Sly Mongoose
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Sly Mongoose

4.5 20
by Tobias S. Buckell
     
 

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Sly Mongoose: a thrilling science fiction tale by the New York Times bestselling author—now featuring brand-new cover art.
Tobias S. Buckell is well known as the New York Times bestselling author of Halo: The Cole Protocol. Tor is proud to reintroduce his early science fiction novels to his many fans in handsome trade

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Overview

Sly Mongoose: a thrilling science fiction tale by the New York Times bestselling author—now featuring brand-new cover art.
Tobias S. Buckell is well known as the New York Times bestselling author of Halo: The Cole Protocol. Tor is proud to reintroduce his early science fiction novels to his many fans in handsome trade paperback editions featuring stunning new cover art.

Welcome to Chilo, a planet blasted by corrosive rain, crushing pressure, and deadly heat. A planet where people live in floating cities high above the inferno. A select group of young men, including fourteen-year-old Timas, risk death to obtain the raw materials necessary for survival by travelling down through the acid clouds to mine the planet's surface.

Timas's life is turned upside down when a man named Pepper crash-lands on the city. Pepper is fleeing a bizarre alien intelligence, and he bears ominous news that a full-scale invasion cannot be far behind.

As Timas and Pepper try to convince the reluctant city government to prepare for war, floating cities all across Chilo fall silent one by one. Time is running out for Timas and Pepper to discover how to defeat an enemy that turns Chilo's own citizens into monsters, and to discover the secret hidden beneath Chilo's deadly clouds—a secret that could save the planet and may prevent interplanetary war.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Buckell returns to the universe of Crystal Rain(2006) and Ragamuffin(2007) for another action-packed story of human colonists fighting to survive on an alien world with all the odds against them. The story bounces between two protagonists: teenage Timas, one of the few inhabitants of the floating spherical city of Yatapek who can maintain the enormous mining machine that harvests ore from the furnace-hot surface of Venus-like Chilo, and Pepper, aka Juan Smith, an elite Ragamuffin soldier from New Anegada who'd prefer to forget about his violent past. As the only survivor of a ship infected with a virus that turns people into murderous zombie slaves of the alien Swarm, the last thing Pepper wants is another fight, but with the Swarm making inroads on Chilo, he has little choice. Buckell delivers double helpings of action and violence in a plot-driven story worthy of a Hollywood blockbuster. (Aug.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
From the Publisher

Sly Mongoose combines weird and wonderful tech and human cultures of fantastic diversity with some of the coolest planet-building this side of Hal Clement.” —Elizabeth Bear

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780765358721
Publisher:
Tom Doherty Associates
Publication date:
03/27/2012
Edition description:
First Edition
Pages:
384
Product dimensions:
4.10(w) x 6.80(h) x 1.20(d)

Read an Excerpt

Sly Mongoose


By Tobias S. Buckell

Tom Doherty Associates

Copyright © 2008 Tobias S. Buckell
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-3374-2


CHAPTER 1

Pepper lay strapped to a blunt, cone-shaped heatshield with a hundred miles of Chilo's atmosphere to fall through yet. The edges of the 2,000-degree fireball created by the shock wave of his reentry licked and danced at the edges of his vision. A small taste of hell, he thought, as the contraption under his back wobbled and threatened to overturn.

When the roaring abated, Pepper cracked free of the crude heatshield and ran his spacesuit through a self-check. Even with the protection of the ablative plastics he'd just ridden down out of orbit, the suit had become a bit toasty.

But within tolerances. Inside, Pepper only broke a gentle sweat.

He threw the blackened cone away from him and reoriented himself to face downward. Dirty brown and yellow clouds choked the world below him as far as he could see. The planet Chilo in all its glory: sulfuric acid-laced clouds, crushing pressure, no breathable atmosphere. Not somewhere most would call home.

A quick look straight below again. It really didn't feel like he was moving faster than the speed of sound.

He'd survived deorbiting in nothing more than a spacesuit and a personal heatshield. But now the tricky part approached.

A tiny buzz in Pepper's ear got his attention. He yawned, eardrums popping. His dreadlocks, bunched up inside the helmet, scraped against each other as a young-sounding male voice piped up in Pepper's helmet. The man sounded bored with a side of professional neutral. For the man behind that particular voice, this was just another shift, just another day. "Unidentified reentry vehicle, this is Eupatoria Port Authority, come in."

Air thundered past Pepper, buffeting him.

"Hello, Eupatoria," Pepper said. The spacesuit's radio still worked. That would be helpful.

"Yes, unidentified vehicle, your transponder seems to be down."

