Excerpt: NINE TENTHS by Jeff Macfee (JABberwocky)

MacfeeJ-NineTenthsToday we have an excerpt from Jeff Macfee‘s new novel, Nine Tenths. A blend of mystery and science fiction, here’s the synopsis:

Augment phase technology was rare. The last appearance of anything resembling phase technology was fifteen years ago. I knew the date…

It was the date of the Doctor Dimension repo.

In a world full of “Augments” — humans who use technology to imbue themselves with superpowers of every sort — being an average man would seem a good way to keep out of trouble. Not so for repo man Gayle Harwood. It’s his job to seize enhancements from Augments who fall behind on the payments for their high-tech advantages. And they rarely part with them easily.

Now an infamous job Gayle was a part of long ago has come back to haunt him. An incredibly powerful piece of tech that was supposed to have been turned over to the government is being used again. People are dying, and those in power are convinced Gayle knows something about it.

Unfortunately, they’re right.

And unless Gayle can uncover the sinister secrets of the past and find whoever has hijacked the lost tech and stop them, no superpower in the world is going to be enough to save him…

Read on for Chapter 1…!

*

CHAPTER ONE

I was sliding mini-jacks under Captain Nietzsche’s jet-car when my phone went off. For half a second, I thought the damn vehicle was vibrating, the modified Firebird ready to blast off. Franklin Nicholas Elmore the Third—AKA Captain Nietzsche—was known to control his vehicle by remote. But the modified ramjets were silent.

My phone buzzed again. I glanced over my shoulder—the Elmore residence was dark. Butt against the curb, I dug out my phone and took the call. No telling when someone from Treasury would spot-check the repo process, looking for holes. When I answered, I didn’t hear some officious bureaucrat. Instead, the voice on the other end shaved ten years from my life.

“Gayle Hardwood. How the hell are you?”

Geographically vague Southern accent. A casual familiarity assumed since our first meeting. And poor timing, always a specialty of the man. Donald Maxwell Spielman. Donny. My old boss and partner. I didn’t answer him right away, and he assumed control of the conversation. “Not much point in ignoring me. You picked up.”

“Donny.” My voice cracked. “Been a long time.”

“Only in dog years.” He chuckled as if required. “Say, you got a minute for an old friend?”

“Kind of busy right now. Maybe we can catch up later.”

“Are you working? Tell me you’re not doing a recovery solo.”

“It’s just Nietzsche—his only power is the car, and that belongs to the bank. Besides, you used to do augment repo jobs by yourself all the time, if I recall.”

“Back in my day, the Augments dressed up like bats and cats. Now they shoot you with armor-piercing rounds from three miles away.”

At the end of the street a truck blew by, orange dome lights flashing. The stubble on my head prickled, my bald noggin sensitive to changes in the wind and Treasury Department entanglements. But the vehicle was just a tow truck.

“What did you need?” I asked.

“Recall when we first met? You were doing a civvie repo. I was after Translucence and the Nowhere Man.”

“Donny, I don’t have time for memory lane. Things to do.”

I could feel him shrug across the miles. “I understand. Guess I’m lucky you even took the call.”

I fished another mini-jack from the grass and squared it with the car, checking the undercarriage for tripwires. Nietzsche knew the bank was after the car—he’d missed three payments, and Liberty Trust had sicced another repo firm on him only last month. Your so-called repossession is the puerile judgment of a moral system, he’d told the bank. I do not recognize it. The other firm had charged in blind, subcontracting the work to chuckleheads who worked augment repo for kicks. One of them went to hook the tow yoke to the front tires, and Nietzsche ignited the liquid fuel. Poor guy suffered third-degree burns on his arms and chest. He was the only one to leave the hospital.

When I’d started in augment repo, I hadn’t known about tripwires or mini-jacks or any other tools of the trade. I only knew what I knew because Donny had taught me.

“I’m listening,” I said.

Across the airwaves, I could hear him crack a smile. “Damn if you aren’t as stubborn as always. Reminds me how much I miss working together.”

I pressed my back against the car and jammed my heels into the curb. Nietzsche had parked his jet-powered mid-life crisis between a Tacoma and a low-slung Caddy. Space wasn’t an issue—the vehicle could take off vertically, and the state had licensed Nietzsche for flight. He’d figured we couldn’t repo the vehicle if we didn’t have room to pull up the tow. Sound logic, if you didn’t consider the mini-jacks I’d used to raise the car and slide the whole shebang out sideways.

