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First pages

Chapter 1

“Hold him down.”

I winced. Both men were tall and broad shouldered, with shaved heads, wide, sadistic smiles and tattoos running up both arms and across their chests. They were holding a third man, slightly smaller and leaner, immobilized on the ground. The smaller man struggled. His face grew red and he gave out a high pitched, desperate squeal. The big guys restrained him with professional competence. One of them pulled a Bowie knife from a holster at his belt and pulled the smaller man’s head back. “I love this part,” he said.

I pressed the stop button on my control panel and sighed. I had gone through this scenario more than once already. I knew that if I continued, bright red blood would spurt from a severed carotid artery and agonized screams would come from the victim’s throat. He would thrash his legs, drum his heels against the ground, struggle and die. Points would then be added to my score.

I had a professional interest in games of all sorts but this one was a little too obvious for my tastes. Violence, like sex, always sells, but I have limited patience for gratuitous violence, violence that does nothing to advance a plot or to highlight a theme.

Such games will always have their fans. I know that, but I have no interest in catering to them. This game was popular, particularly among young men of the Commons, but it wasn’t popular among the Guilds. If you want to reach the top levels of the game, the real game, a certain amount of restraint is required. You have to know when to go in for the score but if you’re going to survive, and ultimately to prevail, then you had better be able to identify a losing hand because nobody wins them all.

It paid to keep up with the competition, though.

 

I was seven years old when I invented my first game. The game started with a circle which turned into a square which turned into a wheel which turned into a spinning cylinder which turned into a torus and so on. It was a simple game but my father was smart enough to register the copyright and then he took it to one of the bigger conglomerates who decided to finance it. That game made me a lot of money, which a few years later, I used to fund a small corporation which financed another game, and then another, and pretty soon, my small corporation had grown into a larger corporation.

I was good at games. Games have patterns, some meant to be obvious, some meant to be concealed, and I had a talent for spotting patterns.

 

Some of my games are story games. You have to have a good story. It’s surprising how often storytellers lose sight of this fact. You can tell a story in the simplest of ways and it will hold the attention of your audience. A caveman sitting around a fire could do it. A medieval schoolman in the town square. Homer, Aeschylus, Sophocles, wise men with strong voices, writing their stories down on clay tablets or papyrus scrolls, if they even knew how to write. It’s easy to sell a good story and all the special effects and computer-generated crap isn’t worth shit if the story doesn’t cut it.

You start with a hero. There has to be someone for the audience to focus on, to identify with. If you don’t have a hero, then you need an anti-hero, someone for the audience to hate. If you have neither, then it better be a comedy, but you still need someone they can laugh with (or at). I’ve never lost sight of the need to have a good story. It’s made me rich.

 

My corporation, or what has become just one of the divisions of my corporation, continues to make games, but we do many other things, as well. All of my products are among the best in their field. I’ve found that it’s not too hard to make money if you’re better than your competition.

You have to keep it all in perspective, though. You can’t fool yourself. Fooling yourself is the quickest way to lose. I’ve done well. I’m a medium sized fish in a very deep ocean. My corporation is profitable and respected but it’s nowhere near the biggest corporation around.

But that’s alright. I have plenty of time.

 

Aphelion, capital of the nation state of Meridien, is one of the oldest cities in the world, and one of the largest, though Meridien comprises only the city itself plus a few square kilometers of the mainland and some fifteen small surrounding islands. Aphelion is also the richest city in the world, its location in the largest harbor in the Western Hemisphere having made it an ideal center for trade.

I walked down the street of the Central District of the city on a warm, pleasant evening. Tall buildings towered over me on each side, strategically placed to allow sunshine to reach the street. Shops and restaurants filled the ground levels and the sidewalks were wide and in good repair. Some kids played a game with a ball and a hoop in a small park and some others flew kites over a wide expanse of lawn. The crowd was polite, well dressed and orderly.

