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A DEADLY NEW CRAZE HAS TAKEN HOLD.
What else is there when life has no point? In a Britain on the edge of collapse, there is a desperate new craze - a suicide cult made up of disaffected young people. They kill themselves in "cutter circles", loaded up with teenage cool and desolate dreams. For ex-Special Forces soldier Josh Cumberland, this is just the start of another descent into the very heart of darkness. It's a virus. Find out who caused it. Destroy them. Survive.
Savage satire, brilliant characters and incredible near-future thrills from the author of Edge...
File Under: Science Fiction [ Suicide Cult | Knife Culture | Corporate Murder | Deadly Virus ]
"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.
Thomas Blackthorne is the pseudonym of noted science fiction writer John Meaney, author of Bone Song, Paradox and To Hold infinity.
He was born in north-west London to Irish parents. He has published short fiction in magazines and anthologies, including reprints in several "year's best" selections.
It was the beginning of June, and snow was falling on London.
They called it the most interesting of times, because a month earlier, the prime minister Billy Church (aka Fat Billy) had created the institution of Midsummer Christmas by Act of Parliament. Its first occurrence would be in a month's time, on the 3rd of July. He could have chosen the 4th, or any day at all. Pundits debated the symbolism.
Whether the broken, former United States would hold an Independence Day this year, no one knew. Former West Coast cities were blackened ash, while thousands of refugees a month were dying of radiation sickness. Meanwhile, after the coldest recorded winter on record, snow continued to fall on London as official summer began.
At least the snow was mostly white, though ash remained in the stratosphere around the globe.
Indoors in the warmth, Josh and Suzanne lay snuggled on the couch beneath an orange blanket, watching a Party Political Broadcast by the leader of the TechnoDemocratic Party, the Right Honourable Sharon Caldwell, MP. She was scientifically trained, an outspoken atheist, a lesbian, and determined to win the general election in order to save the country.
Clearly, she was doomed.
Suzanne said, "I bet Fat Billy will hold the election on Midsummer Christmas Day."
The prime minister had still not announced the election date, though his term of office was due to expire. Like most PMs through history, he would choose the timing with care.
"Probably." Josh ran his finger along Suzanne's smooth chocolatté skin. "Maybe the people deserve him."
"They don't deserve you." She kissed him. "What you did. You're too good for them."
Josh Cumberland was no politician. He was ex-Ghost Force, and last summer he had forced his way onto the live finals of Knife Edge Challenge, and battled his way through professional knife-fighters purely to take the stage, so viewers would see the damning data that he and his friends webcast in realtime.
Those files showed more than the prime minister making covert deals with the Tyndall Corporation; they also contained video footage of virapharm labs in Africa where living children formed incubators for new strains of drugs and nanoviral engineering tools.
But that had been the day that Armageddon came to Tri-State CalOrWashington, with mushroom clouds blooming, while President Brand declared: "The Sodom and Gomorrah that infested our sacred land are burned from the Earth."
Political scandal at home was nothing compared to the disaster taking place six thousand miles away. Afterwards, the stories about Billy Church slid and blurred, because his political team had no lack of influence engineers: superb psychologists who brought science to the art of spindoctoring.
Suzanne pointed her phone at the wallscreen, increasing the volume.
"Before the ongoing Fimbulwinter," Sharon Caldwell was saying on screen, "everyone moaned about disappearing forests, while continuing to wipe their arses with toilet paper. Can't anyone see the contradiction?"
Josh smiled; Suzanne chuckled.
"If you balance a pencil on its point," Caldwell went on, "it can tip in any direction. When it does fall, it falls fast. That's where we are today, and not just with the weather. The geopolitical climate is just as bad."
Beside Josh, Suzanne was shaking her head.
"Every word intelligent," she said, "and none of it persuasive."
"About the only thing I can agree on with our current prime minister" – on screen, Caldwell looked grim – "is the nuclear reactor programme. But with one proviso. If we'd begun it years ago, say when Billy Church came to office, or preferably before, it would have been a damn sight less dangerous. Cracked cores or meltdown are deadly, and they should—"
"Don't think of a blue elephant," said Josh. "Especially not a blue elephant wearing a yellow tutu, hopping on one leg and singing Happy Birthday."
"Very good." Suzanne patted his leg. "You have been paying attention."
Caldwell's use of psychosemantics was pitiful. Her most sensory-specific words, however factual, described the things she did not want. Viewers would subconsciously associate fear-images with reactors – and even worse, with Caldwell herself.
She went on: "The prime minister may have switched on the lights in Oxford Street, but this isn't Midsummer Christmas, it's midsummer madness. The only thing to do is—"
"Switch off." Suzanne pointed her phone. "Sadly."
The screen went dark.
"Now what" – Josh slid his hand under her blouse – "can we possibly do to entertain ourselves?"
From the bedroom, his phone chimed.
"I have a desperate desire to pee." Suzanne shifted her feet to the floor, pulling back the blanket. "And you've a call to answer."
Josh padded to the bedroom, smiling. He retrieved his phone from the bedside table and checked the sender ID: Hammond.
Vertigo pulled at him.
It was a vmail message, not realtime.
He shouldn't be calling at all.
How could there be news? For so long, nothing had changed.
