The Prologue

Morning all, and how are we doing today?

New Gods is speeding towards publication; Pre-ordering – for the e-book at least – should be available any day now. Expect to hear more about this next week. Everything is ready, apart from the bits that aren’t.

Still on the hard sell, this week’s blog is an extract from the novel: the prologue, to be precise. Hope you enjoy. Oh, and a reminder that I previously posted an extract from a little later in the novel back in September 2020. You can find that here.

…Static… A crackling, whistling roar… Vision slowly filtering – and then suddenly resolved…

          A slum: the camera jerks around, shows you a forest of crude buildings. There is no order. The shacks fall into each other, rubbish litters the dirt streets. But this isn’t a shanty; rather its descendent. It’s a palimpsest, a polyglot of styles, of years, of building, rebuilding; cannibalisation of a thousand different materials and styles. This is rubble and dust…

          A voice, sudden and uncomfortably close, barks in an unfamiliar language. The camera spins and blurs again; down a mud street it finally focuses on a unit of soldiers. A dozen or so men armed with rifles. They’re walking – not marching, this is no parade-ground drill – but neither are they diving for cover. Company logo on their chests, on their guns. Behind them, maybe another thirty yards back, come the bulldozers. They roll inexorably on, smashing walls on their blades, carving a highway of crushed brick and mangled iron and powdered glass.

          The camera pans again and there are more shouts. Now you see a crowd of men – and women, and children – facing the soldiers. They are unarmed, but they are resisting. Indian or Bangladeshi; there are scraps of writing, unfamiliar text; there are more shouts, screams. And yes, there are men with weapons there too: blue-capped soldiers nervously trying to herd the civilians back.

          You watch as a man leaves this group and advances towards the bulldozers. He is waving, shouting towards the Company men. His voice is lost beneath the roar of engines. His words are swallowed by the crash of masonry and he coughs as dust billows around him. He spreads his arms wide: stop. He pauses and sets his gun on the ground before walking forwards still further. His face is pale, his Adam’s apple bobs as he swallows.

          The Company men pause, and, though the camera is unstable and the focus swoops in and out, you can see the tension etched in their faces. Their sergeant advances to meet the leader of the blue-caps. Sergeant waves expansively. Move aside. We are coming through. There is nothing more to say.

          Blue-cap shakes his head. He gestures behind him, to the civilians, then to encompass the slum around them. He is speaking, shouting. He is begging.

          The sergeant does not care. He pushes the man aside and Blue-cap’s colleagues step forwards, then halt as the Company troops bring their weapons to bear. Blue-cap is still begging. And all the while the bulldozers are closing in, behind them a storm of dust like a waterfall. Now you can see that the drivers are all masked. They’re horribly robotic without their eyes.

          Another burst of static, a blurring; more voices from behind the camera. A microsecond of blackness and then an almost vertiginous movement; you are running, camera showing the ground, showing feet – the cameraman is not alone, and this small group is ducking behind walls, scattering, scampering down alleys, through abandoned kitchens, kicking over pots and scrambling through windows. They pause. Words are said. You are afraid. You peer around a corner, zoom out and in and realise you’re looking at the same scene from a different angle. But the dynamic has shifted. Now the blue-caps are backing off, the Company man advancing in a line, weapons held steady before them. The blue-cap leader tries again. He is almost crying – dust or emotion? – as he pleads.

          You are rocked: the camera spins. Focus. In the background a bulldozer has exploded. Gas bottle? IED? Debris rains down. Spin again: the civilians are cheering. Some kneel to pray. A boy scampers forwards and grabs a section of caterpillar track, a souvenir. Some chant, inaudible over the din that surrounds you.

          You turn back to the soldiers. The Company sergeant now has the blue-cap pinned against a wall. Blue-cap is speaking quickly. He gestures to the bulldozers, now drawn up just a few yards behind the confrontation. Again Blue-cap is begging. Stop. Stop, please. Talk to us. He waves to the civilians, tears in his eyes.

          The sergeant’s face is hard. He is in control. He speaks in short bursts. We have our orders. We will not stop. We are coming through. This town is being erased.

          The voices around you are as much part of the background as the terracotta sky.

          Blue-cap’s face changes. Now he looks dazed, unbelieving. His mouth falls open. He shakes his head weakly, swallows. Camera zooms in tight on his eyes (brown), just for a moment, then out again. Company-man turns away from Blue-Cap, releases the pressure on his shoulder. He signals the bulldozers to continue their advance. Blue-cap is stunned. He staggers out of the sergeant’s grasp and into the middle of the road. He faces the bulldozers, head turning this way and that. And then a Company soldier steps smartly forwards, whips the butt of his rifle across Blue-cap’s face. He falls. Blood drips onto the rutted track. The defenders raise their weapons. The Company troops respond in kind. The bulldozers growl.

          You jerk round again, back to the civilians – the ones who are losing their homes and everything they can’t carry. A man is running forwards. He is young. His clothes are rags. He is carrying – my God, he’s carrying a sword. Where the hell did he get that?

          The man’s eyes are too wide, too white. His mouth is distorted in a feral snarl, saliva spinning off his beard. Dust eddies around his bare ankles as he raises the weapon to cleave…

          He is shot before he gets within a dozen paces of the enemy. A red bloom erupts from his shoulder; the sword flies from his hand. He falls backwards, spinning madly in the dirt as if his blood is pushing his body in tight little spirals, legs flexing madly, scrambling in a crimson razor-dance.

          This is the first bullet fired. No-one knows who made the shot.

          The bulldozers are moving again.

          Blue-cap makes on final effort to make peace. He is pushed aside. The Company men have had enough. They advance, ignoring the weapons pointed at their chests. Stones fly, the civilians, the peasants, resisting the only way they can. The missiles rattle off body-armour, off helmets, off the blades of the bulldozers. The camera spins again; there is so much to take in, you can’t see it all.

          So you miss the next shot.

          Blue-cap is dead, a neat little hole in his forehead. His face still bears a look of shock, of disbelief. The Company soldiers walk calmly over his body.

          Then the bulldozers grind him into a bloody smear in the dirt.

          More shooting. More UN soldiers drop. The slum-dwellers are fair game too.

          The cameraman is backing off; dragged away, you think, by his companions. But he keeps the lens pointed –

– static again, the picture breaking up –

          – civilians screaming. Women crying, children wailing, the timeless sounds of panic. There is no mistaking terror.

          And the staccato snap of bullets, cutting through the avalanche of collapsing buildings. Bulldozers dig their blades into flesh and masonry without prejudice.

          The camera spins; you see bare feet. The battle is lost. You are fleeing.

          But there is still time for one last look back. Now you can see only Company soldiers amidst the rubble.

          Company soldiers and the dead and the dying.

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