Today we publish Project Prometheus by Matthew X. Gomez and we couldn't be prouder.
There's no denying it's raised a few eyebrows in some quarters - we're known as a Crime Fiction publisher so aren't we waaaaay out of our lane publishing Science Fiction?
The fact is that this book by Matt Gomez is as cool a slice of noir as you're ever going to find - author Derek Farrell recently said it better than we ever could -
"Think William Gibson and Raymond Chandler in a blender with a splash of Phillip K Dick. Served ice cold and razor sharp."
Since the very beginning of Fahrenheit our slogan has always been "It's NOIR if we say it's NOIR." and this my friends is 100% NOIR.
You don't need to take our word for it - read this extended extract and see for yourself.
Project Prometheus by Matthew X. Gomez
Tom stepped out into the alley behind Danzig’s, a cold misty rain dripping down from on high, city lights gleaming off the titanium and chrome of his left arm. He ducked under an overhang, filched a half-crumpled pack of cigarettes out of his pocket.
He held up his fake thumb, a blue propane flame cutting up into the night and then extinguished. He took a long, satisfied drag. Someone cleared their throat.
Tom leaned back and closed his eyes, took another long drag, filling his lungs with smoke.
“You’re a hard man to track down.” A figure stepped out from the shadows, long black trench coat hanging down over a spare frame. Blue-black hair tied back from a square face. The light caught the silver implants around his eyes. “A man didn’t know better, I’d say you didn’t want to be found.”
Tom grunted. “Shaman. This a social call?”
Shaman shook his head. “Wouldn’t be bothering you just to say ‘hi.’ Thought you might be interested in getting some paying work.
Tom’s eyes narrowed and he held up his left arm. “This coming from you or from O’Dell? Last time I worked for O’Dell I picked up this little souvenir.”
Shaman nodded. “It’s from Sam all right. He got the old crew back together. Promises a nice pay day. Better than washing dishes anyway.”
Tom snorted. “’Course it does.” He took another drag on his cigarette, jabbed his thumb back to the door. “I don’t get shot washing dishes though.”
Shaman smiled, lips pulling back from even teeth. “I suppose there’s that, isn’t there?” He pulled a card from a pocket, flipped it through the air to Tom, the light reflecting off the shiny black surface. Tom snatched it out of the air with his flesh and blood hand. Embossed in chrome on the card was a telephone number.
“An invitation,” Shaman replied. “If you change your mind, give it a call.”
“Yeah.” Tom slipped the card into his jeans. “What’s the deadline?”
“Sam needs an answer by the weekend. This is a limited time engagement, and he needs to know if he has to look at other talent.”
“Yeah? He’s got someone else lined up?”
“Maybe.” Shaman’s grin disappeared. “You’re his first choice though. Took a couple of weeks to track you down here. You’re good at hiding your tracks.”
“Not good enough, obviously,” Tom mumbled around his cigarette.
Shaman laughed. “I can’t even take credit for finding you. Ju-Won did that.”
Tom wrinkled his nose. “He’s in on this too?”
Shaman nodded. “The entire crew is on this. Anatoliy and Rayen as well.”
Tom hawked spit and left a wet smear on the asphalt. He watched it swirl with the rain, become indistinguishable from the rest of the water headed toward the storm drain. “This backed by Defiant Strategy?”
Shaman shook his head. “They went bust after the Venezuela shitstorm. Strictly an independent operation this time.”
Tom’s eyes went flat and he fingered the card in his pocket. “What’s he looking to steal?”
Shaman smiled, but didn’t touch his eyes. He stepped backward into the shadow until he was nothing but a shadow among the shadows. “Call the number if you’re interested, Tom. You’re wasted here among the civvies.”
“I get shot a lot less on this job,” Tom called out, but Shaman’s only answer was to laugh.
Tom pulled the card out, twisted it in his calloused fingers. “Shit.” He shoved the card back into his pocket and walked back inside to finish the rest of his shift, a tingling sense of dread creeping up his spine, long buried nightmares of the LatAm Wars struggling to the surface.
“What are you going to do when you get out?” Ju-Won asked, his head obscured by the VR headset he wore. He’d spliced into the local network, but given the deplorable state of the local infrastructure, he’d spent more time smoking cigarettes and cursing then he did actually monitoring the local situation.
