Kryos: Chapter 44

Previous chapter

Carmine coils of smoke and pungent fumes choked the air of Aecer’s market district. Fearful citizens ran in reptilian haze. Some missing eyes, others, limbs. Consortium distress flares speckled the perimeter of the commercial nexus and in the middle of it a government transport had been overturned, smashed, surrounded by wild howling reavers hefting pipes and knives and other lethal oddments. The armed mass corralled a number of Consortium petty officers and heaped detritus upon a great bonfire that blazed beside the upset vehicle, upon which one man stood triumphant and led those surrounding in chant. His face was contorted with ferocity which taken with his prominent brow, flat nose and wide mouth lent a hideous simian aspect. The red light of the flares made the ghastly face appear all the more alien and dreadful. His voice, as that of his hollering comrades, was lost to the bedlam of the blaze, the hiss of the wind and the liquid rumble of government klaxons.

Two hundred feet off, amidst the middle of the eastern thoroughfare that ran from harbour to bazaar, Eidos Kryos watched the primal display through the shifting pall of the vain distress signals and lifted a hand, as if tossing away the wind, his gilded black scaled vestments fluttering like the fins of a great channel pike. His vast regiment arrayed behind him, awaiting orders. The riotous canting band within the far market square took no notice and continued fueling the crackling bonfire, taunting their captives, pushing them closer to the inferno.

Smoke cleared and a pile of corpses was rendered visible before Kryos’ host. Five men were sprawled upon the left side of the thoroughfare, their bodies mangled, the head of one so brutally crushed, brains painted pavement. In the center of the grisly ring lay a large man decked in vermeil plate. He was sprawled on his side as one who had dropped from sheer exhaustion. The deep colonists recognized the gear as distinguishing a colonel of their number. The front of the man’s helm and breastplate was scorched and fractured and blood pooled thick on the ground beneath him.

Straker’s hand flew to her mouth and tears formed in her eyes. “Syzr,” she gasped, the name flying like a phantom to the cacophonous gloom.

Sirin rested her hands on her belt and bowed her head. Stifled sobbing resonated from beneath her helm. Raimer cursed and turned away, unable to weather the sight. Ryard looked on in shock, Sonderon, in confusion. Kryos’ soldiers murmured among themselves, their vocalizations lost to the district’s mounting aural acidity.

Kryos alone retained his nerve and walked to the silent figure, knelt and placed a hand upon the man’s immobile chest. Kryos sighed and closed his eyes. When he opened them he stared for a long moment at the distant cavorting figures arrayed about the bonfire and recognized the man atop the vehicle. “Its him,” Ryard declared bitterly, eyes to the simian faced man. “Kleiner.” Kryos turned and spied a faint trail of bloody footprints leading south from just beyond the corpse pile to an alley strewn with unallocated scrap unsuitable for reprocessing. He returned his heliodoric gaze to the prone armored figure and softly spoke. A slight tremor to his words.

“Valor was your want. Valorous was your end. It shall not be forgotten.”

Kryos rose and followed the sanguine prints into the alley. The passage ended in a blind. The prints vanished amidst a heap of discarded machine parts. He drew a line through the red material with his right heel. Uncongealed. Fresh. Whoever passed did so recently. He stilled and listened. Labored breath sounded from behind the twisted pile of metal. He turned full toward the junk mound and spoke cordially.

“Danger wanes but you are not yet safe. I can make you so.”

Several seconds passed. Sibilation of metal on metal issued from the jumbled edifice. A large panel shifted, from behind it a woman emerged. Her leg was cut deep at the thigh and wrapped with a piece of cloth soaked ruby-brown. The source of the trail. She was dark haired, plain faced and sported a long jacket with the collar half-upturned. Kryos judged the woman’s wares expensive and unfashionable. Behind her crouched five children. The youngest of them, a blonde with a thick beige skirt, held her skinny left knee and rocked unsteadily, red faced, weeping, neck veins bulging. “Mama,” the girl cried. “Mama.” The dark haired woman limped cautiously to Kryos as if to shield the youth, unable to muster words.

“The children are not yours. You work for a near orphanage,” Kryos stated without diverting his gaze from the dark haired woman. The children looked on with wide, fearful eyes. The woman raised a brow, surprised by the man’s knowledge.

“I know of you, Ms. Kandor. And your works. Do you know me?”

“Yes.” Her voice was a hoarse whisper, for well she recalled the man’s airborne message that had blanketed the whole of the city.

Kryos walked to the woman, placed his hands upon her collar and folded down the upturned end.

“One of my best lies dead due your defense. I would like to know why.”

“Rehdon wanted me wormside. He sent one of his creatures, Kleiner, to put me thus, he’s the one who led the rabble. Syzr held them off, we ran. There were many. Too many.”

“Do the little ones know the cause of their distress? The nature of your trade?”

“Please don’t.” The woman’s lip quivered. “Please don’t tell them.”

“You will testify against Rehdon after I’ve dealt with this situation.”

Kandor wished to protest, but the terrible wrath which lurked behind the man’s forbearing visage stayed her tongue.

“Until then, you and the children will be kept safe.” He looked into her eyes. Through them.

“Mama,” the inconsolable girl continued to cry. Over and over.

“Is he going to hurt us?” One of the boys asked trepidatiously.

“No, honey,” Sia replied, her voice trembling. “No, he’s here to help.”

“Quite so. Observe.”

