The Rhesus Chart: A Laundry Files Novel (The Laundry Files)

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9780356502526: The Rhesus Chart: A Laundry Files Novel (The Laundry Files)

The Hugo Award-winning author of Neptune's Brood returns to reveal the secrets of The Laundry Files in an adventure of Lovecraftian horror and espionage hi-jinks...

As a newly appointed junior manager within the Laundry—the clandestine organization responsible for protecting Britain against supernatural threats—Bob Howard is expected to show some initiative to help the agency battle the forces of darkness. But shining a light on what’s best left in the shadows is the last thing Bob wants to do—especially when those shadows hide an occult parasite spreading a deadly virus.

Traders employed by a merchant bank in London are showing signs of infection—an array of unusual symptoms such as super-strength and -speed, an uncanny talent for mind control, an extreme allergic reaction to sunlight, and an unquenchable thirst for blood. While his department is tangled up in bureaucratic red tape (and Buffy reruns) debating how to stop the rash of vampirism, Bob digs deeper into the bank’s history—only to uncover a blood-curdling conspiracy between men and monsters...

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About the Author:

Charles Stross is a full-time science fiction writer and resident of Edinburgh, Scotland. The author of seven Hugo-nominated novels and winner of three Hugo Awards for best novella, Stross has had his work translated into more than twelve languages. The Laundry Files Novels include The Atrocity Archives, The Jennifer Morgue, The Fuller Memorandum, The Apocalypse Codex, and The Rhesus Chart.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

1.

PROLOGUE: ONE MONTH AGO

“DON’T BE SILLY, BOB,” SAID MO. “EVERYBODY KNOWS vampires don’t exist.”

I froze with my chopsticks halfway to my mouth, the tiny corpse of a tempura-battered baby squid clutched precariously between them, while I flailed for a reply to her non sequitur. We were dining out at an uncomfortably pricey conveyor-belt sushi restaurant just off Leicester Square—it was my treat, although I had an ulterior motive. Unfortunately I was in the doghouse for some reason. I didn’t know why, and it might not even have been related to the deed I’d brought her here to apologize for, but dinner showed every sign of turning into one of those rare but depressingly unfocussed marital arguments we had every few months. And the most prominent warning sign was this: the replacement of reasoned discussion with peremptory denial.

“We can’t be sure of that. I mean, doesn’t that take us right into proving-a-negative territory? The ubiquity of the legends, the consistent elements, all suggest to me that maybe we’ve been looking in the wrong place—”

We were here because I thought it might help soften her up before I apologized for what I’d done to her friend Pete the month before. But instead of unwinding or letting me tell her about my latest office project, she’d switched into hypercritical mode as soon as we got to our booth. Apology shelved. Perhaps she’d just had a bad day at the office, but begging forgiveness for sins of necessity committed in the line of duty was clearly off the menu for the time being. Ten years together, seven of them married, have taught me to recognize the signs: right now if I reminded her that the sun rose in the east she’d start by stonewalling then escalate to a land war in Asia.

“Bob.” When she said my name like that, it gave me flashbacks to Miss Pearson in Primary Two (not my favorite teacher): “Vampires can’t exist. There’d be detailed records in the archives; they couldn’t possibly evade detection by the state for any significant period. Besides which”—she aimed an alarmingly sharp wooden chopstick at my nose—“there’d be corpses everywhere. Human blood is a poor nutrient source; it’s about 60 percent plasma by volume and only provides about 900 calories per liter, so your hypothetical blood-sucking fiend is going to have to drink about two and a half liters per a day. Those calories don’t come in the form of useful stuff like glucose and fat: it’s mostly protein from circulating red blood cells. Dracula would have to exsanguinate a victim every day just to stay alive, and would suffer from chronic ketoacidosis. The total number of intentional homicides for the whole country is around 700 a year; a single vampire would cause a 50 percent spike in the murder rate. Or they’d have to take transfusion-sized donations about two thousand times a year.” She capped the boss-level takedown with a tight-lipped, triumphant smile, the better to conceal her incisors: “If you think you, or I, or anyone in the office could mind-control hundreds of people well enough to prevent at least one of them going to their GP to complain about the lethargy and anemia . . .”

