The Lore of Prometheus by Graham Austin-King – EXCERPT
A few weeks ago, our friends at Fantasy Faction revealed the cover for Graham Austin-King’s upcoming The Lore of Prometheus, and shared an extract from the novel.
Today, we here at The Fantasy Hive are lucky enough to share another!
The Lore of Prometheus is a blend of military, science fiction, real world issues, and Saw-like thrills and blood spills. It follows the story of John Carver, ex-soldier, who is trying to run from both his past and future by living in the present, which hasn’t worked out well for him so far, not when you can’t escape your own thoughts – or the voices in your head. From the streets of London to the streets of Kabul, Carver will have to face his own inner demons as well as those brought to life by mortal man.
‘John Carver has three rules: Don’t drink in the daytime, don’t gamble when the luck has gone, and don’t talk to the dead people who come to visit.
It has been almost five years since the incident in Kabul. Since the magic stirred within him and the stories began. Fleeing the army, running from the whispers, the guilt, and the fear he was losing his mind, Carver fell into addiction, dragging himself through life one day at a time.
Desperation has pulled him back to Afghanistan, back to the heat, the dust, and the truth he worked so hard to avoid. But there are others, obsessed with power and forbidden magics, who will stop at nothing to learn the truth of his gifts. Abducted and chained, Carver must break more than his own rules if he is to harness this power and survive.’
The Lore of Prometheus is more a ‘private military contractor’ thriller than a spy thriller, which is something I really liked the concept of, with shades of science fiction thrown in, and it’s a helluva ride. Think James Bond’s famous ‘shaken, not stirred’ martini, but instead this is a Jägerbomb with a Jason Bourne base and a shot of not-your-average-superhero suspense. The closest thing I can compare it to is the work of Myke Cole, which has been called sci-fi/fantasy military. Except, in The Lore of Prometheus, it’s less ‘fantasy fiction’ and more ‘science’. Additionally, as The Lore of Prometheus is based on real-world dynamics, you could even argue that this is a ‘what if things like this actually happen?’
YOU NEVER KNOW!
It’s an interesting take on the whole ‘government experimentation’ concept. You might’ve heard of the human experimentation regimes of the US, Japan, North Korea and the Nazis. The Lore of Prometheus draws upon these in context of the modern world (and modern conflict) in pursuit of winning the arms race that has been going on since, well, antiquity. Since the dawn of time – the days of Prometheus, and his gift of fire to mortals.
But before readers start donning tin hats, it’s probably best that you strap on a combat helmet as the action comes thick and fast, and the level of realism brings the story to life around you. So, buckle up and enjoy the ride!
Excerpt: The Lore of Prometheus by Graham Austin-King
“Eight,” the blackjack dealer announced as he laid out the card onto the baize next to the eight of hearts I already had.
It was an easy decision. Sixteen wasn’t likely to get me anywhere; not with the dealer already showing a seven.
I sighed as I pushed the chips forward. “Split them.”
The card gave a crisp snap as the dealer flipped it. “Seven.”
Eight gave me a fifteen. A hard hand.
The odds of me improving it were about fifty-fifty, probably slightly less. A quick glance across the table gave me the rest of the bad news. A two and a three were showing, and there had already been more than enough low cards passed through since the last shuffle to ruin the odds. The chances of getting anything useful were about the same as the dealer not having a ten to go along with his seven, and if he didn’t then he’d probably bust. If I was lucky. Not that luck had been anywhere to be found tonight. She clearly had better things to do.
“Stand,” I muttered, waving a hand over the cards as I focused on the next set.
“Six.” The dealer’s voice was flat, professional, as he dealt out the card, but I couldn’t help but feel there was some smug satisfaction in it. It was something I seemed to notice more with the male dealers, though I’ve had my share of female croupiers let a smile slip as my chips dwindled. Maybe it was a testosterone thing. The man was getting to me, working his way under my skin, and it wasn’t like me to let that happen. Everything about him was beginning to irritate me: from the perfect croupier uniform, right down to his styled black hair; held in place with some kind of gel, or wax, or whatever shit they used these days.
