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Read an Excerpt from Jonathan Wood’s YESTERDAY’S HERO

We’re pleased to be able to bring to you today an excerpt from Jonathan Wood’s fun new novel, Yesterday’s Hero (out this week from Titan Books)!

Here’s what the book is about:

Another day, another zombie T-Rex to put down. All part of the routine for Arthur Wallace and MI37—the government department devoted to defending Britain from threats magical, supernatural, extraterrestrial, and generally odd. But a zombie T-Rex is only the first of Arthur’s problems, as Russian cyborg wizards threaten his life, and his coworkers threaten his sanity.

Read on for the excerpt!


Yesterday’s Hero (An Excerpt)
by Jonathan Wood

“I don’t suppose there’s a chance,” I say, “that we get the day off on the grounds of, you know, saving the world yesterday?”

Felicity Shaw, director of MI37, sworn defender of Britain’s sovereign borders from threats thaumaturgical, supernatural, extraterrestrial, and generally batshit weird, arches an eyebrow at me.

Which is pretty much the answer I expected.

And then a zombie T-Rex tries to bite my head off.

AN HOUR AGO

“I don’t suppose there’s a chance,” I say, “that we get the day off, on the grounds of, you know, saving the world yesterday?”

Shaw looks up from her newspaper and arches an eyebrow at me.

It’s not like it’s a lie. We genuinely did save the world yesterday. Hell, it’s barely been twelve hours since I was helping banish an alien the size of Texas back to its own cold and desolate dimension. And now I’m on a train to London to try and put down a zombie T-Rex.

“It’s barely the whole world this time, Arthur,” Felicity points out to me. “It’s just the Natural History Museum.”

“Oh well then,” I shrug, “I’m totally up for risking life and limb again. Forget I said anything.”

Shaw appears to take this more literally than I’d hoped.

Not that, in fact, I am too worried. Hell, I saved the goddamn world yesterday. A creature so alien it almost turned my sanity into a small squeezable plaything was involved. And I was on the winning side. How much trouble can a T-Rex be?

But complaining about it is easier than dealing with the other thing I did yesterday. Which was sleep with Shaw.

Sleeping with your boss, my television has reliably informed me, is rarely a wise decision. Relationships, especially new ones, are tenuous things with only a frail grip on life. Like a newborn monkey on the Discovery channel-adorable and sweet one moment, flinging shit at the camera the next.

When you add on the fact that you and your boss work for a clandestine government agency that deals with threats to national security that are a little more than mundane, the whole not-sleeping-with-your-boss thing seems to take on an extra layer of urgency.

Not that I regret the act. Not at all. Far from it. And it’s not just the usual gratitude I’d feel towards anyone looking to get Biblical with me. Shaw is a genuinely smart, funny, and attractive woman. She is… well I could get sappy, and there’s the rub, as Hamlet probably wouldn’t have put it. Because Shaw isn’t a sappy woman. She’s a highly trained monster killer.

A highly trained monster killer who seems entirely unfazed by the whole bedding-of-a-subordinate thing. There again, since I met her, my life has been on an oddly accelerated track. Forget saving the world for a moment, it’s barely a week since she recruited me from the Oxford police force where I was happily chasing down a serial killer. My entire training for this job has consisted of a lifetime’s dedication to Kurt Russell movies.

The fact that the aforementioned serial killer is now my co-worker, Kayla, and that her superpowers are only outnumbered by her psychoses is entirely incidental at this point.

Still the fact that Shaw’s out in the field is odd. The directorship is a largely behind-the-scenes role. She hired me as the field lead.

Not for my own mad monster slaying skills-that’s a little bit of a work in progress-but rather my mad cat herding skills. Kayla is not Shaw’s only troublesome employee.

So-the question niggles in my brain-why exactly is she on the train with me? What exactly happened in Shaw’s bed last night?

Aside from… well… I am intimately aware with the mechanical aspects. It’s the other…

Well…

And of course, I should just ask her. I saved the world yesterday. I can now confidently say that Felicity Shaw is not the scariest thing I have ever faced. But still the train rattles on, and I rattle about in it, and we continue to avoid the subject.

NOW

“You know,” I say to Shaw, “I sort of expected this to go better.”