“Get out of where? Here? Caracas?” Tom asked. He frowned down at his empty pack of cigarettes, tried to remember when he smoked the last one. “My contract doesn’t expire for what, another three years? Probably re-up if I’ve got the option.”
“He means out of this mess.” Anatoliy’s voice rumbled like an avalanche. It had taken Tom a couple of weeks to get used to the big man’s thick Ukrainian accent. “If any of us had any useful skill, we wouldn’t be working for Defiant Strategy, would we?”
They were sitting in the stripped ballroom of a hotel, the plaster peeling from walls pockmarked with bullet holes. Artillery rumbled in the distance, setting the already precarious chandelier trembling. Tom knew it wasn’t going to be an easy assignment as soon as Sam told him what it was going to entail. Tom glanced sideways toward him. Sam O’Dell, veteran mercenary. Started out as one of Uncle Sam’s Misguided Children, but got drummed out on a dishonorable. Trouble with Sam was he liked combat too much. As long as bullets were firing, Sam was your guy. Trouble came when peace broke out, and Sam wasn’t sure what to do with himself.
Right now though he had his large brimmed safari hat tucked down over his eyes, his assault rifle propped up next to him. From the way Sam’s lips twitched up in a smile under his mustache, Tom knew he wasn’t asleep.
Tom came from a different background, young tough from the city, running with one gang or another. He’d thought about going with the military, but somehow the thought of taking orders didn’t sit right with him. Never mind he’d set out to prove himself a good loyal soldier on the streets of his neighborhood.
He got picked up for the illegal possession of a handgun, a piece the local mechanic had set to autofire. That meant a stint in a corporate sponsored rehabilitation facility. Ostensibly, the prisoners were housed by the corporation, performed whatever manual labor they needed done at a fraction of the cost. Sure, they were supposed to get paid, but most of what they made went toward housing and feeding them, with the little that was left going to the commissary.
The prison made for prime recruiting ground. The white collar hacks were picked up, given a better education in terms of where they went wrong. Those in for the more violent offenses were given a different choice, provided they could toe the line. Those that couldn’t served as an object lesson.
Sam was Tom’s recruiting officer, looking sharp in his suit, an expensive cigar clenched between his teeth. Tom remembered seeing Sam standing there with one of the COs, up on a catwalk staring down at the convicts, stabbing with his finger at likely prospects. Tom made sure he got noticed, as signing the corporate contract meant a commutation of sentence.
Tom sniffed. “I’ve got plenty of useful skills,” he said.
Ju-Won laughed, his head swiveling blindly in his VR headset. “Yeah, what can you do other than breaking things?”
“Hey now,” Anatoliy retorted. “That’s all some of us good at. And be glad we are, because where would you be otherwise? Driving a desk probably.”
“Better than sitting in this dump with you dogs,” Ju-Won replied.
“Any chatter out there?” Sam asked, not lifting his hat from his head.
Ju-Won spat. “Hard to tell. Shaman, you see anything?”
“That’s a negative,” Shaman’s voice crackled in Tom’s earpiece. He’d stationed himself with his sniper rifle up at the top of the hotel in order to check sight lines. “I think we’re clear at the moment. Just me and the mosquitos. How’s our guest?”
Tom glanced at the person they were supposed to be protecting. He sat with his back against the wall, his eyes wide and bloodshot, his suit torn and dirty. His eyes darted nervous and quick from one mercenary to the next, never mind their contract was to protect him. Tom didn’t have all the details, but he was reasonably certain the man was part of the government that had just collapsed. The man was a client of Defiant Strategy, but they were there purely in a bodyguard capacity. No one had said anything about a counter-revolution.
“Looks like he’s about to shit himself,” Tom replied.
“Don’t be too hard on him,” Anatoliy said. Another rumble of artillery shook the building. “Not everyone is suited to this kind of life.”
Tom shook his head. He closed his eyes and lay back against his pack. “So long as we get paid, right? Any idea if Rayen’s found us a way out yet?”
“Ju-Won?” Sam asked.
“That’s a negative. Good ole U. S. of A. has the entire airspace designated no fly. We’re stuck unless you’ve got another way out of here.”
The sound of a rifle being fired echoed through their earpieces.
“Shaman, what the hell was that?”
“Company,” came the reply, the sniper’s voice calm and even. “About two dozen people converging on the hotel, and they are looking mighty unfriendly.” Another shot rang out. “They’ve got cover now and closing in.”
