May 30 2013 4:00pm
Take a look at Seth Patrick's Reviver, out on June 18 from St. Martin's Press and Tor UK:
Jonah Miller is a Reviver, able to temporarily revive the dead so they can say goodbye to their loved ones—or tell the police who killed them.
Jonah works in a department of forensics created specifically for Revivers, and he’s the best in the business. For every high-profile corpse pushing daisies, it’s Jonah’s job to find justice for them. But while reviving the victim of a brutal murder, he encounters a terrifying presence. Something is on the other side watching. Waiting. His superiors tell him it's only in his mind, a product of stress. Jonah isn't so certain.
Then Daniel Harker, the first journalist to bring revival to public attention, is murdered. Jonah finds himself getting dragged into the hunt for answers. Working with Harker's daughter Annabel, he becomes determined to find those responsible and bring them to justice. Soon they uncover long-hidden truths that call into doubt everything Jonah stands for, and reveal a sinister force that threatens us all.
Sometimes Jonah Miller hated talking to the dead.
The woman’s ruined corpse lay against the far wall of the small office. The killer had moved her from the centre of the room; she had been dragged to the back wall and left propped up, slouched with her head lolled to one side.
Forensics had been and gone, leaving him to get what he could. They had been eager to leave. Jonah sympathized. Hearing the dead bear witness to their own demise was never pleasant.
He was wearing the standard white forensic coverall, as much to protect his own clothing as to prevent contamination of the scene. Gloves on his hands, covers over his trainers. He took a slow deep breath, ignoring the dull tang of blood in the air. It was a familiar smell.
The heavy wooden chair had been discarded next to the window, after the killer had used it to bludgeon the life out of the woman. Blood spatter was everywhere, clear swing patterns on the walls and ceiling.
The woman’s corpse had almost been pulped by the frenzied attack. Her limbs had been broken, her torso ripped and distorted, the back of her skull torn apart. However, the throat seemed undamaged; the lungs, from what could be seen of them, appeared intact. That was the important thing. Three cameras were placed around the room, ready to record everything that happened. It was vital to have the words spoken aloud.
The duty pathologist had not moved her. Disturbing the body would make revival more difficult, reducing the chance of success. Time of death had been estimated at around nine the previous evening, almost twelve hours before.
Her name was Alice Decker. She was a clinical psychologist, and this was her office; a family picture in a mangled frame lay on the floor, Decker smiling beside her husband and two teenage daughters.
With care, Jonah stepped around one tripod-mounted camera, his paper suit rustling as he tiptoed between cable and bloodstain. He knelt by Alice’s body and removed the latex glove from his right hand. Direct contact was an unpleasant necessity.
‘Everything ready?’ he asked, looking into the lens of the nearest camera. There was a brief confirmation in the earpiece he wore. The red indicators on the cameras went green as recording commenced.
Jonah took the victim’s shattered hand. ‘Revival of subject Alice Decker. J. P. Miller, duty reviver,’ he stated. He focused, the cameras recording in silence. Minutes passed. His eyes closed. His face betrayed nothing of his work’s difficulty, but it was this part that he hated most, this plunge into the dark rot to bring his subject back.
A violent death was harder, and Jonah was always dealing with violent deaths.
The violence also limited the time he would have. When he brought Alice back, he expected five minutes of questioning at most, perhaps far less. He would release her as quickly as he could, once there was nothing more to be learned. After the indignation of death, and the sacrilege of resurrection, it was the least he could do.
He opened his eyes and breathed deeply. He’d been going for twelve minutes and was close to success, the worst of it over, but he needed a moment to prepare for the final effort.
Her open eyelids flickered, an early indication. For a moment, his gaze stayed on her left eye, which had been punctured in the attack and had spilled slightly onto her cheek, leaving the eyeball surface subtly wrinkled. The tip of the bone shard that had caused the wound was visible in the fractured mess surrounding the eye, retreated now that the damage was done.
Above her left ear he saw a flap of Alice’s scalp that had been lifted in the assault. The severe damage underneath was a confusion of colour – whites, greys and reds mingled with Alice’s blonde hair. The worst of the damage to the head was at the back, pressed to the wall and not visible.
Ready at last, Jonah closed his eyes and continued with the revival. Moments later, her throat quivered briefly. A dozen more seconds passed, and then he had her.
‘She’s here,’ he said.
The corpse inhaled, an unpleasant wet rasping coming from the chest. Jonah couldn’t help noticing how unevenly the chest rose, open in places, jagged lines clear through clothing. Low cracks of bone and gristle were audible under the groan of air entering the dead woman’s lungs. Her vocal cords started to move, creating a gentle wail.
Full, her chest halted.
‘My name is Jonah Miller. Can you tell me who you are?’ Jonah tensed, waiting. It was far from certain that she would be able to respond at all, let alone audibly.
A low sigh rose from her, the grim bubbling from her lungs distressingly loud in comparison.
Then a word formed. ‘Yesss…’ she said. ‘Alice…’
To the cameras, her voice was a whisper, monotone and distant. To Jonah, it was as if the corpse spoke directly into his ears, with a terrible clarity. This clarity was equally true of the emotional state of the subject, laid bare to the reviver. With murder, the emotion was often anger. Anger at being dead. Anger at being disturbed.
Gripping her hand, Jonah leaned in. He steeled himself and made full eye contact. The dead couldn’t see, but if he avoided looking his subject in the eye, he felt like a coward.
‘You’re safe, Alice,’ he said. His voice was calm and warm.