Pepper threw out his arms to maximize drag. "I don't have a transponder."

"That's a finable offense," the voice replied. "What are you deorbiting in? We're having trouble tracking you."

Pepper explained the situation in brief while scanning the horizon.

There was a long pause on the other end. Then a polite cough. "You deorbited with a handmade heatshield and an armored spacesuit?"

"The situation was complicated. Can you do me a favor? I need you to provide me with coordinates. Where I am, where I'm headed, and where I might be able to land." Eventually this slowing parabola would end.

A brief off-mic murmur drifted by. "Unidentified ... just please hold."

He wasn't going anywhere. Pepper caught the glint of a far-off structure: a tiny thread reaching up from the clouds into the dark depth of space. Shame that hadn't been an option. A lot less excitement to just take an elevator down to one of Chilo's floating cities. At the bottom of that thread might even be Eupatoria and the somewhat surprised Port Authority officials who'd started the day out thinking today would be a day like any other.

"Sir?"

"Still here," Pepper said.

"What's your name, sir?"

"Juan Smith." Pepper's last alias. Over the last few decades working as assassin, spy, and general all-around human weapon, he'd gotten used to a regular rotation of false names. In the centuries before that, he could dimly remember even more identities and names.

A crisp, older, and quite officious woman joined the discussion. "Mr. Smith, voice identification has been confirmed. Mr. Smith, you are aware that you are wanted for the murder of the entire crew of the Sheikh Professional."

"Ah." Pepper nodded. That would come up.

"Well, Mr. Smith, this is quite an unorthodox methodology for deorbiting yourself, and you must realize that even if you survive you'll still be a wanted criminal. We are scrambling recovery vehicles for you right now. When you pop your parachute we will pick you up. But I am being asked to explain your rights before you are picked up. In the event that the pickup is not successful, would you like to enter a plea for prosperity and name legal counsel to continue your defense in the event that you are not present for your trial?"

"No need for all that crap," Pepper sniffed. "I did it."

"Your confession may not stand up due to the peculiar circumstances. Can you elaborate?"

The never-ending carpet of dreary clouds visibly rose to meet him. Not a lot of time left for details. "About that rescue effort: one little problem," he said. "I don't have a parachute."

Silence from Eupatoria filled his helmet as they digested that. "You don't have a parachute?" The original male voice sounded shocked.

"Are you committing suicide?" the woman asked just after him.

"Spaceships don't routinely include parachutes in their manifest," Pepper muttered. "Particularly ones where no one expected anyone from the ship to ever dip into the orbital well."

The clouds rose faster, gaining definition. He could see lumpy clumps, and long whisps scattered behind those larger formations.

"So here is what I need," Pepper said. "You need to tell me where the nearest city is."

"But without a chute ..."

"Terminal velocity at city height is a hundred twenty miles an hour. As some aboard the Sheikh found out, I'm not easily breakable. You help me hit a city, you either get to pick up my body, or come arrest me."

"You'll endanger others, you're a projectile."

"I'll hit one of the farm levels," Pepper promised. "Besides, you'll want to hear my side of the story."

More off-the-mic chatter between the two people watching over him. Then they returned. "What did happen there? We still need more details."

"I didn't start it," Pepper said. "I just replied ... in kind."

Several minutes later he angled himself toward a glint in the clouds. He'd slowed down over the long minutes to just over a hundred miles an hour.

It was still going to hurt.

"Eupatoria." The glint grew into a round silvery shape just above the puffy yellow and orange clouds. Pepper felt he might as well tie things up, just in case he didn't make it. "I'm sending you a prerecorded burst. It explains everything."

If Eupatoria, or any other of Chilo's floating cities, paid attention to his warning, they all might live.

But Pepper doubted it. The invasion of Chilo would begin soon enough, in fits and starts. If he survived the impact, he might be able to help rouse its populace to defend itself.

A round silver city hurtled toward Pepper.

They said one should relax before major impacts, but at this speed Pepper really didn't think it mattered what he did, it was going to hurt either way.

With just one last-second adjustment to aim himself at the green band of the farm section of the giant floating city, Pepper tensed before he hit.

CHAPTER 2

The day Timas and his friend Cen saw the alien, everything changed. Outside the spherical floating city of Yatapek, a hundred thousand feet over the ground, the winds had died. The forecast from the Aeolian cities, with their satellites and computers, gave Yatapek a seven-hour window. The city could anchor over the ground safely.

"Timas, it's time," his mother had said gently as she woke him that morning. He'd heard the old phone ring, and he knew what it heralded as he blinked sleep from his eyes. Time to descend into hell again.

