Read an Excerpt
1 – SMOLDER
NICO WACHALOWSKI – ROYAL PLAZA HOTEL
Some things you never forget. For me, the thing I couldn't leave alone was the way Faye looked at me just before the panel slammed shut between us. I remembered the fire raging behind her when I took her by the arm. When she pushed me away, her hand was cold. The big revivor shoved me back, and when the panel started to close, she looked me in the eye. I was sure an automaton couldn't have looked at me like that. It was the last time I ever saw her.
"Revivors aren't people," someone had once said to me. "Remember that."
"I know what they are," I had answered.
But I didn't.
Everything should have been different. If I couldn't save her, I should have at least put her to rest. I never should have done what I did. The Leichenesser would have destroyed her body, but I'd removed the capsule myself. The soldiers didn't get her either. When I had my chance to put an end to it, I couldn't. I put her right into the hands of Samuel Fawkes.
The rain was beating down, streaking diagonally across the glow of the one remaining streetlight. The hotel across the street was dark. It hadn't been occupied in years and no one had come or gone for hours, but it wasn't empty. The satellite confirmed it was tapping power off the grid, and had identified multiple heat signatures inside. Someone was there.
A message from the SWAT leader came in over my JZ implant. The words floated in front of the fogged windshield.
They're inside. We're just waiting on confirmation.
Things stayed quiet after the attacks, at first. For a week or two, revivors were news again, and images of their reanimated corpses stalking the streets alongside the National Guard circulated day and night. The questions the government didn't want anyone asking got asked again as people looked at the images and wondered what signing up for revivor status really meant. The footage of the walking-dead soldiers so close up disturbed them, and for a while they wondered, Was avoiding third-tier status while keeping out of the grinder really worth becoming one of them? There were protests and debates and investigations, until public opinion tired of the whole thing and the buzz moved out to the fringe, where it was mostly forgotten. It wasn't until two months ago that, out of nowhere, a bomb went off at the Concrete Falls recruitment center, where they did most of the city's Posthumous Service signups. Despite the initial backlash against revivors, the facility was turning bigger numbers than ever. The economy tanked, and holdouts were lining up to trade their third-tier status for second. A spike in PS recruits put numbers at a five-year high. Concrete Falls had supplied the military with greater numbers of revivors than anywhere else in the country, but not anymore. No one claimed responsibility.
It had been a dead end until the group moved again. Information trolled off the communications networks suggested another high-profile strike was being organized, and this time we caught it early. No target had been confirmed, but both the seller and the buyer were involved in the previous bombing—I was sure of it. A shipment of heavy explosives had been smuggled into the country, to Royal Plaza, where it was about to change hands. There was a lot of pressure to put a name, any name, to the Concrete Falls attack, and to bring the people in.
My old friend and tech man, Sean Pu, was the one who tracked them down. The two of us went way back, having served together in the grind. He'd saved my life back then, and two times since. He had a big interest in the case, and for some reason he didn't want me on it. Something had him nervous and although he never said anything, another agent, Mike Vesco, was brought in to take point. I was being edged out completely, until wiretaps uncovered illegal revivors at the site.
Sean had saved my life three times, but two years ago things had become more complicated; Sean turned out to be something other than what I thought he was, something he'd hidden very well. I always thought he was my right-hand man, but it turned out I was wrong, and it was the other way around. I was his right hand, and he used me as a fist that he sometimes struck hard with. The fact that he kept up that lie for so long didn't jibe with what I knew about him. I hadn't decided yet where we stood.
Whatever his reasons, he wanted me kept out of this one, but impounding revivors on UAC soil still fell into my jurisdiction. After Fawkes' attack, no one wanted revivors in the city. If he decided to keep me involved, it was because he thought he could control me. But I wondered how much longer that would last.
A helicopter floated between the buildings high overhead. The hotel was being monitored from the air, and the scanner had isolated twelve voices inside.
This is Vesco. We have confirmation. The shipment and the buyer are both on-site. At least six revivors are confirmed inside as well.
Move into position, I told them.
I pushed open the door and stepped out into the rain. Sticking to the shadows, I headed toward the building.
Wait for my signal.
