Monday, June 23, 2014

Scenes from Codename: Unsub.

This is the first time I've done something like this, assuming you don't count those short stories that became extras in A Pius Man.  This is actually from my current novel in progress, entitled Codename: Unsub.  It will probably come out after A Pius Stand, especially since A Pius Stand is damn near done.

If you don't know the plot of Codename: Winterborn, you shouldn't have anything to worry about.

However, that being said, please read the book already.

Anyway, the prologue to the next Finn and Yoskowitz novel, Codename: Unsub, is below the break. Let me know what you think. While I have no problem with you pointing out errors (crowdsource editing ... works for me), and if you decide to lynch me for a few errors, well, I'm writing three books at the same time, doing most of the copy editing, line editing, proofing, while also being the primary marketer, and maintaining a blog that posts once if not three times a week. When you do the same, let me know.

Editing help, good. Heckling? Bad.

More below the break.

Prologue: Nero’s Night Out
November 21st, 2093
Kevin Anderson never thought that he would save the planet earth one day, but that was par for the course. He also never expected his own government to betray him, killing his team, his wife, and driving him half insane. He never expected to be exiled to the city that the planet mostly forgot – San Francisco, isolated by the fallout of a nuclear war that ravaged a third of the country. He never expected to befriend the last of a league of assassins, or become a minor deity to a group of death cultists. And he never expected go toe to toe with a serial killer who had in his hands the ability to destroy the planet, if only the bastard knew about it.
When he had first arrived, Kevin felt like an anthropologist studying a group of cannibals, studying the interactions between various groups. Playing one group against another could be the key between observing the cannibals one more day and being the next one on the menu. The law of San Francisco was libertarian philosophy grown to total absurdity. Instead of “do what you will, and do no harm,” you can do whatever you will, as long as you don't inconvenience too many people while doing it.
Then there were the Burners.
Chinatown was an interesting place. It hadn’t changed all that much since the first nuclear bombs had fallen on the country. Except, of course, when night fell, then all bets were off.
Typically, the status quo was maintained by groups of the Children of Thanatos. They had mistaken one of the residents of Chinatown as a servant to Thanatos, the Angel of Death. As such, they would patrol the perimeter of Chinatown, to protect all those who were under the boon of their “Angel-Servant,” Kevin Anderson, who served the angel Azrael. The duty of the Children, as far Angel-Servants were concerned, was to make certain that the people they lived among would be undisturbed. Japantown in San Francisco also enjoyed the same protection, for the simple reason that, to the Children, the people of both looked alike.
However, lately, Chinatown’s people had a slight problem—they were being burned alive.
Nero knew, and Nero smiled.
A group of the Children had been besieged by five Burners. Nero had led the charge. He was one of the “brighter lights” of the gang, if one could pardon the pun. Nero was bright enough to conclude that which everyone else in San Francisco already knew—that the key to getting to Chinatown was through the Children of Thanatos.
His reason for wanting into Chinatown wasn’t racist, or bigoted. Nero wanted to get into Chinatown because none of the Burners had burned anyone there. It would be different, and cool.
One of the Children, a young girl, nearly shrieked, “Don’t you understand? We’re trying to help you! We kill only to send you on to a better place.”
And what if we don’t want to die, you stupid bitch?” Nero had growled at her, his voice low and menacing. It wasn’t an original thought, but a rant he once heard from Alek, his leader. “What if we like the way we are, and where we are?”
The girl looked at him pitifully, as though he was the one who was clueless. Nero hated that look. “But we know what’s best for you.”
So all we’re doing is sending you on your way to those gates, right?”
She blinked. “What, no! We—”
Her last words were cut off when Nero splashed gasoline in her face with a pre-measured cup, then deftly lit a match and threw it after. She was set ablaze in no time; her chest, face and hair were the first to go. She wasn’t much fun to burn though, since after all she couldn’t even draw a breath to scream. Not even once.
One of the other Children tried to save her, but Nero laughed. “What’sa matter? Won’t you thank us? We're making you go to your gates!”