SIKARDs drifted down from the sky, and with their pointed composite limbs, widened the entrance to the children’s flotsam hostel. The youths gasped with excitement as the precarious roof of the slag heap was carried to the air like cream spooned from coffee. The spectacle tore even the tearful blonde from her reverie.

“What are those?” One of the boys asked with wonder as the SIKARDs began gingerly depositing the rubble only a few feet away.

“My friends,” Kryos responded, removing a band from his coat of similar color and texture to the machines which floated through the air.

The woman swallowed hard and turned back to Kryos. “Your offer is… acceptable.” She lowered her voice. “I only ask for one thing in return.”

“And that is?”

Kandor’s expression darkened. “Kleiner’s head.”

Kryos walked several paces away from the woman, his face dipped in consideration of the request. At length he replied.

“If as much remains when I’m finished with him.”

Kandor’s mouth parted as nearby SIKARDs swirled.

Kryos departed, leaving orphans and caretaker to one of his corps and returned to the thoroughfare. Syzr’s body had been removed to a transport. Faces were grim. Kryos explained the situation to Straker, then turned from all and raised his voice.

“I will return shortly.”

Kryos made for the bonfire prompting a query from Sonderon.

“What are you doing? There must be at least two hundred insurgents down there.”

Kryos tilted his head skyward. “Two hundred and thirty three, discounting the Consortium officers they’ve imprisoned.”

Sonderon grimaced in puzzlement. “My men alone could subdue them.”

“I do not doubt it. But your men have risked much.” He turned to the transport where Syzr’s body had been laid. “I’ve no desire to put them in harms way without cause.”

“Without cause?”

Ryard broke from consolation of Sirin and made to join Kryos, but a hand on his shoulder stopped him. He turned to see Straker shake her head and watched as Kryos vanished into the ruddy pall.

Within the stinging veil, Kryos raised the slender half diadem device he carried and affixed it to his brow. Left and right seam of his collar began to glow and carried the light down his shoulders, thereafter the dull lines of light splintered and ran across arms to the thin indentations on the back of his gauntlets and down his chest, back and legs to the soles of his boots. A subtle hum reverberated, signalling synchronicity between anatomical signs and the temple bound telesoma interface. A SIKARD dipped from a nearby rooftop clutching a black sphere, and released it. The orb struck the ground like an oil spill and recongealed to the form of a man. Soon it walked toward the site of commotion, to the red palled plaza, the high bonfire and the chaotic throng.

Kryos was now close enough that Kleiner’s voice was audible. “Chests aren’t so puffed when you’re on the receiving end of a raid. Are they?” Some of the crowd laughed, others nodded, all looked to the Consortium officers huddled near the high central fire with scorn and fell anticipation.

“Mercy,” a female Consortium officer whimpered as the mob pressed closer. “I beg you.”

“Please, I have children,” another woman wailed.

“These tyrants want mercy. Have we any to spare?”

“No,” some of the crowd replied discordantly.

“That’s right. No more than they had to lavish on us.”

Kleiner’s simian face twisted with mirth as he overturned a bottle of spirits into the bonfire, causing the flames to leap and spurt near the woman. She screamed and fell to the ground. The woman’s tormentor guzzled down the remains of the vessel and shattered it at the officer’s feet. Then he looked up from the spectacle around the fire, for something was moving in the smoke. In the air. A burble went through the crowd. All stilled.

“What’s that?”

“What?”

“I don’t see anything.”

“You hear that?”

“Huh?”

“There, there!”

A magnified voice rang from all directions. “Danzig Kleiner. You’ve learned well your master’s art.”

Kleiner looked around, but could not discern the source of the voice, for it echoed from sky and earth alike and enveloped the whole of the smoldering plaza. “Master? I have no master.”

“Vices would remain without Rehdon. So too would thralldom.”

“I know that voice. This about the colonel?”

“The act was not your sole construction. All gathered are guilty of Syzr’s blood. So all gathered shall indemnify their own.” The congregants spun, vainly searching for the sequestered elocutionist.

“Is that so?” Kleiner bent defensively and withdrew a sychitin blade, holding it in a tight reverse grip. “Was foolish to come alone.”

Eidos Kryos’ voice resounded in Kleiner’s ear, no longer magnified. “I am never alone.” Kleiner whirled and spied the speaker standing three feet before him, backlit by the blaze. Expunged cinders danced around the man’s streamlined form and glinted in his helidoric irises.

“There, the invader,” one among the mob shouted, pointing to the smoke wreathed entrant upon the auto.

“Get him!”

The crowd surged. Kryos did not move. Challenging in his stillness. His pyre bright eyes fixed on Kleiner.

Kleiner held out his free hand to the assembly. “Here stands the killer of the Consortium. The man who murdered our Chancellor. Who seeks to shackle us, as they once did.”

“We both know that is not true,” Kryos replied, a crease forming at his brow.

“I’ll deal with him myself.” He resecured his grip on the knife and bent to the ember clad intruder. He lowered his voice. “Just as I dealt with Syzr.”

Kleiner’s blade arced through the air and bite into Kryos’ right eye. The industrialist’s head pivoted with the force of the blow. Despite the savagery of the assault, Kryos did not fall, but tilted his head slowly back toward his waylayer as ashes danced in the wind. Kleiner looked on with unapprehending alarm, cursed and took another swing, this wilder than the last, and cleaved through Kryos’ body, which dissipated as the vapour surrounding, and as it did Kleiner’s momentum brought him free of the vehicle, to the flames he had raised. Before he made contact with the inferno, one of the drifting chilopodic machines secured the folds of his ratty coat and bore him above the blaze. There, limply, he hung.

