Friday, October 24, 2008
Death Cry - available November 11
It was snowing in North Dakota, though it wasn’t particularly
cold. Wrapped in a light jacket over his shadow suit,
Kane hunkered down beneath the snow-laden branches
of a fir tree, watching two guards patrol outside the mine
entrance. Kane was a tall man, built like a wolf, all muscle
piled at the upper half of his body while his arms and legs
were long and rangy.
He took shallow breaths, ignoring the fog that formed
as he expelled them, trusting the tree cover to hide his
breath as well as it hid him. He wasn’t cold. In fact, the
jacket was worn more for camouflage and the convenience
of extra pockets while on mission. The tight-fitting
one-piece shadow suit he wore beneath served as an artificially
controlled environment, regulating his body
temperature. It also possessed other useful properties,
most crucially acting as armor in the event of an attack.
Despite this, the suit allowed for remarkable freedom of
Kane turned to look behind him, sensing as much as
hearing the approach of his partner. Grant, an ex-Magistrate
like Kane, held his massive body low against the
fluttering snow as he jogged toward Kane’s hiding place.
He was a huge man, all of his bulk muscle without an inch
of fat. His skin was like polished ebony, and a drooping
gunslinger’s mustache brushed his top lip. Like Kane,
Grant wore a white jacket over his shadow suit, camouflaged
for the snow-covered landscape, with a white
beanie hat pulled low over his head.
They hadn’t expected to need camouflage. When
Lakesh had outlined the mission back at the Cerberus
redoubt, he had made no mention of other parties being
interested in the acquisition. Straight in and out, don’t let
the delicate structure collapse on you as you pass through.
The delicate structure in question was a long-buried
Air Force base, predating the nukecaust, in a town that
had once been called Grand Forks. Close to the old
Canadian border, from a time when country borders
meant something, rumor had it that the base had been
used as a backup data-storage facility. Now all that remained
was a pile of rubble that served as firewood for
the local roamers. But Mohandas Lakesh Singh, the
nominal head of the Cerberus exiles, had recently stumbled
upon evidence that suggested some useful data may
have been stored at the Grand Forks base, data that might
not have survived in other forms. A quick look-see and
they’d be out, or so Lakesh had said to Kane’s threestrong
Grant’s deep, rumbling voice cut the silence, despite
his speaking in a low whisper. “It’s the same all over,” he
told Kane. “Guards everywhere. Not many, but plenty
enough if they want to make trouble for us.”
Kane continued to watch the pair of guards patrolling
the minelike entrance that led into the old underground
network of the abandoned Air Force base. “That’s what I
suspected,” he answered quietly. “You see any other
“Not me,” Grant growled. “Looks like the millennialists
have provided the best and only entryway to our
The millennialists that Grant referred to—or, more
properly, members of the Millennial Consortium—were
treasure hunters with a solid organizational structure and
plenty of backup for their field ops. They dealt in prenukecaust
matériel, mostly military ordnance, which they
would either sell to the highest bidder or use for their own
political ends—quite often both at once. If the millennialists
could get someone else to do their dirty work, and
pay for the pleasure in the process, so much the better.
Kane and Grant had come to blows with the Millennial
Consortium a few times, both in America and elsewhere
across the globe. Despite claiming noble aims, most who
belonged to the Millennial Consortium were opportunistic
pirates, bottom-feeders of the worst sort as far as Kane
was concerned. Their bold agenda listed a desire to
restore civilization to the country, but there was no doubt
in Kane’s mind that they’d sell him their own grandmothers.
Three Scorpinauts, the preferred land vehicles of the
millennialists, were parked close to the squared-off
entrance. The low-slung, boxlike vehicles moved on eight
heavily tracked wheels and were sturdily armored. They
sported numerous rocket pods and weapons ports, and
.50-caliber, swivel-mounted machine guns stuck out from
two armatures at the front of the vehicles like a pair of
foreclaws. The ten-foot-long snout of a 40 mm cannon
protruded from the rear on a huge, swiveling arm, docking
in a resting position at the back of the vehicles, resembling
a scorpion’s stinger-tipped tail.
Seeing three of them there meant one thing: it was a
lightly manned rather than a priority operation.
