YA Sci-Fi Thriller
Published: July 19, 2017
Publisher: Double Dragon Publishing
On a settlement planet far into the future the worldwide economic crash has turned New Stockton into a city broken by political corruption and pervasive organized crime. Scotland Murrow’s journalist father has gone missing while investigating a twelve year old murder case. The victim was found with an encrypted file, known as the Nostradamus Code, imbedded in his thumbnail leading Scotland to believe that the file contains the secret to his father’s fate. Aided by his reformed junkie friend and a journalist who may have her own secret agenda Scotland scours the city’s seedy underbelly, traverses the unchartered outlands and breaches a fortified Citadel as he peels away layer upon layer of the Nostradamus Code to confront his biggest fears and uncover a plot to bring down the most powerful man on the planet.
Excerpt from the Global News Grid, 25-11-98
Still no updates on the whereabouts of renowned Public Eye, Elliot Murrow, who was formally declared missing on Tuesday the 18th by the Global News Grid.
For close to two decades Murrow broke exclusive stories for the GN Grid that shone a spotlight on the corrupt and avaricious in New Stockton’s government and industry. No stranger to extended periods of undercover work, Murrow’s unwavering dedication to the truth resulted in the resignations of bureaucrats, the closing of pollutant factories, the capture of mob bosses, the collapse of child prostitution rings and even on one occasion a public enquiry into the spending habits of every member of the upper house of government.
During his outstanding career Elliot Murrow made a lifetime’s worth of influential enemies with ways and means of disposing pests. Mr. Murrow was working undercover for the Global News Grid at the time of his disappearance.
A spokesperson for the NS Peace Keeping Force said that they are too tied up with maintaining law and order on the streets of New Stockton to conduct missing person’s inquiries.
I lift my eyes from the article on my slate and take in Denholm’s gaze from across our dimly lit sitting room. I can tell from his dilated pupils and hesitant speech that he’s just returned from an extended visit to an opiate den in the squalid districts but he’s doing a good job at acting sober and concerned for my dad.
“You’re sure he’s missing?” He asks, slurring his words slightly. “I mean, couldn’t he have just lost track of time while on an assignment.”
“Dead sure,” I tell him. “He was due back over a week ago. He usually checked in if there was a change to his plans. This is the longest he’s ever gone without any form of contact.”
“Have you reported him missing?”
“Did that a few days ago for all the good it will do.” The Peace Force doesn’t search for missing people. One less person to worry about in the rapidly decaying metropolis of New Stockton is a blessing for all of the authorities.
When I’m being brutally honest with myself I don’t expect I’ll ever see my father again. Whenever he’d read a report of a Public Eye who’d disappeared or died suddenly his jaw would set in grim resolve and his eyes would glaze over with a thousand-meter-stare. This is how good Public Eyes died. It’s just inevitable. An unexplained disappearance. Throughout his career with The Globe News Grid he’d been beaten up, arrested, kidnapped, and tortured. He blamed himself for what happened to my mother twelve years ago. She had awoken to the sound of a thud coming from the living room. She went downstairs to investigate and was shot three times by an intruder. Hearing the shots my father scurried down the stairs and fired off a couple of rounds of his air gun catching the intruder in the eye and sending him fleeing into the suburban streets. I was only five at the time. It was a long time before I could make the connection between what my dad did for a living and a man entering our house with murderous intent. My mother’s murder was deemed by the official Peace Force to be the result of an “interrupted break-in”.
My father and I left our nice house in the outer district and embarked on our semi-nomadic life of moving from one ramshackle flat to another in New Stockton’s inner city region. We’ve been in this flat on the forty second floor of Candlemere Heights for the past four years. It’s the first place since our house in the suburbs that actually felt like a home.
Denholm sinks further into the faded brown leather armchair. “What are you going to do about it? You gonna look for him?”
“I have to. I need to know what happened to him.”
“What was he working on?” Denholm asks, his gaze drifting toward the kitchenette. The munchies are well on their way as the effects of his dose wear off.
“I’ve been going through his slate to see what files he was working on recently.” I walk to the desk in the corner by the window and grab my dad’s slate.
Denholm focusses his fuzzy head at the device in my hand. “He left that behind?”
“He never took this with him on a story,” I reply. “Too many details in here that would give him away. Especially if he was undercover.”