She doesn’t reply. She’s too busy kicking in a door and looking for an exit route.

I take aim with my pistol and provide covering fire. To be honest though, the aiming thing is barely necessary. The T-Rex is the size of a bus and is heading straight for me. Moldering flesh hangs off its massive head. Gray, gelatinous eyes roll in that head. The bullets ping and pop off its cheekbones, exposing the yellowing skull.

It takes another thunderous step in our direction.

“You getting on any better with that door?” I take the time to ask.

“You getting on any better with slowing that fucking thing down?”

I try aiming for its kneecaps.

Another footfall like a grenade going off.

“Oh sod it.” I’d be doing as much good with a popgun. I turn and lend my foot to Felicity. We both kick the door at the same time, and the hinges decide to give before the lock. It crashes to the floor revealing a narrow corridor lined with precious-looking things.

Despite the years of human cultural history packed along the walls, what really appeals about the corridor is that it’s a sort of not-T-Rex-width narrow. Right now that’s my favorite kind of narrow.

Felicity and I break into the sort of run Olympic sprinters would be proud of. A roar crashes after us. Massive vases-priceless testaments to mankind’s artistic achievements-shatter in our wake.

Felicity dives around a corner and I follow her. I slam my body up against the wall. I decide to tell myself I’m taking cover. It sounds significantly better than “cowering.”

FIFTEEN MINUTES AGO

It’s raining when Shaw and I head up from the Underground station. A police car and several chaps in uniform are arranged around the museum gates. A small crowd of tourists is gathered before them.

We flash ID and the uniforms let us through the cordon. I get to learn epithets for queue jumpers in fourteen different languages.

A man in a beaten-up brown suit is waiting for us beyond the museum gates, trying to look inconspicuous against a backdrop of rhododendrons. He peers out at us from beneath a sagging umbrella as we draw close.

“You military intelligence?” he asks us. His voice is all cockney.

“Yes,” we both answer at the same time.

“Inspector Chevy.” He grimaces as if the sound of his name upsets him. “Don’t ask me much, ‘cos I don’t know bollocks.” He seems to be struggling to decide which one of us he should be addressing. “All I have is that something went down about two hours ago. By the time I get here, we’re clearing folks faster than curry clears the colon, and some civil servant is telling me no one’s allowed in, including my lads and lasses. Folk are on their way, I’m told. In the mean time civilian militia is slowing stuff down.”

“Civilian militia?” I double-check I heard that right.

He stares right back. “I bloody told you,” he says. “I don’t know bollocks.” He wrinkles his nose. “Anyway, I sit here, twiddle my thumbs, and then Glum and Glummer show up and give everyone the creeps, and now you’re here.”

He nods at the steps that lead up to the museum’s grand portico. Two figures huddle together in the rain, one improbably tall and slender, the other shorter and improbably pissed off at the world.

A smile crosses my lips. More co-workers: Clyde and Tabitha.

“Just go in, sort it out, and don’t tell me nothing.” Inspector Chevy shakes his head like a dog shedding water.

“Thank you, Inspector.” Shaw gives him a warmer smile than he deserves. “We’ll take it from here.”

“Bloody right you will.” He makes a hunched retreat back to the uniforms at the gates.

“Britain doesn’t have a civilian militia, does it?” I thought I knew the answer to that, but assumptions haven’t done me well since I joined MI37.

“No.” Shaw nods.

It turns out there is a wide gap between affirmation and reassurance.

NOW

“That’s not a good sign.”

I stare at the approximately T-Rex-sized hole in the wall of the Hall of Mammals. I look down at my pistol. “No chance MI37 has a stash of much bigger guns hidden somewhere on site, is there?”

“Arthur,” Shaw looks at me, “we had to take the train to a national emergency. What on earth makes you think I have the budget for better weapons?”

“Saving the world. Like we did yesterday.” And that really does seem relevant here.

“At what point in between you taking my clothes off and now did you see me debrief the budgetary committee?”

I shrug. “All I’m saying, is that this would go significantly better if someone gave me a bazooka.”

