Exclusive excerpt of Tomorrow’s Children by Daniel Polansky

Last Updated on February 29, 2024

Every now and then, we get to do something really cool. Today, you get to join us in checking out some of Daniel Polansky’s February 27th, 2024 release from Angry Robot Books, Tomorrow’s Children.

In our review, we talked about how the book has a steep learning curve for the voice in the first quarter, and definitely rewarded the reader who could focus and read for big chunks of time. It has Polansky’s trademark author stamp on it, which is just bloody brilliant, so if you loved The Builders, Those Above, and Straight Razor Cure, then you know you need this in your life.

Full of Polansky’s trademark snark and character bitterness and snappy dialogue, with excellent twists and turns and imagination in spades, Tomorrow’s Children is well worth the read.

Without further ado, let’s get you into the good stuff.

Excerpt of Tomorrow’s Children by Daniel Polansky

A While back …

Hem and the Serpent

Hem followed the blood trail to a den on the banks of the Huddy and to half a dozen newborn pups. One look and you could see why you bred dogs for meat but you caught them for war. Savage, howling mutts with big paws – they’d go for fifty a head in Midtown, but first he had to kill their mother.

“Go quiet, girl,” said Hem. The bitch had left a leg in his snare trap five blocks back, but still she blocked the burrow with her body and snapped furiously at his approach. “Go easy.” Hem picked up a rusted pipe in case she tried to charge but planned on waiting until she bled out. “Dim comes for all of us.”

The weeds in Inwood Hill Park rose over Hem’s head, and high above both, the Henry Hudson Parkway sat still and silent. Inwood was as barren a spot as could be found on the Island, abandoned for generations, fallow since the funk. Hem’s father had been a hunter. His whole life he had lived off the things what lived off men, hunting cat and dog, hunting wild pigeon and sewer snake, and even he didn’t fancy being so far from civilization. But lately, with every Bubba and Lamont thinking they were hunters, a man had to range wide to have a hope of profit.

And look at how his audacity was rewarded! Six pups, plus what he’d fetch for the mother’s skin, as rich a catch as he’d ever bagged, excluding an alligator he had once clubbed to death what had gotten lost topside.

The bitch growled, the pups yelped, Hem shifted back a step. “Lay those cares down now, girl,” he said. “There’s none carry ’em forever.”

Hem took a quick gander at the wall of gray which floated a few hundred feet out onto the Huddy. Downtown, the funk seemed certain, a smeary dome splitting the sky and the towers in two, separating the Island from the World-Writ-Large; but by the coasts, and this far north especially, it had a way of moving faster than you’d think possible. Stare down at your shoes and look back up to find it next door, shapes in the

firmament like, like, like–

Hem dodged back. “Clever thing,” he said. “Almost caught me napping!”

The bitch was a fighter, no doubt, and her pups would be the same, but that last lunge had exhausted her. She dropped over her injured limb, eyes going dark. Hem raised his pipe above her skull…

…and then stopped stiff and stared off at the water.

Hem was a brave man. He had hunted beneath the Hi Line, and once chased a succulent-seeming Pekinese to the very borders of ruined TriBeCa. The knife on his left hip was for skinning, but the knife on his right hip was wide and wavy, a man-killer, and they had both known work. A brave man, but watching it emerge from the funk and beach itself on the shoreline, oblong and black like a necrotic phallus, Hem’s eyes went wide and his pants turned damp.

“Hell and High Towers!” he screamed, sprinting off east. The bitch died just then, and so it was only her pups left to bear howling witness to the end of the end of the world.

Dimtime Last…

The Death of Don DeAndre
The Kid Makes His Appearance

He came in as the bright faded through the windows overlooking Mulberry. Nothing special going on in the clubhouse, and most of the I’s were out on business, clique or personal. Krill and Hammet were smoking flower below the mural of the old fathers done up on the lobby walls – the Scarred One, the Father and the Son and the Father as Son, so on and so forth. They weren’t guarding the place – that was Silo’s job – just hanging around, but in practice these amounted to much the same thing.

