Outrider: A Novel

Outrider: A Novel

by Steven John

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781597805339
Publisher: Night Shade Books
Publication date: 09/16/2014
Pages: 320
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Steven John is a writer living with his wife and young son in Glendale, California. Steven’s first book, Three A.M. , was published by Tor in 2012; Outrider is his second novel. When not writing or spending time with his family, he climbs the occasional mountain.

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

"We got a leech."

"Hm," Scofield muttered, shifting in his saddle. "I don't see him."

"You will," Kretch whispered back, nodding slowly. His voice was dry, grating. "He's down the line."

The sun was nearly overhead, flattening the few features that marked the beige expanse of loam. Scofield pulled the brim of his hat lower on his forehead and cupped his hands around his eyes to block the glare. He began a steady scan along the row of towering QV pillars, letting his eyes lose focus. There it was, that thin trail, almost invisible but unmistakable to the trained eye: a buried tap line. Scofield let his eyes drift along the line and sure enough not five seconds later he spotted a telltale depression in the sandy soil.

"Oh yeah. I got him."

"Looks like it's just one all by his lonesome," Kretch said, leaning off to one side of his slate gray colt to spit.

"Follow the line or grab 'im?"

"Let's just get him now."

"Suits me fine," said Scofield, drawing his long-barreled revolver. "Cover me, then. I could use a stretch anyway."

Kretch drew a rifle from his saddle bag and checked the chamber as Scofield slid off his brown mare. His boots crunched loudly on the dry earth, and he paused to look for any movement from the leech. When none came he took a few slow, cautious steps towards the concave patch of sand, then broke into a run and closed the thirty yards in seconds.

Scofield leapt through the air and landed with both boots right in the center of the shallow depression. The tarp, held up by and loosely covered with sand, collapsed beneath his weight and from the newly revealed hole came a cry of pain and surprise. Scofield scrambled out of the ditch and threw the canvas sheet aside, training his pistol on the leech.

He was an old fellow. Bald with a wispy, five-day beard. His flesh was red and craggy and his eyes yellow. They were filled with fear.

"I ... I — please don't shoot!" he stammered.

"Get up," Scofield said, his voice low. The man rose to his feet and then climbed out of the hole, his joints popping and cracking. He wore a dirty gray button-down and old jeans and his boots were scuffed and shabby. His stooped shoulders rose and fell quickly as he sucked in shallow breaths, eyes averted.

Wilton Kretch came up from behind, still mounted and leading Scofield's horse. He dropped both sets of reins and rested his repeater across his lap, the barrel aiming toward the leech.

"All alone out here, old timer?"

"Yes." The man replied barely above a whisper.

"Well, that oughtta make things easier," Kretch sneered. The leech's eyes snapped up, wide with fear, and Scofield shot Kretch a quick look. Not quite one of disapproval — just a look.

"Wilton here don't mean to threaten you, mister," Scofield said with false brightness. "He just means for you to know your options. Which ain't many." He turned and looked out across the barren plains as if to punctuate his point. It was hot for October. Easily ninety out. The faintest breeze sighed across the land now and then but it was not enough to soothe, merely to be felt.

"See, thing is, we got a job to do out here. We gotta protect them sun stacks." Scofield said, approaching the trembling man and laying a hand on his shoulder. He turned the leech and swept his hand along the miles and miles of quantum voltaic pillars. "But you know that, dontcha? Know all about it, I'm sure. Let's check your hookup." Scofield knelt and dug in the soil until he found the buried tap line. He wrapped a fist around the thick, insulated cord and gave it a solid shake. The cord popped up from the sand, revealing a clear trail to one of the QV pillars. Scofield straightened up and pushed the man toward the array, calling over his shoulder. "Wilton, why dontcha check out that hole."

Kretch dismounted and made his way over to the leech's burrow. Scofield guided the man toward the nearest QV pillar, keeping his revolver vaguely trained. Beads of sweat streamed down the old man's neck and he wrung his hands constantly. For a moment Scofield thought to whisper something reassuring, but let the notion go and squared his jaw. The man was a thief, after all, even if he were old and frightened. They stopped in the shade of the massive panels above.

