Read the first three chapters from Paul McAuley's new novel "Cowboy Angels"S

We're big fans of hard scifi author Paul McAuley - we even chose his novel The Quiet War to be io9's first-ever book club choice. His new book, Cowboy Angels, looks amazing. Now you can read the first three chapters!

Thanks to Pyr Books for giving io9 the chance to run these chapters from the American edition as an exclusive here. You can order the novel now - it hits bookstores this month. (US bookstores that is - it's been out in the UK since 2008.)

Here's the plot summary:

The first Turing gate, a mere hundred nanometers across, is forced open in 1963, at the high-energy physics laboratory in Brookhaven; three years later, the first man to travel to an alternate history takes his momentous step, and an empire is born.

For fifteen years, the version of America that calls itself the Real has used its Turing gate technology to infiltrate a wide variety of alternate Americas, rebuilding those wrecked by nuclear war, fomenting revolutions and waging war to free others from communist or fascist rule, and establishing a Pan-American Alliance. Then a nation exhausted by endless strife elects Jimmy Carter on a reconstruction and reconciliation ticket, the CIA's covert operations are wound down, and the Real begins to wage peace rather than war.

But some people believe that it is the Real's manifest destiny to impose its idea of truth, justice, and the American way in every known alternate history, and they're prepared to do anything to reverse Carter's peacenik doctrine. When Adam Stone, a former CIA field officer, one of the Cowboy Angels who worked covertly in other histories, volunteers for reactivation after an old friend begins a killing spree across alternate histories, his mission uncovers a startling secret about the operation of the Turing gates and leads him into the heart of an audicious conspiracy to change the history of every America in the multiverse-including our own.

Cowboy Angels is a vivid, helter-skelter thriller in which one version of America discovers the true cost of empire building, and one man discovers that an individual really can make a difference.

And here are the first three chapters, for your reading pleasure.

COWBOY ANGELS (An excerpt)
By Paul McAuley

When the Company came for him, Adam Stone was tilling the narrow half acre where corn had been harvested a few weeks ago. Barechested in faded blue jeans and a frayed straw hat, steering the yoke of a scratch plough behind a plodding mule, he heard a rattling roar heading toward him and saw a Jeep speeding along the ridge beyond the patchwork of small fields. It was an old Willy M38, its aircooled radial engine loud as a lowflying aircraft on a strafing run as it dragged a long tail of dust down the rough track everyone here called Broadway because it ran more or less where Broadway ran in the Real, the real Manhattan, the real America, heading toward the stand of shade trees and the farm's whitewashed log cabin.

As Stone unhitched the mule and turned it loose to graze, Petey scrambled over the rough stone wall at the far end of the field. A sturdy strawhaired little boy in dungarees, he ran pellmell across the litter of unploughed corn stalks, shouting breathlessly that a soldier had come visiting.

"I saw him."

Stone lifted Petey up and set him on his shoulders and started toward the cabin. The boy locked his legs around Stone's neck and planted his hands on the crown of Stone's hat. "He came all the way from the gate."

"I bet he did."

"He came to see you. Can I ride in his wagon?"

"I believe it's called a Jeep."

"Can I ride in his Jeep?"

"You'll have to ask your mother." Stone raised Petey over his head and set him on top of the wall. "And you'd better be quick about it. After I've had a word with him, I'm pretty sure he'll be going straight back to where he came from."

The Jeep was parked a little way beyond the red barn, close to the manure heap where pumpkins swelled among a sprawling tangle of leaves and vines. The olivegreen paint job and the white star painted on the hood didn't fool Stone, and he felt something kink in his stomach when he saw the man in army uniform sitting with Susan at the picnic table by the cabin's back door. It was David Welch, one of the original cowboy angels.

*

Stone put on a shirt and walked Welch toward the marshy shore. He didn't

want to talk Company business around Susan and Petey.

"This is a nice place," Welch said. "I should have stopped by sooner."

"I'm kind of glad you didn't."

"A nice kid, too. How old?"

"He just turned six."

"Mmm. You moved here two years ago, I believe. Right after you quit the Company."

"You're wondering about his father," Stone said. "Jake died this February. A hunting accident."

Stone's friend and business partner, out shooting duck in the salt marshes on the east side of the island, had fallen through a thin spot in the ice and broken his leg at the thigh. He'd lost his shotgun and cell phone, too, couldn't call for help, couldn't get back to his boat. Susan had rallied the neighbours and organized a search party after she had realised that her husband was overdue, but wolves had found him first. He'd killed two with his knife before the rest killed him.

"Tough for the kid, losing his father at such a young age," Welch said.

"Yeah."

"So how do you fit into this?"

"I first met Jake when he was in the army, back in the American Bund sheaf. He invited me to become a partner in his hunting business when I moved here. Right now, Susan and I are trying to keep that going, and I'm helping out with chores around the place, too."

Welch glanced sideways at Stone. "Does your pretty young widow know about your colourful past, Adam? Have you been telling her tall stories to while away the evenings?"

Stone's unease abruptly deepened. "She doesn't even know I used to work for the Company. I was under military cover back when I first met her husband."

"You were a major in one of the aidsupply companies, according to your file. Winning hearts and minds with crackers and cheese. Are you maintaining that cover here?"

"What is this, David, a security check? Even if the people here knew I worked for the Company, which they don't, I don't have any secrets worth keeping. Not after the Church Committee got through with me."

They came out of the trees and the sun was in their faces. It was one of those perfect fall days, the sun golden in a cloudless sky, a fresh breeze from the Hudson walking through the treetops, when everything seemed lifted clean out of its ordinary self into some purer realm.

Welch shaded his eyes and looked around at the vista of grassy marshland and river and blue sky. He was a tall, stoopshouldered man with a clever face and a glib manner. His khaki jacket and pants were crisply pressed and his combat boots were brand new. The knot of his tie was precisely centred over the top button of his green shirt. He took a deep breath and said, "This air is something else. You can feel it doing good all the way down to the bottom of your lungs. How many people live here?"