“Makes sense.” He rises from his chair and saunters behind the counter in the kitchen area. “Keep talking. I’ll just fix myself a sandwich. You were saying he was working on… “
“Seems like he was investigating two stories, the reason behind the economic collapse of ’87 and an old murder case where a body was discovered in a wasteland on the outskirts of New Stockton about twelve years ago. According to his notes the victim was David Kohn, inventor of The Nostradamus Algorithm.”
“The program that predicts the future,” Denholm mumbles loudly with his mouth full of bread.
“During his post mortem examination it was discovered that David had a chip hidden in his thumbnail that contained a very cryptic cypher.”
“I remember that!” Denholm shouts, spitting fragments of sandwich out onto the counter. “Nobody could break the code. Didn’t fit in with any parameters of any cryptographic programs! I always wanted to have a go at cracking that code myself but I never got around to it.”
I flip through the pages on my father’s slate. “I think my dad got somewhere with it from what I can see in his notes.”
“Maybe cracking the code got him into trouble. Somebody might want it to remain un-cracked.”
“How would anyone know if the code was partly cracked?” I ask.
Denholm takes a contemplative bite of his sandwich. “Yeah, I don’t know,” he says with a shrug. “He wasn’t the type to go bragging about it.” He swivels around and pulls open the fridge. “Unless he mentioned something to his boss at the Globe. Mr. Whatsit.”
If my dad gave his boss an update of where he was with the story would he mention that he was on his way to breaking the code? Maybe. “I don’t think Kiefer Gray would sell my dad out, though.”
Denholm takes a swig from a bottle of mandarin juice. “These are tough times, Scotland. People do all sorts of pathetic things to get by.”
“I should go and talk to him,” I say, grabbing my keys from the mantle. “You wanna come?”
“No, you go.” Denholm’s eyes shifted uneasily from left to right. “I’ve got some business to take care of at the office.”
The “Office” for Denholm was the seedier side of New Stockton’s Ex District. So called because it used to be the financial district, after the collapse it was known as the Ex Financial district and now people just refer to it as the Ex District. Denholm deals drugs and uses his extensive medical knowledge to patch up injured criminals who can’t go to any official doctor without alerting the Peace Officers. Though only eighteen he learned everything he knows from his doctor mother who administered to injured and dying criminals until it got her killed in the crossfire of a gang shootout about six months ago.
I step out into the bare concrete hallway and hope at least one of the elevators is working today. Forty two floors is a long way up and I’m in no mood for a jog down the stinking stairwell crowded with kids either bored out of their minds or high on the cheapest opiate available on the streets.
The door bings and slides open. Nav Dhalla stands menacingly in the middle of the lift with his feet planted wide and his hand outstretched. Since I’m eager to get to the Globe I don’t argue with him and hand over a five. I don’t mind being extorted out of a five every once in a while because if it weren’t for Nav’s boss these old elevators would probably never run.
“Busy today?” I ask, breaking the elevator silence.
“Nah, too many people using the chutes and taking the stairs,” Nav says mournfully. “If it weren’t for the old or the sick we’d hardly have any paying customers at all.”
The ground floor of Candlemere Heights is packed, as usual, with stalls selling all of life’s necessities. The sounds and smells hit me like a punch in the face as soon as the elevator doors slide open: spices, herbs, fruit, fish, buyers haggling with vendors, vendors yelling about their wares. It’s all here. I’d never have to leave the building if I didn’t want to.
Outside it’s chilly and grey. It’s always grey. The sky above could be clear blue but on street level there’s nothing but grey. The buildings stretching eighty to over a hundred floors high surround you at every turn so you’re always in the shade no matter what side of the street you walk on. What sliver of natural light might actually trickle down to the street is obscured by the hundreds of makeshift chutes and bridges running from building to building at every story. Life in New Stockton doesn’t just happen on street level.
I push my way through the bustle and head toward the Pipe station at the end of DuPont Street. The line-up for the Pipe is surrounded by sleazy pushers and the usual child pick-pockets in filthy rags two sizes too big for them but, like most experienced public transport users, I keep my hand in my wallet pocket and my deadpan face pointed forward.
A ten minute Pipe ride brings me right outside the fortified offices of the Globe News Grid. I tell the armed guard at the gatehouse that I’m here to see Kiefer Gray. The guard scans my cred card and disappears behind a door. After a minute or two he reappears, hands me back my card along with a visitor tag and tells me to head on up to the top floor.
The elevator doors slide open to a hum of activity. There must be about sixty or seventy people working on this level. Some are hunched over slates, entranced by their reading, some are typing furiously and others are on video-links engaged in loud and frenzied conversations.
