We’re excited to share the cover and a preview excerpt from M.T. Hill’s Zero Bomb, a startling near-future sci-fi mystery focused on the real-world issues of increased automation, state surveillance, and how a society reacts when technology replaces the need to work.
Zero Bomb publishes March 19, 2019 with Titan Books.
The near future. Following the death of his daughter Martha, Remi flees the north of England for London. Here he tries to rebuild his life as a cycle courier, delivering subversive documents under the nose of an all-seeing state.
But when a driverless car attempts to run him over, Remi soon discovers that his old life will not let him move on so easily. Someone is leaving coded messages for Remi across the city, and they seem to suggest that Martha is not dead at all.
Unsure what to believe, and increasingly unable to trust his memory, Remi is slowly drawn into the web of a dangerous radical whose ‘70s sci-fi novel is now a manifesto for direct action against automation, technology, and England itself.
Remi doesn’t know much about art, though he’ll blag his way through a client briefing to win a delivery contract. But by doing this job, he’s part of the scene’s nervous system. When you’re creating under a government that demands to see it all, you have to adapt. To paint or cartoon or write books these days is subversive at the very least, and to shift it through the city is not simple complicity—it’s open defiance. Remi reckons about half of his traffic is typed or handwritten manuscripts, and the demand for grey couriers like him is only growing. The current buzz on deep channels is that foreign embassies have cottoned on and started paying big, if certain assurances are met. If the art market takes a whack—if there’s another big crackdown, say—Remi might yet explore that route himself.
The commute only intensifies as he cycles on with the manuscript. His bug is flashing the directions, but he knows these roads, counts the miles instead through personal nodes: the pubs, the automated bookies, the empty temples and mosques and synagogues, the libraries-turned-flats, the sets of traffic lights you can safely skip. Graffiti tags and fissures in tarmac on certain roads. Grids and H-for-hydrant signs making for esoteric markers and signals.
Then he’s waiting at a heavy junction, caught in electric traffic. Sandstone brick surrounds, Georgian everything. You can tell a wealthy enclave by its heavy gates and partially exposed gun-turrets—is this really Mayfair, already? He scans the run of luxury shops while his bug traces a lazy helix above his head. He admires another rider’s cycle as it pulls alongside him at the lights, a sliver of a thing with a carbon-fibre frame. Next to the two of them, a driverless car paused so perfectly on the dashed nav line it could be screencapped from an advert. Remi and the other cyclist share a cautious smile as they notice simultaneously the passenger asleep on the car’s rear bench.
Then to the traffic lights, foot on the front pedal, and back to his idle quantifying. What makes this city? What makes it breathe? Remi has some ideas: the crane verticals and cables; the old and new in visible sedimentary layers, history compressed and overflowing from the grids; blues and reggae and old-school jungle from open windows and passing cars; a grimjazz band practising in the middle distance, steady cymbal wash; a food courier arguing futilely with a driverless white van; a steaming coffee outlet selling weed and beta-blockers; lads outside a takeaway sharing shock-joints and quiet dreams; a mobile shop blinking deep cuts on stolen derms; hidden London delineated by the warm vanilla lights of bedsits above shops; sleazy-hot London with its shapeless blood-glow; sex bidding and street shouting; the wealthiest Londoners slipping by undetected in silent taxis—
‘Hear that?’ the other cyclist asks him.
Remi pulls down his breather, wipes the condensation from his top lip. ‘Sorry?’
The other cyclist nods. ‘That noise. You not hear it?’
And then it comes again, and Remi does. A sad pop, like someone closing a door in another room.
‘What the hell’s that?’ the other rider asks.
‘Tunnel works?’ Remi shrugs and looks at the ground. ‘I dunno.’
The other cyclist shrugs back. Not cold, or even polite, Remi understands, but familiar. The death-spiral fraternity of cycling in London.
Again comes the popping sound. A series of popping sounds. ‘Seriously!’ the other cyclist says. It does sound like it’s coming from beneath them, but it’s too clipped to be a passing Tube train, and Remi’s sure they stopped tunnelling work to repair the collapse at Tottenham Court Road.
Once more the noise comes, this time much closer. Remi squints at the other rider. The lights turn green and the driverless car glides away. Remi and the other cyclist wordlessly mount the pavement, intrigued or unsettled enough to hang around. They both lean on their tiptoes, holding the traffic light post. Their bugs begin to fly in tight circles around each other, as if they’re conspiring.
‘Right then,’ the other cyclist says, gesturing to the bugs. ‘That’s no good.’
Remi grimaces. The bugs often know.
Then the smog draws closer, dry and sour, and the popping sound is all around them. The driverless car has faltered in the box junction, its motor screaming painfully. The passenger has woken up and is banging on the windows. Without saying anything, Remi dismounts his bike and props it against the post, and the other rider does the same. Together they approach the car, stilted by adrenaline. There’s a smell of hot wires. Other vehicles start to beep as the traffic lights turn red again. Remi’s bug emits a shrill alarm to warn him he’s abandoned the manuscript case.
Remi heads directly for the car. ‘You all right?’ he calls, mouth sticky. Behind them, doors are hissing open, other voices rising. Pap-pap-pap from the driverless car’s front end.
Closer, the offside window, and a pair of thick boot soles fill the glass. The passenger on his back, kicking at full stretch, because the car’s cabin is filling with smoke. ‘Jesus Christ,’ Remi manages. And now the car’s reverse note sounds, hazards glitching on and off. Remi instinctively steps away just as the driverless car accelerates, brakes to a pause, and restarts itself. Before he can react, the car swings away from the box junction and turns to face the mounting traffic. To face Remi.
‘Jesus Christ,’ Remi says.
The passenger window glass gives and speckles the road, and then the car comes at him.
Excerpted from Zero Bomb, copyright © 2018 by M.T. Hill