Timas had donned his cumbersome pressure suit with the help of a mechanic as the doctor Amoxtli watched. The mechanic checked over every seal and joint, making sure Timas stood ready to get dropped into the ninety-times-normal pressure of Chilo's surface.

"For the city," the mechanic said as he slapped the helmet into place.

"For our people," Timas murmured.

Then the city's elevator had lowered Timas and a similarly suited-up partner down to the ground, swaying and jerking them about inside. It dug in with its screws when it hit bottom, holding itself and the city steady as the incredibly strong nanofilament wire quivered all the way back up to the city's docks.

Every week, weather permitting, boys like Timas checked over the mining machine their city depended on: the cuatetl. It hunted for the precious metals Yatapek needed to survive. This week it had radioed a panic failure code.

Despite the calm a hundred thousand feet above him, Timas strained his way forward through the hurricanelike winds here. He'd first come to the surface on his thirteenth birthday. In the following two years he'd never seen a calm day. He heard from older boys that it happened, but he'd believe it when he saw it.

Timas stood on smooth rock, melted and flattened out by hundreds of years of sulfuric rain and howling winds. He watched as the giant conical drilling nose of the cuatetl breached the surface upwind of him, vomiting debris. Most of the giant worm of a machine, hundreds of feet long, lay hidden under the ground right now.

Grit and pebbles smacked Timas, pinging off the acid-polished shine of his groundsuit. They left tiny dents and pits.

"Damnit." Timas had expected the cuatetl to appear on the surface to his right. Standing downwind of the cuatetl could leave him with a cracked suit. If that happened the insane pressure of Chilo's atmosphere at ground level would crush him instantly.

If the heat didn't kill him first, all 800 degrees of it. Hot enough that the horizon constantly rippled.

Timas watched the thousands of counter-rotating disc cutters on the cuatatl's head finish spinning down. They still kicked more dirt into the air as he moved upwind. He winced as each loud pop and ping reverberated inside his protective armor.

Each step took its toll. The groundsuit weighed over fifty pounds, despite being made of special lightweight alloys. It was manufactured by some distant city on Chilo, since Yatapek didn't have the means to make anything like the groundsuit.

The pelting stopped. Timas sweated and panted, wishing to the shady underworld that he'd picked a better spot to stand.

The silver figure of his companion loomed out of the oppressive gloom of the surface in a cumbersome, gleaming, buglike suit. Winglike vanes stuck out of the back of the older suit dumping excess heat out above it in ripples. Timas sighed. Cenyoatl, Cen for short, had certainly gotten lucky today. He stood well upwind of the recall buoy they'd triggered. The cuatetl hadn't popped up to the left of it, as Timas programmed the buoy to tell it.

Cen would probably say, "I told you so." His family could drive someone off an edge like that. Always perfect, always stepping to the beat of tradition, always following the rules handed down.

Timas and Cen were xocoyotzin: young, thin, and small enough to fit inside the groundsuits designed to fit svelte outsiders, not adults from his city. Timas lumbered toward his fellow xocoyotzin. They touched their oversize helmets together to speak.

"I told you so." Cen's voice buzzed, sounding like it came through a tin can a room away, even though his smirking face stared right at Timas. "If the cuatetl isn't working properly, what makes you think it's going to follow the recall code correctly?"

"I know," Timas replied. Every time he touched helmets just to talk he wondered what it would be like to have the luxury of working radios in every suit. His father's father once told him that they'd all had working radios when he'd been a xocoyotzin, fifty years ago when the city had been built in Chilo's upper atmosphere. Now just a handful of radios worked, used by the city to call other cities or help airships dock. And the one on the mining machine, of course. "You're right, upwind is safer."

"We're also right on the edge of the debris field, you know we're supposed to tell the cuatetl to move farther upwind of the elevator. Just in case."

"It's right on the edge. It'll be okay. Come on, let's get to work." Besides, if something had failed Timas didn't want to have to haul equipment much farther than this.

The cuatetl's stilled nose dripped detritus, stuck in the air at a forty-five degree angle. It loomed into the sky, dwarfing them. The two boys walked in between a large gap in the segment between the cutter head and the main body.

Timas clanked on, avoiding slurry dripping down from twenty feet over his head. He clambered onto a small alcove, no-slip surface crunching underfoot. The machine's angle meant that Timas had to brace himself as he leaned forward. Cen stayed back, worried about knocking his heat vanes on something in the tight quarters and boiling himself to death.

Cen lived in terror of mistakes. His entire family depended on him to provide for them. But even more than that, Cen's family thrived on the status of being one of the twenty xocoyotzin families.

