Ook! Are you ready to go ape?
ACK-ACK MACAQUE by Gareth L. Powell is out now and winning over readers with its delicious blend of a cigar-chomping monkey taking on Nazi robots in a 'monkeypunk' alternative world!
It's available RIGHT now in paperback, ebook and Kindle for North America, and paperback, ebook and Kindle for the UK.
And we're delighted to be able to give you the first chapter of this blistering ride ABSOLUTELY FREE here on the Solaris blog.
In 1944, as waves of German ninjas parachute into Kent, Britain’s best hopes for victory lie with a Spitfire pilot codenamed ‘Ack-Ack Macaque.’ The trouble is, Ack-Ack Macaque is a cynical, one-eyed, cigar-chomping monkey, and he’s starting to doubt everything, including his own existence.
A century later, in a world where France and Great Britain merged in the late 1950s and nuclear-powered Zeppelins circle the globe, ex-journalist Victoria Valois finds herself drawn into a deadly game of cat and mouse with the man who butchered her husband and stole her electronic soul. Meanwhile, in Paris, after taking part in an illegal break-in at a research laboratory, the heir to the British throne goes on the run. And all the while, the doomsday clock ticks towards Armageddon.
So sit back, peel a banana and enjoy...
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...
Des hommes raisonnables? Des hommes
détenteurs de la sagesse? Des hommes inspirés
par l’esprit?… Non, ce n’est pas possible.
(Pierre Boulle, La Planète des Singes)
From The European Standard, online edition:
King Injured In Grenade Attack
Assailant targets royal motorcade
Paris, 11 July 2058 – The King and the Duchess of Brittany have been injured by an explosion on the streets of Paris.
An air ambulance flew His Majesty King William V, ruler of the United Kingdom of Great Britain, France, Ireland and Norway, and Head of the United European Commonwealth, to a private hospital last night, where surgeons battled for three hours to save his life.
The royal couple were on their way to a formal reception at the Champs-Elysées Plaza Hotel, where they were due to announce plans for next year’s Unification Day celebrations, which will mark the centenary of the merger between France and Great Britain.
Eyewitness reports say that shots were fired as the royal motorcade turned onto the Champs-Elysées and a missile, possibly a rocket-propelled grenade, struck the royal limousine.
Following the explosion, police shot dead an unidentified assailant, who died at the scene.
The King and the Duchess were cut from the wreckage by emergency services and rushed to hospital by helicopter. In a statement issued this morning, Buckingham Palace confirmed that the King suffered a critical head injury, but is now resting comfortably after surgery to relieve pressure on his brain. It is not known if the King’s soul-catcher suffered any damage.
Her Grace Alyssa Célestine, The Duchess of Brittany, received treatment for minor injuries, and reportedly spent the night by her husband’s bedside.
This latest tragedy comes only a year after the King’s son was involved in a helicopter crash while serving in the South Atlantic. The prince survived his ordeal, but seven of his colleagues were not so fortunate.
Since news of the Paris attack broke, the Palace has been inundated with messages of sympathy and concern.
As speculation rises, no republican terror group has yet claimed responsibility and official sources have so far declined to comment.
The investigation continues.
Read more | Like | Comment | Share
World leaders express shock at Paris attack
PM blames dissident republican terror groups
Next year’s centenary celebrations to be postponed?
Hong Kong sovereignty negotiations “in trouble”
TuringSoft: Céleste Tech fails in hostile takeover bid for rival computer company
Nuclear tensions on Indo-Chinese border?
Countdown to launch of first privately funded “light sail” probe
Global population hits 8.5 billion
VICTORIA AT PADDINGTON
The moment Victoria Valois stepped down from the Heathrow train, she saw the detective waiting for her at the ticket barrier. He was there to escort her to her dead husband’s apartment. Slowly, she walked towards him. Fresh off the train, after her flight from Paris, she still wore the thick army surplus coat and heavy boots she’d pulled on that morning. As she walked, she could feel the retractable quarterstaff in her coat pocket bump against her thigh. She sniffed the air. Under different circumstances, it might have been nice to have been back in London. Paddington’s concourse smelled the way she remembered, of engine grease and fast food. Trains pulled in and out. Metal luggage trolleys rattled. Pigeons flapped under the glazed, wrought-iron roof.
