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Shades of Gray, страница 1

 

Shades of Gray
 


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Shades of Gray


  PRAISE FOR

  BLACK AND WHITE

  “In this complex tale, Kessler and Kittredge create a dark world where the narrow line between hero and vigilante is defined by corporate interests…. Jet and Iridium’s multifaceted relationship will appeal to all who have come to want more from their superheroes than good vs. evil and mindless battles.”

  —Publishers Weekly

  “A fast-paced and compelling take on superheroes.”

  —Romantic Times (4 stars)

  “What could one possibly add to the superheroes’ lore that hasn’t already been done in comics? … Could Black and White offer something fresh to the genre? In one word: yes…. This is a story and a world that both pay tribute and make a parody of superheroes. It works and it is cool.”

  —The Book Smugglers

  “Not since Good Omens by Gaiman and Pratchett has a co-authored novel come across as seamless as Black and White does…. Ms. Kessler and Kittredge know their superhero comics [but] please don’t just think that this is just a comic book in novel form. Kessler and Kittredge blend elements of romance and mystery into this well thought out story [and] fans of thrillers will end up satisfied as well…. 4 out of 4 stars!”

  —Preternatural Reviews

  “The gripping first volume of the Icarus Project series captures the reader’s interest and holds it hostage until the very last page…. Full to the brim with action, emotional resonance, and humor, Black and White has something for everyone. The Icarus Project series sets a new standard for superhero novels, and this reviewer anxiously and avidly awaits the next installment.”

  —Bitten by Books

  “Kessler and Kittredge do an impressive job in laying the foundation and building their world of heroes and villains…. If you’re not instantly caught up in the action, then the emotional aspect of Black and White is sure to capture your attention and hold you spellbound until the very end. Whether you love a good comic book, or just enjoy getting caught up in the fantasy of superheroes, this is one book that readers should have on this year’s wish list.”

  —Darque Reviews

  “There are no words to properly describe how much I adored this book…. Black and White has action, suspense, mystery, and fantastic characterization. When I wasn’t reading it, I was thinking about it and could not stop thinking about it! I was immersed, obsessed, and in love with this book for three days of nonstop reading…. Kessler and Kittredge are the ultimate writing duo and are sure to gain a huge following with this exciting new fantasy series.”

  —Night Owl Romance (5 out of 5, Reviewer Top Pick)

  “This is a must for comic book fans that like their heroes three-dimensional. I couldn’t put it down. I’m panting for the sequel due next year.”

  —University City Review

  “Black and White is cover-to-cover superhero girl power awesomeness…. A wild, fun, irresistible ride. It’s fast-paced enough to read in a day. Just don’t plan on doing anything else until you’re through.”

  —Waiting for Fairies

  “Besides being a terrific character study of two female superheroes in the early twenty-second century, I loved the pervasive duality of this novel…. I loved getting to know these two complex but wounded characters…. Black and White does an admirable job of making us care about Jet and Iridium and their friendship…. Superb character-driven storytelling with no prerequisite for comic book appreciation needed.”

  —SciFiGuy

  “A stunning superhero story … The plot is fascinatingly layered, with the authors leaping between past and present to drop story seeds and watch them grow. There’s so much happening, and it all ties together, making for a compelling exploration into the secrets at the heart of this society. There’s something corrupt and dark hidden in the depths of the extrahuman world, and watching it all unfold changes the nature of things considerably. Toss in some well-executed action scenes, and you pretty much have an ideal comic book in novel format. It’s going to be a long wait until the next installment of this series.”

  —The Green Man Review

  “This complex story explores the good and evil in all of us, even superheroes…. Without taking itself too seriously, this Justice League–meets–Harry Potter novel offers some valuable insights into the nature of being human…. Kessler and Kittredge definitely filled a void for me by creating female superheroes who stand on their own and aren’t connected to existing male superheroes…. I’m definitely looking forward to the next installment in this series.”

  —SF Signal

  Also by Jackie Kessler and Caitlin Kittredge

  BLACK AND WHITE

  The authors dedicate this book to their parents,

  who bought us all those comic books

  when we were kids.

  Acknowledgments

  JACKIE SAYS…

  A huge thank-you to everyone who made this book possible—my co-author Caitlin Kittredge, without whom none of this would have happened; Miriam Kriss, the best literary agent in the world; the entire Ballantine Spectra team, most especially Anne Groell, our tireless and phenomenal editor; Heather Brewer and Renee Barr, for their support and humor; my mom and dad, for understanding the importance of comic books in a girl’s formative years; my Precious Little Tax Deductions, Ryan and Mason, who watch the best cartoons; and my Loving Husband, Brett, the thief who stole my heart many years ago.