“I’m here to see your man,” he said. He was a kid. He had high cheek bones and bright eyes. His hair was red coxcomb. His pants were very tight and his jacket hung loose and he wasn’t wearing a cutter. If he was eighteen, he was eighty.

Krill licked shut the seam on his smoke. Hammet farted.

“You’re here to see who?”

“Your man.”

“Somebody in here rutting you?” Krill asked.

“Not my man,” said the kid. “Your man.”

“You mean the Don?” Krill asked.

“Don DeAndre is the man,” Hammet said.

“He’s not my man,” said the kid.

“Won’t be seeing no man,” said Silo from his stool by the elevator. There weren’t many cliques with enough juice to keep the lights on, let alone power a lift, but the I’s weren’t just any clique; they were the I’s. For that matter, there weren’t many cliques could afford boom, but damn if Silo didn’t have two in the scattergun on his lap. “Out with you.”

“This is Mulberry and Broome, right?” asked the kid.

“Yeah.”

“That makes you the I’s?”

“The one and only,” said Hammet.

“The Eternal I’s,” said Krill, “our thing never dies.”

“That’s a grand ambition,” said the kid.

Two quick steps and Hammet loomed over him. Krill set his joint behind his ear and pulled his hatchet from where he had stuck it into the wall and joined his partner beside the new arrival.

“You got a mouth on you,” said Krill.

“Thanks! It was my mother’s.”

“You been huffing funk?’ asked Hammet.

“Not a wisp,” said the kid.

“What do you want?”

“Like I said, I’ve got a meeting with the Don.”

“The Don don’t have time to waste with every scab off the street.”

“I’m sure we have a meeting now,” said the kid, seeming perplexed. “I even made a note–”

He was reaching into his jacket when Krill slapped him and Hammet pinned his wrist against his back. Just that quick and easy; the boy didn’t even put up a fight.

“Move, and I’ll break your arm,” said Hammet.

“What you got in there?” asked Krill.

The kid sagged helplessly. “Just getting my appointment book.”

“Mutt-rutting fool,” said Silo. “What was he going for?”

Krill reached into the kid’s jacket and came back out with aslender black book. Opening to its ribbon, he frowned, puzzled,then bent it back so Hammet could see…

* * *

The front windows erupted, flecks of glass scattering. Hammet looked down to discover a knife in his chest which had not previously been there. He sat down on the floor.

The window had been busted by a smiling killer wearing spiked red leathers and enough steel to arm a mob, and Krill went at him screaming. From his vantage point, Hammet couldn’t see much of what happened, just this guy in red dancing a bit and then Krill had joined Hammet on the floor. I’s came streaming in, Talon and Giuseppe and Alto the Tall and a bunch of others, armed and furious, but before they could turn the tide an explosion echoed from the doorway, a billow of black smoke dissipating to reveal a strange cannon carried by a fierce-looking woman.

“Monster!” Hammet screamed, for surely this could only be a funk-born familiar of the leering child-devil who had knifed him. Hammet had lost a lot of blood by this point.

“Demon!”

“He’s got your number, Chisel,” said the kid.

“Only in temperament,” said Chisel, sending a second shot through Alto the Tall.

Things went on like that for a while, and then, between the boom and the man in red’s cutters, suddenly there weren’t no I’s left, Silo and Talon and Giuseppe and all therest strewn about the lobby like the toys of a spoiled Uptown child.

“Did you see that entrance?” asked the man in red. “What timing! What dash!”

The kid retrieved his journal from where Krill had dropped it. “Yes, Ael, it was magnificent. Where’s Hope?”

“Outside flirting with a junk seller,” said Chisel.

“It’s not just enough to do it; you gotta do it pretty,” said Ael, cleaning his cutters.

