After loving Kameron Hurley's God's War to such a degree, I simply can't wait to read the sequel, Infidel (Canada, USA, Europe).
And here's an excerpt from the soon-to-be-released final volume, Rapture. For more information about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.
Here's the blurb:
After years in exile, Nyxnissa so Dasheem is once more a bel dame, part of a sisterhood of elite government assassins trained to a cut a target's head off without remorse. But the end of a centuries-long war has thrown her native land of Nasheen into turmoil. A huge influx of unemployed--and unemployable--young soldiers have brought Nasheen to the brink of civil war, even as an alien spaceship stations itself in orbit above the capital.
With aliens in the sky and revolution on the ground, Nyx figures it's a good time to get the hell out of Nasheen, so she assembles a team of renegades, shape-shifters, magicians, and mercenaries to rescue a missing political leader who may be the difference between peace and bloodshed.
Just one problem: the politician is an old enemy whom Nyx once left to die in a ditch . . .
Ahmed traded his face for a ticket out of Sahar. It seemed a fair enough deal at the time—the butchers told him it was a pretty face, and they had a fair number of mutilated veterans coming off the front who’d have use for it. As it was, he could use a new face himself. It was harder for bel dames to hunt down faceless men.
But when he woke on the butcher’s block, his vision a gray haze, a dull throbbing in his swollen mouth—like it had been stuffed with gauze—and he pressed his fingers to his engorged face and lips and tried to speak… he knew something was terribly wrong.
They had not taken his face.
They had taken his tongue.
A tall woman entered. Her hands were bloody crimson, her gaunt face a hallowed mask. In her fingers she held a strange creature—half worm, half beetle. It was flat and smooth, with savage hooks at one end.
“Open,” the woman said. He did not recognize her. Someone else had made the deal with him, and another woman had taken him here. She gripped his chin firmly in one hand, presented the worm-bug with the other. “Open,” she said, “Or did you never want to speak again?”
He opened. The worm fell into his mouth, wriggling and lashing. The morphine had taken the edge off, but he felt it when the worm jabbed itself into the stub of what was left of his tongue.
“Don’t fight it,” the woman said. She slapped his shoulder. Left a long red smear of blood. “Just let it settle. In a week you won’t even notice it.”
He choked and drooled and finally, painfully, mumbled something like a curse. The worm waggled on the stub of his tongue. His words felt mangled, mushy. He gagged again.
“It’ll conform to you,” the woman said. “It’s a proper parasite. Just give it time.”
A tongue was a cheap organ, he knew. Not at all worth a trip out of Sahar. He bled all over the paperwork and collected his small sum and would have cursed the woman who’d taken him here, but the thought of speaking made his stomach churn. If he spent another day in Sahar, he would be dead. It didn’t matter much what he had to sell to get out.
So he slogged back into the fleshpots, and traded his right kidney for the remainder of what he needed for his train ticket. Still drooling and stumbling, he picked the first train headed to the interior. The woman at the counter spent twenty minutes reviewing his discharge tattoo and accompanying paperwork, then asked for an additional personal fee.
“I don’t understand that request,” he said, his words coming out garbled, sloppy, as if he were chewing on the worm with every word. He gagged again.
The ticket agent smiled, brazenly, the way all the women did who weren’t at the front. She told him men weren’t permitted on the interior without a special pass. “You won’t get past the filter, even with a face like that.”
He had no interest in being reminded of his fucking face.
“I’m not aware of that law,” he said, and spit blood and some yellow-pink mucus on her counter.
“You are now,” she said. “One hundred notes, or you stay here at the front with the rest of the boys.” She leaned away from the ticket counter, still grinning. “I suppose you could walk across that desert. Plenty of other boys have, I hear. Mushtallah looks like some magician’s slab, bunch of pretty boys all standing around waiting to get put in jars.”
He had spent far too many nights on the sand already. His slick was going bad, starting to stink, and they had relieved his entire platoon of weapons before getting their discharge tattoos. Aside from the slick and his other kidney, he had little left of any value. If only they’d taken his face.
Ahmed took a deep breath. He started to recite the ninety-nine names of God, the way he had the time he saw his first squad torn apart by a hornet burst. It was the calm that kept you whole, when a hornet burst started biting. He had spent an hour in perfect stillness as his squad screamed and died around him, their faces and hands swelling and bursting, bloody foam at their mouths.
He thought, again, of his face. Tried to tame his new tongue. “Is there some other arrangement we can come to?”
It was easier to make the proper words this time, but it still felt grotesque, as if he were swallowing some live meal with every word.
The woman laughed. A big laugh, full and fearless, like the rest of her. “I have plenty of those offers, thanks.” She waved at the packed platform beyond the station, filled with boys and men, many of them still in their tattered standard-issue slicks, just as he was. “I work for currency. Blood, bugs, or notes. No exceptions.”
