Those Who Walk in Darkness

Those Who Walk in Darkness

3.6 3
by John Ridley

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Soledad "Bullet" O'Roark writes her own rules. Usually it gets her in trouble. On her first day with the L.A.P.D.'s elite Mtac squad, Soledad takes down an outlawed super-powered freak with a weapon she designed herself-a definite violation. Her love life is no less chaotic. It's hard to find a decent guy with nothing to hide. But there's not much room in Soledad's

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Soledad "Bullet" O'Roark writes her own rules. Usually it gets her in trouble. On her first day with the L.A.P.D.'s elite Mtac squad, Soledad takes down an outlawed super-powered freak with a weapon she designed herself-a definite violation. Her love life is no less chaotic. It's hard to find a decent guy with nothing to hide. But there's not much room in Soledad's life for romance when a cop-killer is on the loose. The "baddest" freak of all, this one can control people's minds and make them commit anything he wants... including murder.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
When a supervillain wastes San Francisco in this high-octane futuristic thriller from screenwriter Ridley (The Drift), the U.S. decides to expel all "metanormals" within its borders. Those who choose to remain are hunted down by MTacs, police units who only have one job-kill the freaks. It isn't a terribly original premise-Batman fans will recognize the influence of Frank Miller's seminal graphic novel, The Dark Knight Returns-but that's fine, because a premise is all it is, and Ridley knows it. Soledad O'Roark, a 26-year-old MTac and an engineering genius, has a virulent hatred of metanormals. Her tale is one of unremitting darkness, and from early on it's easy to tell it won't have a happy ending. For all the bleakness, though, Ridley makes it hard not to pull for Soledad. Readers will find themselves torn between sympathy, empathy, pity and disgust, often on the same page. With its lavish fight scenes, the book was clearly written with an eye on film adaptation. Yet Ridley, whose Hollywood credits include work on Three Kings and Undercover Brother, knows how to make his story work both as a novel and as a proto-screenplay. And as a novel, it works very well indeed. (May 20) Forecast: With film rights sold to Warner Bros. and Joel Silver (The Matrix) already signed up to produce, plus print advertising in African-American periodicals like Black Issues Book Review and Quarterly Black Review, as well as in major SF magazines, expect healthy sales. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Metanormals were once considered heroes, and Soledad O'Roark idolized them. Now, after a disaster that destroyed San Francisco, they are outlawed, and as a member of police special unit M-Tac, her job is to arrest them. She even creates a special gun to battle the "freaks," but gets in trouble for using it on her first mission out. But nothing—a desk job, her shooting of an angelic-looking metanormal, or even falling in love—will get in the way of her hatred of the super-powered and her mission to eradicate them from the world of normal people. Ridley creates a book that is easy to read but difficult to grasp. The premise of "normal" humans threatened by and dealing aggressively with a superpowered population is unusual outside of comic books. This book is primarily an action novel, with effective, fast-paced fight scenes and the kind of hard-bitten characters and harsh language expected of that genre. The plot is shaky in places, asking the reader to not think too hard about certain elements in order to focus on the central conflicts of the novel: humanity versus metanormals, and Soledad finding herself and her place. Throughout the book readers see Soledad—no-nonsense and self-contained—open her eyes to the world around her and gradually fall in love. But it is a dark book, and in the end she holds on to her hatreds and allows herself to learn no lessons. The unapologetic bigotry of the book's protagonist leaves the reader without easy answers. VOYA Codes: 3Q 2P S A/YA (Readable without serious defects; For the YA with a special interest in the subject; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12; Adult-marketed book recommended for Young Adults). 2003, Warner, 310p.,Ages 15 to Adult.
—Lisa Martincik
Library Journal
What makes us think superpowers would make only superheroes? Would invulnerability or the ability to fly make humans any more compassionate, reasonable, or sane? Ridley's (The Drift) latest novel questions the nature of heroism in a near future where cops battle mutated "metanormals" with telepathy, pyrokinetics, and other superpowers. Officer Soledad O'Roark is a successful "freak" killer, unquestioning in her belief that they are dangerous and need to be destroyed. She has even invented a better weapon to combat the seemingly unstoppable, but her department won't let her use it. Soledad struggles to find more meaning in her life than just destruction but doubts that she will live to appreciate it as her actions exacerbate the violence. Ridley has produced an animated series of the novel for the Internet, and Warner Bros. has acquired the movie rights. The cinematic writing style, fast plot, and loose dialog construction make for quick, visual reading. Part noir thriller and part sf dystopia, this is a timely entry on the hate and fear that fuel war.-Devon Thomas, Hass MS&L, Ann Arbor, MI Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Ridley abandons his stable of losers (The Drift, 2002, etc.) and creates a female cop in a near-future dystopian Los Angeles filled with psychic mutants. You see, this is a Marvel comics graphic novel without the illustrations: a comic-strip sucking up the old flame-dripping images of Stan Lee and the gritty pages of Frank Miller's The Dark Knight whose Batman comes out of retirement at 52 to fight endless horrid mutants crawling through Gotham. Well, every night that Soledad O'Roark goes out with LAPD's Mtac (Metanormal Tactical Unit), which keeps superhumans in check, there's a one-in-four chance she won't come back. Her first night out, her fellow officer Reese gets her chest holed open by flame lobbed by a fire mutant and loses a lung. Soledad's .9 mm cartridges turn to slag before hitting the pyrokinetic and while her personally modified Metalstorm all-electronic handgun's white-hot phosphorous bullets do rip up the pyro freak, Soledad herself takes some heavy burns. The horror in heat-fused San Francisco first produced the freaks, who include telepaths, telekinetics, invulnerables, intangibles, impenetrables, levitators, and metal morphs. Soledad's gun, which fires rounds varied for each type of freak, earns her the nickname Bullet. But her modified Metalstorm can't yet take out intangibles and telepaths. All this also offers Ridley a candy shop of comic-book villains and superheroes, such as the Human Torch, to rip off and revise as superfreaks with incredible powers. A geomagnetic mutie can move earth and rock, do low-grade terraforming. Freaks like Quadrupleman walk around veiled as normals, since the Prez has issued an Executive Order: leave or die. Some hit Europe, where theywear their costumes, do superhero shtick. First, Nightshift showed up, did wonders catching perps, but then supervillains bloomed to oppose him. Thrill Kill, Death Nell-and Bludlust, whose crazy megaweapon leveled San Francisco. Soledad's big villain: the telepath, with whom there's no defense-not when he's her lover. Clearly a series, with this opener hard to match. Film rights to Warner Bros.

