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Authors: Gareth L. Powell

Macaque attack

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PRAISE FOR THE ACK-ACK MACAQUE TRILOGY

 

“A mind-expanding cyber-thriller” –The Guardian

 

“More fun than a barrel of steampunk monkeys” –Milwaukee Journal

 

“As much utterly irresponsible fun as you could hope to have with a monkey without having to explain yourself to the police.” –SF Reviews

 

“Fizzes with wild ideas... A ripping yarn about murder, mayhem and monkeys” – Philip Reeve, author ofMortal Engines

 

“An action-adventure plot that pulls you right along... Everybody loves the monkey.” –Steampunk Magazine

 

“A highly enjoyable romp with page-turning action” –Interzone Magazine

 

“The much-anticipated ‘monkeypunk’ novel” –SFX Magazine

 

“Hit after hit after hit, until the reader is left breathless, reeling slightly and in severe need of a banana daiquiri.”10/10 -Fantasy Faction

 

“Ridiculously readable, thoroughly entertaining, and packed full of ideas.” –SFFWorld

 

“A rollicking, madcap sci-fi adventure story, it’s a thoughtful novel and it’s got a monkey with a gun. What’s not to love?” –Cult Den

 

“Without a doubt, one of the best reads I’ve enjoyed in a long, long time.” –SpecFiction

 

“Shows just what is possible by combining new idea and creating a unique world... Gareth L. Powell will be an author to look out for.” –Fantasy Book Review

 

“Powerful, intelligent, filled with ideas, clever touches and brilliant characters.” –Morpheus Tales

 

“I can’t recommend this highly enough. I didn’t just like this, I loved it. –The Eloquent Page

 

“An entertaining read, one that is engaging, effectively written, and just damned good fun.” –Parallaxed Journal

 

“Make sure you don’t miss these amazing books.” –The Book Plank

 

“The most fun I’ve had with a novel in quite a long time and you need to read it too, trust me.” – Dave Hutchinson author ofEurope in Autumn

 

“Great fun” – Adam Roberts author ofJack Glass

 

“Ack-Ack is an inspired creation, a monkey with attitude, issues and a hole where his heart should be... riotous fun.” –The Guardian

 

Also by Gareth L. Powell

Hive Monkey

Ack-Ack Macaque

The Recollection

Silversands

The Last Reef

 

First published 2014 by Solaris

an imprint of Rebellion Publishing Ltd,

Riverside House, Osney Mead,

Oxford, OX2 0ES, UK

www.solarisbooks.com

 

ISBN: 978-1-84997-881-1

 

Copyright © Gareth L. Powell 2014

Cover by Jake Murray

 

The right of the author to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of he copyright owners.

 

This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely coincidental.

 

For my sister, Rebecca, with thanks.

 

 

 

In September 1956, France found herself facing economic difficulties at home and an escalating crisis in Suez. In desperation, the French Prime Minister came to London with an audacious proposition for Sir Anthony Eden: a political and economic union between the United Kingdom and France, with Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II as the new head of the French state.

Although Eden greeted the idea with scepticism, a resounding Anglo-French victory against Egypt persuaded his successor to accept and, despite disapproving noises from both Washington and Moscow, Harold Macmillan and Charles de Gaulle eventually signed the Declaration of Union on 29th November 1959, thereby laying the foundations for a wider European commonwealth.

And now, one hundred years have passed...

 

PART ONE

 

PERSONAL FRANKENSTEIN

 

Of all the animals, man is the only one that is cruel. He is the only one that inflicts pain for the pleasure of doing it.

 

(Mark Twain,The Lowest Animal)

 

BREAKING NEWS

 

FromB&FBC NEWS ONLINE:

 

KING TO MARK SECOND ANNIVERSARY OF INVASION

 

LONDON 15/11/ 2062 – A service of remembrance will be held in Parliament Square tomorrow to mark the second anniversary of the Gestalt Invasion.

 

During the invasion, heavily armed airships appeared over major cities across the globe, and government buildings and seats of power were destroyed in an attempt to ‘decapitate’ international society. The Gestalt were eventually beaten, but not before thousands of civilians and military personnel lost their lives.

 

His Majesty, King Merovech I, ruler of the United Kingdom of Great Britain, France, Ireland and Norway, will dedicate a memorial to those who died in London, including his fiancée, Julie Girard, Princess of Normandy. Similar services will be held simultaneously in Cardiff, Oslo, Manchester, Dublin, and Paris.