“Oh god,” Kleiner shrieked as the flames lapped at his legs. “God. Somebody help me!”

“Flap if you must. Fancy affords no flight.”

Kleiner screamed and flailed precariously beneath the drone. His coat tore against the SIKARD’s limbs, his lower body falling into the tip of the bonfire. Boots treading flame. He howled louder. Half the crowd broke from their stupor and fled, the rest continued to watch in awestruck horror.

“You can no more escape me than your sin. For you fumble amidst gelid clockwork, whose sequestered gears wend lucid and warm beneath the ministrations of an unintended host. Those who’ve not the lay of the mechanism are incapable of its navigation, and so are ground between its teeth.”

Tears streamed from Kleiner’s eyes.

“Move me up! Please!”

From the effervescing haze, the voice came again. Harsher than before.

“Confess.”

“I killed them. Alright? I did it.” His eyes bulged and his tenor ran to a quivering mewl as sweated beaded on his forehead and his soles began to melt. “I jumped Fawnell. With those worthless southers. I blamed it on Syzr. I killed the board. I put a bomb in the aero complex and lit them up. It was Rehdon’s idea.” He looked with panic left and right into the shifting curtains of smoke. “Its him you should blame. Him, not me!” Steadily the drone retracted the man from the serpentine effulgence. Soles scorched, craggy skin thick with sweat. Chattering arose among the mob the moment Kleiner stopped speaking. He looked around expectantly.

“You’ll let me go now, right?”

For the last time, Kryos’ voice roiled from the putrid smog. “One need sow no vituperation in the barbarous heart’s estate. For its harvest is as enduring as its field is fallow. What castigation to levy on those who’d scorch a seeded plain? One need raise no hostile hand, to treat with worms, their own shall suffice.”

The drone bore Kleiner to the ground, released him and flew off, vanishing within the dense sooted curtain that obstructed the sky. The Consortium officers the mob had detained stood beside the bleeding man. The woman whose face had been burnt by Kleiner’s previous antics held a jagged fragment of glass from the bottle of spirits and drew it across his cheek. Kleiner sucked air in pain and staggered backward. With a grunt of rage he kicked the woman in the gut and brought her low. He retreated from the circling Consortium officers and turned to the crowd, seething. “Get that bitch!” The crowd met his command with diffidence. “Kill her! Kill them all!” Whispers of dissension and disdain went up throughout the multitude. He spun from the mob to the officers and back. “What are you doing?” There came a shout. A metal bar was swung and connected with the side of Kleiner’s skull. As he fell, the crowd descended upon him and hewed his head from his body and held it up toward the callous vault of heaven.

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, 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 others of your kind 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.”

Next chapter

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

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

Kryos: Chapter 36

Previous chapter

Tears fell in tandem with the casket. The vessel bore no body. None remained from the blast. In place of Julian Salis, one of the man’s cherished, antiquated hats, a tan and crumpled thing, had been lovingly placed by the departed’s wife, whose aged, yet regal face bent from the burial with a sorrow too great for words. A primly garbed psychologist stood by the edge of the pit and spoke of Salis’ deeds in a cursory manner, suggestive of genuine respect but little intimacy. All the while, Ryard Vancing stared blankly at the gathering tomb and the lobster-back case within, shimmering with the pale light of an aircraft-veiled sun. He felt perplexed by interior vacuity and waited for a percolation of emotion. Only a tight-coiling anger rose within him. He pondered whether it was the absence of a corpse – something tangible and dreadful to rouse and anchor memories – or his own dearth of soulfulness. As dirt closed about the dark, gleaming cask, he felt a soft, cold hand twine about his own. He looked left and beheld a slender woman with dark hair and heterochromatic eyes, garbed in a coat of KSRU fashion, akin, by his lights, to Vera’s own habiliment.

“Tatter,” he uttered with tender surprise.

It had been nearly a year since he had seen her, though it felt longer.

The woman gazed silently at the doleful burial for several seconds before speaking.

“Salis once told me, he hoped, after he was gone, they would not raise a statue in his likeness, for fear its proportions should be made absurd. He said, ‘I am a frail and ugly man, and I ought be presented as such. I could not abide the dishonesty of a handsome presentation.'”

Ryard watched a thin smile play up the side of the woman’s unnaturally pale face.

“He gave much thought to posterity.” Ryard frowned and turned full to face the woman. “What are you doing here? Its not safe.”

“Nor is it in the colonies.”

“Why?”

She put her hands in her pockets and spoke softly. “Another attempt was made on my fathers life.”

“What? When?”

“Don’t fret. The assassin found no purchase against Father’s designs. But there is something else.”

As the psychologist finished his eulogy and made way for Salis’ wife to speak, Ryard took the woman by the arm and moved to the back of the grief-striken congregation. He didn’t think Salis would hold it against him. He hoped his wife wouldn’t either.

“What’s happened?”

“I believe I saw the man who planted the bomb.”

“At the aerospace complex?”

“Yes.”

“Why were you there?”

“I was keeping apprised of the government’s actions for Father.”

“And this man, who is he?”

“Danzig Kleiner.”

Vancing waxed grim. A chill wind swept through the funerary wood, rattling the branches like dessicated bone. A charming voice followed.

“So very sorry for your loss.”

