In 1988, John W. Campbell Award nominee Chris Hinz published Liege-Killer, the first book in an ambitious post-apocalyptic sci-fi trilogy about the fallout from genetic experiments that create a new species of not-quite-humanity: the Paratwa, a single consciousness occupying telepathically linked bodies—whose true nature is revealed when physical damage to one half of the pair pains the other. That book and its sequels pick up 100 years after a war that destroyed much of the Earth’s surface and confined the surviving humans to orbital colonies. Now, Hinz is returning to that same setting in the days leading up to the war: Binary Storm, coming in November from Angry Robot, delves into the late-21st century conflict that brought about the end of the world, providing a great jumping on point for new and returning readers alike.
We’re pleased to share with you the cover (with art by Larry Rostant) and first chapter from this long-anticipated prequel. You can find them both just below the publisher’s blurb, and then preorder the book, out November 1.
Near the end of the 21st century, Earth is in chaos from environmental devastation and a vicious undeclared war against binaries, genetically engineered assassins. Composed of a single consciousness inhabiting two human bodies (tways), binaries are ruled by an alpha breed, the Royal Caste.
Nick Smith, computer programmer and brilliant strategist, hooks up with Annabel Bakana, the savvy new director of E-Tech, an organization dedicated to limiting runaway technological growth. Together both romantically and professionally, they secretly assemble a small combat team to hunt and kill binaries.
But there’s a fly in the ointment, the mysterious team leader, Gillian. A tormented soul with an unseemly attraction to Annabel, his actions just might help the Royal Caste’s cause and draw the world closer to Armageddon.
Serving as both a stand-alone novel and prequel to Liege-Killer, Binary Storm is a futuristic tale of bold characters pushed to the brink in a dangerous world. Startling action, political intrigue and powerful themes that echo our contemporary era are fused into a plot brimming with twists and surprises.
And here’s the first chapter…
A hundred years ago this month, Nicholas Guerra had been nearly stabbed to death. He was pretty sure the three knife-wielding men ambling toward him weren’t here to toast his centennial.
Philadelphia was enjoying rare atmospheric conditions this evening. Its normal smog layers had been swept out into Delaware Bay and there was a deep chill in the air, uncharacteristic of late summer. The moon was nearly full. Pristine lunar light glimmered off the knives as the trio closed on Nick in the dead-end alley.
Six long blades, one in each hand. Seersucker hoodies embellished with human bone fragments. Camo pants stained with the blood of victims.
If those things weren’t enough to ID their gang affiliation, the flextubes running from belt pouches to nostrils clinched it.
The pouches would contain mok-1, the sweet-smelling addictive vapor they inhaled with alarming regularity. Nick had snorted, swallowed and vaped more than a few illicit pharmaceuticals in his teen years a century ago. But he’d never understood the attraction of a drug that could transform even the most serene yogi master into a psycho with issues.
The mokkers moved slowly, deliberately, knowing he was trapped. The scenario had been similar a hundred years ago, back in 1995, the last time Nick had been bladed.
He glanced around. The alley lacked doors and first-floor windows. He could try clambering onto the ancient dumpster that pissed foul liquid from rusted cracks. But even if he found footholds in the brick wall, the upper windows were barred.
“Howdy,” he drawled, softening the word with a friendly smile as the mokkers closed to within two paces. They halted, eyed Nick like a pack of hungry megalions. The slashing, stabbing and screaming were imminent.
He’d known this was a cul-de-sac, having checked satellite scans of the area. Still, he hadn’t figured on a total lack of escape routes. It didn’t help that the sat scans had been made decades ago, well before clandestine jammers and AV scramblers thwarted nearly all forms of surveillance here in Philly-unsec. Even passive technologies like sat imaging weren’t immune to such electronic countermeasures.
The mokker in the middle stepped forward, signifying he was leader of the pack. A hairy giant, he had a diecast face molded from slaps, neglect and a hundred other catastrophes of poverty and abuse.
“Howdy,” Nick tried again. “Nice night, huh.”
“Suck twig, ya fuckin’ midget.”
“Technically, I’m a proportionate dwarf,” he said. “And not to brag, but I’m at the upper end of the range for the definition. If I’d been taller by only a few more centimeters, I would have avoided the label entirely. And consequently, you gentlemen wouldn’t be here sizing me up.”
