Read an Exclusive Excerpt from Samit Basu’s Exiting Superhero Novel RESISTANCE
We’re pleased to be able to bring you an excerpt from Samit Basu’s novel, Resistance!
Here’s what the book is about:
In 2020, eleven years after the passengers of flight BA142 from London to Delhi developed extraordinary abilities corresponding to their innermost desires, the world is overrun with supers. Some use their powers for good, others for evil, and some just want to pulverize iconic monuments and star in their own reality show. But now, from New York to Tokyo, someone is hunting down supers, killing heroes and villains both, and it’s up to the Unit to stop them…
Read on for an excerpt!
It had taken their agent about four minutes to come up with the United Nations Interception Team’s name, but the search for the perfect headquarters has taken a decade. And as Uzma Abidi walks up the broad steps to the Unit’s new base on Liberty Island, she has to admit they might have finally got it right.
The world’s first and greatest superhero team had moved out of London in 2012: their marketing people had insisted the Unit needed a skyscraper by the Thames and the British Government had quietly refused to give them one.
Parliament had wanted the Unit gone for a while by that point, anyway. The prestige that came with hosting the Unit brought far too much trouble with it, especially with the protests and riots that had followed the superathletes scandal that had closed down the London Olympics. Brief disastrous stints in Dubai, Shanghai and Rio had followed – the buildings that had survived their stay had been sold to local superhero teams. And in 2014, when Sher and Vir, the only two Unit members who had flatly refused to live in America, had left, there had really been no reason not to give in to collective pressure and move to New York.
Uzma had always wanted to live in Manhattan, to walk wearing insanely long boots through bustling streets with a styrofoam coffee cup in one hand and a phone in the other. They’d rented a whole skyscraper: Ellis, their agent, had found an aging building on 42nd and Broadway which he’d said was perfect. Uzma hadn’t understood why, but they’d moved there. And then everything had gone to hell.
It wasn’t just the paparazzi and the hordes of tourists and accompanying pickpockets and muggers who had surrounded the building all day, every day: the core Unit members had all had Stealth Cloaks since 2013. The real problem was, predictably, supervillains.
When the Unit’s heroes were in the building, they had media-hungry villains roaring challenges from the streets, threatening civilians until the heroes showed up to fight them, and even Jai got tired of pulverising villains, many of whom turned out to be cosplaying litigation-happy humans, after a few months. The NYPD was sick of providing protective cordons for their fans, and even sicker of officers dying under supervillain onslaughts.
It had been even more annoying when they were out on missions: they would come back to find their tower in ruins. The best way for villains to get their App-o-calypse notoriety ratings (and mercenary payscales, and reality show advance offers) shooting upwards was to inflict property damage on anything Unit-related, especially after 2016. By then, pretty much every iconic monument anywhere in the world had already been destroyed: blown up, punched in or otherwise defaced by young ambitious supervillains with stars and cameras in their eyes. And while there were plenty of superarchitects eager to reconstruct the Pyramids and the Eiffel Tower, you couldn’t speed-build a skyscraper in the heart of Manhattan without drawing huge crowds and seriously disrupting traffic. Not on a weekly basis.
Three years of living in anonymous government buildings and army bases around the world had followed. Uzma had hated it. Not just because of the inconvenience, but because every official she’d met since the Unit’s founding had tried to control her, make her rearrange the world according to their beliefs in exchange for free food and lodging. And she had snapped sometimes, many more times than any government in the world was comfortable with. Many of the assassins sent after Uzma in the last few years had been hired by people who share space with her in official photographs, smiling nervously at some international summit or other. And the invitations to official international gatherings had stopped since she’d last addressed the UN General Assembly, yelling loudly enough to be heard across the gigantic hall. She had ended the Middle East crisis, ended the America-China proxy war in central Africa and freed Tibet in one fiery speech. It had been covert operations since then.
But things have been better for Uzma and the Unit since SuperPrez Sara Rhodes’ ascension to the US Presidency. When Rhodes announced a year ago that the new Statue of Liberty (the sixth version) would be built on top of a 1000-foot high tower that would also serve as the Unit’s new headquarters, and that Liberty Island was now closed to the public, there hadn’t been much opposition to the plan at all. Of course, everyone had given up on the Statue of Liberty by then; it had been broken four times and brought hideously to life once, by the Shadow Puppeteer, a year ago. The new statue stands on top of the octagonal tower as if it had always been there. Uzma is determined to make it a symbol of hope once again.