Tatter and Ryard turned to the crowd, at the back of which stood a man with a chartreuse coat and gleaming blond hair. He alone amongst the multitude faced from the casket and the flower-strewn furrow into which it had been placed. The chartreuse-coated man smiled enigmatically as the wind tousled a few errant auric strands about his soft, boyish features.

It was Illander Rehdon.

A woman began to weep loudly as the eulogy continued. All attendants save the trio were fixed upon the rite. Ryard focused on the man, his posture raptorial.

“I hoped to see you here, Illander.” His voice assumed a hard edge. “You’ve much to explain.”

Rehdon pursed his lips and cocked his head. “Why Ryard, whatever are you talking about?”

Vancing scoffed, made for his wrist-wound affin module but paused as he saw a missed message on the screen. “Need to speak to you, urgently.” Signed: Holleran Meris. He wondered what trouble the old goat had gotten himself into, then tapped and tilted the screen toward the entrant. A portion of the security recording taken before Casja Fawnell’s death ran without sound. Fawnell and a hooded man walked toward an automat. Ground slick. Sky gray. After the clip finished playing Rehdon tossed a casual query.

“I presume this is prelude to an accusation.”

“In addition to the fact that you had a personal connection to Fawnell and were the last known person to see her alive, the figure walking next to her on the recording is your height and build.”

“My proportions are not uncommon.”

“You’ll note that the man in the recording is wearing gloves.”

“And?”

“It was neither cold nor raining. So why wear gloves?” Before Rehdon could answer Ryard pointed. “Your hand is still bandaged.”

For a long moment both men exchanged unwavering stares. Discomfort wormed in Rehdon’s bosom; in Ryard’s there was only wrath.

“I know it was you.”

“And what was my motive?”

“She was getting close to Sodabrucke and Sodabrucke was getting close to the Chancellorship. Getting rid of Fawnell left an opening in a congealing cabinet.”

“Very thoughtful, CAV-keep.” Rehdon turned to Tatter, his charming smile quick reforming. “Would you excuse us?”

Tatter took a step back from the man and half-hide behind Ryard’s body.

“Unlike you, I don’t keep secrets from those whose confidence I’ve won.”

“How noble.”

“My patience is wearing thin. You can explain yourself here, or in a cell.”

Rehdon cast his keen gaze about at the congregation. “Not really the place for such a discussion, however much it is the time.” Ryard gestured impatiently to the nearby forest. Rehdon smiled broadly and motioned for Tatter to lead their egress. “Ladies first.”

At a brisk clip, the trio traversed the patchy, clay-thick soil to a tangled grove in the heart of the cemetery, assuredly out of earshot. Rehdon crossed his arms and leaned against a tree and inhaled deeply before speaking.

“I am a Federation agent.”

“What?” Ryard’s features contorted with amazement.

“Allow me to finish. It will not make sense unless I explain it all at once.”

Without a word, Ryard gestured for the man to continue his narrative.

“Five years ago I was approached by some men from the Security Commission’s Interior and Foreign Office. They told me that’d discovered an East Federation spy network. Wanted me to infiltrate. Find out what the foreigners were up to. What those fine aecerites didn’t know was that I had already been approached by men from the east, for much the same purpose, only, of course, the federants wanted me to help grow their Aecer-based operation, and keep it from being sussed out.”

“Why’d they come to you?”

“Through my philanthropic ventures, I had, at that time, accumulated a considerable network of acquaintances, including members of state, domestically, and in the east.”

“What’s this treason have to do with Fawnell?”

“Patience, patience, my dear man, I’m coming to that. And it wasn’t treason. Not really. You see, the federants had come to trust me, so when they asked me to spy for them, how could I refuse? I’d no interest in being a tangle snipped from their skein. You will I trust, understand the tremendous pressures laid against me in the decision. So I pretended I was for their cause. Quite convincingly, if I do say so myself. But I tell you sir, I am aecerite through and through. And so began compiling evidence to use against them. Now we come to your query, to Fawnell. It is as you said, I was there, but I took no move against her. I was there to protect her. Like me, she was going to testify. Had gotten close to Sodabrucke, as you probably know, who even then was likely to be the next Chancellor. If Fawnell had lived, it would have caused all kinds of problems for the Federation, for in short order, she would soon be able to move against them with the backing of the city government. I suspect they poisoned her by way of the automated food dispensary. All I know was that she got up suddenly and ran into the street. And then… But you are right to be angry with me. I failed in my duty. I-” The man shook his head and looked wistfully off into the distance. “I could not protect her.”

For a moment the trio sunk to silence as Ryard mulled Rehdon’s words.

“What of the bombing?”

“You think I had something to do with that as well.”

“The complex itself was seized at your behest.”

“At my suggestion. I am not in so lofty a position I can give such orders. Besides, the whole point of the venture was to promote an economic merger of East and Aecer aerospace industries. The majority of the Board was behind it. Why would I go after all the Board members save for the one who presented the only stolid opposition to the plan?”

Ryard didn’t answer. He bent his head, hands in his jacket pockets, eyes studying the ground. Mind whirling through a diagram of recent events.

“Like so many intelligent men before you, you seek phantoms when wind and shadow suffice.”

“And what shaded gale have I overlooked?”

“See for yourself.”

Ryard followed his companions hand up to the sky where drifted a colossal com-link aerostat and on the machine’s exterior a projection of Eidos Kryos from chest to head.

The great visage spoke and the world fell silent.

