Alex Hughes on the Near-Apocalyptic Event that Created the World of CLEAN and an Exclusive Excerpt

A Mindspace Investigations Novel
Alex Hughes’ Debut Dystopian Thriller

Alex Hughes is one of the authors from the 2012 Ace/Roc sampler I’ve been giving away. So if you’re one of the ones I’ve sent the sampler to (and even if you’re not), I’ve got a treat for you: an exclusive excerpt featuring “Bob” and a bit more background from Alex on the Tech Wars that created the dystopian world of CLEAN.

[If you haven’t received one of the samplers yet and want one, let me know in the comments. I’ll send one out, chosen randomly from any U.S. commenters. Don’t live in the U.S.? I’m giving away two eGift Certificates as part of my Dark Light of Day blog tour and those contests are open to everyone. See my DLOD blog tour page for the remaining chances to win.]

THE TECH WARS BY ALEX HUGHES

I was a history major in college, and one of the things that struck me most about history was that nothing was ever truly the beginning of the story. When you study a historical event, you always have to start just before, in the lead-up to it, so that you understood how and why the people involved acted like they did. When I sat down to write Clean, I took this same idea to build in layers of backstory to affect the present-day.

The big, overarching world event that affects Clean happened a few decades ago, just long enough that the elders remember it firsthand, but long enough ago that the younger generations are starting to forget. Back in the day, the world was shaken by a near-apocalyptic event called the Tech Wars. A madman – and his many followers – turned the technology of the day against the people.

The peoples’ smart houses turned against them, locking them in without food, water or air until they literally rotted in their own homes. Smart cars went rogue, went off-course, stopped suddenly, or worse, ran into each other deliberately. And smart phones dumped all the financial information of everyone into the accounts of a few – many of whom didn’t even know what was going on. Riots began in the streets. And that was just the first few months of a war that lasted years.

Into the war and chaos at the end stepped the organized group of telepaths, teleporters, and kinetics that would later become the Guild. They – in concert with the remaining military – stopped the wars cold. They defeated and killed the madman and his followers and made the factions stop fighting. But to do it, they had to get scary. Real scary. And regular people died in large numbers along the way.

In the wake of the wars, the leaders of the normals and the leader of the telepaths sat down and made the Koshna Accords. The Guild was entitled to stand alone, to govern itself and punish its own people, and in exchange, it would leave the normals to their own lives. But the normals would never forget.

A few decades later, one particular telepath begins to work with the normal police to solve crimes in the world these events have left. Computer chips are still widely feared. Telepaths are still treated with suspicion. And the rest of the world goes on.

But, though the police don’t know it yet, the new killer in town is a telepath. And he’s killing normals.

MORE ABOUT CLEAN

A RUTHLESS KILLER — OUT OF SIGHT, OUT OF MIND

I used to work for the Telepath’s Guild before they kicked me out for a drug habit that wasn’t entirely my fault. Now I work for the cops, helping Homicide Detective Isabella Cherabino put killers behind bars.

My ability to get inside the twisted minds of suspects makes me the best interrogator in the department. But the normals keep me on a short leash. When the Tech Wars ripped the world apart, the Guild stepped up to save it. But they had to get scary to do it—real scary.

Now the cops don’t trust the telepaths, the Guild doesn’t trust me, a serial killer is stalking the city—and I’m aching for a fix. But I need to solve this case. Fast. I’ve just had a vision of the future: I’m the next to die.

Exclusive Excerpt: “Bob” from Clean

“Hey Bob,” I said with false cheer.

Bob looked up. He was an overweight, balding caricature of a fifty-something cop—he even liked donuts—and he couldn’t chase down a suspect on foot if his life depended on it. But he never had to; Bob did something else completely.

He frowned again when he saw me. “Hello.” It wasn’t a greeting. I must have interrupted something, but I didn’t care. The urgency of the vision was still riding me, the pain and the desperate need to head it off, to make it not happen. I wasn’t supposed to talk to Bob without authorization – wasn’t supposed to be taking up his valuable time, wasn’t even supposed to be in the protected section – but right now I didn’t care. I’d deal with the consequences later.

I pulled a piece of paper from my back pocket, and unfolded it, laying it across the front of his cubicle. There they were, my five names I’d spent an hour pulling out from hundreds of pages of data. All strong telepath/teleporters, all within 200 miles of Atlanta (the largest range I knew of for a teleporter). I was hoping – hoping – by some miracle one of the ones on this list would match the guy in my vision. The odds were against it, but I had to try.

Bob took the paper and smoothed the edges down. I could see his fingers flex absently as he started processing, and the monitor behind him flashed a steady stream of images I couldn’t understand. Tower, egg, golden retriever, sixteen houses in a row then data in long solid lines. After a few seconds, Bob remembered me and looked up again. I could almost see the lines of data swimming behind his eyes.

“Could you get me pictures?” I asked, uncomfortable but determined. I had to have information, and quickly.

