Excerpt from Jeff Somers' THE TERMINAL STATE

As you know, I've been a big fan of Avery Cates from the beginning, and I'm pleased to give you a glimpse of his latest adventures in The Terminal State. Thanks to Jeff Somers for providing the extract. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe, AbeBooks.

Here's the blurb:

Avery Cates is an army man. Between the army's new dental plan and a set of first class augments, he's been given a second chance - albeit a quick one.

When a corrupt officer decides to make some money on the side by selling new recruits, Cates finds himself in uncharted territory. Sold to the highest bidder, his visions of escape and revenge quickly come to an end when he realizes who's bought him - and for what. Because the high bidder is Canny Orel himself. And he wants Cates to do one last job as the System slides into chaos. Cates will have one shot at getting back at Canny - but this time, Canny is holding all the cards.


“EVRY'TING fallen apart,” Dingane groused, rubbing his dry, cracked hands against his unshaven chin. “T'whole fuckin' world, yeah?”

I raised the wooden cup from the wobbly table and held it in the air between us, steeling myself. I'd tasted some terrible things in my life, but the moonshine Bixon made out back routinely tasted like it had been filtered through corpses, and felt like it was taking a layer of your throat off as it went down to boot. I was a murderer, Plague survivor, and wanted man, and I still had to steady myself before each shot.

“Quit your fucking bellyaching,” I advised Dingane, “and tell me if you got my stuff.”

He was right, The System was cracking open, but that was no reason to encourage him. After years of plotting against each other, the System Police and the civilian government had been in open civil war for a year, piling up bodies and destroyed cities, burning through yen and bodies building up these sudden fleets of military-grade hovers and weapons, things that hadn't existed for decades, since unification had ended war for fucking ever, didn't you know. The whole world, bound together for a while, one government, one police force, no armies in sight. And now we didn't have police any more, just armies, and it didn't matter who won. You just wanted them to get it over with fast, before they killed everyone.

Dingane paused, nasty, and then thought better of it and smiled. I immediately wished he hadn't, green teeth and black gums, and I tipped the shot into my mouth to distract myself from his grin. My throat tried to close up in instinctual defense, but I was ready for that and just worked it on down. I breathed through my mouth.

“Ohkay, ohkay,” Dingane said, affecting a jolly expression. “Av'ry is impatient today, uh? Av'ry's in the revenge bidness, huh? You lis'n to Dingane, m'friend, an' be happy. Fo'get these two men, made you so fuckin' angry.”

I gave him a frown, a steady unhappy expression. “There's a reason you're crawling the fucking earth trading in junk and reclaimed ammunition, and I'm sitting here hiring you. When someone sells me out—” Wa Belling, handing me over to Kev Gatz and The Plague “—lies to me and leaves me for dead—” Michaleen, staring down at me from the hover as it drifted away, leaving me to be bricked in Chengara “—I don't fucking forget.”

You're small, a voice whispered in my head. I blinked, ignoring it.

Suddenly he was grinning, happy to oblige. Just like everyone else; if you were polite you got static. If you showed them your fist they got polite. “You pay'n the bills heeyah, so ohkay,” he said hurriedly. “I got mos' de stuff you ask. Not easy t'transport heavy shit, t'big shit.” He spread his chalky hands. “No 'overs any mo', Av'ry. From here t'Florida you can't get no 'overs. An if you could, the fucking armay be shoot'n your ass down, trust. So I can't get the big items. And bullets is hard. Ammo. Hard. No one makin' any'ting any more. Nowhere. Mexico, sheeit, usesta be, Mexico you get any'ting, now, no. Nothin' in Mexico 'cept armay and cops, armay and cops, shootin's at every'ting, bombing t'cities back to fuck.”

It was my fate to listen to Dingane bitch and moan every now and then. I'd pulled his ear a few times to discourage him, but Dingane was one of those leathery fellows that looked a fucking century old and acted like pain didn't mean shit to him any more, which maybe it didn't. Easier to let him talk. I wasn't going anywhere anyway.