She stopped in front of the barrier.
“Welcome to London, Miss Valois. I’m Detective Constable Simon Malhotra. We spoke on the phone.” He glanced behind her. “Do you need any help with your bags?”
Victoria shook her head.
“I haven’t brought any. I’m hoping this won’t take long.”
“Ah, of course.”
Outside the station, the pavements were slick with rain. He led her to his car and opened the passenger door.
“Shall we go straight there, or do you need to freshen up first?”
Victoria ducked into the proffered seat. The car was an old Citroën, its interior warm with the autumnal odours of cold coffee, damp clothes and cheap pine air freshener. A half-eaten croissant lay on the grimy dashboard, wrapped in a napkin. She wrinkled her nose.
“Let’s just get this over with, shall we?”
Malhotra closed the door and hurried around to the driver’s side.
“Okay.” He settled behind the wheel and loosened his tie. He pressed the ignition and Victoria heard the electric engine spin up, whining into life. The wipers clunked back and forth. The indicator light ticked, and Malhotra eased the car out into the late morning traffic.
Victoria let her head fall back against the headrest. As the skyliner ground its way across the Channel, she hadn’t bothered trying to sleep. The bunk in her cabin had remained undisturbed. She’d spent most of the night in a chair by the porthole, using her jacket as a blanket, watching the rain clump and slither on the glass, smudging the lights of the other gondolas; asking herself the same question, over and over again: How could Paul possibly be dead?
Malhotra took them out onto Edgware Road, then south past Marble Arch, and onto Park Lane. The road and sky were as grey and wet as each other.
“So.” He glanced across at her as they passed the gaunt trees and black railings of Hyde Park. “Is this your first time in London?”
Victoria didn’t bother turning her head.
“I worked for three years as the London correspondent for Le Monde,” she said. “I met my husband here. He worked for Céleste Technologies. We moved to Paris when they offered him a position there.”
Malhotra sucked his teeth. He seemed embarrassed to have brought up the subject.
“Your husband. Yes, of course.”
They came to Hyde Park Corner and the Wellington Arch, with its statue of a black iron chariot. Suddenly, they were in five lanes of traffic. Rain fell in front of bright red brake lights. Black hackney cabs jostled for position. Absently, Victoria touched her fingers to the side of her head, and felt her nails scrape the thick ridge of scar tissue concealed behind the curtain of her hair.
“We separated a few months ago. He moved back here.”
“But you’re from Paris?”
“Originally, oui, c’est ca.”
“And now you live on a skyliner? That must be exciting!”
She shrugged at his enthusiasm. A double-decker bus drew alongside, windows steamed.
“It’s okay.” She watched the rain coat the brick and stone of London: capital city of the United European Commonwealth, site of the European Parliament, and seat of His Majesty King William V. She hadn’t been back here in over a year.
She took a long breath.
“Can you tell me something, Detective Malhotra?”
The young man spared her another glance.
“Sure, if I can.”
“How did he die?”
Ahead, a traffic light turned red. Malhotra downshifted the gears and brought the car to a standstill.
“He was murdered.”
Victoria squeezed her fists together in her lap.
“I know that. I just don’t know how he died.”
The light flickered to amber, then green. Malhotra let out the clutch and the Citroën’s electric motor pulled them forward. He took a right onto Brompton Road, and then a left onto Sloane Street. Victoria’s neural software tracked their progress via an online map. In her mind’s eye, a blinking red arrow marked her current position, the streets laid out in tangles around it. If she wanted to, she could zoom right in to pavement level, or right out until the world seemed the size of a football held at arm’s length. She would never be lost. As long as she had a wireless connection, she would always know exactly where she was.
“Are you sure you want to know?” Malhotra’s tone suggested he was trying to protect her. Victoria rubbed her eyes with forefinger and thumb, dispelling the map display. To hear the grisly details of her husband’s murder was pretty much the last thing she wanted right now. Yet that old journalistic instinct itched at her and wouldn’t let go. She had to know the full story, whatever the cost.