He grinned with the pun. The leader glared and unleashed a wad of spit that splatted against Nick’s jacket.
It was a bit ironic that this South Philadelphia alley was just across the Delaware River from his old stomping grounds, site of his first stabbing. Back then he’d been asking for it, or at least taunting the gods to smack him down. An eighteen year-old punk, he’d been running with some Jersey gangbangers out of Camden, having proved to them that despite his diminutive size and white-boy sheen he could kick ass with the best of them, not to mention reprogram Duke Nukem 3D and other popular videogames of the era to make them faster and cooler – the real source of his street cred. But then a small-time dope deal in an alley not unlike this one had gone to hell and he’d been stabbed nine times by a raging meth freak.
He wiped the mokker’s dripping commentary from his chest with a sleeve and continued his spiel.
“I’m not averse to the term ‘midget’. Sure, some folks object to it, insist it’s not PC. But I feel there’s little to be gained by being small about the tiny things in our short lives.”
The leader’s face remained ironclad but the wingmen laughed. That was Nick’s intent. His humor had gotten him out of scrapes in the past. Putting at least two of the mokkers at ease gave him a shot.
His chances were slim. His neck implant was an encrypted attaboy, the most advanced com link available. But with this level of jamscram, calling for help was out of the question. He had some fight skills but he was forty-two years old, no spring chicken anymore. His only real weapon was his Swiss army first-aid knife. But the safak’s longest extension was no match for the mokker’s twenty-centimeter serrated blades.
He’d been forced to leave his handgun at the transit station where he’d exited the secure section of Philadelphia to venture into the “zoo”, the street name for Philly-unsec’s urban wilderness. Like all of the world’s gated cities, Philly-sec sought to keep projectile and energy weapons out of the hands of the zoo’s impoverished millions, who outnumbered them twenty to one. No guns across the border policies maintained an uneasy coexistence between sec and unsec realms, preventing those at the bottom of the economic pyramid from gaining access to technologies that might flip the status quo.
“What the fuck you doin’ here?” the leader growled, ejecting fresh spittle with every word. “You some kind of sec spy?”
Nick had dressed down for tonight’s excursion. But his tattered pants and jacket weren’t enough to fool the zoo’s more hardcore residents, who had a knack for spotting outsiders.
“Actually, I’m here on official business. I’m with ODOR, the Office of Dumpster Operations and Retrieval.” Nick gestured to the leaking receptacle behind him. “This one doesn’t meet code.”
One of the wingmen laughed hysterically. The other leaned forward and barfed a stream of bloody puke. Mokkers tended to throw up a lot, an unavoidable side effect of the constant vaping. The ones who survived gang life on the streets tended to die young of respiratory problems.
“Ya think you’re funny?” the leader challenged.
“Well, not comedy club, Jim Carrey kind of funny.”
“What the fuck’s a gym carry?”
The mokkers would take whatever cash Nick had on him and, either postmortem or premortem, cut off his fingers and slice out his eyes. His body parts would be put on ice until they could be sold to a poacher who would mule them across the border into the secured area of the city. There, some associate with a clean record would try using Nick’s digits and orbs at a terminal in the hopes that he had financial accounts worth emptying. He saw no upside to informing the mokkers that such efforts would be a waste of time, that his accounts were protected by far more advanced technologies.
The leader’s face twisted into an ugly sneer. Time was running out. Nick had to make his move.
“Prior to you gentlemen displaying your prowess with edged weaponry,” he began, “there is something of great value I’d like to willingly hand over. Consider it a token of peace and friendship.” He gestured toward his inside coat pocket. “May I?”
“Real fuckin’ careful.”
Nick undid his overcoat’s flap, eased his hand inside and withdrew the small jewelry box. It was covered with bioluminescent weep fabric, an ever-changing array of dripping hues that resembled tears. Weep fabric looked exotic and expensive but was neither, at least not for someone with ready access to high-tech products.
But the way the mokkers’ eyes widened indicated they’d never seen such an item before, having probably lived their entire lives in the zoo. Enough clarity remained in their drug-addled minds to conclude that the box contained something of great value.
Nick took a step closer and extended the offering. “If you could just see it in your hearts to allow me to leave here in peace, I’m sure that this gift will more than compensate you for any troubles. Remember, it takes a big man to spare a little one.”