Jason and Anima await Uzma in the lobby. She enters, sweeping off her Stealth Cloak. Jason greets her with his usual warm smile. Anima doesn’t acknowledge her presence at all, and keeps swiping away at the holo-screen floating in front of her. It’s some new game, Uzma sees, featuring a bright orange blob bouncing through a dungeon. Jason nudges Anima, and the she looks up, sees Uzma, sighs, and makes the holo-screen disappear with an exasperated gesture. Behind Uzma, Jai strides up and stops. Uzma can hear his armour whine slightly as he scans the foyer for potential assassins. There aren’t any: the building isn’t even supposed to be complete for another two months. There will be a grand opening, with many visiting heads of state. There will be assassins aplenty for Jai to butcher then.
It’s been more than a year since Uzma last saw Jason and Anima, but there doesn’t seem to be much to say: Uzma has to watch the news, and knows what they’ve been doing. Life has moved so fast over the last decade that Uzma often forgets that she’s hardly ever spent any time talking to Jason: whenever she sees him, her brain goes bald, new guy, Anima’s boyfriend, moves stuff around with his head, polite, cute, too young. Jason. But his face, like those of her other teammates, is such a familiar sight on screens anywhere she goes that like the rest of the world, she’s tricked herself into believing she knows him well.
Anima will be eighteen soon, and Jason’s life will become much more complicated: he’ll have to start dating the real-life woman along with the anime warrior princess. Uzma watches Jason size Jai up as they step into the spacious elevator. The young telekinetic has held his own against Jai in sparring sessions in the past; Uzma can tell he’s itching to have another go.
The rest of the Unit is already assembled in the central chamber on the top floor. They rise as the four enter. Ellis, who had been sitting in Uzma’s place at the head of the seven-sided table, greets them with handshakes and hugs and sends an intern off to get coffee. A man in a black suit with a very forgettable face is also present: the new UN liaison. He introduces himself, knowing no one but Ellis will remember his name. His name is Johns.
Uzma sits, accepts her coffee gratefully, and looks at the three remaining members of the Unit; faces so familiar from screens all over the world that it’s difficult to remember she’s not seen them for a while, and doesn’t really know them well.
Wingman looks as he has since she first met him ten years ago, when the marketing team had informed her, in so many words, that the Unit was too South Asian and they needed to get an all-American type in there quickly, preferably as leader. And you couldn’t get more all-American than Wingman – craggily handsome, greying at the temples, shining white teeth now on full display as he exchanges pleasantries with Jason. Uzma hadn’t allowed him in until Vir left, and has disliked him for years, a dislike that she has always known is irrational. Perhaps it is Wingman’s all-encompassing positivity that grates against her nerves like nails on a blackboard; perhaps it is his perfect body language, his charm, his immense popularity (he has spent the last two years starring in his own biopic in between hero missions). Perhaps it is because he has slowly been replacing her as the Unit’s spokesperson, as the networks trust him more than they do a woman with a Muslim name. Or perhaps it is because Mr “New Clooney” has ranked above her in the 100 Sexiest People list for two years running now.
To Wingman’s right sits Wu, staring into space as always. At the moment it doesn’t look like there’s some ancient spirit in residence in her frail body: they tend to be much more alert and curious than Wu is herself. Uzma had resented her inclusion in the Unit as well, after Tia left, but the Chinese government had threatened to declare the Unit hostile unless they had a Chinese hero for every American. Not that Wu was in any way a Chinese government posterchild – she had been a performance artist following in Ai Weiwei’s dissident footsteps, but they hadn’t banned her yet when her transformation occurred. She clearly didn’t fit into any of the Chinese Government’s Harmony Warrior squadrons either, so they were quite relieved when the Unit took her in. There just wasn’t any space for a sorceress/oneiromancer in the Chinese military superteams. Especially one as young and volatile as Wu.
No one knows the full extent of Wu’s powers; Wu herself definitely doesn’t. But Uzma has seen her hovering in the air with an ancient spirit glaring out of her eyes, seen her bring rain down on parched lands, seen her annihilate a horde of song-raised zombies with a whispered secret word, and is grateful to have the sorceress on her team. The UN hasn’t officially recognised the existence of magic yet, but it is clear that it is very real, and very dangerous. Whether it had existed all along, or the powers of the Second Wavers who turned into magicians created it, is still not known.
