The Final Evolutionby Jeff Somers
The world is dying. With avatars replacing humans and the birth rate non-existent, the human race is almost extinct. In the end, it comes down to Canny Orel; Avery's long sought after nemesis transformed now into something other than human.
Orel might hold the secret to humanity's salvation, if he can be convinced or forced to relinquish it.
The world is dying. With avatars replacing humans and the birth rate non-existent, the human race is almost extinct. In the end, it comes down to Canny Orel; Avery's long sought after nemesis transformed now into something other than human.
Orel might hold the secret to humanity's salvation, if he can be convinced or forced to relinquish it. And when Cates chances on a way to trick his old master, he suddenly has a choice to make: get his long-delayed revenge, or save the world.
Read an Excerpt
The Final Evolution
By Somers, Jeff
OrbitCopyright © 2011 Somers, Jeff
All right reserved.
HE REALLY ENJOYS THIS PART
“Tell me something,” I said, easing the barrel into the soft spot on the back of his neck just below the skull. “How’s someone as stupid as you get a job like this?”
He tensed for a moment, then slumped a little. “I used to be smarter.”
I smiled, pressing the gun down hard while I hugged him with my free arm, feeling him up for surprises. I was alive and I felt good. “We all used to,” I said. “Me, I used to be a fucking genius.”
I found a gun shoved down into his crotch, a battered old alloy auto with the safety chiseled off, ready to blow his balls off if he zipped up wrong. I weighed it in my hand.
“It’ll go easier on you if you tell me what else you’ve got.”
He chewed on this for a second or two. It was dark and cold as hell, the wind whipping up over the ruined outer wall of the old church and smacking into us. I stared over his shoulder at the glowing whitewashed walls, twin bell towers sticking up into the blue-black sky like broken bones. The church proper was ringed by the remnants of the old wall, a tiny, squat cottage connected to my right, the roof a vague memory. The whole world was being worn down, erased, one inch at a time, filled with empty, abandoned buildings like this. In twenty years the cottage would be gone down to the foundation. So would I.
“Nothing,” he said, giving me a little shrug. “I’m just supposed to yell the alarm, give ’em some warning, anybody gets past me.”
“Yell if you want to find out what your brain feels like flying through the air,” I said. “Besides, it doesn’t matter. We’re inside already anyway. Walk me in.”
If he was in the mood to be reasonable, I was in the mood to let him live. I’d killed enough assholes already. Why be greedy.
“All right,” he said after another moment.
I pocketed his gun and let him put an inch or two between us, then followed him toward the church. We scraped along the frozen dirt for a few seconds in silence.
“Listen,” he said quietly. “There’s two guys on the first floor, right inside the doors.”
I nodded. “We know.”
“Let me take the slip,” he said. He didn’t say it pleading. He just asked, like he was asking for a cigarette. “I’ll catch hell if I walk in there with you pushing me along.”
I studied the back of his head. He was younger than me, but so was everyone. His head was shaved and a delicate tattoo of a spiderweb had been penned onto his skull, a blurry blue design done in a shaky hand. It glinted slightly in the cold moonlight. For a moment I considered just letting him run. My gut told me that he would just melt away and never bother me again, but I hadn’t lived this long by taking stupid chances, so I sighed as if thinking about it and then I brought my Roon down on top of his head as hard as I could.
He dropped to the ground silently, and I stepped over him, glancing up at the hill that framed the church against the sky, a dome of green and brown. There was no noise aside from the crunch of my boots on the frost.
I crept forward. When I was a few feet from the big wooden double doors, they swung outward on silent, greased hinges.
“You stupid fuck,” I hissed. “What are you thinking? You check your field, or you’ll get punished.”
“Yes,” Remy said, leaning against the doorway with one of his ersatz brown cigarettes hanging from one lip. “The day you can’t handle one guard who doesn’t know you’re coming, Avery, I’m dead anyway.”
I looked him over. He’d grown like a weed over the last three years, getting broad and tall, every movement taut and powerful. He’d let his black hair grow out, hanging over his face, and he’d started a beard, a thick scum of hair that enveloped his cheeks and neck, making him look even skinnier, strangely. He dressed in black, like an asshole, but I pardoned him; he was still just a kid. And I liked him. It always surprised me how much I liked Remy.
“All right,” I said, giving him a little slap on his cheek as I pushed past him. “Then today’s lesson is, don’t rely on someone else doing their job to keep you alive, you stupid fuck.”