"Around a hundred fifty here on the island, maybe twenty thousand along the whole of the East Coast, mostly veterans and winners of the settler lotteries. There's the usual oil business in Texas and Oklahoma and Alaska, the usual exploitation of gold, silver, copper, and uranium reserves, but otherwise it's pretty much pristine. There used to be a maximumsecurity prison near First Foot, but Carter closed it down, and we've managed to keep out resorts and industrial ranches, and rich megalomaniacs who want to carve out personal empires."

"I believe you scouted it back in '67. Your first time through the mirror."

"Me and a couple of squads of gungho Army Rangers. Did you come all this way to talk about the good old days, David?"

Like Stone, David Welch had been one of the first Special Operations field officers. One of Dick Knightly's cowboy angels. He'd served a hitch in the 82nd Airborne before joining the Company, but preferred administration to action in the field. He'd been washing dirty money in the Directorate of Financial Management when Knightly had recruited him, and after five years with Special Ops had moved sideways into the Directorate of Diplomatic Support, hadn't been touched when the Church Committee's exhaustive investigation uncovered evidence of the Company's clandestine operations, unauthorised assassinations, mindcontrol experiments, and all the other dirty little secrets.

He lifted a pack of Dunhills from the breast pocket of his fatigues and shook out a cigarette and lit it with a slim gold lighter, bending to the transparent flame, exhaling smoke. "We're, what? Somewhere in Greenwich Village, if this was the Real?"

"A little lower than that-around North Church Street, under the footprint of the PanAmerican Trade Center. The farmhouse is about where St. Paul's Chapel would be."

"That little church they have in the big plaza? I guess the shoreline has been extended into the river in the Real. Is that your boat I see down there?"

The fourteenfoot clinkerbuilt dinghy was tied up to a short jetty at the end of a long channel cut through the reed beds. Stone had put it together his first summer here, between spells working on the Long Island Railroad.

He said, "It's for hire if you want to go fishing."

"I just might take you up on that sometime. I bet the fishing is fantastic."

"You name it, we have it. Striped bass, trout, shad, all kinds of coarse fish. I caught a sturgeon a couple of weeks ago. A hundred forty pounds."

"You're kidding."

"We have lobsters that run to six feet. Plenty of oysters too, and cod and herring and mackerel out in the harbour."

"Yeah? How about the hunting?"

"There are whitetailed deer and woodland caribou and mule deer. Wolves and black bears, and shortfaced bears too-those are as big as grizzlies. A few panthers."

"Pretty good hunting for Manhattan."

"We call the island New Amsterdam here," Stone said. He was trying to picture David Welch in a camo jacket and hunter's peaked cap, following a trail through the deep woods with a Winchester .3030 slung on his shoulder. It wasn't easy. "If you want to hunt something exotic, a mastodon or a ground sloth, you'll have to go inland. In fact, I'm due to take a party over there in a few days. You're lucky you found me."

"Is that how you've been supporting yourself, Adam? Playing the great white hunter to jaded businessmen who want to bag an extinct animal for their den? When you're not playing at being a farmhand, that is."

"I don't ask anything of Susan but bed and board."

"I bet."

Stone let that go.

Welch blew a riffle of smoke from his finely figured nostrils. "You know, I never figured you for the backwoodsman type."

"We have electricity-solar and wind power. We have antibiotics, cell phones, computers. .. ."

"And you plough fields with a mule. Like something in one of those old paintings."

"That's how we choose to farm here. The idea is to sit lightly on the land."

"A painting with a mythic tone. Something by Homer Winslow or Thomas Hart Benton, celebrating the foolish notion of frontier utopianism. Man and beast taming the great American wilderness. You look good on it, at any rate. A nice colour, too. Like a Red Indian."

Welch had the even tan of someone who had put in a lot of time by a country club pool.

Stone said, "Farmwork will do that for you."

"You haven't let yourself go. You look ready for action," Welch said, and took an envelope from inside his uniform jacket and offered it to Stone, his halfsmoked cigarette dangling from the corner of his smile.

"I'm retired, David."

Stone had the sudden feeling that something very big and completely unstoppable was rushing toward him at a thousand miles an hour.

"All you have to do is look at this, give me your opinion."

"It better not be a subpoena."

"Just take a look."

There were five photographs inside, two in black and white and three in colour, all different sizes, all of the same woman. In each photograph she had a different hairstyle and wore different clothes, and in each one she was dead. In three she had been shot in the head; in the fourth she had been garrotted; in the fifth she didn't have a mark on her but she was dead all the same, sprawled on a tile floor, dry eyes staring into infinity.

Welch said, "He's killed her six times. Six times that we know about, anyway. I thought I'd spare you the one where he got her with a car bomb."

"These are all doppels of the same woman?"

Doppels were doppelgängers-alternate versions of the same person, living different lives in different sheaves, different alternate histories. It had been a long time since Stone had used the word.

Welch nodded. "Name of Eileen Barrie."

"You said ‘he.' These six doppels were all murdered by the same guy?"

"We think so."

"You think he used to work for the Company, too. For Special Ops."

"It's good to see that farmwork hasn't softened your brain."

"It's an easy reach. He can travel between sheaves. He knows how to hit a target cleanly. He knows how to get in and how to get out. You've been trying to catch him for a while, and you've come up dry-you have to be desperate or you wouldn't have come here. When did he start?"

"The first one was killed just two weeks ago. He killed three more before someone finally worked out what was going on."

"But you're protecting her now. The Real version and the surviving doppels, I mean."

"I don't know the full extent of this operation, but I do know that he managed to make two hits after we started taking measures."

"You're watching the gates, you're watching the doppels, and he's still taking them out. It must be frustrating."

