Kryos: Chapter 43

Previous chapter

Ryard’s company crossed the mechanized gangplank that extended from the seawall, past the jibless flotilla of black monohulls whose sharp prows loomed over the harbor like daggers of volcanic glass, to the hydraulic lime shore thick with regimented soldiers of the deep colonies. A storm gathered in the smouldering distance. A tight black spiral, unnaturally uniform, preceded cold rain and a rustling gale. Upon alighting the seashorn pier, Ryard’s group was spied by the nearest of the troops and after a short exchange were brought to a wide automated packing plant between the docks and shipping yard. The building was a high spire composed of polymer composites with a hard white resin surface that bore scorch marks courtesy of the easterner’s revolt and was surrounded by a circular expanse of anti-icing silicone stretching from the base of the building to the cargo loading yard fifty feet hence. Large metal intermodal containers stood outside. Kryos’ men sifted through the contents of each metallic cube before resealing and moving them onto the backs of heavy transport mag-rays that thrummed into the distance.

Ryard’s troupe was led through the ground floor lobby to the central chamber which was filled with rows of cans and other parcel sized oddments fitted to movable alcoves pressed together in a scale-like pattern. Each scale, a basket set into a conveyor which could be moved seamlessly up or down any floor. Long reticulated mechanical arms like queer bony growths ran the length of the room and cast elongated shadows across the dusty, spacious interior. Though unpowered, the dactyl devices creaked due a weak but steady airflow.

Sonderon and Raimer took in the contours of the peaked chamber as Straker, who refused to allow aid, leaned against the doorway in a bid to relieve her wounded leg and regain a medication faded balance.

Ryard walked to a neatly arranged stack of glass jars secured with thin metal seals and removed one of the containers. Fermented fish. He tilted the vessel in the hazy light. The seal held but the lid bulged upwards and the contents were thick and stringy.

The lights flickered. From above, the calm voice of Eidos Kryos echoed. “Do you know why the lid protrudes?”

The travelers cast their eyes to the undulating shaft which ascended from the ground floor to the seventh story. A dark commanding figure stood above on the third story at a gap in the railing, backlit by steady white light. On the factory rigging about the spectre crawled countless machines, some drifting idly in the air, others investigating the wiring and ventilation systems with a ginger curiosity that belied their fearsome frames. SIKARDs.

Ryard returned his attention to the can. “Interior chemical reactions. Gas production. Bacteria?”

“Very good, Ryard. Clostridium botulinum. An anaerobe partial to marine sediment and the viscera of fish. The bacteria produces a potent neurotoxin. A few micrograms of the substance is sufficient to precipitate severe illness in our species. Without respiratory support and antitoxin, death is swift. Oxygen is fatal to the microbes, as it is to the quality of the food in which it grows. Once infested, one must discard the vessel, or boil its contents.”

Two soldiers, armed and armored, entered from a side door, dragging between them the scarlet clad form of a Bright Horizon operative. He was a thin man, with bags under narrow almond eyes. The eastener’s hands were bound in scandium and a tracing collar had been affixed around his long throat. Frantic, he searched his surroundings, discerning, with mounting dread, the faces of Ryard’s party. Behind the trio walked former Oversecretary Ermin Gild, whose Consortium garb had been exchanged for the albescent armor of the deep colonies, his attention focused on unwrapping a chocolate truffle in his hand.

“Good to see you well, Director, Mr. Sonderon,” said Gild as he took in the faces of the visitors, stopping at Vancing, Raimer and Sirin. “Others.” Sonderon gave a curt dip of his head. Ryard tilted his head up in recognition. Raimer crossed his arms and issued a grunt of displeasure.

The silvery machines loosed themselves from the wire coated wall and floated in declining formation to fashion a makeshift stair. Kryos strode down from the third story upon the backs of his aerial attendants, his hands held before him, nearly to his chest, left against the right, fingers moving with enigmatic rhythm, his eyes locked upon the prisoner who had been moved to the center of the packed storage chamber. The easterner ceased struggling against the two guardsmen that held him and shock came into his expression as his eyes took in the man descending from the overhead hollow.

“This one’s name is Fang, yes?” Kryos inquired, the rightward guard nodded.

“This is a violation of the Markov agreement. I have rights.” When this elicited no response he raised his voice. “God given rights.”

Gild rolled his eyes, popped a truffle into his mouth and delicately folded the wrapper into the form of a little man. Kryos stopped nine feet before the easterner. The lilting cyclic movements of his hands ceased and a hardness came into his expression.

“Such fanciful notions did nothing to gird the dock workers your people slaughtered, or my director, whom you shot.” Kryos dismissed the guards and walked clockwise about the detainee, gesturing to Straker, every footstep ringing throughout the cavernous recess. “The future is an island in an ocean of blood. Bone white with harmonic ideals. You shall find no harborage in empty shells. Tell me why your kin seized the harbor and ivory shores you may yet see.”

Fang straightened defiantly. “I’ve nothing to say to you.”

“Silence affords no seclusion from the thrumming of a guilty heart. Fifteen other members of your rebellion await in the adjoining room.” Kryos paused, now but five feet from Fang. “Of that number, a woman, Aadila Shen, was greatly disturbed by your departure. So great was her distress that tears filled her eyes. Shall I question her next?”

The defiance that had previously characterized Fang’s visage evaporated to regret and apprehension.

“No. That won’t be necessary.” Fang looked about, expectant of intercession, but the eyes of the onlookers were cold. “We recieved an order. Secure the seawall. To obstruct the deep colonists. To obstruct you. But we couldn’t breach it. So we tried to hold the docks until we figured out a way to do so.”

“Who gave this order?”

“The Bureau.”

“They contacted you directly?”

“No. Affin com-lines are unsecure, as you probably know. We recieved word from one of Zhu’s associates. Here, in the city.”

“Which associate?”

“A man named Illander Rehdon. He’s-“

“I know who he is. Did your people contact the Bureau thereafter?”

“No. That would have risked discovery of our plan.”

“Riskier still to trust a man like Rehdon. The plan was his, not yours.”

The prisoner assumed a baffled expression.

“What do you mean?”

“Rehdon lied. The Bureau would not intercede here, now, when I and the new Consortium yet stand, they would wait until one of us fell. To do otherwise would be foolhardy.”

“Mere speculation.”