"I'm sorry to have to send you this," said Hammond in the small display. "Your daughter's condition deteriorated catastrophically overnight, with no prior changes to the regime of care that we—"
Fluorescence pulsed across his vision. His ears filled with the surf-like wash of stress.
"—in theatre since four p.m., but there was nothing we could do. I'm sure you understand there will have to be a post-mortem examination. If you want to see Sophie before then, please call back. Her mother is with her now."
Maria. With Sophie.
No, with a corpse.
His daughter was gone, had been gone for over a year. Soft tidal shifts in the base of her brain were the only activity in her persistent vegetative state. Machines kept her organs alive, but the real Sophie, his beautiful, sweet girl, was ten years old forever, her eleventh birthday a travesty. Maria had brought balloons to the bedside; he had stayed away.
And he had been cuddling with his lover while his daughter died.
Sophie. My poor, sweet Sophie.
Staring into emptiness, a blackness that went to infinity, he dropped the phone back on the table. Moving to the cupboard where he kept his clothes, he pulled out a tracksuit. He dressed like an automaton.
Really gone. Dissipated, evaporated, blown away by chance. The world is not benign, and never was.
"Josh, what's going on?"
The dagger he fastened at the small of his back was inscribed William Rex – Dieu et mon droit; but there was no God, only the harshness of death.
Out on the landing, he checked the fastenings on his shoes. Behind him the door to the flat, to Suzanne's flat, clicked into place. Then he was going down the stairs, moving fast.
And into the chill night.
Sophie. My baby girl.
He began to run through the snow.
Call it a passage of grief.
Snow, chill wind, a dark June night like Moscow in December. The pounding of his feet and heart. The sick desolation of a parent without a child, for Sophie's universe was gone.
He ran past cheery lights, ordinary Christmas decorations and new Midsummer Christmas banners. Gaudy bioluminescence decorated shops and houses.
Rowdy young men spilled from a pub, some of them armed. He jogged across the street and ran on, wanting no trouble. He had a dagger sheathed at the small of his back, but no phone: not the normal priority.
At some point he reached the Embankment, having started from Queens Park. The Thames was black and glittering. He jogged past frozen turbines, their vanes ice-locked. Then he sped up, ran fast to Westminster Bridge where he slowed, plodding out across the bridge.
At the midpoint, he stopped.
Good King Wenceslas sounded behind him, children and adults singing. He wanted to yell at them to stop, but what was the point? Sophie was lying on a cold table waiting for the scalpel. That was the reality that lay in wait for all these kids, sooner or later. Let them retain their illusions for now.
His hands were tight on the freezing balustrade.
"You all right, pal?"
Sounds from a distant world.
Another voice: "That's a thin tracksuit, for this weather."
Cheerful conversation from a different reality.
"Look, you're not thinking of jumping, are you?"
His fingers were whitened clamps on the rail. He could fling himself over. The black waves would hit like a metal hammer. If the impact did not get him, the freezing temperature would. Oblivion courtesy of thermodynamics.
"Why don't you—"
Heavy hand, clamping his left shoulder.
"—come with uughhh..."
He spun, the rage detonating in coordinated torque, the thrust and twist of bodyweight, powering from his feet, through his torso, more than the arm delivering impact – Sophie – of fist to throat – she's dead – and the crunch of collapsing larynx – you fucker – as the man in scarlet dropped. Down and dying, but Josh followed, knee-first to target the liver – you bastard – but there was padding in place – what's this? – and he raised his arm to hammer down as a child's voice sounded.
"He's killing Santa!"
His muscles locked, his mind lurching into gear.
White cotton beard askew. Bulging eyes and struggling mouth. Cheeks darkening even in the night – if it were daytime, the skin would be purple. A wheezing croak from his crushed throat. Other men were yelling, not daring to approach.
To choke is to die in panic.
Medics can't help.
Even if someone had rung for assistance, it would not help. The end was seconds away.
Shit. Do it.
He had to stop the choking. Such an awful way to die.
You have to.
He ripped his knife free from the small of his back – light glinting on silver – and used his left hand and bodyweight to pinion the struggling man – weaker struggles now – and lowered the knife point-first, sighting along the blade.
"Leave him alone you—"
And rammed down.
Into the base of the throat.
Enlarging the cut before he withdrew.
Then he glanced up and saw the adults and children properly: half the grown-ups in Salvation Army uniform, their instruments of polished brass. Whipping upward from his crouch, Josh snatched away a trumpet, ripped off the mouthpiece, and knelt down beside the stricken Santa. Then he leaned over, put the mouthpiece against the hole he had cut, and pressed down.
Santa's chest rose, sucking air through the metal mouthpiece at the bottom of his neck, below the crushed larynx.
As he stood up, blue lights strobed along the Embankment to the north, and sirens sounded from the south. Whether police or paramedics arrived first did not matter: either would have the training to keep the Santa safe.
Everyone turned to look at the approaching emergency vehicles, and timing was everything as Josh slipped behind the group, caught hold of the railing, and rolled over.
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Book Description Angry Robot, 2011. Condition: New. book. Seller Inventory # M0857660799
Book Description Angry Robot, 2011. Mass Market Paperback. Condition: New. Seller Inventory # DADAX0857660799
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