A spot in the middle of my back, right between the shoulder blades, tingled. It’s not that anything had happened, or even been unusual. It’s just that things seemed…off. Something about the sounds; something about the patterns…the way the pigeons flew, the way the air smelled…something. Perhaps it was the scent of anticipation. The feeling had been growing on me for a couple of days. Just a feeling, but my feelings had usually proven to be correct.

Somewhere off to the side, four of my men were strategically located in the middle of the crowd. Another sat at a table in an outdoor restaurant, eating cubes of meat off a wood fired grill. At least one more trailed behind me. All of them were competent. All were physically fit, tough, fast, well-dressed, well-armed and excellent with weapons of all sorts, a simple necessity for a rising member of the industrial class such as myself.

In front of me, a man turned around and punched a pedestrian behind him in the face. I knew he was about to do it. I could see the exact instant that he began to move. His victim’s nose crunched flat and the victim fell without a sound. Next to the first man, a second started swinging at a plump, middle-aged woman, who screamed just once before her scream was cut off by a punch to the abdomen and then she too fell to the pavement, clutching her gut. Her attacker smiled and leisurely kicked her in the ribs before both men turned toward me.

They recognized me. It was obvious. Both of them took a step forward. One of them reached into his jacket and pulled out a curved metal band with four holes in it. He slipped his fingers through the holes and clenched his fist, the metal band fitting snugly. Their smiles grew wider and they came toward me and the crowd scattered, screaming.

They were tall, both of them, young and strong. The clothes that they wore were casual, but clean. They didn’t look like thugs. They looked like regular guys who knew what they were doing, which they probably were, though they were also, without a doubt, thugs.

My guys also knew exactly what they were doing. Two of them stepped in front of me, weapons drawn. Before either of these two clowns had taken a step, they both had guns pressed to their heads.

Curtis, my squad leader, looked at me. “Not here,” I said.

Curtis nodded. “Come along, gentlemen. Make no sudden movements and you might live through this.”

One of them frowned, evidently thinking it over, then he gave a small shrug. The other, a bit quicker on the uptake, said, “Our Guild will ransom us.”

“I’m sure they will,” I said, “and they will pay compensation to your victims as well.” I smiled. “But first, we’ll have a little chat.”

The crowd, I noticed, kept its distance but watched us, a few with interest but most with indifference, now that the show was over. Guild business could often be violent but none of it was their concern. This was Meridien and they all knew better than to interfere. On the corner, a uniformed cop surveyed the crowd, looking for additional threats. He caught my eye, frowned, gave me a little nod then looked away.

 

 

Two nights later, a small, slim man of indeterminate age sat at a black, metal table under a red awning. He sipped from a cup of espresso then glanced at his interface. He frowned, shrugged and switched on a hologram, a gymnastics exhibition, which projected into the air over his table. A pad and a pen sat in front of him. He had touched neither. He had been waiting for nearly an hour.

The interface, I noted was a type that I was not familiar with, smaller than most, worn on a fob rather than around the wrist.

I had been watching as he arrived and I continued to watch as he sat and waited. During the next hour, I walked around the block three times. A face in a bookstore window scanned the street. A woman shopping in a small boulangerie dawdled, spending more time than she should have. Her eyes missed very little. Her walk was smooth, her balance perfect. I spotted two more. Their disinterest seemed palpable, their boredom complete. I smiled to myself. Though they rarely looked either at me or at the man waiting at the table, their attention remained focused, a little of it on him but most of it on me.

My men were also aware of them. If they tried to interfere, they would be dealt with. Or so I hoped.

It had rained earlier in the day but the clouds were thinning into mist as the evening light faded. If I was going to do this, it might as well be now. I drew a deep breath, walked over to the entrance, smiled at the hostess and sat down next to the slim man. I said nothing. He looked up at me, glanced again at his interface and frowned. “Mr. Oliver?” he said.

I nodded. “And who are you?”

His eyes searched my face, then he shrugged. “I could provide you with a made-up name, but why bother?”

