Check out Hurricane Fever, a new pulse-pounding technothriller by Tobias Buckell, available July 1st from Tor Books! Be sure to also check out Buckell’s bestselling novel Arctic Rising, currently on sale for $2.99 as an ebook. Order a copy from Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Amazon, or your favorite ebook provider!
Prudence “Roo” Jones never thought he’d have a family to look after—until suddenly he found himself taking care of his orphaned teenage nephew. Roo, a former Caribbean Intelligence operative, spends his downtime on his catamaran dodging the punishing hurricanes that are the new norm in the Caribbean. Roo enjoys the simple calm of his new life—until an unexpected package from a murdered fellow spy shows up. Suddenly Roo is thrown into the center of the biggest storm of all.
Using his wits—and some of the more violent tricks of his former trade—Roo begins to unravel the mystery that got his friend killed. When a polished and cunning woman claiming to be murdered spy’s sister appears, the two find themselves caught up in a global conspiracy with a weapon that could change the face of the world forever.
As the sun dipped low over Miami’s canals and waterways, it glittered off the skyscrapers and the pools of ocean between them. Puddleboats meandered from lobby to lobby to pick up passengers. Traffic along the bridges and secondary roads arching over the Miami waters bunched up with anticipatory evening rush hour traffic.
Four security guards surrounded Zee in the lobby of the Beauchamp Industries offices, including one of the sketchy guards who always wore thick black turtleneck sweaters with long sleeves to hide his neo-Nazi tattoos. They’d been waiting for him as he walked out of the elevator, into the black-marblewalled lobby with back-lit mirrors and large bamboo plants.
They patted him down quickly, then turned him back toward a table near the elevators.
“You can’t leave,” the guard with the long sleeves muttered in his thick, Eastern European-accented English. “We need to look inside your briefcase.”
Zee wore a dark blue suit and purple-rimmed designer glasses, a look that vaguely suggested middle management. That is, if someone didn’t notice the extra-athletic build and dancer-like posture hidden underneath the clothes.
He sighed. It had been such a close thing. Three months infiltrating the building. And many more prior to that figuring out that this was the location in which a secret secondary biotech lab had been concealed. Something Beauchamp Industries didn’t want anyone to know about.
“Your briefcase, please,” the guard repeated.
“What’s wrong?” Zee asked.
“Just open the briefcase.”
Zee looked at him. Thickly built, a bullish neck and squashed face; there were signs the man’s nose had been broken multiple times. A bruiser. Twice Zee’s size and able to throw his weight well.
“Okay,” Zee said. He set the black briefcase on the table, pushing aside a potted fern, and flicked the two latches. The briefcase opened up. Nestled gently in between papers, a screen, and some oatmeal cookies, was a stainless steel injector. “I think this is what you’re looking for.”
The four guards took a step back. They might not be sure of what exactly was going on upstairs, but they had some idea that it was a bio-technology lab. And as general security contractors, they had a feeling there shouldn’t have been a floor up near the top with a dedicated lab in the company’s general offices.
“You will need to come with us,” the guard with the uncomfortably hot long sleeves said solemnly.
“I understand,” Zee said, and picked up the injector.
All four men stared at him as he jammed the point into his forearm and triggered the device. It hissed, spitting whatever it had contained down past Zee’s skin.
“Catch!” Zee said, and tossed the injector at them. They flinched back from it, which gave Zee the second he needed to close with the big guy. He flipped him into the table and pulled the gun out from his belt in one smooth sequence.
With gun in hand, Zee spun and ran for the doors with a head start. The dangerous one, still shaking his head, pushed away the help of the other guards. He patted his belt and swore. “Call Dmitri!” he shouted, and ran after Zee.
Outside on the docks around the skyscraper, Zee circled around for a second until he found a fast-looking powerboat. It took a second to smash the console open and jump-start it. He cast the ropes off and powered away, but not before the large guard jumped from the dock into the back of the boat.
“You must stop,” he told Zee.
