An astute, socially relevant tale, set in a world that readers will happily get lost in.
Detective Jimmy Hidalgo tracks a serial killer whose first victim was Jimmy’s best friend, in a San Francisco on the brink of social insurrection. The killer has a terrifying new way of murdering her victims. Salvor Becky Wiley recovers a mysterious object from burned out suburbs in a balkanized Los Angeles. She does not sense the importance of the enigmatic artifact until the LAPD and FBI try to seize it. As Becky realizes that her salvage is too hot to handle, and as Jimmy concludes that the man paying him to find the killer is an extraterrestrial, this slow-motion apocalypse shifts into high gear. Pursued by cops and aliens, Becky and Jimmy converge on the Palm Springs Free City in secessionist Aztlán. When exotic artifact and serial killer meet, the near cataclysmic confrontation and the galaxy wrenching conclusion will determine the fate, not merely of Jimmy and Becky, but of all humanity.
1% Free is a near-future science fiction political thriller. This fast-paced novel has fascinating characters, a rollicking plot, stunning narratives, and sharp dialogue, all written in a slashing, evocative style. G.A. Matiasz explores utopian and dystopian themes, extreme politics on the radical left and right, wild-assed youth countercultures, and smart meditations on science, cartography, technology, and extinction, proving “once again that Sci-Fi is our only literature of ideas.” If 1% Free is a fraction as prescient as his first novel, the 1994 underground classic End Time, humanity is in for some rough times. A compulsive page-turner, this novel will keep you up at night worrying about the fate of our country and our planet for years to come.
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About the Author
Read an Excerpt
By G.A. Matiasz
62 Mile PressCopyright © 2017 G.A. Matiasz
All rights reserved.
The city had been beautiful at the turn of the century. Whitewashed houses carpeted the hills like a languid Aegean island town. People called it the Paris of the West Coast. Now San Francisco brought to mind more and more the profound decay and virulent tech of L.A.
Jimmy Hidalgo had a clear view of San Francisco, old and new, through his fifth-floor office window in the Mission. He was solidly built, his shoulders, face, and hands wide and strong. His posture and frame still bore the mark of his service in the Marines nearly two decades before, even in black jeans, a dark blue Pendleton and black leather Wolverine work boots. His gold-brown eyes were capable of turning black in anger, though now they looked tired and bored. He added two fingers of whiskey to his cup of coffee, then ran a hand through his wavy black hair. The "fallen comrades" memorial i-bracelet on his wrist clinked against the cup.
It was a few minutes past five, dark and muggy. A weathered cityscape of three-, four-, and five-story wooden and brick buildings struggled to hold its own above profuse subtropical vegetation, which grew faster than it could be cut back. The buildings' rooftops were themselves forested with antennae, satellite dishes, shigawire, and the occasional jumper pad, glistening now from cool January showers. Jimmy glimpsed a piebald slice of the Forbidden City squats a couple of blocks away, strung beneath the decaying remnants of an ancient freeway. A public urban drone occasionally bobbed up above the skyline.
What was left of old San Francisco ambled up to the nucity's gray and brown hive architecture, which jutted almost a half kilometer into the dense evening. HD LCD advertisements fifty meters tall ringed the nucity, marketing Planet Financials, EBC news programs, the McGuffin Analog-Digital Deluxe, and expensive European vacations. Twinkling vehicles traversed the air to and from the arcology's upper platforms, guided by strict geometries of yellow, blue, and green lasers. The polarized metaglass windows on the nucity's unfinished southeastern side formed a smoky black wall above the pillared nanoconcrete entrance porticos running along Market Street.
Corporate buildings played hide-and-seek in the gray drizzle to the north and west, beyond the nucity. The ruined skeleton of the Bay Bridge curved gracefully from the Rincon Towers' desolate remains to an overgrown Yerba Buena Island in the distance. The silver spires of the elite Treasure Island tower shimmered through the drizzle at an even greater distance. Jimmy surveyed the view as he sipped more coffee. The whiskey bit.