“You wanted to see me.”

“Yes.” He seemed to hesitate. He looked down at the table then raised his eyes. “I have a message for you.”

I waited. His hands drifted toward the pen.

“I wouldn’t,” I said. “You can’t see them, but my men are all around us. If you try to pick that up, they’ll shoot you.”

“Will they?” He smiled and glanced around. He seemed amused and not in the slightest bit concerned. “It’s just a pen.”

“Maybe it is just a pen, but maybe it’s a pen that contains poison, or a laser beam, or a bullet.” I said this for effect since I could see that he was telling me the truth. His heat signature was smooth, even and unruffled.

“It’s just a pen,” he said. “A very ordinary pen.”

“You have a message for me,” I prompted.

“Yes.” He cleared his throat. “You are to cease your activities in Sindara.”

I stared at him. He continued to smile. “That’s it?” I said.

“Yes.”

“Why would I do that?”

“It’s very simple; if you don’t do as I request, you will be eliminated.”

“Ah,” I leaned back in my seat. “Eliminated. You could have just said, killed.”

He frowned momentarily but then gave me a thin smile. “You may take the statement any way you please.”

“It’s just that ‘eliminated’ seems a little pretentious.”

“Are you trying to annoy me?” he asked.

I wasn’t trying very hard. I looked at him and entertained the notion of trying harder, then I took a deep breath. “So,” I said, “I’ll be eliminated, but presumably not right away.”

He shrugged. “Sooner or later.”

He seemed very calm. That worried me a bit. “You’re a messenger,” I said.

He nodded. “Correct.”

“And who is this message from?”

“I’m sure you will understand that I cannot tell you.” He gave me a faint, amused smile. “In point of fact, I don’t know.”

He was lying, which didn’t surprise me.

“I’ll take your request under advisement,” I said, and rose to my feet.

He nodded again and sipped his Espresso as I walked away.

 

The two thugs had told us very little. They were questioned as soon as we arrived at my headquarters. Neither objected when asked to roll up their sleeves and neither said a word when the psychotropic was injected into their veins. They let the drug take them without resistance.

Both had been contacted anonymously. A price had been agreed upon, the funds deposited into their accounts. The job had seemed simple enough: create some minor mayhem, assault me if they could and don’t resist if they couldn’t. They had not known each other prior to accepting the job but had been given descriptions, of myself and each other. Within an hour, we received enquiries from their Guild. The agreed upon restitution was paid and they were released. We even fed them. All very civilized.

The assault delivered a message, a number of messages, actually, which became clear a few days later after my meeting at the café. They were willing to commit violence to get what they wanted, that was obvious. They had injured civilians, and so they were willing to break the rules, but restitution had been paid, which meant that they were willing to pay the price for breaking those rules. Their Guild had fronted the money but I had no doubt that the two thugs would be required to reimburse the Guild, and in turn, their nebulous employer would presumably be reimbursing them. There was an additional message here that I’m not sure they intended to send: if they were willing to pay the price, then there were some rules they would not be willing to break, because the price for breaking those rules would be too high.

On the other hand, I thought, this last was an unproven inference. I drummed my fingers on the desk as I considered. It would be a mistake to assume too much. My real enemy was still unseen, his motivations unknown, and foot soldiers are expendable.

Of course, I could have simply disposed of the two thugs. I actually did consider it; dump the bodies at sea or in a landfill and deny any knowledge of their existence. That too would have sent a message, but I wasn’t quite ready to send that particular message. The stakes weren’t high enough, not yet, anyway.

A day later, I received the request for a rendezvous at a small café. All very dramatic, but it told me nothing. Many of us found it necessary to hire security and anybody could make threats. A lot of people had money and almost all of them wanted more of it, including myself. Most of us earned it. Some preferred to steal it. Either was acceptable to the powers that be so long as the associated mayhem was kept within tolerable limits.

So: message delivered, message received. Nothing to do now but wait and see… and play the game.

