Friday, June 20, 2014

"The Whisper of Stars" by Nick Jones

The Whisper of Stars
by Nick Jones

The Whisper of Stars is a fast-paced, futuristic thriller starring a tough, female protagonist.
The year is 2091. With accelerated warming and global population out of control, the survival of humanity hangs in the balance. On the brink of extinction, science delivers one last hope. Human hibernation.
Jennifer Logan is a tough cop in the newly formed Duality Division, tasked with enforcing hibernation. When she uncovers a memory, hidden deep within her mind, her belief in the system she protects is shattered.
Together with an unlikely partner, and convinced that her past holds the secret to mankind’s future, she embarks on a dangerous search for the truth, one that rapidly turns into a struggle for her life. Pursued by the very people she once trusted, Logan must risk everything for answers. As her world unravels and the layers of deceit are revealed, she is forced to question everything and use all of her skills to survive.
In The Whisper of Stars, author Nick Jones delivers a breathtaking, sinister vision of the future, where nothing is what it seems. He shows us that some secrets cannot stay buried, no matter how deep.

GCHQ, Cheltenham, England.
July 2058
Jacob Logan’s hand trembled as he lifted the device from its secure chamber. He admired its smooth, dark surface and felt the familiar pulse of energy passing through him. He had done this many times, but today was different; today he was stealing it. He glanced around nervously before sliding the pebble-like object into his briefcase. It was Sunday afternoon and his laboratory, normally buzzing with activity, was deserted.
Today, David Jameson, Secretary General of the reformed United Nations, would announce his vision for the future, and while the world was distracted, Jacob would slip away. He checked the time: 2.14pm. Jameson would be talking of tipping points and accelerating climate change and asking if mankind could adapt, mobilise and join together. Jacob paused, absorbing the room’s calm ambience one last time, knowing that on Monday morning the men in suits would be shouting and the lab would be in lockdown.
I’ve spent the best years of my life down here.
He lingered, drifting through the past, wishing it could have been different. The intercom flashed once, interrupting his thoughts.
‘Professor Logan. I’m seeing an alert,’ a voice said. ‘Looks like chamber two has been accessed without clearance.’
Jacob brought his hands to his brow, closed his eyes and concentrated. The voice belonged to a guard stationed on level three. Jacob sent him a thought, pushing it into his mind, deep enough – he hoped – for it to feel like the guard’s own.
< It’s okay. It’s an error. You can disable the alert. >
Jacob watched his screen, the seconds feeling like hours until the warning light disappeared. He exhaled heavily, his pale features accentuated in the glow of the computer console. His lab was sublevel six.
Come on, Jacob. You can do this. You have to.
He grabbed his briefcase, strode to the door and placed his right hand onto a glass panel. His presence on a Sunday was unusual, but not unheard of. He closed his eyes and waited. Lights pulsed and distant machines agreed he was authorised to exit. As he approached the lift, he recognised the guard on duty: Stephen Lowe, a stickler for detail and procedure who seemed happier at work than anywhere else. Jacob suspected he’d volunteered for this shift.
‘You didn’t stay long,’ Lowe noted.
Jacob strained a smile and cleared his throat. ‘Just had to set something running.’ He handed over his briefcase.
Lowe snatched it, returning a brief smile before feeding it into a scanner and comparing its contents against arrival.
‘That’s weird,’ Lowe said, his eyes flicking between two monitors.
Jacob spoke words suitable for such an exchange while simultaneously transferring thoughts into Lowe’s mind, assuring him that the discrepancy he was seeing was nothing to worry about.
Lowe looked up, curled his lip and tutted. ‘Bloody machines. And they reckon they can replace us.’ He gestured towards the lift. ‘Enjoy the rest of your day, Professor Logan.’
Jacob entered the lift, pressed zero and ran a shaking hand through his hair. After a rapid ascent he stepped out into a busy entrance hall. Cameras were everywhere. As he passed through the final stages of security – persuading another three people to ignore various alerts and protocols – he imagined how they would scrutinise every piece of footage in the aftermath.
He felt the cool air, the tantalizing promise of freedom, and paused for a moment, the sun warming his face. He finally allowed himself to think of his wife and daughter and days spent on the farm together. Sunday would usually be family time. He fought back tears that had been threatening an assault all morning.
Please forgive me.
His legs buckled, and he struggled to keep his feet. Collapsing would be a relief, but it might alert security and raise the alarm. He forced himself to walk to his car, climbed in and then pulled away from GCHQ for the last time. He drove through empty streets eerily quiet for this time of day, his hand hovering over the dash.
Does that man deserve to be heard? After all he’s done?
He jabbed the radio dial and the car filled with Jameson’s familiar, authoritative tone.
‘…was time to accept the truth. Accelerating climate change was real. I urged every thinker, every dreamer, every man, woman and child to imagine our future anew. Incremental innovation would not save us. We required genuine breakthroughs in science, engineering and renewable energy. We needed to rethink innovation itself if we were to survive.’
He’s slick, Jacob thought, shaking his head, his bloodless lips set in a hard line.
Jameson continued, ‘Now, we have our best scientists, our best ecologists, our greatest minds working together. And today I would like to share a vision with you. A long-term vision that will take many years of hard work, of faith and unity, but I know we can achieve greatness. I know –’
Jacob punched the control and the car fell silent.
Fuck Jameson, and fuck his plans.
There were tears of frustration, of broken promises and deception. Jacob was trying to remember how he’d become so involved in all of this. It had been easy to justify in the early days; back then it had been exciting, a challenge, and he believed they could do good. He should have known it wouldn’t last. Power corrupts – it always does – and now the well-oiled political cogs would grind the truth into dust. He glanced at the briefcase and reassured himself he was doing the right thing. The truth would be heard, even if it killed him.
Jacob was right about lots of things.
The men in suits began their shouting early on Monday morning, and by midday on Tuesday he was dead.
The device glowed faintly in the darkness, a gentle pulse like a heartbeat.