  CAITLIN SAYS …

  First and foremost, I have to thank my superb co-author, Jackie Kessler, for being endlessly patient and creative. This book is a true collaboration, and we couldn’t have done it alone … only together. To my lovely agent, Rachel Vater, solver of problems and soother of nerves, and our wonderful editor at Spectra, Anne Groell. All of the readers who enjoy the Icarus Project around the world, my parents, Team Seattle, and Ed Brubaker, a fantastic guy who writes fantastic comics. Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, John Byrne, and Neil Gaiman—for me, they started it all.

  Contents

  Other Books by this Author

  Title Page

  Dedication

  Acknowledgments

  What Has Come Before

  Prologue: Channel Surfing

  Part 1 - Now

  Chapter 1 - Jet

  Chapter 2 - Iridium

  Chapter 3 - Jet

  Chapter 4 - Iridium

  Chapter 5 - Jet

  Chapter 6 - Iridium

  Interlude

  Part 2 - Then

  Chapter 7 - Vixen

  Chapter 8 - Angelica

  Chapter 9 - Luster

  Chapter 10 - Night

  Interlude

  Part 3 - Now

  Chapter 11 - Iridium

  Chapter 12 - Jet

  Chapter 13 - Iridium

  Chapter 14 - Jet

  Chapter 15 - Iridium

  Chapter 16 - Jet

  Chapter 17 - Iridium

  Interlude

  Part 4 - Then

  Chapter 18 - Vixen

  Chapter 19 - Angelica

  Chapter 20 - Luster

  Chapter 21 - Night

  Chapter 22 - Vixen

  Chapter 23 - Angelica

  Chapter 24 - Night

  Chapter 25 - Luster

  Chapter 26 - Night

  Interlude

  Part 5 - Now

  Chapter 27 - Jet

  Chapter 28 - Iridium

  Chapter 29 - Jet

  Chapter 30 - Iridium

  Interlude

  Part 6 - Then

  Chapter 31 - Vixen

  Chapter 32 - Angelica

  Chapter 33 - Luster

  Chapter 34 - Angelica

  Chapter 35 - Night

  Chapter 36 - Team Alpha

  Interlude
>
  Part 7 - Now

  Chapter 37 - Jet

  Chapter 38 - Iridium

  Chapter 39 - Jet

  Interlude

  Part 8 - Then

  Chapter 40 - Luster

  Chapter 41 - Vixen

  Chapter 42 - Angelica

  Chapter 43 - Night

  Chapter 44 - Vixen

  Chapter 45 - Angelica

  Chapter 46 - Luster

  Chapter 47 - Night

  Interlude

  Part 9 - Now

  Chapter 48 - Jet

  Chapter 49 - Iridium

  Chapter 50 - Iridium and Jet

  Chapter 51 - Iridium

  Chapter 52 - Jet

  Interlude

  Part 10 - Then

  Chapter 53 - Night

  Chapter 54 - Arclight

  Chapter 55 - Night

  Interlude

  Part 11 - Now

  Chapter 56 - Jet

  Chapter 57 - Iridium

  Chapter 58 - Jet

  Chapter 59 - Iridium

  Chapter 60 - Jet

  Chapter 61 - Iridium

  Chapter 62 - Jet

  And in the End …

  Epilogue

  About the Authors

  Copyright

  What Has Come Before

  It’s a dark world out there. Whether it’s from the ever-present pollution layer in the sky or from the power-hungry tentacles of corporate consolidation, none can truly say. It’s a world of gangs and guns, of good people scurrying like rats and trying to avoid notice. It’s a world where you have to be some sort of hero to change the way things are.

  That’s probably why the heroes—the powerful extrahumans in the Squadron—are all under strict control by the megalomaniacal global enterprise known as Corp-Co. But the heroes are too busy to notice, what with fighting crime and working for their corporate sponsors. (After all, heroes need to earn their keep when they’re not off battling for justice.) Some members of the Squadron, like the Shadow-wielding Jet, resent that photo ops are just as important as keeping the streets safe. But there’s no changing the system.

  Then the day comes when Iridium, daughter of New Chicago’s most infamous villain, and Taser, a vigilante, attack Corp through its Academy for extrahuman students. The duo’s intention is to take down Ops, the high-tech operations system that links Corp to the Squadron. Iridium thinks this will simply leave the heroes without Corp eyes and ears.

  Instead, it destroys the only mechanism that keeps the extrahumans—all Squadron extrahumans in the United and Canadian States of America—under Corp-Co’s thumb. Once Ops goes down, the subtle brainwashing signal that had reined in the heroes is cut off.