“Someone should know what happened to him,” she said reasonably. “Someone who loved him.”
The detective puffed air through his cheeks.
“All right, then. If you’re sure.” He gave her a sideways glance. “But not here. I’ll go through it all with you when we get to the flat, okay?”
They passed over Vauxhall Bridge and into Battersea. Paul’s apartment lay on the second floor of a building by the river, opposite a Renault car dealership. Malhotra parked on the dealership’s forecourt. As today was a Sunday, the business was closed.
“Come on,” he said. He led her across the road to the front of the apartment block, with its beige brickwork and chipped black iron railings. The rain dampened her hair, and she could feel her heart fluttering in her chest.
Although the cool, detached part of her brain — the part she didn’t really think of as her — told her Paul was dead, the news still hadn’t really sunk in at a gut level. She hadn’t assimilated it properly. Even now, as they climbed the steps to his apartment, she half-expected to find him inside when she opened the door. He’d be standing there in his kitchen, wearing one of his ridiculous Hawaiian shirts, laughing at her for being so gullible.
He couldn’t be dead. He couldn’t leave her feeling this empty and desolate. He just couldn’t.
She fingered the retractable quarterstaff in her pocket, and thought back to the moment she’d first been given the news.
She’d been on top of the skyliner when one of the Commodore’s stewards came to find her. She’d been working through her morning routine on the main helipad, practicing her stick fighting technique. The dawn breeze chilled her sweat. The retractable carbon fibre staff whirled in her hand, its weight solid and reassuring.
Her technique mixed traditional European stick fighting with moves stolen from the Japanese disciplines of jōdō and bōjutsu. She was recording the session on her neural prosthesis and live streaming it to a laboratory near Paris, where the surgeons who’d rebuilt her could use the data to monitor the continuing integration of the natural and artificial components in her brain.
Beneath her bare feet, the skyliner Tereshkova ground its way across France, its nuclear-powered propellers labouring against a stiff westerly. Almost a kilometre in length, the giant airship consisted of five rigid, cigar-shaped hulls bound side-by-side in a raft formation. The two outermost hulls sported engine nacelles and large rudder fins. The three inner hulls glittered with promenade decks, satellite dishes and helipads.
That morning, Victoria had the largest pad to herself, atop the skyliner’s central hull. All was silent, save for the flap of the wind and the hum of the engines. Far ahead, an ice-cream tower of cumulus caught the sun as it stretched twelve thousand feet into the sky above Paris. Her calves ached. She’d been practising hard for an hour. Her feet were sore from slapping and twisting on the hard rubber surface. Her shoulder muscles burned with the effort of swinging her staff. Still she kept practising, pushing herself to exhaustion. The sweat flew from her with every move. The staff felt like an extension of her will. Yet, even as she threw herself into the physicality of the dance, an internal stillness remained: a part of her mind unaffected by adrenalin and fatigue.
Following her accident, surgeons had been forced to install artificial neurons, replacing large sections of her damaged brain with pliable, gel-based processors. Although the surgery had saved her life, it had left her unable to read or write. Where once she’d spent her days dashing off articles and blog posts, her brain now refused to parse written text. When she looked at a newspaper headline or SincPad screen, all she saw were squiggles, and the only way she could decode them was via a text-recognition app loaded into the gelware. The app stimulated the speech centres of her brain, so that her lips moved as she read, and she gleaned the meaning of the words as she heard herself speak them. The process was slow and often frustrating, and the app prone to mistakes.
Her hands squeezed the staff as she tried to channel her frustration into the fight.
She slid forward on the balls of her feet, reached up and brought the end of the staff smacking down onto the head of her imaginary opponent.
She let the swing’s momentum drop her to her knees. Sweat dripped from her forehead onto the black rubber of the helipad. Her chest heaved. She might be half machine, but the alternative was worse; and every breath a victory of sorts.