Next to Wu sits That Guy, and Uzma suppresses the urge to throw her coffee mug at him. At least That Guy has learnt not to speak at Unit meetings; the last time he tried to argue with Uzma, Wingman had tossed him across the table, and for one shining moment Uzma had felt real love for Wingman, and the Unit had been united in real joy.
That Guy had spent twenty-eight years on Earth doing absolutely nothing of value, but had taken one of the First Wave flights. He’d acquired the power to be in any photograph, any list, any meeting he wanted to be in. No one had invited That Guy to the Unit – no one, as far as he remembered, had ever invited him anywhere – but over the years, they had come to accept his presence, his irritating little cough, his inevitably mistimed laughter. They’d tried to use him to infiltrate super-terrorist gatherings, but he had failed at that. He only really wanted to be in the Unit, when he wasn’t attending lingerie parties and film premieres. Uzma had assumed he’d be killed in combat soon enough – four heroes had already died in the Unit’s service – but That Guy had stubbornly survived.
That Guy sees Uzma looking at him, and stares shiftily at his lap. Uzma’s grip on her coffee mug tightens. She even used her Voice on him once, telling him he didn’t want to be a part of the Unit, that he should be anywhere else. He had almost died then, screaming, half his body teleported away, and Uzma had relented.
Everyone has their drinks now, and Ellis takes charge, striding around the room with a large holo-screen, making one of his excellent state-of-the-world presentations – how on earth did he find the time? Uzma has perfected the art of nodding and looking interested as the words roll over her; she focuses, instead, on her teammates. Anima’s not even pretending to listen; Jason plays footsie with her under the table for a few minutes until something makes him sit up; Wingman, too, Uzma notices, is suddenly all ears. This is the signal Uzma uses to know when to start paying attention: Ellis is talking about superhero ratings. Another of the new cybervillains has started posting millions of fake reviews on all the hero-for-hire sites: the Unit’s marketing team is talking to banks about installing their multi-step offline security systems. And it’s not just the villains: large groups of indie heroes are offering their services for ridiculously low rates, and writing glowing recommendations for each other. Hero guilds all over the world are in uproar. Uzma does not see what this has to do with the Unit, whose members don’t officially get paid, but then Ellis says something that makes even her sit up.
“With your permission, I’d like to find the best hacker of the lot and add him or her to our roster of hopefuls,” says Ellis. “There’s no reason That Guy has to be one of the official seven – we could even have eight members. If we could find another Aman Sen, one not affiliated to a villain team, it would help us greatly.”
“That’s assuming the original Aman Sen is not in hiding somewhere, and behind all this,” says Wingman.
Jai shifts in his chair, and Uzma doesn’t need to look at him to know how much hatred that name stirs within him, under the layers of serenity instilled by her commands. She can feel it radiating from him.
“Aman Sen is dead,” says Uzma, so subtly that no one in the room even realises she’s using her Voice. “I don’t want him brought up again.”
The others nod obediently, in exact synchrony. Uzma stifles a pang of guilt.
“Why are we here, Ellis?” she asks, tapping her coffee mug gently. “Does the world need saving again?”
“Um, yes, like always,” says Ellis. “But before we get to that, Johns needs to brief you all on several fascinating developments from the world of science and technology. No, really, guys, he does. It’s all very important.”
There’s a collective groan, and Anima opens her game holo-screen again, but Johns has been waiting for months to give the Unit his update, and he will not be denied. Ignoring the yawns and hostile stares, he taps his wrist, and speaks as a series of holograms unfold and dissolve on the table.
Uzma does her best to stay focused as Johns speaks eloquently about braingate neural interface systems, new 3D printing techniques involving biobricks, genetically engineered plants that grow water bottles, new foldable flying cars, ultracapacitors, photovoltaic paints, and significant developments in wave, wind and space-harvested solar energy. Uzma knows it is vital that they all stay abreast of all this cutting-edge information, and she tries very hard to actually listen, but she cannot blame Wu for falling asleep when she does, and notes that even Wingman’s enthusiasm seems to be running low. She turns her thoughts, instead, to Aman. They’d fought the last time they’d met, when she had finally confessed that she was thinking of getting married to – who was it now? The human rights guy, yes. He’d said she’d never see him again. That had been two years ago. He wasn’t dead. He couldn’t be. That T-shirt that the whole world seemed to be wearing now – that wasn’t even his face. She’d done her part, she’d Told everyone she knew who had seen him that it really was Aman on those shirts, that he was gone. And she’d waited for him to call her. And she was still waiting.
