Wednesday, October 31, 2018

New book snippet



A Creature of Smokeless Flame takes Thalia, Lensky and the rest of the Applied Topology crew from Texas to Germany to East Africa... but the journey starts in a very unpleasant secret CIA site:

****************

The door slammed open with so much force that it hit the wall with a loud clunk. If the demonstration of that much kinetic energy was meant to intimidate me, it was working. I hadn’t liked being manhandled by my kidnappers, and I liked even less being at close quarters with the man who swung the door shut behind him now. He was big like Colton, though much older: tall, stocky, with thinning brown hair and big meaty hands. I shivered involuntarily. It wasn’t just the size of him that frightened me; his eyes were worse. They looked like doorways into a chaotic, gray hell.
“Where are they?” he demanded.
“If you mean my friends, I’d like to know that too!”
“Don’t worry about your friends. Worry about yourself.”
Oh, I was already doing that.
He prowled around the narrow room. I didn’t much like it when he was behind me; I could feel the short hairs on the back of my neck bristling. Too bad. There was only one chair in the room, I was seated in it, and I wasn’t going to give up that paper-thin symbol of superiority for anything short of actual violence. I did stick my hands in my jeans pockets. They’d taken everything away from me except the one thing, or properly speaking set of things, that I was most likely to need. That wouldn’t have been out of generosity, or even carelessness: like most people who can’t apply topology the way we do, they wouldn’t have been able to see that I had a pocketful of stars. Even Lensky had been known to refer to that collection as a handful of nothing.
If the gray-eyed man got violent with me, though, he just might encounter the effects of those stars and the way they enhanced our other abilities. I thought wistfully of using Ben’s trick with Riemann surfaces to ignite his pants, but it wasn’t time to show my hand. Yet.
“We’ve spent enough supporting you jokers,” he growled eventually, “it’s time you made yourselves useful.”
Ah.
That told me a lot. He must be a representative of the secretive three-letter agency that funded the Center for Applied Topology in the hope that our paranormal abilities would eventually develop into useful tools for them. In fact we’d already been quite useful to them, but I decided not to bring that up. I didn’t feel at all secure that the CIA was going to treat us any better than any other bunch of unaccountable bullies. The one thing about our captors’ identity that gave me hope was that this was Lensky’s agency. If anybody could find out what had happened to us and where we were being held, he could. If anybody would storm the gates of a CIA black site to free us, he would. And he’d succeed, too.
“It might help,” I suggested mildly, “if you explained what it was you needed our help with.” Being polite about asking wouldn’t have hurt, either, but it seemed that bridge was already burned.
“I told you. We want you to find them.”
“Find who?”
He stopped prowling and glared at me. “You’re supposed to have been told.”
“Nobody has told me a damned thing.”
He raised his hand in a threatening way and I said hurriedly, “Look, it’s not in my interest to lie to you about that. You can check up easily enough. I was unconscious when your goons threw me in here and you’re the first person who’s been here since I regained consciousness.”
“Damned incompetents. They really didn’t brief you?”
“No. Would you like to tell me what this is about?”
“I… My…” He stopped, glanced up at a corner of the room, and started over. I’d had conversations with Lensky that went wrong in exactly that way. What was this guy not telling me? “The bombing,” he said eventually. “Last week. We have reason to believe that the bombers used paranormal means to effect their entrance and exit. You need to find out who they were and where they went.”
“And you think I’ll be better able to do that from a cell in a mystery location than from the comfort of my own office?” I laughed at the expression on his face. Though it wasn’t all that funny, really. “And without the benefit of knowing what you spooks have already figured out about the bombing?”
“Why did you call us spooks?”
“You’d prefer me to say spies? Okay. You spies, then.”
“How did you –"
“You did begin this conversation by bitching about funding us,” I pointed out. “Do you really think we still haven’t figured out where our grant comes from?”
“Your funds are passed anonymously through the Moore Foundation for Mathematics Research.”
I shrugged. “That may have been the intention, but placing one of your own case officers in the middle of the Center kind of blew the anonymity bit, don’t you think? You know, you’re as bad a liar as I am. I do hope, for the sake of our country’s security, that your colleagues are a bit better at this spook business.”
His face went through two or three contortions before he settled on a sternly commanding expression. “Certain of my colleagues require a demonstration of your capabilities before opening up a classified investigation to you people. You will demonstrate what you can do, then we will decide how we wish to use you.”
I had a strong feeling that things should go the other way around. We should decide what use we would allow them to make of us, and then we should demonstrate only those paranormal abilities that would support such use. I had absolutely no inclination to write a blank check for this man with the crazy gray eyes.
“There are a lot of things we can’t do alone,” I tried. Coming up with a unified strategy against these nuts, for instance. Too bad we’d never developed an application of topology that would enable telepathy. “It would work out better for everybody if you allowed us to get together and work as a group.” Better for us, mostly.
“First,” he said, “we’re going to explore what you can do alone.”
I shrugged. “Fine, but that doesn’t amount to much.”
The back of his hand slammed against my cheek without warning. I nearly fell out of the chair. My eyes watered, my face hurt and I really wanted to introduce him to the concept of Riemann fire.
“That was a lie. Do not lie to me again; you will regret it. We already have evidence that you, at least, can do quite impressive work on your own,” he said. He resumed pacing around my chair; I resumed consciously not turning to keep the bastard in sight. He might be making me nervous, but I didn’t have to let him see that.

4 comments:

  1. Oh, this is good. Really good. You've piqued my interest immensely.

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  2. Oh, thank you! It's so encouraging to know that it starts out interesting.

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  3. I just ran across this and thought it might be of interest to you. http://nautil.us/issue/65/in-plain-sight/why-doesnt-ancient-fiction-talk-about-feelings-rp?

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  4. That was an interesting article. Enlightening too. If a single one of the few literature classes I was forced to take had offered comparable insights, I wouldn't have worked so hard to substitute language classes for the literary criticism they kept trying to make me read.

    ReplyDelete

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