I gave in to the inevitable. “You’ve researched this already, haven’t you?”

“It came up in a brainstorming exercise about six years ago. We were investigating using ecosystem analysis to evaluate the probability of emergent new threat modalities. We also brainstormed golems, werewolves, and sasquatch.” She took a spoonful of miso soup. “If they existed we’d know about them, Bob.”

“But”—I paused to swallow my squid and pluck another one from the color-coded plate in front of me—“your model assumes they’re obligate hemophages, doesn’t it? And that they’re endothermic, or at least have an energy budget not entirely unlike every other vertebrate known to science. What if that’s not the whole story? What if they eat—”

“Bob.” She stopped short of rolling her eyes, but I could see she was bored, and growing more annoyed by the minute: “Eat your baby tentacle monsters before they go cold.”

Mo has an aversion to pseudopods. When we first met, some very unpleasant people were trying to sacrifice her in order to summon an alien horror from beyond spacetime. I’d distracted them long enough for the seventh cavalry to arrive, and sometime after that Mo and I had started dating—but she still couldn’t (and can’t) stomach calamari. I cleaned my plate and watched as she finished her soup.

“I’m done here,” she announced, picking up her violin case without asking whether I was still hungry. “I’m going home.”

Which is why I didn’t get a chance to apologize for dragging Pete into the business in Colorado Springs. Or to explain my hypothesis about what vampirism really was, and what I was doing about it. Or to save our marriage.

 · · · 

THE NAME’S HOWARD, BOB HOWARD. I’M A COMPUTER SCIENCE graduate and IT person, and I work for the British government in London, as does my wife Mo, Dominique O’Brien, who is a few years older than I am but still (in my opinion) a gorgeous redhead.

That’s the mundane version, cleared for public consumption. It is also deeply misleading, but it’s the version I’m allowed to give to friends and family without being required to kill them, so we’ll call that a net win. It’s also not entirely false.

The secret organization I work for is commonly called the Laundry because when it was established in its current form in 1940 it was based above a Chinese laundry in Soho. As Q Department, SOE, it was tasked with waging an occult war against the Ahnenerbe-SS. Today, the name may have changed several times but it’s the same organization—the one you have just been admitted to, if you’re reading this classified journal and your hair isn’t on fire due to the security wards on the cover.

I’m actually a specialist in a field called Applied Computational Demonology: the summoning and binding to service of unspeakable horrors from other dimensions, by means of mathematical tools. Magic is a branch of applied mathematics: we live in a multiverse, there is a platonic realm of pure numbers, and when we solve certain theorems, listeners in alien universes hear the echoes. By performing certain derivations and manipulating theorems, we can make extradimensional entities sit up and listen, and sometimes get them to do what we want them to. True names have power: you should assume that any names or locations I give you may have been changed in the interest of security.

Although ritual magic has been around since the dawn of time (and indeed the Laundry’s antecedents go back at least as far as Sir John Dee, in service to Queen Elizabeth the First under Sir Francis Walsingham), it was first systematized and placed on a concrete theoretical footing by Alan Turing in the 1940s. There are dark rumors that his “suicide” might have been a deeply misguided attempt to shut down a perceived security risk; if so, it was the organization’s biggest mistake ever. Later on they took to recruiting anyone who rediscovered the truth by accident—which led, via the mushrooming popularity of computing during the 1980s and 1990s, to an increasingly unwieldy and overstaffed org chart full of disgruntled CS postgrad researchers and mathematicians.

I ended up in this line of work because once upon a time, my perfectly innocent master’s thesis nearly summoned up an undead alien god in Wolverhampton. (We will step swiftly past the suggestion that this could only have resulted in urban regeneration.) Luckily the Laundry caught me in time and made me a job offer I wasn’t allowed to refuse: take a nice civil service job in an obscure department where we can keep an eye on you, or be found crunchy and good with ketchup by a nightmarish monster from beyond spacetime.