God, I would love to have a bazooka. Though I think I’d be tempted to just frame it and hang it on the wall of my apartment, which would rather defeat the point. So, I suppose I want two bazookas. One for aesthetic purposes, and one for blowing the living crap out of zombie dinosaurs.

Still… I look down at my pistol.

What would Kurt Russell do?

God, that question gets me in so much bloody trouble.

Still, it does simplify matters. I step through the hole.

TWELVE MINUTES AGO

Tabitha and Clyde wait on the museum steps. Tabitha-five feet of angry Pakistani goth largely covered in white ink tattoos. MI37’s researcher, and computer expert. A walking, talking… well, cursing database of forbidden knowledge. She appears to have shaved half her head since I saw her last, the remaining hair is dyed a deep maroon. The newly exposed skin is pale, like coffee with too much milk in it, covered by a fine grain of stubble.

Man, I wish I hadn’t just thought of furry coffee…

Clyde is harder to get a read on. This is largely because of his recently adjusted physical status. When I first met Clyde he was a scruffy, nerdy-looking man in tweed who kept talking about electricity as the universal lubricant between realities, and who put batteries in his mouth to do magic. Then his head was invaded by an alien. And then I shot him, which I’d rather not think about. But he was dead. And then… God, this is complicated. But there was an ancient, magical, Peruvian mask which he’d written his personality onto. There was a good reason for it at the time, I’m sure. But we had that, so we had a back-up Clyde. So now Clyde is a blank wooden mask strapped to the body of an impossibly tall, impossibly thin, elfin-looking man.

And that’s actually one of the more normal things that I have to deal with.

Clyde, though, has decided to compound the mind-buggering by forgoing his traditional collegiate attire in favor of a decidedly un-Clyde-like hoodie, a leering skull emblazoned across the front, bisected by a zipper. The hood itself is large enough that it could be used to smuggle small children through border checkpoints.

I raise both my eyebrows. “I know. I know,” Clyde says. “Fully aware of the wardrobe situation. Compos wardrobis. Not real Latin that, of course. I mean the real Latin would be…”

Shaw adds another raised eyebrow, making a triumvirate.

“Well,” Clyde continues, “it’s just… All my old clothes were back at my flat, and last time I went there I wasn’t a wooden mask strapped to a lanky blond giant. Not that I should be demeaning about a chap’s physical appearance, of course. Rather impolite as I am sort of wearing him. Not exactly self-deprecation anymore. But anyway, the thing is, Tabby rather wisely pointed out that the whole mask thing may lead to some concern amongst civilians, the uninitiated, plebs, muggles, et cetera, and that some sort of hood device might be in order. And then, I did rather fancy the idea of some sort of cowl with moons and stars and such, proper Gandalf gear, but it’s Sunday, and I’m suddenly seven feet tall.”

“Friend of mine,” Tabitha adds. “Owed me.”

Clyde gives one of his profoundly expressive shrugs that seems to sum up the whole story of how the hoodie was acquired. And Clyde may now be a digital copy of the deceased man I called a friend trapped in an ancient Peruvian mask, and he may not look like my friend, he may not even sound exactly like him, but Clyde is somehow undeniably himself. It’s good to see him. I smile.

“I’d be lost without her.” Clyde turns his head and the mask stares blankly down at Tabitha. I imagine it’s meant to be a tender gaze.

Tabitha rolls her eyes.

But, yes, I was not the only one to celebrate saving the world last night.

“Excellent,” Shaw says in a slightly perfunctory way. “Good thinking.” She clears her throat. “Any actual insight on the situation?” She looks from Clyde to Tabitha.

Tabitha whips her laptop from a shoulder bag with the speed of a wild west gunslinger. “Not much,” she says. “Extra-reality animating force. Most likely. Summoned. Invested into T-Rex skeleton.”

“Wait,” I say, because I need time with these things. “An animating force. From another reality?” Tabitha nods to let me know I’m keeping up. She looks bored.

“An animating force,” I repeat, “from another reality. And jammed into a T-Rex skeleton.”

“Invested into it, actually.” Clyde corrects my nomenclature.

I mask my inner bewilderment with balderdash. “So not really a zombie T-Rex then,” I say. “Just a skeleton.”

“Disappointed?” Tabitha asks.