The building's layout was projected via my implant back onto my retinas so that it glowed softly against the dark alleyway. I pinpointed the revivor signatures, and placed them over the map. Most of them were on the first floor.
Up ahead, under a rusted fire escape, a fire exit led inside. I flashed my badge at the scanner there, issuing a federal override and suppressing any alarm they had rigged. A light on its plastic housing flickered and turned green. When the bolt snapped, I drew my gun and went inside.
I pulled the door shut, blocking the sound of the rain behind it. Inside it was dark. I adjusted my visual filter to let in more light and looked around.
There was a swinging door ahead of me, and I pushed it open into an old kitchen area. Thermal signatures from rats scattered when I stepped through, and disappeared into the walls. The short-order line was covered in grease and dust, with spiderwebs stretched between stray pots and pans that still hung over it. Brown water had collected in one corner near a crack in the wall.
They're working out of the large, highlighted area, Sean said. I'm still trying to pinpoint the shipment.
The area he referred to might have been a restaurant or bar at one time. Corridors headed off in four directions from there, three of them flanked by small hotel rooms. Five of those rooms had a revivor signature inside.
Opening the kitchen door a crack, I used a backscatter filter to peer into the walls on the other side. There were two cameras hidden behind the tiles there, one watching the kitchen and one watching a corridor to the left.
I've got some security here. Visuals will be offline for a minute.
The baffle screen would disrupt the cameras, but also my internal recording buffer. They'd send someone to check out the disturbance, but I didn't need long.
I slipped past the camera and headed down the corridor. There were a few rooms on the south side of the area. Two of the rooms had revivor signatures present.
I'm past the cameras and heading into the room on the right. You see it?
I have you.
I listened at the door but didn't hear anyone inside. Sticking close to the wall, I reached out and tried the knob. It was locked.
Give me an override on the door.
I showed my badge to the scanner and the bolt clicked. No one inside moved or spoke. Using the backscatter, I looked through the door. No one was waiting on the other side.
I pushed open the door and slipped through. There were more cameras mounted in the ceiling but they were turned away, watching the bed.
We're picking up some activity in there. How long, Wachalowski?
The hotel room was lit by simulated candlelight. As soon as I was inside, I caught a blast of perfume and damp air. There was a water stain on the far wall where a strip of wallpaper had been torn away. The bed was made and the blankets turned down. The revivor signature was coming from the bathroom.
Moving into the room, I noticed something under the bed.
Across from the foot of the bed I saw the revivor through the open bathroom door. It was standing in the dark with its back to me, looking into the mirror over the sink. It was female, with stick-thin legs and a pair of sheer briefs hanging from a flat behind. It wore a wig the color of bubblegum.
I got down on one knee and looked under the bed. In the shadows, I saw a pair of bare feet, toes down.
"She put her there," the revivor said from the bathroom. When I looked, it still had its back to me.
I grabbed the ankles, and the skin was cold. Keeping out of range of the cameras, I dragged a second female revivor out from under the bed. It didn't have a signature.
"Who did?" I asked. In the bathroom, the revivor just kept staring in the mirror. I left the body and moved in behind it.
SWAT, get ready to move on my mark.
I came within a foot of it, until I saw its eyes reflected back in the mirror. It had a pair of large, bare breasts thrust out in front of it with the characteristic dark gray nipples and black veins tracing the curves. Underneath them, ribs stood out, and down the middle of its back, I could see the knobs of its spine. When I leaned in, I caught a whiff of decomposition underneath heavy perfume. Wherever the thing was made, it was a botch job. The inhibitors were failing, and the body was beginning to rot.
"Who put the revivor under there?" I asked.
I blinked hard, deactivating the JZI. For a few seconds, I'd be completely offline. The revivor looked at me in the mirror, and met my eye.
"Am I for you?" it asked. I spun it around so it was facing me. I took a photograph from inside my jacket and held it in front of its face.
"Have you seen this woman?" I asked it.
"It's a revivor."
"I know that. Have you seen her?"
"Do you know the name Faye Dasalia?"
