Scope is not your average teenager. A self-described criminal nerd, she spends most of her time cleaning up forensic messes and faking evidence. When you work for Move-Easy, London’s most powerful thug, life is never boring.
But WatchWorld owns the city now, and running an illegal empire is no easy feat. Cameras, drones, and heat sensors line the streets and stalk the skies while Safe-Guards, the part-human, part-robot police, patrol the city and enter homes with impunity.
Everyone knows that crossing Move-Easy means certain and painful death. So when he sends Scope and several other rat runners—young outlaws who evade detection by traveling through the city’s Voids—to track down one of Easy’s old enemies, they know they have no choice. But what if the target is innocent? Can Scope spoil the kill, or will doing so make her Easy’s next mark?
This is a Rat Runners novella. For the full experience, be sure to read Rat Runners by Oisín McGann, available January 13, 2015.
|Publisher:||Open Road Media|
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|Age Range:||12 - 18 Years|
About the Author
In 2003 McGann published his first two books in the Mad Grandad series for young readers, followed by his first young adult novel, The Gods and Their Machines. Since then, he has written several more novels for young adults, including the Wildenstern Saga, a steampunk series set in nineteenth-century Ireland, and the thrillers Strangled Silence and Rat Runners.
A full-time writer and illustrator, McGann is married, has three children, and lives somewhere in the Irish countryside.
Oisín McGann was born and raised in Dublin and Drogheda, County Louth, in Ireland. He studied art at Senior College Ballyfermot and Dún Laoghaire School of Art, Design & Technology. Before becoming an author, he worked as a freelance illustrator, serving time along the way as a pizza chef, security guard, background artist for an animation company, and art director and copywriter in an advertising agency.
In 2003 McGann published his first two books in the Mad Grandad series for young readers, followed by his first novel, The Gods and Their Machines. Since then, he has written several novels for young adults, including the Wildenstern Saga, a steampunk series set in nineteenth-century Ireland, and the thrillers Strangled Silence and Rat Runners.
A full-time writer and illustrator, McGann is married, has three children, and lives somewhere in the Irish countryside.
Read an Excerpt
Spoil the Kill
A Companion to Rat Runners
By Oisín McGann
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2014 Oisín McGann
All rights reserved.
Move-Easy has never asked me to help kill someone before. He has experts for that kind of thing. I'm a criminal nerd—I'm good with chemicals, biology, forensics. Normally, it's my job to check if stolen merchandise is genuine, or lecture knucklehead thugs on how not to leave traces of themselves at a crime scene. Sometimes I even create fake evidence to leave at the aforementioned crime scenes to help put Move-Easy's competitors in prison. But violence just isn't my bag.
I'm summoned to Easy's audience chamber, and find two other kids my age waiting for me. I know both of them. FX and Manikin; they're brother and sister. Like me, they have unusual skill sets for kids their age. FX is the younger one—younger than me—he's a hacker, a wizard with tech. Manikin is a chameleon, combining the skills of an actor, con-artist, and thief. I don't think I've ever seen what she really looks like—there's something different about her every time she shows up.
My boss, Move-Easy, could do with taking some tips from her.
You don't talk about Move-Easy's orange skin in his presence—not unless you fancy being scarred for life. Years of living underground, hiding from the law's surveillance, made him horribly pale, so he started using a sunbed. Now he's horribly orange—all the more disturbing with his gargoyle's face. The last guy to suggest he lay off the UV got beaten to a pulp with one of those scented Yankee Candles. It was the nearest thing on hand.
"Ah Scope, there you are my Little Brain," Easy greets me, puffing on a pungent cigar that sends clouds of smoke curling toward the ceiling. "Come on in, luv. Now, I've gathered this clever bunch of young vermin together to take advantage of a rare opportunity that has arisen, all of a sudden like."
He holds the cigar in his left hand. The right is fondling the gold medallion that sits in the forest of grey hair visible on his orange chest. He's wearing an expensive suit that he makes look cheap. There are three buttons open on the pale pink shirt to show off the gold. He waves me over to him, and I sit down beside him, where he likes me to be. My skin tightens at being so close to him. My fear of him never really goes away.