Zee jammed the throttle up, surging the boat away from the dock at full speed, its wake splattering up against the sides of nearby downtown buildings as they ripped through the Miami canals. There’d been a time when these had been side streets that the Army Corps of Engineers fought to keep dry with dikes and walls, but ten years ago they’d finally accepted defeat. The ground under Miami was porous; they couldn’t stop the ocean from bubbling up even if they built dikes around the entire city. This wasn’t Denmark, this was Miami, all former swamp. So the lower floors of buildings had been waterproofed, barricaded, and the streets lined to divert and control the waterways. If he was quick about it, Zee could get this powerboat right back to his safe house and call in help, and never step foot on a dry road.
But he was going to have to hurry, because he was going to need all the help he could call in from his safe house very, very soon once that injection took hold.
A more immediate problem was the very determined guard behind him.
Zee spun the wheel and unbalanced the man. He elbowed the guard in the gut, but it seemed to have little effect. The guard’s pupils were wide as he bear-hugged Zee and then head-butted him. The powerboat careened off a wall and smacked off another boat. People shouted at them as they zagged past.
The world faded for a second, and then Zee sputtered back to consciousness with a face full of blood.
“You’re coming back to meet Dmitri, and then Dmitri will take you all the way up,” the man said, his voice slurred. “Stop fighting. You’re dead man already. We know you are with Caribbean Intelligence. And that injection will kill you.”
The bear hug was breaking his ribs, Zee realized. The man had ingested a fighter’s cocktail at some point: a dose of some slow release Adrenalin, as well as some other mixture of drugs to enable a spurt of speed and immunity to pain. None of the kicks or jabs Zee threw affected him at all.
The guard let go of Zee to grab the wheel. The powerboat, out of control, had turned for one of the docks.
Zee hit him in the head with the gun. As the guard shrugged that off, Zee flipped him out of the boat. Behind him, another powerboat appeared in the canal. Zee glanced behind and saw three shaved heads.
Friends of the guard he’d just thrown overboard.
There was a large park five miles away. Acres of natural preserve. A safer place to continue this battle where people wouldn’t get hurt in the crossfire. More open water to lose his pursuers in. Zee gunned the powerboat to full speed.
With a virus injected into his skin, the longer he waited to get help the more danger he’d be in. But first he was going to have to take care of his determined pursuers.
Well, all he had to do was get back to his safe house and make a call. After that… Bullets stitched the back of the powerboat, making him wince.
Just focus on getting to the safe house, he told himself. From there he could call for backup.
Destruction brewed in the far-off trade winds. A storm sucking up moisture and heat, a dervish with a damaging appetite that ponderously barreled its way across the Atlantic toward the curve of the Caribbean islands scattered in an arc from Florida to South America.
The spinning mass had been tagged by algorithms and scientists days ago as Tropical Storm Makila. Makila’s winds topped out at around sixty miles an hour. The same sort of wind speed you got if you stuck your face out of the window of a car on a highway.
Curious satellites watched it form off the coast of Africa and bear its way across Hurricane Alley toward the center of the Caribbean.
And then, slowly curve.
The question always was: where would it hit? Weather sites showed animations and projections based on the best guesses of supercomputing networks. From the island of Dominica, halfway up the Caribbean chain, all the way up to Florida, people warily paid attention.
“Roo!” someone in a boxy yellow Suzuki honked a horn and shouted. “Stocking up good for Makila?”
Prudence Jones, or Roo as everyone called him, looked away from the eerily cheerful clouds in the sunny sky. He flicked dreadlocks out from his eyes and waved back. The car pulled away before Roo could tell who it was, and he looked back up at the sky.
The real hint of the storm to come out there was that lack of wind. The trade winds always swept through the Virgin Islands on their way to the larger island of Puerto Rico, keeping the air crisp and salty here on the east side of the island. But now the stillness let the sun bake the exposed asphalt and concrete of the town of Red Hook, let it glitter off the water, and let it choke the air with humidity. The winds were being sucked up by the distant storm.