The factory fire where I'd last seen her burned for three months straight. When it finally died down to the point where it could be scrubbed, there was nothing left. There was no way to know if Faye or any of the other revivors had come out of there intact, or where they'd gone if they had.
It looked up from the picture, focusing on me again.
"I don't know that name."
I blinked and the JZI reinitialized. Before it could say anything else, I touched the scanner to the back of its neck and squeezed the contact, firing a wire filament up into the spine. It made contact with the primary revivor's node, and the body went rigid for a second before it went limp. I caught it as it started to fall.
Sean, Vesco, I have a connection.
You dropped. What happened?
That was Vesco. He'd been keeping an eye on me, a little too closely. Someone had their hooks in him.
Repeat: you dropped. What happened?
Cut the chatter and wait for my signal.
The revivor felt cold through my wet shirt. Hoisting it up, I eased it back into the bathtub.
The data miner started boring through the security they'd installed on it. A central command was being used to control them, which meant they needed an open connection to each revivor. A centralized hub like that, in the hands of an amateur, could allow access to all their systems if you made a direct connection with one of the revivor nodes. I was counting on that.
On the edge of my peripheral vision I could see audio waves piped in from the eye in the sky. The analyzer was pulling out three voices spiking over the haze of conversation. They were coming from the basement level, where a second group of revivors were located.
The miner drilled down and opened a channel. Using the JZI, I joined the revivor network.
Node count: 11.
Five upstairs. The rest had moved to the basement. The link went green, and I tapped into the central node. They'd put plenty of security on all the typical channels, but sure enough, the revivor spokes were wide open.
Moving in now.
I started pulling the files. Less than ten seconds later, I heard a boom that vibrated through the floor. The audio being monitored spiked, and I heard shouting as footsteps tromped down the hallway. The last of the files came through, and I broke the connection to the revivor.
The door opened and a man came through, pointing an automatic pistol. I fired twice and he pitched back, his gun clattering across the floor.
"This way!" someone yelled from outside.
I picked up the pistol and handed it to a SWAT officer as I stepped back out into the hallway. Several more of them had men under armed guard.
"This is a raid! Get on the ground now!"
Down the hall, uniformed men were holding rifles on three guys. Two were in sports jackets and the last was in his underwear, holding a balled-up bedsheet to his chest. Mike Vesco waded through the mess, holding up his badge.
"Drop it and get down!"
"Step away from the—"
A high-pitched hiss blasted through the air back in what used to be the hotel lounge. Behind the bar a white light flared up as smoke blew through the seams of a computer chassis.
"Get an extinguisher over there, goddamn it!"
Watch those exits.
Down a side hall, hotel room doors were hanging open as SWAT cleared the rooms. Through one of the doorways I saw an overweight, middle-aged man standing naked with his hands up. A revivor was bound on the floor next to the bed, gagged and handcuffed.
Do we have a lock on the shipment?
In the next room down was the only guy who hadn't gotten caught with his pants down. He was an Asian man, dressed to the nines, with an expensive watch and long, thick hair. He was sitting on the edge of the bed, unconcerned. There was no revivor with him.
Who is this guy? I asked Sean.
He's not involved.
How do you know that, Sean? Who is he?
No one. Come on, leave the pervs for Vesco.
When I scanned his face, I found him in the system. His name was Hiro Takanawa, and he was as rich as he looked. It looked like it wasn't the first time he'd been caught paying for time with a revivor.
"Where'd the revivor go?" I asked him.
He shrugged. "I don't see one here," he said. "Do you?"
I didn't. I shoved open the bathroom door and looked in, but it was empty.
SWAT, how many revivors are accounted for?
We got four, plus the two defunct in the room where you found them.
I checked the remaining signatures. There were six more beneath the floor somewhere, down on the basement level. Six up here, and six below. One was already defunct when I got there, so that put the node count at eleven. They were all accounted for.
"Which one was one with you?" I said to Takanawa. He just shrugged.
"Understood," Vesco said into his radio. He turned to Takanawa. "All right, you. Get out of here. Sorry, Wachalowski, that comes straight from the top. Let him go."
Takanawa stood up and walked calmly toward the door. He gave me a wave over his shoulder as he headed out the door.
Sean, who is that guy?