“Stupid fuck” had become my term of endearment for Remy.
Just inside the doors were two bodies, big guys sprawled in the sawdust poured all over the floor, a bloody mess. They were both locals, tall beefy guys, tan skin and long, dark hair tied back into tails, guns in their slack hands. Both had tiny, small-caliber holes in their heads. Remy favored big guns but he could work small if the occasion called for it. I’d taught him that, and I had a moment of weird pride, instantly soured. I stood there studying them for a moment while the kid closed the doors behind us.
“You didn’t have to kill them,” I said, carefully. I didn’t want to prompt another speech about the military augments in his head that might explode at any moment—from decay, or stray microwaves, or an old SFNA officer with a spare remote in his pocket. I’d heard it too often. I had the same augments, forced on me by the Press Squad, but mine had been damaged. The one time someone tried to pop me with a military remote—a blackjack, the old soldiers called it—it hadn’t killed me, though I wished it had, for a while. When Remy didn’t respond, I sighed. “Quiet work, though,” I said, looking back at him. His face was impassive, as always. He hadn’t spoken for the first six months after we got out of Hong Kong, and even now he wasn’t one for speeches.
“I think that was lesson three,” he said, crossing his arms in front of himself. “Noise gets you killed.”
The church had been gutted and was just a cold shell of old wooden beams and empty windows. Up front there was a twisting set of stairs, apparently held together with wishes and good intentions, leading up to a sagging balcony that wrapped around three of the walls. I could see a door at the top of the stairs, a gleaming steel number that sported a nifty DNA-swipe magnetic lock. It didn’t work anymore, of course; electricity was hard to come by in Bolivia. Everything was hard to come by, everywhere, since the System had fallen into a million little pieces.
“No one at that door?” I wondered aloud, walking forward and turning my head this way and that, trying to see everything, get the place fixed in my head.
“Assholes,” Remy said by way of explanation. “Garces is nobody. A local strongman. I’m amazed he has a steel door instead of some glass beads on string.”
I clucked my tongue. “Don’t be fucking cynical, Remy. Yeah, Garces doesn’t run anything half a mile away from this fucking building, but Morales is paying us a lot of worthless yen to kill him. And my intel says there should be two assholes at the front door and one asshole at the back door.” I gestured up at it. “That bothers me. This lack of assholes.”
“Well, there’s us,” he said with his usual flat tone.
I checked my Roon, scorched and battered but still smooth as silk—no one made guns like the old Roon corporation, rest in peace—then I took out the first guard’s iron and looked it over. It was no Roon, but it looked like it wouldn’t blow up in my hand, at least, so I slipped it back into my coat pocket.
“Well, let’s find out what’s up there.”
I walked toward the stairs, thinking. Remy was right—Garces was a local boss, one of a million who’d sprung up when the army and the cops had dissolved, scattering, the System of Federated Nations getting unfederated over the course of a few chaotic months. The fact that the best people he could hire were low-quality wasn’t surprising. It still felt wrong; I’d learned that when unexpected things happened, it usually went badly for you. We’d been working so much lately, I was in practice, and in shape—my augments, my gift from Colonel Malkem Anners and Michaleen Garda, were damaged but still partially functional. I still had a flickering heads-up display in my vision, pain got washed away immediately, and when my heart rate kicked up I got calm and clear. There was no reason to discount my instincts.
I paused at the foot of the stairs and listened. The steps were old wood, bowed in the center and reinforced here and there with metal braces; they would creak like hell. The hallway behind the door was about twenty feet long, and there was another door that led to Garces’s office. I was standing there, judging the physics and the chances I’d be heard when the steel door swung open and a skinny, short man with his long black hair tied into a tight, thick braid stepped out onto the landing.
For a second we stared at each other. “¿Qué la cogida?” he said, taking half a step backward.
I put my gun on him, moving fast, my old augments giving me an adrenaline-sick edge of speed.
“Aqui,” I said, using one-third of my usable Spanish and gesturing at the floor. “Aqui.”
He nodded, raising his hands up like an ass. Never do anything you aren’t ordered to, I always told Remy. Don’t give shit away—if someone forgets to tell you to put your hands where they can be seen, keep your fucking hands where they’ll do you some good. He started coming down, muttering something I couldn’t quite catch with each step. Watching him, I cheated my way to his left, and when he was a few steps from the floor I reached out, took hold of his ankle, and spun him crashing to the ground floor.