Hammet supposed Ael was talking to himself until a flash of color streaked in through the windows and began to squawk agreement: “Do it pretty! Do it pretty!”

Bacon and Bliss,” Hammet said, “a hypebird!”

“Sweet, right?” asked Ael.

Chisel made her way to the lift, and when the up button didn’t respond she pried open the control box and began to splice together its nest of wires.

The kid opened the lobby door for a short, pretty girl his bare senior in age, caramel skin and very black hair. She wrinkled a button nose. “I hate the smell of boom,” said Hope.

“It was underhanded, that last throw!” Ael told his hypebird. “And I had to draw it from my offside!”

“Fast as lightning!” the hypebird agreed.

The lift opened, and they all filed in.

“Wait!” yelled Hammet, rapidly exsanguinating on the floor. “Wait!”

“Yeah?” asked the kid, popping his head out of the elevator.

“Who are you?” asked Hammet with his last words.

“I’m the Kid,” said the Kid.

A Brief Ascent

It was cramped inside the lift, but it got better after Ael tore out a roof pane and hoisted himself topside.

“You got him?” asked the Kid.

“I had him from three blocks out.” Hope took a tin from her pocket, pulled out a battered wad of pink and started to chew. “I told you; I could’ve taken care of this without leaving the café.”

“But then we’d never have gotten to share this experience,” said the Kid.

“I’d have survived,” said Chisel, reloading one chamber on her weapon and spinning to the next.

“You ready up there, Ael?” asked the Kid.

The hypebird fluttered back down and squawked, “Born ready!”

“Why did you buy him that thing?” Chisel asked.

“It keeps him entertained,” said the Kid.

“Oh, I hear you, bald man,” said Hope. She was not talking to Chisel or the Kid or the hypebird or anyone else in the elevator. “You’re no mystery to Hope. Hope got the scuttle on you, bald man. Hope gonna make a meal out your brain.”

“How long?” asked the Kid.

Chisel undid the clasp on a fat brass chronometer that hung from her belt. “Ninety tics.”

The Kid counted thirty off silently, and then he said, “Go.”

“Quit worrying,” said Hope, crossing her arms against her chest and popping her gum. “I got this bagged like a pecker in a whorehouse.”

So High As You’d Care to Be…

Once upon a time, from Bowery to Centre Street and from Canal up to Broome, there had lived a race of giants, warrior-kings what reigned supreme across Downtown. Long ages since they had passed, since before even the funk had come, but still their descendants held proud sway. Don DeAndre was a true child of the I’s – a small, fierce, dark man, wise in counsel, terrible in war. From his office on the eighth floor, he awaited the assault untrembling.

“The Honey Swallowers?” Don DeAndre speculated.

“Nah,” said the Button Man, Don’s bodyguard and the I’s champion. “You know how those fanatics are. They’d have sent a trumpeter and set a challenge.”

Don DeAndre grunted. “How many?”

“Four,” the confessor said. “No, three.”

“Which is it?”

“Three,” said the confessor.

“You sure?”

The confessor drew his fur cape tight over his shoulders. “Unequivocally.”

Don DeAndre grunted. Don DeAndre did not like the confessor – his head like a pigeon egg, his smarm, his power to control the minds of others. Most especially, Don DeAndre did not like the hundred in bonds he paid weekly to enjoy the confessor’s presence. Don DeAndre did pay the confessor, of course. Everyone who was anyone kept one on retainer – an expensive armistice, but it beat the alternative, and just then Don DeAndre felt happy for the back-up.

A guard opened the office door. “They’re coming up the elevator.”

“We got people on the stairs?” asked the Button Man.

“We got people on the stairs.”

“The elevator might be a trick,” said the Button Man.

“I just said we got people on the stairs.”

“Say it again,” said Don DeAndre.

“Again,” said the guard.

“You tell the boys anyone got boom is free to use it,” said the Don. “I won’t be docking wages for loose fingers.”

“Got it,” said the guard.

