Authors: Niko Perren
by Niko Perren
All of the characters in this book are fictitious, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. The names, incidents, dialogue and opinions expressed are the products of the author's imagination and are not to be constructed as real. The events in this book are entirely fiction and by no means should anyone attempt to live out the actions that are por-trayed in the book.
Copyright © 2015 Niko Perren
California Times Publishing, Los Angeles
No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author's rights. Purchase only authorized editions. All rights reserved.
Special thanks to Lara Arnott
Table of Contents
Somewhere in Rwanda
ISONI HOOTED. HER calls echoed against silence, answered only by the harsh drone of a solitary cicada. She rubbed her deadened leg, where she had yanked out the feathered orange thorn. Ghosts of memory roiled through the smoke. Silverback going down, the shrieks of other gorillas, panick-ing flight.
Soot fell like black pollen, leaving gritty residue on the leaves. Bright hotness crackled behind the ridge, blocking the way forward, eating the forest.
She hooted again, a string of high, barking cries. And again no answer, as if the terror that had sent her fleeing had emptied the world. She limped into the tangled undergrowth and tried to flat-ten branches for a nest, but the leaves were crumbling husks. She lay down and closed her eyes, ignoring the ache in her belly. The old feeding areas were gone, charred wastelands.
She awoke to chattering. A moment later two hairless monkeys emerged into a closeby clear-ing, both females from the size of them, one with pale skin, the other dark. They carried a rectan-gular white object between them. One held a shiny silver stick. Crouching, Isoni peered through the bushes. Small groups of hairless monkeys sometimes followed Troop around, but they kept a distance, never challenging Silverback. But this morning, before the terror, she’d smelled hairless monkeys in the forest. Isoni tensed, at the edge of flight.
The monkeys stopped and put down the white object. One of the monkeys unfolded an enor-mous piece of never-rot, bigger than the biggest leaf, and laid it on the forest floor. Hairless mon-keys loved never-rot. They were always dropping scraps of it in the forest, and it littered the ground near the places where they lived. Isoni liked the crinkly dry leaf noise it made, but she couldn’t nest with it. Or eat it.
The two monkeys chattered again, then one grabbed a slender tree and shook it back and forth, as if challenging the other. A shower of leaves, ash, and insects rained down. Two juicy black beetles scuttled for cover. Isoni’s stomach growled. But instead of eating the beetles, the hairless monkeys used their paws to comb through the debris, sweeping the insects into never-rot pouches.
The light-skinned monkey marked each pouch with a twig, then walked to the white object. Isoni grunted in surprise as the monkey pulled back the cover. The object was hollow, like an old log, and a swirling mist spilled out, rolling to the ground like the clouds that spilled down from the mountains on cold mornings. The monkey carefully placed the pouches inside.
Isoni stood up, waving her head back and forth in astonishment. Both hairless monkeys spun around, looking at her.
No! Leave Isoni alone!
She shrieked, shaking the bushes. They backed away, crouching low to the ground, avoiding eye contact. The dark-skinned one raised her shiny stick towards Isoni.
Flee! Find safety! Find Silverback! Find Troop!
As Isoni wheeled, a pop sounded, followed by a sharp sting. She clawed her back, yanking out a thorn. Her vision clouded.
Scared! Isoni scared!
She fell to the ground and tried to drag herself into the bushes, to get away from the terrible monkeys. But they weren’t pursuing. They simply stood there, with their unreadable faces and watery, glistening eyes.
Fifteen years later
February 7, 2050
THE NEW YORK riot police stood shoulder-to-shoulder, shields linked to form a corrugated black wall. A squall of rain lashed the crowd, spattering the mask of the armored man in front of Tania. His mirrored visor reflected a warped view of the silent protesters, their signs distorted by the rivulets running down his helmet. He clenched his paingiver in his black leather glove, tapping it against his shield. Rap. Rap. Rap. Behind him, a colorful row of flags jutted out of the UN complex blast barrier like medieval battle standards.
Tania lowered her head, shrinking into the hood of her jacket as she shouldered through the resolute group.
I shouldn’t be here.
She’d been curious, measuring the mood of the protesters. A stupid risk. If she were recognized…
Don’t think about that now.
The crowd shifted, a rippling current, almost too strong to fight.
A gust of wind whipped another sheet of rain from the leaden sky, tugging at a banner to her left. “There's no Planet B,” proclaimed the black letters. The banner writhed against the two men bracing its support poles. Tania slipped behind them, through a sea of slicked rain jackets. Away from the police.
“This is a peaceful protest,” shouted the amplified voice again. “We have a right to be here. Please, do not provoke the officers.”
The crowd swayed back and forth, holding their signs in mute condemnation.
“Hey, I recognize you.” A hand on Tania’s shoulder. Damp red hair framed a freckled face under the hood of a green rain poncho. Their eyes locked. The woman smiled.
“I’m sorry, you’ve made a mistake,” said Tania, pulling away, contusing to walk. She passed a row of spindly trees growing out of planters chopped into the retired asphalt. The crowd was thinning now.