Remy was suddenly there, one boot on the poor guy’s neck, his massive double-action revolver pointed at the guy’s head. Startled, I dashed forward and gave Remy a shove, knocking him off balance and sending him stumbling into the wall, his heavy gun making him lean. I hooked one hand into our new friend’s collar and dragged him behind me as I stomped after the kid.
“Why the fuck do I have to always remind you to not just fucking kill every-fucking-body?” I hissed. Remy was hunched over, staring up at me from around his own shoulder, his cannon aimed at the floor. It was a ridiculously large gun, heavy and loud, but it would put a fist-sized hole in someone’s chest, and Remy was attached to it despite the fact that bullets for it were rarer than clean water these days. His hair hung in his face and he made no attempt to move, to challenge me. He just stayed hunched over as if expecting a kick, and shrugged awkwardly.
“That’s what we do,” he pointed out.
“Fuck,” I said and sighed, looking back up the stairs. “Maybe it would be nice to ask our new friend here what’s behind that door? How many men up there?”
He nodded, slowly straightening up. “Sure, okay, Avery.”
I stared at him again, my prisoner just waiting politely for our attention to swing back to him. Remy disdained caution, because Remy thought he knew how he was going to die, and thought the knowledge made him immortal in every other situation. Until his augments popped, he figured he was protected by fate. And no matter how many times I told him he was an asshole for thinking that, he was never convinced.
“Okay,” I finally said, letting my guy drop to the floor and turning to put a boot on his chest and my gun in his face. “Hola, muchacho,” I said, gesturing up the stairs. “¿Cuantos?”
He grinned, again putting his hands up by his face to signify that he wasn’t a threat. I didn’t need his hand gestures to know that; he’d already shown me his belly and asked me to scratch it. “No mas,” he said eagerly. “No mas, señor.”
I nodded. “Gracias,” I said, smiling back. His tan face lit up and he looked like he was going to keep talking, so I leaned down and smacked my Roon into his forehead just hard enough to knock him cold—the rusting augments in my head made such precise adjustments easy enough. I straightened up and gestured at Remy to precede me up the stairs.
“Don’t be an asshole,” I warned him as he slipped past me, all youthful energy and grace, sinews and adrenaline.
“We are here to kill Garces, right?” he whispered back. “We’re not just going to be rude to him, call him some names, right?”
I started up the stairs behind him. As I’d suspected, they creaked and wiggled under us like it was going to be the last thing we ever did. “Shut up and keep your eyes open,” I suggested. “When you have the urge to be an asshole, ask yourself if I can still beat the shit out of you. If the answer is yes, think twice.”
Teaching the kid was hard work.
He reached the sagging balcony and stepped to the right, pushing himself against the fragile railing and raising his cannon. I stepped to the door and put my hand on the handle, glanced at the kid, and then pulled the door open in a sudden, smooth lunge. Remy tensed and then relaxed, shrugging.
I stepped in front of him and took lead. The hallway was made of warped wood slats on the floor and pockmarked drywall. Two doors on the sides had been boarded over crudely, leaving just the big, heavy wooden door with the shotgun slat at the other end to worry over. It made sense to limit the approaches; Potosí was not exactly a stable little city, and Garces hadn’t become one of a dozen or so tiny chiefs in it through glad-handing and arranged marriages—a direct assault on his offices wasn’t out of the question. If his guards weren’t all local simps who couldn’t be trusted to raise an alarm, the hallway would have been an effective way to bottleneck intruders and poke a gun through the slat, raking them with fire from behind the door, which I expected would be steel-plated on the other side.
We paused just outside, standing with our backs against the opposite walls, and looked at each other. Putting a finger up to my lips to forestall Remy’s traditional approach of Extremely Loud and Shoot Me If You Can, I reached over and gently pressed down on the door handle. It moved easily and unlatched with a soft click that sounded like a shotgun blast to my ears. Wincing, I froze and waited to see if the door was going to explode, but nothing happened. I took a deep breath, my HUD flickering in my vision, all levels green, and pushed the door inward, stepping immediately to the left, gun out but held low.
