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Authors: Nicholas Maes

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Laughing Wolf

BOOK: Laughing Wolf
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Laughing Wolf

Laughing Wolf

Nicholas Maes

Copyright © Nicholas Maes, 2009

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise (except for brief passages for purposes of review) without the prior permission of Dundurn Press. Permission to photocopy should be requested from Access Copyright.

Editor: Michael Carroll
Copy Editor: Shannon Whibbs
Design: Jennifer Scott
Printer: Webcom

Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication

Maes, Nicholas, 1960-
      Laughing wolf / by Nicholas Maes.

ISBN 978-1-55488-385-1

      I. Title.

PS8626.A37 L38 2009     jC813'.6     C2009-900505-0

1 2 3 4 5     13 12 11 10 09

We acknowledge the support of the
Canada Council for the Arts
and the
Ontario Arts Council
for our publishing program. We also acknowledge the financial support of the
Government of
Canada
through the
Book Publishing Industry Development Program
and
The Association for
the Export of Canadian Books
, and the
Government of Ontario
through the
Ontario Book
Publishers Tax Credit program
, and the
Ontario Media Development Corporation
.

Care has been taken to trace the ownership of copyright material used in this book. The author and the publisher welcome any information enabling them to rectify any references or credits in subsequent editions.

J. Kirk Howard, President

Printed and bound in Canada.
www.dundurn.com

Dundurn Press
3 Church Street, Suite 500
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
M5E 1M2
Gazelle Book Services Limited
White Cross Mills
High Town, Lancaster, England
LA1 4XS
Dundurn Press
2250 Military Road
Tonawanda, NY
U.S.A. 14150

To Gershom, Yehuda, and Miriam
Yeladim ze simcha

Contents

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter One

M
arcus Licinius Crassus was standing in the street, surrounded by two hundred slaves who were holding buckets and awaiting his signal. Before him was an
insula
, a badly built apartment block of brick and timber, overcrowded, unhygienic, and easy to catch fire. That explained why its middle stories were ablaze and threatening to spread the flames everywhere.

Next to Crassus was the building's owner. As tenants on the upper floors pleaded to be rescued, and a crowd gathered to watch the drama, and pedestrians cursed because the street was blocked, he turned to Crassus and tugged at the great man's toga. “I'll sell it for a million
denarii
and not a
sestertius
less.”

“Ten thousand
denarii
.”

“Ten? Are you mad? Five minutes ago you offered me fifty thousand …”

“And five minutes from now I'll offer you a mere three thousand.”

“This is robbery, Marcus Licinius! I'll not have anyone forcing my hand …!”

“Then I'll leave with my slaves and you can watch your building burn.”

“This is preposterous…!”

“Eight thousand
denarii
.”

“Eight! But you just offered me ten! What effrontery!

No, wait! Eight it is! Douse the fire and she's yours for eight ….!”

At the blast of a whistle Felix started from his reverie. He steadied the book that was slipping off his lap — a leather-bound edition of Plutarch's
Life of Crassus
— and sat up in his g-pod. Why had the whistle sounded? And was it his imagination or were they hovering in mid-air? He glanced at an info board and saw that, sure enough, their velocity stood at zero MPH.

He glanced at his reflection in a Teledata screen. A serious-looking face stared back, its eyes blue-green and brimming with confusion, the nose long and bony (exactly like his father's), the hair straw-coloured, and the chin sharp and dimpled. With a grunt of impatience he engaged the screen and murmured, “External monitor.”

Almost instantly he was looking at a view outside the shuttle. Below him was the coast of Greenland — it was covered in piping and switching stations but was otherwise uninhabitable. On impulse he said, “Pan three hundred and sixty degrees,” and the scene changed abruptly, revealing pale blue sky, cumulus clouds and … Wait. Over there, at NNW 315 degrees, a Medevac was flying toward them, its blue flashers signaling a Code A health priority. What …?