 

Two years on from the events of 16th November 2060, the whereabouts of those responsible for halting the invasion remains a mystery. Captain Valois and the crew of her skyliner, theTereshkova—including the famed monkey pilot, Ack-Ack Macaque—vanished shortly after defeating the Gestalt forces in the skies above the British capital. It is believed they may have used the hive mind’s own machinery to ‘jump’ to a parallel dimension.

 

Whether they went to avenge the attack, or on some other undisclosed quest, their fate remains unknown.

 

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From protester to princess: the life of Julie Girard.

 

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World leaders sign mutual defence pact in Moscow.

 

Global warming: sea level rise may be faster than predicted.

 

 

 

CHAPTER ONE

INSTANT KARMA

 

“ARE YOU SUREwe should be doing this?” The driver’s sharp green eyes met Victoria’s in the rearview mirror and she looked away, twisting her gloved hands in her lap. She was being driven through Paris in a shiny black Mercedes. The parked cars, buildings and skeletal linden trees were bright and crisp beneath the winter sun.

“I think so.”

At the wheel, K8 shrugged. She was nineteen years old, with cropped copper hair and a smart white suit.

“Only...”

Victoria frowned, and brushed a speck of dust from the knee of her black trousers.

“Only what?”

“Should it be you that does it? Maybe somebody else—”

“She won’t listen to anybody else.”

“You don’t know that for sure.”

“I really do.”

They passed across the Pont Neuf. Sunlight glittered off the waters of the Seine. The towers of Notre Dame stood resolute against the sky, their solidity a direct counterpoint to the ephemeral advertising holograms that stepped and swaggered above the city’s boulevards and streets.

“Look,” Victoria said apologetically, “I didn’t mean to be snappy. I really appreciate you coming along. I know things haven’t been easy for you recently.”

K8 kept her attention focused on the road ahead.

“We are fine.”

“It must have been tough for you.” During the final battle over London, the poor kid had been assimilated into the Gestalt hive mind. For a time, she’d been part of a group consciousness, lost in a sea of other people’s thoughts.

“It was, but we’re okay now. Really.” There were no other members of the Gestalt on this parallel version of the Earth. For the first time since the battle, the girl was alone in her head.

“You’re still referring to yourself in the plural.”

“We can’t help it.”

The car negotiated the Place de la Bastille, and plunged into the narrow streets beyond. Their target lived in a two-room apartment on the third floor of a red brick house on the corner of la Rue Pétion. When they reached the address, Victoria instructed K8 to park the Mercedes at the opposite end of the avenue and wait. Then she got out and walked back towards the house.

With her hands in the pockets of her long army coat, she sniffed the cold air. This morning, Paris smelled of damp leaves and fresh coffee. Far away and long ago, on another timeline entirely, this had been her neighbourhood, her street. Even the graffiti tags scrawled between the shop-fronts seemed just as she remembered them from when she lived here as a journalist forLe Monde, in the days before she met Paul.

Paul...

Victoria squeezed her fists and pushed them deeper into her pockets. Paul was her ex-husband. In the three years since his death, he’d existed as a computer simulation. She’d managed to keep him alive, despite the fact that personality ‘back-ups’ were inherently unstable and prone to dissolution. Originally developed for battlefield use, back-ups had become a means by which the civilian deceased—at least those who could afford the implants—could say their goodbyes after death and tie up their affairs. The recordings weren’t intended or expected to endure more than six months but, with her help, Paul had already far exceeded that limit.

But nothing lasts forever.

During the past weeks, Paul’s virtual personality had become increasingly erratic and forgetful, and she knew he couldn’t hold out much longer. In order to preserve whatever run-time he might have left, she’d found a way to pause his simulation, leaving him frozen in time until her return. She didn’t want to lose him. In many ways, he was the love of her life; and yet she knew her attempts to hold on to him were only delaying the inevitable. Sooner or later, she’d have to let him go. Three years after his death, she’d finally have to say goodbye.

Scuffing the soles of her boots against the pavement, she wondered if the woman inhabiting the apartment above had anyone significant inherlife. This woman still lived and worked as a reporter in Paris, was registered as single on her social media profile, and had somehow managed to avoid the helicopter crash that had left Victoria with a skull full of prosthetic gelware processors.

Victoria reached up and adjusted the fur cap covering her bald scalp.

This would have been my life,she thought,if I’d never met Paul, never gone to the Falklands...