After a few lungfuls, she looked up, and saw one of the skyliner’s white-jacketed stewards standing nervously at the top of the stairwell. She straightened up and walked over to where she’d left her towel.
The steward cleared his throat. “The Commodore sends his compliments, ma’am. He would like you to join him at your earliest convenience. It seems there is a message for you, from London.”
Victoria rubbed her face, and then draped the towel over her shoulder. She retracted the staff to a twelfth of its length, and slipped it into her pocket.
“Do I have time to shower and change?”
The steward glanced at her, taking in her damp hair, her stained black vest and sweat pants.
“That may be advisable, ma’am.”
And so, ten minutes later, scrubbed and combed, Victoria knocked at the door of the Commodore’s cabin, down in the main gondola, just behind the bridge. She had pulled on a pair of black jeans and a crew neck sweater. Her hair was clean but tied back, revealing the thick scar on her right temple.
“Come in, Victoria, come in.” The Commodore rose from behind a large aluminium desk. He wore a white military dress jacket, open at the neck, and a cutlass dangled from his belt.
Victoria’s legs were stiff from the workout. The Commodore invited her to take a seat. From his desk, he pulled a bottle of Russian vodka and two glasses. He filled them both, and slid one across to her.
“Drink this,” he said. He had white hair and black eyebrows, and ivory-yellow teeth that seemed too large for his mouth. Although he insisted on speaking Russian to his crew, he always spoke English for her; partly because he had a soft spot for her, and partly because he knew from experience that her grasp of the Russian language extended only as far as the phrase ‘Ya ne govoryu po russki’, which she was pretty sure meant, ‘I don’t speak Russian’.
She touched the glass with one finger, turning it slightly, but didn’t pick it up.
Most of the back wall of the cabin was taken up by a large picture window. Through it, she could see one of the engine nacelles on the skyliner’s outermost starboard hull. She could feel the faint vibration of the airship’s engines through the metal deck.
“What’s going on?” she asked.
The Commodore picked an imaginary speck of lint from the knee of his cavalry trousers.
“There is a call for you, from England.” He picked the phone handset from his desk and passed it to her. “But I am very much afraid it is bad news.”
At the top of the stairs, Detective Constable Malhotra pushed a key into the lock of the apartment door, turned it, and let the door swing open. The lights were off in the hallway. He gestured for her to go in first.
“Try not to touch anything that’s marked.” He checked his watch impatiently. He obviously had places he’d rather be.
Victoria ignored him. She hesitated on the threshold. As a former reporter, this wasn’t the first murder scene she’d had cause to visit; but it was the first in which she’d had such a personal stake. She knew that as soon as she set foot in the flat, she’d have to start accepting the truth, and admit to herself that she really had lost Paul forever.
All these months, a part of her had clung to a slender thread of hope, praying that one day, somewhere down the line, they’d be reconciled, their differences forgotten. But now, that hope was about to be cut forever. She felt a brief urge to turn and run, leaving the entire situation unresolved; but when she closed her eyes, the feeling passed. She hadn’t come all this way just to linger on the doormat with the pizza flyers and free newspapers. As Paul’s only next of kin, it was up to her accept and mourn his loss; to go through his stuff, and sort out the paperwork.
Heart thudding, she stepped inside. Her boot heels clicked on the parquet floor. Ahead, a narrow galley kitchen lay at the end of the short hallway. On her right, an open door led into a lounge. Dirty footprints showed where the police and coroners had been about their business. The air held lingering traces of sweat and cheap aftershave; and, beneath those, something organic, like the smell of a butcher’s shop on a hot day.
With her hand over her mouth and nose, she took a few paces into the room. Bloodstains darkened the wooden floor and papered walls, each accompanied by a handwritten label. Some drops had splattered the glass, and these had been circled and numbered in marker pen ink. Beyond the window, the Thames curled its way through the heart of the city, its surface the sullen hue of day-old coffee, chopped into ripples by the wind.