Soon the humidity would be blown clean away. The sky would turn ominous. Winds and waves would scour any boats still bobbing in Muller Harbor here in Red Hook.
And that included Roo and his catamaran, the Spitfire II, if he didn’t get out of the harbor today.
Roo carefully checked that the groceries wouldn’t fall off the folding dolly, then paused. Something twitched in the back of his mind: the young man leaning against a corner of the wall on the far side of the parking lot. The one pretending not to be eyeing Roo.
How long, Roo wondered, had that been happening? He’d missed it. Caught the calculating look only by chance when he’d turned his head to see who’d honked, his eyes not making it to the windshield of whoever had hailed him but stopping at the wall for a second, then snapping back.
And then he’d continued checking his boxes of canned and frozen meals, thinking back to what had briefly flicked across his retinas: a somewhat overly muscled boy with a determined clench to his jaw.
Ratty sneakers. Old jeans. Scars on his fingers. Recently healed?
Shifting feet. He was getting prepared. Like a boxer before a match.
Roo stood up and left the cart on the ground. He had cut between the store and an apartment building nearby, headed for the street to cross to the marina. But this was a good spot to get held up. Thirty feet of shadow, just out of sight of the road, right on the edge of the parking lot. Roo walked quickly back toward the store. The young man moved to intercept.
Roo sighed and backed up, reaching for his back pocket.
“Easy rasta.” The young man had a gun in his hand now. “Don’t be reaching for no trouble.”
“It’s my wallet,” Roo said. “You want me to continue?”
The young man’s mouth twitched. Over-challenged, a little too hyped up and nervous. He hadn’t done this too often. Roo wondered what the story was. Recently out, struggling to get a job? Moving in the wrong circles? “Gimme it,” the man demanded.
Roo tossed the wallet at his feet. And nodded at the groceries. “All yours.”
His mugger shook his head. “I saw you reading a phone on the way in.”
Roo blinked. Now there was a dilemma. He figured he’d lose the groceries and cash and some cards.
But the phone.
He thought about it for a second, and then shook his head. The young man moved from nervous anticipation to careful anger.
Roo’d spent over a week getting the new phone set up. A lot of tweaks and software to make sure he remained as invisible in a networked world as he could possibly imagine.
Most people who lost a phone, they could just redownload their settings when they logged in.
But Roo wasn’t most people. The exotic software that he preferred to use kept him safe, and it ran locally. And even then, every month he purchased a new phone. Started from scratch.
He’d just gotten it set up.
It was a pain in the ass to do it every month. He wasn’t going to do it again this week. Particularly not with a storm bearing down on him.
No. He shook his head again. “No. You can have everything but the phone.”
The mugger glanced left, then right, judged that shooting Roo would not be the smartest thing to do right away, then raised the gun to smack him with it.
He probably thought he would knock the phone out of him.
Instead, Roo walked forward.
There was no sweet ballet of moves, but a split second’s worth of damage. A knee to the groin, elbow to the nose, and a quick flip that put the youth on the ground, groaning.
Roo examined the gun he’d taken at the same time.
It was too light. No ammo.
He checked it to confirm his suspicion. Then bent over the young man. Roo tugged at the graphene paracord bracelet on his left hand. A few seconds and he could tie the kid up, leave the gun next to him, and send him right back to the place he’d probably just gotten out of. Toughen him up. Give him more chances to meet the real dangerous criminals there.
So Roo just picked up his wallet. The young man, hardly more than a kid, would come out of jail more of a menace than he’d go in. Roo knew that well enough.
He retrieved his groceries and wheeled them past the mugger, who now groaned and snorted blood over the concrete parking lot.
Roo grimaced and then stopped. Squatted next to him again.
“Hey, rudeboy?” Bloodshot eyes flickered open, scared. “Take a vacation,” Roo told him softly, and held all the bills in his wallet up in front of his face.
The eyes widened. Big bills. Roo liked having escape money on him. Always.