The woman fell in beside Tania. “I’ve seen you before,” she persisted. “I never forget a face. Another protest maybe?” She clapped a hand over her mouth. “You’re Tania Black aren’t you?”
“I, uh…” Adrenaline pulsed. Tania bit off her reply.
true,” said the woman, lowering her voice. “Why else would you be in New York? They’ve asked you to take the job.”
“Please. Ruth is it? You know I can’t be seen here.”
But something had caught Ruth’s attention. She was looking down First Avenue, towards the end of the block. “Shit!” she hissed. “They’re setting up a perimeter. You need to go.”
More police had arrived, forming a ragged line between the protesters and the sheltering tow-ers of Manhattan. The open lawn she’d strolled across earlier was now a barricade. A trampled “Save Our Planet” sign lay pasted to the ground.
“Take these.” Ruth thrust a pair of sunglasses into Tania’s hands. “They’ll hide your eyes from the drones. I need them less than you do. I’m already on the lists.”
“I don't think…”
Ruth shoved Tania towards a triangular gray monument set in a gardened alcove. “Hurry. They may not have blocked the stairs yet.”
Tania slipped on the glasses. Ruth gave a tight smile, and turned back towards the center of the protest. More people were looking down the block now as another wave of black figures poured out of windowless vans. In the distance, the telltale buzz of identity drones. Whirring flocks of high-resolution cameras. Tension crackled, bordering on panic.
Tania lowered her head and quickened her pace. A now obvious staircase arced up a masoned curve of wall behind the monument. Curious passersby clumped at the railing above, watching the protest from elevated safety. Ruth’s sunglasses dulled the world into grayness. Rain slapped the pavement.
A commotion sounded behind her. Tania stole a glance over her shoulder as a gust of wind tore loose a banner, whipping it into the line of officers. Red letters reading “No Compromise” tangled around the police shields, pulling several officers off balance. They leapt forward, paingivers blazing. The front lines of protesters tried to flee, shoving, tumbling over each other. Shrill cries pierced the air as paingivers descended, sending their victims writhing to the ground. The crowd transformed into a screaming mob, surging away from the UN Building.
Tania broke into a sprint, racing towards the stairs. She tripped, crashing onto her side. A woman in a yellow raincoat trampled Tania’s outstretched arm, sending her face-first into the con-crete. Then a hand seized her, jerking her forward, and she stumbled to her feet, carried by the frightened throng’s leading edge like a surfer tumbled by a wave. Zhhhheeewwwww. Zhheeezzzz. Twin identity drones buzzed low overhead, cameras flashing.
A skirmish at the base of the stairs. Bodies crushed together. Tania gasped for breath, trying to gain the street above the crowd.
Fuck. Can’t breathe.
And then she was free, spilling out of the top of the stairs just as two police vans pulled up. Ahead of her stood a row of peaceful brick apartments, aloof, their sandstone gargoyles staring down blindly. Tania pocketed the sunglasses.
She tried to calm her ragged breathing as menacing shapes pushed past her, blocking the stairs behind. Blood trickled down her arm, turning pink in the rain.
She braced for the starburst agony of a paingiver in the back, a sensation she had felt only once, in her university days as a young activist. Ten yards. A hundred. She reached a small park, faint cries echoing off the buildings behind her. A hotdog vendor waved a New York Sausage at her, and she somehow ended up buying it even though she rarely ate meat. She circled back to join the spectators at the top of the stairs, shivering against the cold, her uneaten hotdog dangling in her hand.
Police moved methodically through the crowd below, shocking people into immobility, kick-ing at fetal, unresisting bodies, dragging their handcuffed victims into vans.
Tania aimed her omni at the scene below.
Capture this at least.
“National security override,” beeped the message on the screen. “Photography is temporarily prohibited. Your identity has been logged.”
The rain softened to drizzle, but a cold wind gusted from the East River, molding Tania’s wet clothes to her chilled limbs. The last police vans moved off, and the spectators dissolved into the evening rush hour. She caught no sign of the woman who had saved her. Ruth. Finally, she turned away, circling the block past brownstones and hotdog vendors and little neighborhood shops, to the warm luxury of the Millennium Plaza Hotel.
Wrapped in a robe, her skin flushed from the bath, Tania paced along the floor-to-ceiling windows of her hotel room as the light drained from the sky. Clouds shrouded the taller buildings in the financial district to the south. The city had a brooding, closed-in air, the claustrophobic con-crete canyons so different from the wide-open spaces of her Alaskan youth. To the east the UN complex rose, the Assembly Hall dome overshadowed by the Secretariat Building’s ocean-colored curtain wall. A line of barges unloaded colorful blocks of compressed garbage onto the East River’s shore— building materials for the half-finished levee.
God. I ache.
Tania walked to the bathroom and let the robe fall from her shoulders, gathering it around her waist, scanning her long frame in the mirror. The light from above sharpened her cheekbones, and defined the muscles in her shoulders. No serious injuries. Just a battered forearm, which would soon present her with a bouquet of purple and yellow. She retied the robe and unwrapped the towel, allowing her black hair to fall damply, the edges of a fresh haircut still visible.