Nero drew his spray bottle and fired three squirts at the man’s lower abdomen, and then the guy caught fire from being too close to his female colleague. His groin went ablaze, and he was much more interesting—he screamed, and he even moved around while he died. Nero realized he should tell Alek that they might be more fun to burn one piece at a time, rather than all at once. That would be really neat. They screamed more if only part of them were on fire—well, obviously because they lived longer then. Wow, who woulda thunk it?
As they set the other Children on fire, they experimented. The last one they set on fire by putting gas in two different orifices. That was, in Nero’s opinion, the best. She shrieked, she clawed at the air, she writhed, and she bucked in pain. Nero saw it and thought it analogous to sex—screams, clawing, spasmodic jerks—but sex was without the fire. Fire sex would be bad. It would be very bad. Maybe sex by the fire, though, would be good. Yeah… he could see it—a few good rounds, and then throw another Child on the fire so they could provide the needed background screams.
The screams, Nero reflected, were what probably made them so unpopular. Thieves didn’t like the Burners. Thieves in this city just wanted money. But with the Burners in town, any mugging was a fight to the death. But screw the muggers. They were the Burners, man! People burned, and they died. Any stupid ass muggers tried anything like that with them, would burn.
They would all burn.
Kevin Anderson focused heavily on the target, painfully aware of it and the surroundings. It was almost four roofs away, but it would be worth it. He leveled his weapon, aimed, and fired.
A faint swoop sound disrupted the evening’s calm for only a moment. The target was hit precisely where he wanted it.
He lowered his bow, and saw that four arrowheads had formed a nice little box within the bull’s-eye from about ninety feet away. That was a level of control he hadn’t seen from some sharpshooters. Maybe he was actually getting better at this—not only shooting arrows, but making them. Oh, certainly, he had guns, and he even had one on him right now, but who could afford the ammo?
Okay, he could, but he needed every cent he could lay his hands on, and bullets were expensive. Besides, he had an ever-growing collection of weapons and ammunition down in his apartment. Some looked at him oddly when they heard the risks Kevin took to protect total strangers, but it was a way to get weapons cheap.
Then again, does it pay to live with the amount of Batman jokes Mac makes? Well, granted, he rarely makes them, but still…
Still, though, Mac was right, on occasion, curse him. Kevin had specifically chosen an apartment on the edge of Chinatown, so that he could leave the defended portion of the city behind him and go out into the streets of San Francisco, pretending to be a cowardly, easy mark—an impression few kept for long. Then again, if anyone knew about him, they automatically thought “psycho.” That may have had something to do with the three-week period he had spent on alternating rooftops on the boarder of Chinatown. He didn’t do anything, and he never stirred from his position all night. He was all alone on the roof, with a music player, a good book, and a sniper rifle.
That three-week period had so terrified the local criminal population that there was rarely a criminal act that took place within sight of Chinatown. That and the border patrol of Children typically guaranteed a good one- to two-mile safety zone around the neighborhood.
He smiled at the thought as he loaded another homemade arrow into place. Who knew that a man trained to fight terrorism and insurgencies would become a one-man terrorist organization? Act spontaneously, seem a little crazy, they run like rabbits.
He fired again, putting an arrow in the center of the bulls-eye box. Then again, maybe I am crazy. I may have conceived of the strangest project ever imagined—become a knight errant, launch a crusade, to raise up the weak and those in need…wait a minute, I’m quoting a play…
Kevin looked at the pile of arrows left and shook his head. No, he’d shot enough arrows that evening. He had started reciting lyrics from Man of La Mancha, and that was about a lunatic, which was the last thing he needed when pondering his own sanity.
He hopped across the rooftops to retrieve his arrows. They were surprisingly sturdy despite the treatment he’d given them. Thankfully, he had sharpened them before firing, so they would still have good penetration.
At that point, one firework rocket shot up into the air and exploded. He grinned ruefully. The people of Chinatown made their own gunpowder, mainly the for traditional purpose of setting off fireworks at New Year, but it also served to summon aid, since flares were rare.
It never fails, I’m ready to pack it in, the bat signal goes up…damnit… I’ll have to kill Mac for making me think like that.