The sights and sounds of this are familiar to me. I’ve been here many times with my dad. Over the years I got to know some of the other Public Eyes and would sometimes amuse myself on a guest slate while my dad finished off a story or accessed the Globes secure reference database. There was always a sense of urgency in this room. Urgency and purpose. It was that sense of purpose – that feeling that I could make a difference to this failed nation – that made me want to follow in my father’s footsteps and become a Public Eye too. Besides it’s not like I had a scrap of training for any other job and my formal education is as non-existent as every other kid who isn’t from an uber-rich family.
I head over to Kiefer Gray’s corner office. Two glass walls overlook the hive of activity that is the epicenter of the Globe News Grid. Gray’s desk is positioned at a forty five degree angle to the two exterior windows that gaze out onto the sprawling metropolis of New Stockton from the ninety seventh floor.
I walk past the sliding glass door and Mr. Gray raises a finger to indicate “one minute”.
“Just get it to me in the next forty five minutes and we can get it into our next broadcast,” he says to whoever’s on the other end of the line. He taps his slate screen and turns his attention to me. “Sorry about that. Another Public Eye who thinks he can bring this planet crashing to its knees. You’d know about that.”
It’s an obvious jibe at my dad and I feel my body tense. If my dad were with us now he’d laugh off the remark and make some stinging retort but right now I frown back at Kiefer Gray and watch his face crumble in embarrassment.
“I’m sorry, Scotland,” he says. “That was in bad taste. It’d completely slipped my mind that he was gone. It always seems that he’ll just pop up out of nowhere and hand in a Diogenes Prize-winning story.” He waves his hand to a chair. “Take a seat and forgive an old man his rotten sense of humor.”
I sit in the comfy leather and chrome chair and observe the man in front of me. He isn’t old at all, probably just over fifty. He just looks his age and that’s unusual for somebody with money. His hair is a bristly grey frizz, his eyes are surrounded by lines and dark circles and his waistline hasn’t been regularly sucked or vibrated into shape by some contraptions I’ve only ever seen advertised on the grid.
“What can I do for you?” he asks, his voice low and sympathetic. “I assume it’s about your dad?”
“Yeah, I’m trying to get a handle on what happened to him,” I reply. “Was he working on anything that might’ve got him into deeper shit with the rich and powerful than he already was?”
Gray’s face hardens into a frown. “I’ll be honest with you Scotland; your dad was working on a story I had no intention of publishing.” He exhaled slowly and shook his head gravely. “He was obsessed with an old murder. Ancient history. No use to me. I want what’s going on now. I told him I can’t use this old stuff but he kept delving into it. He didn’t file a decent report to me since mid-summer.” Kiefer Gray remembers who I am and stops himself from uttering any harsher criticisms of my dad. “Pity, he was always such a good Eye. One of the finest.”
“Is there any chance of getting a look at any reports or files that he was working on?” I ask.
“Why?” Gray’s casual demeanour suddenly morphs into alert tension. “What would you want them for?”
“I figured if I knew what he was working on and how much progress he’d made I might be able to piece together his last movements.”
“I don’t have anything,” he says rising abruptly from his chair. “Truthfully, any file he handed over in the last two months was promptly deleted. It was useless stuff, nothing worth saving.” He stands by the sliding glass door and I take this as my cue to leave. “Just an embarrassment to the man he was, frankly. Now, if you’ll excuse me, Scotland. Time and tide and all that. I have a News organization to run. I don’t have much time to help boy scouts track down their errant fathers.”
I storm out of the building, my head full of rage and hatred for the man who was once my father’s closest friend. I’m not even sure what a boy scout is but I can tell it was used as an insult. A condescending, patronizing insult. What a grade-A asshole!
I walk past the Pipe stop and keep marching. I need to blow off some steam and try to get a bead on the situation as it stands now. I was relying heavily on Kiefer Gray being an ally but now that’s out of the question I don’t know where to turn.
Drops of rain begin to fall, I pull my collars up and continue to stomp through the New Stockton streets. I’m about ten blocks away from the Globe’s building when I notice somebody walking in step with me on the other side of the road. If I were going to follow somebody on foot I’d shadow them from across the street too.
About the Author
Patrick Temple Hickey has written for TV shows on BBC and Ireland’s RTE. He contributes editorial and single panel cartoons to various newspapers and magazines all over the world and has graphic stories published in independent anthologies such as Slambang, The Shiznit and Don’t Touch Me. His first YA SCi FI novel, The Nostradamus Code, was published with Double Dragon Publishing in July 2017.