“There’s this job,” Donny said. “The players are bigger than I usually care to tangle with. But circumstances make the encounter…unavoidable.”

I pushed. The car started to move. “Didn’t think you were licensed for augment repo anymore.”

“Never claimed I was.”

“Then that’s not repo. That’s theft.”

“If Netherhouse does the repo, it’s not stealing. The firm is still in good standing, I take it?”

Netherhouse Liquidation. My company. Donny’s company, once upon a time. “Since you left, yeah.”

“Then my departure was for the better. As I’ve always said, the good Lord had his reasons.”

The good Lord. As if Donny ever believed in anything but Donny. “What’s the job?”

“It’s interesting you mention my divestment in Netherhouse. Do you remember the Dimension repo?”

I froze. The car almost rolled backwards over me.

“Doctor Dimension is dead,” I said.

“The world believes he’s dead, yes.”

My thigh muscles shook as I replanted my feet and once again slid the car into the street. “A bridge fell on him. That’s been killing Augments since the dawn of time. Believe me—he’s dead.”

Donny kept information close to the vest. He never told you what he was after until he had his gnarled old hands wrapped around it. Ordinarily.

“I think the ring is in play.”

Hitching the jet-car to the tow became more difficult.

“You turned Dimension’s ring over to the Treasury Department. It’s long gone.”

“We executed the repossession paperwork. You know as well as I the ring was never properly recovered.”

A desk lamp glowed on the second floor of the Elmore household. I couldn’t be sure it had been lit a moment before.

“Still. Dimension’s ring was lost. You said it was lost.”

“Nevertheless, this is why I need you. There’s a place on the lake—”

“Stop.”

Saying no to Donny was a tall order. I lived in a world of powerful beings, where women swallowed star systems whole and men birthed suns. But these giants—these near-gods—even they had trouble resisting the heavy drawl of my former partner.

“No,” I said. “I’m sorry, but no.”

He inserted a long, deliberate pause. “Fair enough. Figured I’d ask.”

Another light came on inside Nietzsche’s house, and then another. The place blazed with the angry white light of imminent discovery. “I wish I could, but you know how it is. Can’t risk the business.”

“It’s not a problem. You don’t owe me a thing.”

I hooked the jet-car’s front end to the metal lifts and ignored the stillborn sense of guilt Donny had implanted in me long ago. I pulled open the tow truck door and hopped into the seat. My hand rested on the key as Nietzsche’s front door banged open. Nietzsche himself barged out, black-and-gold suit unzipped and folded over at the waist.

“You know,” Donny said. “I do remember a time you’d have fought to take this gig. For the thrill. To pull one over on the big guys. Government. Augments. Fool them all, good sense be damned.”

Nietzsche tore across the front lawn like a boulder rolling downhill.

“Sometimes,” I said. “The practicalities win out.”

Donny’s final words were lost in the full-throated growl of the tow’s engine. The tires scrabbled at the road as I lurched away from the curb. Nietzsche leapt at the truck and snatched at the mirror as I pulled away, shearing the polymer housing clean off the screws. He was still running when I lost sight of him in the rearview. He clutched the mirror in his meaty fist and hurled it as I spun around the bend. He almost hit me.

Close. Too close. My heart thundered in my chest and I thanked a number of gods both real and imaginary that I had gotten away clean. By the skin of my teeth.

The road flew by. Warm July air blasted through the cracked windows. I sped away from the suburbs and popped on the radio and scanned until I found something released before 1990. Golden Earring. “Radar Love.”

I drove. I felt pretty good about myself. Twenty-five thousand dollars in recovery fees hung from the end of my tow, last month’s rent and payroll covered, and another big repo added to Netherhouse’s resume. Life was looking up.

Still.

Why had Donny called about Dimension?

Why now?

I squashed those thoughts. To hell with it. Donny was always trying to pull someone into his web of lies. Let him jerk someone else around.

I turned up the radio. Let the lyrics wash over me.

Gotta keep cool now, gotta take care.

God damn right.

*

Jeff Macfee’s Nine Tenths is due to be published by JABberwocky in North America and in the UK, on May 17th.

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