Next chapter

Kryos: Chapter 35

Previous chapter

An unctuous sychitin-garbed retainer of middling age led Zarya Cece from the massive vessel’s docking bay, up an expansive industrial lift where the floor was scuffed by constant transit of mining slag, through a series of short and twisting halls, to a wide, palatial gallery lined with albescent statuary of exquisite men and women in majestic repose. The ceiling was high and fluted as the folds of a rooted collybia and from them beams of illumination fell with singular focus upon each icon. Tributary baubles lay upon the pedestals of the effigies. Necklaces and bracelets, ornate vases and funerary urns and polished slipper shells and notes on sheafs of codium fragile. On the base of a cenotaph in the form of a solemn man in streamlined armor was a delicate blue flower. The woman strode to the monument, took in the masterworked contours of the proud, solemn face, and lifted the flower. A petal fell from the stem and floated to the plinth. Zarya frowned.

“Why must beautiful things be so fragile.”

The guide surveyed the woman’s elegant raiment. “You must be very fragile if that is so.”

Cece rolled her eyes. “How often do such lines work for you?”

“You’d be surprised.”

“I wonder. Tell me.” She looked to the name painted below left collarbone on the man’s ashen plate. “Audo. What do you do here?”

“I work on the docking module. Watch the ballast, pressure, which ships come and go. That sort of thing.”

“Don’t your systems do that automatically?”

“Course. But there’s always a chance of system failure. Its Kryos’ policy for all workers to create a secondary record, by hand, of all pertinent activity, in every module, on every deck.”

“Lot of extra work. Explains why there are so many people here.”

Groups of men and women, clothed as the guide, moved down the pass, talking with staid incision and inclined their heads to the newcomer. Cece watched her usher return the gesture and did likewise.

“You came at a busy time of day. A busy month, really. So many new kelp farms to install. But tell me, if you don’t consider it indelicate, what does Sodabrucke plan to do? Has a new government been formed?”

“I can’t answer that, handsome.”

“You mean you won’t. I shouldn’t have asked.”

The woman looked up to the ceiling where shifted small black clusters.

“What are those?”

“We call them SERIA sensors.”

“Sensors? Like cameras?”

“Not exactly.”

Audo dipped a hand into a pack at his belt and removed a thin length of material whose composition eluded Cece’s ken. “The wearer senses what the array senses.” She reached forward for the artifact, but Audo withdrew it from her grasp. “That wouldn’t be a good idea.”

“Why?”

“To use it, one needs to undergo a tuning process. Those that don’t are at risk of seizure.”

“Goodness, why even bother with something that dangerous?”

“Direct telesensory inception has unique benefits. But frankly, I was of much the same opinion when Kryos and Straker came up with the idea. I was part of the original development team. When it became clear it was feasible, I told him it wasn’t worth the risk. He disagreed. He said: ‘Only the malformed are without fear. Only the cowardly shrink from it.’ Then he put the device on.” The man lowered his voice and leaned toward the woman. “Nearly killed him.”

“Really?”

The man nodded gravely. “Scared me half to death. Scared all of us. His whole body convulsed, and he made this… horrible noise. But then, right as his vitals we’re going south, he became quiet and slowly pulled himself up on the edge of the work bench. I asked him what he was thinking, told him it was crazy.”

“What did he say?”

“‘One cannot wring crops from halcyon earth.'”

The woman furrowed her brows and shook her head.

“Ah, but I’m taking up too much of your time with my stories.” The man pocketed the device and gestured down the corridor. “Shall we continue?” Cece assented and followed behind her guide beyond the crowded memorial chamber. When they were near the end of the corridor a boy at the threshold of maturity came plunging about the corner, bearing a object some three feet in length in his arms.

“Graf! You nearly ran into the good lady.”

The boy halted just short of the duo, his eyes low.

“Sorry.”

“No trouble. What have you got there?” Cece inquired, bending to the bundle.

Graf shifted the lump, prompting Cece to gasp and draw back in horror, for in the boy’s arms was a large, pale chitinous creature, with triangular charcoal eyes and four bony antennae that rose up nervously. Its many-legged underside was paler than its shell and at its rear was a thick mass of fins, wider than its head.

“What is that?”

“An isopod.”

“Why are you carrying it?”

“Mr. Kryos gave it to me.”

The woman looked to her guide with utter bewilderment.

“They’re popular pets in the colonies.”

“I see.”

“We put them in the reservoirs to keep them clean. They’ll eat just about anything that falls to the bottom.”

The woman took a step back as the isopod raised its upper limbs in her direction. The boy laughed.

“Well, not anything. Don’t worry, lady, it won’t hurt you.”

The man gave the boy a reproachful look. “If he gave you that, I take it you’ve dispensed with the fighting?”

The boy worked his lower lip back and forth. Jubilance subsiding. “Yes, sir.”

“Good. Well, be on your way, boy.”

Graf adjusted the bottom feeder in his wiry arms and absquatulated.

The duo walked on.

Past the artful ossuary was a long, dark hall. The steward pointed to the recess at the far end of the protracted corridor. “His study is straight ahead. Be mindful of the water.”

Zarya Cece raised a brow, smiled and curtsied. The man nodded, turned and left off; footfalls and form swift-receding to shadow.