That didn't mean I couldn't move things along. “Hell, Dingy, can't you shut up for one fucking minute?”

He gave me the grin again. “Sho' can, Av'ry, but I thought y'wanted news of your order, huh? You wanted clips, mag'zines, for what'ver caliber I could get. I got some, I got some, but it ain't cheap or easy. N'one down south makin' 'em up an'more. I gots to go far afield, you dig? And the Geeks—oh, fuck, the fuckin' Geeks, Av'ry. Dey band t'gether, you know that? SPS? All these fuckin' Techies, throwin' shit down.”

I let Dingane talk. It was good cover. I closed my eyes and pictured the place, Bixon's uninsulated shack with the long bar made up of crates in the back, the wobbly tables lashed together, the big ugly metal stove in the middle of the room glowing red, pulsing with heat, making the whole place smell like my own armpit and stinging the eyes with soot and smoke. Better than outside, where snow was howling—the weather was fucked up, you never knew what you were gonna get, these days. Rumor was it was all fallout from the war screwing up the climate, but who the fuck knew. I'd never been in this part of the world before. Neither had most of us.

I thought of Old Pick, long dead now. I thought about everything that fat old bastard had known, the data of lifetimes, the oral history of every criminal worth remembering in New York since Unification. And who knew what water he'd carried across the line from pre-Uni times. All of it gone, now, like they'd never happened. And there'd never be another Pick, ever. Not these days.

The tables, six of them, arranged randomly in the tight space beyond the bar, more or less around the stove that stood in the middle. Me and Dingane, The Mayor and her cronies playing dominoes, Tiny Timlin and some of the other kids looking puffy and sick, on their fourth or fifth dose of Bixon's poison. Bixon himself, behind the bar, a man who had never washed once since I'd known him, more beard than human at this point. All of them just flotsam, people fleeing the war and dead cities abandoned by one side or another, showing up here. For the most part, if you could lend a hand, you were pretty much welcome.

If you couldn't lend a hand, or didn't want to, and stuck around anyway, that's where I came in.

“And this utter ting you ask me to look into, I t'ink I got you something.”

I popped open one eye and put it on him. The black bastard was grinning again, pleased with himself. I shut my eyes again. “Yeah?”

I pictured the place again: One door in the front, a heavy piece of wood on crude but solid hinges, one in the back of the room that led out to the back where Bixon created his horrible juice. I didn't know how he made the stuff, and I didn't want to know; if I went back there and found him milking some terrible giant green worm, I wouldn't be surprised.

Behind me, the band was chicken pickin' their way through a complex series of chords that managed to sound pretty good even though they had ten strings between the three of them. They were old guys, fucking ancient, but everyone here did something. If you couldn't work the fields or make booze or kick the shit out of people when the Mayor told you to, you played a bass line on a single string and made it sound snappy.

And then, bellied to the bar and examining his cup of booze dubiously, the Badge.

Not a badge any more, but certainly an old System Pig. I didn't recognize him.

Me either, the voice whispered faintly, and was gone. Not a ghost, since Dick Marin was still—well, alive wasn't the right word for it, but still in existence.

But he had the look.

“Yeah,” Dingane said, leaning forward so I could get a real good whiff of him, a courtesy. “Europe, I 'ear. Amsterdam. Both o' dem. Solid source, uh?”

I shook my head, opening my eyes again. I didn't hear from my ghosts much any more, but they still popped up once in a while, still there, still complete and whole. Amsterdam. Both of them. I figured Michaleen would be in Europe—I wondered if Belling was working with him again. Knowing a city was a good start.

“Why you lookin' to leave, eh, Av'ry?” Dingane shifted and spat into the sawdust on the floor. “Y'got a good thing here. Roof, food, friends. Should not walk away from dis, I don' think.”

I looked past Dingane. “I got unfinished business. Debts to settle.”

