Netting the Alien is set in a grim London and an even grimmer Berlin, in 2011. A hard pressed detective from the European Union's security police tracks a band of terrorists, the Family, from quiet conspiracy to laser gun battles and police chases through cyberspace. It is the 'Net that forms the hard centre of this novel. What does the Family want? Will Wim Voorst stop them or will his superiors in the future European state stop him first?
A Hard Shell Word Factory Release
Craig Pickering was born in the North East of England. He has worked as a diplomat in Brussels, a Treasury official in London and a university lecturer in various places. He is now chairman of Equity Education, which provides on-line education in stocks and shares. He is married with four children. He arrived on the 'Net in January 1995.
"This story takes place in the year 2011 and it has very realistic scenery description. Several characters, all in first person, throughout the book tell the story. Overall, the story idea was very good and imaginative. It was easy to imagine what the buildings and the area looked like."Jen Oliver -- MyShelf.com
The Alien Arrives
Terminal seven at Heathrow is a helluva place on a Friday night. All those business types coming in on the shuttle from Beijing, New York, Moscow at the end of a hard working week; the families of dark skinned people, looking slightly scared and a little hopeful, pushing all their worldly goods on one of those new hovertrollies the Airport installed after that porter ran amok with a Ukrainian machine gun here last year; the guys who look so criminal they have to be honest businessmen, and all the other types that come off the long haul flights, jostling and fighting to get away from the airport, to breathe air that hasn't been recycled a thousand zillion times.
Gary the Immigration man stood half way down the baggage hall at Terminal Seven. He raised his video camera. He pointed it at a lone Semitic male, aged about 30, hair disappearing as rapidly as peace prospects on the Iran/Georgia border. As the subject centred on the lens, the screen above showed Gary a readout.
PROBABLE IDENTITY: Jacob Niemand
KNOWN CRIMINAL RECORD: NONE
ORIGINATING AIRPORT: Tehran
That's what Gary's job is like. He points the camera. He notices something odd. Why would anyone from United Israeli Palestine -- that potent brew of Jew and Arab -- be coming from the capital city of the Archangels of the Muslim revival, still going strong in their fifth decade of revolution, prayer and mayhem?
"Excuse me sir, could you step this way?"
Gary's an old timer, as his name demonstrates. He likes the traditional formula, though his younger colleagues think he's a scream.
Mr Niemand, if that is who he is, comes towards Gary. If he's nervous, he does nothing to show it. For his body was already jerking around like a drunken marionette when the camera found him. It's the same now. Gary fears for Mr Niemand's neck, it's snapping around so much.
"What brings you to London, sir?"
"I have business with the European Union."
"That's based in Berlin, not here sir."
Gary tries not to sound patronising when he says this. Mr Niemand returns the supposed compliment, staring at Gary as thought he's headed for one of the Senility Farms they're opening up, for over fifty year olds of poor productive potential.
"I will be visiting Berlin in due course. But I have things to do in London first."
Gary asks for his passport. When the plastic card has been handed over, Gary puts it into the slot on the side of his camera that acts as a reader. The screen flashes up more details of Mr Niemand. Gary shakes his head for about the millionth time. He doesn't understand the technology that identifies incoming travellers, but it never fails to impress. He sees that Mr Niemand is 31, born in Haifa in 1980, childless, a first time visitor to Britain.
This is a crucial point in the interview. Gary can feel it. There's been a pause, a moment when Gary can throw some switches and send the message one way or another. He had been going to ask why Mr Niemand had been visiting a country permanently on the edge of making war on his own. But what the hell, it's Friday night, the shift is nearly over. It's a private quarrel. Gary doesn't think Mr Niemand is going to claim Union social security, which is the major preoccupation of those currently in power over people like Gary.
He waves Mr Niemand on. The Jew, as Gary somewhat anachronistically thinks of him, takes his time about picking up his shabby suitcase, then strolls out towards the exit. His head is still bobbing furiously.
Gary spends a few moments recording brief details of the encounter, like the stickler for detail that he is. Somewhere in London and Berlin, lines stir like sleeping snakes, and hard disks adjust to welcome their latest piece of data. By the next morning, Gary has forgotten all about Mr Niemand. But during interrogation a drug establishes that Mr Niemand's apparent nervousness convinced Gary subliminally that he must be innocent. Nobody guilty could shake like that.
I KNEW I shouldn't be hanging around like this. Hampstead is a mean place at the best of times. On a Friday night in November, with the wind howling around the derelict houses on Heath Street, it's the pits. But the order had been to wait for this guy out of the East, somewhere on this precise street. Once or twice gangs passed by, each time chuckling as though they had just thrown someone out of a twenty fifth floor window. I hid in the ruins of what I guessed was an old pub. You could still see the old fashioned counters, though every metal fitting, every window, everything that might have made it a pleasant place to be, was long gone. Stripped in the city wars of the late 'nineties, I guessed again.
Why meet anyone in a dump like this, I hear you ask?
Well, the total absence of electronic surveillance, for one thing. We could have met in some hitec bar off Leicester Square boulevard, but who would be watching us? Half the police agencies in this considerably policed city could be tuning in.
And my chances of getting into such cosy locations, for another thing. I don't know what they're wearing in fashionable West End niteries, but I bet it's not antique leather jackets patched in so many places the leather is more a memory than reality. I bet it's not cord trousers over jeans, which keep the cold out on a night that is hurrying towards December temperatures as quickly as it indecently can. Under the jacket I've wrapped my tits in two shirts and a thing I think they used to call a vest, ripped off in a warehouse down by the river a week ago. Maybe it was bound for a museum, but now it's adorning me. My blonde hair is dirty, you would probably say. I would prefer to describe it as lived in.