That was about eleven years ago. Unfortunately, after a while I got bored with my tedious make-work job and made the cardinal mistake of volunteering for active operational duty. As a result of that error of judgment, I’ve had more encounters with nightmarish monsters from beyond spacetime than I care to think about, not to mention their deranged cultist worshippers. This doubtless sounds very exciting to you, but the committee meetings and form-filling that go with the job are a bit of a downer. And that’s saying nothing about the hoops you have to jump through to satisfy the internal auditors that you did everything by the book. Adventures are something I try to avoid these days. Unfortunately I’m not very good at it.

Final wrap-up: on top of the ploddingly mathematical side of the job, I’ve stumbled into a specialized sideline as a trainee necromancer, which isn’t a talent you’d wish on your worst enemy; and I work for an obscure boutique department called External Assets that provides—well, that would be telling.

Mo also works for the Laundry. She’s not a computer geek. She’s an academic philosopher and combat epistemologist, not to mention a talented violinist. The instrument she plays was provided by the organization and has exotic, indeed horrifying, capabilities: it’s one of a kind. (If at this point you are thinking, “occult acoustic weapons,” then pat yourself on the back.)

When I lay it out like that we sound like some kind of superhero team, don’t we? But we’re actually just a couple of married civil servants with day jobs that involve far too much paperwork, and the occasional terrifying incursion from another dimension. And we’re probably doomed, but I’ll get to that later.

 · · · 

AN EARLY AUTUMN EVENING IN CENTRAL LONDON CAN BE A FINE experience, or a lousy one. It depends on a variety of factors: on the weather, on whether you’ve just been sucked into a bad-tempered and pointless argument with your wife, on how worried you are about next month’s credit card bill. Not to mention your uneasy anticipation of the meeting your new and somewhat unpredictable manager has scheduled for tomorrow afternoon.

That night I’d rolled ones on all of my dice: it was raining and gray, Mo was pissed off with me, the credit card bill was unpleasantly large, and Lockhart isn’t the world’s most forgiving boss. So I escorted Mo to the nearest tube station, then, rather than accompanying her home in prickly silence, I made a lame excuse and headed back to the office—not knowing that I was about to put myself in mortal danger.

 · · · 

I WORK IN A BUILDING CALLED THE NEW ANNEX. IT’S A LUMP OF mid-seventies concrete brutalism that squats above a closed discount store somewhere south of the Thames. The New Annex is one of the temporary offices we occupy while a public-private partnership rebuilds Dansey House, our headquarters building. Thanks to the current government’s budget cuts, the months have turned into years and the Dansey House rebuild appears to have stalled. Turns out there’s a nagging problem with long-forgotten and extremely powerful geases mucking up the foundations: we’ve run into the thaumaturgic equivalent of trying to rebuild a university campus and discovering that the walls are riddled with asbestos, the chemistry department used to pour mercury compounds and radioactive waste down the drains, and the admin block was built on top of a plague pit full of skeletons.

I’m resigned to working in the New Annex until I die. It wasn’t furnished for comfort or convenience, even by civil service standards—nobody expected to be there more than six months—and these days it’s just seedy, with peeling paint, cracked plaster, grubby uncleaned windows, and a persistent whiff of sewage in the basement levels.

 · · · 

THERE IS AN ENTRYPHONE BY THE SIDE DOOR TO A SHUTTERED discount shop in London. It looks abandoned, but works just fine: it’s our staff entrance. I stepped inside, pulling out my LED Lenser torch. “Hello?” I called.

Something hissed in the darkness nearby.

I raised my warrant card and pointed the torch in the direction of the sound. A withered face swung towards me: but then it recognized the warrant card and shuffled backwards, receding into the shadows again. (The lobby lights burned out six months ago and you can’t get replacements for the type of bulb they use anymore: hence the torch and the shadows.) I headed directly towards the stairwell at the end of the corridor, itching to reach the relative safety—and working lights—of my office.