"Oh yeah. Pretty."

"I didn't mean to ... to do wrong. Just ain't got nothin' else."

Scofield ignored the man, turning his back on him, and studied the power tap he'd set up. It was a simple, standard design: two big magnets and some copper spooling held together by a wooden frame. This contraption was slid over one of the steel braces of the pillar. It would draw off enough power to run a life free from governmental regulation or to trade or sell for a few bucks, but never enough to be noticed.

"Set your spool a bit close to the steel, didn't ya?" Scofield asked over his shoulder, running a palm across his unshaven face.

"It's perfectly safe." The man replied, his voice steady for the first time.

"Yer an expert then, hmm?"

"I didn't mean that. I just —"

"Yeah, listening to you talk ain't what I got on my mind right now. Why don't you be a good little leech and dismantle this thing here and then maybe all three of us will chat a moment."

Scofield brushed past the old man and walked back to Kretch and the horses. He ran a hand along his mare's flanks, whispering "Old one, huh Reese?" The horse turned her head at the sound of her name and Scofield pulled a canteen from the saddle bag. He took a long pull of water himself, then cupped his hand and let Reese use it as a bowl as he slowly trickled the tepid liquid into his palm.

"Nothing to write home about." Kretch said as he climbed out of the hole. He coughed and shook sand from his long gray jacket, stamping his boots to kick dust off them. "A bit of food and drink and a worn out book. Blankets. Some tools. Not even a change of clothes."

"What book is it?"

"Didn't check."

"No matter. What d'you think?"

"Long enough way back to camp just us two." Kretch said quietly, looking over at the old man who was busily breaking apart his tap.

"That's true." Scofield nodded. "Other hand, I don't see this old fellah causing much more trouble. Think we oughtta bring him in."

"Hell, fine by me," Kretch shrugged. He raised his voice loud enough that the old man could surely hear and went on saying: "But those ancient legs give out, it's Reese that drags him, not Shady."

"Fine by me."

"I'll follow the line and find his collector. Any trouble, squeeze two quick shots."

Scofield tossed back his head and laughed. "You be sure to rush back'n help with this one. Got a killer's eye!" Kretch let out a rasping cackle of his own and turned to look at the old leech. The laughter frightened the man even more than had the harsh words. He was hobbling back toward the outriders, a jumble of parts in his arms.

Kretch went to where a part of the tap line was exposed and took a C-clamp off his belt. He fastened it around the line and then walked to his horse. He drew a thin cable from his pack and looped it over the saddle horn. Once the other end was secured to the clamp, Kretch hopped up onto the colt.

"Less go, Shady." The colt wheeled and began trotting away. "See you down the way," he called back.

"Yup. Down the way." Scofield turned to the leech, who stood there like a frightened child, his meager possessions cradled between frail arms. "Dump it all in the hole and bury it. Time for you to find a new line of work."

Sunlight poured through the windows lining Mayor Franklin Dreg's office. Two walls of the large room were almost entirely glass. The light reflected off myriad treasures. A large brass ship's compass, cut crystal glasses, a half dozen paintings hung in heavy frames, a milk white steer's skull; countless objects the man had gathered about him as his wealth and power grew. Most of the art and objects were from centuries past and clashed with the sleek steel walls and numerous panels of LED lights and data screens. The Mayor had commissioned a console that kept a running ticker of all the electricity use in every grid of New Las Vegas. It was over four feet tall and ten feet wide and dominated the wall opposite the longest row of floor-to-ceiling windows.

Mayor Dreg sat behind his massive mahogany desk staring to the right, watching the numbers rise and fall on the console's many screens. His desk sat near the back wall of the long rectangular office, across from the thick double doors that led to the even larger outer chamber. He loved the effect this room had on those who entered it: the tableau of his ample carriage framed by a wall of glass and perched behind the imposing desk unnerved even the most confident of visitors.