Jimmy managed to make a living practicing the somewhat archaic art of private investigation. These days, nearly everyone had a universal identity card assigned at birth. These i-cards were linked to centralized data libraries, where an individual's personal information and every monetary transaction was routinely updated and stored along with fingerprints, retinal patterns, voice prints, and DNA code, allowing for integrated identity i-scans.
Superficially, the reason his profession continued to exist was because money hadn't been entirely digitized, nor had society outside the battlefront been completely wired. The unrecorded use of paper money, for instance, allowed the adulterer the mistaken notion that his infidelities were undetectable. A more fundamental reason he could still make money as a detective had to do with human behavior — in particular, the often tragic clash between the desire to get away with sin and the desire to know the truth. Coveting your neighbor's wife while making certain yours stayed faithful.
Jimmy only investigated sins that, if considered criminal at all, were low on law enforcement's priority list. In addition, he had the digital skills to know that when records, transactions, and identity were simply a matter of bits and bytes, clever hacking could hide a multitude of transgressions. That's when old-fashioned, tedious legwork came into play. He had been a detective for too long, however, to believe that the truth ever set any of his clients free. Pissed them off and broke their hearts? Yes, often. Freed them from betrayal, rage, or despair? Never.
And then there were the naga. However elaborate and comprehensive the existing security regimes were, millions of people lived without documentation — untraceable through normal means, under the radar, off the grid. Many of them committed crimes. The naga realm overlapped the world of organized crime and was hence peripheral to Jimmy's practice.
Jimmy did business at the corner of 16th and Mission. His pastel-tiled professional building had weathered fire, flood, earthquake, and riot in this traditional San Francisco neighborhood, now known as the Mission Commune. The building was more than a century old, yet it had a few modern amenities, among them a top-level i-scan at the front door and omni-flash EM surveillance throughout.
His office was Spartan: a scuffed wooden desk and chair, a nicer chair for visitors, a four-hook coat rack, and three old-fashioned, scratched, and dented metal filing cabinets. A standard KIT protocol unit and his JINN workstation occupied the top of the desk along with a lamp, file organizer, desk calendar, and a lighter and ashtray he now kept strictly for clients. Jimmy went back to work. A recent ex-smoker, he tapped a pen nervously on the desk when he wasn't scribbling notes on a pad. He was doing the final rewrite on the report for a jealous wife whose husband frequented strip clubs and prostitutes in the dense warrens of the Tenderloin.
Jimmy leaned back in the chair and rubbed his eyes with knuckled fists. His cup was almost empty.
"I'll read it one more time. But basically it's done. Let's call it a day, Jen."
"As you wish," the JINN office computer said in its sexy female-receptionist voice. "Switching to night mode."
The phone rang and he raised a hand to halt JINN.
"Jimmy, it's Alex." The KIT piped SFPD Sergeant Weston's voice — sans video — into the office. "I got some bad news."
Jimmy leaned back in his chair.
"Dammit Alex, you work homicide. It's bad news every time you call."
"I'm serious." A note of concern sounded in the cop's voice. "We got a friend of yours down here. In the morgue. You sitting down?"
"Yeah, I'm sitting. Who is it?"
"Danny. Daniel Delgado."
Jimmy was stunned into silence.
Alex was a friend by professional association. A helpful cop he'd met on a missing persons case eight years ago. They'd fished together a couple of times, and they regularly exchanged large bottles of whiskey at Christmas. But mostly they did each other favors. Sometimes the sergeant needed what Jimmy could dig up on the streets; sometimes the PI needed information from police files. A comfortable symbiosis. No doubt Weston thought that, as a cop, he pulled rank and commanded deference. Jimmy, however, kept things strictly quid pro quo.
In contrast, Danny and Jimmy had been comrades. Blood brothers. Danny did some detective work, but security was his forte: individual, one-on-one bodyguard gigs and team security for high-powered events and clients. Jimmy had taken one of Danny's classes six years ago and they'd become fast friends, drinking buddies, off-road enthusiasts, and occasional partners on a job. Like Jimmy, Danny was a lapsed Catholic, an opinionated student of America's second civil war, and a fan of both Charlie Parker and 2030s acid bop. Both were one-quarter Mexican Mtl'nka Indian, a tribe so small the two were probably related.