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Grand Central Publishing
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4.25(w) x 6.87(h) x 1.00(d)

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Those Who Walk in Darkness

By John Ridley

Warner Books

Copyright © 2003 Team Ridley Productions
All right reserved.

ISBN: 044653093X

Chapter One

Nightshift was the first. He showed up and overnight the world changed. I was young then. Younger. And all I cared about were rock bands and movie stars, and didn't give much thought to the significance of things like his arrival. Except that it was cool, he was cool. In time, that, like everything else, would change too.

In the first weeks after he hit the scene the papers and news shows were fat with rumors and half-truths and speculations by experts.


How were there going to be any experts when there'd never been anything like him, it, before?

It was his physiology, they said. It suggested that he may not be of this ... They said he was the by-product of government experiments which caused his body to become ... Mental superiority allowed him to project an aura which resulted in ...

On and on. All that anybody really knew was somewhere in San Francisco, night after night, he ... it. It was out there. Stopping a bank robbery, a gang drive-by, keeping a kid from getting flattened by a runaway truck ... whatever.

And then, just as quick as he appeared, Nightshift got mundane. Oh, he kept a jewelry store from getting ripped off again? Another car jacking busted up? Well, sure, I mean it's good, but ...

I got used to it. I got used to them. We all did. And we all went back to being concerned with other things ... rock bands and movie stars.

Like I said: That would change.

San Francisco. The dead. The EO that made them all outlaws.

