He made a deal to get back his glory. The cost of betrayal is a price on his head…
Horace "The Hammer" Harkness refuses to give up, despite pushing his genetically modified physique past the point of regenerating from another death in the arena.
Washed up, desperate for a return to glory, he borrows cash from a man he believes is a Russian loan shark to rebuild his body for a major comeback. But when his gamble pays off, using the prize money to pay for a sick boy's gene re-sequencing is as good as signing his own death warrant.
He soon discovers that the "loan shark" was none other than the Number Two man of a global cyber-syndicate. Forced to go on the run, Harkness joins a traveling gladiator roadshow where he can lay low until he figures out what to do. But when mobsters threaten the woman he loves, he realizes there's only one way to finally settle the score.
Has Harkness got what it takes to hammer the entire Russian cyber-mob?
The Hammer Falls is a hard-hitting standalone cyberpunk novel. If you like gritty heroes, barbaric adversaries, high-tech weapons, and high-stakes action, you'll love Travis Heermann's gladiatorial thrill-ride.
"Travis Heermann's THE HAMMER FALLS is a raucous, entertaining, action-packed riot. Like his characters, Heermann punches hard from beginning to end, a skilled storyteller who knows exactly what he's doing. THE HAMMER FALLS reads like pure pulp—but like Philip José Farmer, Dashiell Hammett, and the other pulp masters, Heermann brings real heart and depth to his characters. Amidst the heavy-hitting violence, there's care and comedy and endearing sacrifice. Do not miss this book."– J.L. Forrest, author of the Songs at the End of the World series
"Take WWE and MMA, amp the violence to a bone-breaking, body-busting eleven, and you've got The Hammer Falls. But wash away the bloodstains and you'll surprisingly find yourself clobbered by camaraderie and heart."– Warren Hammond, author of the KOP series and Denver Moon
"Fast-paced, action-packed, and full of heart. The Hammer Falls will have you praying Ridley Scott gives this one a home on the silver screen. He and Heermann are the only two capable of delivering the perfect balance of gladiatorial action and high-stakes science fiction."– Joshua Viola, award-winning editor of Nightmares Unhinged and Cyber World
Horace "The Hammer" Harkness stared the Fight Doctor in the face. "What the hell are you talking about? I've died twenty-seven times."
"I'm sorry to be the bearer of bad news, Hammer."
Horace sat up on the exam table and rested his forehead in his hands. If he wasn't feeling like he'd just had his guts strewn in ribbons across the floor, he might have put this little man through the nearest cinder-block wall. The shadows under the overhead light bank were stark. The incomprehensible EKG line scrawled across the med-scanner. The air in the exam room was thick with the smells of sweat and muscle ointment, styptic powder and blood.
The Fight Doctor peeled the scanner leads away from Horace's flesh, little stings of pain. "You're the only pit fighter ever to survive to fifty." The round-faced, round-bodied man cleared his throat and wiped sweat from his forehead. "Truth is you've spent too many years in the minor franchises, and regenites can only repair so much of that kind of damage."
"Why now?" The door of the small room was closed. No one outside would hear, but someone could certainly be listening—the sponsors, the promoter. Too much money on the line for surprises like this.
"Frankly, because you have the pain tolerance of a mammoth, and that should indicate to you how bad it is. I'm surprised you haven't keeled over permanently before now. I'm afraid you're off the card."
"Whatever happened to 'the show must go on'?"
The Fight Doctor sniffed. "Nobody wants to see a sick old man die, Hammer."
Horace slammed his chitin-hardened fist into the exam table. The biometric readouts flickered with the force of his blow. "What the fuck am I supposed to do? Do you know how many favors I had to cash in just to be here tonight? Do you have any idea how much all those treatments cost me?" Not to mention how much money he'd had to borrow for them.
The Fight Doctor was right about too many years in the minor franchises. In the minors where sponsorship was as thin as a pimp's word, even the bonuses from victories and lethalities often didn't cover the cost of regeneration. Healing too many wounds naturally had taken its toll.
"Sorry, Hammer. I don't make the rules." Clutching his clip-pad like a shield to his chest, the Fight Doctor edged back.
"The fuck you don't!" Horace's spiked boot sent the medical monitor spinning away to crash into the wall.
"Hammer, please, calm down. If you die—"
"What's one more time? After fifteen years, I'm the Main Fucking Event!"
Twenty-seven times the world had gone black. Sometimes it was slow, like going to sleep, other times in an explosion of pain. And never a white light to be seen.
The Fight Doctor rubbed sweat off his bald pate. "Look, I know it means a lot to you—"
"It means a lot to the thousands out there who remember, who came to see me! Me and a few guys like me built this fucking sport! Do you want to go out there and tell them they can't see The Hammer's comeback just because he had a dizzy spell during warm-up?"
"I'd hardly call it a dizzy spell. And this time could be for good—"
"What's that?" Horace cupped a hand behind his ear.
"—known each other a long time—"
"I can't understand you."