"You still there?" Alex asked.
"Yeah." Jimmy squeezed the bridge of his nose and shut his eyes. "How'd it happen?"
"Maybe you should come down to the morgue." There was something the police sergeant wasn't saying.
"You need me to identify the body?"
"Uh, no. But there's something about the way he died I think you should see."
After Weston hung up, Jimmy put away the legal pad with his notes, shut down the workstation, and reached for a coat, hat, and umbrella. He was in a daze, his actions automatic. The knock on his door startled him.
He quickly checked the KIT. Nobody had buzzed from downstairs or run an i-scan. The building alarm hadn't gone off, so there'd been no forced entry. Most disturbing, there was no omni-flash data associated with the phantom visitor. He turned his workstation back on and ran a manual scan on the hall. Nothing. He started to ask JINN to run an anomaly scan when the knock came again.
"It's open," Jimmy said.
A man entered. He was average in height and frame, dressed in a tan trench coat and hat against the weather. Inconspicuous.
The man smiled when he asked the question. He sat uninvited in the chair in front of the detective's desk. Jimmy was nervous. A glance showed that nothing registered on KIT's full-spectrum EM office scan either. According to his computer surveillance systems, no one had recently entered the building, and he was alone in his office. He fiddled with the ball chain at his throat, which displayed three dog tags, his own and two with nine debossed names.
"I was just walking out the door," Jimmy said. "State your business."
"I want to hire you for a job."
"Didn't catch your name."
"It roughly transcribes into AjNzarSharmAlqotra. Which crudely translates into Sacred Eye of the Storm."
"From what language?"
"A language of tactile light, the nuances of which I couldn't begin to convey. Not under such barbaric circumstances." The man spread his hands, a gesture encompassing Jimmy, the office, the city, the world. "Suffice it to say it is the language employed by the inhabitants of some thirty star systems under the benevolent governance of My species, the Majjar. I am allied with the OverUnity, a starfaring civilization approximately five-thousand light years closer to the galactic center than your sun, governing what you call the Sagittarius galactic arm."
"I don't have time for jokes."
"No joke, Mr. Hidalgo." The man waved a hand. A cigarette suddenly appeared between his fingers.
"I don't have time for sleight of hand either."
"Is this a sleight of hand?" the man asked. He pointed. The lighter jumped up from the desk and floated serenely through the air until it hung before the man. It struck by itself, and the visitor lit his smoke from the flame. Then the lighter sailed smoothly back to Jimmy, who snatched it out of the air, startled by its solidity. "It's impolite not to offer your guest a light."
"Who the fuck are you?"
The smell of the tobacco was real enough.
"Sacred Eye of ..."
"The Storm. Yeah, I heard you the first time."
"But please, call me Ajnzar."
Jimmy shook his head and reset the office scan with a keystroke. Still nothing.
"Okay, I'll play along. What's the job?"
"I want you to find someone."
"One of My operatives."
"You want me to find an alien?"
"Not exactly." Ajnzar puffed languidly. "This operative is human. More or less."
Jimmy spread his broad hands, planted them on the desk, and leaned toward the man.
"Okay. You'd better start from somewhere I can remotely call reality because you're not making much sense."
The man took another drag.
"Fair enough. What you humans call the Milky Way, the Ancients called tu Ossain, and the Majjar call the Shining Path. The more universal name for the Shining Path and its eighty-eight satellite galaxies is Galaxia. Galaxia teems with life. All organic life is built on a base of carbon, silicon, or nitrogen; breathes oxygen, chlorine, or hydrogen; and uses water or ammonia. Galaxia's advanced water-based species constitute a single pan-civilization, ruled by the Five Dominions, who collectively call themselves the Full Dominion. Ammonia-using life forms originate on gas giant worlds and are much less common in the galaxy. They are hostile to water-using life forms. Neither water- nor ammonia-based species have been interstellar for even a thousand years ..."
Jimmy shook his head to interrupt the man's languid exposition.
"I don't want a science-fiction fable. Get to the point."
Ajnzar's gaze suggested he would overlook Jimmy's rudeness just this once.