Roo pressed ten thousand in cash against the boy’s chest. “I have a price, though. You willing to hear me?”
His mugger nodded.
Roo let go of the cash. “I see you doing this again, I won’t be gentle. You’ll be an old man with a limp, understand?”
A few minutes later, with a lighter wallet and a faint frown on his face, Roo threw the empty gun into the ocean while standing at a marina dock just down the road. He shoved his hands in a tattered old jacket with an MV Tellus patch on it and stood silently for a moment.
A single, foreboding streak of dark clouds had crept onto the horizon over the green and gray hills of St. John, the next island east of St. Thomas and just a few miles across the sea. The glimmering white sand beaches were visible from here. But if Roo turned around and looked back, this side of St. Thomas would bristle with high rises and commercial activity. People weren’t on vacation here, they were living.
Time to get back to the boat, he thought, eyeing the clumpy slash of dark in the sky. Time to batten down.
At the Sand Dollar, an obnoxiously nautically themed bar attached to a waterfront hotel just by a set of docks, Roo eased his way down into a leathery Islay whiskey. He’d spent half the day storing stuff and checking over the catamaran one last time. From the corner of the polished wooden bar he squinted out over the muddy water of the harbor.
“You staying here for Makila?” Seneca asked, checking his glass as she moved past with a couple beers in hand. The short blond bartender was a bit of a feature attraction for half the regulars growing roots on the creaky wooden stools here. She had a touch of sunburn on her cheeks today. Probably spent the weekend on a beach in St. John with her roommates. She was halfway through college somewhere up in the U.S. and working here in the summer, still in the honeymoon period of living here when she spent every spare moment she could on a beach.
“Just waiting for Delroy to get out of school. Then we head down to Flamingo Bay.” She didn’t know where that was, he saw, and added, “It’s on the western tip of Water Island. Lots of mangroves in the inside part. We can tie up. It’s not a full hurricane, we should be okay.”
Seneca shook her head. “I can’t imagine living on a boat. Let alone staying on board for a storm.”
Roo shrugged, and she moved on.
“She likes you,” Tinker growled. A large Viking of a man in grease-resistant overalls and a giant black beard, he nudged Roo hard in the shoulder with an elbow.
“She likes everyone,” Roo muttered. “It’s her job. You get your engine fixed? We gonna see you down at Honeymoon?” Tinker was, in theory, a mechanic. He did odd jobs around the harbor for trade. Food, parts, whatever. He owned an ancient diesel-powered Grand Banks motor yacht. It was a behemoth; seventy feet long and powered by two fuel-hungry, notoriously grumpy motors, it would have been a palatial ship to a prior generation.
Nowadays, who the hell could afford the fuel to run the damn thing?
Not Tinker. He’d gotten a deal on the motorboat and gotten it to Red Hook. Limping in on faulty machinery and fumes from the Bahamas. He’d anchored the damn thing, and it’d been sitting in the harbor through two hurricane seasons. And Tinker had become a fixture at the bar. Another piece of human driftwood tossed up here in St. Thomas.
Tinker was working on converting the engines to take leftover oil from fryers. He had tanks of the shit fastened to his decks, collected from restaurants all around Red Hook. Every once in a while the engines would chug and belch out the smell of grease and fried food all over the harbor. And then they’d fall silent.
“No,” Tinker looked down. “Not this storm.” He’d have to shelter on land at a friend’s, wondering yet again if his home would be there in the morning. Or whether he’d find it dashed up against the shore somewhere.
“Sorry to hear it,” Roo said, genuinely. He nodded at Seneca. “Tinker’s next; on my tab, yeah?”
“Thanks, Roo. Another beer, Seneca.” Tinker tapped the counter. “Storm shouldn’t be too bad, right? Sixty-five miles an hour, they’re saying. Was thinking I might ride it out.”
Roo looked at the harbor, open to the ocean. St. John’s hills in the distance. A green ferry cut through the rolling waves, chugging its way over to the other island with a load of cars and people. “You don’t want to do that, Tinker.”
