Cronix: out this week on Amazon
October 28, 2014
As a taster for the new book, here is the Prologue:
The restaurant was ugly, just rough cement walls painted the dark burgundy of a Victorian whorehouse. No ornaments or decorations adorned the pockmarked masonry. Despite the utter disregard for aesthetic appeal, the joint was heaving, the clamor of drunken voices and the blare of rock music thickening the air of anticipation.
“Okay, we’d better be quick.” The man was lean, with a horse face, and kept glancing at the entrance of the restaurant.
“Because in about fifteen minutes some guy strapped with TNT is gonna walk right through that door there and blow himself and everyone else in here to shit. And if you’re not chipped, you don’t wanna be here. Hell, I’m chipped and even I don’t want to be here.”
Oriente glanced nervously over his shoulder. All around, at tables set with bowls of pretzels and nuts and frothing pots of beer, tumblers of gin and tonic, people were laughing and talking excitedly. “A suicide bomber? That’s pretty retro. It’s been a while since the Islamic wars.”
“It’s all the rage with the young crowd these days,” said horse-face.
“How will you know it’s him?”
“Well, first of all, the music changes. Suicide Blonde, by INXS. Then the waiters disappear into the safe room. Look at ‘em now, rushing round like crazy to make sure everyone has a drink before the bomber comes in.”
“Okay, so let’s talk then,” Oriente said. “How do I get past the vetting without a chip?”
“There’s a doctor called Wilson. He does the screening. It’s not like he’s a real doctor or anything, but they get to call him that anyway. He doesn’t give a shit, but he doesn’t want to get caught either. So you have to take him to one side, tell him you’ve got an embarrassing condition you’d rather not discuss in public. Then, when he takes you into his room, you give him the dough. Thousand’s the asking price.”
“And that’s all I have to do?” The music faded out. Oriente anxiously listened to the opening chords of the next song. Shiny Happy People by REM. A raucous laugh from the drunken crowd.
“That’s all. No questions asked. He’ll give you a badge so you can come and go. Though it’s way dangerous for you, you know. Why d’you wanna work up there without a chip? Some of them leapers can drag a man over the edge, y’know. And it’s a loooooong way down to the street, let me tell you.”
“Why do I want to work there, or why don’t I want a chip?”
The man shrugged. “I dunno. Whichever.”
Oriente took a swig of beer from the plastic cup in front of him. “It’s a good job. Easy, satisfying. Well paid. And I’d like to help the planet sweat off this virus called humanity.”
The man stared at him blankly. “But why not get a chip? It’d make life a hell of lot easier. After all, this is Chiptown. Technically speaking, it’s illegal to even be here without one.”
Oriente took another gulp. “Call me perverse. “
“Whatever floats your boat, man” said the horse-faced man. “Anything goes round here. Literally. You know, there’s a place round the corner where they have these orgies, incredible sex parties, where they’ve got human sacrifices. You get naked and tied up in front of this stoned, boozed-up mob and some big-titted German Fraulein comes out in rubber thigh boots and teases your manhood for about ten minutes. Then, just when you’re about to get off, another incredibly hot babe comes in stabs you in the heart.”
“And what’s this place called?”
“The Whores of Perception,” the man said.
Oriente smiled. “Sounds like a fun night out.”
“Down in the Village, they got all sorts of that shit. They got gladiator fights, and there’s this bear pit where they chuck people in and they get ripped to pieces. Course, they get pretty tanked up first. That’s where the real money is for the owners, not in seeing some schmuck get mauled to death.”
“A regular New World Babylon,” said Oriente. On the speaker system, he could hear a pounding guitar rhythm that grabbed the attention of his interlocutor. The lean man started up from the plastic table.
“Hey, man, that’s our song. Time to get outta here.” Oriente looked round. The front door was still closed, but the waiting staff had already melted away. No one else seemed to have noticed. But then, they were all chipped and about to enter paradise. Pre-paid tickets only tonight.
His guide weaved quickly through the table and out a thick metal door peppered with gouges, as though some ferocious beast had tried to claw its way out of the room. They hurried down a corridor and out into a piss-reeking alleyway. As the outer door clanged to behind them, an ear-splitting boom enveloped the two men, as though the entire building were about to come down on their heads. Oriente instinctively ducked, but his companion barely flinched. By the time they had emerged onto Fifth Avenue, a group of sozzled revelers had gathered in the acrid smoke that was drifting from the blown-open front door of the restaurant, and were observing the scene of carnage within: the floor of the eatery was a lake of blood, the concrete walls sprayed an even brighter red with fresh gore and gobbets of human flesh, scarcely distinguishable from the char-grilled buffalo wings the late diners had just been consuming.
Some of the crowd whooped, but Oriente saw a young woman turn away from the group and gag.
On the other side of the street, Oriente spotted a neat diner where several of the customers were slumped across tables set with dishes of sushi and tiny cups of sake. A neon sign above the door flickered out its shaky message to the wild city night: Cyanide Sue’s Suicide Sushi. Below it was a painted billboard that announced: Last Supper, every nite at 8.
A man holding a brown beer bottle giggled and pointed to the restaurant’s alliterative monicker. “Try saying that when you’re wasted,” he slurred and his companions cackled. Beyond them, the sheer cliff-face of the Empire State Building pierced the night sky. Oriente could see a giddy blur in the spotlights mounted on the uppers ramparts: two tiny figures arced out from the viewing gallery and hovered for a split second, before gravity hurled them in a voiceless plunge to the sealed-off section of street below.
A week later, he started work there.