She watched him and paced into the black. A high aperture embowered by caliginous strands opened to an ersatz grotto. Long, high and pale as bleached bone, awash in dismal azure light. The blanched walls were composed of unreflective translucent material that revealed the complex clockwork of the great machine. High above, argent forms floated in torpid circles. At the center of the hollow, a pool, and dark shapes within it. Opposite the entrance, across the water lay a pale expanse of what appeared as variegated sand that rose up by subtle degrees to a brassy mass of jagged, scintillating scale-like structures, between which a man sat an ashen chair fused to the surrounding material. He wore dark, laminous clothes trimmed with gold that shone like his eyes. His posture bespoke detachment, yet his voice carried across the chasm with restrained intensity.

“Expectant of a wolf, I recieve a fox.”

“Commissioner Kryos.” The woman curtsied.

“I am a commissioner no longer.”

“Chancellor Sodabrucke is reconstituting The Board. She thought that might interest you, given that your ship is still on the mainland.”

“It is where it belongs. For now.”

“That may be so, but by law its still under SecCom control. You want it back. Work with us.”

“As it was not Richter’s to take, it is not yours to give.”

“That’s not very diplomatic. We’re offering you aid.”

“Spermaceti is a pearly waxen substance derived from the head cavities of cachalots.”

Cece’s face creased with confusion. “And?”

“Do you know how many lumens a seventy six gram candle of this material affords?”

“No one uses candles anymore.”

“One. Each algae light-vessel in this chamber affords two hundred and thirty lumens. There are ten thousand five hundred of them. How many candles would I need to light this chamber?”

“I don’t know.”

“One needs knowledge of dimensions. Two million four hundred fifteen thousand.”

Luminance filled the cavity in tandem with his voice. Phosphorescent went ceiling and walls. The woman raised her hand, squinting against the sudden bluish glare until her eyes adjusted.

“That’s all very fascinating, but I don’t see what this has to do with anything.”

Kryos stood. “A single adult cachalot produces around one thousand nine hundred litres of spermaceti. One million nine hundred thousand grams.” He clasped his hands behind his back. “That’s roughly twenty five thousand candles per whale-head. Or, twenty five thousand lumens per whale. Seventy six grams of my algae produces seventeen thousand four hundred and eighty lumens, over half that of an entire adult cachalot, so tell me, Ms. Cece, what need have I of whales?”

“That’s an awfully long-winded way of calling us dim.”

“I did not say dim.”

“What then?”

“Inefficient.”

Argent machines descended from the ceiling and arrayed themselves across the reservoir that separated host and visitor. Kryos moved from the ashen throne toward the pool and gestured for his guest to ford the watery expanse. The woman tested the metallic carapace of the first of the temporary platforms, which gave but slightly beneath her boot, then made her way across the wide pool. Striding with easy confidence toward the opposite shore.

“If we are candles,” Cece began with a tinge of ire as she forded the makeshift bridge. “To continue your analogy,” she stepped off the last SIKARD and tilted up her head at the black garbed man before her as the insectal machines crested the edge of the tranquil liquid and spiraled in the air about the speakers. “Its only a matter of quantity and time before we’re brighter than the sun.” The woman reached for her affin module, the top half detaching to a hand-held device which she raised and clicked. The SIKARDs trilled and spasmed and fell from the air. Kryos grit his teeth and fell to one knee, muscles twitching unnaturally.

The woman raised the device to the beleaguered man’s head. “The woman who attacked you in Gild’s office had an orbital implant. I saw it all. Your telesoma. The good chancellor, foolish girl that she is, let me into the Board archive. I read your file.” She gestured to the downed SIKARDs. “Knew about your little friends. So I had a field disruptor installed in my cutter and the cutter fitted to my affin module, in case you had your men search me.”

Kryos, inhaled sharpely, rose and surveyed the woman’s device briefly, before his helodoric gaze returned to her face.

“I ordered them not to.”

“Huh?”

“A snow-buried blade is useless if the fox cannot lick it.”

“I don’t see a blade.”

“You are preoccupied by looking.”

“Forgettable, far as final words go.”

Without compunction, Cece raised the modified cutter and fired a pulse through Kryos’ chest. He looked down at the void where his heart should be and spun to the pale throne, which bubbled with the residue of the blast. With a muffled cry, he wavered unsteadily on his feet and slumped against the unadorned chair, his head lolling lifelessly.

The lights dimmed. Murk re-enveloped the chamber.

The woman looked to the corpse with triumph.

“Should have pulled your magic trick.”

The corpse’s eyes swiveled to the woman, its mouth forming a thin smile.

“What prompted you to think I hadn’t?”

In tandem with the woman’s breathless gasp, the pale-throned figure contorted and dissolved to an amorphous mass and seeped to the floor as a voice echoed from above.

“Revenge is a greater motor to man than amity, for the latter is a burden, and the former, a pleasure.”

The woman cast her eyes up to the ceiling and took a step backward. There, Eidos Kryos stood. She looked to the left wall and beheld, some fifteen feet up, another Kryos, then to the right wall, where, at similar height, yet another facsimile of the man gazed down upon her, the heliodor of his irises glinting in the gloam. The Kryos upon the left wall continued where the ceiling-borne one had left off.

“I induce this wolf you’ve bound yourself to does not desire vengeance against my person, but the whole of society.”

The Kryos upon the right wall spoke next. “This person was the same who slew The Board.”

The Kryos on the ceiling continued the oratory cycle. “This predator weaves a grand tapestry. Perhaps, from it, your master sought to pluck an errant strand. And so sent you here.”

“He would never-” Too late she realized the error.

“So it is a man.” The three visages spake in unison. Those left and right began to walk down from the walls toward the woman as the spectral orator on the ceiling dripped piece by piece to her feet. Recomposing.