Feeling Remy step in behind me, I took in the room. It was a nicely appointed office and almost felt civilized; Potosí was the definition of the sticks, but this place was old-school: wood paneling on the walls, a stained but thick and sound-swallowing red carpet on the floor, the opposite wall dominated by two huge floor-to-ceiling windows. The left wall was all shelves, empty, the sunburned outlines of something or many somethings, square and all different heights, still staining the old wood. In front of the empty shelves was a massive wooden desk, dark stain with deep scratches, flat and empty. Two men sat on my side of the desk in old, busted-up, plush leather chairs, the upholstery blistered and bursting. One was a huge blob of a guy, pale white with dark red hair, a face made of freckles and sweat. The other was almost as big, dark tan and with glossy black hair spilling back over his shoulders like a wave of ink, a thin pencil mustache adorning his upper lip.
Behind the desk sat Manuelo Garces, who ran half of Potosí with all the imagination and verve of a drunk pissing on his shoes.
He was about my size, and ten or fifteen years younger. He wore what passed for a nice suit in these shattered times, and his head was close-shaved and sported a few scabs where an unsteady hand had cut him. He was a good-looking kid, his face round and happy, symmetrical and balanced. He didn’t look like a guy who’d come up in the slums of Potosí, slitting throats and stealing anything not nailed down, a guy who’d survived the breaking of the System and the civil war that had left Potosí and everything around it for ten miles or so a scab of destruction. He looked like a kid I would pay a thousand yen to run messages for me.
In my peripheral vision, I saw Remy step in after me, shut the door quietly behind him, and then step forward and right a little, getting out of the door’s way in case someone unexpected came in. When he just stood there with his ridiculous gun held down by his crotch, I relaxed. The kid liked taking chances and sometimes caused trouble.
I looked at Garces. He had his hands under the desk.
“I’m not here to kill you,” I said. “So don’t pull that boomstick out unless you want to piss me off.” Then I glanced at his two guests. “You two aren’t on my list of chores today, so you have a choice here: You can jump out the window, or I can shoot you both in the head. You’ve got five seconds.”
They both stared at me for a beat, then looked at Garces, who shrugged his eyebrows at him in the international gesture for I don’t give a fuck. The redhead looked at me.
“We’ll go without a fuss—”
“You’ll go out the window,” I said, affecting boredom, playing my role like I’d done a million times before. “Or you’ll stay here forever.” We weren’t that high up—they might break a leg; they might get messed up, but the drop wouldn’t kill them. If they made me kill them I was going to make it hurt, out of sheer irritation.
In some ways, the world was easier, now. The System didn’t exist anymore—except for a hunk of Eastern Europe, where a rump of the old System Security Force hung on. Dick Marin—The King Worm—was gone. At some point the Joint Council’s army had nuked Moscow into a shallow crater, vaporizing his servers. The news had already been a few months old when I’d heard it, and I’d felt nothing—which was curious. On my list of people to hate, Marin had been number three. Knowing he was gone should have felt like something.
The cops were hanging on, though. Everywhere else had just fallen to pieces. City states, small countries, a constantly changing ocean of sovereignties. Most places were run by people like Garces, gangsters who could pay for muscle to keep the peace, or by mercenaries who’d settled down with their troops. A lot of the old army officers had set up tiny kingdoms for themselves after the army had collapsed, with their units as security. It was fucking chaos, and chaos was good for business. There were no System Pigs breathing down your neck, beaming your face across the ocean, hunting you down. There were no Vids pasting your name everywhere and telling people to report seeing you. I could throw these two slobs out the windows and no one was going to investigate, no hovers were going to rip the roof off the place and dump a battalion of Stormers into the room. No one was going to care.
They still didn’t move, so I shrugged and brought the Roon up, cocking the hammer with a dramatic click. That got them both out of their seats, Remy shifting gracefully to his left to keep Garces covered.
For a second we just stared at each other. Then I sighed theatrically. “If you’ve never jumped out of a window before,” I offered, “the best advice I can give you is to take a running jump—it’s easier that way, instead of leaning out in excruciating increments—and protect your head.”
Red still stared at me. “You’re… not serious.”
Remy laughed, a cold, sudden snort. Remy hadn’t known me back in New York, before the Plague. He knew only the new Avery. The new Avery wasn’t as kind and gentle as the old.
I ticked my aim downward and put a shell at Red’s feet, making him jump and yelp. The pair scampered backward toward the windows and I turned toward Garces.
“Remy,” I called out. “Make sure they jump.”
Garces was relaxed, a smile on his face. He stared back at me with his hands folded in his lap. At the sound of one of the windows scraping open his eyes flicked over my shoulder and then immediately back at me. He pushed his grin into overdrive and raised one hand to point at me.