Chapter 2

My parents loved me but they didn’t understand me. Before you roll your eyes, please realize that I do know this to be a cliché. It took me many years to figure out that almost everybody feels that their parents, and their teachers and their siblings and certainly the overwhelming majority of the opposite sex, don’t understand them. Why should they, when most of us don’t understand ourselves? I was different, or so I thought. I was smarter than most of my classmates, for one thing. I was smaller than most, too, until I hit a growth spurt at sixteen or so and shot up eight centimeters in less than a year, but even before then I was fast and wiry and stronger than I looked, much stronger, actually.

The real irony in all of this is that I really was different, but not in the ways that I assumed at the time. Most children feel awkward, feel like they don’t fit in, and most are too self-centered to realize that it’s the same for all of them, even the social butterflies, the beautiful and the athletic, the ones who seem to float far above the rest in their own little perfect world.

All of them doubt themselves. All of them feel like they don’t deserve the good life that their parents’ money and position has bought them. All of them feel like they don’t belong.

Except for the narcissists and the sociopaths, of course. More on them later.

 

First, it must be understood that one can opt out of the game at any time, and sooner or later, most do. Also, before I go any further, I think it’s important to emphasize that I’m not using the word “game” in the play-something-because-it’s-fun-and-amusing sense, the sort of thing that my corporation manufactures and sells. No, I’m speaking about the more serious game, here. The game of life. And I realize that not everybody looks at life like a game but I do, and what is more important, so does my competition, and so do the Guilds. There are two ways to keep score in the game of life: money and status. The two most often go together, but not always. If you want to be successful, really successful, you have to be a player and as I’ve already said, I’m good at games

We all know that time marches on and everyone gets older. We hit a plateau and then, no matter how hard we try to resist, our abilities begin to fade. It happens to the best. Your reflexes are not as fast as they used to be. Your stomach is not as flat. Your hairline begins to recede. Maybe you’ve picked up a wife and some kids along the way. And maybe you just don’t care anymore. Maybe you no longer feel like pushing for that next level, that next rung up the ladder, so you put away your guns and call it a day, maybe with some regret, maybe with a sigh of relief. No shame in any of that.

I knew all of this, in an abstract sort of way. I was far away from the time when quitting the game would be an option for me. I was still young, but I knew myself well enough to know that I wouldn’t do it. Some of us just can’t bring ourselves to quit. Some of us would rather go out with our boots on. It’s just the way we are.

Sindara was a small mountainous island with white sand beaches, bright sun, cool tropical breezes and no native population. I had formed a consortium of like-minded investors and for a nominal sum had purchased development rights plus a long term, renewable lease to the Southern, more fertile half of the island from the family that had owned it, and ignored its potential, for over a century. I would have preferred to purchase the entire island outright but the family, despite having allowed it to lie fallow, refused to sell. No matter; I had what I needed. Construction had yet to begin but plans were complete for the first luxury resort, the first upscale beachside apartments and the largest casino in the Western hemisphere. I had put a lot of money into Sindara.

I sipped a brandy as I considered my options.

Quitting wasn’t one of them.

 

I could always see in the dark, though it took me a number of years to realize that most people could not, and I could always see the energy pulse that surrounds electrical devices, power lines and all living things. I assumed that everybody could. I never thought much about it, not until the day after my eighth birthday. They held a little party for me in class. My mother brought in a cake and everybody had a great time—except for Jack. Jack was the biggest kid in the class and he thought that the world revolved around him. His parents were old Guild, Guild for many generations.

I could see the resentment on his face. He ate his cake with an angry red glow pulsing with every heart beat. Jack was not the star of this little presentation and Jack just had to be the star. This did worry me. I had never before been the victim of Jack’s bullying but some of my friends had. He would stop them after school and take their candy and once, when one of them protested, Jack had grabbed him, kicked him in the belly and walked away. As was usual at the age of eight, my friend was too embarrassed to say anything.