“Fuck it, hit.”
“Language, sir,” the dealer chided as he dealt out a ten. “Bust.” He flipped over his own card. “Dealer has seventeen.”
I sat back in my seat and sipped at my water, taking a breath as the shiny-haired bastard gathered up the chips. The couple at the end of the table had won on a pair of kings and were making the kind of noise you’d expect if they had won thousands, and not just a couple of quid. Other than them, the casino was quiet, though at this time of night it ought to be. The drunks and the partying idiots had left long ago, and now it was just the desperate, the lonely, and the addicts.
My time of night.
I never used to play to win, not normally anyway. I played for the game, for the thrill of it, and the challenge of beating the house. Blackjack has some of the best odds of any casino game and, provided I was paying attention, I could make thirty or forty quid last all night and leave with a profit, or with most of it, still in my pocket. These days I needed the money. Luck is a fickle bitch, and she’d been avoiding me for too long. If she didn’t come back to visit soon, I was going to run into some serious problems.
“Well that was shit, Carver.”
The voice drew my gaze over to the wall where the man in uniform slouched.
“Probably the worst few hands I’ve seen played in a while. Why don’t you just throw your money at the dealer and have done? Oh, but it’s not your money, is it?”
I ignored him, or tried to. Blood had soaked through the man’s combat jacket, staining the webbing and painting half his side and leg dark, as it dripped down onto the garish red and gold patterned carpet. It had been a while since I’d seen Johnson. He was easily the most vocal of my visitors, and definitely the most annoying.
“Oh, would you look at that,” Johnson muttered, in a voice loud enough to carry, as he noted the puddle of blood beside his foot and the lurid red streak he’d left on the white wall. “I’m making a right mess of the place.”
Johnson always was a prick. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. The smell was coming back. It usually did when I have visitors.
Dust and hot plastic.
The dust had been everywhere, every day, no matter where you went. It was part of the air, working its way under your clothes, in-between your teeth, under your eyelids; until there was no escaping the feel of it. The plastic smell came from the cars sat in the sun; the frames of the windows melting in the unrelenting heat. There were other smells of course: sweat and my own kit; food and coffee coupled with spices; but it was the dust and hot plastic that sticks with me.
The smell of Kabul.
I shoved myself up out of the seat. I’d been sitting for a few hours and my legs weren’t the steadiest, but that’s only the half of it, if I was being honest. It took all the control I had just to snatch up the handful of chips I had left and lurch away from the table into the maze of slot machines.
The smell followed me, clinging to my nostrils until the taste of the dust seemed to coat my tongue. The yelling would come next, I knew that. Along with the gunshots and the screams.
I doubt I was a pretty sight as I stumbled down the line of slot machines, leaning on the chairs as my balance left me. A couple stood talking in the middle of the row, but I barely slowed as I shoved my way past.
“Drunk bastard!” One of them called after me.
The toilet was empty, which was something at least. I leaned heavily on the counter as one hand worked the tap. The cold water didn’t help, but I’d known it wouldn’t. There was a cycle to this. A pattern. I was a hostage to this once it began. I was a prisoner to the visions that would follow.
I closed my eyes as the first gunshots rang out, as the blood flowed, the screaming began, and the scene played on. The pleading filled the casino bathroom. The shouts echoing off tiles that hadn’t even been there at the time, and making the shouting all the louder for it.
The hand landed heavy on my shoulder, which is never a good idea. I’ve had too much training to just turn it off. I was moving before I’d thought.
“I think you’ve had enough, mate. Time—” the security guard cut off as I grabbed his wrist, ducking under his arm and twisting smoothly into the lock as my thumbs drove into the pressure point on the back of the man’s hand.
“Fuck me!” He was a big man; security guards in these places usually were, but he sank to his knees instantly as I held the pressure.