The Mayor looked all of his fifty years. Not so much because he had aged poorly, but rather because for so long had he lived a life of privilege that his body was in general atrophy from disuse. His face was neither wrinkled nor well defined. He was a large man, but neither obese nor stout, caught somewhere in between. His eyes were sharp and piercing, his gaze more that of an appraiser than of an intellectual. He was constantly calculating, with his own gain firmly rooted at the right side of every equation.

All was steady today. The megawatts rose and fell with the comforting rhythm of the city. Traffic patterns shifted, people flipped on screens as they arrived home from work, trains moved from grid to grid, and air conditioners dropped a setting as the sun crept toward the horizon — the system plodded along smoothly. Dreg nodded to himself, briefly turning to look out the windows at the sprawling city below him.

"Mr. Hale," The Mayor said, touching a button on his desktop.

"Mayor," came his right hand's reply through a speaker.

"Step in when you have a moment." Dreg released the com button and rose slowly from his leather-bound chair, straightening his vest and tie as he stood. He grabbed his dark gray suit jacket from its spot on a coat tree and worked the blazer on as he heard the heavy outer doors open. A moment later, Mr. Hale let himself into Dreg's office and approached.

"This collar straight, Tim?" The Mayor asked, turning away.

"Mhmm." Timothy Hale was a man of medium height with wide shoulders. He could have been handsome had his forty year old face not already assumed the lines of one who never smiled. He was always clean shaven and his blond hair was full and close cropped — a stark comparison to Dreg's thinning black mane and thick mustache.

"The water commission from San Diego is still waiting to hear back about a rate shift, just to remind you," Hale said as Mayor Dreg turned around again.

"When did they first start pissing and moaning about this?"

"A month and a half back, maybe two. August sometime."

"Well ... it can wait. I have a feeling they'll get the picture. Or they can try running their little town without power, ey? Always an option!" Dreg winked, then summarily brushed the matter aside. "I think I might make some unannounced visits around town. Care to come along?"

"Of course, sir," Hale replied.

"So boring when everything runs this smoothly." The two men walked toward the doors, Hale pausing to key in a few codes on a wall panel.

"I'll take it over the alternatives," Hale said. He punched in a final few digits and heavy steel shutters slid down over the glass windows, plunging the office into a dim, artificial yellow glow.

"So will I, Tim."

As the men passed through The Mayor's opulent outer chamber, a room double the size and twice as heavily decorated as his office proper, Mayor Dreg put a hand on Hale's shoulder to stop him for a moment. As usual, something in this self-dedicated museum had caught his eye. He walked to a shelf wrought of glass and iron and picked up a small, intricately carved wooden cane. It was two feet long and had a deep notch cut into one end.

"Any idea what this is for, Mr. Hale?"

"None, Frank."

The Mayor snorted. "Neither have I. I just liked how it looked."

Mayor Dreg and Timothy Hale walked through the marble-floored lobby of the executive building past the twenty foot long reception desk. Hale nodded to the various security personnel and receptionists who sat attentively at their stations; The Mayor's eyes stayed forward. There were four guards, each dressed in black fatigues, and three women, each beautiful and wearing a low-cut blouse under a scarlet blazer. The women smiled back; the men nodded. Near the pneumatic doors, which sat in a wall of solid glass, a female custodian dragged a mop across a small section of stone. She was an elderly woman with yellowed, wispy gray hair. She trailed an IV stand behind her. Hale distinctly went out of his way not to look in this woman's direction, despite her pausing to grin at him and The Mayor.

The tall doors slid silently open before Hale and Dreg and the men stepped out onto the streets of New Las Vegas. It was still mid-afternoon and blindingly bright out and The Mayor paused to retrieve a pair of dark, circular sunglasses from his breast pocket. Hale squinted in the sunlight and let his eyes slowly adjust, following Dreg toward the nearest pod stop.

Several waiting commuters stepped aside as The Mayor approached, a few sidling off and leaving altogether. If Dreg noted this, he made no sign of it. The Mayor could, of course, have used his private pod, which disrupted any traffic patterns as needed, but more often than not he chose to travel the city among "his people."

