It’s the next-to-last sneak peek of THE LOTUS AND THE BARLEY! I hope you’ve enjoyed these wee tastes of the fourth Rucksack Universe adventure.
THE LOTUS AND THE BARLEY comes out June 16. Preorder today from:
The book will also be available in trade paperback. Through June 11, you can enter for a chance to win 1 of 10 signed copies! (US only)
Tune in tomorrow for the final sneak peek!
THE LOTUS AND THE BARLEY
Sneak Peek: The taste-off
“ZARA KNOWS EVERYTHING ABOUT tasting beer,” said Branwen. “She can taste a hop substitution while stuffed up with a head cold.”
Rucksack and Zara locked eyes and grinned. Then they each took a long draw of their pints.
“You bottled this ten days ago,” Rucksack said. “And since you did the boil on your stove, there’s some caramelization.” He took a smaller sip, moving it around his palate before swallowing. “But you anticipated that and compensated by adding more hops to increase the bitterness.”
“Is that all you notice?” Zara asked.
“The New Galway Gold hops have been less bitter this year,” Rucksack replied. “All that damn rain in Ireland. Ah, o’ course. So you also bumped up the roasted barley and used a hotter roast,” he added. “That was risky. Easily could have come out too astringent, out of balance.”
It’s like he was there with us, Branwen thought. It’s like he’s reading my notes.
“But it didn’t,” Rucksack continued, and Zara’s eyes brightened as he said, “Because you lowered the temperature while steeping the malted barley, to enhance the sweetness of the sugars being drawn out!”
They all clinked glasses and drank more stout. “It’s been ages since I could talk that level o’ detail,” Rucksack said. “Thank you.”
“Same to you,” Zara replied. “I’m… impressed. You really know your beer.”
“I didn’t know we had a brother,” Branwen said, nudging her sister.
“Oh, saying I was long lost would be putting it mildly,” Rucksack said.
“You’re not going to hit on us, are you?” Zara asked. “Because to put it mildly, you’re wasting your time.”
“Thank goodness,” Rucksack replied. “For a moment I thought you were going to hit on me.” He drank more of his pint, which was now almost empty. Then he stared at a spot over Zara’s head, then Branwen’s, almost as if he were reading something?
“You two really know your stuff,” Rucksack said. “This homebrew is amazing… but it’s not a clone o’ GPS.”
The smile fell off Zara’s face. Branwen’s breath paused.
“It’s the closest I’ve ever encountered,” Rucksack continued. “It’s a damn sight better than the swill passing off for it here tonight. It’s certainly making me feel more myself. But it doesn’t have the secret.”
“So we’ve kind of made GPS,” said Branwen, “only not GPS as it’s supposed to be, but as it is right now.”
“I suppose you could put it that way,” said Rucksack.
“How are we supposed to figure out what na Grúdairí themselves don’t know anymore?” Branwen asked. “That magic, that secret—it’s gone.”
Branwen stared at her sister. Before she knew it she said, “You don’t believe in the secret, but something can be real without anyone else believing it. Existence is truth, and it doesn’t give a damn about being believed in. You don’t believe in the secret, that’s your deal, but don’t mock me for what I think.”
Eyes wide, Zara sat back and said nothing.
Rucksack stared from one sister to the other. Again he stared above their heads. Then he was silent, as if he had traveled deep inside his self, into some private world that even from the outside felt as big as the universe. “You said you had studied the lore o’ GPS,” he said slowly. “What have you learned about what it was, and what it is now?”
“For eons there has been the beer,” said Branwen, “and some have said that without the beer the eons wouldn’t have happened. Wherever there has been joy or grief, a hard day or a good day, a lonely drink or a lively party, there has been Galway Pradesh Stout. All around the world, from taps and bottles, the beer has poured. No beer has been as popular or long lived as GPS.”
“Exactly. Today should be like any other day,” replied Rucksack. “People went to the pub after work. Couples opened bottles at dinner. Friends clinked glasses as they watched the match. Some savored their last pint, some their first. Solitary drinkers ordered another GPS, thick and black, with a pillowy-white head like a snowdrift. The stout brings it all into focus, the boldness o’ life, the black and white, the grays and bright colors. It’s said that a pint o’ GPS can make the world make sense, if only for a while. So dry and bitter on the tongue, GPS snaps people back to life, but what really brings them back, time after time and pint after pint, is what’s hidden inside.”
Branwen nodded. “Something was different that day. The beer wasn’t right, but that wasn’t all of it. People realized the beer hadn’t been right for a while.”
“That’s exactly the thing,” said Rucksack, “and it’s been happening all over the world.”
“Where have you been to notice?” Branwen asked.
“Last place I stayed a while was India. I had to deal with some nasty business, but that’s another story for another time. I just got to England a couple o’ days ago. Crossing Asia and Europe I kept encountering dodgy pints, and I realized there was more afoot than dirty lines or a keg left in the sun.”
“And now you’re really noticing that something is wrong with GPS,” Branwen said. “Because this is where First Call Brewing is headquartered?”
“That’s it in one,” Rucksack said. “All this time, people have turned to GPS because it brings them a sense o’ the universe filling them up. It gives a moment when the world makes sense. That moment hasn’t been happening for a while, but people are malleable, forgiving, forgetful. They ignored it, figured it must be them. But it’s happened too many times, and what’s more, the beer is getting worse. Something’s wrong with GPS, and people know it now. But more than that. Something’s rotten in the brewery o’ London. I’ve tried and tried over the years to appeal to the brewmaster. His second-in-command, Gabsir, and I go way back, though not necessarily as best mates. They don’t want my help.”