"Thousands of soldiers and ancillary personnel move through the gates every day. Not to mention relief and reconstruction supplies, diplomatic parties, trade parties, businessmen, journalists, all those humanitarian workers Carter is so fond of. . . . The whole system would grind to a halt if we had to check everyone on every train."

Stone shuffled through the photographs. He was beginning to be interested. He was wondering where this was leading. "This guy is moving between sheaves, he made his last two hits while the targets were under protection, he used to work for the Company. Does he have inside help?"

"Not that we know of." Welch dropped his cigarette butt and stepped on it. "Let's cut to the chase. After he killed the last one, he got clean away from the scene, but he didn't get out of the sheaf. The locals locked down their version of Brookhaven interchange within thirty minutes, and at the moment it's the only way in and out. The other gate in the sheaf, at San Diego, was blown up a couple of weeks ago by a suicide bomber driving a truck stuffed with ammonium nitrate and diesel fuel. We know he didn't get out, Adam. We know he's still there. I've been sent to ask you to help find him."

"He's someone I know, isn't he?"

"It's Tom Waverly."

Stone felt as if someone had sapped him. "No way. Tom's MIA, presumed dead."

Tom Waverly had resigned from the Company directly after the SWIFT SWORD debacle. When he'd recovered from his gunshot wound, he'd joined a private security company and gone to work in the American Bund sheaf. He'd disappeared two months later, and an obscure insurgent group had released video footage of him, claiming to have kidnapped and executed him.

Welch pulled a photograph from inside his jacket and handed it to Stone. "They got that off a surveillance camera in the Brookhaven interchange after he killed her the fourth time."

"It's pretty grainy."

But the man in army uniform, cap pulled low over his face as he walked past a crowd of aid workers, looked a lot like Stone's old friend and comradeinarms.

Welch said, "PHOTINT had to blow it up and enhance it to hell and back, but it hit twentyone of the twentyeight points of the facerecognition system. And crimescene techs lifted a partial thumbprint from a fragment of the car bomb's trigger mechanism, and also found his prints at the scene where he'd garrotted her. It's Tom, all right."

"And you think, what? He was captured and brainwashed? He allowed himself to be turned? Come on."

"We don't know what happened to him in the past three years, or why he's surfaced now. We also don't know why he's killing Eileen Barrie's doppels, but there it is."

"It could be a doppel of Tom that someone's using to smoke the trail."

"Tom's an orphan with no known mother or father, just like you and me and all the other cowboy angels. Who'd know where to find one of his doppels?"

"It would be hard, but not impossible," Stone said, remembering something that Tom Waverly had once told him.

"It's easier to believe he was turned or that he's working on some unsanctioned action of his own," Welch said. "He always did have a wild streak."

"Who is Eileen Barrie? Does she work for the Company?"

"In the Real she's a mathematician. And so are her doppels."

"Every one of her? That's pretty stable."

"There are a couple of sheaves where she doesn't exist, or where she died young. But in every other sheaf she's a mathematician, usually working on some aspect of quantum theory. She's more stable than Elvis."

"Is she working on something important? Something someone might not want her to work on?"

"Forget the woman, Adam. We want to find Tom and bring him in, safe and well. We think you can help us."

Stone let that we go for the moment. He said, "Why me? Nathan Tate worked with Tom on more operations that I did. Jimmy McMahon worked alongside Tom and me in the American Bund sheaf-"

"Jimmy McMahon retired last year after he suffered a heart attack and had a triple bypass. And Nathan Tate was working the case, until yesterday evening. The Cluster used a travellingsalesman program to work out which doppels of Eileen Barrie were most likely to be targeted next. Nathan was working protection for one of the candidates. She was living in New York, the Johnson sheaf. Tom planted an incendiary device in her house. It started a fire that drove everyone outside, and Tom shot and killed Eileen Barrie and Nathan Tate with a .308 rifle from about two hundred yards."

"Tom killed Nathan?"

Welch nodded. "Yesterday evening, New York City, the Johnson sheaf. Like I said, there's only one functional gate, and we have it locked up. But there's a complication. In addition to Eileen Barrie and Nathan Tate, Tom also killed a cop who happened to be the nephew of the mayor of New York. The local police have been authorised to use terminal force against him. I want you to come back with me. I want you to help us find him. If the locals get to him before we do, they'll shoot him down like a dog."

"Who sent you? Was it Knightly?"

"Not hardly. The Old Man is still wearing a diaper and drooling out of one side of his mouth. He hasn't even learnt how to talk again."

After the Church Committee had presented its findings to a closed session of Senate, Dick Knightly had been tried on charges of conspiracy to conceal the involvement of Special Operations in clandestine activity against governments in other sheaves. He'd suffered a massive stroke after he'd been sentenced, and was serving a twentyyear term in the hospital ward of a minimum security facility in the Florida Everglades.

"Why I'm here," Welch said, "I happen to be working for the Directorate of Diplomatic Support in the sheaf where Tom made his last hit, where he's locked in right now. The guy in charge of the investigation, Ralph Kohler, asked me to reach out to you because one of his men found a note at the scene."

"Tom left a note?"

"Carved in the bark of the tree he used as a sniper's position: I'll talk to Stone."

"That's it? You came all the way out here because someone who may or may not be Tom Waverly carved my name on a tree?"

"I came here because Tom Waverly wants to talk to you, Adam. I know you and Tom had a bad fallingout over SWIFT SWORD, but I also know that he saved your life, once upon a time. Are you willing to try to save his?"

*

Susan said, "After I sent Petey to find you, I asked Colonel Welch point blank why he was here, but the slippery son of a gun wouldn't give a straight answer."

Stone said, "It's how he is. Don't take it personally."

"One minute you're ploughing, the next you're packing. So forgive me for being kind of curious."

