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What if our civilization is more advanced than we know?
The New York Times bestselling author of Daemon--"the cyberthriller against which all others will be measured" -Publishers Weekly) --imagines a world in which decades of technological advances have been suppressed in an effort to prevent disruptive change.
Are smart phones really humanity's most significant innovation since the moon landings? Or can something else explain why the bold visions of the 20th century--fusion power, genetic enhancements, artificial intelligence, cures for common disease, extended human life, and a host of other world-changing advances--have remained beyond our grasp? Why has the high-tech future that seemed imminent in the 1960's failed to arrive?
Perhaps it did arrive...but only for a select few.
Particle physicist Jon Grady is ecstatic when his team achieves what they've been working toward for years: a device that can reflect gravity. Their research will revolutionize the field of physics--the crowning achievement of a career. Grady expects widespread acclaim for his entire team. The Nobel. Instead, his lab is locked down by a shadowy organization whose mission is to prevent at all costs the social upheaval sudden technological advances bring. This Bureau of Technology Control uses the advanced technologies they have harvested over the decades to fulfill their mission.
They are living in our future.
Presented with the opportunity to join the BTC and improve his own technology in secret, Grady balks, and is instead thrown into a nightmarish high-tech prison built to hold rebellious geniuses like himself. With so many great intellects confined together, can Grady and his fellow prisoners conceive of a way to usher humanity out of its artificial dark age?
And when they do, is it possible to defeat an enemy that wields a technological advantage half a century in the making?
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DANIEL SUAREZ is the author of the New York Times bestseller Daemon, Freedom™, Kill Decision, and Influx. A former systems consultant to Fortune 1000 companies, Mr. Suarez has designed and developed software for the defense, finance, and entertainment industries. His fiction focuses on technology-driven change, and he is a past speaker at TED Global, NASA Ames, the Long Now Foundation, and the headquarters of Google, Microsoft, and Amazon. An avid gamer and technologist, he lives in Los Angeles, California.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected proof.***
Copyright © 2014 by Daniel Suarez
I’m gonna hunt you down like a rabid dog, Sloan.” Albert Marrano clenched his teeth on an e-cigarette as he concentrated on a tiny screen.
“Don’t joke. My sister’s pug just went rabid.”
“You’re kidding.” Marrano thumbed the controls of his handheld game console.
“Raccoon bite. They had to put Mr. Chips down. Her kids are still in therapy.” Mashing buttons on his own wireless console, Sloan Johnson sat in the nearby passenger seat. Then he let out a deep “Heh, heh.”
Marrano cast a look at him. Johnson had that Cheshire cat grin on his face again. “Shit . . .” Marrano tried to rotate his player around, but Johnson’s avatar was already behind him.
Double-tap. The screen faded.
“You really do suck at this, Al.”
“Goddamnit!” Marrano tossed the device onto the car’s stitched leather dashboard and pounded the steering wheel. “You have got to be kidding me. Worse than playing my goddamn nephew.”
“That’s two thousand bucks you owe me.”
“Best out of five?”
Johnson powered down his device. “It’s a lousy two K. What are you complaining about?”
Headlights swept across them as another car turned into the nearly empty parking lot of a gritty industrial building.
“Here we go.” Marrano pocketed his e-cigarette.
“’Bout fucking time.”
They exited their parked Aston Martin One-77 as an older Mercedes pulled toward them.
“Jesus, look at this thing.”
“They go forever, though.”
“You ever get stuck behind one of these on the highway? Like breathing coal dust.” He motioned for the driver to pull up to them.
The Mercedes parked, and a distinguished, if disheveled, elderly South Asian man with spectacles and a full head of unconvincing jet-black hair got out. Slowly. He buttoned his greatcoat against the cold.
Marrano and Johnson approached, removing their leather gloves and extending hands. Marrano smiled. “Doctor Kulkarni. Albert Marrano. Thanks for coming out so late.”