Kane noticed the misting puff of disturbed snow off
to the right, at the edge of his sight, and he turned to see
the third member of his crew—Brigid Baptiste—making
determined headway through the thick carpet of white as
she came to join them. A striking woman, Brigid had
hidden her vibrant red-gold hair beneath a white scarf,
leaving her pale face clear. Her high forehead pointed to
intellect, while her full lips suggested a passionate side
to her personality. Wrapped in a white jacket with a sable
collar similar to those worn by her colleagues, hair
masked and the cold draining the color from her face and
lips, Brigid’s bright emerald eyes and thin, ginger eyebrows
were a little flash of color in the pale surroundings.
She shook her head as she crouched with Kane and Grant
beneath the low-hanging branches.
“No good?” Grant asked, his voice low.
“No back door.” Brigid shrugged.
Kane continued to watch the entrance to the underground
structure. The roughly built square tunnel was
boxed with wooden struts and rusty, paint-flecked metal
poles. “Guess we’re going in the front, then,” he told his
“No way, Kane,” Grant spit. “I’ll always back your
play, but look at them. Walking in there would be suicide,
plain and simple.”
Brigid nodded her agreement. “The entrance is too
well guarded, Kane. We can’t just sneak past them. And
there are too many to just start blasting people, even if
that was a reasonable option.” She narrowed her eyes in
frustration. “Face it, the scavengers have won this round.
Maybe we’ll be able to buy the tech from them sometime
The trace of a thin smile crossed Kane’s lips as he
turned to look at his partners. “O, ye of little faith,” he
chided. “You’re always telling us how we need to use our
guns less and diplomacy more, Baptiste.”
“I don’t see what…” Brigid began, but Kane was
already unclipping something from the built-in belt of his
Kane stepped out of the tree cover and walked down
the slight slope toward the mine entrance, holding aloft
the small gunmetal canister with his thumb pushed tightly
against its circular top.
“Everybody relax,” Kane shouted to the confused
guards as they raised their rifles toward him. “This here
is what’s known as a dead man’s switch. You all know
what that means, right?”
The two guards nodded and tentatively lowered their
blasters, still clutching them in readiness. Their outfits
were patched together, not uniforms as such but uniform
in their raggedness. Both had heavy fur hats pulled low
to their brows, and their hands were wrapped in dirty
gloves or bundled in rags.
“Now, me and my friends here have some business
inside,” Kane continued. “We don’t plan to be long and we
don’t intend to take much, but ifwe don’t get ourway, then
you, me and this whole underground shaft thing you have
going on is about to meet the glorious maker and sing hallelujah.”
Brigid looked annoyed as she followed Grant out from
beneath the tree. “This is what he calls diplomacy?” she
whispered from the side of her mouth as she moved
One corner of Grant’s wide mouth lifted in the barest
hint of amusement. “If I’m not mistaken, he’s threatening
them with a flask of water,” he whispered back.
As he spoke, Grant tensed the tendons in his right
wrist and his Sin Eater sidearm was thrust into his hand
from beneath his right sleeve.
The Sin Eater was the official sidearm of the Magistrate
Division, and both Grant and Kane had kept them
when they had fled from Cobaltville. The Sin Eater was
an automatic handblaster, less than fourteen inches in
length at full extension, firing 9 mm rounds. The whole
unit folded in on itself to be stored in a bulky holster just
above the user’s wrist. The holsters reacted to a specific
flinching of the wrist tendons, powering the pistol automatically
into the user’s hand. If the index finger was
crooked at the time, the handblaster would begin firing
automatically. The trigger had no guard.
As Mags, Grant and Kane were schooled in the use of
numerous different weapons, but both of them still felt
especially comfortable with the Sin Eater in hand. It was
an old friend, a natural weight to their movements.
Just now, Kane’s own Sin Eater was still sheathed in
its wrist holster beneath the white sleeve of his coat. He
paced forward, holding the flask aloft and keeping the attention
of the two guards as they wondered whether to
leave their posts. “I want you all to step away from the
entrance there,” Kane advised them, his voice steady.
Grant leveled his Sin Eater meaningfully at the guards,
holding it for a second first on the one to the left, then
tracking swiftly across and pointing it at the other guard
before returning to the first once more. “Guns in the
snow, gentlemen,” he warned.