Choices. It would be simple enough to kick to the face here, with a fair chance of putting the guy out. An elbow strike would break his arm easily; a quick wrench would dislocate his shoulder.
Neutralise the threat. Disarm. Move on.
The thought brought me back to myself. There was no threat here.
I stepped back, dropping his hand. “Sorry, mate. You surprised me, is all. I moved before I thought.”
“Bastard,” the man muttered, shaking out his wrist. “Time you pissed off, while you’ve still got some teeth.”
Who are you kidding, mate? I raised an eyebrow as I looked the man over. He was a big guy; far too big for his suit, really. It was a stupid thing for a bouncer, or any kind of guard, to wear. Too restrictive; but then he wasn’t here to lay hands on people, he was here to look big and intimidating. A paid bully. His toughest job was probably herding the drunks and hookers to the door.
“I’m going,” I muttered, backing away from the guy as he reached for his phone.
The night was windy as I made my way out of the Stratford Westfield complex. Whoever thought it was a good idea to put a casino on top of a shopping centre in east London probably needed help. The place was a mess of shadows and dark corners—a mugger’s delight. The transport links weren’t much better. Easy to get to in the daytime, but leaving in the middle of the night required a ten-minute trek through dark streets to reach the nearest tube station.
Muggers were the last thing on my mind though. My liquid cash was running low and I’d made bugger all on the tables tonight. Things were getting tight.
I hunched down into my thin leather jacket and tried to coax more warmth from a garment already poorly equipped to cope with the temperature. The chips tumbled over and over in my pocket as I flicked and flipped them. It’s a habit that got on my own nerves. I should have cashed them in before I left, though Captain Security would probably have objected.
The thought brought a laugh at the memory of the big man’s face. Shock and pain had given way to fear fast enough to show that the guy had probably never had to deal with anyone who knew what they were doing in a fight. It’s true what they say; bullies are usually cowards, and Captain Security hadn’t liked finding that out. He’d probably have had another go at me if I hadn’t left so quickly. His anger had been clear enough; shining through the fear and the shame.
A blast of wind that was far colder than it ought to be in June sent me ducking into a side street. This casino was good enough, and closer to me than any other in London, but Jesus this place was miserable at night.
A shadow detached itself from the wall ahead of me and I froze, cursing. I should have been paying more attention than this.
“You Carver?” It was a young man’s voice, thick with a street accent that was supposed to make him sound tough.
“Never heard of him,” I said with a shrug. More figures emerged from the shadows and I made a show of looking around at them. It would be better for me to look nervous here. “I don’t have any money on me, just a couple of casino chips.”
“We don’t want your money, Carver,” the shadow said, stepping into the faint streetlight. “Mr Cresswell wants to talk to you.”
Fucking Cresswell, that was all I needed. “What does that bastard want?”
The figure wasn’t much more than a kid. Dressed up in street clothes and trying to look dangerous. Christ, he’d even gone as far as wearing a bandana. Probably trying to make a name for himself.
He ignored my question, glanced around at the other shadowy figures, and pulled a gun from his jeans.
The gun looked like it was probably a converted blank-firing Baikal or something similar. It was easy enough to convert the barrel to a rifled one capable of firing a bullet, but they weren’t cheap.
“Mr Cresswell reckoned you was something special. Something to be careful around. You don’t look like much to me. Just a sad old git.”
Old? The cheeky fucker. I probably looked a little weathered for thirty-eight, but fifteen years in the army will do that to anyone.
I stayed quiet, letting him rant and ramble as I glanced around. There were easily five of them, but it was hard to tell without being too obvious. They were all kids—probably hadn’t even reached their twenties yet. Five would be manageable, but it was more than likely they were all carrying knives. The damned gun complicated things. You can run from a knife but there isn’t much point running from a gun, not at this range anyway.
“Nice gun,” I noted. “What did that set you back, a thousand? Fifteen hundred?”
