Authors: Keith Brooke
Tags: #Science Fiction
Praise for Keith Brooke
“A progressive and skilful writer.”
– Peter F. Hamilton
“One of the most powerful things literature can do is to engage the reader through the exploration of thought-provoking issues – and science fiction is the perfect genre to do so. A good example of this is Keith Brooke’s latest novel,
– SF Signal
“First and foremost a superbly written novel, featuring beautiful prose that instantly hooked me from the powerful opening page and kept the pages turning... Highly, highly recommended.”
– Fantasy Book Critic
“The premise is good, the setting impressively realized and immersive, and the story reads like nothing else on the shelves right now.”
– SF Reviews
“If this sounds like something you’ve read before, it isn’t. The strangeness of this disturbing future world is clear from the book’s opening scene... Keith Brooke is remarkably adept at envisioning an almost unrecognizable far future.”
– Fantastic Reviews
Also by Keith Brooke
The Unlikely World of Faraway Frankie
Lord of Stone
Keepers of the Peace
Liberty Spin: Tales of scientifiction
Faking It: Accounts of
the General Genetics Corporation
Memesis: Modification and other strange changes
Segue: Into the strange
Embrace: Tales from the dark side
(with Eric Brown)
The Sub-genres of Science Fiction:
Strange divisions and alien territories
(with Nick Gevers)
Infinity Plus Two
(with Nick Gevers)
Infinity Plus One
(with Nick Gevers)
Flesh and Blood
First published 2012 by Solaris
an imprint of Rebellion Publishing Ltd,
Riverside House, Osney Mead,
Oxford, OX2 0ES, UK
ISBN: (epub) 978-1-84997-378-6
ISBN: (mobi) 978-1-84997-379-3
Copyright © Keith Brooke 2012
Cover Art by Adam Tredowski
The right of the author to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of he copyright owners.
This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely coincidental.
For Debbie, always
“If they existed, they would be here.”
– Enrico Fermi
They’re all around us.
They always have been.
HE FIRST TIME
they caught me I thought that was it. Another disappearance, another name scrawled on the Monument to the Martyrs.
The name they would scrawl? Everyone calls me Dodge. I think that was wishful thinking on the nest-parents’ part. They wanted me to grow up smart and wily, so they gave me that name. Living on the fringes just as they had, and their nest-parents before them, I’d dodge, I’d weave, I’d get by.
And it worked, or at least something did. I was always the kid who could outsmart just about anyone. I could just as soon run rings round a watcher-bound grunt as earn myself a slapped ear from a nest-parent for a wisecrack too many.
But still I nearly got caught, that first pid raid on my own.
UST PAST MIDNIGHT
, I dropped from a second floor window. Looming behind me: the great square block of the Processing and Monitoring facility. The street was empty, which was lucky. This was Cheapside, E District. Alien territory. Get caught here without the right credentials and I’d be disappeared for sure.
Knees still sore from the drop, I gathered myself in the shadow of the P and M. Something moved in the gutter nearby. Too slow for a rat. Probably a livegrub, looking for something faecal and rotting to wrap itself around. I shuddered. I hated the things. I’d seen one latched onto Livia’s little boy-pup only weeks before. She’d had to scald it off with boiling water. The pup had lasted a feverish, pain-filled week before the toxins took him.
Distracted. Why was I so easily distracted tonight? I knew I had to keep my smarts.
I stepped out into the light cast by the lightstrips on the walls. The night air was fresh, sweet with the treacly smell of a nearby pap unit where they processed all kinds of gunk the watchers called food. I knew people who ate that stuff.
. It made me retch just to think about it.
One of my old nest-sibs... I couldn’t remember his given name, but we always called him Skids. We’d been close for the longest time. I saw him last winter, huddled under a torn-off sheet of tarp, wasted down to almost transparent skin stretched tight over his bones; a stick-man, barely able to move. He had become a wraith, one of the many who follow the off-worlders, the starsingers, mostly. Wraiths eat the aliens’ food, even though it doesn’t have the right nutrients and passes through largely undigested. It brings them closer to their gods, just as it wastes them away to skin and bone.
Skids had been in a pitiful state. Shaking from the cold and from whatever was wrong with his malnourished system, eyes glazed over and unseeing, hair thin and falling out in clumps. Skids was the same age as me, within days; we’d grown up together. Yet he looked like a man three times my age, or someone who’d been blasted with rads at a skystation.
I only recognised him by the starsinger tattoo I’d needled across his face when we were sibs.
He didn’t recognise me at all. I don’t think he even saw me.
Now, I shook myself, standing under the street lights in Cheapside E.
I was getting distracted again.
I realised it was the smell, the air loaded with something narcotic that was either a part of the pap or a by-product. Maybe that was what drew people like Skids...
Something was screwing with my senses, my head.
I remembered Sol and Ruth warning me of things like this.
Don’t trust your senses when you’re away from the Ipp. Don’t trust anything. You’re on alien territory, and that means everything is fucked
I moved on.
Two blocks later, I had squeezed myself into the gap between a ceramic wall and a sheet-iron fence, watching the checkpoint. The air was clearer here, and so was my head. I was able to gather myself and study my route.
This time of night the lone duty-grunt sat in its globular recharge pod, a man-sized shape part-visible through the vein-laced skin of the pod. Attached to the recharger like buds were twenty or so fist-sized sacs, some kind of parasite, their feathery gills fluttering in the slight breeze.
Beyond the pod: the wall.
It was high here, easily twice my height, and topped with a vicious-looking tangle of jagwire.
On this side: a largely industrial and administrative zone, mostly occupied by chlicks, watchers, headclouds and their assorted commensals, grunts and slaves. On the far side: the Indigenous Peoples’ Preserve, the Ipp. Home.
I eyed the jagwire again. I could shin the wall easily enough, but the wire would cut me to shreds as soon as it sensed me. By the time anyone reached me I would be mostly digested, and all that would remain on top of the wall would be a slimy smear of what used to be me.
I stepped out into the sulphur glow of the lightstrips.
There was no sign of movement from the pod until I’d covered half the distance to the checkpoint, then it quivered, and a rent appeared near the top, seeping a rancid-smelling ichor.
The grunt’s head appeared and the striated grey skin told me this was an orphid, one of the slave races the watchers used for policing and military duties.
caution | suppressed-attack | surprise
¡! Identify yourself,” it said, as it hauled the rest of its coiled body out of the pod. It spoke a blend of my own language and the emotion-laden rattles and sighs we call
Now standing over me at its full height, the orphid was easily head and shoulders as tall as me again.
I couldn’t speak for the sudden tightness in my throat, instead giving an involuntary click of “!¡
¡!” In a moment of clarity I realised there was something in the air again, clouding my judgement, inducing a rising ball of panic. That knowledge helped, and I found some kind of focus. I wasn’t going to let a dumb grunt with a brain the size of one of my balls phreak me out.