Featured Review
In Jones’ debut sci-fi thriller, a program to save the world from overpopulation and climate change may have a sinister ulterior motive.
In the late 21st century, the government-sanctioned Hibernation Program has been forcing many people into hibernation at different times in a bid to make the world more habitable. Sgt. Jennifer Logan of the Duality Division, which enforces Hibernation and polices illegal cloning and mind-replications, gets harrowing news from a co-worker that the government may be using Hibernation to monitor people’s thoughts. The fact that she knows this puts a target on her back, so she teams up with Nathan, a schoolteacher who underwent an unlawful “body swap” to covertly search for his wife’s murderer; and Katherine O’Brien, an investigative journalist looking into the conspiracy of Hibernation. Jen also gets help from an unlikely source - her father, who died more than 30 years ago and left behind a device, the Histeridae, that may help her find a connection between the government and the Baden Corporation, an evil conglomerate. The novel masterfully blends espionage with ultra-cool technology; for example, it opens with Jen trailing a woman while conversing telepathically, her thoughts transferred to text at MI5 headquarters. But it more often focuses on action, as in a frenzied sequence in which Jen, on a Yamaha EZR electric hybrid bike, flees drones and a “heli-droid” with shots “whistling past” her. Jones keeps the story grounded by ensuring that some of the tech has alarming side effects; mind-replication, for example, can cause “splintering,” in which memories from a body’s original owner can disturb its new mind. The Histeridae gives Jen a distinct advantage, but the story’s final act forces her and Nathan to employ a refreshing old-school approach: They brave the blistering cold in Russia to find evidence implicating Baden, using outmoded tech to avoid detection. The story’s open ending isn’t a cliffhanger, but leaves room for a second installment.
An action-packed sci-fi story that delivers on its promising concept.

About the Author
Nick Jones was born in Stratford-Upon-Avon, Warwickshire in 1972. His debut novel The Whisper of Stars was released in April 2014. He lives in Gloucestershire with his twins, Charlie and Ella, two dogs and a duck. Nick can usually be found in his garden studio, working on the sequel, surrounded by notes and scribbling on a large white board.