There were twenty-two floors in the I’s headquarters – at least, there were that many buttons on the elevator – but Don DeAndre kept his office on the eighth floor. The I’s were heavy hitters, sitting members of the Council since your momma was in bloomers, and few among them had gone any higher. Once, on a dare the Button Man had climbed all the way to the twelfth, but even he wasn’t mad enough to visit the false thirteenth, not with the funk hovering close overhead.

“Could be the Widow Makers,” said Don DeAndre, “or the Anarchs.”

“Could be a lot of people,” said the Button Man. He had a chest like a keg of house brew and carried an axe twice as large as any of his soldiers’. “We’ll keep one alive to tell us.”

“I assure you, whomever it is will be spilling their secrets soon enough,” said the confessor. “For a graduate of the Cloister like myself, it’s nothing to make a man offer up his innermost confidences. Such invaluable assistance, I might add, is impossible to put a price on, although after this we might well need to reneg–”

He began screaming then, seamlessly between syllables, then dropped to his knees and shoved his fingers into his face, two through his sinuses and a thumb in the white glob of his eyes, howling louder and louder until the Button Man severed his neck, a quick spurt of red and the confessor’s head rebounded off the wall.

“That was a lot of money wasted,” said the Don, but he didn’t have time to say anything else; one of their boom echoed from up front, and then a boom that wasn’t theirs, and then a boom that was louder than either – much louder. So loud that it shattered the windows and dropped glass onto Broome Street. The door opened to reveal a scene of bloody devastation only partly obscured by a wave of smoke, the ceiling wrecked from explosives, the I’s reduced to component parts. The presumable architect of said destruction slipped in triumphantly, a big man in leathers twice stained red.

“Hiya!” said Ael. “I guess you must be the Button Man! I’m Ael! You ain’t heard of me yet, but you would have.”

The hypebird was swift in beside him. “Fight to the finish!” it crowed. “Fight to the death!”

A trickle of red leaked out of the Button Man’s ear. He had dropped his axe when the boom erupted, but he picked it up slowly. “Take the back lift to the basement,” he said.

“We go together,” answered Don DeAndre, drawing a long knife from his belt.

The Button Man turned one thick hand on Don DeAndre’s shoulder and shoved him towards the back door. “Do it now!” he bellowed. “So long as you survive, we survive! The I’s are eternal! Our thing never dies!”

They looked at each other. There wasn’t enough time to say everything that needed to be said, but some portion of it, at least, was said with that look. Don DeAndre turned and bolted. The Button Man watched him leave for a stricken instant, and

then turned to face Ael.

“About that axe,” Ael remarked, apparently indifferent to Don DeAndre’s disappearance, “it’s the wrong tool for the circumstance. Point of a thing like that is its reach, and how much use is that indoors? Plus, it’s slow to get going. Easy way would be to do you quick-quick, get ahead before you can even put that thing into play. Or drop a knife in your side and run you around a while. You favor your left foot, yeah? Yeah.” Ael carried two cutters and a hand hatchet and a bunch of sharp things to toss, not to mention a sling band wrapped around his forearm, a set of spiked knuckles, and a chain which swung from his waist, six and a half feet of bristling scrap steel. From off his back, he loosed a club with barbed wire curly-cued round the business end and took a quick practice swing.

“What about the knife?” asked the Button Man.

“Whoever got great doing things easy?”