“More than that. The Bureau tried to contact me for several hours prior to my arrival. Message after message. Urging peace. They suppose that Sodabrucke will be easier to negotiate with. Clearly, Rehdon’s desires differ. You were a tool to realize them. A traitor, betrayed.” Kryos folded his hands behind his back and took two steps away from the man, staring up at the immobile conveyor system. “How many families will not have food on their plates because of you and your kin?” The drones began to hum and circle tighter around the prisoner. Fang shrieked, “Keep those things away from me!” Yet closer still they came. The captive turned to the onlookers. “Help me!”

Kryos observed Fang’s vain flailing with faint disgust. “Your guilt is obscene. Your body ought be likewise.” The humming grew louder and one of the drones raked the prisoner’s face with a metal limb. Fang screamed as another of the intelligent machines severed his left leg just above the knee. He fell, clutching a bloody stump. Mouth wide. Eyes owlish in disbelief. A hideous wail repeated from his maw and painted the production plant in raw notes of anguish.

Kryos spoke to his men without turning to them or the wounded man. “See that he lives and replace the limb with a new unit. A brand of his betrayal.” The soldiers dragged the barely conscious man through the portal to the adjacent room as Kryos advanced toward his visitors. “Director. This is a pleasing sight.” Kryos raised his black plated hand and gently caressed the pale contours of the woman’s face. Straker smiled and bowed her head. For a moment, silence, then Kryos spoke, amusement clear in his curt, measured tones. “Tatter told me you came with ill intent, Mr. Vancing. She was concerned.”

“She told you of my conversation with Rehdon?”

“In detail.”

“I see.” Ryard cast his eyes to the floor and sighed. “I’m sorry about it, I had to put on a good performance. If I could convince her, I knew I could convince him.”

“You have done well. Our wolf thinks a jackal shall claim the lion. But when he comes for the carrion, he shall find us both waiting.”

Kryos: Chapter 42

Previous chapter

The occupants of Wall Town’s nineth story balcony watched in silence as an enormous form rose from the turbulent waters of the bay like a prodigious coelacanth. Frothing foam spilled from the emergent shape’s contours as gannet and albatross fled over the seawall in shrill terror. The breach disgorged a wave to the marine fortification of a height to shroud the lofty onlookers in brackish mist. When the saliferous haze cleared, the observers discerned the character of the thing from the depths. A seacraft, over a mile in diameter, composed of layered metal the color of bituminous coal, with long spine-like protrusions draped flush on its smooth surface about all visible length. The metal barbs unfurled to forty-five-degree angles and jettisoned thick shafts of steam. Thereafter, hundreds of nimble argent forms debarked the spines and flew cloudward until they were swallowed in albescent radiance.

On the seawall, one of Sonderon’s men rushed through the door of Alder’s quarters, huffing and pointing excitedly behind him as if to some trailing spectre.

“They’re here. The Consortium.”

Scarcely had the words left the man’s mouth than a voice boomed through the panel display upon Alder’s desk. A man’s voice, business-like but roughened by agitation.

“Port Authority, this is Commissioner Vogel. Do you copy?” A pause. Alder remained still. Vogel resumed, anger bruising his tone. “Hostiles inbound. Do not open the sea gate. I repeat. Hostiles inbound. Do not open the sea gate.”

Eidos Kryos’ voice emanated from Alder’s desk-bound panel display.

“Open the gate.”

Alder hung in a pendulum of indecision.

“Go on,” Straker encouraged.

He bent to the control panel. A rumbling sounded.

The enormous iron gate that secured the harbour parted and as it did the front of the vast vessel before it opened and expelled a smaller seacraft that cut across the azure expanse like an obsidian arrowhead. Swiftly it forded the watery reach and passed the vaulted arch of the gateway and moved to the barren quay where stood an armed Consortium detachment with Vogel at its head. The uniformed men raised their weapons and prepared to fire, but Vogel threw his hand out. “Hold. Let them disembark.” The men obeyed and the huge obsidian freighter grew still in the waters before the uncluttered concrete landing. The front of the vessel opened and loosed a heavy, pitch colored gangway, fifty three yards wide and one hundred yards long. Despite its considerable bulk, it touched down with the lightness of a feather.

Footfalls resounded from the opened dark.

Vogel’s men tensed.

From the shadow of the ship, Eidos Kryos emerged, garbed in lamellar sable vestments trimmed with gold. His gait unhurried. His black-gloved hands gingerly held before him, one against the other above his waist, fingers moving rhythmically, as if weaving invisible thread, his auric eyes fixed upon Devik’s skyborne fortress above the distant towers of the city-proper. To the army assembled before him, he spared no attention.

Vogel trudged to meet the man before the base of the mechanized plank.

“Turn around. You have no authority here.”

Kryos scanned the decimated shipping yard and the flames consuming the distance. Only then did he bring his gaze to Vogel.

“Neither, it seems, do you.”

Vogel stepped forward, hands primed to draw the cutter at his waist. “I’ve authority enough to have you and all your men arrested, here and now.”

As if to mirror his opponent, Kryos walked forward until he stood only four feet before the new Commissioner.

“And this would profit you?”

“I have my orders.”

“But not your reason.”

Vogel frowned. “I’ve no desire to do you an injury.”

“Nor do I.” Kryos spread his hands. “So have your men step aside.”

“You know I can’t do that.”

“Disappointing. I was under the impression our aims aligned.”

“A false impression.”

“Much like that which I have given you.”

“What?”

There sounded an inorganic humming from above. Silvery forms descended from the glaring sky with meteoric speed and brought low the Consortium troupe. Vogel drew his cutter and leveled it at Kryos. The small panel above the grip of the weapon read “Invalid target.”

“You wax forgetful of the manufacturer of your weapons.”

Vogel cursed and swung wildly at Kryos’ impassive face with a hard right hook. The black-garbed man back-stepped and the blow went wide.

“Come on!” Vogel bellowed and threw a left hook, but before the blow connected one of the silvery aerial machines swept upon the assailant and affixed itself to his arm with its centipedal legs, then went still. The momentum and weight of the mechanical addition brought Vogel’s blow short and straight to the ground, before his right knee. He groaned and attempted to rise but the machine proved too heavy. His armor made him tetter unsteadily and he struggled to keep from toppling to the concrete quay.

Kryos strode forth, gently placed a palm upon the Commissioner’s armored shoulder and, with minimal application of pressure, pushed the fettered man face-first to the ground. Before Vogel could rebound, three more argent ersatz insects descended from the sky and secured his free arm and both legs.