“Roger that, see if you can keep them busy,” Sam replied. He was on his feet, eyes alert, as if he’d been fully awake the entire time. “Anatoliy?”
“Yes, yes.” The big man pulled back a tarp, revealing a heavy-caliber machine gun with an attached tripod. He hefted it up in his arms. “Which way are they coming from Shaman?”
“Check the West. You’re going to want to set up over there.”
“Tom? Head over there as well. Anatoliy, find a spot on the second floor. Tom, I want you on the first floor,” Sam said. “Ju-won, get that fucking thing off and watch our guest. Last thing we need is for him to get spooked and run off on us. Because the way this whole thing has gone that is exactly what I’d expect to have happen.”
Ju-Won put down the headset and packed it away, then pulled out a stubby bull-pup shotgun. “Hear that? We get to be buddies,” he said with a grin that revealed too many cracked and uneven teeth. The client looked somewhat less than assured. The client scooted back further to the wall, hugged his knees to his chest.
Tom checked his submachinegun as he took position. As long as it wasn’t a major push, he felt he had enough ammunition, and he figured the hotel was a low profile enough target that the artillery would leave it alone. He almost felt bad for the ones who were supposed to be supporting the government. He knew though that were as many mercenaries aiding the revolutionaries as were supporting the failing government. He set up behind the battered front desk, lining up magazines of ammunition and three grenades in preparation. It would have been better if Defiant had provided proper combat webbing, but Tom had come to realize that whoever ran logistics had never been in a fire fight. They’d previously mined the back entrances in case anyone tried to come through there. The city still had power, and there were enough lights on to cast enough shadows to be distracting. Still, it was better than the pitch black of the jungle. Tom would take city fighting over that nightmare any day.
“You set, Tom?” Shaman’s voice came through loud and clear, crackling in his earpiece.
“Yeah. No movement yet.” Tom kept his voice pitched low. If someone was out there, he didn’t want anyone to hear it.
“Keep your eyes open and your mouths shut, boys,” Sam said.
Tom spotted a shadow creeping from a fountain toward the front door. “I’ve got movement,” he hissed.
“Let them get to the door,” Sam replied. “Then light them up.”
Tom braced the stock of his gun against his shoulder, kept his breathing slow and steady. The windows of the hotel had long been shattered, the broken glass still scattered on the ground. He saw a figure step through the entrance, heard the crunch of glass under a boot. Tom pulled the trigger, the gun barking in his hand. He kept control, a short controlled burst. Gunfire answered back, and he kept low, bullets smacking into the furniture and chewing through the desk.
Tom heard Anatoliy open up with the machinegun, the harsh chatter nearly drowning out the screams. Tom grabbed the magazines and grenades and crawled to a different position. He poked his head around the corner, let out another burst that caught a woman trying to come through a broken window.
“We’ve got a problem, boss,” Shaman said, his voice possessing an edge Tom wasn’t comfortable hearing. Tom heard an explosion come from the back of the building. “They’re bringing up some technicals.”
Tom could see the pickup trucks entering the front plaza, headlights blazing through the darkness. Mounted on the back of each was a machinegun, and he was pretty sure he spotted the silhouette of a rocket launcher.
“Understood. Tom, Anatoliy, pull back.”
“Now Anatoliy.” Tom scooped up the ammunition and grenades, hustled back to the ballroom. He kept his head low. The sound that followed was deafening as the machineguns opened up, ripping through the walls and the desk as if they were paper. The ballroom wasn’t much better, and the whole building shook as a rocket detonated somewhere inside, dust filling the interior with a choking cloud of debris.
“Everyone okay?” Sam’s voice came over the ear piece.
“All in one piece,” Shaman responded.
“Slightly dinged,” Anatoliy replied.
“Yeah, I’m here, just some ringing in my ears.”
“Good, can you get to the roof?”
Tom heard someone coming up behind him. He turned letting out a short burst from his gun and sprinted for the stairs. The return fire punched through brick and plaster. Tom felt a sting on the back of his leg followed by a warm wet trickle, realized he’d been grazed by a bullet or a piece of shrapnel.
He pulled the pin on one of his grenades and tossed it through the doorway he’d gone through. He took the stairs two at a time, putting distance between himself and the attackers. “Uh, boss, are you sure that’s such a good idea?”
“Don’t question me, boy,” Sam barked back.