“Avery Cates,” he said.
I shrugged. “You’re Psionic. Read my mind and shit, huh?”
Garces shrugged back as a pair of yowling screams pierced the air behind us, suddenly cut off. “You’re the only gringo Gunner with a Bottom working around here.” He ticked his head toward the windows. “You cost me money, there.”
“Fuck your money,” I said, easily, taking a seat in one of the busted leather chairs.
He took that in stride. “I’m guessing I’m down four men, too.”
“Just two. The other two will live, unless they die of shame.”
He nodded. I could see how he’d clawed his way to the bottom ladder of the post-System world. He was smart enough, and he stayed calm under pressure. “All right,” he said, his accent subtle, giving his words a round feel I kind of liked, like every word was linked to the last by a thin line of silk. “Let’s negotiate.”
I shook my head. I had the Roon aimed at his face, my arm resting on the arm of the chair. “We’re not negotiating. I just have a question I have to ask you before I transact my business. Something I ask everyone these days.”
The office was damp, I realized. It smelled moldy. If I looked up at the ceiling, I’d probably find a deep brown water stain, but I didn’t bother looking. Garces was a two-bit neighborhood boss—the world had tens of thousands of assholes at his level, now, shitheads who thought having a dozen big guys sending up tribute to you made you important. I’d known really important people. I’d been in the same room with them, made deals. Garces was a nobody, and I was about to remind him of the fact.
“By all means, Mr. Cates,” he said, spreading his hands to indicate compliance. “If I can answer, I will. And then we can discuss who has hired you, and what it will take for you to go and kill them instead.”
I didn’t react. Every asshole in the world thought he was brilliant, that no one had ever had such a brilliant idea before. And there were probably Gunners who made deals like that, starting bidding wars, waking people up in the middle of the night to announce the latest bid, and would you like to bid higher or take a bullet to the face? But Gunners like that usually ended up dead sooner rather than later. The one thing people wanted in a Gunner was reliability. You didn’t like to think that hiring me was just opening up a fucking auction.
“My question is, have you ever heard of men named Michaleen Garda, Wallace Belling, or Cainnic Orel?”
Garces squinted at me, cocking his head. “Orel? Everyone knows of Cainnic Orel, Mr. Cates. He has been dead for twenty years, I hear.” He smiled. “Or do I hear wrong?”
I nodded. “And the other names?”
He leaned back in his seat. “Never heard either one.”
I nodded again. I never expected any kind of shocking answer, but we’d traveled half the world since Hong Kong and I’d made it a standard thing, just asking. It was surprising what you could find out just by asking. I looked around the office. Chances were I was never going to have my revenge on Michaleen, aka Cainnic Orel, the most famous Gunner in the short, doomed history of the System, or on his lieutenant Belling. Both of them deserved to die, and I deserved to be the one to kill them, but I wasn’t going to get any closer to that crawling around the wreckage of civilization killing little shits like Garces for pennies.
Wallace Belling had told me, three years and forever ago, that the fat times, as far as contract murder was concerned, were back. And he was right. I had more work than I could handle. The whole world was boiling, everyone grabbing what they could and riding the bull until it bucked them off, and the easiest way to skip your wait in line was to hire someone like me and delete a few people from the queue. I wasn’t working Orel and Belling’s legendary level, the Dúnmharú, a stupid fucking name that still made people lie awake at night with a gun in their hands, but I was sleeping indoors every night when most people were experimenting with a diet of dirt occasionally supplemented with their own fingers, and I was still alive, despite the odds. It was the best deal I was going to get, and every day I didn’t get an interesting answer to my questions, I got happier with my lot in life.
Standing up, I pushed my gun into my coat pocket. “Nice place you got here,” I said, walking toward the door. I felt good. My augments weren’t as effective as they’d been when the military had first implanted them, making me feel like a kid with perfect balance and endless energy, but they kept my leg from aching and my lungs from burning, and I slept like a baby at night, just a black stretch of peace and recuperation. I spun and walked backward for a few steps, feeling light and lively. “Too bad it’s going to be someone else’s tomorrow.”
His sudden expression of pale horror was hilarious. “You said you were not here to kill me!” he shouted, veins bubbling up under his skin. I got the impression that Garces was a screamer, when you didn’t have a gun on him. That made me feel good. Screamers deserved to be shut up.
“I’m not,” I said, hooking a thumb at Remy, who stood in front of the desk with his cannon held calmly in front of him. “He is. He really enjoys this part.”