“You approached us head on so the sun would be in our eyes. So we wouldn’t see them above us.”

“Yes.”

Progenitor soldiers emerged by the hundreds from the yawning cavity of the obsidian freighter as Kryos’ shadow fell over the Commissioner.

“Due your valor, I shall grant you the honor of observing the reconfiguration of this ugly chimera you and your masters failed to secure.” He turned toward a soldier in vermeil plate. “Colonel Vorstahl.”

“Sir?”

Kryos looked to the massive ship floating above the city. “Release the cloud planters.”

“How many?”

“All of them.”

Vorstahl bowed his head in acquiescence. Kryos’ dactyl gesticulations grew more rapid.

“You can’t,” Vogel pleaded. “The Chancellor and the Convention are in Devik’s ship. If you start a storm it’ll be torn from the sky.”

“Only if they choose not to land,” Kryos replied diffidently.

Far from the chaotic quay, a new set of the Progenitor’s previously unraised spines disgorged thousands of machines the color and texture of smokeless ovoids, that whirred westward to the burning heart of the city and the airship that crowned it.

Next chapter

Kryos: Chapter 41

Previous chapter

Hungry gulls squawked over the bloody port. Dark clouds parted and a blazing sun peeked through the parting pall with ceaseless increase. The grim, sooty remnants of distant, burnt buildings littered the shambolic nautical freightway and mingled with the nascent twilight to cast the whole vista in a sickly amber hue. Two groups of soldiers, white-plated, and gray-and-black, picked through the scarlet bodies of the dead like hyena’s in the wake of a lion’s kill.

Amidst that scene, Ryard knelt beside Straker as one of her medics administered a potent sedative and tended to the harpoon-borne leg-wound. The Director’s armor had been set aside, the left leg of her suit bunched to a pallid, gashed thigh. Her normally pristine and frigid countenance was drawn, haggard and wracked with emotion. “A single feather,” she muttered and reached out unsteadily and took the man’s hand in a feeble grip.

“If not for you we’d be dead.”

He squeezed her hand gently and returned her warm gaze. “You once did a similar favor for me. It is only right I repaid it.”

The woman inclined her head solemnly. “Debts ought to be repaid. Whether one is held to them or not.” Straker groaned, retracted her hand in a paroxysm of pain, closed her eyes and leaned wearily against the cargo crate where she had sustained her injuries. The medic grasped her comfortingly, but she shook her head. “I’m alright. Go. Tend to the others.” When she had recovered and the medic had departed, she looked toward Ryard with a curious sentimentalism. “That business with Haldeck and Vangr seems a lifetime ago.”

Ryard took a seat beside the woman as she fished out a pack of cigarettes from her jacket. She put the aromatic cylinder between her lips, closed the pack and made to return it, then paused and proffered it toward the CAV-keep. He took one with a smile and for several minutes they sat smoking in silence and watched the colors play across the bay, visible beneath the vast shadow of the seawall. For that brief moment it seemed as if all trouble had been abstracted from the world. Ryard’s eyes wandered from the distant, sun-lit water and the ships and cranes which obscured it, to the face of the woman into whose employ he had rendered himself, thick coils of smoke visible behind her fragile visage to the north. His senses revolted at the discordant scene and his mouth parted to expel the dark matter that weighted upon his mind.

“Meris was at the scene when Sonderon was shot. He saw the man who did it. When he described the shooter, I didn’t believe it, so I had Lanning run a search of aerial drones in the region. There aren’t many left, but he found one that was over the area when the shot was fired.” Ryard tilted the panel display of his wrist-bound transceiver to the woman, on it was a picture of a unfinished skyscraper on which perched a large, muscular man in antiquated military garb with eyes the color of rusted-blood. A ghastly smile was visible on his incongruous slab-like face. “Its him, Vera.”

The woman’s mouth quivered. “Vangr. But why would he resurface now?”

“I have a theory, but I couldn’t say conclusively. The only thing that’s definitive is the make of his weapon. Was an aircraft tethering rod-dispenser.”

“I’m not familiar.”

“They’re used by sky-technicians on the larger HOCL platforms. To keep them from drifting apart.”

“Why do you always know such arcane things?”

“Lind keeps me current.”

“So what’s the significance of the tether?”

“There has been a large influx of southers into that line of work.”

“So he was trying to frame the southers?”

“Yeah.”

“You told me his name before, Mr. Vancing, but nothing of the man himself,” Sonderon said as he strode before the pair. His stern countenance relaxed momentarily. “I’m sorry, I couldn’t help but overhear. Your man here was convincing, but scant on details. I feel owed some further explanation.”

Straker surveyed the politician studiously before she answered. “Vangr was the former head of security for Kryos’ flagship, Progenitor. Hot-headed, sarcastic, but came highly recommended. Proved competent. So, to my discredit, I vouched for him. Five years ago, with the aid of one of our researchers, a woman named Haldeck, he absconded with a item of considerable value and vanished to the east, lying low somewhere in the Federation. We learned, only later, that his daughter was a prisoner of The Bureau at the time and lay under the shadow of execution. She had apparently violated one of their esoteric state mandates, and was accused of upsetting the social order. Whatever deal Vangr made with the easterners, likely a trade, our material for his daughter, fell through.” She paused to take a puff off her cigarette.

“What happened?”

“His daughter was executed. Since that time we’ve heard nothing of him.” She gestured to the man’s bandaged arm. “Until this recent incident.”

“Why should he come after me instead of the Federation?”

“Don’t take it personally. Its not your life he wants.” Ryard replied. “But the chaos your death would bring. Same with Kryos. Same with The Board, only in that instance, they were successful.”

“They?”

Before Ryard could answer, Sirin and Kopf walked up with an old man bearing a sun-beaten face, who threw his thick, calloused hands out and exclaimed, “Bless you, by the gods, bless you. We thought we were food for the fishes.” A few yards behind the trio, a group of common folk massed. Warehouse labourers and fishermen. Some bore injuries and looks of fear, but all eased by varying degrees to contours of relief.

Sirin saluted and spoke with her usual clipped incision. “We found him and the others hiding in a shipping container, Director. He wanted to see you. Says he knows you.”

“He does,” She replied weakly, a little smile breaking out. “That’s Mr. Alder, the local portmaster.”

“Oh, what have those savages done to you, Ms. Straker?”