Susan, slender and tousled in jeans and one of her dead husband's shirts, its tails tied in a knot above her navel, had just climbed the ladder into Stone's temporary living quarters in the barn's hayloft. There was a single bed and a kitchen chair and a raw pine chest, and an unglazed window that looked out across treetops toward the broad sweep of the Hudson and the Jersey shore. It was warm under the slanting ribs of the roughhewn roof beams and smelled pleasantly of the straw stacked below. Stone had washed up and put on his Sunday chinos and his best checked shirt. He'd been packing, folding Tshirts into neat squares, when Susan had climbed into the loft. Now he smiled at her and said, "Are you mad at me?"

"I understand why you couldn't talk about this in front of your friend. And I'll try to understand if you can't tell me everything, but how about a hint or two?"

"It really isn't anything. They want me to help find someone."

"Someone . . . ?"

"An old friend who's gotten himself into a little trouble. I want to help him, if I can. Not because I want to help David Welch."

Stone felt bad because he couldn't tell Susan about the woman who had been murdered six different ways, about Nathan Tate and the policeman who'd been the nephew of the mayor of New York, about the manhunt. Less than an hour after David Welch had turned up, he was back inside the old world of evasion and halftruths, legends and lies.

"And you're going, just like that," Susan said. "He must be a very good friend."

"Actually, I'm not sure if we're still friends. The last time we saw each other, we had a fallingout."

"Over some femme fatale, I hope."

"As a matter of fact, it was over foreign policy."

"Not quite as romantic."

"Sorry to disappoint. But we were good friends once upon a time, and I sort of owe him a favour."

"Is it going to be dangerous?"

"He wants to talk to me. That's all I'm going to do."

"This is what Welch told you?"

"Your Mr. Welch is definitely a slippery son of a gun, but I think he told me the truth, as far as it goes."

Susan pushed a strand of hair behind her ear. She'd cut it short at the beginning of summer, and now the dirtyblonde curls cascaded around her shoulders. "I've never asked about what you were doing when you met Jake, Adam, and I'm not going to start now. But I can't help worrying that this is a lot more dangerous than making sure aid packages get to the right place, or whatever it was you did back then."

"This friend of mine wants to talk to me. That's all it is."

A silence stretched between them, heavy with evasions and things unspoken, while Stone swiftly packed folded clothes, a washbag, and his Colt .45 automatic and shoulder rig inside his kitbag. As he was stuffing socks into nooks and crannies, Blackie, the farm's Border collie, started to bark out in the yard. A few moments later, Stone heard the roar of the Jeep's engine. David Welch was back from taking Petey for a ride.

Susan said, "How long is this going to take?"

"I don't know. A couple of days if I'm lucky."

"Mr. Wallace and his son are due Saturday."

"They want to bag a sabretoothed cat. I haven't forgotten, and I promise I'll be back in time."

Susan narrowed her eyes, put her hands on her hips, and said in a playful, mocktough voice, "You'd better be back, mister, or I'm going to have to find myself another partner."

"I'll come back as soon as I can."

"Take care of yourself around that slippery Colonel Welch."

"You bet."

Petey was making a lot of noise below, calling to Susan, telling her that the Jeep had gone as fast as anything.

Susan told her son that she'd be right down, and smiled at Stone. "I guess we can manage without you for a little while."

Stone smiled back. "I know you can."

David Welch pretended not to watch when Susan hugged Stone and told him again to take care. Stone slung his kitbag into the back of the Jeep and climbed into the shotgun seat beside Welch, and the Jeep drove off down Broadway, laying white dust over the goldenrod and tall grasses that grew on either side.

Stone didn't look back. He believed that it would be bad luck if he did.

2.

Astreamlined, aluminiumskinned railcar coupled to a flatbed wagon was waiting in the little station on the far side of the East River ferry crossing. Stone helped David Welch lash the Jeep to the wagon, and the railcar rattled along the ninetyodd miles of singletrack railroad that cut through the woods and bogs of Brooklyn and Long Island, past the settlements of Jamaica Bay, Rockville, Wantagh, Bay Shore, and New Patchogue, to First Foot and the Turing gate. Stone had plenty of time to work through the file Welch had given him. He ate the packed lunch Susan had provided- homebaked biscuits, homecured ham and pickles, hardboiled eggs, and an apple, one of the season's first-read reports by field officers and local police, and studied photographs and forensic documentation. He wanted to have all the facts at his fingertips. If he was going to talk to Tom Waverly, he wanted to know everything the man had done.

The first four assassinations had been staged to look like street robberies or home invasions gone bad. Eileen Barrie had been killed by shots to the head from a smallcalibre handgun, by a knifethrust to the heart, by garrotting: murders that were up close and personal. Then, after someone in the Company had put two and two together and every surviving version of Eileen Barrie had been given protection, the subsequent murders had been textbook examples of executive actions. The car bomb that had killed her outright but had left the officer sitting next to her unharmed except for superficial burns and burst eardrums. And the latest killing which, with its combination of careful planning, patience, and splitsecond action, had Tom Waverly's fingerprints all over it.

When he'd been working for the Company, Tom had specialised in assassination. He'd once hiked through a forest and set up a position in a tree and for three days had focused on the window of a house, waiting for his target to show for just a second. One summer day in Florida, he'd lain all afternoon on the flat roof of an office building, still as a basking snake under the ghillie blanket that had hidden him from police helicopters while he'd watched the front of the MiamiDade County Courthouse, killing his target with a single shot as a phalanx of bodyguards had hustled the man across the sidewalk toward his limo. Stone wondered if Tom had turned freelance and was killing Eileen Barrie's doppels to order, or if he was working off some kind of massive personal grudge. But although the file contained comprehensive summaries of the circumstances and methodology of each murder, there was nothing, not so much as a single speculative sentence, about possible motivations for attempting to eliminate Eileen Barrie from every known sheaf.

