Synopsis: In the vast, mechanized city of Aecer, a courier’s life is forever changed when he encounters an enigmatic woman pursued by malevolent forces.
Format: E-book (epub). Genre: Science fiction. Size: 58.5 KB.
A sequel, KRYOS, is forthcoming.
Synopsis: In the vast, mechanized city of Aecer, a courier’s life is forever changed when he encounters an enigmatic woman pursued by malevolent forces.
Format: E-book (epub). Genre: Science fiction. Size: 58.5 KB.
A sequel, KRYOS, is forthcoming.
Vangr apprehensively stood the center of the old theatre and watched the chartreuse man tinker with the mannequin upon the wide and dusty stage, crimson curtains hanging above like clouds of blood.
“Just you and me now, Mr. Vangr,” the tinkerer declared with vague amusement, without turning from his labors.
Vangr shifted from foot to foot upon the mildewed and heavily carpeted flooring. He didn’t like the place. The dead-eyed dolls. The hideous masques that leered from the walls. The make-up tins and wigs and corsets. The whole of the establishment, a temple to deception.
“We need to talk.
“We’re talking now.”
“About what I’m owed.”
“How fortunate Grazen and Moreno died before the curtain’s fall.”
“Because now there is no intermediary between you and The Federation, but me. And so, if I were to tell them, no, no, it wasn’t he that bungled it. No, no, it wasn’t his incompetence which allowed the specimen to get away. It was Grazen and Moreno’s orders… well, who is to say otherwise?”
“And you’d do this for me because?”
“Because, like you, I never cared for The Federation’s politics, or Aestival’s theology. Every oath of loyalty, a fetter. Every system, a cage.”
“Kryos once told me: ‘There are some cages it is better to be inside of than without.'”
“He’s right of course. That’s how he’s survived this long. But we have different priorities…”
“And what are those priorities, exactly? If you don’t care about Aestival, or The Federation, why do any of this?”
“Every belief in the future as it would be discloses all alternative futures in the process. I simply wish to widen the scope of possibilities.”
The chartreuse man snapped the mannequin’s head on with a resounding clatter and turned to Vangr with a wide, rictus smile. The mannequin turned in tandem and, likewise, smiled.
In the wide black holding cell, only a single ray of light; a woman there illuminated. A shackle upon her throat which meant pain should the shadows be tread. She sat upon a soft, dark cube, hands folded upon her lap. No sound save a faint mechanical groaning; rhythmic sheering of metal on metal. The hiss of the chamber’s handless door opening. Footsteps reverberated upon the pitch and polished floor as the thin slats which ran-parallel about the room faintly illuminated, casting wide a sombre bluish glow.
A slender female figure stood the space before the woman on the cube and carried a large case the width of her own back-lit body, which she set at her feet and opened, revealing a soft, dull-black oblong artifact. The shadowed woman removed a small, handheld device from the left inner pocket of her long elegant coat and pressed it to the object, prompting it to shift and grow. The case-borne object hummed and slowly assumed the form of a trim, elegant man, wan of complexion, whose eyes gleamed like young twin suns, filtered through the lattice-work of burnished heliodor. After a long silence, the man-form spoke, his voice low and measured, pooling in sonorous strands throughout the ambit of the penitentiary murk.
“Greater in inequity is the well-intentioned deceiver than one ill-intentioned. The former has conviction in the rectitude of their wickness. The latter labors under no such illusion.”
Soriya Haldeck looked to the floor, her lips writhing, face creasing with anxiety, unable to meet the man’s luminous and unwavering gaze.
“Would you say this is so, Doctor Haldeck?”
“What does it matter now?”
“It will always matter so long as we can exercise moral judgment.”
“Only God can judge me. He’ll judge us all. Eventually. Even you.”
“Convenient that the judgement of all should be raised in a discussion of your crimes.”
“Freeing a slave is a crime?”
“Your mouth moves, but it is the dead who speak.”