Tinker shrugged. “Got a lot of chain laid down for my anchor.”
“Let the ship ride by herself,” Roo counseled.
“Maybe,” Tinker said. “And afterwards, I’m going to try and get south for the season. Maybe I’ll see you in the Grenadines for once.”
Roo smiled at Tinker’s perennial optimism. “I’ll buy you drinks for a full week if I see you in Bequia,” he said with a smile, knowing full well he was never going to have to pay out on that bet.
Tinker raised his beer happily, Roo raised his glass, and they tinked them together.
“How’s Delroy?” Tinker asked. “He putting you in the bar today?”
Roo shook his head. “Just a long day prepping my boat. Delroy’s okay.” He glanced at the wooden-rimmed clock over the multicolored bottles in the back of the bar. Okay, but late again.
It would be tempting to go walk toward school to find him. But Roo killed that impulse. Delroy was almost ready to graduate. Nothing much he could do if the boy was ready for trouble.
And he’d kept out of trouble the last couple years well enough.
Roo had drifted away from the islands. Been recruited away from them and into to a different life. He’d had nothing to hold him down back then. No one but a brother who, understandably to Roo now, didn’t want to have anything to do with him.
When Roo came back to the Virgin Islands, he found not only the buildings changed, the people he’d known gone or moved on to other things, but found his brother had died. His wife as well.
Roo found his nephew Delroy stuck with a foster family doing their best. But Delroy was twisted up with anger and loneliness that they couldn’t handle. He’d been throwing in with a crowd as angry as he was, looking to define himself with trouble.
So Roo picked him up.
There wasn’t much trouble Delroy could imagine or cause that Roo hadn’t seen. And Roo needed a hobby in his new retirement.
He had made Delroy his hobby.
New school, new life. New family.
Delroy didn’t turn into a scholar. But he calmed down.
Roo set his empty glass on the bar. “Tinker, you give Delroy a ride out when he gets here? He let his cell phone go dead again. Or left it in his room again.”
Roo soaked up the sun as he hopped into a fifteen-foot-long semirigid inflatable dinghy. He untied from a cleat with a quick half flip of a wrist and tossed the painter down into the fiberglass bottom, then flicked the electric engine on.
Most of the boats with people living aboard them here in the harbor had already fled. Either south for the summer, to hide from hurricanes, or to hurricane holes—places naturally still and fetid, which meant very little storm surge. Tie your boat up in a spiderweb of ropes to mangroves and with anchors out on all points, and you would ride the storm just fine.
There were usually maybe fifty boats that had people living on board them anchored here. The other fifty or so were hobbyists. People who used boats like most people used boats: for fun, on weekends.
Halfway out to the Spitfire II Roo’s phone buzzed.
He ignored it for a second. Focused on weaving the dinghy around boats at anchor. The electric motor wasn’t as fast as the old gas-powered fifteen-horsepower motor that he used to roar around with. But he could get this one charged up via the ship’s solar power. Slow for cheap was good.
The phone buzzed again.
If that was Delroy, he was going to have to figure out how to hitch that ride with Tinker, as he had many times already. Or swim.
Roo had made Delroy do that once.
But they needed to get moving soon. Roo slowed the dinghy down and pulled out the phone. It was an incoming call. But with a blocked number.
That… was next to impossible. Not with the setup Roo had.
He licked his lips, suddenly nervous. Flicked at the screen to answer and put the phone up to his ear, trying to shield it from the occasional spray of saltwater.
“Hey old friend, it’s Zee,” said an utterly familiar voice. Roo smiled for a second at the blast from the past. He started to reply, but the voice continued quickly. “And if you’re getting this message from me, it means I’m dead.”
Roo killed the throttle. The dinghy stopped surging forward and just pointed into the waves, bobbing slowly.
“Listen, I’m sorry to lay some heavy shit on you, but I kinda need a favor,” the voice on the phone continued.
Hurricane Fever © Tobias Buckell, 2014