I'm what's known as a rat-runner, though I'm not as hard boiled as a lot of the others. Like Manikin and FX, I'm under sixteen, which means I'm not subject to the same insane levels of surveillance as adults in London. Most rat-runners are just couriers or petty thieves, underage foot soldiers—they're chosen for having quick wits and even faster feet, but are otherwise unexceptional. Some of us, however, are more specialized.
"I have a job that requires some ... delicacy," Move-Easy declares in his East London accent. He runs his hand through his slicked-back, dyed-black hair. "A task that demands your unique skills, and a certain degree of mobility. I want you to find someone, an' we 'aven't much to go on. An' this investigation, such as it is, shall start wiv you, FX."
FX is doing his best not to squirm nervously under Easy's gaze. He hates coming here. He's in his usual combats with a black t-shirt printed with a poster from some film called War Games. His curly dark hair is a bit too long to be gelled up the way he's done it, making his freckly cherub face look even younger. He seems naked without his ever- present console to hook him into the digital world. The doormen take that off him as a precaution whenever he comes into Easy's place.
He may not look like much, but FX once hacked into the Prime Minister's personal computer to win a bet. He left a virus that played a video clip of Barney the dinosaur singing the "Clean Up" song every time the PM tried to open his emails.
"You reckon you could track someone down through their MyFace page?" Easy asks FX.
"Yeah, I think so," the boy answers tightly. "MyFace has decent security, but hardly any of the users get the privacy settings right—and that's assuming they want to. Half of 'em think the world needs to know which hand they wipe their arse with. If I can get onto this person's page, there's bound to be something that'll give away where they live."
"This lad's birthday is comin' up too," Easy tells us. "So if he's got any friends at all, there'll be traffic online about it. More likely to catch him out in public too."
"Who are we looking for?" Manikin asks.
Today, her hair is red and curly—though I'm pretty sure it's really straight, and as black as her brother's. Her makeup gives her skin a paler tint than normal to go with the red hair, and I'm not sure those freckles are even real. She's wearing a burgundy suede jacket over a white t-shirt with a pair of skinny jeans. Manikin always dresses with style, unless she's playing a character who doesn't. She only steals designer labels. Easy's eyes linger on her longer than necessary before answering.
"His name's Jonathan Grodin," he says. "He's older than you—nearly nineteen. I want to find him, 'cos I want to find his dad. His old man's name is Charlie Grodin—people used to call him 'the Duke.' He was an accountant who grassed up my brother and got 'im banged up. Twenty years in that hell-pit, Shoreshank. I want to find the Duke and thank 'im personally ... by cuttin' off his arms an' legs, nice an' slow, before I finish wiv his 'ead."
The walls of Move-Easy's audience chamber are like something out of the 1970s. The walls are decorated with geometric patterns in orange, brown, maroon, and white, and we're sitting on couches in the sunken center of the room. On the nearest wall is a large wide-screen television displaying a webpage.
On the screen, there's a pair of bare arses mooning us. The arses belong to two teenage guys who've had too much to drink at some party, and thought it would be a great laugh to drop their pants in front of somebody holding a camera.
Naturally, that photo got posted on somebody's MyFace page, which means that the picture will probably be available for the rest of their lives and beyond. Nice one, lads. Good luck at your next job interview.
There is one backside that Easy is particularly interested in. A spiky, reptilian tail curls down around the left buttock from a tattoo that is partially visible on the guy's lower back. It's a black line drawing of a dragon.
"When the Duke shopped my brother, the ol' bill put him into a witness protection program," Easy explained. "We've bin lookin' for him ever since, but wiv no luck. The boy, Jonathan, is his only family, but he and the dad didn't get on. Young Jonathan didn't go into witness protection wiv his dad, so we thought we might bring him in, work on 'im a bit ... y'know, put pressure on the Duke to come out of hidin'. I mean, he may have a beef wiv his son, but he's not about to let me pull the boy apart, is he? But Jonny just took off on a round-the-world trip and dropped off the map in India for a year, so we couldn't find him."