The woman backed away from the apparitions toward the pool. Mind reeling. Hands quaking on the useless cutter.

“Stay away,” she howled, as the figures closed the distance.

From the depths of the reservoir a black-plated hand emerged, gripped Cece by the ankle and tore the balance from beneath her. She shrieked and fell to the floor, weapon flying from grasp, brow colliding with a small mineral tumulus in the sandy expanse and dripping red. She clawed blindly at the silt-strewn floor, vision blurring as the sound of a surfacing form and dripping water preceded a rippling shadow.

Kryos stood at the edge of the artificial pond, a breathing apparatus affixed to his face. He reached up and removed the mask with methodical familiarity, revealing a slender silver device that wrapped about the left temple. He surveyed the female placidly. Eyes and half-diadem gleaming. As footsteps closed upon her, Cece scrambled for her weapon. A dark heel descended upon it. With bloodied brow and locks in disarray, Cece looked up to behold the dour face of Ermin Gild gazing upon her with reproach. The man retrieved the device from the ground and switched it off. The SIKARDs hummed to life and rose into the air as Kryos knelt and took the woman’s face in his hands.

“Ash is more beautiful than a painting scourged. For it is pure as the fires that birthed it. But to purify iron, mere flame is not enough. A furnace is required. Whose glow illuminates the slag of the soul. It is a pity that you shall never see it.”

Next chapter

Kryos: Chapter 34

Previous chapter

A yawning corridor the hue and texture of anthracite arced over Ermin Gild, who progressed at a harried pace across gray-scaled tiles. The man’s footfalls echoed off the disorienting ceiling, from which hung long autochthonous tangles of curved, compressed carbon, the ends of which were fitted with a series of small translucent orbs that glimmered when the walker passed within fifteen feet of them, thereafter dimming and falling to darkness once more. At the far end of the sable pass was a great tripartite door, the lower portion of which retracted into the floor as the upper segments withdrew to the top of the portal; beyond it, another hallway, shorter than the one preceding, that let out to a massive, multi-tiered cavity, composed of a circular walkway of corded material that wound the length of the chamber.

In the center of the room was an abyss from which rose a circular mechanized platform containing a complex armature holding a massive sphere affixed with multistage ion collectors that extended from the contraption with perfect symmetry. From wall and lift, interlocking mechanisms and assembly arms wound with musical regularity around the nexus, giving the room the appearance of a vast, alien clocktower. Before the platform-borne device, manipulating a series of electronic touchscreen panels, stood Eidos Kryos, garbed in his habitual dark-scaled coat; overhead, his ever-present metallic guardians drifted in placid circles, some crawling upside down on the ceiling, the tapping of their insectual legs lost to the shuttered factory’s rhythmic clatter.

“You said you were leaving.”

“Sonderon was just attacked. He’s in critical condition. Souther leaders suspected. SecCom is completely absent. Whole market district has gone sideways.”

Several of the drones flew down and spun about Ermin’s body. Sensors tracing thermal patterns.

“I know.”

Ermin sized up the strange sentries and prodded one on its underside. Kryos twitched with discomfort.

“Would you mind not doing that?”

Gild’s brows creased as he took a step forward. “You can feel that?”

“You were speaking of the city.”

“Sodabrucke hasn’t formed a new government. The surviving members of the convention are with Amberleece, hiding in the clouds. There’s open warfare in the streets. Power grids are shutting down.” Gild gripped the railing of the walkway. Knuckles going white. “Why haven’t you done something?”

Kryos answered flatly. “I have.”

“The KSRU? You think they can handle this? With Syzr in custody? Its too far gone for that. You have enough men here to take Consortium Hall, or whatever is left of it. If it takes a war to reestablish order, so be it. Something must be done.”

The large, yet delicate robotic appendages of the dais grasped one of the cylindrical amassers extending from the spherical device and, rotating with inhuman speed, screwed the cylinder into place. Kryos gazed over his shoulder at his distant guest.

“My war is not with men.”

“You tinker with that ridiculous contraption as the city burns.”

“This ‘ridiculous contraption’ is the bridge to a future long disclosed.”

“What is it?”

Kryos turned to face his questioner. “An engine. To my ship which lies interred in Aecer. Come. Observe.”

All of the argent drones descended from the ceiling and formed a walkway from the inner engine platform to the outer walkway.

“You want me to cross on those things? Isn’t there a gangplank?”

“This chamber was designed so that none but I could navigate it. Only the SIKARDs allow access.” Kryos raised his obsidian-plated hand to his pallid temple. “And they answer only to me.”

“SIKARDs?”

“Vera has a fondness for acronyms. Are you going to cross?”

Gild looked toward the hovering mass with trepidation. “What if I fall?”

“Desirous of war. Yet quivers to cross a span.”

Gild’s face twitched with annoyance, swallowed by apprehension as he peered down into the gulf, the bottom, opaque to shadow. Momentary glimmers of light radiated from the void, all moving in thin vertical lines. His fingers flexed. He inhaled and stepped out into the frigid chasm. Foot firmly planted on the flexile carapace of the autonomous aerial drone before him. Then the next and the next until he stood on the last and gasped, arms wind-milling and, with a panicked cry, tumbled backward. He steeled himself for the long plunge and closed his eyes. A firm hand clasped about his forearm, foreclosing his fall. He opened one eye and saw two heliodoric irises staring back at him. Amusement there shining. Gild grabbed the machinist’s black-clad arm and Kryos hauled him up. For a moment the beauracrat bent, hands on his knees, panting as his heart thrashed and his legs trembled. Kryos paced toward the machine as the panels of the array below it displayed a silent feed of recent news coverage.