She looks at Ellis again. He doesn’t seem particularly concerned – what new crisis is this, that can wait until the UN guy whose name she’s already forgotten finishes droning on about, what is it now, nanofilaments embedded in resins? Will it at least be an impending apocalypse, some super-threatening mega-adventure for which Uzma will be able to summon up the slightest bit of energy, motivation, interest even?
Developments in science that would make everyone’s life better are a good thing, of course, but how do you deal with a world full of superhumans? What do you teach in schools when the laws of physics are violated in public on the news every day? How do you prevent young people from joining any of the seventeen major superhero-worshipping cults that have sprung up in America alone? How do you prevent ordinary humans from just giving up when they can no longer dream of emulating the people they admire, when their lives’ work can be undone casually by any passing superhuman? Uzma clenches her fists; she wants to beat up the UN guy now. She pushes the coffee mug away; it’s dangerous. She realises again that she has no interest in defeating another villain, preventing another nuclear explosion or fiction-portal-crossing alien invasion. The real crisis, she knows, is that humans have become the second species. The real problem is that supers, even the Unit, have started treating humans as lower than themselves: as people who can be classified, who have a function. Fans, threats, cattle, workers, farmers, assistants, employees, agents, audiences. Backstagers. Extras who have to come up with the new stuff: the new economics, history, laws, the new journalism. Not for themselves, but to build a world sane enough to cope with supers. A world they’ll never own, and will spend their lives trying to catch up with. Aman had droned on about this for years. She hadn’t listened then. But she knows now.
Uzma stands up.
“Get out,” she Tells Johns.
“So we’re launching three hundred squadrons of unmanned drones to identify unauthorised superpower-seeking flights and shoot them down- Excuse me?” says Johns as his body walks from the table to the door. He hasn’t even begun to register shock or surprise when the door slides shut behind him.
Uzma has the Unit’s undivided attention, though. Anima shuts her game down and gives Uzma a big grin.
“I wish you hadn’t done that,” says Ellis quietly. “They’ve been asking for your removal for a while now. I’ve had to deal with a lot of pressure.”
“What’s the mission?” Uzma asks him.
“The Unit needs to be seen together,” says Ellis. “It’s been a long time. There are rumours of rifts, and ”
“What’s the mission?” Uzma repeats.
Ellis sighs. “Rowena Okocha,” he says. He moves a finger, and a photograph of a young woman floats in the centre of the room. Mid-twenties, pretty, dark, dreadlocks, huge eyes, white coat. “AIDS researcher. Took a Second Wave flight. She was observed for several months, no change.”
“What happened then?” asks Jason.
“Utopic hired her,” says Ellis.
“Captured her for their private zoo, you mean,” says Uzma. “Did they cut her up?”
“I don’t know,” says Ellis. “But they lost her two months ago, and they want her back.”
“What’s her power?”
“Her blood removes powers.” Ellis looks even graver than usual.
Wingman shakes his head. “Not another Mutant Cure treasure hunt, please,” he says. “Utopic’s playing with us.”
Ellis swipes the air four times, and with each movement a new picture appears. On the left half of each image is a superbeing turned monstrous by its power: one appears to be made of rock, another covered in spines, the third a screaming mask of living flame, the fourth a green gas trapped in a plastic bag. On the right half of each is a human face. Each face is smiling.
“Still seems like a hoax to me,” says Wingman. “Our friends and benefactors at Utopic are probably laughing at us right now.”
“No,” says Ellis. “They’re worried. Of course they didn’t tell us when they found Rowena. Or how long they kept her. But since they lost her they’ve tried everything they could to get her back. And you know what they’re capable of. They wouldn’t have come to us if they hadn’t run out of options. And if this wasn’t a Unit-level problem.”
“They were trying to mass-produce her blood, no doubt,” says Uzma. “Weaponise it. And use it on, let’s see… us?”
“Of course they were,” says Ellis. “But someone else has her now. And they’re worried enough to tell us about it, and they’ll let us keep her if we find her.”
“How did they lose her?” asks Wingman.