Zara sat forward. “Because of Guru Deep, I bet.” Bitterness cut through her voice. “Branwen and I can’t stand him.”
Rucksack smiled a thin, sharp smile. “That makes three o’ us. I’m going to sort this out. From the brew kettles o’ First Call, all the way up to Guru Deep’s office at the top o’ the feckin Lotus if I have to.”
“But Deep Inc. took over First Call decades ago,” Branwen said. “What with Galway being destroyed in The Blast, First Call was weakened, had lots of problems, and eventually Deep Inc. took advantage of that. Brewmaster Samara was still in charge when it happened, before she passed leadership to the current brewmaster, Arthur Celbridge. Now Deep Inc. owns two breweries. First Call makes Galway Pradesh Stout, and Deep Brewing brews Deep’s Special Lager. Are you thinking Guru Deep is trying to do something to First Call and GPS?”
“Yes,” said Rucksack, “because it will do what he seeks: hurt me and hurt the world.” A darkness had fallen over Rucksack’s eyes. Long-simmering hostility radiated from him like heat from a boiling brew pot.
“Sounds like you two go way back,” said Zara.
“I’m a thorn he can never quite get out o’ his side, though I try harder.” Rucksack grinned. “I’ve been opposing Deep Inc. since the company’s early days, back when it was run by his grandfather. I’ve always considered the Deeps a pack o’ shysters at best.”
“Deep Inc. began about fifty years after The Blast,” said Branwen, glaring at him. “You look pretty young for a hundred and thirty.”
“It’s not nice to ask a fella his age,” replied Rucksack. “Deep Inc. was mostly fake medical cures then, and tent-revival sermons about the illusion of the world, but always accompanied by the reality o’ the collection plate.” Finishing his pint, Rucksack leaned forward. The clamminess had left his skin and the sweat had dried. His eyes were clear. Behind the darkness, a fire burned. “A few decades ago, Guru Deep came up in the company, doing inspirational talks and self-help books, got famous for his ‘Find Your Third Eye In Half The Time!’ feel-good enlightentainment shite. Today he’s got that, the breweries, his travel guidebooks, and various complicated financial dealings. Over the past few decades he’s built a global empire. Now we’re at a culmination. I’d bet a year’s pints that Guru Deep took over First Call precisely so he could eventually destroy the brewery and the beer.”
“He’s just a big business blowhard,” said Zara.
“Some say Guru Deep is ridiculous, a sparkling nothing with a big smile and a bright suit,” said Rucksack, lowering his voice. He looked over his shoulder and scanned the pub, then turned back to the sisters. “He’s a showman for sure. But make no mistake. He does far more than all the things we just said. For months I’ve been disrupting Guru Deep’s operations. At three in particular—in Marrakech, Mexico City, and Moscow—I saw things that made me wish I was having a nightmare: experiment pits. I shut them down, but the people there… those who had survived… I did what I could, but I can only hope they’ll find a way to live again without screaming. Guru Deep had huge labs where shady and discredited scientists were using people as lab rats. It’s not fake cures anymore. He’s experimenting with reality. Poking at it. Trying to tear it. And seeing what happens to people when you do.”
The sisters leaned back. The air in the pub and the blood in Branwen’s veins felt cold. “Why… Why would he do that?”
“Some people want to rule the world,” said Rucksack. “Guru Deep considers that a lack o’ ambition. He has his sights set far higher. There are those who say the world is an illusion, the dream o’ a sleeping god.”
“That would figure,” said Zara. “Let me guess: Guru Deep doesn’t want to wake the god. He wants to take its place.”
Rucksack nodded. “He hides it well, but everything he does conceals his true self and his true purpose. Guru Deep is one o’ the most dangerous people in the world. Whatever his ultimate plans are, he’s setting them in motion.”
“What can you do about it?” Branwen asked.
“Luckily,” said Rucksack with a smile, “I’m one o’ the most dangerous people in the world too.”
“Who are you, anyway?” Zara asked.
“I’m Faddah Rucksack,” he replied. “The world’s only Himalayan-Irish sage. The hero o’ old and the hero o’ now. He who flew and he who fell. He who lost and he who is trying to regain and restore. I am ten thousand years old. I am the fire o’ life, the tiger’s roar. Time and again in history, I have been the one who kept this world not only turning but thriving, saving lives and ensuring tomorrows. And I am the one who, yet again, will stand against Guru Deep.”
Branwen grinned. I’ve been searching for the secret, she thought. I think I might have found it… And now I have also found someone who can tell me I’m on the right path. She looked at her sister—and even Zara had a brightness in her eyes beyond her usual smoldering hardness and skepticism.
Rucksack’s smile fell away. “I’ve a horrible feeling that I can’t stop him though.”
“What?” said both sisters.
“You are amazing brewers,” said Rucksack, “and I believe we’re meeting for a reason. I trust you—it’s in the beer, who you are, how you make it. You know something I don’t. Something Guru Deep doesn’t. Something even na Grúdairí and the brewmaster don’t know anymore. I can’t stop Guru Deep.” He looked from Branwen to Zara and back to Branwen. “But I reckon we can.”
“How?” Zara asked.
Rucksack nodded at the briefcase. “How about I show you?”
Pre-order THE LOTUS AND THE BARLEY e-book from:
Enter the Goodreads Giveaway from a chance to win 1 of 10 signed paperbacks (US only):
Tune in tomorrow for the final sneak peek!