Ahmed considered that. “I can pay you a pint of blood and three locusts.”
“What kind of locusts?”
“Deal. Come here in the back and Samara will take care of you.”
He had no locusts, but it took him only a few minutes to call some. She was no magician. It wouldn’t be until she presented the locusts to a buyer that she would discover they were just some local variety. He had promised not to use his skill again after leaving the front, but it was like trying to put down any other weapon—once you became accustomed to it, you picked it up again, easy as breathing.
Samara, the woman waiting for him in the back, was a pleasant sort of woman, beefy and generous. A quick glance behind the ticket counter told him there were no magicians there either. Samara happily took his locusts, and more. Despite her colleague’s insistence that no other services were of value, her friend Samara had other ideas. Not even his wormy little tongue would dissuade her.
She seemed only mildly disappointed his cock wouldn’t cooperate, but did not ask why. He wondered how many others she had brought back here, and how many had been in any state to satisfy her with something other than a tongue or a hand.
She pushed his ticket at him when she was finished, and he gripped it closely and hurried away. Thrust it at the first platform manager he saw. She directed him to a waiting train. He stepped in, found a seat in the crowded third-class cabin, and wept for the first time since the end of the war.
* * *
Ahmed stepped out of the train ten hours later and into a hot, chalky evening. He was hungry and light-headed, but full of hope that the interior cities he remembered would be significantly more welcoming than the border towns.
He had bunched up his ticket and jammed it in one of his slick’s pockets. Now he fished his ticket out, but the drugs and exhaustion meant he had trouble reading it. When the morphine had worn off on the train, he switched to siva, the military-issued version of sen, but it still left him muzzy-headed and aching. He doubted the vet he got it from was entirely honest about what it was. Siva had never left him feeling this disoriented.
A few passengers disembarked around him, and he finally mustered up the gall to ask one of the nearby women, “Excuse me, matron, what city is this?”
She looked startled. Then something like disgust tore at her face. It was a reaction he was becoming accustomed to. But it still cut at his heart. He had hoped the interior was different.
She kept moving as she said, “You’re in Amtullah, boy.”
It was never anything but that—boy. Not sir, not patron, not “What’s your name?” Just… boy. As if he had walked off his house mother’s stoop just yesterday.
Ahmed had never heard of Amtullah. That in itself wasn’t odd, he supposed. He grew up in the southeast, near the Drucian border. There weren’t a lot of people there, or proper schools. His first squad thought his accent was a laugh, and it had taken him two years to suppress it.
He gazed over the stir of women, toward the city proper. In the south, there were still some green things, so he expected the rest of the interior would be like that too, but no—even on the train, all he saw of the interior was dry and desiccated, just like the front. Yet, unlike the border towns, this city was intact. He saw elegant minarets in the distance rising from a cluster of domed public buildings and upscale tenement houses, all of it surrounded in a massive filter that blanketed the stir of the city like some kind of membrane. It was the most massive filter he’d ever seen, and he spent a long time working out how to deal with it. Outside, the boys and men who had come with him were headed toward customs, already arguing with the armed women who he assumed would carry the city’s only passkeys.
He found a call box inside the station and dialed the only civilian pattern he still remembered.
After the line stirred and chittered and spat for some time, a thin voice rose from the darkness and rasped, “Who is this?”
“Amtullah. Filter. You done one before?”
“Who is this?”
“You said to call if I ever came home.”
He heard something clatter on the other side of the line. “Been a long time, friend.”
“Have you done that filter or not?”
“Good. She’ll hook you up.” There was some noise in the background. Ahmed wondered if the man had a proper family now, someone he had to hide Ahmed from. “Don’t call again.”
The man’s voice broke. “Everyone has his fate, but I asked God, the compassionate, the merciful, at each prayer for your safe return. May God preserve you.”
Ahmed hung up. Stared at the filter. His commanding officer had told him once that fear in the ranks was rampant, yes, but it was fear that kept people in line. “They need to fear me more than the enemy,” she told him. “That’s the secret to any great command.”
He had put a knife through her three years later. But even in that instant, he wasn’t sure who was more terrified—him or her. Worse, he wasn’t sure what any of that proved.
Ahmed had worked for a lot of smart, sadistic fucks. They had hidden the sadism behind military intelligence badges and security protocols, but their arrogance and lack of compassion were harder to tuck up under a prayer rug. They had taught him everything they knew, and he had used it ruthlessly, relentlessly. It had kept him alive, yes. But his reward for fifteen years of service and putting a knife in the eye of every good soldier he knew was this.
Six weeks ago, he’d known very little about the world outside the military. Now he knew enough to be certain that the man he was at the front no longer existed. Assholes lived a long time, but if that was living, he wanted none of it. It was time to let go of all the catshit, and learn how to be a man on his own terms, in a new world that had no idea what to do with him.