The night watch are confined to the ground floor except during emergencies, and they’re only supposed to eat unauthorized intruders, and in any case I have special talents for dealing with their kind; but batteries have been known to fail, and anyway, who wants to be alone in the dark with a bunch of Residual Human Resources for company? Note: never use the Z-word to refer to them. Our Facilities Management people fastidiously describe them as Residual Human Resources, former employees who are still present in body if not in soul. When your mission involves binding and controlling mind-eating horrors, after a while it seems perfectly normal to use some of the leftover corpses to cut payroll costs on the late shift. Anyway, the Z-word is disrespectful, insulting, and considered politically incorrect around here. You might end up as one of them yourself: How would you feel about being called a zombie?

 · · · 

AS TO JUST WHY I WENT BACK TO THE OFFICE AFTER DINNER with Mo . . .

The Laundry marches to a different beat from the regular civil service, but we are not institutionally immune to outside influences. We do computery algorithmic stuff: this means we sometimes succumb to contagious management fads that are doing the rounds in the real world outside. In this case, the winds of change had blown in from Google (or, more likely, out of the arse of a senior management bod who had come down with a severe case of Chocolate Factory envy): management, bless their little cotton socks, decided that we needed to be Creative and Innovative and endowed with Silicon Valley start-up style va-va-voom. So they decreed that everyone above a certain grade was to spend four hours a week pursuing their own personal self-selected projects—which would have been great, if they hadn’t missed the point.

At Google employees spend 20 percent of their hours on their own personal projects; in the Laundry we didn’t get any extra time, or any extra budget. Also, we didn’t get to pursue arbitrary time-wasting enquiries on our own initiative: there was a stack of vetted proposals for Creative and Innovative research ideas, and we had to pick one from the pile and sign our names to it. Our assigned jobs still came first, and in any case usually kept us busy for up to 110 percent of our working hours. In other words, the beatings were to continue until morale (and our va-va-voom) improved.

To be fair, we could also contribute to the suggestions box from which a committee selected the suitable candidates for working time. If you really worked hard to engineer it, you could probably run your own project—just as long as you could sneak it past the committee without one of the jobsworths shooting it down. Anyway, the Creative and Innovative self-directed work inflicted upon us from...

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Descrizione libro Little, Brown Book Group, United Kingdom, 2015. Paperback. Condizione libro: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. LONDON CAN DRAIN THE LIFE OUT OF YOU .Bob Howard is an intelligence agent working his way through the ranks of the top secret government agency known as the Laundry . When occult powers threaten the realm, they ll be there to clean up the mess - and deal with the witnesses. There s one kind of threat that the Laundry has never come across in its many decades, and that s vampires. Mention them to a seasoned agent and you ll be laughed out of the room. But when a small team of investment bankers at one of Canary Wharf s most distinguished financial institutions discovers an arcane algorithm that leaves them fearing daylight and craving O positive, someone doesn t want the Laundry to know. And Bob gets caught right in the middle. Codice libro della libreria AA29780356502526

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Descrizione libro Little, Brown Book Group, United Kingdom, 2015. Paperback. Condizione libro: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. LONDON CAN DRAIN THE LIFE OUT OF YOU .Bob Howard is an intelligence agent working his way through the ranks of the top secret government agency known as the Laundry . When occult powers threaten the realm, they ll be there to clean up the mess - and deal with the witnesses. There s one kind of threat that the Laundry has never come across in its many decades, and that s vampires. Mention them to a seasoned agent and you ll be laughed out of the room. But when a small team of investment bankers at one of Canary Wharf s most distinguished financial institutions discovers an arcane algorithm that leaves them fearing daylight and craving O positive, someone doesn t want the Laundry to know. And Bob gets caught right in the middle. Codice libro della libreria AA29780356502526

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Descrizione libro Orbit. Condizione libro: New. The fifth Laundry Files novel by Charles Stross, and a jumping-on point for readers new to the series, The Rhesus Chart sees hacker and supernatural spy Bob Howard take on the (literal) bloodsuckers running London's financial district. Now out in paperback! Series: The Laundry Files. Num Pages: 400 pages. BIC Classification: FHD; FL. Category: (G) General (US: Trade). Dimension: 128 x 198 x 29. Weight in Grams: 278. . 2015. Paperback. . . . . Books ship from the US and Ireland. Codice libro della libreria V9780356502526

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