The cop—ex-cop—turned to survey the place, sizing us up. He was tall and heavy, a gone-to-fat heaviness encased like a sausage inside a heavy leather overcoat that looked battered and salty, and a dark blue suit that had seen better days. His shoes were woefully unprepared for the mush outside, with a noticeable hole in one through which I could see his bare toe, pink and squirming. You didn't need to see his credit dongle—assuming he still carried one like a totem—to know this ex-cop had seen better days.

He still had that gloss, though. That cop arrogance. He'd somehow escaped Marin's avatar purge, and he'd somehow wriggled away from the civil war to go adventuring, but even without backup or a discretionary budget or fucking shoes he still thought he was going to run the show here. His hair was bright red and thin, a halo around his pink head. His cheeks hung from his face like they were full of ball bearings and sagged with weight, and his eyes were watery and red.

As I watched, the cop picked up his cup without looking at it and delivered it to his wet mouth. Tipping it back without hesitation, he swallowed the shot whole and returned the cup to the bar without comment or visible reaction. My respect for the man went up a half-inch. Anyone who could drink Bixon's poison without wincing or coughing or bursting into flames had something going on.

Glancing to my right I found, as always, Remy staring at me. Remy had lost his gloss; he was starting to look like a normal human being. I didn't know how old he was, or why I always had squirts running after me like I was fucking Santa Claus, but Remy was coming along from the spoiled little brat in his shiny shoes, screaming about his Daddy. He was firming up, and I even had hope he'd someday stop calling me Mister Cates. Then we had to work on the staring, but to be honest it came in handy. I nodded my head slightly, and the kid was up off his crate immediately, and out into the storm.

“Listen up!”

The ex-cop's voice was booming, deep and smooth, the voice of a man used to being obeyed. His eyes, though, roamed the space nervously, and his hands were curled into fists. The music stopped on a dime.

“My name is Major Benjamin Pikar,” he shouted, turning slowly to make sure we all got the benefit of his jiggling jowls. “And I am here to protect you!”

Major. I eyed him up and down, and decided he'd given himself a promotion. His coat was Captain, if that.

Our Mayor, who'd been elected by dint of referring to herself as The Mayor until we couldn't stand it any more, behaved herself and kept her eyes off me. Gerry was an amiable old hag who'd been a banker before the Plague. She'd lost her family during that little fun ride, and had been in Chicago when the friendly folks of the System of Federated Nations Army had sent in five hundred thousand single-use bomb drones armed with F-90s, field-contained armaments. Wandering south out of the wreckage, she'd found us here in Englewood. She was skinny, with a huge triangle of a nose that bobbed up and down whenever she talked, and gray eyes permanently squinted from years peering at holographic data streams. The last time one of these ex-pig entrepreneurs had shown up to save us from the big bad world, Gerry'd leaped up to announce she was the Mayor and would speak for the town, and I'd been forced to knock her unconscious.

“I have been assigned by order of Richard Marin, Director of Internal Affairs for the System Security Force, to take administrative charge of this settlement, bring it in line with the laws and customs of the System of Federated Nations, and organize your defense against both the insurgent forces and ... criminal aspects seeking to take advantage of you,” Pikar said with a straight face. I wondered, briefly, why Marin never just cut the cord and promoted himself to Director, the Whole Fucking World or What Was Left of It After the F-90s.

Can't, the man's outdated ghost whispered in my head. Programming limits. They thought by limiting my position they limited me.

Pikar looked around to see how well his shit was floating, and didn't look pleased, his red face getting darker, his knuckles white at his sides.

“Perhaps you have heard,” he managed to say calmly, putting his hands on his hips in a practiced motion that pushed his coat back to reveal the twin guns under his arms and the battered badge clipped to his belt, “rumors of SFNA Press Gangs in the region.” He nodded crisply. “I can confirm this.”

I glanced at the two windows, small and cloudy, set into the front wall. Against the snow I could clearly see dark forms gathered at each, and I put my eyes back on Pikar to make sure he hadn't noticed. He hadn't; he was caught up in the pitch. I knew what was coming next. I could have written the script for him.

