NEW ADVENTURES BASED ON THE WORLD’S BESTSELLING VIDEO GAME
After completing a near-fatal mission in the mysterious cloud forests of Peru, Lara Croft flies to Warsaw to tackle her next assignment–and finds herself in the middle of an epic battle for the ultimate power.
Reuben Baptiste needs Lara Croft’s help transporting precious cargo. But before Reuben can reveal any details, he is murdered–and Lara signs on with Reuben’s employer, the mysterious Order of the Bronze, to avenge his death. The Order shares with Lara its greatest treasure: a bronze android, thousands of years old, with uncanny abilities. But the android is crippled, missing a leg, and whoever finds that leg will gain astonishing powers. Hot on the trail is Lara’s nemesis, Lancaster Urdmann, now working for an unknown employer with strange abilities. As Lara jets from Siberia to Australia to Rio de Janiero, she is drawn into an age-old conflict of secret societies, intrigue, and death. . . .
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JAMES ALAN GARDNER has published six science fiction novels, his most recent being Trapped. His short fiction has won several science fiction awards, including the Aurora and the Writers of the Future grand prize. Gardner’s novella, Three Hearings on the Existence of Snakes in the Human Bloodstream was a finalist for both the Hugo and Nebula awards. Gardner lives in Kitchener, Ontario, with his wife, Linda Carson, and a disgruntled rabbit.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
WARSAW: THE BELL TOWER WAITING ROOM
The Stare Miasto district of Warsaw is an illusion. It appears to be centuries old, with buildings dating back to the 1200s and a city wall erected to fend off the Mongol hordes. But the district's venerable appearance is false. Stare Miasto was leveled during World War II--not a stone left standing--and everything you see is a twentieth-century reproduction made to look aged using rubble that was left after Hitler and Stalin pounded the city into ruin.
In other words, Stare Miasto is a counterfeit antique: well built and lovely, but fake. I know about counterfeits. I've seen many. My name is Lara Croft, and I collect old things.
It was December--a clear cold night with the snow ankle deep. Warsaw's streets were empty, except for a few late stragglers whose breaths steamed ghostlike into the air. Their heads were probably full of Christmas: presents to buy, food to cook, decorations to string over the hearth. My thoughts, however, were elsewhere. I'd been called to Warsaw by a friend . . . and my friend was in trouble.
His name was Reuben Baptiste: born in Trinidad, educated at Cambridge, and a useful fellow for someone in my line of work. Reuben was a freelance research assistant. He had a knack for finding exactly the right paragraph in exactly the right book--often in dusty libraries where the books were uncatalogued and stacked in random heaps on the shelves. Reuben had a good eye for deciphering faded hieroglyphics and for spotting inscriptions so faint they were almost invisible. Above all, he could talk to people. He could talk to scientists of the Royal Society in their clubs off Piccadilly; he could talk to native shamans as they sat around smoky campfires; he could talk to people in rest homes and coax out the story of how they'd once seen something odd fifty years ago while strolling beside the Nile.
Of course, Reuben had his shortcomings--all his knowledge came from books and conversation, not from hands-on work in the field. He'd never entered an ancient tomb or even visited an archaeological dig. Still, he was excellent at what he did. Whenever I was too busy to do such chores myself, I'd hire Reuben to track down information for me. He, in turn, always sent a heads-up my way if he came across something of interest . . . so when he telephoned to say, "Drop everything and meet me in Warsaw," I hopped the first plane from Heathrow.
Before leaving, I did take a moment to ask Reuben what he'd found. He said he couldn't tell me till he got permission from his current employer . . . and, no, he couldn't say who that was. But if everything worked out, this unknown employer would be eager to sponsor me on a chance-of-a-lifetime expedition, and I'd be eager to go.
That's all Reuben would say. I didn't press for details. One reason I valued Reuben was that he never divulged the secrets of those he worked for.
When Reuben first called me, we'd arranged to meet at the Bristol, Warsaw's most exclusive hotel, so distinguished it's listed as a Polish national monument. Just after my flight landed, however--while I was queued up at customs, moving at a snail's pace because Ok(ecie airport was in the middle of a high security alert--I checked my messages and found a voice mail from Reuben, saying, "Forget the Bristol; meet me at Dr. Jacek's."
His voice sounded bad: breathless with pain. I pushed my way through customs with unladylike haste.
Dr. Jacek's clinic lay on the edge of Stare Miasto, housed inside what was once the Church of St. Anthony the Great. The church was a victim of recent history. Much had changed when Poland won its independence from the Communist bloc, and one of those changes was a gradual outflow of people from Warsaw's inner city into new surrounding suburbs. Fewer residents meant smaller congregations . . . until finally the bishop had to close several lesser-used churches. One church was converted into insurance offices; one became an experimental theater; and the former Church of St. Anthony the Great--unsanctified with all appropriate rituals--was sold to Dr. Stanislaw Jacek for use as a private clinic.