This time, Jack decided to pick on me.

I walked home from school and Jack followed me, not too close at first. He didn’t want the other children to see what he was about to do but soon, we passed a small patch of woods and nobody else was around. He was close behind me by now. I knew what was coming, and I was afraid.

“Hey, cretin,” he said. I doubt that he knew what the word ‘cretin’ meant. He just knew that it was demeaning and he liked the way it sounded.

I turned around, trying to look unconcerned. “What do you want?” I said.

He gave me a thin, tight lipped smile, stepped in and aimed a kick at my belly, evidently his favorite way of dealing with kids that he didn’t like. I could feel my heart pound and the kick seemed…slow. I slid to the side. Jack’s foot came down and he stumbled. He looked stunned but no more so than I. Suddenly, anger flared red around him. He gave a sort of grunting roar and charged me. This time, I was too startled to move and he wrapped his arms around my neck and I felt my own anger pouring out of me. I grabbed his hands. There was a sudden surge, a sort of snapping sensation. I felt heat coming from my fingertips and then Jack screamed and fell to the ground. He twitched all over. His breath came in short, hitching gasps. I stared at him, then turned and ran home and slammed the door behind me.

I could hardly sleep that night. I was afraid that I had killed him but Jack showed up for class the next morning, just as usual, and after that he very carefully ignored me. So far as I know, he never spoke of this incident, and though I briefly considered telling my parents or my teachers what had happened, neither did I, not for a very long time. I was shaken up, though. I was afraid, not of Jack, not anymore. I was afraid of myself, afraid of what I might do. I needed to understand what was happening to me.

Luckily, I knew where to find the answers.

 

“Who is he?”

Curtis shrugged. “After you left, he finished his espresso and exited the cafe about ten minutes later. His people left with him, or at least the ones we could identify. He entered the Trellis Minor building and so far as we can determine, he never came out.”

“That seems unlikely,” I said.

“Of course. He was almost certainly disguised. He would have changed his appearance and vanished.”

“Possibilities?”

Curtis was tall, well-built and good looking, with clear, blue eyes and close cut, sandy hair. He almost always had a gentle smile on his face, the sort of smile that invited other people to smile back, but I had once seen him crush an opponent’s skull with that same calm expression. “At least twenty. Within limits, he could have altered his face, his size, his skin color and his clothing. We’ve had better luck with his people. We identified six covering the site of the meet. All of them were followed. They all went into large office towers and none of them were seen to come out, but seventeen people who matched their height, weight and general description emerged within six hours, and another five within twelve. All of them were followed, as well. Of these twenty-two people, three have been positively identified as working for Sebastian Securities.”

“It’s possible that the three you think you’ve identified may have had nothing to do with the original six.”

Curtis shrugged. “While we were surveying the scene of your rendezvous, we managed to plant microscopic tracers on two of the six. The tracers were found in garbage dumps, along with their discarded clothing. We’ve retrieved DNA signatures for both. One is unlisted. The other has a juvenile record. His name is Gerard Harrington. He now works for Sebastian Securities. He’s one of the three.”

I considered this in silence for a few seconds. “And how many tracers did they manage to plant on us?”

“Two,” Curtis said. He grinned. “That we’ve found. They’ve been re-implanted in stray dogs on the other side of the city.”

“Excellent work,” I said. “Send me the data.”

“It’s already been sent to your interface.”

“Good. I’ll take care of it.”

Curtis nodded but he looked mildly worried. That was alright with me. Curtis was paid to worry. He was also paid to do what he was told.

 

Gerard Harrington was twenty-seven. He had been arrested for minor assault and again for shop lifting at the age of fifteen. His academic record was solid but unspectacular. A salaryman. Sebastian had dozens like him, guys good enough to do a job but not good enough to get beyond the basic levels of the game. He lived alone.