“Made me a hobble, it seems. But unless I’m party to some sudden illness over it, I’ll recover.”

“Fortune smiles on you twice. Well, you must come with us to Wall Town.” He pointed to the far, towering aquatic barrier.

“That’s precisely where we were headed.”

Alder bobbed his patchy, crinkled head. “Good. Good. One of the only safe places left in this cursed city.”

“Why’s that?” One of Sonderon’s men inquired.

“Because there’s only one way in or out by land. If those Bureau partisans, or some others, come after it, there’s a straight shot to sea. And from there, to the colonies.”

Ryard cast his eyes out to the dead bodies that littered the shipping yard. “Before we leave, we ought to move them.”

Raimer shook his head. “Won’t do to linger. There’s no telling when they might be back.”

“I agree with Major Vancing.” Sirin stated pensively. “We can’t leave them to the birds.”

“Best not to chance it.”

“It strikes me as unlikely the federants would return without reinforcements, Captain. Even if they do, they stand no chance now that Sonderon is with us.”

“Your lass is right,” Sonderon replied with a hint of pride. “Those animals won’t be back anytime soon.”

Raimer glanced to the Director, who nodded. “Very well,” he said with discontent. “But be quick about it.”

Sirin saluted. “Yes, Sir.”

For the next half hour the soldiers worked tirelessly, dragging the corpses of their comrades and those of the federant enemy into an empty industrial transportation freezer to secure the bodies from the prying beaks of gulls and the deformations of the heat. After the icy internment was complete, the combine debarked the shipping yard and traveled by foot, with a persistent wariness, to a habitation-zone within the forty kilometer-long fortification known simply as Wall Town. Over two hundred feet the modular seawall rose, bisecting the docks and fisheries and the artificial outer quay. The place had previously served as a resort for those traveling to and from the city and the deep colonies, and now took on the character of a council of war. Sonderon’s men alongside some braver members of Alder’s workforce and a few of the uninjured KSRU elite, took positions along the spindled, inner-wall balconies, all of which afforded clear views of the route through the expansive shipping yard to the massive, plated doors of the structure.

Alder led Ryard, Sonderon, Raimer and a crutch-bound Straker to his private study on the nineth story. The chamber was small, with a low-ceiling, bamboo-paneled floor garnished in coconut matting, padded stucco walls, two cream-colored divans, to either side of the thin entrance, and a couch in the center, beyond which was a hardwood desk and a scuffed and well-worn armchair. On the desk, an affin module displayed a picture of Alder with a buoyant woman and two bright-eyed girls with seashells beside a fishing boat. Above the desk, an array of nautical paraphernalia. As Ryard helped Straker settle into the left backless sofa, the desk-set module glimmered and blared. Overtop the maritime family picture, the words ‘Call incoming’ appeared.

“I’ve got to take this. Make yourselves comfortable. I’ll be right back. There’s coffee in the cupboard.” With that, Mr. Alder removed the module from its reticulated stalk and retired to a side room. Ryard sauntered to the small cupboard which folded out from the wall above the portmaster’s desk and there removed a tray containing four thick white sealed self-warming cups. He twisted the tops of the vessels which hissed, warmed and went silent and handed them to his companions.

“Feeling better, ma’am?” Sonderon inquired.

Straker nodded. Her eyelids were heavy, movements slow, all trace of agony, gone. “Much better. I’ve yet to thank you for your assistance.”

“Ports are cornerstones of prosperity. Leverage in negotiations with whatever government will eventually be formed.”

“That’s why you decided to aid us?” Raimer prompted with a hint of disgust.

“It was a factor. But there were many factors. I’ve long supported the efforts of the KSRU. I respect your work as much as I resent your founder.”

Straker blew on her steaming coffee to mask a rising vexation. “What do you hold against Mr. Kryos?”

Sonderon, hands clasped together on the cup in his lap, tilted his head to one side, looking to the woman as a principal who sought to upbraid a precocious pupil. “He cut his roots. If he ever had any.”

“He’s not a plant.”

“Neither is he aecerite, though our blood runs through his veins.”

“You object to his residence in the colonies?”

“I should think every man would object to living under the sea. Crazy a thing as ever I heard. What can a technologist removed from us know of the city or his own stock who built it? He’s a gadget churner who has no appreciation for the spiritual.”

“You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“You take harpoon and offense on his account. What compelled you to give yourself so completely to this man?”

For a moment Straker said nothing, then she set her coffee aside and reached for the zipper at the collar of her bodysuit.

“I shall show you.”

Straker unzipped the suit to her navel.

“What are you doing?” The words froze upon his lips, for the pale sliver of skin beneath the vestments bore jagged scars that spiderwebbed between her small bosom and stretched from clavicle down below her stomach. Sonderon straightened in his seat, his visage assuming the proportions of shock. Ryard’s eyes went wide. Raimer looked to his boots, discomfort in every gesture.

“I started my work for Kryos Industries in a three month tutelage to their director of research and development. A man named Callahan. I was to make memos, give my thoughts on his team’s designs and fetch packages of model parts and schematics which were often brought in for him. One day, a packet came, heavy, wrapped in brown paper and twine. I thought it odd. No one I’d ever met used twine, or such coarse paper. But scans showed nothing unusual, so I brought it to Mr. Callahan. He gave me a smile, took the package and said he’d made up his mind to keep me on permanently, if that was still what I wanted. Naturally, I said yes. The next moment someone called for me from the adjoining room, I jogged to the door and as I turned the corner there was an explosion. I remember a hot blast of air and being flung to a wall. Then nothing. Darkness, that seemed to last for days. The next thing I remember was Kryos’ face staring down at me in a strange room. The packet had contained a bomb, he told me. Sent by the anarchists of Aestival. My insides were torn up. Many organs had to be replaced. Skin, grafted. Childbearing, no longer a possibility.” She ran a finger down neck to sternum. “He saved me. Rebuilt me. Entrusted me with Callahan’s mantle. And who was I to him? I was nothing. No one. A mangled, barren clerk.” With a touch of anger she retracted the zipper and re-sealed her suit. “You asked why my loyalty lies thus, Mr. Sonderon. That is why.”

Quiet filled the room. Sonderon fiddled with his coffee cup and inclined his head. “That I understand. I’m sorry to have offended you. It wasn’t my intention.”

The door flew wide and a young man walked in and bowed curtly.

“Hope I’m not intruding.”

“What is it, Closton?” Sonderon barked impatiently.