He's no one, Nico. Leave it alone.
The particle analyzer's picked up the chemical signature, Vesco said. The explosive materials are nearby.
Takanawa headed down the hallway, hands in his pockets and a cigarette already in his mouth. He left a thin trail of smoke as he turned the corner.
In spite of whatever else he might be into, I trusted Sean; I'd known him too long and watched him put his life on the line too many times not to. He'd earned a certain amount of faith from me, but he knew more than he was saying. He knew who Takanawa was, and he knew why he'd been released. I suspected he might know Takanawa personally.
On a hunch, I followed him. Moving away from the crowd, I hung back and followed the heat traces left behind by his footsteps. They led down a dark corridor to an emergency stairwell.
Vesco, I'm heading down to deal with the remaining six revivors.
Have SWAT just keep the others together for now.
A metal door slammed down below, and I eased the door open and slipped through after Takanawa. The stairs took me down a dark, musty corridor. More rats scrambled as I came through, and I pushed the light filter up until everything turned black and white. The sounds of the raid faded behind me, then were gone altogether. Up ahead there was a stairwell door. His handprint was cooling on the handle.
Got it, Vesco said. We've secured the explosives. Bomb squad, prepare for transport.
Nico, I'll move a team downstairs. Wait for them. That was Sean.
I pushed open the door and started down the stairwell. It was pitch-black, but on the landing below I could see the other side of the door was lit. Just then, the audio spiked as someone shouted on the other side. Six revivor signatures glowed on the scanner.
I cut the connection. As I went through the door, I heard voices from down the long, cinderblock corridor. The far end opened into a storage area that was lit with floodlights. Chain-link enclosures were assembled there, each one with a naked revivor sitting in it. Each revivor was shackled with a collar that was chained to the fence.
"…want to think about getting out of here," I heard Takanawa say.
A woman's voice answered, "I didn't expect to see you so soon."
The thermal footprints I was following skipped for a second. A few steps later, the glitch happened again as more rats scurried down the hall.
"Leave them alone," the woman said up ahead.
Around the corner, I saw Takanawa standing in front of a good-looking woman in an expensive suit. There was a metal briefcase on a desk next to her, lying open. Inside I saw a series of boxes, each the size of a brick, nestled in a bed of black packing foam. One of the slots was empty, and Takanawa held the box in his hand.
"Hard to believe they're so small," he said.
"Put it back, and get out of here already."
He slipped the box in his jacket pocket instead. She made a face and reached over, slamming the case shut.
"What about you?" he asked. "Aren't you coming?"
He shrugged and stepped out of view. A service door began to grind open.
Keeping low, I moved in as the door began rattling shut again. When I looked around the corner, I saw Takanawa's expensive shoes just before the door came down. A green light on the wall turned red as the lock engaged.
"There you are," a man said from somewhere off to my right, his voice echoing in the open space. Three sets of footsteps were approaching the woman. She crossed her arms and leaned back on the desk, waiting.
"Yes, here I am."
Two men in suits came into view, tailed by a big revivor.
"The fucking Feds are here," one of them said. "You wouldn't know anything about that, would you?"
She drew a pistol from inside her jacket fast enough to surprise both men. The first shot caught the man who'd just spoken in the face, and his head jerked back. The next hit the other man in the side. He staggered, and managed to draw his gun as she shot him a second time.
I crossed in front of the chain-link cages, my weapon drawn.
"What the fuck are you doing?" the bleeding man grunted to the revivor that was with him. "Kill her!"
He went down on the floor next to his friend. The big revivor stepped over them, toward the woman. It reached out and grabbed a fistful of her shirt as she shot it three times in the chest. Her heels came up off the floor as it hauled her forward, then slammed her back down on the desk.
It grabbed her head in its hands and leaned in, baring its teeth. I fired a shot into its temple and it jumped back, letting her go. It swung one arm at the open air, black blood squirting from the hole as I put a second shot through its open mouth.
It gagged, black specks spraying from between its teeth, then fell onto its back. Its signature warbled, then blinked out.
The woman sat on the edge of the desk, wincing as she looked over at me. She still held her gun in one hand, pointed down at the floor.