“I do not intervene directly because the people of the city have yet to offer sufficient supplication.”

One heading read “KSRU needed, now, more than ever.” Another, “Eidos Kryos’ ADC must be part of Sodabrucke’s new government.” Yet another, “Chaos ingulfs the city; the Association of Deep Colonies must intervene.”

Kryos scanned the feeds placidly. “But their insouciance swift subsides. Slowly they realize their raft is the flood.”

Ermin surged forward and caught Eidos about the collar, slamming him against the blue-glowing control array before the voluminous, furcated motor. Kryos’ brow furrowed with discomfort, his previously immaculate hair falling about his face.

“Bastard.”

Kryos, tiled his head. Saying nothing as a disconcerting humming reverberated from near distance. The Oversecretary ignored the sound and tightened his grip on the obsidian coat collar, his face inches from the magnate’s own.

“You don’t give a damn about anyone, do you?”

“Were that true, I’d not have caught your arm.”

Ermin’s wrath faltered. Slowly, Kryos raised his aphotic laminated hands to the Oversecretary’s shoulders.

“If I had not caught you, my SIKARDs would have.” It was only then Gild realized the argent drones levitating several feet away. The source of the ominous sibilation. Spiny limbs primed for violence. “They can be somewhat overzealous in their drive to protect.” Kryos gave the isopodic wardens a curt half-wave with his left hand, as if brushing dust from the Oversecretary’s shoulder, whereafter the automata scattered and spun out into the cyclic, alloyed expanse. Gild relaxed and released his grip. Then, a buzzing. Kryos tapped one of the adjacent panels.

“Yes?”

“Vessel approaching, Sir. Pilot says she’s an emissary from the new government.”

“Her name?”

“Zarya Cece.”

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Kryos: Chapter 33

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Holleran Meris moved alone through Southern Block market, groceries to hand, as Kreizer Sonderon’s steely voice knelled in the distance through a portable sound system hastily established in the bustling plaza, guarded by a band of subtly armed soldiers in gray and black, partisans of the politician’s cause. A red ensign of stylized flame emblazoned upon their armored shoulders. Surrounding the man was a thick crowd, ebbing and flowing, yet maintaining a transfixed core of men and women, of various ages, whose faces and gesticulations displayed rising passion. As the minutes mounted, so did their numbers.

“We know the truth.” Sonderon declared, jabbing the air toward the Fabrdyn airship, which loomed to the north. “No matter what candied words the Federation’s propagandists and their accomplices in our own traitorous government might spew, they hold nothing but malice in their hearts for the Aecerite people. They view us as inferior stock. Cattle. Yes, ladies and gentlemen. Cattle. Read their papers. No. Not the ones they publish on the affin, but those they publish in their internal memoranda. Listen to their lectures. No. Not the ones that recieve a public showing, but those in their own symposiums, in the halls of their universities and council chambers, wherein they digress upon, with a chuckle in their timbre and a twinkle in their eye, their fanatical hatred for our kind. Even if they themselves should be Aecerite. Look to portrayals of our people in the popular fictions. We are always depicted as villains, or as archaic and outmoded. Relics of a bygone era. Things to be cast aside. Replaced. Is that what we are? Look, friends, and you will see the verity of my words. Isn’t it curious that just before the election, the self-styled leaders of our so-called government are blow to pieces at an event attended by the Eastern Bureau’s envoys? Isn’t it further curious that my principal opponent, Astrid Sodabrucke, who is scarcely more than child, has been appointed as the new Chancellor under the emergency powers of the mayoral convention and the security commission? Coincidence? I think not. You may be asking yourself: Do they think we are such fools? Allow me to answer, brothers and sisters, for I know well enough the sordid shape of their minds to do so. Yes. That is precisely what they think of you, of us. Of every man, woman and child of Aecerite blood. And will we accept it? This perpetual denigration of our people? This foisting upon us of souther savages? This coring of our industry? This outsourcing of our security? I ask you again: Will we accept this coup of our birthright?”

“No,” the mass hollered in unison.

“Gods below. If he keeps on like that, there’ll be a riot,” Meris exclaimed to no one in particular.

A young man, arms crossed, expression hard, who had participated in the chant, turned to the solivagant. Red sigil visible on his right shoulder.

“Maybe. But maybe there should be.”

Meris cautiously withdrew as the younger man turned his back and rejoined the swelling chant of his brethren.

“Sonderon! Sonderon!”

A shot rang-out. Meris bucked with fright, dropping his supplies to the pavement of the pedestrian walkway. Sonderon slumped from his banner-laden podium. Blood splattering the rostrum. Face contorted with shock and pain. A thin rod of metal through his shoulder, close to the neck. The crowd scattered with cries of terror, as the politician’s security team rushed to their master’s aid.

Meris looked up in the direction from whence the peal had come and scanned the rooftops of the surrounding and broken tenements. Atop an adjacent residential complex overcast by one of the manifold drifting aerostats that peppered the sky, he spied what looked to be a large man, all in grey and black, crouching and holding in his hands something long and dark, which he dismantled and shoved into a bag. The shooter rose, slung the pack over his shoulder, turned and vanished from view as bellows of impotent wrath rang below.

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