Kryos leaned slowly toward the woman, her eyes yet averted, hands working together as if covered in nettles. The avatar assumed a rigid posture and gestured to the attendent behind him, who withdrew a telepad and held it nine paces before Haldeck’s anxious face. On the screen a shaky video feed of the central sector played. A pile of smoldering rubble. Screams of men and metal. Weeping. Officials rushing, frantic, to and fro, some cursing under their breath, others subsumed in focus. Civilians rooted to their shades, dumbfounded by terror. A elderly woman on her knees, covered in dust and blood, a old man before her, silent and still as statuary. A child, no more than seven years of age, broken and battered beneath a mound of rubble, one arm missing, replaced by a phantasmal sanguine trail. Haldeck’s eyes grew wide as she took in the carnage. Her lower lip quivered like a water-soused worm. Abruptly, she looked away, vainly attempting to quell the rising sense of terror that writhed within.
“That footage was taken directly after the destruction of the central reactor.”
“I’ve seen it before.”
“A teacher and her class from the local school were on a field trip. That’s her body there. In the red. The dress, a gift from her husband. They’d been married three days.”
Soriya began to weep.
“Why are you showing this to me? I didn’t do it. I didn’t set the bombs.”
“If your mind was guiltless, you’d not offer defense.”
“I was only doing what I thought was right.”
“This I have addressed. Your actions aided the group responsible for the destruction of my reactor. Central sector’s reactor.”
“What are you talking about?”
“I selected you to oversee the DS program due to your intelligence. Deduce.”
“You mean Vangr? Vangr was working with Aestival?”
“I… I didn’t know.”
“That is obvious. Had you the full picture, you’d have blown the whistle on the entire enterprise and would likely now be dead. In this way your treasonous folly was fortuitous. For you.”
“Where is she? Did you find her?”
“She’s safe. Due some unexpected intervention. And my director’s perseverance.”
He turned emotionlessly from the woman, speaking into the hazy azure reach.
“The partisans planned to turn her into a weapon. One which Grazen planned to sell to the Eastern Federation. Were the scheme successful, millions would have died. Instead, only hundreds.”
Kryos then melded into the penumbral expanse as the woman’s sorrow echoed throughout.
The lab-lights coruscated from the dustless ceiling as Ryard Vancing held his bleeding side. Teeth clenched. Eyes narrowing upon the tawny, ferine woman who circled him, jaw set, fists clenched as Tatter watched the scene with keen concern from the diagnostic pod where she remained firmly bound.
Ryard briefly caught her gaze and forced a smile.
After a terse silence, the gray-streaked woman lunged with considerable ferocity, gouging at the man’s eyes, seeking to drive her thumbs into his sockets. He caught her about the wrists, using her momentum to thrust his knee hard into her gut. The motion tore his wound as it doubled the woman over; screams of pain caught in two throats. The woman staggered back, heaving, and pulled a silver scalpel free of Grazen’s instrument rack upon the nearby table, desperately slicing at her foe with the dreadful hissing of a serpent cornered. Ryard raised his arms, blocking the shallow cuts. Soon his arms ran red and his movements slowed. He could feel the life draining out of him and knew if he didn’t finish her swiftly, all would be lost. He dodged back behind the arc of her blade and kicked at her left knee, catching her shin, unbalancing her and dropping her face first to the ground. The woman caught herself and bounded from the floor, rushed forward with hateful gait and drove the blade of the scalpel into Ryard’s shoulder. Instead of throwing his foe free, Ryard grabbed the woman’s hands, forcing the blade yet deeper. The terrorist’s eyes bulged with confusion as she attempted to escape, finding herself bound to the bleeding CAV-keep. He thrust his crown into the middle of her face, then again and again until he felt her nose break. She slackened and fell to the floor, holding her ruined face, groaning and gurgling blood. Freeing the blade from his chest, Ryard lumbered over to the woman, falling to his knees before he reached her, the pain subsiding to numbness, the fury waning to somnolence.
“Why would you risk your life for that filthy abomination?” The woman spat with rekindled wrath, rolling to her side as she clawed toward the bloody bone fragment, which lay upon the floor between her and her foe.