A strong gust of hot air blew down the street momentarily turning the cool air dry and dusty. As soon as it had come, the wind subsided and the temperature returned to a pleasant stasis, cooled by the air conditioning and misting systems that were placed atop poles all around the city's affluent grids. Hale looked around, his pupils now shrunk to accommodate the afternoon glare. The tall buildings that flanked the wide boulevard reached proudly up to the cerulean sky, each a differing shade of pale gray or alabaster white. From every corner of the city came the sounds of steady urban life. The four rails of the traffic lines hummed; two with the gentle drone of cross-town consistency, the others with the higher-pitched whine of frequent local pod stops.

It was onto one of these pods that Hale and Dreg stepped after it arrived. Three or four other citizens boarded the black, cigar-shaped tube behind them. Dreg settled down onto a bench and Hale sat behind him on a single seat. Advertisements and bulletins flickered across the many screens around the pod. There were about a dozen other passengers already aboard — business men and city workers and casually dressed commuters. Eyes flitted to and then away from The Mayor. He was known to all; loved by some, feared by others, but universally respected. Timothy Hale always felt a touch of pride to be seen with Mayor Dreg; to be counted as part of his aura. The golden chevron on Hale's smartly pressed lapel identified him as a man of some regard and his regular propinquity to Dreg elevated his status to that of one with clout.

Hale had been a nervous child and an awkward teenager, but his preternatural intelligence and adaptability had served him well once he had grown into an adult's body. Years of service at the highest levels of city government taught him to act the part of a confident and assertive man. Still, a twinge of unease often crept down his spine when he felt eyes upon him, and he habitually went so far as to remove his executive pin when not accompanying Dreg. Fortunately, in a city of nearly ten million residents, it was easy enough to achieve comfortable anonymity.

The pod gathered speed without so much as a tremor felt by its riders, zipping along for several blocks until its next scheduled stop. The Mayor turned to Hale, saying "Should we pay a visit to Central Bank, or press on to Grid 3's power station?"

Hale cocked his head to one side, thinking for a moment. "Let's stop by the power station, if it's all the same to you. There were a few surges last week and I think it may do them good to see your face."

Dreg's jowls rose into a smile. "And it may do you good to see that lady who works in operations."

"I think seeing her does us all good."

Dreg laughed. "What's her name again?"

"Maria something. I keep forgetting."

"Why haven't you just asked her out, Tim?"

"Ah, there're plenty of women out there."

"She won't say no. You know that, right?" The Mayor leaned in, a conspiratorial gleam in his eye.

(Continues…)


Excerpted from "Outrider"
by .
Copyright © 2014 Steven John.
Excerpted by permission of Skyhorse Publishing.
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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Outrider: A Novel 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
WCondrey More than 1 year ago
Imagine a future metropolis relying solely on solar power and managed by a megalomaniac. Steven John, in his latest novel Outrider, constructs New Las Vegas as one of a modern urban complex that has transcended the energy crisis of the present thanks to superlative technology harnessing the abundant energy from the sun. A typical day for the cowboy Outriders, who guard the electromagnetic solar fields, is mostly tranquil, except for the occasional annoyance caused by power thieves known as leeches. Ordinarily, leeches steal only a small amount of energy. Yet soon it’s apparent that there have been major energy drains daily – more than any leech could manage, and clearly organized on a much larger scale. When there’s only one source of energy supplying millions of people with power, this is a serious problem. From the beginning, the reader is thrust into the lives of the Outriders, predominately a man known only as Scofield. Scofield loves solitude above all else, save for the company of his beloved horse, Reese. Patrolling the solar fields grants him this solitary pleasure; being just about the best at his job grants him some quiet pride. However, the growing power crisis will soon force Scofield to make a difficult choice between what he has known his whole life to be true… and what he has just discovered. Steven John’s writing plunges the reader into the story, deepening both one’s attachment to certain characters and one’s loathing for others. The book maintains a brisk pace throughout. It can be hard to put down, even when the “real world” beckons the reader to step away from New Las Vegas and its solar fields. The conclusion is intense and shocking; you'll have to read the whole book to understand why. Steven John tells a gripping story that is at once imaginative and plausible. Outrider will satisfy any reader looking to escape into a unique world that still connects to enduring themes and realities of the human experience.