FX is staring down at the floor. Manikin is digging at the knee of her jeans with one fingernail, trying not to look at the photo on the screen. They know what's coming next.
"I am reliably informed," Easy tells us, pointing at the screen, "that the arse with the dragon tattoo is that of the young Jonathan Grodin. He apparently designed it himself a few years back, so it's unique to 'im. But we know the photo's recent, 'cos the t-shirt he's wearin' is from a concert tour that only started two months ago and we reckon he's in the UK or Ireland, 'cos that's a British three-pin plug on the wall in the background. We ain't got much else. This photo was found by accident, really, and most of what's on the MyFace page isn't open to the public—or us. We can't find any photos of the boy's face, and this isn't his page. It belongs to some girl. So that's all we've got to go on. FX, my boys've already emailed you a link to the page."
He leans back and spreads his arms over the back of the couch, his left lying across behind my shoulders, the cigar's smoke wafting into my face. I'm taking in the expressions on the faces of Manikin and FX. They're like me; they only ever got into this business because they were trapped into it. They've had their share of rough stuff, but they've always steered clear of hurting people when they could. They're as freaked out by this as I am, and trying not to show it. They may be freelancers, but you don't say no to Move-Easy.
"It's not much to go on," Manikin says hesitantly. "And you've got good hackers here, good players. Why us?"
"I've got great confidence in your abilities, luv," Easy assures her. "Gotta strike while the iron's hot, an' all that. And not all of this can be done online; it might be necessary to move around a bit to chase up leads, maybe hang out with some of the innocent young civvies out there—hence the need for rat-runners. Now if you're done questionin' my judgement, 'ow about you do what you're bloody told? I'm sending Scope here off wiv you, to bolster your investigative powers, seein' as she's such a little Sherlock. You look after 'er, and she'll keep an eye on you."
He gives me a glance like a father who's letting his child get on a bus on their own for the first time. He doesn't send me out on jobs much. He juts his chin toward the door, indicating it's time for us to leave.
"You've got to the end of the week to find the boy," he tells us as we file out. "Uncle Easy expects great things from you, children. Don't disappoint me."
The thing is, I'm already trying to figure out how we can screw this job up and get away with it.CHAPTER 2
Move-Easy's lair is an old underground bunker beneath a hospital. It's what's known as a Void—a space the law doesn't now about, a hidden gap in London's pervasive surveillance network. Easy is extremely careful to keep it that way. I grab my bag, join Manikin and FX, and we make our way through the Void's security checks to get outside. I can feel the weight of tension lift as I leave that nest of gangsters. I can breathe properly again. Like I said before, he doesn't let me work outside much, so I'm grateful for whatever fresh air the city can offer. It's Saturday too, so nobody'll be wondering why these three kids aren't in school.
I don't look the part of a gangster and I'm not as anonymous as a rat-runner should be. I'm the kind of oddball that people always notice, black but albino with my blonde hair bound in cornrows. I'm blind in my right eye too, but most people don't spot that.
We want to put some space between us and the hospital before we find a place to sit down and look over what we've got on Charlie "the Duke" Grodin and his son. We trot at an easy pace down alleys and grotty laneways and sneak through buildings to avoid the street cameras. We follow the rat-runs. Every now and then we stop when we come upon a camera or a surveillance post. Timing the pass of each scan-cam as it turns, we flit past like ghosts, unseen, unrecorded.
This is why criminals are so reliant on kids like us. Rat-runners can go where others can't. You have to be fast and agile—and being small enough to fit through narrow gaps helps too. We're nearly a kilometer from Easy's bunker when Manikin pulls up short. She's out in front, as usual, leading the way through this gloomy lane lined with wheelie bins. Waving to us to hold up, she holds two fingers against her forehead, just above her eyes. The sign for a Safe-Guard. Then she points the fingers away. It's not looking in our direction.