"You got Regenecorp's cock in your mouth. I'm surprised you don't have lockjaw by now." With a swat of his paw, Horace cleared a tray of instruments and bottles. He would never, ever admit to Ferris Wilton, MD—a.k.a. the Fight Doctor, complete with action figure, trading card, and interactive animated comic book—that moving his left elbow just right sent pain up his arm that would incapacitate lesser men. Back in '62, at Trauma in Tokyo XIV, Andre the Titan had thought it should bend just as far in the wrong direction.
"You can't intimidate me into letting you fight tonight," the Fight Doctor said, "not this time." But the quaver in his voice said precisely the opposite.
If Horace didn't fight tonight, his life might just as well be over anyway.
He stood to his full height, his head brushing the underside of the light fixture in the center of the room. "Then let me put it to you this way. I'll sign whatever the fuck you want me to sign. In blood if you want. When I'm dead, there isn't a soul on this fucking planet gonna give a shit about who's liable. But I gotta fight The Freak tonight."
The Fight Doctor sighed a little too deeply. "I'll see what I can do, Horace."
"You do that."
The doctor trundled out.
The pain in Horace's chest and left shoulder returned, a deep, throbbing ache. He rubbed his chest as he sat on the table again, reached for his duffel bag, and fished out his netlink. The icons on the screen were too small for his meaty fingers, but he managed to snag the one he wanted—a picture of Lilly and him, silken cheek to tattooed jowl, both smiling under a rain of sparkling light and neon. He had never seen eyes so big and brown before, the kind of eyes that could make a man forget his pain.
If only they didn't have walls behind them.
He felt a stab not unlike a blade punching through his sternum. He thumbed the Call icon. The netlink pinged. Pinged again.
The connection clicked, and a man's voice said, "Titty Twister."
"Hey, Max. This is Hammer."
"Hammer! My man! How's it hangin'!" The beat of background music pulsed behind Max's voice.
"To the knee, brother. Listen, I need to talk to Lilly."
"She ain't here. Ain't seen her since last week."
"Last week?" Horace rubbed the old, deep scar on his forehead, where Gaston "The Freak" Rousseau's kukri had nearly taken the top of his skull clean off almost twenty years ago. That had been death number fourteen. Lost a few childhood memories from that one, too.
Max said, "Yeah, don't know what to tell you. Hey, I tried to get tickets for tonight, man, but no dice. We're gonna have the pay-per-view up on the big screen though."
"It'll be a hell of a show. Listen, if you hear from her, tell her to call me. It's important."
"You got it. She have your number?"
"Yeah, she's got my number all right." Another stab.
"Kick Freak's ass, man!"
"You got it, brother." Horace disconnected and tossed the netlink into his bag.
The doctor came back with a netpad. "Do you want to review the terms?"
"Give me the fucking thing."
The doctor handed him the tablet with a trembling hand, and Horace pressed his thumb across the screen to sign his consent.
The thunder of the seventy thousand fans filtered through several meters of concrete into his dressing room, and the heavy beat of the music pounded on his skull like a fist. He hadn't fought in front of a crowd this large in over a decade. It had been a decline by centimeters over the years; the attendance at his bouts dwindling from tens of thousands in coliseums like this to a few thousand in the B-list stables to a few hundred at venues like the Rumble in Rockport, where there weren't even bonuses for getting a clean, resurrectable kill, or worse, they prohibited kills, which never brought in the same kind of crowds. Sometimes the purse didn't even pay the rent. In the big venues, there was always someone new on the rise, the hungry young ones clawing for the spotlight. The trouble with up-and-comers was they created just as many down-and-outers.
The screen on the wall came alive with the start of the broadcast.
"Live from Caesar's Coliseum in Las Vegas, Death Match Unlimited presents Fury Dome XXIV!"
The camera swept over the fighting pit in the center of the coliseum up toward the rows of cheering fans.
"Ten spectacular bouts! Twenty bloodthirsty warriors! And the rematch twenty years in the making between two of the greatest pit fighters in history!"
Las Vegas was one of the places where money gathered like iron filings to a magnet. The scent of hotdogs and burgers filtered on the breeze through the tunnels, all of them sold at sky-high prices, even though they probably weren't even real meat. Anyone who could afford a ticket to this event could afford those prices. Around the city, labor-class bars hosted pay-per-view events where the ragged-hemmed attendees would be lucky to get a cupful of popcorn.
His netlink chimed at him. Lilly's face leaped into mind, but as he fished the netlink out, he saw that the incoming address was blocked.
He answered it. "Yeah, who is this?"
"You're calling me now?"
The voice was thick with a Russian accent mixed with snake oil. "A reminder from Papa—"
"Listen, asshole. I told you, I'll have your money tonight."
"I know you're good for it, Hammer. It's just that Papa, he gets nervous, you know? Too many guys smarter than you have tried to fuck him. Papa fucks back a whole lot harder. We'll have car waiting outside. Get 'lost,' and there aren't many places Hammer Harkness can hide, you know?"
"I'll be out back, the guy with blood all over him."
"Watch your mouth, smartass. Regenites can't put your head back on. How's that stripper you go to see so often? What's her name, Daisy? Do you know where she is right now? I do."