“Yes.” They shook hands. “I don’t usually drive at night. But your CEO said this couldn’t wait.”
“That she did.” Marrano turned. “This is my colleague, Sloan John- son. He manages the portfolio for Shearson-Bayers.”
They shook hands as well. “Pleased to meet you.”
Marrano pulled his lambskin glove back on. “So you’re our physicist. Princeton, right?”
Kulkarni nodded. “Yes, but I live close by in Holmdel. No one would tell me what this is about.”
Marrano grimaced. “Not over the phone, no. Legal says they already have you under contract, so I’m supposed to remind you about your nondisclosure agreement and noncompete clause.”
The elderly Indian nodded impatiently. “Fine, fine. Now what is this ‘physics emergency’ of yours?”
Marrano waved his arm to encompass the drab, windowless building before them. “Tech start-up. Run by a couple particle physicists developing chiral superconductors. The investment predates me, but these guys claim they’ve made some big breakthrough. I’ll be damned if I can understand a thing they’re saying.”
Johnson edged in. “We need you to evaluate their scientific claims. Tell us if they’re on the level.”
Kulkarni nodded. “Is there a business plan or lab report I can review?”
Both men exchanged looks. Marrano answered, “We can’t part with printed material at this point, Professor. You’ll have to review this firsthand.”
“Then I’ll need to speak with the founders. Tour the facility.” Kulkarni eyed the darkened building.
“Oh, they’re in there.”
“Yeah. Blowing through thirty thousand dollars an hour in off-peak electricity.”
An electrical hum became all the more noticeable from behind a nearby fenced transformer yard as he mentioned it.
“We were told not to leave this place or talk to anyone until we got confirmation from an expert. Apparently whatever these guys sent the egg heads in New York turned some heads. Frankly, I have my doubts.”
Johnson added, “We’re supposed to have you confirm that it’s for real.”
Kulkarni adjusted his spectacles to keep them from fogging. “That what’s for real?”
Marrano shrugged. “Like I said: I don’t even understand it. Something about ‘ionic lattices.’ Follow me.” He brought them toward a windowless steel door in a nearby brick wall, then tapped in a code at a keypad. The door beeped and unlocked. He ushered them inside.
The group walked down a narrow drywall corridor with a lofty ceiling. Ahead they could hear the echo of laughter in a cavernous space. A deep hum permeated the corridor, along with the smell of ozone. There was a loud bang somewhere, followed again by hoots of laughter and breaking glass.
“Is it safe?”
“Not sure, Professor.” Marrano walked onward.
Moments later, the trio came out into a large, darkened workspace, with a high, exposed girder ceiling. Work lights glowed from the center of the room, casting long shadows on the walls. Big as it was, the room was still cluttered—its edges lined with overflowing shelving units and banks of heavy-duty electrical capacitors. LED lights glowed on the equipment, digital readouts fluctuating widely. Rows of rubber-topped lab tables stood in their path, every inch piled high with circuit boards, oscillators, 3D printers, and heaps of electrical components. There were also origami geodesic models in all sizes. The place looked more like the attic of an eccentric hoarder than a laboratory.
Marrano halted them as he noticed shattered glass, broken furniture, and unknown liquids scattered across the concrete floor. A glance up also revealed dents and holes pounded into the wall behind them. They were downrange of something.
A burst of light in the center of the room drew their attention to a towering circular assembly. It was roughly ten feet in diameter and rose up to the thirty-foot-high ceiling. Thick electrical cables snaked through it, woven in and out of metal scaffolding and what appeared to be color-coded coolant piping. There were OSHA warning signs for high voltages, liquid gases, and corrosive chemicals. The assembly was clearly the focus of much organized activity, while the rest of the room had been allowed to go feral.
At the heart of the massive assembly was a concave stone or ceramic pedestal several feet in diameter—shaped like a lens—above which was an array of metal rods, their tips aimed at the center of an imaginary sphere. The open space that the sphere encompassed was roughly six feet in diameter. Other sensor arrays and test rigs were distributed around the platform as well—tubes, pipes, wires, cameras, and more inscrutable devices, all aimed at the empty space at the heart of the machine.