All in all, I wouldn't get past the security barriers at Camden Town, much less into spots where a romantic meeting could be arranged.
Not that this assignation is romantic. I've been told to meet this guy. He has something we want. What is it? Who told me? Who are 'we'? Nosy fucker, aren't you?
I was just about to give up. I had at last invented an excuse for not hauling in this dude when I heard the car. I didn't need X-ray hearing. Cars on Heath Street are like black men in Brixton these days. pretty rare events.
It was going slowly, like it was looking for something, or someone.
I didn't rush out into the street to meet it. Friends of mine have been blown away doing that. The police come out here, though they don't like to, which makes them even meaner. And the gangs have cars, sometimes, though usually not for long.
The car stops. It's a late model Russian Zil, like all the bigshot politicians use. Out here! I wonder when some police helicopter will light up the street and tell the car's occupants to tumble out onto the street.
A funny voice, heavy accent, speaks. They must have a microphone on the car, amplified.
"Liz Strait. Come to the car. Do not be afraid."
This gets my bowels moving like I've been eating prunes, if you know what they are. My mother told me about them.
"My name is Jacob Niemand. I was sent here to meet you."
Well, whoever it is, they know the right names, his and mine. I run out of the ruined pub, staying low in case someone is playing snipers. The front passenger's door swings open electrically as I get near. I jump in and smoothly and slowly the Zil starts up Heath Street, heading out of town.
I look at the driver. It's a fucking woman. I'm all set to try the door handle when a man's voice, with that same heavy accent, kind of Germanic Middle Eastern, speaks from about four rows behind me.
"Ms Strait. I'm very pleased to meet you."
INSIDE THE squat, I got my first clear look at Niemand. Well, I call it a squat, but that means there has to be a landlord. Out here, in wildest Tufnell Park, we haven't seen a landlord this century. But that's what we call it. I guess we're just lovers of tradition.
Niemand looked kind of cute, apart from the baldness, which does not do anything for me. Shiny all over and sinister maybe, but not a mop that's losing the war, like Niemand's is. But otherwise he's kind of cute, thin, quite tall, and brown eyes that look calm, like a super bright Labrador's. Calm, I go for.
His body is not calm, but I figure it's because of where we are. I mean, if you fetched up in a four story Victorian pile with a bunch of zombies like us, you might be a little nervous. You might worry that that Zil that just disappeared round the corner is never coming back.
Not that he appeared to worry. It's just his body kept doing things that didn't look as though they were ordered by his brain, with his neck feeling the strain from this breakdown in communications.
Then he spoke. Me, I don't go for heavy accents, and this was a lulu, so thick you could have buttered your bread with it, back in the days when we had butter. "I must be brief. I'm very pleased you all came to meet me tonight."
That got a laugh. Some of North London's premier desperadoes, and he's greeting them as though they've come to some family gathering. But then that's what we are -- the Family.
Gus spoke first. I don't go a bundle on Gus. His habit of settling arguments by sending people's teeth back to meet the spinal chord is a bit tedious to be around. He looks fat and slobbish, which is half misleading, half right on target. He's about as sluggish as a police laser. "We didn't mind meeting you. What we minded was not being told what we were meeting you for."
Mr Niemand smiled, with as much warmth as that Heath Street wind I'd felt. "You know how the Family is. I don't know everything myself."
I liked the way he said this. He made it sound as though there was about a zillionth of a per cent that he didn't understand. Well, that was going to get old Gus going. I could see the sweat coming up through the three sweaters he was wearing. Bones came in fast. She's so sharp, she can feel the currents in a room before others have heard the words. "So tell us what you know. Please."
"Of course. But first, let us introduce ourselves."
So we went around the room, the four of us introducing ourselves, back in that family gathering. Even Gus began to soften. There was something gentle in Jacob's manner. That's how it was. In a matter of moments, we were Jacob and Liz and Gus, though Bones will always be Bones. It's her face. She's proud of it, so Slavonic and high cheekboned. Her mother got out of Russia in the middle nineties, with Bones hidden in a suitcase, or so she says.
Jacob said he liked her name, which was fine by her, though Gus didn't seem to like it, for some reason I couldn't fathom. He snapped something about politeness being a wonderful thing, but what the fuck were we doing here? Which is how Gus announces he is getting a little impatient.
Jacob still didn't look in a hurry. Slowly, very deliberately, like we were really dim, he began to talk about a hand-held game the Family was playing. He had just collected a rather large icon in Tehran, and he believed there would be more to collect in London and Berlin.
"A hand-held game? A fucking hand-held game?"
Gus was looking dangerous now, like Jacob's mandibles were going to be saying hello to his sacroiliac any moment now. Some people think Gus is a psycho, but I think it's living in the war zone. It takes us all in different ways.
Jacob looked very serious now. He locked onto Gus's eyes like they were the only ones in the room. "It's not a toy, our hand-held game. It'll give us something against the Union, something very significant."
I don't think Bones trusted Gus to wrap his brain around words like that. "I think what Jacob is telling us, is we're after something that'll nuke the Union's lid off."
Jacob's smile was a little warmer now, but nowhere near room temperature. "Precisely."