The railcar sounded its horn. Stone glanced out of the window and saw a familiar cluster of wind generators standing proud on a low hill, their sixtyfoot triplebladed props lazily revolving. He glimpsed the roofs of the little town of First Foot through a scrim of pine trees. The railcar rattled past the station's single platform, entered the long loop that led to the Turing gate, and began to pick up speed: trains always ran through gates as fast as possible, to minimise the power expenditure needed to keep them open. Two white horses in a field briefly chased after it, heads down, manes rippling, and it left them behind and sped past a coalblack locomotive with a flared chimney and cowcatcher that stood on a spur, rushed down a steep grade in a cutting, and plunged into the tunnel at the far end.

Although Stone braced for it, the black flash that pounded in his head, the knockout punch of collapsing probability functions, was every bit as bad as he remembered. Then the railcar emerged into daylight, drawing away from a row of two dozen artificial mounds, each mound turfed over and pierced with a short tunnel, each tunnel the entrance to a Turing gate, each gate a portal to a different sheaf, a different alternate history.

There were bigger interchanges at Chicago, San Diego, and White Sands, but the Brookhaven interchange was the oldest. It was where the Many Worlds theory had been experimentally validated when the first Turing gate, a mere hundred nanometers across, had been forced open in the highenergy physics laboratory in 1963, where the first man to travel to another sheaf had taken his momentous step in 1966, and where the first cloned gate had been produced in 1969.

Cloning gates using symmetrybreaking technology based on the FeynmanSchwingerDyson nmanifold manipulation was the only way of providing multiple points of entry into any sheaf. The physicists and mathematicians who had developed the first Turing gates had quickly discovered that each time a gate accessed a new sheaf, a stochastic energyhorizon phenomenon created a unique quantum state or signature that no other gate could ever reproduce. This socalled quantum censorship principle meant that only one gate could link the Real with a particular sheaf, and that link would be lost forever if the gate was shut down. Although it was theoretically possible to produce secondary links via an intermediate sheaf-to travel from the Real to the First Foot sheaf via the Nixon sheaf, for instance-it was impossible in practice, because locating a particular sheaf in a multiverse of possible sheaves was, as Murray GellMann, one of the leaders of the original Brookhaven Project, had put it, like finding a needle in a haystack the size of the universe. Before cloning technology had been developed, there had been only a single, fragile link between the Real and any other sheaf. Afterward, primary gates were locked away in a facility more secure than Fort Knox, cloned copies were deployed in large interchanges and clandestine facilities, colonies were established in a dozen wild sheafs, and the Real was able to take control of the destiny of other, less fortunate Americas and establish the PanAmerican Alliance.

There were more than a hundred cloned gates in the Brookhaven interchange, linking twentytwo different sheaves to the Real. Stone saw a long freight train drawing out of a grassy mound like a chain of scarves from a magician's sleeve, and saw other trains waiting in sidings or on loop roads or loading bays of the marshalling yard. Strings of passenger cars and strings of freight cars, well wagons loaded with shrouded tanks and helicopters and APCs, reefers, grain hoppers, tank cars.

AH6 "Little Bird" helicopters, quick and manoeuvrable as humming birds and armed with rockets and .50calibre machine guns, swooped and hovered overhead, checking each arriving train. More than three years after President Carter had put an end to empire building and declared that the business of the PanAmerican Alliance was not war but reconciliation and reconstruction, the Real was still vulnerable to terrorist attacks by misguided patriots and militias and fanatics loyal to former regimes in client sheaves.

The railcar rocked over a gleaming web of rails under signal catenaries, gaining speed as it headed toward a tunnel set in the grassy mound covering another gate. Again the sudden plunge, the sharp judder, the momentary black headache, and then the railcar was slowing under a sky sheeted with low clouds, sliding into a station under a geodesic dome of grimy white Teflon.

The air under the dome was hot and wet, and tasted of diesel smoke. Crowds moved everywhere beneath banners hung from scaffold towers.

BROOKHAVEN: GATEWAY FOR RECONSTRUCTION AND
RECONCILIATION.
DEMOCRACY AND SOVEREIGNTY FOR ALL AMERICANS.
ONE NATION UNDER MANY SKIES.

Soldiers in all kinds of uniforms (Stone wondered if most were recruits from postnuclearwar sheaves, as in the old days) were outnumbered by gaggles of freshfaced Reconstruction and Reconciliation Corps volunteers in jeans and Planning for Peace Tshirts. A team of wisecracking construction engineers sat on their tool boxes, watching the human parade. A column of troops in black coveralls and what looked like silver motorcycle helmets marched past at double time. Soldiers and civilians milled around kiosks where girls in StarsandStripes Tshirts were handing out free cigarettes and coffee and sandwiches. As he followed Welch toward a turnstile checkpoint tucked under the dome's white curved flank, Stone thought that the noise under the dome was like the cackling of the skyblotting flocks of geese that flew down the Hudson ahead of the first winter blizzards.

At the checkpoint's steel and glass booth, Welch pushed the sheaf of travel order papers into a slot. The marine inside the booth checked the papers and returned them through the slot with two square white plastic badges-dosimeters. A light overhead turned from red to green, the turnstile unlocked with a heavy clunk, and Stone and Welch walked out into grey light, warm gritty air, and the smell of recent rain. Aid workers were climbing into a long line of yellow school buses. In the distance, the superstructures of troop ships and cargo ships rose above cranes and warehouses.

A black stretch Cadillac equipped with smoked bulletproof glass and antimine flooring drove them down the Long Island Expressway toward Manhattan. Welch handed one of the dosimeters to Stone. "We've done a lot of rebuilding, but we can't do much about the radiation."

"What happened here?"

The file hadn't given Stone much information about the Johnson sheaf's precontact history.