VERY HIGH ON THE LADDER
The mud sucked at my boots and splattered all over my pants and coat as we walked through downtown Potosí. I didn’t know what Potosí had been like before the civil war, but Potosí today was a pimple where trash collected, a scab of a city where nothing had been rebuilt, just repurposed. It was a town of blue tarps, thick plastic sheeting laid over destroyed roofs, stretched to form rippling walls, used in architectural ways I’d never imagined. Who even knew there was so much blue tarp in the world, just stockpiled everywhere, ready to be deployed after the field-contained armaments had churned your city into a maze of rubble and bloody mud.
“Do you see him?” Remy asked without looking at me.
I nodded. The sun was incredibly bright and had absolutely no warmth; it was just a huge pale disk in the sky reflected off of every iced-over pool of water and sheet of frozen, off-white snow. The streets had been churned by a thousand feet into pudding that wanted to pull you down into the earth and hold you there, absorbing you. Some of the more enterprising people had laid down wooden slats outside their buildings, but for the most part it was just the sucking mud and a hundred assholes shoving you this way and that. Potosí had never been a big town, but it seemed empty all the time, half the old ruins unoccupied, no one hurting for space.
Even so, a walk downtown always got on my nerves.
I stopped and pretended to examine some knives on a fragile-looking cart that had no wheels. The proprietor was an extremely thin black man with a puffy white beard exploding off his face in several contradictory directions; his beard looked like a parasite that was sucking him dry. He didn’t move as I fingered his merchandise, good knives that looked pre-civil war, machine-made.
“Looks like a Tele-K to me,” I said, picturing the broad-chested kid in the dark black suit, trailing us by twenty feet or so.
“Does he have a mark?”
I shook my head and turned away from the cart. “Not that I saw, but I can’t get a good look.”
We kept slogging through the mud toward the market. “You’d think by now the Angels would have figured out that Tele-Ks don’t scare us,” Remy said in his flat voice.
The Angels. The fucking Angels. For years the System Pigs had kidnapped every kid who showed even a spark of Psionic ability and kept them all safely bottled up in special schools, training them to be the ultimate civil servants. Then the Joint Council undersecretaries made them into their intelligence staff, and then the whole fucking world broke and the Psionics had come wriggling up through the cracks. Half of the Spooks were just in it for themselves, bad enough when the guy horning in on your business could snap you in two from across the room. The other half called themselves Angels. They were Psionic Actives under no one’s control, and they were convinced that they had been created by god to rule the world—whether they were supposed to kill the rest of us or just tell us what to do wasn’t very clear. What was clear was that step one of their brilliant plan was to eliminate “evil men and women” by drum trial and summary execution, and I was on their list of bastards in need of some punishment. Every few weeks, one or more of the crazy bastards found me and tried to put me on trial.
You could tell an Angel from a regular run-of-the-mill Spook—assuming they weren’t trying to squeeze your brains out through your ears while making a speech about god and evil men, which was a dead giveaway—because they liked to ink themselves up, usually on the neck right over the jugular. A Tele-K got a stylized fulcrum, a triangle with a line balanced on top, and a Pusher got a small black crow.
I fucking hated the Spooks.
“I’ll handle him,” Remy said, turning away. I shot out a hand and grabbed his collar, pulling him back to me.
“You stay with me and back me up,” I said quietly. Remy’s death wish was fucking exhausting. He thought he knew how he was going to die—via random augment disconnect in his brain or random encounter with former SFNA officer with a blackjack in his pocket—so that somehow made him immortal. “We’ll handle him when he requires us to handle him, okay?”
Remy didn’t say anything, just fell back into pace at my side with a smirk and a shrug of his shoulders. I didn’t say anything else. I was responsible for Remy. If he hadn’t been glued to me back in Englewood, years ago, he wouldn’t have been pressed into the army at the height of the civil war. Wouldn’t have had military augments sliced into his brain, wouldn’t have been shipped to Hong Kong and made into a hardass, wouldn’t have walked away without an official discharge, his augments still active in his skull, ticking away. Remy was on me. So far, everyone I’d tried to keep safe—few and far between—was dead. I didn’t like my odds.
I thought of Glee, and had to force myself not to smack Remy in the back of the head. I liked Remy. I’d liked Gleason, too. It made me angry to think about her.