“Maniacs,” Brigid muttered as she stepped over to
Kane’s other side and revealed her own pistol—a black
“How many are inside?” Kane asked, addressing the
left-hand guard as he placed his rifle flat in the snow.
“Um…” The guard’s eyes lost focus for a moment as
he began a quick count in his head.
“Come on, son,” Grant urged, “quickly now.”
“Eight,” the other guard piped up, the unsteady voice
of a young man muffled by the scarf he wore over his
nose and mouth.
“You got a way to speak to them?” Kane asked. The
hand holding the gunmetal canister was stretched out
steadily before him, a little above head height.
“Shoutin’,” the young man replied. “Just shoutin’.”
“No radios? No comm devices?” Kane queried.
“Only in the tanks,” the young man explained, looking
across to the parked Scorpinauts, “to communicate with
home. Nothing for here.”
This rang true to Kane and his team. The Millennial
Consortium was not renowned for its lavish treatment of
staff. Its operations were executed at minimal expense to
generate maximum profits.
Kane strode toward the open, box-shaped entrance.
Low-ceilinged, the tunnel dipped into a shallow slope,
burrowing under the wrecked firewood and open foundations
that had once formed buildings above. Kane could
see a few paces into the tunnel, after which its contents
were lost in darkness.
“Me and my buddies here are going to go in,” Kane
explained to the guards as he tried to penetrate the
darkness with his gaze. “You’re going to wait here,
and you’re not going to do anything stupid. If you are
under any illusions about how a dead man’s switch
works, and you decide to be a chancer with your
popguns, let me assure you that we will all be having
the remainder of this discussion in the afterlife. Am I
The guards both nodded, their eyes wide in fear, but
Kane didn’t bother turning to them. He was busy scanning
the gloom of the tunnel and listening for any hint of
“Now,” Kane continued as he led the way into the
tunnel, “if nobody does anything stupid, nobody will get
hurt and we’ll be out of your hair before you know it.”
Grant held back as Brigid followed Kane into the dark
tunnel, covering the two guards with his Sin Eater.
“Sit tight, boys,” Grant told them. “We won’t be here
long.” With that, Grant ducked his head and jogged the
few steps it took for him to catch up to his colleagues.
Brigid looked from Grant to Kane, a sour look on her
face. “This is insane, you realize,” she whispered.
Still holding the flask aloft, Kane glanced at her.
“We’re in and nobody’s been hurt so far,” he replied in a
low voice. “Score one for diplomacy, I think.”
Grant sniggered for a moment at that, before Brigid
pierced him with her emerald glare.
“The pair of you seem to have mistaken diplomacy for
insanity,” she snarled.
Grant held his hands up in the universal gesture of surrender,
despite the automatic pistol in his right hand.
“Whoa there,” he muttered. “This is strictly Kane’s
insanity. I just follow the leader.”
Brigid’s green eyes were narrowed slits and she bit
back a curse at the huge, dark-skinned man before turning
to address Kane once more. “So you plan to bluff your
way inside, and then what?”
Even in the semidarkness, a mischievous twinkle
seemed to play in Kane’s eyes, just for a second. “I’ll
insist they all leave or I’ll set off the bomb.”
“What bomb?” Brigid snapped. “You’re holding a
“They don’t need to know that,” Kane said.
Grant agreed. “I’d say it’s preferable if they don’t
know it,” he muttered.
“Scared by the loco bomber,” Kane continued, “they
all wait outside a safe distance and we get the place to
ourselves. You find what you need, then we head back to
Lakesh and Cerberus.”
Brigid reached a hand up and fidgeted with the white
scarf that covered her hair as she let loose a frustrated
sigh. “Brilliant. And what, pray tell, is your plan for
getting out again? You know, with maybe fifteen armed
and now very much antagonized millennialists waiting
for us at the end of a bottleneck.”
Kane’s smile was bright in the darkness. “This used
to be a military base, right, Baptiste? We’ll use their mattrans.
Simple. And yet, genius.”
The mat-trans chamber was found in many of the
prenukecaust military bases, and offered a quick way to
move from one to the other by the almost instantaneous
transfer of particles. Having been originally constructed
as a military installation, the Cerberus redoubt, the headquarters
of Kane’s field team, had a mat-trans chamber.
