Tomorrow I’ll be posting an interview with Simon R. Green about his writing and his new book Tales of the Hidden World. What follows is an excerpt from Quantum of Solace, a new short story set in the world of the Droods, that family of secret agents dedicated to protecting humans from the dark side of existence. It’s a look into the Armourer’s — Jack Drood — world.
Tomorrow I’ll be posting my interview with the author, along with details of how to win a copy of this book!
Jack Drood, Armourer to the Drood family for many years now, sat slumped in his special chair before his personal workstation, looking at his latest invention and wondering whether it was worth all the time and effort he’d put into it. As Armourer to the Droods, it was his job to come up with all the powerful weapons, sneaky gadgets and nasty surprises that the family’s field agents needed, to help them bring down the bad guys. The Armourer had been doing that very successfully for decades now, and he was getting really tired of it.
He looked middle-aged but was actually a lot older. He kept up appearances by following a carefully balanced diet of protein and pasta, doing as little regular exercise as he could get away with, and abusing a whole bunch of exotic medications of dubious provenance. He liked to joke that when he died there’d be so many pills in him they’d have to bury him in a coffin with a childproof lid. He was tall and thin, growly and grumpy, and not nearly as full of nervous energy as he used to be. Two shocks of tufty white hair jutted out over his ears, below a bulging, bald pate. He had bushy white eyebrows, a prominent nose, and steely gray eyes. His face looked lived-in and hard-used, and he scowled a lot. Particularly when he had to talk to people.
He did have people skills. He just mostly couldn’t be bothered.
When he occasionally forced himself up out of his chair, to go prowling around the massive stone cavern that held the Armory, and all its dangerous wonders, it quickly became obvious he was bent over in a pronounced stoop, legacy of so many years spent leaning over workbenches, creating things designed to make people place nicely with one another, whether they wanted to or not. He wore a long white lab coat, decorated with stains and chemical burns, and the occasional explosives residue, over a grubby T-shirt bearing the legend Guns Don’t Kill People, Unless You Aim Them Properly. Armourer humor.
He still liked to think of himself as an engineer, rather than a weapons designer.
He sat there in his favorite chair, right at the back of the Armory, where people wouldn’t bother him. The Armory was buried deep in the bedrock under Drood Hall, so that when things inevitably went wrong, usually suddenly and loudly and violently, the damage wouldn’t reach the hall. The Armourer was thinking, and scowling, and doing his best to ignore the general racket going on around him. Dozens of lab assistants filled the Armory, working on dozens of projects, their terribly inventive minds limited only by the laws of science and probability. The laws of the land, or even basic morality, didn’t get a look in. To become one of the Armourer’s lab assistants, a young Drood had to prove they were way above average intelligence, incredibly and indeed foolishly brave, and basically lacking in all the usual self-preservation instincts. Their job was to produce all kinds of weird weapons, and outside-the-box inventions. And then test them extensively, often on one another, before they could be passed on to the field agents. Output was high, and so was the turnover of assistants.
The Armourer couldn’t help noticing that not quite far enough away, two lab assistants equipped with personal teleport devices were dueling inside a circle. They flickered in and out, appearing just long enough to throw a blow, or dodge one. Obscenities, blasphemies, and sounds of pain hung on the air long after they were gone. Beyond them, a statue in a corner moved, ever so slightly. From when a lab assistant had slowed down his metabolism so much that for him, decades passed between each tick and tock of the clock. He’d gone under in 1955, and showed no signs of coming out. The Armourer kept him around as a cautionary example. Beyond the statue, two invisible fighters were trying to find each other inside a circle. And someone … had just blown up the firing range again.
Lab assistants. Always in such high spirits.