She pulled her eyes away from the stains. Paul’s medical qualifications hung framed on the wall above the fireplace. Beneath them, a flat screen TV lay face down and smashed on the floor, having obviously been knocked over during a scuffle. The police had covered the sofa with a plastic sheet. Before it, a dozen old virtual reality games consoles lay heaped in various stages of disassembly on a low pine coffee table. Her gaze lingered over the accompanying screwdrivers, lumps of solder and twisted scraps of wire as she remembered Paul tinkering with them, six months ago, before their separation. He’d had a thing for retro machines and, after hours in the operating theatre, he found the intricate work of restoring them calmed him.
Her eyes were drawn back to the dried blood by the window. She swallowed. At her sides, her knuckles were white.
Malhotra said, “Are you okay?”
She turned to him. They were eye-to-eye, almost touching. She could smell the fusty bonfire reek of cigarettes on his breath and clothes. She took him by the lapels of his stupid coat.
“Tell me how he died.”
The detective looked down at her hands.
“I told you, he was murdered.”
Malhotra took her by the wrists and gently pulled her hands free. He stepped back, out of reach.
“We don’t know.”
Victoria leaned forward. “There’s something you’re not telling me, isn’t there?”
Malhotra wouldn’t look at her. He scratched his cheek.
“I don’t know if I should—”
“Just tell me.”
He took a deep breath. “Okay. Your husband. You knew he was bisexual, right?”
Victoria let her arms fall to her sides.
“Yes.” Of course she did. She’d always known he swung both ways. For a brief moment, they’d been in love. Then after the accident, for some reason, he’d stopped swinging her way.
She touched the scar tissue at the side of her head.
“Well,” Malhotra continued, straightening his collar, “we think he might have been killed by someone he met. Someone he brought back here for, you know...”
He glanced back down the hall, towards the front door.
“Not an intruder?”
“There’s no sign of forced entry, so we’re assuming he knew his attacker.”
Victoria turned back into the room. She could feel the two halves of her mind butting up against each other: one in a turmoil of grief and jealousy, the other calmly weighing the facts. Her gaze fell on the stained floor.
“What about his soul-catcher?”
The detective rubbed the back of his neck, beneath his collar.
“I’m afraid whoever attacked him took it with them. Ripped it right out, in fact.”
Victoria swallowed back her revulsion. Soul-catchers were cranially-implanted webs, similar to her own implants but much smaller and less invasive. They didn’t penetrate the brain as hers did; they were simply used to record the wearer’s neural activity so that, after death, they could generate a crude, temporary simulation of that individual’s personality, allowing them to say their goodbyes and tie up their affairs. In order to remove his soul-catcher, Paul’s assailant would have needed to crack open his skull—a procedure usually only carried out as part of an autopsy.
Malhotra reached into his coat and pulled out a brown envelope, from which he extracted a photograph. He handed it to her, unable to meet her eyes.
“This is how we found him.”
The photograph had been taken in this room, from almost the exact spot where Victoria now stood. The victim lay in a pool of thick, fresh blood, his head smashed open like an egg, and his skull disturbingly empty. She made a face and looked away.
“Yes, that’s him.”
“Are you sure?”
She closed her eyes.
“I’m sure.” Despite the bruising, and the hair matted to his face, there could be no doubt. The facial recognition software in her neural prosthesis confirmed it.
“I’m afraid it gets worse,” Malhotra said. He tapped the picture with his finger, drawing her attention back to the wet cavity revealed by the smashed skull. “His head’s empty.” The detective took the photo from her and slipped it back into its envelope. “Whoever it was, they took his brain.”
Victoria felt the room lurch around her. “What do you mean, they took it?”
“They removed his brain and took it with them.” Malhotra swallowed. “We’ve found no trace of it.”
Giddiness came in a sudden wave. She put a hand to her forehead. Not knowing what else to do, she retreated inside herself, allowing her more rational, artificial side to momentarily take charge. She heard herself say, “I guess that explains all the blood.” Then, disgusted with herself, she walked over to the window and looked out at the river. The tide was low. Gulls fussed and squabbled on the mud. Barges pushed their way up and down stream. To one side, she could see the four white chimneys of Battersea Power Station; to the other, just visible above the trees and other buildings lining the river, the topmost spires of the Palace of Westminster and the Parliament of the United European Commonwealth.