Tom shut his mouth and hustled up the stairs. Beneath him, he could hear the attackers enter the stairwell. He pulled another grenade, gave it a two count and gave it a soft underarm pitch. The dull whump of the explosion preceded a cloud of smoke billowing out into the hallway. Tom pulled his goggles down over his eyes and a bandana up over his mouth, his leg hurting each time he put pressure down on it. He burst onto the roof, slammed the door behind him. Anatoliy came over, slid a bit of metal in place to bar the door closed. Sam, Shaman, Ju-Won and the client sat on top of the roof. Down below more gunmen rushed into the building.
“That’s not going to stop them,” Tom gasped, pointing at the flimsy barricade. “Where are we supposed to go from here?”
Sam smiled. “Rayen came through.”
“Thought you said it was a no fly zone?”
Sam’s smile broadend. “Funny thing happens when you tell a woman like Rayen ‘no.’ Suddenly she finds all kinds of ways to make it possible. We just need to hold out for about five minutes.”
Tom felt his stomach drop. “I’m not sure we have five minutes, sir.”
“Clear a way,” Anatoliy said, deploying his machinegun across the roof to face the barred door.
Tom dropped back behind Anatoliy. He ejected the magazine from his gun, checked the bullet count and slammed it back home. He was down to one grenade, and he wasn’t sure it was going to make a difference. Shaman set up on the other side of the big Ukranian, trading his sniper rifle for a pistol. Ju-Won held back with the client, his shotgun cradled in his arms.
“Tom, when that door opens, I need you to place that grenade right in that hole, you understand? Don’t miss.”
Tom looked up from where he was bandaging his leg. “Yeah, I got it.”
“Anatoliy, as soon as that grenade goes off, you open up.”
“Ju-Won, you got ears on Rayen yet?”
“Not yet, boss. I’ll let you know as soon as I do, but there’s a lot of chatter out there right now.”
Sam nodded. “See if you can cut through any of it. She said she was coming in hot.”
“I know, I know,” Ju-Won replied, running a hand over his head and tugging sharply on his ponytail. “I’m the one that told you.”
“Yeah, yeah. How’s the client?”
Ju-Won shrugged. “Still alive. Pretty catatonic otherwise.”
“Yeah, well make sure he stays out of the way, all right?”
“That won’t be a problem.”
An explosion rocked the hotel, sending the entire building swaying. The door exploded outward, metal pinwheeling into the air in razor shards. Tom pitched the grenade straight at the opening, landing it in the middle of the gunmen surging out on to the roof. Anatoliy, prone on the roof, pulled the trigger on the machinegun. The gunmen, some of them, fell back, bodies torn and bloody. Something surged forward then, propelling the bodies forward like dolls before a bulldozer. A figure pushed through the dead and dying, all metal and chrome.
“Shit, they got a cyborg,” Sam yelled. Anatoliy trained his fire on it, as did Tom. He wished he had held on to another grenade. The machinegun rounds pinged and dented the metal composite body, and then Anatoliy was running for cover as the man-machine hybrid dropped to one knee, a rocket launcher sliding into position from its back to its shoulder.
Tom felt the bile burn in his throat. Cyborgs were supposed to be strictly verboten in combat, but the Geneva Convention had long been a stranger in Caracas. Tom had to wonder how much of the man was still alive and aware in the metallic shell. Not that it made much difference when one of them was trying to kill you.
A fiery plume shot forward, exploding on the roof and wrecking the machinegun. Tom slid to one side, hoping to flank the cyborg. He dove for cover as the cyborg brought his assault rifle around, tracer rounds arcing toward him, slicing through the industrial fans on the roof. A sharp pain shot through his left arm, and he bit back a curse. He tried to get his arm back on his weapon, but for some reason it didn’t seem to want to work, so he fired it off one handed. Bullets bounced off like raindrops. The cyborg got back to its feet. Something sailed through the air, stuck to its metal casing. It had long enough to look down before the charge detonated, cratering its armor and sending it to the ground, a look of profound disbelief on its face.
“Here comes Rayen!” Ju-Won shouted.
A VTOL craft skimmed over the ground, hugging the horizon line as it deftly dipped and swayed among the buildings. Occasional bursts of fire lanced up from the ground, but the craft was moving too quickly for any to connect. The craft braked over the rooftop, Tom and the others giving it a wide enough berth as it hovered just over the top of the hotel.