However, they had traveled to Grand Forks via two Manta
flyers, which acted as both transatmospheric and subspace
aircraft. It would be a simple matter, Kane reasoned,
to collect the hidden Mantas once the heat had died
The Cerberus exiles had a variety of ways to transport
people, the Manta aircraft and the mat-trans network
were just two. In the past few years they had come to rely
increasingly on another form of teleportation called the
interphaser, which exploited naturally occurring centers
of energy both around the world and on the Moon and
other planets. The interphaser was ideal for traveling
between known locations but, like the mat-trans, could
be dangerous when gating into the unknown. There were
other limitations on the interphaser, as well, but for the
right mission it was ideal.
Keeping pace with Kane, Brigid eyed him for a few
moments before she spoke. “Nothing can go wrong with
this, can it?”
“Not unless he drinks the bomb by mistake.” Grant
Kane led the way along the ill-lit tunnel, assuming the
role of point man. Taking point was an unconscious habit
for Kane, dating back to his days as a Magistrate. He exhibited
an uncanny knack for sniffing out danger, a sixth
sense in some respect, though it was really an incredible
combination of the natural five he possessed, honed to an
acute sharpness. Walking point, his eyes darting right
and left, his hearing seeking changes in sound at an
almost infinitesimal level, Kane felt electric, tuned in to
his surroundings at a near Zenlike level. Walking point
in the danger zone, Kane felt alive.
They met another pair of guards as they worked their
way down the incline into the underground base, and
each time they played the same bluff, with Kane insisting
that anyone who disagreed with his proposal would
end up picking his entrails off the tunnel walls.
By the time they reached the concrete exterior of the
base itself, even Brigid was feeling quietly confident.
At the end of the shaft, a huge circular hole had been
bored through the thick concrete wall of the old military
base, taller than Grant and wide enough for two people
abreast. Kane and Grant led the way into the interior,
finding it lit by a string of dim, flickering lights that had
been attached to vicious-looking hooks rammed into the
ceiling. The lights hummed as they flickered, and the
whole system had to be running off a generator of some
kind, installed specially for the Millennial Consortium
operation. Large gaps between the flickering lights left
sections of the corridor in complete darkness.
“No expense spared,” Grant said wryly, pointing to the
humming lights with the barrel of his Sin Eater.
The first thing Brigid noticed as she stepped into the
underground lair was the stench of stale air. Slushy,
muddy prints could be seen on the tiles beneath her feet,
and there was a little mound of pale-colored powder
where the hole had been drilled through the wall. She
checked behind her, peering into the dark shaft they had
just walked through to make sure no one had followed
“Know where we’re going?” Kane asked her as she
tried to get her bearings. Brigid had an eidetic memory,
more commonly known as a photographic memory, and
she’d studied maps of the Grand Forks base before
leaving for the mission.
“Computer core’s a little down this way,” she said
after a moment’s thought, pointing to the left corridor.
“Twenty paces, maybe.”
As the three of them marched down the corridor, they
could hear the sounds of voices and hammering coming
from farther ahead. As they got closer, Brigid indicated
a set of double doors to one side, and Kane locked eyes
with Grant, putting a finger to the side of his nose for a
moment, before they led the way inside. The gesture was
a private code between the two ex-Mags, an old tradition
to do with luck and long odds.
“Hello, gentlemen,” Kane announced as he entered
the computer room, his hand holding the gunmetal flask
prominently out before him.
Inside itwas gloomy, with smoke damage on thewalls.
Three guards spun to face the intruders, reaching for their
sidearms. Two other men were in the room, and they
looked up from their work at the stripped-down computer
“I’d like to introduce you to my friend,” Kane said,
“the dead man’s switch. Some of you look like scientific
types so I’ll put this in terms you’re all familiar with—
get out of here or I will blow us all up. Any questions?”
One of the guards pointed his Calico M-960 subgun
at Kane and growled between gritted teeth, “What’s to
stop me offing you right now?”
The other people in the room looked at the guard a
moment, horror on their faces, and a heated argument
erupted between the millennialists.
Kane stood utterly amazed as the various players
before him argued about the practicality of shooting a
man holding a dead man’s switch. After a few seconds
he put two fingers from his empty left hand in his mouth
and made a piercing whistle to get everyone’s attention.
“Look,” he told his audience when they had all turned
to him, “we don’t have time to argue about this. Make
your decision now—either get out or stay here and get
blown up. Don’t complicate the very simple set of options
I’m giving you.”