“Honoured passengers,” a voice announced, “InterCity Services regrets to inform you that Shuttle 947, from Rome to Toronto, is experiencing a medical crisis on board. A Medevac will be docking in fifty seconds and will convey the affected passenger to the nearest Health Facility. Service is expected to resume momentarily. All g-force pods have been hermetically sealed and will disengage on the completion of our disinfectant protocols. We apologize for the inconvenience and appreciate your patience.”

Felix was bewildered. How could a Health Priority develop in mid-flight? Citizens were scanned for health anomalies at home, at every Portal and before any shuttle took flight, to prevent emergencies like this from occurring. Why hadn't this illness been caught in advance? And what did “disinfectant protocols” mean?

He felt a vibration. On the screen the Medevac was beside the shuttle and extending an Evac-tube to its roof. A moment later, halfway down the aisle, a circular panel of the roof swivelled open and a Flexbot arm appeared inside the shuttle. Seizing a pod six rows down from Felix, it maneuvered it to the ceiling egress and into the tube that joined the crafts together. Felix spied the patient — an elderly man. His head was slumped and he was encrusted with blisters; they were red and covered every inch of his skin.

Wishing he could help this man, Felix watched as the panel on the ceiling closed. Seconds later his g-pod trembled as the Medevac drew away from the craft.

“This system is so old,” a voice spoke over his pod's speaker. Glancing around, he spotted a teen his age who was seated across the aisle from him. He was tall, big-boned, and confident-looking. His features, too, were unnervingly calm, a result of the ERR (Emotion Range Reduction) he'd undergone. And his dark eyes were sparkling from his retinal upgrades.

“My name is Stephen Gowan,” he said, “Does it mean something to you?”

“No.”

“Then you obviously aren't a programmer. I placed first in the North American Advanced Algorithmic series and work now as a consultant in Rome. In any event, the software on this shuttle is M4. You know what that means?”

“No.”

“It was installed in 2210 and hasn't been upgraded. Three whole years without a partial upgrade! That explains why the sensors didn't catch that man's illness — although it's odd his home monitor didn't detect it either.”

Felix was going to ask if he'd seen the man's blisters, but with a resonant hum the shuttle accelerated westward. Greenland was fading on the Teledata screen and the Medevac itself was just a blip in the distance. But … how strange. A blue haze was streaming from its rear exhaust, a sign that it had switched to its fusion thrusters. That happened when a craft was leaving the earth's atmosphere and why would the Medevac travel off-planet instead of delivering the patient to Stockholm or Oslo? Before Felix could work this puzzle out, Stephen Gowan spoke again.

“What's that?” he asked, pointing to Felix's lap.

“This?” Felix asked, holding up the
Life of Crassus
, “It's a book.”

“A real book? Like the ones you see in museums?”

“Yes.”

“Hold it up so I can look at it more closely.”

“It was printed four hundred years ago,” Felix explained, pressing the book against the pod's membrane.

“What's that funny writing?” Stephen asked, wrinkling his nose in curiosity.

“On the right you have classical Greek; on the left is a version in Latin.”

“What are Greek and Latin?”

“They're languages that were spoken in ancient times.”

“You mean, before everyone learned Common Speak?”

“Before that, even. Plutarch wrote this work two thousand years ago.”

With a look of disbelief Stephen asked how he had come across the book. Felix explained that his father ran the world's last Book Repository and had filled their home with stacks of tomes. His father was also trained in Greek and Latin — there were only two such experts alive in the world — and had been teaching them to Felix for the last eleven years, from the day he'd turned four and been old enough to read. He'd also been studying these civilizations, hence his frequent trips to Rome.

“Why not use a Portadoc? It's easier to carry and holds every text that's been written, including Blutarch's books.”

“Plutarch. My father won't allow me. He says a book enhances the pleasure of reading because the contents seem unique and important, whereas a Portadoc jumbles everything together.”

“Your dad sounds old-fashioned.”

“That's for sure. If he could, he'd stop all weather regulation, protein synthesis, retinal upgrades, synapse modification, ERR, genetic transference …”

BOOK: Laughing Wolf
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