And I have to concede it isn’t quite as cool as I’d hoped, but that’s not an entirely professional thing to admit. So instead I go with, “Do we have any idea who did the whole summoning and investing bit yet?”

“Quintessential bad guy,” Clyde says. “Nefarious plans and all. Ready to be thwarted.”

“Well.” Shaw claps her hands. “No time like the present.”

I look around at the gray day, the dripping bushes, the gaggle of angry tourists. “Anybody know Kayla’s status?” I ask. Because if your team does include a supersoldier, it seems to make sense to have her around. There’s nothing like a superhuman swordswoman to make the animated T-Rex skeleton blues go away, I find.

“Oh,” says Shaw with a shake of the head and another pat on the arm, “she probably jogged here already. Takes her half the time the trains do.”

“Probably taken care of everything already,” Clyde says. “Knowing her.”

TWO MINUTES AGO

I would be the first to admit that Kayla and I have not always seen eye to eye. Take the time she stabbed me in the lung, for example. That said, I am more than willing to be the bigger man, to move past our differences, and face evil side by side.

Or, to put it another way-where the hell is she, and why the hell is my bacon not being saved?

Instead of waiting for an answer, I start running.

I’m not sure it’s exactly what Kurt Russell would do, but sometimes self-preservation has to win over your traditional eighties action movie muse.

Behind me the T-Rex’s jaws slam shut. A triceratops skeleton that formerly resembled excellent cover starts to look more like matchsticks. Stringy flaps of moldering T-Rex skin quiver at the impact of the monstrous jaws.

Shaw comes up from behind a bench, firing. Chips of bone and rotten flesh spatter away from the T-Rex’s chest. It doesn’t even turn to face her.

I definitely thought we were going to make it further than ten feet into the museum.

Clyde stands in front of Tabitha, arms out, protective. She seems oblivious, tapping madly away on her laptop. I’d love to take the time to appreciate the sweetness of the moment, but I’m too busy crab-crawling backwards over the ruins of an information booth and trying to keep the T-Rex from bisecting me. I take a few potshots at the zombie’s eyes. The T-Rex seems to have maxed out on fury, so they don’t even serve to piss it off anymore.

Clyde grabs a battery from his pocket. With elegant, piano-player fingers he slips it up under the surface of the mask, into his mouth. He bows his head. The T-Rex advances. I hit the back wall. Shaw reloads desperately.

Tabitha says something inaudible to Clyde. His arms explode outward, violently flinging fistfuls of nothing at the ragged dinosaur skeleton.

It squeals, staggers sideways, trips over itself. Its head smacks against a mezzanine walkway with a spattering of plaster.

Behind Clyde, Tabitha fist pumps.

I’m back on my feet. The T-Rex struggles to gain its own. Head down, I scramble toward Shaw.

The T-Rex bellows again. Clyde balls his fists, pulls them into his chest, preparing the next blast. I imagine I can hear him muttering magical gibberish underneath his mask.

The T-Rex arcs round. Its tail blurs, traceable only through the wake of destruction. A vase becomes so much powder. A brontosaurus femur becomes a complicated jigsaw puzzle.

Tabitha and Clyde become rag dolls.

The tail connects, lifts them both into the air, slaps them carelessly away. Clyde barrels over Tabitha in midair. He hits double doors. They swing wide. Both figures tumble through. Dismissed.

The T-Rex peers at where I’m hunkered beside Shaw. I aim at its nostrils and attempt to widen the holes. The T-Rex screams, its undead breath wafting over us, filling my nose with the scent of decay. It is definitely more of a zombie T-Rex and less of a skeleton T-Rex.

I am less enthusiastic about this fact than I was a few minutes ago.

Shaw fires. The bullet ricochets off the T-Rex’s ribs with a whine, buries itself in a wall somewhere.

The T-Rex paws the ground with a massive foot.

I pop my pistol’s magazine, slam a fresh one home. I turn to Shaw. “I don’t suppose there’s a chance,” I say, “that we get the day off on the grounds of, you know, the whole saving the world yesterday?”

[End of excerpt]


About John DeNardo (13014 Articles)
John DeNardo is the Managing Editor at SF Signal and a columnist at Kirkus Reviews. He also likes bagels. So there.
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