"Who are you?" she asked.
The other revivors had started shaking their cages, trying to get out. The closest one had its face pushed into the chain-link, fingers straining through the holes as it ground its teeth.
"You with Sean?" she asked.
"Slide the gun over."
She did. I stopped it with my foot, then picked it up.
"Put your hands up."
She nodded, cracking her back and wincing again as she lifted her hands up over her head.
Scanning her, I didn't see any hidden weapons. She wasn't wired and didn't have any physical augmentations. Her face didn't match anything in the databases.
"What's your name?" I asked her.
"Jan Holst. Can I put my hands down?"
"What is that?" I asked her, nodding at the briefcase. She frowned, but didn't answer.
"Open it," I said.
She turned and keyed in the combination to the case, then lifted it open and stepped away. I looked inside, and a warning appeared in the JZI.
The particles were coming from the case. I looked through one of the bricks and saw it contained a metal capsule. Inside the shell were wires and components, tightly packed around a radioactive core. There were eleven devices inside.
"What are those?"
She sighed, crossing her arms. I closed the case and contacted the SWAT leader.
I found the rest of the revivors. Six total. One is down.
I found something down here. I think it's what we're looking for.
We've secured the shipment, Wachalowski.
I don't think so. I'm looking at eleven nuclear devices. The suspect who was just released, Takanawa, may have a twelfth. We need to lock down this area now.
There was a pause on the other end of the connection that went on longer than it should have. I opened an emergency channel back to Assistant Director Noakes, and sent down an alert.
Agent Wachalowski, what's going on down there? he responded. I recorded the image and radiation signature of the case and transmitted it to him.
The buyers were here to pick up nuclear weapons. They're handheld, and at least one of them is moving. We need this whole block contained right now.
A terrorist alert went out and began branching down to response teams.
Understood. They're mobilizing now. Find that missing weapon.
"Are you the buyer?" I asked the woman. She didn't answer.
Just then a revivor spoke connection opened. I looked around for the source but couldn't find it. The signal hadn't come from any of the revivors in the cages.
Someone just opened a connection to a revivor band down here. Any missing from upstairs?
It was close. Too close to be from upstairs.
I've got a stray down here somewhere.
"How did you know—" the woman started to ask but I held up my hand. She frowned.
I tapped into the signal, listening. The source was close by, somewhere in the room. I did a slow sweep, looking into the dark. No revivor's signature was showing up, but it had to be there.
I moved past the cages to the edge of the lit area and scanned into the shadows. There was nothing there.
…eral agent here.
The partial message came across the connection. It was a fragment of a text communication.
…should I abort?
No. Upgr… forget the target… the case.
… about the…
The revivors began shaking the cages harder. Something had them riled up. I couldn't hear anything over the racket.
"Shut up!" the woman snapped. "Just shut—"
Her voice cut out. I looked back at her and she was clutching her throat. Her eyes were wide, and blood had started leaking from in between her fingers. The big revivor was still on its back. I didn't see anyone near her.
Vesco, one of the prime suspects is down. I need an EMT here, now.
I ran to her as she took her hands away. Her palms were covered in blood. Her face turned white as blood poured from a gash in her throat, and she slid down the desk, onto the floor.
"Hold on," I told her, easing her onto her back. "Help is coming." Her eyes lost focus. Her mouth moved, but she couldn't speak.
The revivor connection cut out. I heard the flutter of fabric next to me, and the case on the desk flickered, then disappeared.
The nukes are moving. The target is cloaked. Coordinate with local authorities and initiate a lockdown in a three-block radius.
Leading with the gun, I scanned the room. There were no heat signatures, no heartbeat—nothing.
It's a revivor… There was no revivor signature either, though. It was keeping itself well hidden.
I scanned for radiation. It was faint, but I found a concentration of particles a few feet away. They were clustered around an object floating at chest height.
The case. The Light Warping field could bend visible light, but not radiation. The pattern swayed back and forth slightly. The revivor connection opened again.
…about the agent?
… ut don't ki—
Don't kill him.
I reestablished the link with Sean.
Wachalowski, what the hell—
Sean, show me all the ways in and out of here.