Next to it stood the silhouettes of four men in coveralls with an assortment of hard hats, lab goggles, and, on one, a black paintball mask. They were crowded around a flat-panel computer monitor perched on a cart. Cables ran from it back into the scaffolding tower. As they read the contents of the screen, one of the researchers suddenly shouted, “Off-axis acceleration zero-point-nine-three-nine! Hell, yeah, baby!”
They high-fived one another, shouting with joy, and clinked together what appeared to be large bottles of beer. They danced around, arm in arm like devils before a fire, their shadows cavorting along the walls.
Marrano shouted, “Hey! What the hell, guys?”
The men stopped and looked to the doorway. The one with the paint- ball mask flipped it up to reveal a youthful bearded face. He smiled and raised a half-empty malt liquor bottle. “Marrano! Just in time. Check this out.”
Marrano sighed in irritation as he, Johnson, and Kulkarni gingerly navigated around broken glass and pools of liquid. He frowned. “This place is a mess, Mr. Grady.”
“Maid’s on vacation. Get on over here.”
The other researchers stood alongside Grady, all wearing blue coveralls with a white number forty-one embroidered over the chest pocket. Two were young Asian men—one of them plump but tall, the other wiry like a wrestler. Next to them was a scholarly looking Caucasian man in his seventies or eighties, wearing a sweater and necktie beneath his loose-fitting blue coveralls. He leaned on a cane, visibly guarded about the new visitors.
Marrano gestured as they made their way closer. “Jon Grady, this is Doctor Sameer Kulkarni, Princeton University plasma physics lab. He’s here to evaluate”—his eyes trailed up the towering assembly—“whatever the hell this is.”
“Doctor Kulkarni, great to meet you.” Grady waved them in with welding-gloved hands. He gestured to his team. “That burly guy over there is Raharjo Perkasa, postdoc out of Jersey Tech. That’s Michael Lum, our chemical engineer from Rutgers.”
Both the young men nodded. “And over here—”
Kulkarni was distracted momentarily as he bumped against an origami polyhedron on a nearby table—but then he took notice of the fourth researcher. “Doctor Alcot. Bertrand Alcot.” He laughed. “What on earth are you doing here? How long has it been?”
The elderly Alcot smiled as they shook hands heartily. “A good five or six years, I think.”
Marrano and Johnson exchanged looks. “You know each other?”
Kulkarni nodded. “Doctor Alcot and I coauthored a paper on hydrodynamics long ago. While he was at Columbia. I thought you retired, Bert.”
Alcot nodded. “From the university, yes. I was encouraged to retire. So I did.”
Kulkarni seemed to be trying to recall something. “The last thing I read of yours was . . .” He hesitated. “Well, it was rather controversial, if I remember.”
“That’s diplomatic of you. It was a paper on modified Newtonian dynamics.”
There was an awkward silence.
Grady spoke as he tapped away at a computer keyboard. “Doctor Alcot’s career difficulties are my fault, I’m afraid. I’ve been told I’m a bad influence.”
“You are a bad influence.” Alcot gestured to Grady. “He’s been pestering me for years with his strange ideas.”
Grady snorted as he studied the numbers on his computer screen.
Alcot continued, “I tried mathematically disproving Jon’s theories but couldn’t.” He leaned back on his cane. “After Greta passed away, Jon convinced me to come join him here.”
“My condolences on Greta. I hadn’t heard. When did she pass, Bert?”
“About two years ago now.”
“So sorry to hear it.” Kulkarni glanced back to Grady. “Then Mr. Grady worked with you at Columbia?”
Grady shook his head, still studying the computer monitor. “Heh. I’m no scholar. I flunked out of a state college.”
Alcot added. “Jon has a master’s in physics.” He paused and somewhat sheepishly added, “An online degree.”