…And Still a Bit Higher

Don DeAndre hit the button to call the service elevator, then turned to face whatever was coming. From back inside his office, the Button Man screamed and then stop screaming. Don DeAndre’s hand closed white around the hilt of his knife. He’d be avenged. They’d lost a lot of good men, but not all of them; there were plenty of I’s left to rally. In the basement far below, the ancient machinery whirred into motion, the lift rising, third floor, fourth. He was the Don, Don DeAndre reminded himself, heir to Vito and to blessed Lucky himself. Sixth floor, seventh. Revenge is best eaten as a leftover, or so the proverb went, and the Don would savor his. The door opened. He backed into it and pushed the $ button. The door closed, the elevator descended. First thing would be to set up another headquarters, get the word out to the rest of his brothers. So long as the Don was alive, they could still regroup. And when the time came, they would pay back whoever had done this a hundredfold, a thousand, a hundred-thousand-fold. A moment, now, and he’d be in the basement and out to freedom, the first step in a savage saga of violence which would echo across the Island for generations – retribution so terrible as to become a byword from the East to the Huddy, something to curse by, something to frighten children, something to–

“Hell and High Towers,” Don DeAndre gasped suddenly, “I’m going up.”

Up! Up, up, up towards the funk! Don DeAndre tossed himself against the walls like a maddened animal, but the elevator rose indifferent, to the ninth floor, then the tenth. The Don thought to use the knife, but by that point he couldn’t make his hands move. By the eleventh floor Don DeAndre’s throat was raw from screaming and still it rose, to the twelfth floor and then the terrible thirteenth!

Silence.

Behind Door Number One

Back down on the eighth, Chisel was hunched over the lift’s control box. “Are you sure this is wise?”

“Entirely,” said the Kid, lighting a cigarette.

“Why not leave him up there?”

“Because we need to use the elevator.”

“Why?”

“Because I said so,” said the Kid.

“The big ones are never as good as you’d hope,” Ael told his hypebird, “‘cause it’s speed, you see, it’s all speed.”

“Gotta be quick!” the hypebird agreed.

“Still, I’d have hoped he’d have lasted a little bit longer. Hardly worth the trip downtown.” Ael began to shadow-box, a flurry of jabs and a quick hook. “That wasn’t half bad with the knife, Kid. You’ve got the makings of a pretty good killer.”

“Your opinion means the Island to me.”

“You’ve got speed, which, as I said, is the most important thing. Nothing like me, of course, but then…”

“Nothing like you,” the Kid agreed.

“Nothing like you!” the bird repeated, at that point a full quorum.

Hope came out of the Don’s office feasting on a cud of bubblegum, her fingers garnished with gold. “You believe I found all of these in one drawer? How many rings does a man really need?”

The elevator began its descent.

“Ael,” the Kid said.

“Remember that throw I made downstairs?” Ael asked his bird.

“Cleanest toss I ever saw!”

“Ael,” the Kid snapped, “stop talking to the bird and get over here. Chisel, keep your cannon ready; and Hope, get behind Ael.”

“All right, all right,” Ael said, unsheathing his matched pair of cutters. “Maybe there’s still time for this to get interesting.”

Generally, a bath in the funk only means an inconceivably painful death. The unlikely alternative is much worse, and the Kid and his gang awaited it in nervous anticipation. Tics ticked past. Ael flourished his weapons. Chisel cocked back the hammer on her cannon. Ash grew along the Kid’s cigarette. Hope’s bubble swelled.

The doors opened.

Pop! went Hope’s bubble.

“Shame,” Ael said.

“You’d have had him easy,” said the hypebird.

There was nothing recognizably human in the elevator. Though if you were to take the time to look, you might have an unstrung inch of intestine or perhaps a stray ear lobe.

“Gross,” said Hope. “I’m taking the stairs.”

“Hope,” the Kid snapped.

They stuffed themselves into the lift, all scowling except for Ael, who did not seem to mind the gore. His hypebird alighted on his shoulder. Hope spat her gum through the closing doors.

“Classy,” said Chisel.

Read the rest of Tomorrow’s Children by Daniel Polansky

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Adrian Collins

Adrian Collins

Adrian Collins runs Grimdark Magazine and loves anything to do with telling darker stories. Doesn't matter the format, or when it was published or produced--just give him a grim story told in a dark world by a morally grey protagonist and this bloke's in his happy place. Add in a barrel aged stout to sip on after a cheeky body surf under the Australian sun, and that's his heaven.