"The OverUnity has been monitoring humanity from adistance for approximately one of your centuries now to determine your suitability for galactic membership. For the last twenty-five of your years, you have been exploring your own local stellar neighborhood."
"The Alpha Centauri mission returned last year."
"Exactly. At about the same time you launched that primitive vessel, the Majjar was commissioned to get some inside information on your world. The Majjar constructed an archetypal human being from primary genetic material, programmed it, and deployed it to gather firsthand data on humanity. It failed to report back about three weeks ago."
"Failed to report, or went AWOL?" It was a hunch.
"I'm not sure," the man said, appearing uncomfortable. "In either case, I will have a difficult time explaining the disappearance to the OverUnity."
"You suspect your operative is alive?"
"Better than that. I know. I can detect its biological signature. Unfortunately, I cannot pin down the location more precisely than a radius of roughly eight-hundred kilometers."
"Centered in San Francisco?"
Jimmy wanted another shot of whiskey, and a cigarette.
"One more question. Why'd you pick me?"
Ajnzar smiled, extracted a small object from his coat pocket, and placed it on Jimmy's desk.
"You were recommended. Highly. I know all of this is a little too much to absorb in one sitting. Take your time, think over My offer, and I'll be in touch. This credit card contains a little advance on the job."
The man quickly, soundlessly crumbled into cool blue light. The light evaporated. The thin, transparent flexi-card, with its fine black carbon filigree traced with invisible nanocircuitry, remained on the desk.
"Jen," Jimmy croaked. "Did you catch that?"
"Catch what?" the office computer answered.
"What just happened!"
"I am sorry to say that after the call from Sergeant Weston, you dozed off. You have been asleep at your desk for the last fifteen minutes. I try not to disturb you when you are napping."
"Then what the hell is this?" Jimmy pointed to the credit card.
"Oh my." The computer sounded concerned. "Where did that come from?"
"Exactly." Jimmy picked up the faintly blue card and turned it over several times before tucking it gingerly into his shirt pocket. "Jen, I'm going home. Think about why you can't account for the appearance of this ceecard."
"But ..." JINN said, digital anxiety creeping into the computer's voice.
"It's been a long day." Jimmy stood, scooping up his leather briefcase, navy blue pea coat, dark gray fedora hat, and black umbrella. "Switch to night mode. I'll talk to you in the morning."
A fine sprinkle greeted him when he exited his building's not-so-secure front door. His naCloud activated the audio skein embedded in his left ear once he was outside the building. Instead of opening his umbrella, Jimmy pulled down his hat, flipped up his collar, and crossed the street, stepping over pools of rain reflecting neon and laser. A flock of radiation-detecting, high-performance plastic warblers shrieked overhead; biochem-sniffing "birds" flew lower and had a deeper whistle. The chiseled features of citizen soldier Johnny Yank beamed from a bus stop poster slick with rain, the poster's message to "watch and report" obscured by graffiti and red syrmons. The nearby Basis five-pointed star poster was not vandalized. A small convoy of three Unified Military humvees rolled the red, white, and blue on Mission. An annoying robotic shrine decorated with flowers, candles, and prayer ribbons trundled along the cracked sidewalk, its squeaky treads punctuating a tinny version of "Love Me Tender" as a holographic Elvis flickered in the empty air above it. Jimmy stopped himself from throwing a kick at the seedy pop icon.
He maneuvered through the hucksters and hustlers, beggars and addicts, going with the lively flow of passengers down into the BART station. Before stepping on the escalator, he slipped on a pair of anti-EM mirrored sunglasses. Those, and the EM-thwarting technology woven into his clothing, comprised Jimmy's efforts to obstruct the omnipresent public surveillance. Rain drifted in after him as he descended. Colorful adflix and American flags along the walls wafted on subtle airflows. Phrases rolled by on a scrollbox overhead. "Be vigilant! Be prepared! Be resourceful! Be patriotic!" Followed by: "You are The Basis. We are The Basis."
Excerpted from 1% Free by G.A. Matiasz. Copyright © 2017 G.A. Matiasz. Excerpted by permission of 62 Mile Press.
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