FX and I take a quick peek. Sure enough, there it is in the side street we were about to cross—a figure in a blue-grey cloak with a helmet that sits all the way down on its shoulders, fronted with a long, smoked-glass visor. There's a human being under there, but every effort has been made to make this figure as impersonal as possible. The helmet is bigger than it should need to be to fit over the person's head, because it is loaded with surveillance equipment. You won't see a face behind that dark visor—just camera lenses and sensors. The helmet's various cameras offer telescopic, x-ray and thermal vision, among others. It has sensitive microphones that can pick up the soft footsteps of rat-runners creeping past, or conversations a hundred meters away. It even has a chemical analyzer to detect suspicious smells.
I have a real urge to hide behind one of the wheelie bins, but the other two stay where they are, and I do the same. This thing can see through plastic. We'd just look suspicious if it turned around and saw us all hunkered down, trying to get out of sight. Even so, this is a funny spot for three kids to be hanging out.
But this is the one serious advantage of being under sixteen in a city like London, where WatchWorld and their infamous Safe-Guards are everywhere. Manikin walks straight out across the side street in full view of the peeper, and we follow her. It turns to bring its cameras to bear on us, but we keep walking. We're not doing anything wrong, after all—not yet, anyway. We just don't like people seeing where we're going, or where we've come from.
Being under sixteen means it can't stop us, question us, or follow us unless we're actually involved in a crime. Once we turn sixteen, all that will change. It could follow us all day if it wanted. It could come into our homes and watch us eat or sleep or go to the toilet. When you turn sixteen in London, you surrender your privacy to the law, and they can watch you any way they like.
The peepers are trained to move smoothly, to glide like machines. We're supposed to think of them as walking surveillance posts, not humans. Its whole body swivels slowly as its cameras follow us across the street. A stray beam of sunlight glints off its visor, obscuring those unblinking eyes, the camera lenses that are the only things normally visible behind the glass.
After we're a block away and around another corner, it's probably not watching us anymore. But there's something about the peepers that leave an impression on you long after you've left them behind. Like they've marked you.
It takes a long time to shake off that feeling.
We make our way to a café that offers wireless access and no security cameras. Placing our orders for coffee and sandwiches, we grab a table in a quiet corner and take out our consoles. By the time our lunch arrives, FX has found the MyFace page with the picture, slipped past the clumsy privacy settings and invited himself in. The girl's name is Kim Jordan, and she's what FX refers to as a prize ASSOL—an Attention-Seeking Simpleton Online. She clearly thinks the world needs to know about her life, and her friends definitely hear all about it. Once he's on her page, FX can get into all of theirs, too.
It's really hard to stay hidden these days, especially if you use a phone or computer. For someone who knows how—someone like FX, for instance—a person's activity online can be traced like a slug trail back to its source. Most people have some idea that they're leaving traces of themselves whenever they go online, but very few realize how much. Even fewer people know how much all these digital footprints can tell others about their lives.
But then, if you bring in people like me and Manikin, to dig up stuff in the real world, protecting your privacy becomes an absolute bloody nightmare. I've never wanted to be anybody's nightmare, but I work for Easy because if I don't, my family will get hurt. FX and Manikin work for him because they're in debt to him, and if they don't work it off, they'll get hurt. In the end, we all just get on with what we're doing and try not to think too much about all the people we're doing it too. Even so, none of us sleep too well.
"You gonna keep it all for yourself, or do you feel like sharing?" Manikin scowls at her brother.
"Funny how you girls all have equal rights," he sniffs back, "but you still expect guys to hold the door open for you. So, you actually going to do some of the work then?"
With a few taps of his screen, FX gets me and Manikin into the girl's network and we begin combing the material for more information on Jonathan, each of us working on our own console. Apart from a few photos from the party where the mooning took place, nothing useful has been posted recently. Nobody's saying much while we search. We are friends, sort of, but they're wary of me because they see me as one of Easy's gang. What we all really want to be talking about is how we don't want to do this job. If we succeed, Jonathan—and probably his father too—will end up in Move-Easy's "guest-rooms." Soundproofed, concrete rooms with tiled walls and floors to make them easy to clean.
Excerpted from Spoil the Kill by Oisín McGann. Copyright © 2014 Oisín McGann. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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