We blame them. They deserve blame. But maybe it's our fault too. We never should've let them do our job for us. We never should've relied on them. We never should've slept while they stood guard; spectators at the foot of Mt. Olympus.


Hell no. What happened was their fault and theirs alone. And for what they did they're all going to pay the price.


Jesus Christ.

It was the thought pumping through Soledad's head. A phrase. A prayer. Something to chant over and over to keep her mind off what was coming.

What was coming was what she'd spent her whole life working toward. Her whole life: only twenty-six years, nine months. But most of that was spent at Northwestern studying, at the police academy and on the force training, working her way from beat cop through SPU up to MTac-prepping for this moment: her first call.

Jesus. F'n. Christ.

The others in the APC, the others riding with Soledad, they looked calm. Serene, kind of. Mostly they didn't look like cops racing through LA traffic, lights and sirens at full tilt. Except for their weapons and body armor-none of it worn to regulation. Bo and Soledad the only two who bothered with Fritz helmets, and Soledad was pretty sure Bo sported his just so she wouldn't come off like the only weak sister in the bunch-they looked like people out for a Sunday drive. Not one of them seemed to carry the thought odds were, end of the night, all of them would be dead. Maybe that was the key, Soledad considered, to getting through this: don't think, just do.

Soledad adjusted the strap of her breastplate where it cut into the flesh of her underarm. Probably designed by a man, it didn't particularly fit a woman.

"Don't bother." It was Yarborough-Yar-playing cocky, giving Soledad shit for concerning herself with things like body armor, things that might keep her alive. His bravado was his tender. He spent it easy: a lazy grin, a wink tossed for no reason. He spent it heavy in the body armor he didn't wear, same as if he were among the rare breed too cool to die. "Might as well take that shit off. Doesn't do any good."

Soledad looked to Reese. Didn't mean to. Had told herself no matter what, especially this first call, never in a moment of doubt look to Reese. Soledad thought it was a sign of weakness, like looking to your mom when the corner bully went calling you names. But the action was reflexive. Reese was the only other woman on the element, one of the few female MTacs. So Soledad looked to her, as if femininity equated fidelity.

Reese, deep in her own thoughts, just stared straight ahead paying no attention to Soledad or anyone else.

Bo, jumping into things: "Leave her." His voice had a drawl. Slight. Cowpoke slow. Soledad had seen Bo with a gun on the target range. His drawl was the only thing slow about him. "We're supposed to be wearing it."

"You're not wearing your armor," Yar tossed back.

The APC juked hard to one side to avoid a Toyota that cut across an intersection never-minding the lights and sirens of the MTac vehicle. Typical LA. Didn't matter what the emergency was, everybody thinks they've got someplace to be.

"I did first call. First call I would've driven a tank if I could've."

Yar laughed. Not like what Bo had said was funny, like what Bo had said was plain ridiculous; as if a tank would make any difference in the world when you were facing down a freak. Bo was senior lead officer of the element, the oldest. Soledad thought: hell of a career choice she'd made where forty was considered a long-timer. The same thought jerked her hand to the case resting next to her thigh.

"Whatcha got?" Yarborough asked, using his chin to point at the case. It was small, hardcover-book-sized, zippered, made from synthetics.

Soledad wondered to herself why Yar was paying her so much attention. She hadn't been on Central long, but they'd all trained together, put in hours together. All that time Yar hardly looked in her direction. Here they were rolling on an M-norm, and all he could do was razz her every couple of-

"Whatcha got in the case? Bring a couple of books so you won't get bored?"

The APC stopped. Not even. It slowed some, but that was signal enough: time to move. Bo was first out, the door barely open. Yarborough, Reese just a step behind. Soledad, affixing the case to her back, was right with them hesitating not a second, not any amount of time anyone could say she froze, she was scared, she wasn't ready. Even if she was all that, no way she'd let anyone think it.

As she moved, Soledad's eyes worked the scene, took in information and processed it on the fly. Downtown LA. Rail yards. A warehouse, boarded windows showing fire. Police cordoning off the area, keeping a good distance back.