“Just wanted to let you know every level has been secured.”

“Good. Here, have some coffee.” Closton took the cup and walked behind the desk and pressed a panel. The wall slid apart to reveal a balcony overlooking the bay.

“Didn’t notice that,” Ryard stated.

“Keeps out the water during high tides.”

At that moment Alder returned from the adjacent room.

“Security Commission is coming. Want a detatchment stationed here until the situation is resolved with the Association and the East.”

“What did you tell them?” Straker demanded.

“That I’d close the water-gate and turn back all inbound vessels.”

“Once Kryos arrives, we needn’t worry about the Security Commission.”

“And if the Security Commission arrives before him?” Sonderon prompted.

“We prepare for a seige.”

Ryard and Closton retired to the balcony as Sonderon and Straker’s discussion proceeded.

“Why, that’s incredible!” Closton declared, leaning over the railing and gesturing to the vast, dark shape in the water of the bay, with a breadth beyond the ambit of their gaze. “How’s it possible for an artificial island’s foundation to be laid so quickly? Must have come unmoored, looks like its… moving.”

“That’s not an island,” Ryard corrected with a glance to the designated depths.

The man turned to Ryard, his visage disclosing nervous perplexity. “What then?”

“Its a ship.”

Next chapter

No(,) Time To Die (2021)

Following the tonally inconsistent, motivationally uniform “Spectre” (2015), is the (mostly) tonally consonant, inspirationally wayward “No Time To Die,” a title which should be commended for being better than “Quantum of Solace.” And much like “Quantum of Solace,” as a title, the more you think about some of the character decisions in “No Time To Die” the less sense it makes.

In one of the most egregious scenes in the film, Bond scrambles to crack the defenses of Lyutsifer Safin’s fortress as the aforementioned antagonist exits his besieged island base with a detachment of bodyguards and appears to escape. However, Safin later returns, without his men, and opens fire on Bond. Which prompted me to ponder why he would return at all, given that he knows his base is compromised and maintains no personal animus against Bond? If there was some unstated reason for his sudden and overwhelming compulsion to kill Bond, why would an obviously cautious man like Safin attack a dangerous assassin without his men? You might think the answer to the query is, “He wouldn’t, that would be profoundly reckless,” but the correct answer is, “So the plot can conclude by nanite-inspired missile-seppuku.” This is but one of many such scenes.

In another, Bond, in an attempt to infiltrate a terrorist gathering, is put into contact with an alcoholic female CIA agent named Paloma, who sheepishly confesses she’s only a couple weeks into the job, and proceeds to handily dispatch numerous trained killers with spin-kicks and double-fisted uzi-fire while wearing nothing but a party dress and high heels. I hardly need remark that its more than somewhat unconvincing, particularly given that the actress in the scene looks as if she weights scarcely more than ninety pounds and the absurdity marshals stridently against the film’s prevailing somber tone. If the filmmakers really wanted Paloma to be a convincing CIA agent, they should have had her prod Bond into an agency-organized lockdown protest, then have him arrested for domestic “extremism.”

Some of this insensibility is rendered lucid by a little knowledge of the production, which was delayed by the egress of its initial director-writer duo of Danny Boyle and John Hodge, then came the Wuhan pandemic, an onset injury of its lead and consequent, consistent rewrites. The director C.J. Fukunaga, in a interview with Esquire, elaborated upon the writing process for the project, noting that “with Bond [25], we were still writing when we’d wrapped. I was even writing in post.” He also noted that “there are pieces that Ralph Fiennes says in the trailer that neither Ralph nor I knew exactly what he was saying it for.” Obviously not ideal. Some of these problems (such as lines like “people want things to happen to them”) are doubtless a result of the rushed timetable, others, however, (such as the Paloma scene) are clearly the result of judicious planning.

I haven’t touched yet upon the political propaganda in the film, which isn’t as obnoxious as the trailer made it out to be, and probably all the more potent for that. In addition to being subtle, it is also brief and so easily removed for distribution in profitable foreign markets.

Though much was made of her in promotional material, the new and insufferably smug 007, Nomi, isn’t in the film much and was so extraneous to the plot she could have been cut from the script entirely. If that had been the case audiences would have been spared the worst line in the film, delivered as Nomi holds Safin-acolyte Obruchev at gun point over a deadly pit of nanites and askes if he knows what time it is, to which she replies, “Time to die!” A retread of The Last Jedi pit-drop scene. Trend developing.

I don’t wish to wax wholly negative. The opening is tense. Obruchev is a fascinating character and his misadventures are amusing; the initial revenge arc is interesting (though it is ultimately supplanted by a world-imperiled-via-superweapon plotline, which proves far less compelling); the acting is solid; the score, by Hans Zimmer, is keen (particularly Safin’s ethereal, understated flute motif), and Linus Sandgren’s cinematography is often quite striking.

Despite all these merits it left little overall impression. Even Bond’s death felt tepid. And its easy to understand why. If Bond were a real person and a statue was erected in his honor, many of the same people who made this film would advocate for its removal.

Kryos: Chapter 40

Previous chapter

At the eastern docks, Straker and the hundred man detachment she had pulled from base, found themselves surrounded by a band of Bright Horizon constituents, at least double in number, and armed with whatever had been near to hand during their revolt. The waylayers’ affiliation was clear from their distinctive scarlet uniforms; from this, Straker surmised a recent, unplanned defection. A untrained detachment of ill-equipped attaches would normally have proven of little consequence to the vanguard of the KSRU, had their armaments not been depleted in the day’s preceding broil. The dire hosts twined amidst shipping containers as the smoke and flame surrounding; white and red; then yet redder still. The ground went thick with fish and ice and the blood of men and women and the air was choked with the screams of the injured and dying. If the matter proceeded without interruption, Vera was certain they would be overwhelmed. Neither Vancing nor the second detachment she had called up from headquarters, would arrive in time. Such thoughts coiled like venomous snakes as Straker retreated from the press of her red-clad foes and found her back to a massive, weather-worn cargo crate, which disclosed the possibility of rearward assault. The wroth contestations to either side of the woman prevented further egress. Thus positioned, her bodyguards fended off a disorderly wave of Bureau partisans.

After the first break in the onslaught, Vera looked some yards to the left, where Sirin, bereft of munitions, vainly struck out with her dead cutter at three wild eyed federants. Savagely, the men bore her down, one lashing out with a battered ice hook, the metallic beak finding little purchase against the woman’s stolid armor. The set-upon woman would have been slain the next instant, but her comrades rallied and overtook the assailants.