“Ah, I see. Then how did you two . . . ?”
“Jon’s been emailing me for years. Incredibly persistent. Got to the point I could no longer ignore him. It was either that or a restraining order.” Alcot gestured to the towering assembly. “This is the result.”
Kulkarni looked to Marrano, then back to Alcot. “Then it was Mr. Grady who formed the company?”
“With other people’s money.” Marrano picked up one of several origami geometric shapes from a nearby table. He gazed at the researchers meaningfully. “I haven’t heard anyone mention chiral superconductors yet.”
Grady answered as his fingers clattered at the keyboard. “Do you even know what chiral superconductors are, Mr. Marrano?”
“No, and it’s not for lack of trying. But I do know the government invested in this place. So someone somewhere must understand it.”
Grady smiled. “And thus marches Wall Street.”
Marrano tossed the paper model aside and turned back to Kulkarni. “Can you please find out what’s going on? I’d like to get back to the city.”
Johnson eyed the large bottles of cheap beer in the researchers’ hands. “You guys always drink while you’re messing around with high-voltage equipment?”
Alcot gave the barest hint of a smile. “We’re celebrating.”
Again Grady barely looked up from his keyboard as he answered for Alcot. “Bert’s right. Tonight is a special night. As you’ll see.” He finished typing, then looked up to regard them. “I’m guessing you’ll all need a drink soon enough.”
Marrano and Johnson exchanged unimpressed looks. “What’s the forty-one stand for?” Marrano gestured to the number on the researchers’ coveralls.
Grady tossed his paintball mask onto a nearby tool cart. He now looked like a BMW mechanic in blue coveralls. He pulled back his unruly, shoulder-length hair, wrapping it into a ponytail as he spoke. “Forty-one represents a starting point. Prime numbers are the atoms of mathematics. Viewed on an equilateral grid, the number forty-one appears at the very center of all the prime numbers below one hundred. And if we consider de Polignac’s conjecture, the fractal nature of that numerical array has tremendous significance at higher scales.”
“Jesus . . .” Marrano and Johnson again exchanged looks.
Alcot interceded. “I’ll grant you that Jon has some eccentricities, gentlemen, but I’ve begun to realize that he simply has a different perspective on things.”
Marrano gazed at the dozens of origami shapes scattered among electrical components on nearby tables. “That’s a shocker.”
Alcot picked up one of the shapes. “Non-Euclidean curved surface folding. Jon sometimes thinks through problems with his hands.”
“It helps with certain problem sets.” Grady approached them, apparently noticing the dubious look on the investor’s faces. “It’s fair to say I’ve strayed a bit from my business plan.”
Marrano scowled. “Strayed? I can’t even see your business plan from here. I’ve been going through your expenses. You’ve blown through half your annual budget in the last three months on utility bills alone.”
“An opportunity cost.” Grady gestured to the towering apparatus. “High energies are necessary to induce exotic states in baryonic matter. And exotic states are what we needed.”
“I’m guessing your burn rate is the real reason we’re here.” Marrano gestured to the massive tower of equipment. “Is this your Hail Mary pass before you go under? And what the hell is baryonic matter?”
“Physical stuff—for our purposes at subatomic scales.” He looked to Kulkarni. “Doctor Alcot and I have been studying the interaction of high-energy particles moving through doped graphene within superfluids like helium-4.”
Kulkarni nodded uncertainly. “Okay. And how does that relate to chiral superconductors, Mr. Grady?”
There was a pause.
There was a tense silence.
“But I could get funding for chiral superconductors.”
“Fraud’s an ugly word. Anyone reading the business plan able to comprehend our mathematics would clearly understand what I was proposing.”
“Like I said: fraud.”
Grady looked unfazed. “Then it would make for the most boring lawsuit ever. Besides, someone in government was evidently intrigued by my math.”
Kulkarni turned to Alcot. “Did you know about this, Bert?”
Alcot grimaced. “I was unaware of it for a time, but eventually I came ...
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