Jacek's wasn't your usual medical center. It was one of those solid-steel-doorway places you can find in any major city if you follow a trade like mine: a clinic where no one asks awkward questions about bullet wounds and where they always carry antidotes for cobra venom or curare. Strange creatures prowl the back streets of Warsaw--everything from bioengineered horrors to biblical monstrosities--and the victims usually end up at Jacek's. Often, patients are sent discreetly from more conventional hospitals: places that prefer not to handle patients whose flesh is mutating into acidic goo.
But when I arrived, the place seemed quiet. I knocked on the steel door--three quick knocks, two slow, two more quick--and was admitted by a motherly receptionist with a heavily armed doorman behind her. He looked ready to shoot me with a Heckler & Koch MP5 A5 submachine gun, until the receptionist gave him a scolding little slap. "Ach, this is Lara. She's a friend." Apparently, however, I wasn't enough of a friend to be allowed into the clinic fully armed. The receptionist said, "Sorry, no exceptions," as the doorman plucked my pistols from their holsters and locked them in an imposing metal vault behind his desk. I noticed several other guns in there before he closed the vault door.
"Lots of patients tonight?" I asked as I hung my winter jacket on a coat stand.
"Just your friend Reuben," the receptionist said. "He told us to expect you. Go up to the private waiting room; he'll join you as soon as the doctor finishes bandaging him."
"Bandaging him? What happened?" I moved toward the corridor that I knew led to the treatment rooms, but the doorman blocked my way. He didn't actually point his gun at me, but he tightened his grip on it.
"Please," the receptionist said. "Just wait. It won't be long. Then your friend can tell you whatever he wants you to know."
She pointed toward a door that led to a stone-lined stairwell. Grudgingly, I started up the steps.
The private waiting room was set aside for people who'd accept a little inconvenience in exchange for staying out of sight of other visitors. It lay halfway up the church's bell tower: a shabby room with shabby furniture . . . but then, everything at Jacek's had an air of cheapness. Dr. J. enjoyed being a penny-pinching old curmudgeon.
Despite the ragged decor, I liked the room. This level of the tower had tall glass windows on all four sides, giving splendid views of Stare Miasto under its burden of snow, plus the Vistula River, black and not yet frozen over, rolling frigidly off to the east. When I first arrived, the room was empty; I passed several minutes gazing out onto the city, idly plotting escape routes across the rooftops. Soon, though, I heard footsteps coming slowly, painfully, up the stairs.
I turned. Reuben Baptiste appeared in the doorway. He tossed me a cheerful wave, then nearly fell over from the effort. A moment later, he toppled into a nearby chair and sat there panting. He looked dreadful. Reuben's skin was normally a rich Caribbean brown, but now it resembled half-melted wax. I could see a greater quantity of skin than usual--Reuben's shirt was in tatters, and the tatters were burned around the edges.
Much of Reuben's face was smeared with clear ointment, no doubt applied by Dr. Jacek. Jacek had also taped thick white dressings on Reuben's left side: one at the front and one at the back. I'd worn similar bandages a few years earlier when a bullet had passed in and out of my body, breaking two ribs on its way through. Fortunately, that shot did no permanent damage to my internal organs. I was afraid Reuben hadn't been so lucky--he breathed with short little gasps as if his lungs couldn't get enough oxygen. Still, if Reuben had been seriously injured, he'd be down in Jacek's operating room, not staggering up to meet me. Reuben was still able to walk, and that was a good sign . . . I hoped.
One other detail: Reuben had a stainless steel attache case handcuffed to his left wrist. The case showed a swath of charred smudges across its metal surface.
"Lara," he wheezed. "Glad you're here."
I went and crouched by his side. "Who did this to you, Reuben?"
I narrowed my eyes. "Don't know or can't say?"
"Don't know," he repeated.
"Can't even make a guess?"
"Really, truly, Lara, I don't know what's going on." He smiled weakly. "You're the one who people try to kill. Me, I'm harmless."
"Next you're going to say, Honest to gosh, Lara, it can't possibly be related to this metal thingy locked on my wrist."
He shifted his eyes away. "I can't talk about that--it's confidential. I don't give away your secrets when I'm working for you."
"At least tell me what happened. How did you get so banged up?"
Reuben let his head slump back against the chair. "When I phoned you," he said, "I wasn't in Warsaw. I was in Athens."
"What were you doing in Athens?"
"I can't tell you till my employer gives the okay. But it's big, Lara. It's--" His voice broke off. He winced in pain.
"Broken ribs?" I asked.
"Just one. At least that's what Dr. Jacek says. Feels like I've snapped half a dozen." Reuben took some quick tortured breaths. "Anyway, after I called you, I caught a flight here. Arrived at Ok(ecie a couple hours ago. Nothing out of the ordinary till I got to the rental car office. I'd made arrangements several days earlier so they'd have a car waiting . . ."
I tsked my tongue. "Reuben, you should know better. Giving several days' notice of where and when you'd be? A person with ene...
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