Sebastian Securities occupied the Seventh Floor of the Salem Tower. The woman seated behind the reception desk was blonde, beautiful and well dressed. She gave me a dazzling smile as I walked up. “A pleasure to see you again, sir. Can I help you?”

“Yes. I have an appointment with Leon Sebastian.”

She nodded. “Of course.” She pressed a button on her desk and said, “Mr. Oliver to see you, sir.”

“Send him right in.”

She looked down at a log book on her desk, made a notation and pressed another button. A panel in the wall slid open. “You remember where it is, sir?”

“Thanks. I do.”

Down the hallway to left. Leon Sebastian had the big office at the end of the corridor. I knocked, didn’t wait for a response and entered.

Leon looked good in a suit. He didn’t fidget or squirm. He was lean and tanned, with a square jaw and a small scar on his left cheek. He was happily married and had three kids that he doted on. He stood when I walked into his office and smiled. We shook hands. “How are you, Doug?”

“Not bad, when people aren’t threatening to kill me.”

He looked momentarily surprised. “Who is threatening to kill you?”

“Apparently, you.”

He raised an eyebrow. “You are the annoying sort but I think I would have remembered.” He sat back in his seat and rubbed absently at his chin.

He listened to my story without comment and then said, “Huh.” Then he frowned and pressed a button on the intercom. “Please ask Gerard Harrington to come to my office.”

“Right away, sir.”

“So,” I said, “how’s the wife and kids?”

“Good. Jolene was asking about you just the other day. How long has it been since you came to dinner?”

“A couple of months. We should go out.”

Leon was a member of Gentian, one of the oldest Guilds, though not one of the largest. The administration of Gentian had always been conservative and they preferred to grow slowly and with little risk. Leon and I had gone to collegium together. His family was rich. So was mine, though not as rich as his. We had similar interests, mostly the usual—sports and games and the opposite sex. Leon had always been a pleasant, easygoing sort, which might have seemed strange considering the family business, but Leon never let personal issues interfere with his livelihood. Back then, he could usually be found sacked out on a couch but he managed to study hard enough to get solid grades.

“I’ll talk to Jolene. Will you bring Laura?”

I frowned. “Laura and I are no longer together.”

“Sorry to hear it,” Leon said. “We liked her.”

I shrugged. “She was getting pushy.” An understatement; Laura Jones had seemed like a nice, normal, pretty girl with a level head on her shoulders. A middle-school teacher, non-Guild, she began angling for a commitment within weeks of our first date. She must have sensed my growing discomfort with the relationship because suddenly my attorney received a letter from her attorney seeking a financial settlement for unspecified abuses. I wasted no time in obtaining an order of protection and I had been careful to avoid her ever since.

Just then, a knock came from the door. “Come in,” Leon said.

A large young man entered. Gerard Harrington. He gave me a blank look then focused on Leon. “You asked for me, sir?”

“Yes.” Leon glanced at me. “It appears that a few days ago you were involved in an operation regarding Mr. Oliver, here. Tell me about it.”

Harrington’s eyes flicked toward me, then back to Leon. “Not much to tell. We were paid to provide surveillance and security for a meeting between Mr. Oliver and a client.”

“Do you know the client?”

“No.”

“Did the contract specify confidentiality?”

“Probably not,” Harrington said, “since we weren’t told to keep our mouths shut.”

Leon shook his head and glanced at me. “Anything else?”

“Exactly what were your orders?” I asked.

“It was a simple bodyguard job. Protect the client.”

“And who were you supposed to be protecting this client from?”

Harrington barely smiled, “Well, you sir.”

“Me, personally, or the people in my employ?”

“We were shown pictures of seven men in your organization. We were told that you had more, but the client was supposedly unaware of their identities. We didn’t see any of the seven in the vicinity of the meet.”

I leaned back. Leon looked at me. I shrugged.

“Thank you,” Leon said. “That will be all.”

Harrington turned and left. Leon waited until the door was closed. “The specifics of the operation might not be confidential but the clients will be. I’ll take a look at the contract but I can’t tell you who signed it. I’m sorry.”