The kid shrugged.
“Oh, Cresswell gave it to you?” I guessed. “Have you fired it yet? You’ve still got all your fingers by the looks of things, so I’m guessing not.”
The frown told me enough all by itself; the kid had no idea what he was holding. I smirked. “You can’t just buy a gun in this country mate, not normally. That’s been converted from a blank-firer or a tear-gas gun. They’re not made to shoot bullets. Sometimes they have to drill the barrel out. If they don’t do it properly and you fire it, you’ll be picking up your fingers for a good long while.”
“It’ll put a fucking hole in you,” the kid snarled, stepping close and jamming the gun into my side. “I should pop a cap in your ass right now!”
That was too much, and a snort escaped me before I could stop myself.
“Think this is fucking funny, old man?”
“Pop a cap in my arse?” I didn’t bother trying to hide the laughter, or the scorn. “What do you think this is, L.A? You sound like you just finished playing Grand Theft Auto.”
The blow was easy to see coming, his fist still wrapped around the gun. I blocked easily, smashing a palm into the kid’s elbow to twist his torso to one side, before I jabbed a fist into the side of his face. Another strike down to his wrist sent the gun off into the darkness, and then I unloaded a full punch, turning my hip into it and dropping the kid like a stone. All in all, it had taken less than three seconds.
There was moment of silence before the side-street exploded into violence.
I moved quickly, working my way in the darkest of the shadows to give me an advantage. Where the gang members had to search to find me, everyone in front of me was a target. Five to one. No time to muck about. You’ve got to be efficient and brutal in something like this; work to disable as quickly as possible whilst still keeping moving. Standing in one place in this kind of fight is an invitation to house someone’s knife in your guts.
I ducked under a wild swing and came back up with an elbow strike, driving it into a nose hard enough to break it. A knife glinted in the faint glow of the streetlamps and I twisted, kicking out at the side of a knee. The grisly crunch and howling scream were enough to tell me the job was done.
I moved into the centre of the small street to give myself space to move; a stupid idea against four or five, but worth it for the two that remained. I stood, trying to look calm, like my pulse wasn’t racing as I watched them. A fight like this is more psychological than anything else, and it was important that they saw me as holding all the cards. In truth, I already ached like a bastard. I hadn’t moved nearly fast enough and half a dozen glancing blows had struck my ribs and face already.
“I’m gonna cut your fucking face up!” A dark-haired kid growled, pulling a kitchen knife from his jacket. He’d caught a blow to the face at some point and his cheek was red and swollen already. He was scared enough to piss himself, his anger was just a convenient place to hide it.
“Smiffy,” the other, younger, of the two hissed. “Smiffy, look at Jenks an’ Addie. Fuckin’ look at ‘em, mate.”
Smiffy shot him a warning look but his gaze darted to the slumped forms on the ground and the kid moaning and writhing, clutching at his leg.
I considered running for half a second. Even going so far as having to stop myself glancing behind to see if the way was clear. It would be a stupid move, I knew. They were younger, in better shape, and probably faster. The fight had turned us all around and the street lay just beyond the two thugs, invitingly close.
It was the flicker of the kid’s eye that warned me. Another second and I could have avoided it. As it was, I half-turned, just in time for the brick to slam into the side of my head.
Graham Austin-King was born in the south of England and weaned on broken swords and half-forgotten spells. A shortage of these forced him to consume fantasy novels at an ever-increasing rate, turning to computers and tabletop gaming between meals.
He experimented with writing at the beginning of an education that meandered through journalism, international relations, and law. To this day he is committed to never allowing those first efforts to reach public eyes.
After meandering across both England and Canada he settled once again in the north of England surrounded by a seemingly endless horde of children and a very patient wife who can arguably say her husband is away with the faeries.
The Lore of Prometheus is his fifth novel and draws on a foundation of literary influences ranging from David Eddings to Dean Koontz.