Bob nodded, and turned back to the monitor. The next four and a half minutes creeped by as he sorted through the entirety of Earth’s WorldNet. I’d never seen him take this long before, not for anything. Either what I’d asked for was harder than it sounded, or he was checking Station records too. Not Mars and Calista, not the Belt; those Webs took twelve hours minimum for free access, even I knew that. But the Station was faster.

What Bob was doing now would have taken me three days. Not for the search itself; most of that was automated. But to sort through the three million hits to find the ones I wanted, to chase down a hundred false leads that looked good… it took awhile. Or would. Especially with all the Electronic Crimes safeguards. But Bob… Bob had an implant, one of those cybernetic wonders that let him sort as fast as he could think. Faster than he could think, if he was good. He was.

Implants were vanishingly rare, since nearly half a million people died with the Wetware Virus in the early two-seventies, right at the beginning of the Tech Wars. No one wants to take the risk of frying their brain – and worse, people are afraid of anyone who does. Bob had gotten his implant late, five years beyond the curve, and he was still the youngest person I’d ever met with one, and he’d been ostracized his whole life for it.

But me, even if I’d wanted an implant—and been willing to take that kind of risk with my wetware, willing to be different and feared even more than I was—I couldn’t get one. Strong Abilities and implants didn’t mesh; the competing energy fields tore each other apart and you were lucky to end up in a coma. Lucky. So I was stuck doing a hunt-and-peck with the rest of the world through Quarantined data or asking help from someone like Bob. He wouldn’t ask a lot of questions, just get me the information. Even if he didn’t like me much.

His body language changed abruptly, and my attention came right back to him. His hands gestured wildly and then settled. The screen came up with thirty pictures, arranged in a neat row.

Bob sat back, pleased with himself.

“There are seven pictures there, Bob. The list had five names.” I wasn’t even looking at the photos, I was so distracted by the long line of people. The last, a random woman with gray hair, looked vaguely familiar.

“You want to tell me how to do my job?” Bob smirked, arrogant. It didn’t sit well on his too-friendly face, as if he looked too harmless to ever hold the cards that he did.

“I asked for five pictures,” I returned, putting a full hand of fingers up. “Five.” It was important that none of this got screwed up, that it all got done right the first time. We didn’t have time to make mistakes.

“No, you asked for pictures from the global list of people with some very odd things in common. All Guild members with high enough ratings that Guild membership is compulsory—and also on the Guild Spook Watch List. They all have current wills and three traffic tickets or more. Four out of the five had an aunt or great-aunt named Edna…”

“It was a popular name.” I also had an aunt named Edna, and I didn’t see what that had to do with anything.

“…the last with a second cousin of the same name, all advanced speakers of a second or third language with a current passport and no children. You thought you had me with the Edna thing, didn’t you? And leaving the last two names off the list, that was devious. But those many things in common, it wasn’t hard to find them.” He reached forward and hit the print button. Then he turned back. “Have another puzzle for me?”

“Not right now,” I said, all bravado and desperation. “But I’ll be back.”

“Um-hmm,” Bob said, engrossed in the computer again.

Clean is available for purchase here:

MORE ABOUT ALEX HUGHES

Alex has written since early childhood, and loves great stories in any form including sci fi, fantasy, and mystery. Over the years, Alex has lived in many neighborhoods of the sprawling metro Atlanta area. Decatur, the neighborhood on which Clean is centered, was Alex’s college home.

On any given week you can find Alex in the kitchen cooking gourmet Italian food, watching hours of police procedural dramas, and typing madly.

So, readers, do you like dystopian thrillers or stories about telepaths? What do you think of Bob? Do you wish you had a cybernetic implant that would let you sort data faster than you can think? Funny enough, I’ll be spending Halloween with a police detective whose name is Bob, but he doesn’t like donuts. Not sure what he thinks about cybernetic implants, but I’m going to ask him and tell him about Clean. Hope you enjoyed the excerpt!

Published by

Jill Archer

Jill Archer is the author of the Noon Onyx series, genre-bending fantasy novels including DARK LIGHT OF DAY, FIERY EDGE OF STEEL, WHITE HEART OF JUSTICE, and POCKET FULL OF TINDER.

4 thoughts on “Alex Hughes on the Near-Apocalyptic Event that Created the World of CLEAN and an Exclusive Excerpt

  1. Note to commenters: Alex is working toward a revision deadline so may or may not have time to stop by today. But I’ll be manning the desk so to speak. Alex’s book has been described as a blend of Chinatown and Blade Runner. Feel free to tell me which movie you liked better (and don’t even try to tell me you didn’t see them! :-))

  2. Yes, Bob (the real one you mentioned at the end of the post, not the character in the novel) and I have quite a few things in common. Case in point, both of us are career police officers who dislike donuts. As for the cybernetic implants, who couldn’t use a little enhanced recall from time to time?

    1. Hi Shamus, great to see you here again! I know you’ve been busy. It’s only a matter of time before our smart phones get hard wired into our brains, right? Sentient mobile cloud & wireless collective consciousness, here we come! Thanks for stopping by and checking out CLEAN.

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