Read Off With Their Heads Online

Authors: Mainak Dhar

Tags: #Speculative Fiction, #Novels

Off With Their Heads




Mainak Dhar




Mainak Dhar

Copyright © 2012

All Rights Reserved.




This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

The scanning, uploading and distribution of this book via the internet or any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrighted materials. Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.

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Greetings from the Deadland

The Accidental Queen

The General’s Stripes

A Bunny’s Last Wish

We’ll Name Her Alice

Alice in Deadland

About Mainak Dhar



In late November of 2011, I uploaded my novel Alice in Deadland to the Kindle store using Amazon’s KDP self-publishing program. I had first discovered the tremendous opportunity in reaching readers worldwide through the Kindle store in March, and after a modest beginning (I sold 118 ebooks in my first month), I was beginning to see some success, having sold some 20,000 ebooks by November. However, nothing had prepared me for the reception my story about a girl called Alice in a dystopian world called the Deadland got from readers. Alice in Deadland quickly became an bestseller and encouragement from readers like yourself led me to write the sequel, Through The Killing Glass, which was published in March 2012.

As of May 2012, the two Alice in Deadland novels had been downloaded by well over 100,000 readers on the Kindle store. This was the kind of reception most writers dream of, and certainly more than I had ever expected. I received more than two hundred reader emails and also started a Facebook group for Alice in Deadland fans (at
). The feedback I got was pretty unanimous- readers wanted to know more about the world that Alice found herself in. How had our civilization been reduced to the Deadland? What was the story behind some of the characters readers encountered such as the Queen and Bunny Ears?

That feedback motivated me to write this book. While Off With Their Heads is a prequel to the Alice in Deadland story, it serves a dual purpose. For readers who have already read one or both volumes in the series, this can serve as a great backgrounder on some of the pivotal characters in Alice in Deadland. Also, for readers who have never read one of my Alice in Deadland books, this can be a great starting point, setting the stage for the action that follows in those books.

Will there be more books in the Alice in Deadland series? It all depends on you, dear reader. As long as you keep reading, I’ll keep writing.

Mainak Dhar



‘Stan, what have we done?’

Dr. Protima Dasgupta was struggling to choke back her tears as she spoke to her colleague many thousands of miles away in the United States.

‘Protima, I’m a bit busy. I’ll talk to you later.’

Protima slammed her phone down. Even Stan, one of the most outspoken critics of the decision to use Sample Z in what the spooks had euphemistically called ‘accelerated field tests’, was no longer talking to her. She had spent more than twenty years of her life serving the United States Government, but it was as if her decision to leave the project and come back to India had burnt all bridges with friends and colleagues.

She walked unsteadily to the dining table and poured herself another glass of wine. She had been stupid to call Stan. It was likely his phone was tapped, but she was beyond caring now. She had argued that even if one disregarded the morality of using Sample Z on foreign populations, it was just too unstable to use yet. But of course, she had been overridden, and a week later, Global Hawk stealth drones had dropped canisters of the biological agent onto a Red Army garrison in Inner Mongolia.

Dr. Protima was not senior enough to be privy to the decision-making process, but she was senior enough to access some of the documents passed between her bosses and the men who had ordered the mission.

A shot across the bow to show them we still have an edge.

A reminder of who the superpower really is.

Those were two lines she remembered. Tensions between the US and China had reached a boiling point over the last year, with the US economy tottering and China reeling under increasing protests demanding democracy and human rights. The US had slammed the second Tiananmen Square massacre, only to be blamed by China for supporting what it called ‘terrorist activity’ in China to distract the US population from its economic woes. A humiliating bloody nose given to the US Navy off Taiwan had added injury to the considerable insult of the US economy having now been reduced to surviving on Chinese holding of its debt.

The fact that the garrison in Mongolia housed research facilities engaged in China’s own biological warfare program was of scant consolation as Protima saw the chaos unfold on TV. When reports had come in of a strange virus spreading throughout Mongolia that turned people hyper-aggressive, attacking anyone in sight, she knew her worst fears had come true.

Sample Z had begun as a potential miracle cure for troops whose nervous systems had been badly damaged by battlefield injuries. Initial trials had been exciting, with troops doctors had given up on making recoveries to lead near-normal lives, and Protima had been exhilarated at being part of something that would help save thousands of lives. Then came the fateful meetings three years ago, when Protima and her team were asked to work on modifying Sample Z to incapacitate enemy troops, destroying their nervous systems and rendering them incapable of rational thought. A separate team had been working on another strain to dramatically enhance the strength and endurance of troops, turning them into berserkers immune to pain. Protima had warned that the differences between them were still not fully understood and the virus was very unstable. Ultimately, her objections had counted for little, and she had quit the program.

The scrolling news bar on the TV announced that there were at least ten thousand confirmed fatalities in China in the last week from the mysterious virus.

