The Liminal War is a propulsive novel that starts with a kidnapping in London and takes off running. Taggert is a man with a questionable past and the ability to hurt or heal with his thoughts alone. When his adopted daughter goes missing, he immediately suspects the hand of an old enemy. In order to find her, Taggert assembles a team of friends, family, and new allies who don’t quite trust he has left his violent times behind. But their search leads them to an unexpected place: the past.
Getting there is hard, being there is harder, and their journey has a price that is higher than any of us can afford.
Below, read an excerpt from Ayize Jama-Everett’s The Liminal War, the follow-up to his 2009 novel The Liminal People—available June 9th from Small Beer Press.
London, fourteen minutes from now
“They say you can cure my cancer.”
“Who is ‘they’?” It’s a genuine question. Lots of people talk about me.
“People that I trust.”
She’s old, white, manicured, and comes from a titled family. I shouldn’t be in the same room with her, even with this false East Indian face and body on. She’s nothing but attention. But the location is anonymous enough—a two-room lightly furnished office paid for in cash, in the heart of Metro London—that I risk her continued, dignified begging.
“That does me no good. Give me a name or I walk.”
“I will not betray the people that have gotten me this far with you.” A little backbone. I like it. Not like I’ll let her know.
“And how do I know those who mean to do me harm haven’t sent you?”
“I get the sense you don’t suffer your enemies to live for very long.”
“So long as that’s clear.”
I read bodies the way master musicians read music. The closer I get, the more I can see and the more I can influence, change, heal… or hurt. I spent years hurting—others, and myself—for a shadow of a pestilence named Nordeen. Head of a team of murder-oriented smugglers called the Razor Neck crew, Nordeen was part father, part slavemaster, all boss. Three years ago I paid for my freedom and family with the life of the only woman I’d ever truly loved: Yasmine. Since then I’ve been keeping a low profile with our daughter, Tamara, and another liminal teenager in need named Prentis.
It was Samantha’s idea to get into healing. No fixed location, no flat fee, no credit cards. Just put a whisper into the no-hope cancer streams, in terminal AIDS wards, among the undiagnosed critical patients, and see who comes.
“But why?” I asked Samantha after she brought it up for the fifth time.
“You have years of practice as a dealer of destruction. Why not aim toward health?” Sam has that way of making me feel like an idiot with simple statements.
The Dame with a backbone has a pernicious brain cancer. Last night I read her from a distance. Rather, I read the chromosomal signature of the cancer. I haven’t seen it before, but I’ve met its cousins and uncles in my other patients. The woman is not nearly as interesting as her disease.
“Breathe easy and try not to move,” I tell the Dame, and go deep. Starving out the tendrils drifting into her spine and lungs is easy. I run an experimental serotonin/dopamine blend through her as I block all neural pain pathways. She relaxes instantly. All that’s left is the golf-ball-sized toxic cluster of spastic nerve spindles and fibrous tissue in her cerebellum. I deaden its noxious abilities instantly; reducing it will take more time and focus so that the surrounding tissue doesn’t overcompensate or remain regressed as a result of the pressure the tumor has put on it. I could beat the tumor back, get the Dame’s body to send a sustained electric pulse into the heart of that dead tumor star. But I want to comprehend the beast, figure out why it grew there as opposed to in her hippocampus, or liver for that matter. Sam was right. This has turned into fun for me.
But the Dame starts panicking. Not an indigenous panic either. Someone else, another person like me, a Liminal, is pushing the Dame’s fight or flight buttons like she was a stuck elevator. I know because the same thing is happening to me.
A heroin-sized high is enough to knock the Dame unconscious. I turn my ability inward and reduce my doubling hippocampus as it reacts to the fear. I’m calm just in time to hear cars crash right in front of the Tate Modern. At the window I confirm what I’ve feared. Half of London is in a full-blown panic. Whatever did this—it’s not targeted.
Liminals—folks like myself, born with a variety of abilities and skills—tend to be… difficult. With no template of appropriate behavior, a Liminal with the ability to enter dreams can be a fairy godmother or a psychic rapist. My brother, with hard telekinetic abilities, chose the latter route. But this is different. There is no maliciousness in this psychic hijack. In fact, this is no attack: this is terror shared.