Her omni beeped. A video message from Percy. She sank back on the bed, letting the message drop into her unread pile. They’d already been over this. Agreed she had to be here. Had to see if the biospherist job fit.
And I almost blew it.
Zapped and dragged off in a police car. That would look great on the security check. Yet the protesters had only been demanding what the scientific community – what Tania herself – had been advocating for years. Doubts returned.
Can I really have an impact?
Tania tapped at her omni, hoping to distract herself amongst the countless hours of entertainment she’d ferreted away on the servers that stored her life. “The Philadelphia Bomb.” “Mountains in Peril.” Documentaries that she never quite managed to get around to. “America’s Next Porn Star.”
America’s Next Porn Star?
Percy must have bookmarked that one.
None of it appealed to her.
She pulled her scroll from its pouch, unrolled the flexible display to its full 30 inches, and snapped it rigid. She propped it at her feet and turned her omni to TV broadcast mode, thumbing through channels, losing herself in a mindless stream of popular culture. A comedy. Grim warnings about another mutated strain of kinavirus. A ridiculous chase scene. Bill Witty talking about the climate.
Do I really want to see this?
“Go back to the Witty Show.”
The show had already started, but her omni snapped back to the beginning. Witty, his face a Cheshire grin, sat at his desk, reading the news.
“The next UN climate summit starts tomorrow,” announced Witty. “They’re going to come up with another plan of action after the sulfuring fiasco. So let me get this straight. First our leaders told us that gradual CO2 cuts would solve our climate problems. Then the ice sheet collapsed and everyone who lived near a beach had to move. So our leaders formed the Climate Council and decided to pump sulfur into the air to reflect sunlight. And look where that got us. One hundred fifty million people starved to death because we messed up the Asian monsoon.”
Witty smiled, a million watts of teeth. “I don’t know about you, but short of dropping the planet into the sun I can’t see what the UN will do for a sequel.” The studio audience applauded wildly.
“And I don’t know if you caught this little tidbit,” Witty continued once the cheering died down. “UNBio Director James Wong died in a car accident two days ago. Can’t these guys do anything right? A car accident? In 2050? It’s like dying on a Ferris wheel. Rumor has it that they’re considering replacing him with a celebrity chef. We’ll barbecue the remaining wildlife. One last party before we call it quits. I’m bidding to host the panda roast. I hear they go great with dolphin.”
Tania pulled a pillow over her head and turned off the TV.
Tania pocketed two apples from the breakfast buffet and walked to the corner, enjoying the sunshine. She merged into the flow of bikes and pedestrians on the First Avenue parkway, one of the green spaces that had spread through the city like tentacles now that most driverless car traffic had moved to converted subway lines and underground utility corridors. Incredibly, a smattering of protesters had regrouped, standing sullenly under the watchful eye of the police. She saw no sign of Ruth.
A block north the parkway widened into a well-tended garden of mazy paths and lawns. A man in a gray powersuit sat stiffly on a bench, reading something on the scroll stretched out on his lap. Khan Tengri. The bodyguard lurking nearby shifted at Tania’s approach, radiating vague menace, face flickering at the information playing behind the mirrored glasses of his military-grade EyeSistant.
Tania studied Tengri while the EyeSistant’s software identified her.
I barely recognize him.
Fifteen years. He’d been a thesis advisor, for her biospherics PhD at Harvard. His research on the politics of externalities had been instrumental in creating the UNBio preserves. But the UN Secretary General post had worn him. He looked tired, hollow even, as if worry and lack of sleep had eaten him away from inside, leaving only a veneer of skin. He wore his 60 years on the outside now.
“Tania!” Tengri rose, rolling up his scroll and tucking it into his decorative chest quiver. Teeth flashed through his neat gray beard. “Hope you don’t mind meeting here in the sculpture gardens. I’ve been in conference rooms all week. I needed air.”
“Of course not,” said Tania.
“The gardens are my favorite spot on the grounds,” said Tengri. He started down a walkway, and Tania fell in beside him. “Unfortunately, the art collection has gotten out of hand. Member countries donate the pieces, so nobody dares judge them.” He scowled at a rusting metal cylinder. “What’s that supposed to be, do you think? Looks like a painted garbage can. I sometimes wonder if it got mounted by mistake. Maybe there is a beautiful sculpture inside, still waiting to be unpacked.”
Tania’s eye snapped to a fountain in the shape of a mushroom cloud. It was sculpted out of gleaming white bones, and instead of water, it trickled a viscous red liquid. “This one’s good,” she said.
“The Philadelphia Memorial,” said Tengri. “The Tel Aviv one is over there.”
A young man, in his early twenties, black curly hair peeking out from under his skullcap, knelt in front of a similar fountain, praying under his breath. Two more fountains completed the line. Nagasaki and Hiroshima.
“How are you, Khan?” asked Tania. “You look terrible.”
“I’m completing my metamorphosis to a creature of politics. From butterfly to worm.” He rubbed his temples. “I won’t lie. It’s been a tough couple of months, Tania.”