The chest fell as Alice exhaled. Sounds of popping, and of tissue coming unstuck, came from her. She inhaled again.
‘No…’ she said. Her voice was full of despair, and this was a bad sign. He needed indignation, not self-pity.
He paused, uncertain whether she was aware of her situation. It was more common in adult subjects; sometimes they simply didn’t know they were dead. A refusal to accept it could bring the revival to an abrupt end, a rapid onset of incoherence, then silence.
‘Do you know where you are, Alice?’ he asked.
‘My office.’ Her tone, her sense of loss. He could tell: she knew what had happened, and was understandably afraid.
‘Please, let me go,’ she said. Jonah halted, a painful memory surfacing. He had heard those words often enough since, but they still made him pause.
‘I will, but there are questions I have to ask. What happened here, Alice? What happened to you?’
Alice exhaled, but said nothing. Precious seconds slipped past. Jonah knew how agitated the observers would be, watching their key witness flounder, knowing time was short, but he was patient. At last, the chest moved again, and she inhaled.
‘Please, let me go,’ she said.
Jonah considered his options for a moment, then chose another tack. He made his voice cold, stern.
‘Tell me what happened, Alice. Then I’ll let you go.’
‘We want to catch who did this, but you need to help me.’
Still no reply. He decided to risk scolding her.
‘Don’t you care what’s been done to you?’
He sensed anger forming, outrage congealing from her despair.
‘I was alone,’ she said. ‘The building was empty. I was working. The door opened.’ She inhaled, then paused. With each breath she took, with each pause she had now, there was a risk of it being a final silence. He needed her to keep talking, her breaths momentary delays. Time was running out.
Yet he had to take care, not push too hard. He waited a few seconds before prompting. ‘What time was it?’
‘Eleven. Just after. I asked him what he was doing here.’
‘Who was it, Alice?’
‘He said George had let him in but George had gone hours ago.’
‘Who was it, Alice?’
‘He’d been crying, I could tell; blood on his hand, he saw me notice and hid it behind his back.’
‘Who was the man, Alice?’ He was anxious to get the name, in case she stopped. The details could wait.
‘I said something about the door, to distract him. He looked away, and I tried to use the phone. I knew I was in trouble.’
She stopped, not inhaling this time.
‘Who was the man, Alice? What’s his name?’ He heard one of the observers swear, and felt like doing so himself. Then Alice inhaled again, more deeply than before. Her back slid several inches along the wall, making Jonah flinch.
Reluctant, he moved closer, and reached around with his right arm to cradle her. He pushed his knee hard against her legs, supporting her enough to prevent her slipping out from the wall. He was brutally aware of her injuries now. A splinter of rib dug painfully into his forearm. He could feel her breath on his face as she spoke.
‘He saw my hand on the phone. He moved fast, and wrenched it off the table. He hit me hard, the side of my head. I fell. He picked me up – threw me. The rage on his face, I asked him please, please.’ And then, to Jonah: ‘Please, let me go.’ She stopped again.
‘What was his name, Alice? His name.’
Jonah found himself holding his breath. Fifteen seconds passed. With a suddenness that made him start, she inhaled; he could feel the muscle tear, feel the bones grinding against each other.
‘Roach,’ she said, her voice fading now. She was losing focus, dissipating. ‘Franklin Roach. He lifted the chair. I saw him swing it at my head. So much rage.’
Silence. His intuition told him there would be nothing else. Jonah waited a few moments before speaking to a camera.
‘I think that’s all we get.’
He got a confirmation that it was enough, and then the green camera lights went red as recording stopped.
He turned back to Alice. Silent as she was, she was still present. Release would come the moment he broke physical contact – the moment he let go of her hand.
‘We’ll catch him.’ His voice was tender again. ‘You can rest now.’ He was about to release her when she spoke, a terror and an urgency in her voice.
‘Something’s coming,’ she said. ‘Please, let me go. There’s something coming.’
She was confused. Somehow, she had refocused, and Jonah was reluctant to let her go like this. He wanted to reassure her. The terror she was feeling was considerable, and Jonah had to work hard to keep calm; revivers sensed the emotions of the subject, and as those emotions grew stronger they could prove overwhelming.
‘There’s nothing coming, Alice. You can rest now. It’s over. You can sleep.’
‘Something’s coming … please, let me go!’
‘Alice, it’s OK, it’s OK. You’re safe.’
‘I can’t see it! I can’t see it!’ Her lips barely moved, her voice fading, but to Jonah she was screaming.
‘Alice, you’re safe. Please, you’re—’
‘It’s below me!’ The fear surged, sudden and total. He was frozen now, bewildered and infected by her level of terror. He had an image of darkness beneath him, stalking, circling. ‘Please, please, let me go! Please, it’s…’
Jonah released her hand and lurched away from her. He scrambled back, staring, appalled that his inaction had led to such distress. She had simply been confused; her words were meaningless. He should have let her go at once.
And yet. It hadn’t just been a desire to reassure her that had made him delay. He had felt something. He turned to a camera.
‘Did you get any of that?’ he asked, but there was no response. Nobody was watching. Then the red light on the camera faded and died. Jonah looked at it, puzzled, and saw movement reflected in the blank lens. Movement behind him. He turned back to the corpse. Alice’s head, which had been lolled to one side for the duration of the revival, now twitched and rose. The eyes moved to look at him.
It wasn’t Alice. Jonah had no idea what this thing was, staring back at him. It spoke.
‘We see you,’ it said, and then it was gone.