I hit Holland Street, heading away from the Thames in default healing mode. If I can’t reset the panic centers in any of the growing crowds in under two seconds, I just knock them out. I’ve seen something like this before: 2007, Kuala Lumpur, Mont Kiara. I want to handle this the way I handled that: track the Liminal based off of the victims’symptoms. The closest to the Liminal will be the most severely affected. If I were still with Nordeen, I’d find the Liminal and either me or one of the Razor Neck crew—his pack of murder oriented smugglers—would deal the death. But there’s something familiar about this Liminal.
“Prentis,” I call out. Usually an animal of some sort—a dog or a mouse—will donate its attention to me if she can hear through them. Prentis is a liminal animal totem; a conduit for animals, but the link works both ways. She knows every move every animal in London makes. But as I dodge a Mini Cooper hopping up the curb, all I get is a flock of pigeons. I follow the progressively more severe fear symptoms over to Trafalgar Square before I reach out with my mind to Tamara.
“Kid, you getting this?” I can’t call Tamara my daughter to her face, and given that she’s one of the strongest telepaths I’ve ever met, I’ve got to be careful not to think it too much either. When her mom Yasmine, realized she was pregnant, she kicked me out without letting me know about our girl. Tamara grew up calling a progressive politician in the Reform Labor Party daddy. When the car Tamara’s parents and I were in blew up, she blamed me for their deaths and threw me out a plate-glass window. For a while I thought I deserved it.
Then it hits me. This type of panic has Tamara written all over it. She’s usually a sarcastic, semi-streetwise, crafty git. But when she gets truly scared, all that bravado and control disappears. For whatever reason, she’s infected every man, woman, and child near her with a mind-crushing panic. The streets are flooded with people crying, breaking down, and hiding. Traffic is worse than usual, with every other driver paranoid about turning the wheel. This ends soon or a lot of people die.
“Tamara, can you feel me? You’ve got to calm down.” I think hard. It’s harder for her to not sense my thoughts than to include them. What little I can feel from her feels like she’s subsumed. Whatever this is, it’s not intentional. Not that it’ll matter if she drives everyone nuts.
I kill all lactic acid production in my body, super myelinate my leg muscles, and triple my lung efficiency as I start running. It’s a more public display of my skills than I like—including dropping my North Indian face and skeletal structure—but I don’t have a lot of time. Nordeen has a vicious dislike for public displays of power. In another life he’d have sent me to handle an outbreak like this: I’d rather not meet my replacement right now.
The closer I get to Tamara’s radiating panic, the more twisted metal and screams take over the streets. I want to walk Sam’s path and heal everyone around me, but I’d be exhausted and useless by the time I got to my girl. My old path would leave a trail of dead bodies behind me. Instead, I compromise; healing those with heart conditions and knocking out the rest with prodigious opioid flushes to the brain. But as I discharge my power I feel one area of calm. As London Town loses its collective shit, tranquility and ease radiate from Eel Pie Island, some ten-plus miles away from me. It’s a steady and progressive calm, chilling people out in a far more gentle way than I could. If I didn’t have to get to Tamara, I’d investigate. But my daughter is losing it. And what’s worse, I know she’s at the last place she should be.
When a Liminal named Alia—a consummate illusionist—killed Tamara’s parents, Tamara got smart and hid in an abandoned tube station that Prentis used to call home. We handled Alia and her ilk, and the girls gave up their “pit of sadness,” as I called it. But when I have to heal ten seizing pensioners at the entrance to that very tube station, I know that’s where Tam is. I hit the tracks and start running toward it, knowing she’s not alone.
Walled behind an impressive stack of cement blocks, the station usually goes unmolested. I enter to the sounds of combat, those huge bricks being hurled and smashed into dust. Tamara is as impressive as ever in her open trench coat, open-finger gloves, Gore-Tex T-shirt, and baggy jeans. Her target is a diminutive, super-dark Indian man with no shoes or shirt. Every sixty-pound block Tam throws at him with her telekinesis, the Indian either dodges or destroys with one blow. Another Liminal.
I reach out to give him the Dame’s cancer, but where I should feel a four limbs and a head there is only dense void in the shape of a human body. I’m terrified. This thing was not born; it was made out of cold and absence.
I push past my fear, cut off any receptive senses my healing usually offers, and infect his… its… “bones” with a rampant marrow infection. That stops his jackrabbit punching moving sessions. Briefly.
“Tam, you okay?” I shout, trying to get closer to her, rounding the semi-dazed Indian like he’s a wounded animal.
“She’s gone, Tag!” she shouts back, using her mouth and mind.
“Dial it back! You’re too loud.” And like that, London can calm down again. It’s an afterthought for her. “Who’s gone?”