The case appeared on the concrete floor and I heard something heavy shift its weight. I took a step toward it, and a cold hand clamped down on the back of my neck, hard. It pulled me back onto my heels as another hand grabbed my wrist, slamming my gun hand into a support column. I caught a glimpse of the woman's face, flecked with blood, as I was dragged away from her.
Nico, what's happening? Vesco said. I could hear footsteps pounding down the hall in my direction.
Something connected hard with my cheek and I was spun around. One leg went out from under me, and I went facedown on the concrete. When I tried to get up, a boot landed between my shoulder blades and my chest slammed into the floor under it, forcing the wind out of me.
I need backup down here, now. Where the hell was SWAT?
The boot lifted and I heaved myself onto my hands and knees, firing a back kick blindly into something solid. Heavy footsteps staggered back and I swung around, pointing my gun.
Before I could pull the trigger, a sharp pain stabbed into the side of my neck and the strength went out of me. My arms got heavy and fell to my sides. The gun slipped out of my hand and clunked onto the floor. Toxin warnings flashed as I staggered and started to fall.
Smooth material brushed my face as someone darted past me. The case disappeared again, leaving only the radiation signature. The cluster of particles moved away quickly, fading away to nothing as they moved out of range.
It's doubling back the way I came in. Intercept it.
I went down on my knees, shaking. One of my internal stim packets popped as the JZI tried to cut through the fog. My stomach churned, and I had pins and needles in my legs as the feeling came back. I manually popped two more.
That did the trick. Everything got brighter. My heart pounded as oxygen and adrenaline flooded my bloodstream. I picked my gun back up and pushed myself to my feet, the room spinning around me.
The revivor had gone back down the corridor, but it had too much of a head start. If it left through the closest exit, then it would come out near the loading dock. I made for the freight entrance instead and slapped my palm on the button.
The stim wouldn't last long, but if I didn't beat him down there, it wouldn't matter anyway. The door began to rise on its track and I ducked through the gap, my muscles starting to tighten. It was getting hard to breathe. A cold gust of wind and rain hit me as I crossed the dock and slipped on the steps. People stopped on the sidewalk a few feet away from me and stared. Sirens had begun to wail, and I saw red and blue lights flash down the length of the street.
The map put me on the western side of the building. If the revivor made a run for it, it would be through the alley out back. Rain pummeled me as I tacked left past a pile of trash and between the buildings. Water was running down in a stream from a clogged gutter up ahead, and I headed toward it, looking for signs of the radiation signature. It was getting harder to move. The side of the building was veering away. I shook my head, trying to focus. Something splashed in a puddle near a pile of trash bags. I stood there, trying to keep my balance, and watched it.
Where is it?
Every time I took a breath, my chest got tighter. Looking back and forth down the alley, I didn't see anything.
It's gone. I missed it.
I watched the rain stream down from the gutter, splashing into a puddle formed around a crack in the pavement. The stims weren't working anymore. My arms and legs started to get heavy again.
I'm going to need a medic, Sean.
There was no answer. I was still staring at the water kicking up droplets when I realized the words never appeared in the HUD. I hadn't sent the message. The coupling to the JZI had dropped.
The air blurred in front of me. The water was streaming in slow motion, and for just a second I saw it stop about five or six feet above the ground. Water sprayed off something I couldn't see; then it continued like it never happened.
Something moved next to the pile of trash bags; then a dark shape flew toward me. A large plastic bag hit me and tore open, scattering garbage as I heard feet hit the pavement, running for the street.
I couldn't get a bead on it. I lunged and felt cloth under my hand. I grabbed a fistful of it, but it slipped through my fingers as the footsteps moved away. My chest burned. When I took a step, my leg crumpled under me and I went down on the wet pavement.
From the blacktop, I could see the crowds of people moving down the sidewalk. Wind blew sheets of rain across the street as I watched them pass. One of them glanced over at me, but kept walking.
Everything was going blurry. The blind spot floating in front of my eyes started blooming, getting bigger until everything began to go dark.
The revivor had gotten away. Along with the one Takanawa had taken, twelve nuclear devices had just left the hotel and disappeared into the city