To the right of the crate, Raimer drove his sychitin blade into the gut of a howling federant and thereafter fell to his knees with grit teeth, clutching at a horrid gash to his thigh that painted his knee with his own colours.

A hideous cry and the sound of scraping metal broke over the field of carnage, sounding from within an off-white shipping container set far before Vera’s own. A body flew from the house-sized cargo-vessel and skidded to a stop mere paces from the Director’s plated boots.

Corporal Raffin. Dead. The face guard of his helm grotesquely fractured by some inhuman force.

Something large moved within the eggshell-colored shipping container.

“Heavy Frame. They have a Heavy Frame!” Vera shouted into her headset to any who could hear as the aforementioned assembly unit emerged from the shipping container with a sheering of steel. The machine stood nine feet tall and moved on two reticulated legs that shook the earth with every step and its four aluminiferous arms pealed like the pincers of a gigantic crab. The unconcealed device came bounding over the bloodstained field, seized a fleeing KSRU recruit and squeezed the man with force enough to collapse his breastplate. Within seconds, the soldier’s ribcage was utterly crushed and blood spooled from beneath his helm.

The revelation’s immediate effect was demoralization. KSRU troops scattered from the engine of death; all tactical formations abandoned. The federants rallied, sensing victory close at hand.

Sirin’s voice sounded in Straker’s headset. “Director, there’s a keel panel suspended above the Heavy Frame.”

Straker cast her eyes up and spied a multi-ton length of bilge keel side-plating hanging from one of the now-lifeless automated cranes arrayed about the dock yard. The crane tower from which the uninstalled component hung rose directly beside the shipping crate Vera had taken shelter behind.

“So I see. I’ll make for it. Raimer, have your division form a cordon and give me a hand.”

“Copy that.”

“Sirin, Whalen, Kopf, Grieg, Sarker, distract the target.”

“Understood,” the five entrusted corporals replied in unison and dashed into the fray.

Immediately, the Captain’s men formed a barricade around Vera’s shipping crate, shielding the Director from the bloody vicissitudes of the skirmish.

“I’m the better climber, I can go.” Raimer declared breathlessly as he limped up to the director and surveyed the looming construction crane.

She looked at the wound on her subordinate’s thigh and shook her head. “Not with that wound. Besides, I’m lighter. We need to get on top of the crate to climb the crane, bottom’s too sheer. The ladder auto-retracts to keep vandals off. Lift me up, if your leg is good enough.”

“Its good enough,” he responded briskly. With that, he hefted the slender woman to the top of the shipping crate, for among all the KSRU, none save Syzr exceeded Raimer in strength. Without delay, Vera dashed across the metal surface of the cargo container toward the retracted ladder of the crane. She judged that with a sprinting jump, she could just close the distance. Before she could leap from the edge of the container, a horrible pain gripped her and dropped her to a knee. She looked down and discovered a harpoon protruding from her leg. As she cast her gaze over her shoulder to spy the shooter, the bolt was retracted and carried her back across the full ambit of the container roof and from there to the ground. As she lay winded and wracked with pain, she could now discern the harpoon operator, a reedy federant with the look of an office gopher who had erected the makeshift weapon on the adjacent container from which the rampaging Heavy Frame had been released. The harpoonist gave a cry of adulation, but his satisfaction, as that of his fellows, quickly subsided as a glinting form cleaved through the air.

A cloud-racer. Flying machines that were the exclusive domain of the city’s sky-technicians.

A familiar voice joined the open channel in Vera’s helm. “Sirin, get everyone clear of the Heavy Frame.”

“Copy, Major.” Sirin replied with an unconcealed tinge of delight.

“Ryard!” Vera exclaimed with shock.

“Good to hear your voice, Director.”

Ryard steered the racer directly at the great chain which ran from the crane-tower arm and clipped it with one of vehicle’s wings, severing the suspension and dropping the keel siding down upon the Heavy Frame as Sirin and her confederates dove for cover. There resounded an uproarious clatter and where once the multi-armed machine had reeled there was nothing but one third of the hind of a container ship, a faint cloud of particulates and a single motionless mechanical limb that had been severed by the dreadful impact.

Before the easterly partisans could absorb the upset, a hail of cutter fire sent them into retreat. The survivors fled toward an abandoned processing plant north of the shipping yard. In the midst of the egress, Vera turned to the direction of the fire and beheld an encroaching band of Sonderon’s aecerites in matching gray and black.

Next chapter

Kryos: Chapter 39

Previous chapter

The crowd assembled before Sonderon’s tumble-down Southern Block meeting hall rained fists upon the shuttered doors and windows of the dun-colored estate and filled the air with adumbrations of greater violence. A gaggle of onlookers stood upon the street, gawking as might children at exotic animals in a zoo.

Ryard, Tatter and Meris stood at the periphery of the gathering on the edge of a SecCom cordoned pedestrian thoroughfare, which ran before the eastern face of the besieged edifice. The former member of the trio spoke into his affin module at a rapid clip.

“You’re sure?”

“Don’t worry. I’ll have it ready.”

“I owe you, Lind.”

“As usual.” Ryard rolled his eyes. “But its not as if anyone is going to be keeping track now.”

“Likely so. Though little would delight me more than to continue listening to your dulcet condescensions, I have to go.”

“Stay safe, Ry.”

“I’m afraid I can’t, so promise to take caution enough for the both of us.”

“I promise.”

He switched off the device and turned to his companions. Meris’ usual melancholia had waxed to apoplexy. Tatter, in contrast, seemed largely unperturbed, so unperturbed that she did not even look to the wrathful crowd, but instead crouched in the observance of a melon-sized isopod that had emerged from the roadside drainage duct. Despite this blase posture, Ryard observed a faint trace of annoyance which could scarcely have been produced by the lilac-hued sea-creature. Whatever the source of her vexation, it vanished the moment he, once more, opened his mouth.

“We have to get through the crowd. I’m going to try and talk to them.”

“That’s barmy. Look at the savages.” Meris exclaimed in a brusque hush as the crowd’s chant assumed greater fervor and the pounding upon the doors intensified. “They’ll tear us apart.”

“Isn’t there another way in?” Tatter queried with only the faintest flicker of interest as the adventurous crustacean climbed upon her outstretched left hand.

