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Black Man

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Black Man

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Alternate Title: Thirteen
Author: Richard K. Morgan
Publisher: Gollancz, 2007

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Book Type: Novel
Genre: Science-Fiction
Sub-Genre Tags: Human Development
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(99 reads / 53 ratings)


Published in the US as Thirteen

One hundred years from now, and against all the odds, Earth has found a new stability; the political order has reached some sort of balance, and the new colony on Mars is growing. But the fraught years of the 21st century have left an uneasy legacy... Genetically engineered alpha males, designed to fight the century's wars have no wars to fight and are surplus to requirements. And a man bred and designed to fight is a dangerous man to have around in peacetime. Many of them have left for Mars but now one has come back and killed everyone else on the shuttle he returned in.

Only one man, a genengineered ex-soldier himself, can hunt him down and so begins a frenetic man-hunt and a battle survival. And a search for the truth about what was really done with the world's last soldiers.

BLACK MAN is an unstoppable SF thriller but it is also a novel about predjudice, about the ramifications of playing with our genetic blue-print. It is about our capacity for violence but more worrying, our capacity for deceit and corruption. This is another landmark of modern SF from one of its most exciting and commercial authors.


Down in Flames

Above all, the hard lessons of this century have taught us that there must be consistent oversight and effective constraint, and that the policing systems thus required must operate with unimpeachable levels of integrity and support.

--Jacobsen Report,

August 2091


He finally found Gray in a MarsPrep camp just over the Bolivian border and into Peru, hiding behind some cheap facial surgery and the name Rodriguez. It wasn't a bad cover in itself, and it probably would have stood standard scrutiny. Security checks in the prep camps were notoriously lax; the truth was that they didn't much care who you'd been before you signed up. But there were still a few obvious signs you could look for if you knew how, and Carl, with a methodical intensity that was starting to resemble desperation, had been looking for weeks. He knew that Gray was up on the altiplano somewhere, because the trail led there from Bogotá, and because where else, ultimately, was a variant thirteen going to run. He knew this, and he knew it was just a matter of time before the traces showed up and someone called it in. But he also knew, with induction programs everywhere skimping and speeding up to meet increasing demand, that time was on the other man's side. Something had to give, and soon, or Gray was going to be gone and Carl wasn't going to get his bounty.

So when the break came, the tiny morsel of data finally fed back from the web of contacts he'd been plying all those weeks, it was hard not to jump. Hard not to dump his painstakingly constructed cover, fire up his Agency credit and badge, and hire the fastest set of all-terrain wheels available in Copacabana. Hard not to tear across the border at Agency speed, raising road dust and rumors all the way to the camp, where Gray, of course, if he had any kind of local support, would be long gone.

Carl didn't jump.

Instead, he called in a couple of local favors and managed to blag a ride across the border with a military liaison unit--some superannuated patrol carrier with a Colony corporation's logo sun-bleached to fading on the armored sides. The troops were Peruvian regulars, drafted in from dirt-poor families in the coastal provinces and then seconded to corporate security duties. They'd be pulling down little more than standard conscript pay for that, but the interior of the carrier was relatively plush by military standards and it seemed to have air-con. And anyway, they were tough and young, a sort of young you didn't see so much in the Western world anymore, innocently pleased with their hard-drilled physical competence and cheap khaki prestige. They all had wide grins for him, and bad teeth, and none was older than twenty. Carl figured the good cheer for ignorance. It was a safe bet these kids didn't know the subcontract rate their high command was extracting from its corporate clients for their services.

Sealed inside the jolting, sweat-smelling belly of the vehicle, brooding on his chances against Gray, Carl would really have preferred to stay silent altogether. He didn't like to talk, never had. Felt in fact that it was a much-overrated pastime. But there was a limit to how taciturn you could be when you were getting a free ride. So he mustered some lightweight chat about next week's Argentina-Brazil play-off and threw as little of it into the conversational mix as he thought he could get away with. Some comments about Patricia Mocatta, and the advisability of female captains for teams that were still predominantly male. Player name checks. Tactical comparisons. It all seemed to go down fine.

"¿Eres Marciano?" one of them asked him, finally, inevitably.

He shook his head. In fact, he had been a Martian once, but it was a long, complicated story he didn't feel like telling.

"Soy contable," he told them, because that was sometimes what he felt like. "Contable de biotecnologia."

They all grinned. He wasn't sure if it was because they didn't think he looked like a biotech accountant, or because they just didn't believe him. Either way they didn't push the point. They were used to men with stories that didn't match their faces.

"Habla bien el español," someone complimented him.

