In the near-future, a minority of the population has lost the need for sleep. A journalist fights to uncover the truth behind his boss’s murder on the eve of a sinister corporate takeover—while his own Sleeplessness spirals out of control.
We’re thrilled to share an excerpt from The Sleepless by Victor Manibo, available now from Erewhon Books.
Journalist Jamie Vega is Sleepless: he can’t sleep, nor does he need to. When his boss dies on the eve of a controversial corporate takeover, Jamie doesn’t buy the too-convenient explanation of suicide, and launches an investigation of his own.
But everything goes awry when Jamie discovers that he was the last person who saw Simon alive. Not only do the police suspect him, Jamie himself has no memory of that night. Alarmingly, his memory loss may have to do with how he became Sleepless: not naturally, like other Sleepless people, but through a risky and illegal biohacking process.
As Jamie delves deeper into Simon’s final days, he tangles with extremist organizations and powerful corporate interests, all while confronting past traumas and unforeseen consequences of his medical experimentation. But Jamie soon faces the most dangerous decision of all as he uncovers a terrifying truth about Sleeplessness that imperils him—and all of humanity.
Friday, 07/10/2043, 06:07 AM
Sun’s up and another day begins, at least for everyone else. I run through my routine and queue up my morning espresso before heading to the shower. Just then, a voice message comes in through the bathroom’s mirror display.
It’s Maxwell Cartwright’s assistant, already working at an hour ungodly to most people. She says I’ve been given the day off to recover, and a few days more, if I require it. I detect a hint of maudlin concern at her mention of “recovery” and remind myself that no, Portia is not alluding to my history. She’d only been hired recently and so she couldn’t have known about my quite public meltdown two years ago.
“Thanks, I do need an extra day,” I voice-reply. It was completely out of character for Cartwright—he’s never been big on mental health days—but I’m not one to question it. Portia quickly responds that C+P will have grief counselors on retainer by Monday, and I should consider taking advantage of them. The surprises keep coming. Next thing you know, there’ll be wellness seminars and self-care workshops, possibly a speaker series on mindfulness or work-life integration. Correctives, and ineffectual ones at that.
Beneath ghostly images of the back-and forth notifications, I catch my reflection. I wave off the digital display and lean in closer to the mirror. Tufts of black hair matted by sweat, eyes bloodshot from failing to administer my eye drops yet again.
I strip and turn to the full-length mirror. I take myself in, head to toe. I look like shit, but a year of no sleep hasn’t ravaged me as I feared. Despite being repeatedly assured by all the medical literature, I still had this notion that I would waste away because of being Sleepless. That I’d be undernourished despite consuming more food, wither away despite more activity. Irrational, I know. The Sleepless have the same physiology as everyone else. We’re not more or less prone to any known diseases. Our muscles get tired the same amount despite increased use, and we are not faster or stronger or smarter. We can still get drunk, black out when we overdo it, faint when our blood sugar dips too low, get disoriented when we’re knocked on the head. And no sooner or later than average, we still die. Like everyone else, if we don’t abuse our bodies, we have a good chance of living to see our eightieth birthday. Overall, there are no biological differences. All we get is more waking hours.
As with every other fear I had, my health fears dissipated as I kept myself busy, filling my hours and thinking about how I’d fill my hours. All those hobbies helped too—rowing, running, jiu jitsu, dance. Aside from passing time, it had the bonus of giving me more strength, endurance and muscle definition. I’m fitter now than before I became Sleepless, I’d say. Except for the last twenty-four hours.
Since finding Simon, I feel like I’ve aged a decade in a day. In this early morning glow, I look it too. My frame seems leaner than it was only yesterday; my cheeks look sunken, and my pallor is the brown-gray of frozen mud. The REST session was supposed to revitalize me, but it only made me feel worse, and the outside’s starting to reflect the inside. It’s going to take more than a shower and caffeine to make me look halfway human.
Blood flow. That’s what I need.
I start doing jumping jacks, slowly at first. In my nakedness, I am reminded of the Vitruvian man, which as a child I thought was an illustration of proper jumping-jack technique. When the mirror display tells me my heartrate’s up, I quicken to a more frenetic pace.
Sweat drips down my temples and splatters around me in a drizzle of salty mist. I go faster and faster still, because I’m not feeling better yet. I gotta push harder. Five full minutes should get my color back, make me look less pallid.
I think it’s working, it looks like it’s working, but I have to keep going, just a little bit longer.
* * *
Friday, 07/10/2043, 08:30 AM
Barges and tugboats crisscross with the ferries that traverse the East River. The sun beats down and casts a blinding reflection on the water. I bear the lack of shade and settle onto my park bench. Behind me, a high steel fence separates the riverside path from the neighborhood dog run. The yapping of toy dogs provides the upper register of a cacophony that includes ferry horns, joggers, and the rumbling of the subway as it goes over the bridge.