One of the whitecoats, a bespectacled man with thin
blond hair, spoke up. “This is highly unusual. Our section
leader would be terribly upset if we were to just leave this
Grant took a step forward and grabbed the blond scientist
by his collar, ramming the nose of his Sin Eater in
the man’s terrified face. “My man here is holding a bomb.
We don’t give a crap how upset your boss is going to be.”
Grant tossed the man aside, and the scientist stumbled
backward, tripping over his own feet and crashing into a
wall between two of the armed guards.
The other scientist, a man with a round face and the
black hair and gold skin of an Asian, spoke up, addressing
his colleagues. “There are only three of them—how
much can they take? This isn’t worth getting blown up
Kane nodded. “Smart man. You all get out of here
now, and we won’t shoot you in the back or anything like
that—you have my word on that much.”
Warily, the guards and scientists made their way from
the room. Grant followed them, the Sin Eater poised in
his hand, and instructed them to continue through the
tunnel until they were outside the facility. Grant watched
them leave, walking down the corridor with heavy heads
and muttering desperately as they left.
Inside the computer room, Kane was clipping the flask
to his belt. “You know,” he said with a laugh when he saw
Brigid’s scowl, “I could get used to this diplomacy thing.”
“You were lucky,” she told him as she stepped toward
one of the computer terminals and started tapping at the
keyboard. “They’ve got juice going to the computers at
least,” she added after a moment.
Grant reentered and Kane gave him instructions. “I
need you to find us that mat-trans,” he told his colleague.
“I want to be out of here in ten minutes.”
“Ten?” Brigid echoed, shock in her voice. “Kane,
that’s impossible. I can’t get into this network in ten—”
“This bluff won’t last long, Baptiste,” Kane explained,
and she noted that his humor had abruptly faded. “Ten
minutes is the absolute maximum we have here, you understand?”
She nodded and went back to work on the keyboard,
pulling a pair of small, square-framed spectacles from her
inside pocket and propping them on her nose as the screen
before her came to life.
Grant stepped back to the double doors, turning back to
address Brigid. “I saw a map on the wall a ways back. Do
you remember roughly where this mat-trans is, Brigid?”
Brigid didn’t look up as scrolling figures rushed across
the screen before her. “Not sure,” she said. “I don’t
remember seeing one in the part of the map I looked at.”
Kane nodded toward the corridor. “Get to the map and
look for anything that says ‘transport.’ The mat-trans
gateway won’t be far.”
Grant put a finger to his brow in salute before ducking
through the door and jogging back down the corridor to
the wall map.
“You realize that this won’t work,” Brigid breathed
after a few moments.
“How’s that?” Kane asked, annoyed.
“This is a two-hundred-year-old computer running off
a generator. Whatever’s inside is encrypted up the wazoo,
and I don’t know what it is I’m looking for anyway,” she
explained in an even tone.
Kane sighed. “And you didn’t think this was worth
Brigid pierced him with a frosty stare, anger bristling
in her tone. “I thought we’d have maybe an afternoon
here, do a recce, come back at a later date once we had
decided what it was we were looking at. You’re the one
who got all gung ho and decided to threaten armed people
with a bomb unless you got your own damn way.”
Kane looked annoyed, his voice defensive. “Hey, it’s
called improvisation, Baptiste.”
OUTSIDE THE COMPUTER ROOM, Grant made his way back
along the corridor to the place where he had seen the map.
A large color-coded illustration, the map sat behind hard,
transparent plastic to one side of a T-junction corridor that
disappeared farther into the disused military base.
Leaning close as the overhead light flickered and
hummed, Grant swept grime from the plastic covering
with the edge of his free hand before wiping the hand on
his pant leg. The map showed five different-colored
sections that formed a bulging rectangular shape. The
key to the right-hand side of the map gave a broad term
for what each section represented, green for research,
orange for personnel and so on.
Grant looked swiftly over the map and located the
computer room he had just come from. Then he carefully
ran his finger along the key to the side, reading the names
of all the different divisions and subdivisions. He was
halfway down the list when he heard footsteps off to his
right, coming from the same direction as the entry from
the mine shaft. He turned to his right, automatically lifting
the Sin Eater and pointing it into the darkness of the
dusty, ill-lit corridor.