Horace bit back a threat, then disconnected and tossed the netlink into his bag again. The Russians owned Vegas. Loansharking, protection rackets, skimming the gambling profits, all of it. The word was that the Russian syndicate was not to be trifled with, but there had been nowhere else for him to go. Such gangster connections were part and parcel of any prominent fighter's life as the odds-makers crawled out from the cracks in the mortar and asked for a few "favors" here and there. But Horace had been around enough to know the score, to watch his back. And if making a deal with Dmitri Mogilevich was the only way for him to have one last shot at the big time, it was a gamble he willingly made.
If he won tonight, the purse would be enough to pay off the Russians and grow himself a new heart. If he lost, he would still be able to pay off the Russians, with maybe enough money left for cab fare home, but the residuals would keep him afloat for the next couple of months. In an event as big as this one, Regenecorp, Death Match Unlimited's chief sponsor, furnished the regenerations for winner and loser.
His ravaged knees creaked like dry steel knuckles as he stepped into the hallway. His stomach still felt queasy.
A lanky, buck-toothed, teenage kid squeezed against the wall to let him by in the narrow concrete tunnel. The kid's eyes glowed with reverence. "Go get him, Hammer. Hammer Time!" He clutched his fists together above his head into the Thunder Hammer.
"Thanks, brother." He stopped and extended his hand to the young man.
A grin spread like sunrise across the kid's face as he shook. "Can I have your autograph?"
Horace's hand engulfed his. "Sure."
"Awesome! My dad always talks about seeing you and The Freak in L.A."
"I don't remember, but you lost that one. He was rooting for you, though." The kid pulled a Death Match Unlimited rag-mag out of his back pocket, this week's issue with a montage of twenty-year-old animated holos depicting the last time The Hammer and The Freak faced each other. The caption read "DEATH MATCH OF THE CENTURY PART II." The kid said, "Sign it to Larry. That's my dad."
"You tell your old man to keep raising you right." Horace scribbled his signature on the cover with the gel-tip from his pocket.
"Thanks, Hammer! He'll be so stoked!"
"No problem, brother." They shook hands again. He had to be careful with the strength of his grip; he could crush a normal human's hand into crunchy red paste.
"Hammer Time," Horace said.
The teenager practically floated away.
Horace's netlink pinged. The screen showed an incoming address he didn't recognize. He answered.
"Hey, Hammer, what's up?" Lilly's voice, neutral, polite, without video.
His heart skipped a beat.
She sniffed. "I heard you were trying to reach me." There was an unfamiliar tremor in her voice.
"Well, I—you crying or something?"
"You said it was important."
"It's just—where are you anyway? You okay? Are you safe? You don't sound like you."
"I'm fine. What's up?"
"Well, tonight's the big fight, me and Gaston. You know, the Coliseum, biggest in a long time, maybe ever, and I thought you might be able to come. I know it's been a while. I got a couple seats reserved, see, and—"
"Oh, Hammer, I told you—"
"Listen. I know. I get it. I, uh..." He leaned against the wall. "It would mean a lot if you was here tonight." A wave of dizziness washed over him. His heart rattled and strained against the inside of his ribcage, and something was cinching his lungs closed. He covered the netlink with his hand and gritted his teeth.
She sighed. "Hammer, I would like to come, it's sweet of you to ask, but I can't. Look, I gotta—"
"Just this one time."
The words seemed to hover on her lips for several seconds. "How do I find you?"
"I'll leave word with the guards at the back entrance to bring you to the locker room."
"No guarantees, Hammer. I'm kind of in the middle of something now."
"I get it."
"Bye, Hammer." The connection went dead.
"You ready to do this thing, stumpy?" Horace said, crossing Gaston's dressing room in three great strides.
"Fuck you and your 'stumpy,' eh?" Gaston The Freak Rousseau's voice sounded like he gargled with molten glass.
They clasped their leathered, meaty hands in a powerful grip. Then Gaston feinted a punch toward Horace's stomach, and Horace's combat instincts slapped it away before it registered in his mind.
"Oh ho! I didn't know fossils could move." Gaston only came up to Horace's sternum, but the fifteen-centimeter flaming-orange Mohawk made up some of the difference. The David-and-Goliath aspect of their comparative statures was one reason their matches had been so popular back in the day.
"You just keep right on thinking that," Horace said.
"By the way, my offer is still open. Come and help me groom young nipple-suckers for the pit."
"Thanks all the same, but I still don't speak Pussy."
"But it is the language of love! Speak Français and pussy rains from the heavens." Gaston made an expansive gesture toward the dull, concrete ceiling. "You've met my wife."
Horace rubbed his jaw with a grin. "Maybe there is something to that...."
The air smelled of rubbing alcohol, ointment, and petroleum jelly, and his head again brushed the bank of light fixtures above, making their shadows sway. The cinder-block walls were painted white, but somehow started to gray. The light dimmed.
Gaston's voice sounded like it was coming through a steel culvert. "You okay, Hark?"