"They had themselves a Second World War in the middle of the century," Welch said. "The US, Britain, and Soviet Russia defeated Nazi Germany and Japan; then a cold war developed between the free world and the Soviets. In 1962, the Soviets stationed missiles in Cuba, which was part of the communist bloc. After a standoff, their premier, a fellow by the name of Khrushchev, agreed to withdraw the missiles, but a bunch of highranking military officers assassinated him and staged a coup. The Soviet navy tried to break a shipping blockade around Cuba and the president, one of the Kennedys, responded by sinking several of their ships and threatening to invade. The Soviets took out Guantánamo Bay and Miami with tactical nukes, and it stepped up from there." Welch was examining the cutglass decanters in the little drinks cabinet. "We have generic whiskey, generic brandy, generic gin,

but no ice, and no mixers. I guess we'll have to rough it."

"Nothing for me."

"It helps sluice the radiation out of you," Welch said, and slopped an inch of amber whiskey into a tumbler.

"I guess New York got hit," Stone said.

"Plenty of places got hit. The Soviets threw everything they could from Cuba before the US nuked it down to bedrock. Shortrange missiles took out most of Florida, New Orleans, and Atlanta; sublaunched missiles hit Washington, DC, and most of the West Coast. And a fair number of longrange bombers got through a defensive line above the Arctic Circle, too. They hit Detroit and Chicago, they hit Boston, and two of them hit New York. One dropped its load on the Brooklyn Naval Yard, but the bomb didn't go off. The second was shot up by a fighter plane, blew itself up over the Hudson, and took out most of downtown. The bomb it was carrying wasn't big, twelve kilotons or so, but it was dirty, jacketed with iodine125 and cobalt60. And that's why we're wearing dosimeters more than twenty years later."

The limo overtook a column of army trucks. It sped past a gang of shavenheaded men in orange coveralls lengthening a trench alongside the Expressway under the watchful gaze of soldiers with assault rifles.

Stone said, "It looks like they're still at war here."

"A little local difficulty with the European Economic Community, and Australia and Japan. The Soviets came off worst in WW3. A good deal of Russia is still uninhabitable, and the rest is a bunch of outlaw states run by criminals and warlords. But America is in pretty bad shape too. The Europeans and Japanese provided aid, but it came with all kinds of strings, and we arrived in the middle of a resurgence of isolationist politics and some serious sabrerattling on both sides. The locals were as grateful as hell to get help from fellow Americans, but the Europeans took serious exception, especially when we set up trade barriers and seized their assets in the States. Right now, we're fighting a nasty little war for control of Texas and the Gulf. Canada's staying out of it, and so is China-we're feeding China a little technology in exchange for neutrality-but despite our best diplomatic efforts, the Europeans aren't backing down. There's some internal opposition against us, too. Secessionists in the South, Midwest survivalists. . . . In short, the usual set of grudges." Welch took a sip of whiskey, made a face, and said, "I guess I should tell you about rules of procedure. The guy in charge of our side of the investigation, Ralph Kohler, told me to make sure you got anything you want. I assume you have no problem with that. As for the locals, we had to inform Ed Lar, the local FBI officer in charge of the manhunt, that you were being brought in. These days, protocol demands full and frank cooperation with the locals."

"He knows I'm the guy Tom Waverly wants to talk to."

Welch nodded.

"Does he know that I'm working for the Company?"

"A lot of things have changed since you quit, but we still maintain cover for all operatives. We told Mr. Lar that you're a forensic psychologist employed by our FBI, and you and Tom have history from working together on serious crimes in the Real. I doubt that Ed Lar believes it for a second, but he can't question it publicly without causing a diplomatic incident."

"We have to pretend to be something we're not, and the locals have to pretend that they don't know we're pretending."

"It's a wicked old world."

"Do I need to talk to Ralph Kohler? Or to this local guy, Ed Lar?"

Welch shook his head. "Ralph's an attorney, a political guy. He's done a lot of good work toward preventing this thing from turning into a fullblown diplomatic crisis, but he'd be the first to admit that he doesn't know anything about pounding the bricks. As for Mr. Lar, we promised to keep him informed about the progress of your investigation, and to share any hot leads."

"And has he promised not to interfere?"

"Not in so many words. But we made it clear that you're an independent operator, and in any case he's already badly overstretched by the manhunt. The locals are eager to catch Tom before we do. It's not just the political fallout because Tom shot the mayor's nephew; it's also a matter of pride. They've set up running roadblocks, and checkpoints at train and bus stations. They're making random stops in public places, they're searching every hotel and rooming house in the area, and empty apartments and business places. .. . They've even sent squads of Port Authority police to help us check every piece of luggage and freight due to go through the Turing gate."

"Even so, Mr. Lar knows that Tom wants to talk to me. That makes me a hot lead, and he'd be a fool if he didn't put a tail on me."

"Let's worry about that when you need to get close to Tom."

"I want to work this as I see fit."

"Absolutely."

"And you're, what? My partner, my line manager?"

"My job is to deliver you safe and sound, and see that you get what you need to do the job. Other than that, I'm happy to keep out of your way. I gave up active service a while back."

"So did I," Stone said.

Welch had booked him into the Plaza Hotel, a corner room on the fifth floor that overlooked the trees of Central Park. The horsedrawn carriages were plying their immemorial trade here as in all the other versions of New York that Stone had visited. A gallows-this was something he hadn't seen before-stood in front of the Grand Army Plaza. He counted fifteen corpses, barefoot in grey pyjamas, placards with block printing he couldn't quite read hung around their necks. Shaved heads, swollen faces black with congested blood. Two sailors posed in front of them while a third took their photograph.