Ryard shook his head. “I used to play here when I was a kid. Its completely isolated, unlike the newer tenements. That’s probably why Sonderon chose it as his base.” He gestured to the rooftops. “See, there’s no way in from the top without a cloud racer. And even then, he’s probably got men on the roof. And-” He trailed off abruptly as he noticed a familiar face amidst the crowd.

“What is it?”

“I’ll be right back. If things go sideways, run.”

“Wait. Ryard.” Meris croaked vainly.

Vancing slipped through the mob until the press made transit impossible and called to the small man before him.

“Wasil.”

The swarthy little man turned around, at first surprised, then apprehensive.

“Mr. Vancing. What on earth are you doing here?”

“No time to explain. What is this all about?”

“Sonderon’s cronies have been at us. Says southers tried to kill him. Says we’re to be routed. If he thinks he can force us out, we’ll do as much to him.”

“You consider this the best use of time as the city is about to be invaded?”

“You mean that crazy message? The Consortium’ll stop it.”

“The Consortium might not be able to. They didn’t stop this.”

As the two men spoke, heads turned with critical eyes and increasing fixity toward the intruder and the standard-issue jacket that marked him a CAV-keep.

“Why’d you come here?”

“I need to speak to Sonderon.”

“What? Why?”

“I’ll explain everything latter. Its important I speak to him.”

“Who is that?” One of the souther agitators asked.

“He’s one of Sonderon’s!” Another member of the mob declared.

Ryard raised his voice suddenly. “I am nothing of the kind. I am Major Vancing, of the KSRU. I was hoping to speak with Sonderon, as well as yourselves. You’ve all been had.”

“Had? What do you mean, had?” An incensed, scar-faced youth demanded.

“I mean that the person who recently shot Sonderon was not a souther, but wanted his target to think he was.”

A long moment of uncomprehending silence descended. “Why?” Wasil wondered aloud.

“To prompt Sonderon to avenge himself upon you, and you upon him.”

“What a load of rubbish, and from a member of the KSRU, we know well enough what they do to us,” the scar-faced man exclaimed hotly.

“If he says it, I believe him.” Wasil broke in stolidly.

“Why? What’s he to you?”

“A friend, Basim. If not for him, my wife would not be with us today.”

“Its his colonel who kills us. Its their master who comes to claim us all.”

“I knew nothing of Kryos’ plan. As for happened with Colonel Syzr-“

“Murderer!” Someone shouted.

“He killed. But he is no murderer. Listen.” But the scar-faced man, with a snarl of rage, threw himself at Ryard. Before violence could erupt, Wasil broke the two men apart and restrained the youth.

“Let him speak, Basim!”

“But Wasil-“

“If Wasil will listen, I will listen,” an elderly souther declared, taking a step forward. Murmuration passed through the crowd and at length the sentiment was agreed upon.

Vancing adjusted his collar and continued. “Syzr was set upon by those who he is claimed to have murdered. The two he slew and their leader, Kleiner, had attacked a woman named Fawnell. That’s why he intervened. This, Syzr relayed to me personally. I spoke with Fawnell before her untimely death and she confirmed to me the truth of the Colonel’s words. The KSRU is not your enemy. But someone would certainly like you to think otherwise.”

Another wave of murmurs rippled through the crowd. This less furious in character than the last.

“Can anyone corroborate this?” The elderly souther queried.

“They can.” Ryard pointed to Meris and Tatter, who stood uncertainly amidst the onlookers in the street.

Before the crowd could question further, the second-story balcony doors were thrown wide and a man, well on in years, with short mottled hair, a weathered face, and a fierce expression, emerged. He wore a gray-black uniform and his arm was confined to a well-plied sling. Ryard instantly recognized the high-perched figure as Kreizer Sonderon, who clutched the railing with his good arm and scanned the crowd until his eyes alighted upon Ryard.

“If we’re to talk, it were better we do so inside.”

Next chapter

Kryos: Chapter 38

Previous chapter

As Eidos’ face faded from the airborne projectors, Illander Rehdon side-eyed his companions amidst the graveyard copse. The chill wind had swept to a roaring gale and fallen leaves danced about the trio as if agitated by their presence.

“My my. What a showman. You know, I had heard he was a most taciturn fellow. Yet it seems, when the fit seizes him, his perspicacity rivals my own.”

Ryard did not respond to the other man’s observation, for his mind was consumed with dark misgivings. His body bent. His brows furrowed.

“You see now how the matter lies, Mr. Vancing?”

“Dimly, I begin to.”

“The Board was in his way. And the seizure of his facility was the final straw. He could suffer no more obstacles. So.” Redon’s voice grew solemn. “He killed them all.”

“You’re wrong.”

The declaration tore both men from fixation upon the other to Tatter, whose curious visage was uncharacteristically wracked with emotion.

“Father would not do that.”

“Were you at his side when the blast resounded?”

Tatter said nothing.

“What is it you think I should do?” Ryard asked whistfully.

Rehdon took a few steps between his companions and turned his back to the woman, eclipsing her from the CAV-keep’s view.

“Kryos casts a shadow over the whole of Aecer. If his designs are not interrupted, he’ll mire the land in a red cloak of iron. After the death of their envoy, war with the Federation is inevitable. But war with the deep colonies is not. He trusts you, Ryard. You have sway with his lieutenants.” Rehdon reached forward with his bandaged hand and caught a leaf twisting in the wind. “You can get close. It lies within your power to bring him to heel.”

“Madness mushrooms in your brains,” Tatter protested fitfully as she pushed past Rehdon and strode to Vancing, her large dichromatic eyes boring into his being with plaintive despair. Rehdon looked on with a diffident air and leaned, once more, against one of the nearby trees of the ill-kept grove, twiddling the brown, brittle leaf between his fingers.

Knowing now what he must do, Ryard shifted toward the docks, where black smoke writhed above rooftops. The alarm of his affin module sounded. He looked to the screen. An incoming message: “We’re being overrun. Come to the docks at once.” Signed: Vera Straker.

“Ryard, look at me.”

“I have to go.” The man adjusted his collar and made for the overgrown footpath they had taken through the gorse-ringed forest.

“Ryard!”

In a matter of seconds, he was swallowed upon in the swaying foliage. Without hesitation, Tatter followed.

Rehdon watched them decant and crushed the dead leaf in his palm.

Next chapter

Kryos: Chapter 37

Previous chapter

Screams painted a crepuscular sky.