She felt a surge of irrational hatred for the woman who shared her face, the stranger who had once been her but whose life had diverged at an unspecified point. Where had that divergence come? Who knew? A missed promotion, perhaps, or maybe something as banal as simply turning right when her other self had turned left... Now, they were completely different people. One of them was a newspaper correspondent living in a hip quarter of Paris, the other a battle-hardened skyliner captain in league with an army of dimension-hopping monkeys.

At the front door, she hesitated. How could she explainanyof this?

For the past two years, she’d been travelling with Ack-Ack Macaque, jumping from one world to the next. Together, they’d sought out and freed as many of his simian counterparts as they could find, unhooking them from whichever video games or weapons guidance systems they’d been wired into, and telling them they were no longer alone, no longer unique—welcoming them into the troupe. But in all that time, on all those worlds, she’d never once sought out an alternate version of herself. The thought simply hadn’t occurred to her.

Here and now, though, things were different. K8 had tracked the most likely location of Ack-Ack Macaque’s counterpart on this world to an organisation known as the Malsight Institute. It was a privately funded research facility on the outskirts of Paris, surrounded by security fences and razor wire. While trying to hack its systems from outside, K8 had discovered a file containing a list of people the institute saw as ‘threats’ to their continued operation. Victoria’s counterpart had been the third person named on that list. Apparently, she’d been asking questions, probing around online, and generally making a nuisance of herself. The first two people on the list were already dead, their deaths part of an ongoing police investigation. One had been a former employee of the institute, the other an investigative journalist for an online news site. Both had been found stabbed and mutilated, their bodies charred almost beyond all recognition. Hence, the reason for this visit. If the deaths were connected to the Institute, Victoria felt duty-bound to warn her other self before the woman wound up as a headline on the evening news, her hacked and blackened corpse grinning from the smoking remains of a burned-out car.

From the pocket of her coat, she drew her house key. She’d kept the small sliver of brass and nickel with her for years, letting it rattle around in the bottom of one suitcase after another like a half-forgotten talisman. She’d never expected to need it again, but neither had she ever managed to quite bring herself to throw it away.

She slid the key into the lock and opened the door. Inside, the hallway was exactly as she remembered: black and white diamond-shaped floor tiles; a side table piled with uncollected mail, free newspapers and takeaway menus; and a black-railed staircase leading to the floors above. She closed the front door behind her and made her way up, her thick-soled boots making dull clumps on the uncarpeted steps.

The feel of the smooth bannister, the creak of the stairs, even the slightly musty smell of the walls brought back memories of a time that had been, in retrospect, happier and simpler.

In particular, she remembered an upstairs neighbour, a woman in her mid-forties with a taste for young men. Often, Victoria had found she had to turn up her TV to hide the bumps and giggles from above. One time, a lump of plaster fell off the ceiling and smashed her glass coffee table. Then, in the morning, there would usually be a young man standing in the communal stairwell. Some were lost, some shell-shocked or euphoric. Some were reassessing their lives and relationships in the light of the previous night’s events. Victoria would take them in and make them coffee, call them cabs or get them cigarettes, that sort of thing.

She liked their company. In those days, she liked being useful. And sometimes, one of the boys would stay with her for a few days. They used her to wind down, to ground themselves. Sometimes, they just needed to talk. And when they left, as they inevitably did, it made her sad. She would rinse out their empty coffee mugs, clean the ashtrays, and fetch herself a glass of wine from the fridge. Then she would settle herself on the sofa again, rest her feet on the coffee table frame, and turn the TV volume way up.

 

 

SOMEBODY SCREAMED.THEsound cut through her memories. It came from above. Reaching into her coat pocket, Victoria pulled the retractable fighting stick from her coat and shook it out to its full two-metre length. Was she already too late? Taking the stairs two at a time, she reached the third floor to find the door of the apartment—herapartment—locked, and fresh blood spreading from beneath it, soaking into the bristles of the welcome mat.

She’d been around the monkey long enough to know she’d only hurt herself if she tried shoulder-charging the door. Instead, she delivered a sharp kick with the heel of her heavy boot, aiming for the edge of door opposite the handle. The lock would be strong, but only a handful of screws held the hinges in place. She heard wood crack, but the door remained closed. Leaning backwards for balance, she kicked again. This time, the frame splintered, the hinges came away from the wall, and the door crashed inwards and to the side.

Victoria pushed through, stepping over the puddle of blood, and found herself on the threshold of a familiar-looking room. A body lay on the floor by the couch. It had shoulder-length blonde hair. A tall, thin man loomed over it, a long black knife in his almost skeletal hand. His shoes had left red prints on the parquet floor, and there was a long smear where he’d dragged the body. As she burst in, he looked up at her. His face was set in a rictus grin, and she swallowed back a surge of revulsion.