He grabbed his equipment and raced off, thinking, No longer will he be playing Kevin Anderson, but a dauntless knight known as Don Quixote de la Mancha!
God, I need a life.
Nero pouted. He hated it when he pouted, but that damn shiny sparkling thingy in the sky had distracted them, and their latest victim had gotten away. So not only did he lose a new toy, he wanted one of those things. It looked like it was made of little balls of fire. That would be so cool.
But now he had to find someone else to burn. And he had even had a line prepared —“Time for a little stir fry.
He looked over at Bernie—Burn-e, get it, heh—and shrugged, standing with, on his shoulders the bag full of spray bottles. Nero had intended for this to be a real night out, a regular orgy of fire! Alek had even told him what an orgy was; he said that with a name like Nero, he would need to know what it meant.
Bernie, however, was lagging behind, with three other guys. The goof-offs, they wouldn’t ever learn.
Suddenly, Bernie jerked. He blinked, and looked down at his bag. Nero looked too, and there was an arrow sticking out of the bag. An arrow. What kind of freak—
Then came another, only this one sparked against the pavement, where a pool of gasoline had started to form. Apparently, a gallon of gasoline was worth twenty sticks of something called trinitrotoluene, or so Alek had said. It was also called TNT.
Bernie and the three guys with him disappeared into a giant fireball, which was kinda cool. It also blasted everyone else off their feet, which kinda wasn’t.
Nero staggered to his feet, and quickly found himself up against the wall with a spear sticking out of his shoulder plexus. The point of the spear was lodged into the mortar between the bricks of the wall, nailing him there. It really hurt.
Kevin Anderson glided past him in a crouch, letting some of the dust from the explosion cover him. He looked out over the stunned figures and assessed their numbers. Four dead, one neutralized, five remaining, still alive, by the look of them. No, check that. They were all starting to rise.
If any of you move, you will be killed.”
Kevin knew that the explosion might have deafened them all, but there would be one thing that would certainly get their attention. When one tried to stand, he kicked the kid in the chest so hard that he heard a rib break. He stepped back, arrow locked and loaded, so to speak.
You freaks mind telling me what you’re out doing on a fine night like this, or should I guess and save myself the trouble?”
One of them tried to be cute and reached for a gun. He shot that one in the throat, and, to drive his point home, he kneecapped the other two.
Kevin was out of arrows, so he tossed the bow aside for later recovery. “Now that I’ve made myself clear, do you people want to tell me what’s going on? I haven’t had my cup of coffee, I wanted to be asleep an hour ago, and I’m cranky.”
Kevin moved over to the one he had pinned to the wall. He was big, he was ugly, and he was bald, with flames literally tattooed on his scalp. “I hope you know how tacky that looks.”
Nero merely glared. Kevin shrugged, and then stomped a heel on Nero’s kneecap. The dislocated kneecap, plus the tug it placed on the spear pinning him up, hurt even more than he already did. There was lots of screaming from Nero. Nero discovered that hearing his own screams didn’t sound as lyrical as it had when he made others scream.
There was a groan from Kevin’s right, and he looked back at the two conscious and wounded thugs. One of them was leveling a gun at him. Kevin dropped to one knee, and reached for the small of his back. The thug saw him move and tried to roll, expecting a gun.
Kevin threw himself to one side, drawing a throwing knife, also homemade and wooden. A moment later, it was between the thug's eyes. Kevin moved over to the last conscious one and quickly patted him down, removing all weapons from him, down to his matchbook. He similarly frisked the others, creating a pile on the sidewalk of weapons and other minutia.
Gas, matches, and spray bottles. I think I’ve heard about these yo-yos.
So, what’s your name?” Kevin finally asked the pin-up thug.
He almost laughed. “Tell me you at least play the fiddle.”
Nero sneered. “What? I don’t fiddle with anybody. I’m not a faggot.”
'Faggot'… he must be from out of town. “And thus the irony is lost. Typical.”
Iron-knee? I don’t have an iron knee.”
You will if you don’t answer my questions. How did you get into Chinatown? I can’t imagine that the Children of Thanatos would be all that happy with letting you losers through the gates.”
Nero explained himself in full, remorseless detail.
He explained about Alek Souebel – an albino and sociopath who led the group. There was also his friend, Frankie, who Kevin deduced was someone “slow.” There were meetings in Golden Gate Park. Most specifically, Nero elaborated on this evening’s activities in full, colorful detail. If Nero had had a shred of humanity in him, he would have noticed something was wrong, but he just continued to speak in a happy tone.