“There is no reason to fear, however, as I am here now to organize your defense against these dangerous rebels.” He was all business now. He'd given us the scare, showed us the cannons, and now came the offer. He turned to signal Bixon for another drink. Bixon, as wide as he was tall, was all beery muscle without a hint of augments. He just stood there behind his rotting makeshift bar, hands hidden and caressing, I had no doubt, his prize possession: A personally restored 10-09 Shredder, original SSF issue and held together, literally, by tightly-wound strands of silvery wire. It had seven rounds left and odds were it was going to explode in his hands if he ever dared fire it, but it still made grown men who knew what it was shit their pants when they saw it.

“I will require the following items in order to fund and organize my office here,” Pikar boomed, tapping his fingers on the bar. “First—”

I'd had enough. “First, shut the fuck up,” I said. I didn't say it loud. Everyone heard me anyway. This was what I got paid for, if you counted a roof over my head and enough tasteless gruel to keep me alive—not to mention a bottomless tab at Bixon's—as pay. I hadn't received any better offers, so I'd stayed on, kicking asses and running shitheads along.

The ex-cop looked at me, and to his credit all his nervous tics were instantly gone, replaced with the careful stillness of someone trained to handle themselves. “Excuse me, citizen?”

I stood up, wooden cup in one hand as I slid my other hand into the oily pocket of my raincoat. Waving the cup around, I pushed my hand through the slit cut into the pocket and put my palm on the butt of my prized Roon—the best handgun ever made—oiled every night and cleaned every other, gleaming and smooth like there was no such thing as rust, decay, or death. I made for the bar, working hard to keep the pain and stiffness in my leg from showing. “I said shut the fuck up, you're making this place smell worse than it normally does with that bullshit, and that's saying something.” I placed my cup on the bar. “Sorry, Bix.”

Bixon nodded, his eyes still locked on Pikar. “No worries, Avery.”

Pikar turned his head slightly towards Bix, but kept his eyes on me. Logging the bartender as a combatant, marking his position, probably noting for the first time the absence of visible hands. He shifted his weight and angled his hand from his belt to tap the badge.

“You don't want to fuck with Police, friend,” he said. “This is official business.”

I nodded, leaning with my back against the bar. The badge had shorted out and didn't have the cheery gold glow of the holograph any more. “From what I hear the System Pigs' business these days is tripping over themselves retreating from the army. You ain't the first asshole to wander in here out of the fucking snow with holes in his fucking shoes trying to shake us down. You're looking for soft touches. Keep walking until you find some.”

That was his one chance, I decided. Fair was fair. Couldn't blame a man for trying to score. Only for pushing his luck.

He kept his flat little eyes on me, and his hands perfectly still. His jowls, though, were quivering, rhythmically, bouncing slightly with every thudding heartbeat that kept his face purple. Then he smiled.

“New York,” he said, jolly now. “The accent. You're Old Work from the island, right? Spent a few weeks in some Blank Rooms here and there, uh?”

I shrugged. “You don't know me.” He probably knew of me, my name, but it didn't matter.

He nodded. “Maybe not. I know your type. Strawman, stuffed with shit. You all think this piece of turd is your hero?” He suddenly asked the room. “You're betting on the wrong man.”

My own heart pounded, and my stomach was complaining about Bixon's swill. A cold sweat had popped out on my face too, and I wondered if there was any way to turn puking my guts out into an advantage in a gun fight.

“Look out the windows, friend,” I advised. “We've called out the militia.”

He squinted at me. I almost felt sorry for him: Every cop in The System had been transformed into an avatar, usually against their will. He hadn't. That meant he'd been in some backwater post, a fuckup out in the middle of nowhere, or else he'd been running a lot longer than I'd imagined. Desperate. Shot on sight if the army found him, packed into a data brick for leisurely debriefing whenever the immortal Dick Marin felt like it if the cops picked him up—he was screwed. He wanted to look, but he didn't want to be stupid, didn't want to look stupid. That was all he had left. The aura of a cop.