“Cassius Berg.”

His expression didn’t change, and she knew it couldn’t. His skin had been stretched taut over an artificial frame.

“Who are you?”

Victoria swallowed. She felt as if she was talking to a ghost. “The last time we met, I dropped you out of a skyliner’s cargo hatch, four hundred feet above Windsor.”

He tipped his head on one side. His eyes were reptilian slits.

“What are you on about?” He stepped over the corpse and brandished the knife. “Who are you?”

Victoria moved her staff into a defensive position.

“I’m her.”

She couldn’t bring herself to look directly at the body. As a reporter, she’d seen her share of violent crime scenes, and knew what to expect. Instead, she looked inside her own head, concentrating on the mental commands that transferred her consciousness from the battered remains of her natural cortex to the clean, bright clarity of her gelware implants.

Berg’s posture tightened. He glanced from her to the body, and back again.

“Twin sister?”

“Something like that.”

“Lucky me.”

The first time she’d fought him—or at least the version of him from her own parallel—he’d been superhumanly fast and tough, and he’d almost killed her. She’d been left for dead with a hole punched through the back of her skull. She tightened her grip on the metal staff. This time would be different. This time, she knew all about him, knew his methods and limitations, while he remained blissfully unaware of her capabilities.

Visualising her internal menu, she overclocked her neural processors. As the speed of her thinking increased, her perception of time stretched and slowed. The traffic noise from outside deepened, winding down like a faulty tape. In slow motion, she saw Berg’s muscles tense. His legs pushed up and he surged towards her, black coat flapping around behind him, knife held forward, aimed at her face. His speed was astonishing. A normal human would have been pinned through the eye before they could move. As it was, Victoria only just managed to spin aside. As momentum carried him past, she completed her twirl and brought the end of her staff cracking into the back of his head. The blow caught him off balance and sent him flailing forwards with an indignant cry, through the remains of the front door and out, into the hallway.

He ended up on his hands and knees. Victoria stepped up behind him, but before she could bring her staff down, Berg’s spindly arm slashed backwards, and his knife caught her across the shins, slicing through denim and skin. The pain registered as a sharp red alarm somewhere at the back of her mind, way down in the animal part of her brain, and she tried to ignore it. It was a distraction, the gelware told her, nothing more. Her heart thumped in her chest, each beat like the pounding of some great engine. He’d hurt her before; she wouldn’t allow him to hurt her again. She stabbed down with her staff, pinning his wrist to the hardwood floor, and leant her weight on it. She ground until she felt the bones of his hand snap and crack, and saw the knife fall from his fingers.

Berg’s head turned to look at her. Although the grin remained stretched across his face, his eyes were wide and fearful.

“Whoareyou?”

“I told you.” Victoria could feel blood running down her shins, soaking into the tops of her socks. She glanced back at the dead woman in the apartment, and saw blonde hair mixed with wine-coloured blood, and an out-thrown hand with torn and bruised knuckles. The poor woman hadn’t stood a chance. She’d been butchered, and all Victoria could do now was avenge her.

“I’m Victoria Valois.” She stepped forward and raised her weapon high over her head. She wanted to bring it down hard, driving the butt end into the space between his eyes. She wanted to feel his metal skull cave beneath her blow, feel his brains squish and perish. He had killed at least three people, probably more, and would kill her too if he got the chance.

He deserved to die.

And yet...

 

 

 

CHAPTER TWO

UNCLEAN ZOO

 

TAKING OFF FROMa private airstrip on the outskirts of Paris, Victoria and K8 flew across the English Channel in a borrowed seaplane, with Cassius Berg handcuffed and gagged in the hold. They were heading for a sea fort that stood a few miles off the coast of Portsmouth. When the old structure came into sight, they splashed the plane into the waters of the Solent, carving a feather of white across the shimmering blue surface, and taxied to the rotting jetty that served as the fort’s one and only link with the outside world.

The seaplane was an ancient Grumman Goose: a small and ungainly contraption with which Victoria had somehow fallen grudgingly in love. The little aircraft had two chunky propeller engines mounted on an overhead wing, and the main fuselage dangled between them like a fat-bottomed boat bolted to the underside of a boomerang.

When she stepped from the plane’s hatch, Victoria found a monkey waiting for her, fishing from the end of the jetty. It wore a flowery sunhat and a string vest, and had a large silver pistol tucked into the waistband of its cut-off denim shorts. Overhead, the sun burned white and clean.

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