Her blush pink jacket is the first thing I see from across the way. It’s heavy for this weather, but the lady must have her Chanel. Her head of white hair is wound high in a bouffant, and her face is obscured by dark, round spectacles. Designer visors, not like the wide, translucent band of tech across everyone’s faces. In one hand she holds a brushed gunmetal walking stick. With the other she leads an Afghan Hound so regal, it must be a prizewinner.
I avert my eyes and wait. It’s not until I get a whiff of ylang ylang that I swipe my visor on. I’m not connecting to her, not on a call that can be tapped or traced. I expect she’s doing the same.
“Lovely weather we’re having,” I say, acting as though I’m on a vidcall.
“Go ahead and socialize, Moritz,” she says to her dog. It’s hard to hear her with her back turned to me, but I suppose that’s the point. We were never supposed to meet at all, and especially not so soon after delivering the package.
“This better be fucking good.” She enunciates each word with disdain.
“You heard what happened?”
“It’s all over the news.”
“Wanted to warn you,” I say. “I’m not sure it’s a suicide. I think it may have been staged to look like one.”
“Call it a hunch. The man made a lot of enemies doing what we do.”
A pause. Her bangles clink, and I imagine her shifting in her seat, crossing her arms. She clears her throat. “You think it has to do with our recent endeavor?”
“You haven’t told anyone, have you?”
“This is the reason you came here, isn’t it?” She says it sweetly, and I know she’s pissed. “I’m at greater risk than you, mister. I’m not stupid. Besides, I need Dwyer out so that my own pony wins the race.”
She’s right on all counts. I needed to understand how exposed Simon was. That meant making sure that she hadn’t exposed him. But I truly did want to warn her too. I owe her at least that. She’s stuck her neck out for this Dwyer story, and for all the precautions we’ve taken, there’s still a chance that things lead back to her. Then her investment firm is ruined. Worse, she could end up like Simon.
“Maybe you should spike the story,” she says, more as a command than a suggestion. “Find another way to get at Dwyer.”
“I’m gonna see this through. I have to,” I say. “It’s what Simon would’ve wanted.”
“If your guesswork is right,” she replies, words drawn out, “It’s also what got him killed.”
I can’t tell if she’s trying to get a rise out of me. She would have succeeded, too, if I didn’t worry about being seen or heard. “I’m doing some digging, but no real threat has come up. Not yet anyway. That’s why I’m here. For what it’s worth, it might be nothing. Still, can’t be too careful.”
“Assuming this is what you think it is,” she says, “What makes you think it has to do with our project? I’m sure the man made enemies in other ways.”
“Yes, I’ll look into others too.” The list of Simon’s enemies, nascent only in my mind for the moment, is long. “But recency dictates that I start with Dwyer.”
“I have experience with things like this, you know,” she says. “Almost always, the threat comes from inside the house. The same holds here.”
“How do you figure?”
“Look at where he died. Why there?” she replies. “A sniper bullet as he left the building would have been easier.”
I’ve been hyper-focused on the how and the why that I’d neglected to notice the where. C+P is Simon’s castle, where he is safest, or at least where he would feel most secure. And to have his death appear to be a suicide, that implies closeness too. Someone would have to be close to orchestrate the scene.
“The incentives may have come from outside. It may be the Senator,” she continues. “But the hand that dealt the blow is quite certainly closer than you think.”
“No one at C+P would,” I say. “He built that place. He’s beloved.”
“Everyone seems that way until they’re stabbed in the back.”
Nearly everyone who worked with Simon can be described as driven, ambitious, persistent. Lethal and treacherous are not words that come to mind, but given the right motive and under the right circumstances, that same ambition can turn dangerous. Only yesterday the C+P amphitheater held the entire staff all in one place, and I’d wondered how they truly felt about Simon. Now I run through those names and faces again. Cartwright, Carrera, Liang, Oliveira, Goldin… not to mention Cleo Johnson, assistant news chief and Simon’s tenacious second-in-command.
The woman might have a point.
“You say you’ve dealt with this before,” I say after a while. “What did you do?”
“I cleaned house.” She huffs, proud. “But then again, what do I know? It might be a suicide. Not everything is a conspiracy.”
“When you’re a hammer…”
“In case you’re right though, I think I’ll be spending the next month on a remote private island. Perhaps in the South Pacific.” She calls her Afghan Hound with a high-pitched whistle. “Goodbye, Jamie Vega. Don’t call me sometime.”
Excerpted from The Sleepless, copyright © 2022 by Victor Manibo.