  And suddenly, hundreds of superpowered men and women realize they had been slaves. For years.

  Most of them don’t take the news very well.

  PROLOGUE

  Channel Surfing

  Nothing good on the tele anymore. Hey, thanks for the drink.”

  “No problem. You checked everything already?”

  “Mostly. Pretty much everything’s just more of the same. Depressing stuff. Here, see for yourself.”

  **BLINK**

  [Mega Broadcasting System’s Financial News, with Miles McCormick, already in progress]

  MILES: … again, the Dow dropped more than eighteen hundred points today in the wake of what seems to be an unprecedented Squadron rebellion—

  **BLINK**

  [United and Canadian Broadcasting System’s Evening News, with Gena Mead, already in progress]

  GENA: … more reports of citizens being victimized by those they turned to only yesterday to protect them: the Squadron. Hospitals are filling beyond capacity—

  **BLINK**

  [The News Network’s Spin Room, with Tom Carlin, already in progress]

  TOM: … seriously, I want to know: who laced the extrahumans’ food with junk? If this isn’t an incredibly bad drug trip, then I don’t know what the hell is happening in the Americas. Someone better tell the Super ’Roids we ain’t the bad guys. And for the love of Jehovah, can someone get more from Corp-Co Chairman Stan Kane than “No comment?” Really, Stanley, what the hell happened to your supersoldiers—

  **BLINK**

  [Transnational Broadcasting System’s Evening News, local edition, with Shannon Beverly, already in progress]

  SHANNON: … five Squadron heroes have smashed their way into Bank of Americas over on Lakeshore, destroying most of the building, terrorizing the bank staff, and taking off with more than e500,000 in digichips. Fifteen people, including eight police officers, were hurt—

  **BLINK**

  [The News Network’s Headline News, with M’Chelle M’bachu, already in progress]

  M’CHELLE: … Everyman Society Chairman Frank Wurtham is demanding immediate action against not just the Squadron but all extrahumans.

  [CUT to FRANK WURTHAM in a press conference, outside Everyman headquarters in Boston]

  WURTHAM: It’s not just unthinkable, it’s un-American for us to sit back and watch everything our fathers and their fathers and their fathers before them struggled to build, watch it all pounded to dust by a handful of genetic freaks. It’s our duty to the Americas, and more than that—it’s our Jehovah-given right as normal, everyday citizens to fight to protect ourselves and our country against these abominations of nature. All of us must rise up and—

  “Jaysus, please shut him up.”

  “Sorry. He can be mesmerizing.”

  “You just have a thing for redheads.”

  “Mmm. Lucky for you.”

  **BLINK**

  [American Public Television’s The Captain and the Kid, already in progress]

  … CAPTAIN COURAGEOUS puts a gloved hand on KID POWER’s shoulder, stopping the youth from running into the dark cave that hides LADY EVIL and her captive.

  “Deadly.”

  “Yeah, this is a good one. I saw it when it first aired …”

  “Shhh.”

  CAP: Really, Kid, ya gotta … take a breath and think before ya go chargin’ in headfirst like that.

  KID: See, that’s the problem, Cap. You think too much. While you’re so busy exercising your graymatter, there’s a girl in there—an innocent girl—who’s terrified and alone and has no one to help her!

  CAP: I know ya got … feelings … for the girl. But ya gotta use your head, Kid.

  KID: I love her, Cap. And I’m not letting Lady Evil get away with her dastardly plan!

  KID POWER shrugs out of CAPTAIN COURAGEOUS’s grip and runs pell-mell into the cave.

  CAP: Kid, wait!

  From inside the black cave, a shout of surprise … and then a long, bloodcurdling scream.

  CAP: Dang it, Kid.

  CAPTAIN COURAGEOUS shakes his head. Then he clenches his jaw determinedly. With his cape billowing heroically, he marches toward—

  [BLACK SCREEN]

  “Hey …”

  “You blinked.”

  “Not this time. Damn it, I like this one. Lady Evil’s going to get the captain all horned up …”

  “Hang on. Something’s happening.”

  [American Public Television logo appears, followed by a close-up of APT Evening News anchorwoman Randi Rose]

  RANDI: Good evening. At 7:13 P.M., President Kirby, in an effort to contain the extrahuman revolt in New Chicago, New York, Toronto, Los Angeles, and other cities across the Americas, has invoked the Insurrection Act. That’s right: he’s sending in the troops to rein in the superheroes.

  [CUT SHOT of PRESIDENT JOHN KIRBY in the Rose Garden, illuminated with plasbulbs and vidlights, standing at a podium with the presidential seal.]

 
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