"The locals' idea of justice," Welch said. He was sitting on the edge of the bed, using his handkerchief to remove dried mud from his combat boots. "Spies and blackmarketeers, mostly. They hang 'em on the Great Lawn in the park. Night rallies with flaring torches, speeches, loyalty pledges, marching bands, Girl Scouts selling cookies . . . the whole nine yards. Afterward, they display the bodies pour encourager les autres. They'll hang Tom Waverly there if they get the chance. Why don't you try on the suit, get rid of that hickfromthesticks look."

A black suit and a white shirt were laid out on the kingsize bed, alongside black laceup shoes, black socks, a cell phone, a billfold containing two thousand local dollars, ID and documentation that backed up Stone's FBI cover story, a local driver's licence, and an NYC Military Zone pass.

Stone checked that the cell phone worked and asked if he could use it to contact the local office if he needed information.

"My cell number is on speeddial," Welch said. "Call me if you need to know anything."

"You aren't coming with me?"

"I have a meeting with General Grover, the local who's in charge of security in the New York Military Zone. Ralph Kohler wants me to smooth his feathers, feed him bullshit about cooperation and full and frank exchange of information. As I said, this isn't like the old days when we could do whatever the hell we wanted and make up some story to tell the locals afterward. We don't coerce; we cooperate." Welch watched Stone take his Colt .45 and shoulder rig out of the kitbag, and added, "Are you seriously going to carry that?"

"You bet."

"Jesus. Try to remember that you're not working for Special Ops now, Adam. You have diplomatic cover, but you don't have carte blanche. If you start shooting at people, I won't be able to keep Ed Lar off your back."

Stone shrugged out of his checked shirt. "Back when you were working for Special Ops, I remember that you liked to boast that the only time you fired your weapon was on the ranges."

"I'm proud to say that's still the case."

"I guess you don't need to carry a piece into an embassy reception or a courtesy meeting with some local general, but I'll be moving in different circles. Don't worry, I promise I won't shoot at anyone unless they start shooting at me." Stone buttoned up the white shirt. "Your file didn't have anything about the Real version of Eileen Barrie. About whether or not Tom tried to make a hit on her."

"I haven't been told everything about this operation, Adam. You know how it is-compartmentalization and all the rest of that horseshit."

"Tom seems to be trying to kill off every doppel of the woman. So why wouldn't he go after the Real version too? If he had any sense, he would have hit her first." Stone pulled on the suit trousers and sat down on the bed beside Welch to lace up his shoes. "Unless, that is, he's trying to intimidate her. Or draw attention to her. Does he know her? Have they ever worked together on the same project?"

"You read everything in the file?"

"Cover to cover."

"Then you know as much about that as me. And all I know is that the Company has decided that we don't need to know."

"Because her work is classified, and we aren't on the bigot list."

"I don't know. Truly. I do know that the DCI's office wants to limit blowback from this little fiasco. Tom is hiding out somewhere in this sheaf. You're here to help find him. To help bring him in alive. Don't get sidetracked by trying to figure out his motivation, or every angle of the operation."

"His motivation might lead him to me. She's a scientist. A mathematician," Stone said, shrugging into his shoulder rig. "In the Real, and in all the sheaves where she was killed. That can't be a coincidence."

"Maybe you can ask Tom, when you find him."

Stone stood up and pulled on the suit jacket. "I intend to."

"That's the spirit. How's the fit?"

"A little tight around the shoulders, but otherwise not bad. Let's go. I'd like to check out the murder scene before it gets dark."

In the elevator, Welch examined the knot of his tie in a mirror and said, "I have to scoot off and placate General Grover, but I've arranged for a driver to take you anywhere you need to go."

"I can drive myself."

"You think you can handle Manhattan traffic after three years in that backtonature sheaf? Also, if Ed Lar does have people dogging your tail, you'll need someone with local knowledge to shake them if you want to go somewhere you don't want them to know about. Walk over to Madison Avenue and go a block north to the corner of East Sixtieth Street. There'll be a yellow taxi parked with its sign unlit, a woman driver. Climb in, she'll take you where you want to go."

"A taxi? That's cute, David."

"Wait until you see the driver," Welch said, and blew into his cupped hand and sniffed his palm to check his breath.

"As long as she keeps out of my way while I check the scene."

"She'll do whatever you ask her to do. It goes without saying, by the way, that if you do find anything the locals missed, I want to hear about it before the locals do."

The elevator stopped and its door slid open to reveal the marblefloored lobby.

Stone said, "Why would I want to tell the locals anything?"

"I think I'm going to enjoy working with you again, Adam. You're still a cowboy at heart, aren't you?"

*

Was he?

Stone thought about that as he walked toward his rendezvous. Like all of Dick Knightly's cowboy angels, he'd been trained to work in deep cover in precontact sheaves, to blend in, to live as invisibly as possible while accumulating data for historical, political, and economic profiles. Once, in the early days of Special Ops, before the first overt contact with the government of an alternate America, a woman at a party in Washington, DC, had walked up to Stone and said that she'd just bet fifty dollars with a girlfriend that he was a spy, and Stone had told her, no lie, that he spent most of his time in libraries. That was exactly what he'd done, back in the day. He'd gone through the mirror and ransacked libraries for all kinds of data: the failure rate of startup companies, price and wage inflation, the ratio of the highest and lowest salaries in key companies, unemployment rates among white males between the ages of eighteen and twentyone, the annual yields of cotton crops, winter wheat, soy beans. He'd tabulated prison terms for a variety of crimes, compared schoolleaving ages of urban and rural whites and blacks, used fake academic or journalistic credentials to obtain interviews with CEOs and Ivy League professors about the state of the economy, identified prominent lawyers and preachers and political commentators. That was how all the cowboy angels in Special Ops had rolled in the early days, before the Real made its first overtures to governments in other sheaves. Before the covert actions, before the wars and revolutions, before the insurrections and terrorist reprisals.