A safe distance.

Inside the perimeter: a couple of burned-out fire trucks and squads, the reek of their molten metal, plastic and fabric strong enough to choke on deep breaths.

Outside the perimeter: Lookie-lous gathered. The good citizens of Los Angeles. They stared. They pointed. A couple had camcorders ready to do some taping, hoping a cop got offed in some spectacular manner so they could sell the footage to CNN.

Bo wove his way to the officer in charge. Soledad got the name on the sergeant's badge: Yost.

Bo, direct: "Whatcha got?"

"Pyrokinetic." Yost was sweaty from more than the heat of the fires. He was wet with fear.

Soledad felt herself starting to share the dampness.

"Firestarter?" Bo's eyes swept the warehouse.

Yarborough swept it with IR goggles.

"If it was a firestarter, you think any of us would still be here?" Yost answered. "Flamethrower, but it can toss 'em about thirty or forty feet. That's what happened to the vehicles."

Reese worked the action of her piece. It was like she wasn't even listening to the back-and-forth between Bo and Yost. It was like all she cared about was putting a bullet in something.

Yost: "The freak won't let the bucket boys put out the fire."

Yarborough kept moving his goggles across the warehouse.

"Probably started it just to get them down here, work up a body count. Fucking freak."

"That's good," Bo said. "Keep calling it names. That'll get us home early."

Yost mumbled something audible about MTacs being arrogant motherfu-

Yarborough: "Got him. Third floor, southeast corner."

"One?" Reese asked.

"That's all I'm reading. Hard to be sure with the fire."

"Thank God it ain't one of those mind readers." Yost was getting sweatier by the second.

Soledad: "Maybe it is." She hoped she sounded like she was just voicing a consideration and not bitch scared.

"Couldn't pay me to go in there, I'll tell you that." Yost said it, then said it again. "You couldn't pay me nothing to go in there."

Bo said: "Throw some light up top, make a little noise for cover. You'd take pay for that, right?" To his element: "Mike check. One."



Soledad: "Four."

Bo started to move, started for the warehouse. Soledad was ready to move with him. Something on her arm. Fear made every sensation feel like fire, like maybe she'd caught a little of what slagged those vehicles. A quick look: Reese giving a squeeze; reassuring. Saying stay close without saying a word.

Soledad eyed Reese's shoulder, her tattoo; the words etched there. Tough words. Downright BAMF words that told it like it was, like it should be. Soledad kept close to Reese as the four went for the warehouse.

As they did, behind them, Yost managed to get his act together enough to put spotlights on the building. Third floor.

Bo had point. He carried a Colt .45 government model: more stopping power than the 9mms beat cops carried. A precision kill weapon. Reese and Yarborough toted HK MP5s, excellent for chopping freaks. Light, fast, and at full auto it could spray, baby, spray. Soledad had the Benelli, a semiauto shotgun loaded with one-ounce slugs. She was the fail-safe. If nothing else could stop what they were going after, the Benelli could put a hole in anything. Usually. All the weapons were Synthtech series, manufactured-like everything else they carried and wore-from synthetics and composite materials.


The first thing they got hit with was the smell, the odor of perpetually burning flesh. And something else. The hint of another aroma that Soledad could just barely distinguish. The stink of smoked crack.

Oh, that's good, she thought. Not just a flamethrower. A hopped-up flamethrower. And this was her first call.

Stairway. Narrow. Not a good place to get caught. All four MTacs could go up like kindling. But it was the only approach.

Up the stairs.

First landing ... nothing.

Second landing ... more nothing, except the smells were strong and there was a voice. Strange, distorted like it was trying to make itself heard through the roar of a blast furnace.

All four MTacs had their weapons gripped hard and ready to do work. All four did a crab walk, step by step, inching upward for the third floor.

Bo's voice whispered into their earpieces: "Hold."