We walked in silence, then, between the sagging carts selling beat-up old tech and dying batteries, solar collectors, and, occasionally, tiny reactors promising near-endless energy. Such reactors existed, sure, but I doubted any of them had migrated to a cart stuck in the muddy streets of Potosí. Batteries were about the most valuable things in the world, especially if they came with solar collector hookups, and the cart had four big guys working security on it, all of them lounging around a few feet away, looking bored and sleepy. The sleepier and dumber security looked, the more I kept clear of them.
The buildings behind the carts were jagged remnants, rounded off by blue tarp and occasional attempts at renovation, raw wood rotting away again. Piles of cleared rubble popped up at regular intervals, courtesy of bombing runs by the System Pigs on one day and the Joint Council’s army on the other; Potosí had switched hands a dozen times during the war. There were still unexploded shells buried in the ground or lodged in the cracks and crevasses of the buildings. Every other day someone triggered a proximity sensor and got turned into a bloody fog. Potosí was a fucking paradise.
The market was a grandiose term for a small field of semipermanent tents. Most of it was real food, pulled from the ground or slaughtered right there in front of you, a dirty, disgusting mess. Once you’ve seen a goat killed and cleaned in front of you, you paid whatever they wanted for the dwindling supply of N-tabs and considered yourself lucky. The smell was suffocating, the air thick with smoke, but the paths were laid out with flat gray stones that made walking easier, and everyone got out of my way as I led Remy toward the center of the field, where a bright white tent fluttered, topped by a splashy red pennant. There were two short, stocky men standing on either side of the open slit in the front of the tent, looking cold and pissed off, which was how I liked my guards. The one on the left nodded at me as we approached, and neither one twitched as we pushed past them into the tent. We were expected.
Morales was on his feet the moment I ducked under the flap, his belly preceding him, his arms thrown open. Two women holding beat-up old shredding rifles stood on either side of the flap, young girls with scars on their faces who didn’t look at me once as I breezed past them.
“You magnificent bastard!” Morales bellowed, grinning. “You did it! You killed them all, you fucking maniac!”
Morales was a big sloppy kind of guy, a guy who was always sweaty, a guy who kept the interior of his fucking tent uncomfortably warm and his shirt undone down to his navel. He wore jewelry, thick ropes of gold and numerous rings. He was flashy and he grinned a lot and laughed a lot and when I’d first met him I’d thought he was a joke.
I put my hands up. “Try to hug me and we won’t be friends anymore.”
He laughed, but shifted his body and contented himself with a soft hand on my shoulder, guiding me to the large wooden table set up in the center of the tent. This was where Morales did all his business, all day, every day. He sat and ate constantly, nibbling and sipping, and a stream of folks came and went. I sat down without being asked and picked a grape from a platter. Morales wanted everyone to know he was rich, that he had juice, so he let food rot on his table every day while half the people around him were starving. Remy moved behind me and positioned himself with false casualness in a spot where he had all four of us in his sight, and leaned against a pole so his coat slid open, revealing his improbable revolver hanging low on his hip.
“Eight men,” Morales said, laughing as he dropped into the other seat. “Eight men stood between me and Potosí, and now they are all dead. Garces last night. You are a genius, Mr. Cates. You have made me master of Potosí.”
I swallowed the grape and decided against telling Morales what I thought being master of a lump of mud with no electricity or sewage was worth. “You owe me five hundred thousand yen,” I said. “Paper notes, as we agreed.” Since the cops were holding together something that resembled the System, yen remained the only currency worth anything at all. And paper was the only way to carry it around these days; even if banks still existed somewhere you couldn’t touch the servers anymore, at least not in fucking Potosí, which must mean “nowhere” in Spanish.
Morales folded his hands across his belly, and with a sinking feeling I realized the fat bastard wasn’t planning on paying me. “Mr. Cates, you have made me a man worth having in your debt,” he said cheerfully. “What would you say to continuing our partnership? I am offering you a post as my security chief. Very high on the ladder.”
I sighed, picturing the tent in my mind while I kept my eyes on Morales’s mesmerizing chest hair. “I would say you owe me five hundred thousand yen.” I didn’t tell him that the thought of staying in Potosí one more minute was about as appealing as shooting off my own foot, or that the fact that he’d had the wisdom to hire me instead of some drunk from the local arena didn’t make him the genius he thought he was. I at least showed up with my own gun.