His Spanish was good, though for the last two weeks it was Quechua he'd been speaking mostly, Mars-accented but still tight up against the Peruvian original that had spawned it. It was what the bulk of the altiplano dwellers used, and they in turn made up most of the grunt labor force in the prep camps, just as they still did on Mars. Notwithstanding which fact, the language of enforcement up here was still Spanish. Aside from a smattering of web-gleaned Amanglic, these guys from the coast spoke nothing else. Not an ideal state of affairs from the corporate point of view, but the Lima government had been adamant when the COLIN contracts were signed. Handing over control to the gringo corporations was one thing, had oligarchy-endorsed historical precedent on its side in fact. But allowing the altiplano dwellers to shake themselves culturally loose from the grip of coastal rule, well, that would be simply unacceptable. There was just too much bad history in the balance. The original Incas six hundred years ago and their stubborn thirty-year refusal to behave as a conquered people should, the bloody reprise by Túpac Amaru in 1780, the Sendero Luminoso Maoists a bare century back, and more recently still the upheavals of the familias andinas. The lessons had been learned, the word went out. Never again. Spanish-speaking uniforms and bureaucrats drove home the point.

The patrol carrier pulled up with a jerk, and the rear door hinged weightily outward. Harsh, high-altitude sunlight spilled in, and with it came the sound and smell of the camp. Now he heard Quechua, the familiar un-Spanish cadences of it, shouted back and forth above the noise of machinery in motion. An imported robot voice trampled it down, blared vehicle reversing, vehicle reversing in Amanglic. There was music from somewhere, huayno vocals remixed to a bloodbeat dance rhythm. Pervasive under the scent of engine oil and plastics, the dark meat odor of someone grilling antecuchos over a charcoal fire. Carl thought he could make out the sound of rotors lifting somewhere in the distance.

The soldiers boiled out, dragging packs and weapons after. Carl let them go, stepped down last and looked around, using their boisterous crowding as cover. The carrier had stopped on an evercrete apron opposite a couple of dusty, parked coaches with destination boards for Cuzco and Arequipa. There was a girdered shell of a terminal building, and behind it Garrod Horkan 9 camp stretched away up the hill, all single-story prefab shacks and sterile rectilinear street plan. Corporate flags fluttered whitely on poles every few blocks, an entwined g and h ringed by stars. Through the unglassed windows of the terminal, Carl spotted figures wearing coveralls with the same logo emblazoned front and back.

Fucking company towns.

He dumped his pack in a locker block inside the terminal, asked directions of a coveralled cleaner, and stepped back out into the sun on the upward-sloping street. Down the hill, Lake Titicaca glimmered painfully bright and blue. He slipped on the Cebe smart lenses, settled his battered leather Peruvian Stetson on his head, and started up the slope, tracking the music. The masking was more local cover than necessity--his skin was dark and leathered enough not to worry about the sun, but the lenses and hat would also partially obscure his features. Black faces weren't that common in the altiplano camps, and unlikely though it was, Gray might have someone watching the terminal. The less Carl stood out, the better.

A couple of blocks up the street, he found what he was looking for. A prefab twice the size of the units around it, leaking the bloodbeat and huayno remix through shuttered windows and a double door wedged back. The walls were stickered with peeling publicity for local bands, and the open door space was bracketed by two loopview panels showing some Lima ad agency's idea of Caribbean nightlife. White sand beach and palm trees by night, party lights strung. Bikini-clad criolla girls gripped beer bottles knowingly and pumped their hips to an unheard rhythm alongside similarly European-looking consorts. Outside of the band--jet-muscled and cavorting gaily in the background, well away from the women--no one had skin any darker than a glass of blended Scotch and water.

Carl shook his head bemusedly and went inside.

The bloodbeat was louder once he got in, but not unbearable. The roof tented at second-story height, nothing but space between the plastic rafters, and the music got sucked up there. At a corner table, three men and a woman were playing a card game that required calls, apparently without any trouble tracking one another's voices. Conversation at other tables was a constant murmur you could hear. Sunlight fell in through the doorway and shutters. It made hard bars and blocks on the floor but didn't reach far, and if you looked there directly then looked away, the rest of the room seemed dimly lit by comparison.

At the far end of the room, a boomerang-angled bar made from riveted tin sections held up half a dozen drinkers. It was set far enough back from the windows that the beer coolers on the wall behind glowed softly in the gloom. There was a door set in the wall and propped open on an equally dimly lit kitchen space, apparently empty and not in use. The only visible staff took the form of a dumpy indigena waitress slouching about between the tables, collecting bottles and glasses on a tray. Carl watched her intently for a moment, then followed her as she headed back toward the bar.

He caught up with her just as she put down her tray on the bartop.

Copyright © 2007 by Richard K. Morgan


Black Man

- spoltz


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