Protima turned off the TV and slept fitfully, dreaming of men with their faces peeling off, running towards her to attack her.

The next morning, she woke up to a beautiful summer morning, with the sun streaming through the windows of her hotel room. She pulled aside the curtains and saw the road already rapidly filling with the chaotic traffic that was the norm for New Delhi. She had a job interview at eleven o’clock, so she dressed quickly. She looked at herself in the mirror and for a moment she was looking at a stranger. Her grey hair was the same as usual, as were her lean, gaunt features. But her eyes, which normally sparkled with laughter, were now ringed with dark circles, and try as she might, she could not bring back the smile that had been a permanent feature on her face. After losing her husband in an accident several years ago, Protima had worked hard to recreate herself from the nervous wreck she had become, and she had almost succeeded, till the past few days.

But now she had another chance to start over. While some of her work, like Sample Z, would never be known outside a small group with the highest security clearances, she had been published widely in fields related to genetic engineering and had been given glowing references by her former bosses on the condition that she sign a very strict non-disclosure agreement. So she had no doubt she would get the job with a leading research institute using genetic engineering to improve crop yields to feed India’s rural poor. Finally her experience and knowledge would be put to some good use.

She was in a taxi on her way to the interview when her phone rang. It was Stan.

‘I should have left when you did. They’re all dead. They’re all dead.’

Protima sat up with a jolt. Stan was slurring, as if he had been drinking. ‘Stan, calm down. What happened? Have you been drinking?’

‘Lab 12 burned down a few hours ago. Most of the people there are dead, and the few that made it...’

Protima felt a chill going down her spine. Close friends of hers had worked at Lab 12, located just outside Washington, where Sample Z had finally been weaponized for use in China.

‘I don’t know if it was the Chinese retaliating for what we did or if our own government is covering its tracks...’

‘Stan, stop! Please stop! We’re on an open phone line.’

What Stan said next scared Protima more than she had ever been in her life. ‘It doesn’t matter. Nothing matters any more. What the news is saying about the outbreak in China is not even close to how bad it is. I’ve seen what happened to the survivors of Lab 12. Protima, it’s like nothing we imagined. The media is trying to keep it quiet under government orders, but when the news breaks, it’ll be too late. You need to save yourself and get the truth out. I’ve sent a package for you with files from our project and the orders to use it in weaponized form. There are also papers about experiments on prisoners in Afghanistan. Go and meet Gladwell at the Embassy there in New Delhi. He’s an old friend and a good man.’

‘You’re in Washington. Why don’t you get it to someone there?’

‘It’s too late for me now. They caught me printing out the files and I just managed to get away. They’re here now. Goodbye, Protima.’

With that, the phone went silent. Protima tried calling him back, but there was no answer.

While she was waiting to be called in for the interview, Protima wondered if she would be able to go through with it. After what she had heard from Stan, she found it hard to concentrate. Her hands seemed to be shaking uncontrollably, and her heart was pounding. However, once she sat before the interview panel, she managed to control her nerves and her interview went very smoothly, but all the while she thought of Stan’s call. When she got back to her hotel room, she checked the TV and the Internet, but there was no mention of the fire Stan had talked about. He seemed like he had been drinking, and he would have been hit hard by the use of their research in the Mongolia operation. Finally, she decided to get some fresh air and walked outside, sitting at a coffee shop overlooking the busy street.

It was now six in the evening, and the Delhi summer heat had begun to dissipate. Protima sipped on her coffee, contemplating her future. At the age of forty-seven, it seemed too late to make a fresh beginning, but she was going to try. She had left India more than twenty-five years ago, on a scholarship to the US for her Masters, and her work there had earned her an internship in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, working on studying viral strains. She had excelled there, and one day had been approached for a full-time position in the government, working on classified biological programs. Now, she would try and put that behind her. She would get an apartment, buy a car, and start afresh with her new job.

Protima was jolted out of her thoughts by the man at the next table exclaiming to a girl, ‘Oh my God! Have you seen this video? They’re saying the dead are coming back to life!’

Some wiseass at another table mumbled something about how he always felt like a zombie on Monday mornings, but nobody laughed.


Within minutes, dozens gathered around the young man who had the YouTube video playing on his phone. Several others were now checking the video on their own phones, and Protima saw from their horrified faces that something was very wrong. She was about to ask one of them what the matter was when the owner of the cafe shouted above the din.

‘Folks, it’s on CNN now. Just quiet down and let’s see what they’re saying.’

Protima edged towards the TV set up above the bar, and saw the familiar shape of the US Capitol Building in the background as the young news anchor adjusted her mike and looked at the camera. Protima had been in New York when 9-11 had happened, and she had seen how shaken the news anchors had been. This anchor had the same expression. Protima hushed two young girls next to her so she could hear what was being said.

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