Morales lost his smile. Grunting, he sat forward. “Mr. Cates, I have made you a very good offer.” He put the smile back, like flicking a hidden switch in his mouth. “These are hard times! Unsettled times. Here you would have the best of everything: a nice house, servants, women—or whatever it is you enjoy.” He leered, and I resisted the urge to jump forward and smack him. Whatever you enjoy in-fucking-deed.
Morales liked keeping things polite, so I made an effort and smiled back at him. “All I need,” I said slowly, “is five hundred thousand yen.”
We stared at each other with our frozen smiles for a moment, and then Morales leaned back and spread his hands, closing his eyes. “I am afraid, Mr. Cates, that cash flow difficulties prevent me from paying you at this moment. However, I do not intend to, as you might say in your charming New York vernacular, rip you—”
I launched myself out of my chair and onto him. Behind me, I knew Remy already had his revolver out and aimed at the two guards—my only worry with Remy was whether he was going to kill everyone he met without a thought, not whether he was capable. The kid had learned all about death before I even got him back.
We landed on the dirt floor of the tent, my legs straddling Morales’s swollen belly and pinning his arms. I clamped one hand over his mouth and pinched his nose with the other, making his eyes instantly bug out as he tried to roll me off.
“Listen to me,” I advised softly as he bucked under me. “If I picked you up by your feet and shook you, a million yen would fall out of your fucking pockets.”
Five hundred grand was about a month’s survival, these days—if you lived light and weren’t picky, and if you could even get people to accept yen as payment. Your chances of spending yen were better in the cities—in Potosí you could scrape together enough folks willing to take yen to get by. Any smaller than Potosí, you either bartered or you had precious metals—gold or platinum, mostly. Heavy to carry, hard to come by.
“If I pinch your nose for two minutes,” I went on in a whisper, “you’re dead and whatever I find in here is fucking mine, so think again about our arrangement and what you owe me. I’m going to let you think for another ten seconds and then I’m going to take my hand off your mouth, and there’s a right answer and a wrong answer to the question: Are you going to pay me my fee?”
His eyes were wide and he’d stopped struggling. Guys like Morales had never encountered a professional before. They were born into a backwater like Potosí, and they thought Gunners were employees. We were the people with the guns. Guys like Morales, they worked for us.
I waited another moment and chanced a glance up. Remy had two guns in his hands, covering the guards, who both stood like newly erected statues, gaping. I stifled a sudden unwanted giggle. I should have picked up a protégé years ago.
I looked back down at Morales, whose eyes were taking on the dreamy, this-isn’t-so-bad glaze of someone about to pass out. I snatched my hand from his mouth and let it hover an inch or so away as he took a deep, coughing breath.
“Yes,” he gasped. “Yes, you fucking—”
“Avery Cates!” someone shouted from outside the tent. “Come and be judged!”
I closed my eyes, a shock of adrenaline pulsing through me, quickly regulated by my limping augments. Never a moment’s peace, I thought. The Angel we’d spotted in the street had gotten tired of waiting for me to come back out.
“We should have killed him out in the street,” Remy said. But then Remy wanted to kill everybody.
I looked down at Morales. “Stay put. We’re not finished,” I said, and then the tent exploded silently, fluttering up into the air.
Excerpted from The Final Evolution by Somers, Jeff Copyright © 2011 by Somers, Jeff. Excerpted by permission.
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Meet the Author
Jeff Somers was born in Jersey City, New Jersey. After graduating college he wandered aimlessly for a while, but the peculiar siren call of New Jersey brought him back to his homeland. In 1995 Jeff began publishing his own magazine, The Inner Swine (www.innerswine.com). Find out more about the author at www.jeffreysomers.com
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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I have to admit within a few pages of starting this book I realized there were several books in this series I should have read first. Then again, Somers didn’t make it difficult to follow along. By sprinkling bits and pieces of backstory and previous relationships throughout the book, I was able to follow along pretty well. At first Avery Cates rubbed me the wrong way. His anger and cynicism brought me down, but after experiencing the guilt he carries around with him and realizing I hadn’t read the first four book in the series, I started warming up. He cared about the people around him, even for just a few seconds in some instances, and that always makes a great hero. The setting Somers describes is easily one of the best I’ve read in a long time and I was able to learn a lot from a single book concerning thrillers. I’ll be going back to start at the beginning of the series.
This is another in the Avery Cates series. I really enjoyed the story. But the writing style of Jeff Somers is as entertaining as the story. I think Somers could write a phone book and make it entertaining. Buy anything and everything Somers writes.