The wingmen laughed again. This time the leader joined in, although with a caustic brutality that made it clear what he really thought of Nick’s proposal.
Had he ventured into the zoo to meet any of his other confidential informants, he could have hired some off-duty Earth Patrol Forces soldiers to serve as bodyguards. But no one could know about tonight’s rendezvous with his most secretive and extraordinary CI, Ektor Fang, who’d set the time and location. If Nick had brought EPF into the zoo as muscle, Ektor Fang would have found out and wouldn’t have come within ten klicks of this alley.
Then again, he’s not here anyway. That was disappointing on a number of levels.
The leader eyed Nick suspiciously for a long moment. Finally he took the bait. Holstering his knives, he snatched the box. As he did, Nick eased sideways, slowly enough not to alarm the mokkers. He was now positioned in front of the shorter of the wingmen, the one with the maniacal laugh. The man didn’t appear to be wearing body armor and it was doubtful he had access to a crescent web or other energy shielding. Better yet for Nick’s purposes, his tight camo pants revealed only a natural male bulge and no hint of a groin protector.
The leader opened the box. The mokkers were instantly entranced. The one standing farthest from Nick was so taken by what he was seeing that he vaped a triple snort of mok-1 up his nostrils and shuddered with delight.
The box contained a large silver ring with a massive diamond setting. Its perimeter was studded with what appeared to be emeralds, rubies and sapphires.
Nick tensed, ready to spring into action as the leader reached a hand toward the box. But the mokker hesitated at the last instant, suspecting a trick of some sort.
He has to touch it.
“Here, let me show you some of its beautiful features,” Nick said, lunging forward and making a grab for the ring.
The leader reacted as expected. He yanked the box away with a possessive growl that would have done an angry mutt proud.
Good boy. Now pick up the damn thing.
The leader gripped the prize between his thumb and forefinger and held it aloft. The diamond’s polished facets gleamed under the lunar light, suggesting the ring was extraordinarily valuable. In reality, it was a clever fake. Nick had bought it for nineteen dollars from one of the licensed beggars who plied their trade in Philly-sec’s Rittenhouse Square bazaar.
Body heat from the leader’s fingertips activated the thermal switch. The tiny flashbang hidden inside the ring triggered.
Blinding white light.
A flashbang this small couldn’t produce the severe disorienting effects common to its larger brethren. But the sudden eruption of light and sound was enough to startle the mokkers and buy Nick a few precious seconds.
He stepped forward and swept his right leg upward. The toe of his reinforced boot caught the short mokker in the crotch. The man grunted, grabbed his junk and crumbled to his knees. Nick dashed past him and ran for all he was worth toward the alley’s exit. His ride, an ’89 Chevy Destello, was right around the corner, optically camouflaged in the recessed doorway of an abandoned factory building.
The leader and the other wingman recovered from the flashbang’s effects quicker than anticipated. Nick could hear their loud footsteps. There was no need to glance back to realize they were closing fast.
I’m not going to make it.
The physics of human locomotion were against him. Short legs couldn’t compete with long ones. The two mokkers were seconds away from tackling him. At that point, extremely bad things would happen.
He was five meters from where the alley funneled into the street when two more men stepped around the corner. Their faces were silhouetted by a dim streetlamp at their backs. His first thought was that they were more mokkers.
His only chance was to crash through the pair. He lowered his head and mentally steeled himself to be an unstoppable battering ram.
The newcomers whipped up their arms in tandem. From the left hand of one and the right hand of the other, beams of twisting black light erupted. The luminous streaks flashed past Nick’s head on opposite sides, passing so close that the heat of the burning energy warmed his earlobes.
Startled gasps emanated from behind him. Nick stopped, whirled around. The two mokkers had been hit. Smoldering fabric and flesh over their hearts marked the beams’ entry points.
The mokkers collapsed face down in the alley. Their backs revealed the exit wounds of the hot particle streams. They writhed for a few moments as the thermal energy spread through their chest cavities, baking internal organs. In seconds they segued to a motionless limbo from which there would be no return.
Back at the cul-de-sac, the surviving mokker had recovered from Nick’s crotch kick. Having seen the fate of his companions, he was huddled at the side of the dumpster, frantically vaping. But inhaling all the mok-1 in the known universe wouldn’t make him fearless enough to confront a Paratwa assassin.