth.

NBlob mumbles...

Posted March 31, 2015

You believe what you want to believe. I was searching for love, respect, kindness, a little human (or near enough) warmth.

I reached out in a moment of vulnerability and all I got was this lousy pamphlet. But at least I now have a handy pocket sized reference to all the people who I should despise; gay, brown, vegan, ecologically motivated, followers of a different gospel, or any combination of the above.

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Chaz is gonna tell you...

Posted March 30, 2015
Would have thought that a dragon would prefer to hole up in the old lady of Threadneedle Street!

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w from brisbane puts forth...

Posted March 30, 2015
St Pancras station is a good choice. The dragon would have the option of getting a direct run to the Midlands or he could get on the Eurostar and head off to Paris or Brussels.

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JG has opinions thus...

Posted March 30, 2015
Nice piece of writing, NBlob.

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Chaz asserts...

Posted March 30, 2015
W, not forgetting of course that the Eurostar travels slower on the UK tracks because of speed limitations!

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BigWillieStyle reckons...

Posted March 30, 2015
Clearly, NBlob is an early victim of Viscount Turnbull's new Australia Post regime.

Nice, tight piece of writing - I can see Harry Windsor actually doing this at some point in the future.

I'm stealing "choppy justice" and "yawning maw" for future use, by the way.

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GhostSwirv asserts...

Posted March 30, 2015

Great writing NBob - felt like I was strapped in right beside Harry slashing his Apache across the financial district with Fat Tony's fat finger on the trigger.
Loved the roll through the Tower Bridge and the Dragon fleeing down the Tube ... "Someone else's problem" - typical Bloody Royals.

You like your gunships - don't you?

NBlob ducks in to say...

Posted March 31, 2015
How could one not?

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Spanner swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted March 30, 2015
See, this was quality fanfic. Done well without the cheap slander of others. I liked this much better than the "writing" of that greybread chappie.
Cracking description of the dual purpose round.
Well done NBlob.

Darth Greybeard is gonna tell you...

Posted March 31, 2015
Yeah, I have to admit it was good stuff. Lots of action and edge of the seat excitement. This piece was much more family friendly than the Dinosaur Porn that NBlob usually writes.

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sibeen mutters...

Posted March 30, 2015
As a Republican, I was supporting the dragon.

Paul_Nicholas_Boylan reckons...

Posted March 31, 2015
As a Libertarian, I was angered by the waste of tax dollars depicted.

GhostSwirv has opinions thus...

Posted March 31, 2015

Still I wonder that as a Burgherian PNB you were not stimulated by all of NBob's splodey goodness in spite of your core political beliefs?

Paul_Nicholas_Boylan mumbles...

Posted March 31, 2015
Well, yeah, of course. It totally made my dick hard (metaphorically speaking, of course). But that is a given, innit? Hardly worthy of discussion or comment.

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pitpat mumbles...

Posted March 31, 2015
Just got around to reading it while waiting for others. Super work Lord Bob, part of me likes The Harry more than The Dave.

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HAVOCK21 ducks in to say...

Posted March 31, 2015
good shit NBOB...!!!!!

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Rhino asserts...

Posted March 31, 2015
That was some good splodey stuff right there. Found myself leaning in my chair following the chopper.
Great job!

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Mike puts forth...

Posted March 31, 2015
I'm sorry, as a 71 yr old ex-aviator and obvious pedant, I just couldn't resist:
Harry needs to go do 'Flying Helicopters 101' again, before he breaks off the controls: http://tinyurl.com/qbxme49

NBlob would have you know...

Posted March 31, 2015
Fair enough

HAVOCK21 asserts...

Posted March 31, 2015
NBOB, you could have said, " As he flipped the big black bitch onto her back, grunting against the G's as the composite rotors bit into the dense tropical air"

But ya didn't. I LIKED IT!

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TexasTeaserPony ducks in to say...

Posted April 1, 2015
Good stuff, NB. Then this, "Well, yeah, of course. It totally made my dick hard (metaphorically speaking, of course)."

The metaphorical 'acorn wearing a turtleneck sweater' might be more like it.

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Rhino asserts...

Posted April 1, 2015
Well, there's 2 lines for The Wedding.
Thanks, Boys.

Paul_Nicholas_Boylan puts forth...

Posted April 1, 2015
Okay - so I used the term incorrectly. I did that intentionally. I am a artist, man. It was fucking poetic license.

Darth Greybeard reckons...

Posted April 1, 2015
I checked with the California Licensing Commission. Your poetic licence expired in 1997.

NBlob swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted April 1, 2015
Expired, er no. It was taken from him after a particularly witless "Life is like a tree" simile that triggered California's 3 strikes rule.

NBlob mutters...

Posted April 1, 2015
De-dignification is just one of the services we offer.Besides, you're the one with the bucket hat.

Paul_Nicholas_Boylan would have you know...

Posted April 2, 2015
You spend a lifetime presenting a distinguished, if not stylish, figure.

But you wear one bucket hat, and your wife posts it on Facebook, and that's all anyone remembers.

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Therbs swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted April 1, 2015
A nice chopper ride NB.

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Sparty swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted April 2, 2015
This should be considered Canon.(or at least 30mm cannon...)

NBlob swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted April 2, 2015
High praise Mr Sparty. Thank you.

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nhamilton@iinet.net.au swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted April 7, 2015
Harry is so much more fun to write about than Will. If he gets married who can we write about instead?

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Respond to '"Harry vs The Dragon" by Lord Bob of Nowhere. Fanfest 2015'