Everything falling apart, sure. Dingane had it right. Even the System Pigs were just ghosts these days.

The shadows in the windows looked good. Menacing. Remy and his friends had balls, sure. They didn't have any guns, but you couldn't tell that through the windows. It didn't matter if Pikar looked or not, if he saw men with rifles or kids pissing their short pants—it made him think, it fucked him up, and that was all it was meant to do.

He snorted. “I'm taking control of this settlement,” he said slowly. “I am ordering you to hand over whatever it is you're fondling in your pocket and take your seat.”

I had everyone trained by this point, and I was pretty sure I could count on them to stay still and not do anything I'd regret. Except Bixon. I struggled to keep my eyes off the barrel-shaped asshole and contented myself with hoping he didn't move. The whole place was still and quiet, narrowed down to Pikar and me, my aching leg and stiff back. I wondered, for a second, if Pikar was aching too, how old he was, what he'd been through.

And then he moved.

It was good, too. He'd taken the windows seriously, and realized that with me and Bix standing across from him we were nailed in crossfire, so he went low, crouching down and yanking his guns out beautifully, both clear and in his hands in a blink as he duck-walked to put his back against the front door, out of the imaginary rifles' sightlines. Jerking the Roon up and out of my pocket, I put two bullets an inch or so from his left ear and then threw myself up and back onto the bar, giving myself a million tiny splinters as I pushed myself across, dropping behind it like a sack of wet cement.

As I righted myself on the floor, I saw Bix heaving the Shredder up with a yell, and before I could stop him he depressed the trigger and the familiar headsplitting whine filled the room, the 10-09 barked and jerked up out of Bixon's hands, spluttering six rounds into the ceiling before it smacked Bix in the nose hard enough to break it.

I hedgehogged up, poking my head up over the bar just long enough to take in the room and then dropping back down, braced for the pop-pop-pop of a trained shot. There was nothing, no noise at all. I heaved myself back up with a grunt and let the bar support me for a moment, the Roon pointed at Pikar, who was slumped in front of the door, his belly a swamp of blood, one arm still up, holding his gun on me. Everyone else was still sitting, frozen, like this was all just the fucking floor show.

Pikar grinned blood. As I slowly walked the length of the bar to step around, his gun followed me, inch by inch. Just as I cleared the crates, his finger twitched, sending me to the floor with a choking grunt. Instead of the thudding bark of a shot, there was just a dry click. I pushed myself back up to put the Roon on him. The cop was just laughing, still holding the gun on me. As I got to my feet he pulled the trigger a dozen more times, getting the same dry click each time.

“You shot me with a fucking shredding rifle,” he sputtered, flecks of bloody spit spraying from his mouth and landing on the floor, where the dry wood soaked them up forever. “You fucking rats. I don't even have any fucking bullets.”

I stood up and kept the shiny Roon on him. My ass burned like someone had stabbed a million tiny pieces of wood into it. “What kind of asshole pulls his piece if he can't do anything with it?” I hissed. I was angry. I wanted to slap his face for being a fucking asshole. “Were you going to throw it at me?”

“Fuck you,” he sighed, deflating. He was still holding his useless gun on me, even though his arm shook with the effort.

“Avery,” Gerry suddenly said, her voice a scratchy whisper. “Okay, man, the situation's calmed. We'll take care of him from here.”

I nodded without looking at her. Pikar was still smiling at me. “You were a cop,” I said. “You know how this works. You pull a gun, you take the consequences.” I'd learned a lot about the human race over the years. I'd learned that the dead didn't stay dead, I'd learned that no good deed every went unpunished. And I'd learned that trying to have a code of honor got you a lot of people telling you how much respect they had for you while they were beating your head against the floor.

Ignoring the dull pain in my leg, I took a bead and put a shell in Pikar's face. Then one more in his chest just to be safe, making him twitch and flop. I turned and stumped back to the bar, slipping my Roon back into place and then putting my shaking hands flat on the bar. The only cure for Bixon's rotgut was more, and fast. It only got deadly when you stopped.

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