The air was hotter, thinner, some of its [O.sub.2] gone. The thing was burning it off. Her uniform was suffocating her. All that, anxiety; they didn't help Soledad's breathing any. Her chest rose and fell in a rapid pace. Her hand pushed sweat off her forehead. It was rolling from her now. Rolling in sheets. Chestplate crushing her. Felt like it was. Should've listened to Yar; ditched the body armor. Should've ...

Jesus Christ.

In her mind her own voice repeating: This is it this is it this is it. Stay cool. This is it this is it ...

More of the blast furnace rant. Clearer now.

"Muthafuckas! Ya want sum? Huh? C'mon, bitches! Come taste summa dis!"

All Soledad could think was that he ... it sounded like a crazy waving a Saturday night special around a liquor store. Everything they can do, all their abilities, but get down to it, end of the day, they're just street punks. Nothing more. Nothing better.

Bo peeked up to the third floor. A lot of space broken up by vertical supports.

In Soledad's earpiece, Bo clipped and to the point: "Sixty feet. Back to us. Me, Yarborough left. Reese, Soledad right."

That was all the more instruction they got. All they needed. Bo moved out low and quick with Yarborough right behind him. Reese and Soledad moved opposite, Soledad's heart slamming away inside her chest. They eased across the floor using the vertical supports, thankfully many of them, for cover.

The smells were thicker: the never-ending stench of roasting carcass swallowed with every breath to form a nauseating mixture in the stomach.

From hiding, Soledad peeked around a vertical. She could see the freak engulfed in its own flames. She had never seen one this close-a pyrokinetic or any other kind of M-norm. Its body shimmered with heat and fire but refused to burn itself. The flames just crackled and danced continually, feeding on the flesh of its host: an endless human wick.

This is it this is it this ...

Soledad couldn't take deep breaths, couldn't get her breathing to slow down.

"Muthafuckas!" it screamed at the cops down on the street. "Think you got sumthin'? Bitches, come up here an' show me sumthin'!" It thrust its arm out a window. It shot a tendril of flame, the fire howling as it scorched the air it rode on.

Outside, three stories down, Soledad heard the wail of men. Maybe burning. Maybe dying.

"Muthafuckas! Better recognize!"

Bo, in the earpieces: "Ready?"

Down the line:



This is ... "Ready."

Bo twisted from behind the vertical.

Soledad's heart clutched, then double-pumped.

Bo spoke, yelled with pure authority. "This is the police! You are in violation of an Executive Ord-"

That was all Bo got out, all the thing would let him get out before it turned from the window and sent a finger of flame burning in Bo's direction.

Bo sprang back, tumbled. Moved on instinct. Thought would've taken too long. Thought would've left him standing where fire now cooked the floor. He would have been dead.

"Bitches come ta play?" the pyro shrieked over the crackle of the burning wood. The thing shot fire again. From its skin, from its flesh, from itself it generated fire.

Instinct wasn't fast enough. Not this time. This time Bo got sent sailing, ridden into the dark of the warehouse along a river of flame. "Show me sumthin', bitch! Whatcha got ta show me?"

Yarborough, Reese and Soledad up and out and shooting. A continual chant of 9mm fire interrupted by the low boom of Soledad's shells.

Why didn't, she wondered as her finger jerked the trigger, they just do this first off? You got a thing that can spit fire from its body, fuck warnings and police procedure. Kill 'em! They all deserved to die anywa-

Bullets no good. Lead turned to slag from the aura of heat around the freak before the shells could even touch it.

"What da fuck?" the thing snapped. "Was you 'bout ta shoot my ass?" A hand arched before it. Just like that, empty space burned hot. A wave of flame ran for Yarborough, Reese and Soledad in a violent ripple.

Soledad moved, tried to dodge the flames. Too slow. They picked her up, kicked her back. They slammed her down hard on the wood floor. She had sense enough to roll with the landing. Kept her from getting hurt. Badly hurt. The bits of pain that came with lightly singed flesh let her know she'd survived the assault.


Excerpted from Those Who Walk in Darkness by John Ridley Copyright © 2003 by Team Ridley Productions
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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