“Prentis! We were supposed to meet two hours ago, but she’s gone!”
“The healer.” Never heard such a voice. It’s a restrained maliciousness, a voice to be heard in the dark chill of space. I guess Nordeen’s new assassin doesn’t care much for me.
“Bring it in, kid.” I tell Tam. I haven’t just been living with the girls. I’ve been training them to fight. And, more importantly, to work in concert with each other and me. Personality clashes aside, we fight in unison. Tam takes the cue, pushing her long dark hair aside. I pull butterfly knives from my sleeves, up my reflex muscle coordination, and lock in on the assassin.
“What is he?” Tamara demands, lifting two cement blocks behind the man silently while we all circle each other. As usual, Tam thinks we can handle anything. But this… entity just incorporated the bone infection into its body in under ten seconds and seems no worse for wear.
“It ain’t liminal…” is all I can say before Tam launches the two blocks silently at the back of the Indian’s head. He responds with perfect backwards weaves that leave Tam and I avoiding those very same blocks. We’re separated, and I launch one knife dead center at the stranger’s head.
Vipers can’t move as fast as this guy. He catches, turns, and re-launches my blade directly into my sternum in less time than it took me to throw it. Off pure instinct I grow five inches of bone at my solar plexus in the millisecond before it hits me.
“Tag!” Again Tamara with the shouting. Only this time it’s directed at the Indian. She should know I’m okay. I heal quick. But the shock of seeing me caught off guard triggered something in her. She’s given up on bricks and seized the Indian by the short and curlies. She’s literally trying to pull his head off his body, yet somehow he’s resisting.
“You don’t understand… ,” he says in a voice so calm I almost believe him.
“Well, your powers of explanation suck.” Tam jokes. She feels in control.
“Go easy, kid. He might know about Prentis,” I tell her as I pull the butterfly knife from my chest.
She makes a rage-filled rookie telepath mistake and enters the Indian’s mind. Whatever pestilence she finds in there fucks her concentration and balance. She drops the Indian and is out of commission. I square up.
“Best thing for you to do right now is tell me where Prentis is then go back to Nordeen and remind him of the kindness he extended to me.” The shadow in an Indian body stiffens at Nordeen’s name.
“I don’t know this Prentis. And Nordeen is not one to extend kindness.” The Indian doesn’t move on me. Instead he sidesteps back and to the remaining sidewall. From the hole in the cement blocks, a younger guy—black with long dreads, in beige and black casual clubwear—steps into the dilapidated station. I don’t know him, but I recognize his smell.
“Narayana.” His voice chastises the Indian after he sees Tam. “What did you do?”
“I am the sharp knife the inexperienced cut themselves on.”
I scan Tam quickly. Physically she’s fine. “If you’ve done permanent damage, death will be a holiday,” I let him know. Right as beige boy tries to speak, Samantha, my Sam, comes through the hole, smelling of her sweet and foreign smoke, the same scent that stranger number two reeks of. Her deep black skin is set off perfectly by her dark purple blouse. She runs to me immediately, wrapping my waist with her arms, her tight cornrows in my face. Part of her ability is a control of pheromones, and, though it rarely works with me, I feel her attempt to flood me with calming doses. Her tight oval face betrays her, though. She’s angry.
“Mico, get him out of here. His kind and mine never mix well. I told you!” she says in her slight Ethiopian accent, pointing at the shadow of a thing in the corner: Narayana.
“Tell me you’re okay,” Sam whispers in my ear.
“I’m fine,” I lie. She holds my face in her hands and stares me into believing my own words. “I’m fine.”
The Indian disappears without a sound. Beige boy, Mico, is kneeling patiently next to Tamara. I move to intercept him, but Samantha puts a gentle hand right where the blade was, asking me in her own way to wait.
“It’s okay, Tamara. You can let it all go. He’s gone. You’re safe.” Mico is sincere… and more: his voice holds a chorus of thoughts, a low chattering hum. He scans as human… and more. It’s that scent. The smoke Samantha venerates.
“You don’t know anything,” Tamara hisses through tears. “You don’t understand. None of you do. Prentis is gone.”
“We’ll find her,” I tell her, squatting with the both of them.
“No, Tag.” She grabs hold of me like a drowning woman. “She’s not gone from London. She’s gone from the planet. I can’t find her anywhere. She’s disappeared. She’s dead.”
Excerpted from The Liminal War © Ayize Jama-Everett, 2015