Kimberly Unger’s The Extractionist is about a woman who does just that: extracts people. From virtual space, that is. But while her hacking skills are second to none, sometimes her targets don’t want to be removed—and sometimes her clients prove dangerously treacherous to deal with. io9 has a first peek inside this thrilling new tale, which releases next July.
Here’s a description of the story to give you a bit more context:
Underground hacker Eliza McKay is one of the best in the virtual space where people create personas that can interact as data. When rich or important people get stuck in the Swim—for reasons that are sleazy, illegal, or merely unlucky—it’s McKay’s job to extract them. And McKay’s job just got a lot more dangerous.
While on an assignment in Singapore, McKay is flagged by an investigative outfit led by Ellie Brighton. Brighton desperately needs her corporate superior extracted from the Swim. The brute-force hacking tactics of Brighton’s tech Rose have already failed. The executive’s personality remains trapped and fragmented; if left for much longer, he won’t survive.
But the job is turning out to be more dangerous than McKay initially thought: her house is broken into, her target is surprisingly reluctant to be extracted, and something is menacing her informational AI sprite, Spike. Something big.
Here’s the look at the full cover, designed by Elizabeth Story, followed by the excerpt.
It took McKay a moment to register the woman standing across the dripping bistro table with a handful of helpful napkins. The woman was probably taller than McKay even without the heels—a catastrophically red twist of hair and a teal blue overcoat meant she stood out in a crowd. Not what you’d expect from someone trying to stay under the radar. But that might be the point.
The ever-unhelpful Overlay reminded her that the meeting was about to start.
“Erm . . . yes,” McKay answered awkwardly. She took half the offered salvation and between the two of them the table was mopped and righted in a moment. “Sorry,” she continued, “the coffee had a real kick.”
One of the ever-present voomer robots bumped insistently against her shoe until she dropped the sodden napkins into its wide-open maw. The blue enamel paint on its leading edge was scarred from the overeager pursuit of dropped trash, and probably from the boots of a few local kids as well. McKay suppressed a flash of irritation at the idea of its casual mistreatment as it scooted away, burbling delightedly to itself in the satisfied tones coded into service robots everywhere.
“It must be a Monday,” the woman opposite McKay said conversationally, and then took a seat without being asked. “I nearly took a caffeine shower on the MRT on my way here.”
The smile she offered was more along the lines of I know how you feel than my, what an idiot, which suggested McKay had kept a touch of professionalism intact.
The Overlay did its job and told McKay the client wasn’t carrying one of the encoded MRT passes on her person, suggesting she was lying. You could still buy a plastic pass at the train station. The Overlay might not see it, but her personal AI tended to deal in absolutes. It was McKay’s job to interpret the results. Lying to conceal how she got here? Making conversation? Setting up a backstory?
The other woman displayed none of the nervousness that usually came with an inexperienced client. It suggested the roundabout connection hadn’t been overkill at all. She was a professional of some sort—guns, information, or the silver needle of political intrigue—McKay wasn’t sure just yet. She was reluctant to risk the distraction of a background check during a client meeting, despite the Overlay’s eagerness to get on the job.
McKay asked the Overlay to stay in the background so she could focus on her assessment. Already this woman was throwing up contradictions that suggested this wasn’t a run-of-the-mill assignment. No freckles. Eyes entirely human, and green to boot.
“Can I get you something, Ms. . . ?” McKay paused for the other woman to fill in the name, but the woman’s attention was elsewhere, rummaging around in a handbag that McKay hadn’t noticed a few seconds ago. It was a risk of keeping the AI in the background, the human mind could get distracted, miss things. The Overlay could have provided the information in the space between eyeblinks, but the connection, the human connection was critical. McKay sometimes had to remind herself of that.
“Unfortunately, Ms. McKay, I am already short on time this morning. I’m part of a group that specializes in the abuse of new technologies. . . .” She casually touched a spot on her neck as she rummaged, just below and behind the ear. Tympanic speaker. Her casual competence, the matter-of-factness, affected a good ten-foot radius around her. She was not easily shoehorned into the damsel-in-distress category.
“I need an extraction done, here in the city. . . .” Her eyes narrowed a fraction as something McKay couldn’t hear got her attention. “Excuse me, I think we’re going to have to reschedule.”
McKay had just parted her lips to reply when she felt the all-over kiss of something very powerful charging up through the ’miteline that connected all the computers in her body. She recognized the feeling and had to stamp out the panic that threatened to follow. The woman’s green eyes met hers, and everything about her expression told McKay to avoid what was coming next.
As if it had been rehearsed, they both got up from the table smoothly and headed in opposite directions. They each walked quickly, but not too quickly. McKay was already locking everything down in her head, making sure the Overlay was off, and not just spun down but OFF off. In a city like Singapore, it wasn’t guns and bombs you had to worry about. Any attack would be digital, virtual, it would come from a place where Eliza McKay was uniquely exposed. An EMP pulse could wreck every component in her head and nobody else in the room would be affected. She briefly weighed the risk of jail time for jaywalking against the cost of repairing her own internal computers, but the light was in her favor.
McKay hit the far side of the crosswalk just as the EMP went off in the coffee shop. No sound, no explosion, just the unearthly silence of electrical death.
Excerpt from Kimberly Unger’s The Extractionist reprinted by permission. Copyright Tachyon Publications.
The Extractionist by Kimberly Unger will be released July 12, 2022; you can pre-order a copy here.
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