Lights blinked at Timas, advertising the interface panel he needed to check.

The entire cuatetl stretched six hundred feet down a slope under him. He hoped the problem was in the drill head. It usually was. Timas and Cen had been lowered with three new disc cutters.

If something else had failed, the next couple hours would drag on.

Timas didn't want to have to go tromping around through the whole machine. Last year he'd been working with an older xocoyotzin when one of the ore processors to the rear broke down. It had taken weeks of hard work by all thirty of the xocoyotzin to get a whole new processor winched down to the surface and swapped in.

Timas checked the diagram on the panel. It indicated a broken disc cutter.

Good.

Now he and Cen just had to get outside and lug a fifty-pound piece of equipment back and swap it out.

Timas glanced at his wrist. He he had three hours of air left. He didn't bother looking at the pressure or heat dials. Thinking about either just got one jumpy.

Three hours of air. It would take an hour to get winched back up to Yatapek. You couldn't swap out a new air bottle on Chilo's surface.

He backed out of the alcove and bumped helmets with Cen.

"It's a disc cutter," Timas said. And even luckier, the cuatetl had rotated the failed unit down toward the ground for them to access.

"Great." Cen grinned on the other side of his slightly warped visor. "We can get one dragged over and changed in time. No second trip tomorrow."

Even duty-conscious Cen, proud of his family and his role, didn't want to return to the hellish surface tomorrow. Once a week to service the mining machine was enough.

When the Azteca of New Anegada left aboard ships bound for other planets, trying to escape their history there, had they ever imagined ending up on a world like this? Timas doubted it. His ancestors may have been tricked into believing things borrowed from a lost culture on a distant Earth by cruelly manipulative aliens. They may have warred with the Ragamuffins who lived on New Anegada and lost, but this he would never have wished on his worst enemy. He didn't imagine his own great grandparents had willingly wished this on him.

"Okay, let's do it."

Cen took the lead and Timas followed him. One of Cen's heat vanes had a slight bend. Even upwind some of the debris had hit Cen's suit. Timas reminded himself to tell the mechanics when they were winched back up.

Out from the shadow of the cuatetl Timas checked the markers they'd left drilled into the ground. The red blinking lights, powered by the fierce wind, led the two boys deep into the murky orange gloom away from the cuatetl.

Timas fell into a pattern. Step, step, rest, mouthful of stale, recycled air. The smell of three generations of sweaty xocoyotzin before him filled the suit. Step, step, rest, breathe.

Cen pulled well ahead of Timas. Timas stopped, panting and watching his visor fog, and noticed something move out of the corner of his eye.

Shadows. Here on the surface, in the brown muck and low visibility with the heat rippling and wind kicking, it wasn't unusual to imagine things moving about.

But no, he did see something.

Timas turned and saw a hazy figure on all fours run at him through the edges of the muck. Cen moved on, oblivious, as Timas squinted at the metallic tentacles that draped from the front of the creature. It wore a formfitting suit, more advanced and flexible than his.

It veered away. Timas struggled to catch up to Cen so that he could bang the back of Cen's suit and point. Both boys stared, amazed as the alien moved farther away until it faded into the brown haze.

They pushed helmets together. "Did you see that?" Timas shouted. "Something else is on the surface with us. It doesn't look human."

"That can't be." Cen's brown eyes widened.

"It's an alien!"

"That's heresy," Cen said. "Forget we saw it, let's go."

Timas looked back, trying to spot the creature. What did he care about heresy? His grandparents had Reformed and left Aztlan back on New Anegada years ago during the DMZ wars. Their fears of aliens trying to rule Timas's people again didn't mean anything anymore. True, some believed that god-aliens had followed their exodus to this city and still looked over them. A crazy belief. Aliens were just ... other kinds of creatures.

And apparently at least one of them walked Chilo's surface.

"We should follow it," Timas said. "If there are aliens here, on the surface, don't you think people would be interested in knowing that?"

"It's too dangerous." Cen shook his head. "It's too deep in the debris zone."


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Sly Mongoose by Tobias S. Buckell. Copyright © 2008 Tobias S. Buckell. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Meet the Author

Tobias S. Buckell is a Caribbean-born writer who grew up in Grenada, the United States, and the British Virgin Islands. He now lives in Bluffton, Ohio.

Jonathan Davis has narrated numerous audiobooks, receiving widespread critical acclaim for his performances in a variety of genres including an Audie Award nomination in the Thriller/Suspense category for his narration of Michael Gruber's Night of the Jaguar.

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