“Go, go, go!” Sam yelled, helping to hoist his crew up into the passenger compartment. Rayen sat in the pilot seat, her helmet pressed down tight over her mohawk, a fierce grin on her face as she trained the autocannons mounted on the wings on the gunmen.
“Oh fuck!” Tom moaned as Sam tried to grab him by the wreck of his left arm.
“Jesus, Anatoliy, give me a hand with Tom here. Come on, get him in before he bleeds out.”
“Huh?” Tom asked, looking at his arm for the first time. From the shoulder down it was a mess of shredded meat and shattered bones. Anatoliy leaned down, grabbed Tom under the shoulders, and hoisted him into the craft. Tom tried to keep from screaming, and failed.
“Everyone in?” Rayen called back.
“Yeah, that’s everyone, including the client,” Sam confirmed.
Ju-Won opened his laptop on his computer, typed a short line of code as Sam used a pair of scissors to cut away at Tom’s shirt as Anatoliy held him down. Shaman stared out into the distance. Tom wanted to say something, but then Sam jabbed him with a needle and he felt like a heavy warm blanket swaddled him, and he felt as if he floated above the pain, detached and separate.
“Boss. Just got word that the client’s contract has been terminated,” Ju-Won said.
“Is that right? Shaman.”
“No, no, there is some misunderstanding,” the man said, a dark stain appearing on the front of his pants.
Shaman smiled at the man, then grabbed him and threw him out of the craft. It was moving fast enough that his scream was cut short and Tom didn’t hear him hit the ground. He closed his eyes and let the synthetic opiate wrap itself like a warm blanket around him.
The phone rang in Tom’s skull, Sunny’s number floating in his vision, superimposed over the crack in his ceiling.
“Tom? Christ, do you know what time it is?” Sunny didn’t have her camera turned on, so all he saw was her smiling face haloed by orange hair. He thought she’d had dyed it purple the last time he’d seen her.
“Uhm, late? How are you Sunny?”
“Well I was sleeping up until a couple of minutes ago. What’s up?”
“What makes you think I’m not just calling to check up on you?”
“Spare me,” she replied. It’s… three a.m. This is a bit ridiculous even for you. “
“I… I need a favor, Sunny.”
“Oh. Don’t tell me, finally got fed up with that slut Shari. Came to your senses and popped her?”
Tom sighed. “No. And she left me a week ago anyway.”
“Good. You can do better.”
Tom’s mouth turned into a smirk. “You think?”
“Yep, definitely. Anyway, how can your little sister help you at three oh two in the morning and it doesn’t involve moving a dead stripper?”
“I need a gun. Thought you might be able to get me one. Nothing fancy. Simple pistol and enough ammunition to make a difference.”
The camera turned on. Yeah, she’d dyed it purple. “Hold on. You working again?”
Tom frowned. “Maybe. Don’t know. Got an offer on a line of work. Not sure it’s the kind of thing I want to get into.”
Sunny frowned back at him. “This isn’t Defiant Strategy related, is it? I heard they went tits up, but you never can tell with some of these private contractors.”
“No, it’s not them. At least I don’t think it is.” Tom reached his right hand to touch his left arm. The metal felt cold under his fingers. “Freelancers though, used to work for them.”
“And?” Sunny asked.
“O’Dell is the one putting together the team. Sent a guy named Shaman to see me about it.”
“You think it’s legit?”
Tom laughed, harsh and bitter. He didn’t like how it sounded in his own ears. “Sam O’Dell involved in something legitimate? I doubt it. A better question is how much of myself I’ll end up having to leave behind this time if I take him up on the offer.”
“So walk away.”
“The money though…”
“Yeah, yeah I get you. When do you need to give an answer by?”
“All right. I’ll see what I can do about a gun for you. In the meantime, I’ll do some sniffing around, see what I can get on O’Dell and company. Maybe get a line on what you are about to step into.”
“I could walk away,” Tom responded.
“Heh. Right. Anyway, I need to get some shut-eye. I’m supposed to go to brunch with Paula tomorrow morning.”
“Ah. That your new girl?”
“If by new girl you mean the same girl I’ve been seeing the past six months, then yeah, it’s the new girl.”
Tom winced. “Sorry.”
Sunny stifled a yawn. “Is okay. But seriously, this princess needs her beauty sleep. Night, Tom.”
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