Sonderon’s acolytes and a raggad souther band, composed principally of young, frenzied men, broke from melee amidst the rubble-strewn streets of Central as whirring static issued from a thousand airborne vessels. An amplified voice thundered above and through the deteriorating metropolis. Filling the arteries of the metropolitan byways.

“… Denizens of Aecer. This is Eidos Kryos, Premier of the Association of Deep Colonies. I bid you listen…”

High above the city in Fabrdyn’s flying fortress, Astrid Sodabrucke harked to Kryos’ message and clutched at her elegant skirts as her attendants and the members of the mayoral convention huddled and muttered. She turned, eyes wide, to Amberleece.

“He’s broadcasting to the entire city.”

Devik strolled to the console and sifted through Fabrdyn operated frequencies. Eidos’ words seeped through them all. He issued a grunt of impressed vexation. “So it would seem.”

“Cut the feeds.”

Devik shook his head. “I can’t, Madam Chancellor.”

“Why in the calcite mines of Karkonne not?”

“If I do that the CAV-way will lose all guidance. It’d be giving license to mass murder.”

“So jam his signals.”

He sighed and rubbed his face with ill-constrained impatience. “That doesn’t allay the problem.”

She gulped and looked to Secretary Slate for guidance. Finding none, the Chancellor cast her senses to the window and the gathering ruin below.

“… A path expands, for those with the eyes to see it. Diverging from the present, sordid state. In which red tongues lap at buildings and brood. In which your ostensible leaders, absent responsibility and scurry to the clouds. Governance here has rested upon a bloated beauracracy. Whose sclerotic sinecures work tirelessly to ensure very little is accomplished. A decadence assiduously constructed. For a system’s character is derived from its architects and operators…”

Wasil barged into his dreary South Block apartment and plunged through the short low ceilinged hall to a sparsely furnished stucco room where his young daughter stirred a pot of aromatic broth. The sound of the wall-mounted affin system contested the clatter of utensils, the shuffling of feet and the hissing of steam. She turned and offered a hollow smile.

“Papa. I was getting worried.”

“Trouble at the waystation. That CAV-keep I had told you about wasn’t around. Had to skip the CAV-way altogether. People swarming all over it. Its madness out there.” He rubbed his perspiring brow. “How is your mother?”

“Much better today.” She stopped stirring and turned to the aural emanations washing over the makeshift kitchen. “Papa, who is that man?”

Wasil paused and turned from the child to the source of the oration. The longer he listened, the more the color drained from his face.

“… Purity was corroded by compromise. Creativity was forsworn for popular delegation. Verity was vitiated by consensus. Having taken leave of that triad, order has taken leave of you…”

Danzig Kleiner bent to his portable affin mod with confusion and annoyance as Kryos’ speech filled the auditorium of the old theatre in which he sat. He manipulated the device in an attempt to switch it off, but to no avail. A man sat upon the stage, garbed in black fatigues. He peeled a pomegranate and chuckled. Kleiner returned his companion’s mirth with ire and kicked the seat in front of him. The man on the stage looked up.

“Break that, and he’ll be collecting a pretty sum.”

Kleiner removed his hijacked transceiver and folded it in a length of cloth in his pocket to muffle the sound of the erudite orator. “Its me that’ll be collecting, next I see the liar.”

The man on the stage laughed once more. Kleiner muttered a curse and stormed from the garish red-gold chamber.

“…Yet, no situation, however dire, is without promise. Fire consumes itself, but clears the diminutive vegetation which strangles the towering flora, and leaves, in its wake, a useful char…”

The members of the East Federation Bureau listened to the message which poured from their table projector in uneasy silence.

“… With that brittle, black residue, this mazy sketch shall be mantled in more elegant lines…”

Within the foyer of Northwing Detention Facility, Acelin Syzr strode amidst a massing crowd of newly sprung prisoners. The woman he pursued had given him the slip. He paused and peered skyward, through the translucent glass wall, to the aerial facsimile of his master. A cry from near distance broke the strands of his attention.

“He’s with the KSRU,” a familiar female voice intoned with feigned discomposure.

Syzr cast his gaze right and spied, between the shifting swarm of inmates, a bob-cut wearing plain-faced woman of aecerite and federant extraction, her right hand extended in a theatrical accusatory gesture. He knew her as Sia Kandor. The prisoners crowded round the designated man and began to shout as Kandor crept toward the door.

“She’s right. Its Syzr.”

“KSRU dog!”

“He’s the one who put me away!”

“Get him!”

Blocking the exit, outbound prisoners waylaid the colonel with murderous intent. Four at once seized him, straining dire arm against arm, and four in turn were forced back by Syzr’s ferocity. Mad panic overtook the mob, and swiftly the internecine broil expanded until it wracked the entire penitentiary. No longer did the freed convicts fight solely against the automated guards, but turned upon each other with unmitigated, directionless savagery.

“… From this day forward, Aecer is no more. The ADC shall assume direct control of the city to be named…”

Holleran Meris sheltered in an abandoned automat. The mechanical attendants that had previously labored in the thankless ferrying of vittles lay smashed upon the floor. With an oath, the old man caught the side of one of the hewn machine servants and dropped to the scuffed tiling as dire disquisition spooled discordantly from the damaged wall transceiver. From his perch upon the floor, his eyes meet those of a small boy, who held his knees to his chest beneath one of the far tables; his mouth was bloody and his left eye was swollen and purple.

“… The Progenitor debarks, and will soon make landfall. When it does, my men will march upon our new demense. Whether greetings be cold or warm, they shall be returned in kind…”

At Vera Straker’s order, her armor-clad soldiers cleared a path through a horde of rioters besieging the docks in an attempt to flee the fraying conurbation. Cutters flared, and in red bloom, severed limbs peppered the ground. Sirin surveyed the carnage with raggad breath as the voice of the man who had made the oppidan scape his pulpit reverberated through her helmet and steeled her resolve.

“… My valiant emissaries prepare for our arrival. See that you do the same.”

Kryos’ thousand projected visages rippled, then diminished. Thereafter, the skies of Aecer stilled. Clouds, dark and pregnant with storms, drifted above mountainous aircrafts and contorted souls beyond number. The people watched for a moment. Waiting for some further word. Only the peal of thunder followed.

Beyond the crane-thick harbor, far from the violence laced labyrinth, a great shape moved beneath the waters. Too large to be a whale.

Next chapter