How many times had Paul stood here, looking out at this view? Had it been the last thing he’d ever seen? Had he known his killer? A tear slid down her cheek. She brushed it away with the back of her hand. Without a recording from his soul-catcher, she’d never hear his voice again, never see his face...
When she turned back into the room, she found Malhotra still standing in the doorway, looking uncomfortable. He obviously didn’t know what to say.
“Do you have anything to go on?” she asked him.
He hunched his shoulders. “Whoever this was, they came prepared. There’s a hundred different DNA samples in this room alone. The killer must have swept up hair and skin cells from the back seat of a bus or Tube train, and emptied them here to cover his tracks.”
“You say ‘his’?”
Malhotra shrugged. He didn’t care. “As I said, we’re working on the assumption that the assailant was male, and most likely a sexual partner.”
“But you’re guessing?”
Malhotra took his hands out of his pockets. “Unless we find his soul-catcher, I’m very much afraid we’re grasping at straws.” He gestured at the electronics spread on the table. “We’ve taken his laptop and we’re examining it for clues, but so far we’ve got nothing.”
Victoria opened her mouth, and then closed it again. A thought flashed into her head. She felt herself go cold and prickly. She had remembered what it was that Paul had been doing with the VR games consoles. The memory had been dredged, bright and shiny, from the gel lattice of her brain. Very slowly, she turned on her heel and stepped over to the cluttered coffee table.
“Could you give me a minute, please detective?”
“Are you all right?”
She waved him away. “I’ll be okay. It’s just all been a bit of a shock. I need some time to process. A few minutes alone.”
She heard him sigh.
“I’ll be in the car. Gather what you need, then come on down when you’re ready. Don’t be too long.”
She listened to his footsteps as he walked to the door and went down the stairs to the street. When she was certain he’d gone, she started rooting through the components on the table, looking for a particular unit.
“Oh, please let it be here,” she muttered. Her fingers scrabbled through piles of old circuit boards and other electronic debris, until finally closing with relief on the object she sought. She pulled it free from the mess: an old Sony games console with a battered casing and broken controller. Paul had unobtrusively inserted the black lens of an infrared port into the console’s rear panel, next to its power cable. The console wouldn’t run games any more, but Paul had used his experience in memory retrieval to modify it for a different, highly illegal, purpose. Victoria turned it over and over in her hands. The tears were running freely now. Inside this scuffed and scratched shell lay her one and only hope of ever seeing him again.
She hardly dared breathe.
One of the side-effects of having half her brain rebuilt was that she had a near-perfect memory. It could be both a blessing and a curse, but right now she was grateful for it. Concentrating, she recalled Paul standing in their Paris apartment, about eight months previously. He’d been wearing cargo pants and a rock band t-shirt; a new gold stud in his right ear, and a pen stuck behind his left.
“You mustn’t tell anyone about this,” he’d said. And then he’d shown her what he’d hidden in the guts of this old console, tucked away in a pair of fat, newly-installed memory chips.
Guided by the recollection of his hands, her fingers slid over the plastic casing. She found the glassy infrared port on the back panel, and pulled back her hair. The ridge of scarring on her right temple enclosed a row of input jacks: USB, drug feed, and infrared. They were tiny windows into her skull, put there by the technicians when they rebuilt her; windows designed to help them monitor the experimental technology they’d crammed into her head, but also windows which, months after the surgery, she’d learned to exploit for her own ends.
She plugged the old console into the wall, and flipped the power switch to the ‘on’ position. The console quivered in her hands like a frightened animal, and a green LED came to life. Hands shaking, she raised the box to her temple and, reaching deep within her own mind, activated her own infrared port. Something clicked. Something connected. The box in her hands purred, downloading data directly from its memory store to the gelware in her head. When it had finished, she dropped the box onto the plastic-wrapped sofa and keyed up the mental commands she needed in order to run the saved file. She blinked once, twice. A cobweb dragged itself across her eyeball.
And Paul appeared.