At first, Kevin went pale, and looked like he was going to be sick. However, as the tale became more detailed and more involved, his features darkened. His eyes became deep black holes, and he was glaring at Nero, especially as Nero almost orgasmed when he described burning the last Child of Thanatos.
Stop talking,” Kevin ordered him.
But her scream—”
Kevin slammed his palm in to Nero’s throat, forcing the Adam’s apple up into his mouth. Nero had trouble breathing after that, but he would live. There were days when Kevin worried about being too detached, too cold, and sometimes too vicious. He was afraid of San Francisco turning him into something else than what he was, something less than human.
This wasn’t one of those times. It was like looking in a distorted mirror—this creature enjoyed inflicting pain and suffering, just for kicks, the effect of what happened when San Francisco really mutated someone. Kevin examined him and wondered if he truly believed himself ever capable of devolving into… this. Kevin had more respect for the Children of Thanatos.
Kevin's eyes narrowed, and an evil smile came across his face. He retrieved a squirt bottle filled with gas, and checked it to make sure it was good and full. He waited for Nero’s eyes to be on him, and then sprayed Nero’s bad leg with gasoline.
Nero’s breathing sped up. A moment later, he stopped breathing as Kevin pulled out a match. Kevin's eyes were empty as he spoke.
You like seeing people burn? Maybe I should bring you a mirror?”
The whimpers from Nero were gratifying. His eyes widened in terror, and the scent of urine barely overtook that of the gasoline. Kevin ran the match alone the brick face, striking the head. The flame burned in front of Nero’s eyes, the scent of sulfur stinging the air.
Remember that smell, Nero, because you’ll be inhaling it for years to come. Since I’m Catholic, I have this feeling that you’ll get to smell it, and see people burn forever, for all eternity… granted, you’ll be one of them, but it’s an imperfect universe, right? Ready, Nero? Here it comes…”
Nero closed his eyes and whined loudly. Kevin laughed long and hard… and then he blew out the match.
The spy turned around and picked up his bow.
Are you just going to leave me here, you pussy?”
Kevin paused, then glanced back at Nero over his shoulder. “First, you’re not going anywhere. Second, the locals are probably closing in as we speak. And third…”
The spy drifted off, his eye caught by the shadows in an alley coming to life. Five of them leapt from the alley, taking the bodies of those on the street. As they were grabbed, the kneecapped thugs awoke. They looked up at what had taken hold of them, and began to scream in anticipation as the living shadows dragged them off like damned souls, wailing in torment.
Another shadow stopped in front of Nero, staring at the spear, halted by the predicament.
You heard him?” Kevin asked.
The Child of Thanatos turned to Kevin and nodded, resembling something like the Ghost of Christmas Future, cloaked in black and as silent as the tomb.
Sorry about your people.” Kevin, on reflection, would have normally choked at saying those words, but it was hard to be apathetic when one’s allies had been slaughtered. “But I need you to bear this one back to his master, Alek Souebel, somewhere around Golden Gate Park. Maybe this Alek schmuck will learn something.”
The look of terror came back into Nero’s eyes. “No, you can’t. My knee’s messed up, my shoulder’s messed up, I won’t be any good to them anymore. Alek…he’d burn me.”
Kevin shrugged. “Maybe, maybe not. He may need you to identify me. Either way, it's not my problem.” He looked to the Child. It was an odd gift to advise the legions of darkness like the Children, but he took what fortune gave him. “All you need to do is slide him off the spear. It should be fine. If he screams too loudly, just gag him.”
He turned and walked off into the San Francisco fog. As he strolled off, he softly sang. “Hear me now, oh that bleak and unbearable world, thou art base, and debauched as can be./ Now a knight, with his banners all bravely unfurled, now hurls down his gauntlet to thee…. I am I Don Quixote, the Lord of La Mancha, destroyer of evil am I. / I will march to the sounds of the trumpets of glory, destined to triumph or die….”
Kevin had a few more things to do that night. To start with, he had a whole bunch of priests to bring in…

1 comment:

  1. "It would be different, and cool."

    I thought this line was rather ironic considering what he would go on to do just seconds later. The usage of the word "cool" was good, but maybe bring emphasis to it? I think it would really bring out his sick sense of humor just before he does something terrible.


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