"You like to watch," Susan had told Stone, a few months ago. They'd been walking home from a church social, Petey trailing a little way behind, singing one of his nonsense songs, cutting at weeds with a stick he'd picked up somewhere. "When you're around other people, you like to watch what's going on, don't you?"

"If you've been watching me, who is it that likes to watch?"

"I've been taking notice of you," Susan said. "Noticing how you behave when you hang out with the other guys."

"Yeah? How do I behave?"

"On the whole, you're pretty quiet. Selfcontained. The other guys like to show off to each other; they always have an opinion about whatever it is they're talking about. But you don't say anything unless you have something to say. I don't mean you're afflicted with Allan King's famous Yankee taciturnity; the man thinks every word costs him a dime. I mean you don't bullshit."

"Mommy swore," Petey said.

"And Mommy's sorry for it, sweetie. She spent far too much of the afternoon talking with Nora Partridge, who has a kind heart but can never quite get to the point of what she's trying to say. Adam isn't like that, is he? When he says something, he says what he means, no more and no less."

"He likes to think about things," Petey said, and swiped the head off a milkweed plant.

Stone said, "Is this criticism or observation?"

Susan smiled. "If I said you were aloof, maybe it would be a criticism. But you're not. You're watchful."

"I don't know about that. Maybe I like to be aloof, but I don't like to be watchful."

"The way you like trees, but not bushes?"

"I like grass too. Flowers I can live without."

"Mom! You're doing it again," Petey said. All summer he'd been driven to distraction by this word game, an open secret he wanted desperately to share, a code he couldn't quite crack. That evening, Susan and Stone had teased and tantalised him all the way home with their preference for books over magazines, bulls over cows, hills over mountains.

Watchful-Stone could live with that. Tom Waverly, though, was the poster boy for the dark side of the cowboy angels. He preferred overt action to undercover research, flamboyance to restraint. He liked to push regulations and convention as far as they would go, and then push them a little further.

"You're a deep man pretending to be shallow," Marsha Mason had once told him, and he'd laughed, not at all offended. This had been at one of the infamous barbecues at the little house in the Maryland woods where Tom had lived with his wife and daughter. Its back yard had run down to a lake. One night, Tom had rowed out into the middle of the lake and let off fireworks while the "Nessun dorma!" aria from Turandot played on speakers he'd set up among the trees. He'd stood up in the little boat with rockets and Roman candles exploding from his hands, whooping with glee.

At age thirteen, Tom had spent a year in juvenile prison in California for stealing a car; at sixteen he had enlisted in the army, training as a sniper and taking courses in parachuting, martial arts, and cryptography; at twentysix he had been recruited by Dick Knightly into the CIG's brandnew Directorate of Special Operations. He liked to play up his reputation as a hellraiser. He wore blue jeans and biker boots and a leather jacket with the sleeves ripped off. He rode a motorbike everywhere, a Norton Commando he'd restored himself. He did handstands on the backs of chairs, once did a backflip from a motel balcony into the swimming pool two storeys below. He read Rilke and Thoreau and Barth, sang along with tuneless gusto to opera and the folk music he'd discovered in the Nixon sheaf, the very same sheaf in which, a few years later, Stone had been supposed to kill a novelist in the middle of a popular uprising against an unpopular war in Southeast Asia.

It had been one of twenty hits that had targeted counterculture lawyers, liberal politicians, journalists, and radical civil rights workers. . . . And this novelist, who'd once run for mayor of New York, a sometime journalist and rabblerouser with powerfully expressed opinions, but still, Stone had wondered at the time, what could be so important about a man who wrote books for a living? But the Cluster crunched the data and constructed its probability models, the Company set up its covert actions, and its cowboy angels went to work without questioning their orders. In the end, Stone hadn't made the hit after all; the whole operation had unravelled after one of the locals they were running, a bomb maker, had managed to blow up a house in Greenwich Village. Six months later, work toward contact in that sheaf had been suspended indefinitely. The Nixon sheaf's version of America had been well on its way to becoming the world's only superpower, and the Cluster had calculated that the advantages of contact would be either negligible or negative.

All officers in Special Ops had been trained to take the initiative, but Tom Waverly had possessed a bravura recklessness that had set him apart. And he still had it, Stone thought. Even though he must have known that the game was up when he saw that Nathan Tate was guarding the target, he'd gone right ahead with his plan. He'd shot and killed the doppel of Eileen Barrie, he'd shot and killed Nathan Tate, and he'd gotten clean away from the scene. He still had it. Tracking him down wasn't going to be easy, especially as the locals were going ballsout to find him first. The only edge Stone had was that Tom wanted to talk to him.

A yellow taxi was parked where David Welch had said it would be. Stone walked around the block, moving with the flow of the crowd, looking in shop windows and using his peripheral vision to try to spot likely tails, seeing only civilians with pinched faces and shuttered expressions, rowdy little groups of soldiers and sailors. He was conscious of the weight of the Colt .45 in the holster under his left armpit. He passed a beggar being hassled by a pair of cops-the ragged guy, shiny burn scars disfiguring his face and scalp, kept trying to sidle away from the cops and they kept pushing him back against the wall with their nightsticks. People stepped past, eyes fixed elsewhere. A team of skeletal, shavenheaded men in orange coveralls hauled a wagon among the stopandgo rush of military trucks, buses, taxis, bicycles. A lot of people were riding bicycles. Stone, grown used to a pace of life based on unmediated animal and human muscle, felt that everything was slightly speeded up, like one of those old handcranked silent movies.

He crossed the street and doubled back the way he'd come. Although he hadn't seen anyone dogging him, he was pretty sure that he was being followed. Probably by a tag team, almost impossible to spot. He walked to where the taxi was parked and climbed into the back. The driver, a young woman with a pale face and a mass of curly red hair, turned to look at him through the scratched plastic divider.

Stone hadn't seen her for more than ten years, but he recognised her at once.

Linda Waverly, Tom's daughter.

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