“Someone broke into their zoo and took her.”
“Will they let us go to their zoo and look around?”
“They might,” says Ellis. “But you know you won’t find their other subjects, Wingman.”
“Then I don’t see why we should help,” says Wingman. He remembers to look at Uzma for assent. She nods.
“They should send in the SuperSleuths, or, you know, actual detectives,” says Jason.
“They won’t put this one on the market,” says Ellis. “It’s us, or no one. Too much at stake.”
“I’m amazed Utopic didn’t just kill her when they found her,” says Uzma. “Isn’t the board mostly supers by now? They’ve certainly spent enough time flying around and hoping.”
“That’s probably why they’re so worried now. They have as much to lose as-”
The familiar jingle rings in everyone’s head, and they all groan.
A high-pitched male voice echoes in their heads.
“DON’T FORGET TO WATCH THE INCREDIROTIC SEXPLOITS OF BENDY THE SEXMAN!” it cries. “NEW SEASON STARTS TONIGHT, TWO AM EASTERN, ON VUTOPIX!”
The broadcast ends, and they shake their heads growling.
“Bloody Viral,” says Jason. “Why doesn’t he go missing?”
“I think he has more people hunting him than even you, Uzma,” says Ellis.
“Can we kill him?” asks Uzma. “That would solve all our popularity problems.”
“Well, if you can find him, you’ll find Utopic’s zoo,” says Ellis. “They’ve hired him exclusively now. So… is that a definite no on the Rowena mission?”
“We’ll think about it. Do you have anything else?”
“Lots of super deaths and disappearances,” says Ellis. “More than usual. Villains and heroes, both.”
“Patterns? Common enemies?”
“Fights, mostly. Super-duels in public places. But not all of them – there was one yesterday that broke a dam in Slovenia, another one flattened a pop concert in Guangzhou.”
“Lots of civilian casualties, I suppose.”
“Yes. More than lots.”
Uzma winces. “And you think there’s a link somewhere.”
“If it isn’t a link, it’s a very disturbing new trend. We’ve had super-hunting problems before. It might be some kind of non-guild high-stakes combat tournament. We don’t know yet. We’ve tried to find the root, but got nowhere. We’ve tried mercenary superteams too, even the SuperSleuths, before you ask. Nothing. But if the Unit went out and knocked a few big heads together, we might get new information.”
Uzma looks around the table. “We’ll beat up some people and see what they have to say,” she says. “What else?”
Jason looks startled. “There’s more?”
Uzma smiles at him. “I forget how new you are,” she says. “It’s not like your comics, Jason. It’s not one crisis at a time.”
“The comics have multiple plotlines too. Sometimes the whole universe gets-” Jason stops and grins. “You’re ragging me.”
“New guy,” says Wingman, and thumps him on the back.
“I’m newer,” says That Guy.
“Shut up,” says Uzma.
She turns to Ellis. “Anything on a grander scale?” she asks.
“Utopic-friendly governments have been putting a lot of pressure on us to send you after Kalki,” says Ellis. “But I know your views on that.”
“I think I need to Speak to them,” says Uzma. “Kalki’s not a threat. He’s only eleven years old. He’s been in hiding all his life.”
“He’s a god,” says Ellis. “He’s trouble.”
“Anyway, you know my answer to that. What else?”
“Bunch of magicians on an island in the Indian Ocean trying to build a portal to another dimension.”
“Good for them. Is that it?”
Ellis looks nervous. “Nothing specific, but there is something that has been going on for a while and I think I should mention it.”
He has the Unit’s attention. Ellis not wanting to bring up a crisis is a first.
“The end of the world,” says Ellis. “Every psychic with a decent track record has been predicting it for a while.”
Most of the Unit members relax, and smile.
“Nice one,” says Wingman.
Ellis shrugs. “I know, it’s nonsense. Happens all the time. Just thought I’d mention it, because – they’re all quite specific about the date.”
“Three weeks’ time,” says Ellis.
“You’d better finish your movie, Wingman,” says Jason.
In the middle of the laughter that follows, Wu raises her hand. Uzma looks at her kindly.
“You don’t need my permission to speak, Wu,” says Uzma. “What is it?”
“The world will not end in three weeks,” she says.
“We know,” says Uzma.
“But mankind will,” says Wu. “The spirits have spoken.”
[End of excerpt]
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