If I can’t see them then they’re probably having just
as much trouble seeing me, Grant realized, holding the
pistol steady as he took a step away from the wall and
crouched to make a smaller target. At two hundred fifty
pounds of solid muscle, it wasn’t easy for the big man to
make an appreciably smaller target.
Grant thought back to the discussion with the millennialist
guards outside. They’d said there were eight people
down there, and with the two they’d found in the shaft
plus the five in the computer room, Grant realized that
they were still one man short. “Guy chose the wrong
time to take a leak,” Grant murmured as he darted lightly
forward along the corridor, his movements quiet and economical.
As he moved forward, holding the Sin Eater before
him with his left hand steadying his grip, Grant spotted
movement in the dark. Someone was approaching, walking
along the corridor toward him. Grant was suddenly
very conscious that, despite the poor lighting, he was still
dressed in white jacket and hat for the snow. He sank into
a crouch, holding the pistol steady as he dropped out of
the stranger’s potential eye line.
Silhouetted against the flickering light for an instant
was a tall, bulky figure reaching for a rifle that was slung
from a shoulder strap across his chest. “Who’s there?” the
newcomer asked, his voice deep but cracking with fear.
“I can see you’re there.”
A tiny glint of light reflected from the muzzle of the
rifle as it swung toward him, and Grant leaped forward,
powering himself at the man in a driving rush of coiled
muscles. In two steps, Grant was upon the gunman, his
arms wide as he gripped the man’s shoulders, toppling the
gunman backward onto the hard floor. The long barrel of
the gunman’s rifle spit a half-dozen shots as the man’s
finger twitched on the trigger, their report loud in the
enclosed area of the corridor, but Grant was already inside
the firing arc, his heavy body crushing the man beneath
it. With a loud crack, the gunman’s head smacked into the
floor tiles, splitting one across its center.
Grant pulled back his right hand, ready to shoot the
guard with his pistol, but the man was already unconscious.
Breathing heavily through his clenched teeth,
Grant watched as a trickle of blood seeped across the
cracked tile from the back of the gunman’s head. Grant
got up and stepped away from the unconscious gunman,
holstering his Sin Eater and kicking aside the man’s
“Mouse, meet cat,” Grant muttered as he turned from
the fallen guard and headed back down the corridor to
look at the map.
INSIDE THE COMPUTER ROOM, Brigid’s fingers were frantically
racing across the keyboard as a stream of digits
raced across the screen.
“I’m into the basic coding,” she told Kane without
looking up, “but the whole thing is encrypted. Whatever’s
in here is either very important or it’s the diary of a very
Kane looked at her, brushing concrete dust from his
short, dark hair. “Thinking of anyone in particular,
“What?” she asked as her fingers sped across the keys.
Then she looked up, seeing the sly grin on her colleague’s
face. “Well, don’t look at me. Do you think I ever had
time to keep a diary when we were in Cobaltville?”
Kane shrugged, laughing to himself as she went back
to work on the computer code. As he did so, they both
heard shots coming from a little way down the corridor,
and Kane took two swift steps across the room to the
closed double doors, the Sin Eater appearing in his hand.
There had been six shots, fired rapidly as if from an
automatic. No further noise followed, and Kane risked
opening one of the double doors, pushing his back against
it as he raised the pistol in his hands.
“Grant?” he called tentatively. “Grant? You okay?”
Grant’s deep, rumbling voice echoed back along the
corridor. “Just fine. Rodent problem, but I dealt with it.”
Kane stepped back into the room, his pistol returning
to his sleeve as he walked across to stand behind Brigid.
She didn’t look up as she spoke. “I don’t feel safe
“We’ll be out of here in a few minutes,” he told her.
Just then, Grant came running through the double
doors, clutching his Sin Eater. “We have got a problem,”
he announced, a scowl across his dark brow.
“What now?” Brigid asked in exasperation.
“Unless I am very much mistaken,” Grant told them,
“there is no mat-trans in this facility.”
Kane and Brigid looked at Grant, their eyes wide as
they took in his statement.
“No back door, people,” Grant reiterated, shaking his
Brigid shook her head, as well, as she continued working
the keys of the computer terminal. “Worst plan ever,”
she growled without looking up at Kane.
at 3:32 PM