EXCLUSIVE EXTRACT: Empire Games by Charles Stross
To celebrate today's long-awaited release of Charles Stross’ fantastic new novel Empire Games, here's an exclusive sneak peak PLUS a chance to win 1 of 5 copies!
* * * *
BALTIMORE, NOVEMBER 2019
FEDERAL EMPLOYEE 004910023 CLASSIFIED VOICE TRANSCRIPT
COL. SMITH: Okay, so today we’re evaluating the prototype candidate identified by our data trawl. Name’s Douglas, Rita Douglas. Age 25. Which is to say, at least 5 years too old to be part of the DRAGON’S TEETH world-walker breeding program we uncovered back in the day.
DR. SCRANTON: (throat-clearing noise) Messy.
AGENT O'NEILL: If she isn’t one of the DRAGON’S TEETH children, where did she come from?
COL. SMITH: Douglas may not be part of the world-walkers’ project but she’s listed in the database we captured back in ’03. So we ran her DNA profile with forensics against the, the FBI’s Alternate World Terror Suspects Index. And it turns out there’s a three-sigma maternity match with a world-walking terror suspect. We ID’d her mother back in the day but she’s been missing for years, presumably returned to the hostiles’ time line.
AGENT O'NEILL: How did Douglas slip beneath our radar? The kid, I mean, not the mother—
DR. SCRANTON: She didn’t.
COL. SMITH: Correct. She was adopted by a childless couple in Massachusetts, eleven days after birth. Very fast. Very well-organized— her maternal grandmother took care of it. We dug the original hospital records up and it turns out her birth mother and father were medical students. She was an, uh, accident.
AGENT O'NEILL: Medical students? World-walking medical students? What is this, I don’t—
DR. SCRANTON: Listen to him.
AGENT O'NEILL: Okay.
COL. SMITH: Douglas carries the recessive trait for moving between time lines— like all of the DRAGON’S TEETH children. The world-walkers used a fertility clinic in Boston to run a rigged artifi cial insemination program, to breed more children who were also recessives. We figure they were going to approach some of them, as adults, to become host mothers or sperm donors . . . The point is, the first-generation carriers aren’t able to world-walk themselves. And that goes for Douglas. When the terrorists set up the DRAGON’S TEETH program they already knew about her, hence her name appearing on the database. But she was born years before they set that wagon rolling. Anyway, her birth mother is most definitely one of Them— Miriam Beckstein. In fact, she was one of their ringleaders. There’s an outstanding warrant for her arrest. Charges include mass murder, terrorism, crimes against humanity, violations of the Espionage Act, theft, possession of weapons of mass destruction, and treason. Oh, and narcotics trafficking.
AGENT O'NEILL: Any outstanding parking tickets? Tax evasion?
DR. SCRANTON: I didn’t see any reason to complicate things needlessly.
COL. SMITH: So we have this baby, born and adopted out long before her mother showed up on our radar. Back in the nineties, so long before 7/16. This terrorist baby is just a baby, and not her mother’s responsibility anymore. We tracked down the father and it turns out he’s on his third marriage. He’s a successful clinical oncologist in a teaching hospital in the Research Triangle. Naturalized citizen, born in Pakistan, came over with his parents when he was three. He was investigated by DHS in the wake of the Indo- Pak war, but came up clean. More recently we screened him for that same JAUNT BLUE recessive gene trait the world-walkers share, and he’s negative. Whereas the Beckstein woman was most definitely positive, an active world- walker.
AGENT O'NEILL: So you’re saying she’s an adult recessive carrier. Older than the DRAGON’S TEETH cohort, but still Generation Z? And she’s not some kind of ringer?
COL. SMITH: Yup. She’s clean. No criminal record. Two loving middle-class parents, three surviving grandparents, mixed-race adopted kid. She had a really good childhood. Not silver- spoon privileged, but she never went short of evening courses or hobbies or summer camps during vacation. Lots of Girl Scout stuff: I mean, you couldn’t make this up— she’s your all- American straight arrow. They put her through college, then got out of her way when she struck out to make a life for herself, but they’ve always been there when she needs them. She’d be totally normal if she wasn’t a carrier for the JAUNT BLUE capability.
DR. SCRANTON: And she has no background with the world- walkers.
AGENT O'NEILL: Don’t tell me this is new information.
DR. SCRANTON: Of course not. We’ve been tracking Rita Douglas since the bad old days. She was just a kid when they nuked the White House. She was on a watch list for eight years— one of my predecessors thought maybe Beckstein would come for her eventually, but it seems they’re not that kind of family. Or maybe she’s forgotten all about her college accident by now. Or thought she could protect the kid by burying her. Anyway, as a civilian and a recessive carrier, Ms. Douglas was of no use to us. Until now.
AGENT O'NEILL: What changed?
DR. SCRANTON: This is classified: the brainiacs in the lab under the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory finally figured out how to switch on the JAUNT BLUE world-walking trait in carriers. Carriers such as the DRAGON’S TEETH teenagers and our current person of interest. You’re now authenticated and listed for that particular code word. We’re going to recruit, motivate, train, and run her as an intelligence asset. A para-time spy. And that’s going to be your job.
AGENT O'NEILL: Holy crap.
DR. SCRANTON: The DRAGON’S TEETH kids are still mostly in their teens. They’re too young for the job we have in mind. It demands a certain maturity. But Rita Douglas is in her mid- twenties and fits the profile like a glove. I mean, she’s so clean it’s eerie— almost as if her family were aiming her at the political track, or a job in national security. Maybe they knew something, or guessed enough to train her to keep her head down instinctively. Either way, she’s almost the perfect candidate for this operation. Almost.
AGENT O'NEILL: You’re talking about turning her into a world-walking agent. Actually taking the war to the enemy’s time line?
DR. SCRANTON: Eventually, yes.
AGENT O'NEILL: They’re still out there? We have confirmation? You’ve got a fix on them?
COL. SMITH: You bet your ass they’re out there. As for their location . . . that’s a need-to-know matter. Let’s just say, we can’t just barge in and trash the joint this time. Which is why you’re being pulled into this sandbox as of now. We think Ms. Douglas is the right tool for the job. We want you to run Rita. Are you up to the challenge?
AGENT O'NEILL: That’s a big responsibility you’re putting on me, sir.
DR. SCRANTON: Don’t blame me, blame Project Oversight. But yes. They’ve got a high opinion of you after Stockholm. Question is, are you on the team?
AGENT O'NEILL: I’ll do my best, sir.
COL. SMITH: Well, now we need to get your authorizations upgraded. Lifelogger, disable code [REDACTED].
SECURITY LEVEL EXCEEDED
* * * *
To be in for a chance of winning 1 of 5 copies, simply answer the following question:
Empire Games is set in the world of which existing series, also by Charles Stross?
A. The Merchant Princes
B. The Rebellion
C. The Merchant of Venice
D. The Time Warp
The deadline for all entries is 30/01/17. Winners with the correct answer will be chosen at random. Good luck!
For more information on Charles Stross, visit his website or follow him on Twitter.