Sebastian Securities was a trustworthy firm. Their business would go under very quickly if they weren’t. “I understand.”

“Alright, then,” Leon grinned. “Will I see you at the Guild Hall?”

“I’ll be there at the end of the week, Friday night.”

Chapter 3

I had been given my first interface, as was customary, on my seventh birthday. My father presented it to me after dinner. It had a leather strap and a round face with numbers blinking on and off and could project a holographic field into thin air. I strapped it on while my parents watched, beaming with pride and my brother Jimmy fidgeted in his seat, bored. I rotated my wrist, admiring it from every angle, very proud of myself. I was a big boy, now.

We were all taught that the First Empire had founded a colony on Illyria, one colony world out of hundreds, and that our ancestors were put here, on this world, in order to concentrate genetic traits that the Empire considered desirable. The question of whether our ancestors had volunteered to participate in this grand experiment was rarely addressed.

The Empire had enemies and they needed soldiers. Our ancestors were faster, stronger, bigger than unmodified humans. They could survive in harsh environments. They were bred to win battles. We were taught this in school. It wasn’t a secret.

I asked my interface for a listing of genetic modifications common among the original population of Illyria. The results made me feel a little better about myself. I wasn’t quite the freak that I had assumed. Most animals are stronger, pound for pound, than human beings, and many have reflexes that an unmodified human cannot match. The genes for increased size and strength and speed were universal among the original colonists.

Sharks and birds and many other animals can sense magnetic fields. Electric eels could store electricity and use it to hunt their prey and to defend themselves. Supposedly, an electric eel could knock a grown man unconscious, and so, apparently, could I. Bees can see into the ultraviolet. Snakes can detect infrared. It’s how they locate their prey at night, by the heat that they emit.

I sat back and I pondered as I read all this. An enhanced sense of smell is closely related to an enhanced sense of taste. My brother Jimmy, I knew, possessed both. So, did I.

Still, most people did not. A few more minutes looking through cyberspace answered the question. Genetic traits that confer an advantage tend to be selected for. Traits that confer no advantage can linger in a population but will tend to slowly vanish over time. Human beings have brains. We invented maps and compasses and the interface and GPS. We didn’t need to navigate by the planet’s electrical field. Being able to see in the dark might be a necessary adaptation for a snake but not for a human being. Three percent of the population could see in the infra-red. Two percent possessed magnetite in specialized cells that allowed them to detect the planet’s magnetic field. I knew that my father had this ability. He never had to consult his interface to know where he was going, and my mother could see in the dark, just like me.


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

I have always loved to read. An English major in college, I went on to medical school and have had a long career in academic medicine. My first novel was published in 2001, entitled Edward Maret, which has been described as "The Count of Monte Cristo meets Robocop." It was followed by the three books of the Kurtz and Barent mystery series, Surgical Risk, The Anatomy Lesson and Seizure. My most recent novel is The Cannibal's Feast, a tale of corporate warfare in the Twenty-Fifth Century.

Q. This book is part of a series, tell us about your series.
A.
The series, entitled The Chronicles of the Second Interstellar Empire of Mankind, is set more than 6000 years in the future, after the First Empire has fallen and a Second Empire has arisen after a 2000 year long dark age. A scenario like this offers almost endless scope for interesting stories.
Q. What draws you to this genre?
A.
Science fiction and fantasy is a genre that has no limits on the imagination. Any world, any scenario that you can conceive of will exist somewhere in space or in time. The scope is endless and eternal. I love that.
Q. Which writers inspire you?
A.
I've always had a favorite writer. When I was a kid it was Edgar Rice Burroughs, but I soon moved on to Robert A. Heinlein, then Roger Zelazy and Samuel R. Delany and most recently it's been Iain M. Banks, Dorothy Dunnett, Dorothy L. Sayers, Robert B. Parker and Guy Gavriel Kay.

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