Ryard said nothing and walked on hands and knees to the jagged ivory artifact and hefted it from the cold, bloodstained floor. She threw herself at him, wildly, despairingly, madly, attempting to tear out his throat with her bare hands. Ryard shoved the scalpel into her gut, yet still the insane creature did not relent. With the last failing vestiges of his strength, he drove the jagged length of bone through her left orbital socket with a wet snick. The woman howled and fell upon her back, twitching erratically, a tangle of unintelligible syllables, pouring from her frothing maw. The woman’s chaotic spasms swiftly subsided and she lay still upon the white polished floor, soaked in blood. Her chest, no longer rising and falling to vitality’s ancient hymn.
Then, only silence reigned.
Ryard observed the corpse of his foe and then rose unsteadily and freed Tatter from her shackles, collapsing thereafter against the exterior of the diagnostic pod under the encroachments of a leaden slumber.
“Help him!” Tatter exclaimed suddenly. “He’s dying.”
As his consciousness faded, he followed Tatter’s gaze and beheld the form of a woman standing in the doorway of the hidden lab. He recalled her face.
Vera Straker. Director of Kryos Corp.
She moved cautiously into the room and observed the corpse and then rushed to Ryard’s side as Tatter gathered the man in her arms, dichromatic eyes searching a blood-spattered face.
“Your plan worked, Ryard.”
“Yeah,” he whispered triumphantly.
He closed his eyes, feeling Tatter’s frigid caress give way to Straker’s commands.
Then the world fell away and all was warmth and darkness.
The sound came softly at first, a faint, fast, rhythmic pattering down the long, damp corridor, growing steadily in volume with every second that passed. Then, as before, the necropolis fell to silence. The men within the hall shifted nervously from foot to foot upon the dust-clad flooring.
“What was that?” Elliot asked his compatriot softly, hands flexing restlessly at his sides.
“Rats. Probably.” Gerard responded tersely, his harsh visage scanning the murky tunnel.
“Haven’t seen any rats down here. Sounded too big to be a rat.”
Gerard shook his head and lowered his weapon, turning to his companion with a look of reprimand.
“This about Angela?”
“You’re getting paranoid.”
The moment Gerard finished speaking, a dark, multi-legged shape dropped from the ceiling and pinned the man to the floor. A maintenance drone. His compatriot whirled, hands shaking upon his weapon. Like giant insects, more of the robots fell from the ceiling and leapt upon the men as their screams trailed down the dank and declining corridor, swiftly replaced by silence and the sound of boots on damp earth.
Ryard Vancing cautiously approached the downed duo as the insectal robots formed up around him, awaiting his command. He knelt, felt for a pulse, and found two. The man plucked both of the weapons off the ground and briefly examined them. High-capacity waverenders. Lethal and extremely expensive.
Whoever they were, they had well-heeled backers, he thought briskly as he adjusted his hand upon the matte grip of his newly acquired weapon.
He examined his affin module; Tatter’s signal gleaming ghost-blue against the surrounding darkness.
“Getting close. Roll out.”
Upon the man’s command the machines beeped and scurried down the pulverulent hall, into the heart of the grim necropolis.
Ryard glanced to his wrist-bound affin module, the screen displayed a intricately detailed map of the city; the signal for his tracker, bequeathed to Tatter, glowed bright blue against the crisp white outline of the tertiary diagram. His brows knitted with concern as the vehicle sped across the expressway, the pedestrian lanes, shimmering busy and loud below. He synched the vehicle to his module, selected the destination, leaned back and let the automated system take over.
The drive was a short one, taking him from the northern edge of the central sector to the southeast. He parked in the Aecer Memorial Cemetery shiftyard, exited Holleran’s lev-han and moved through the gate of the necropolis with astute alacrity. The burial site stretched 624 acres, distinguished from the surrounding water treatment and storage facilities by a lack of verticality and the abundance of caretaker drones, who quietly and tirelessly scurried across the lawn, watering the grass and clearing the wind-worn graves of detritus: dead leaves, food wrappers and bird droppings.
As Ryard surveyed the scene, a man came striding from behind a large monument, fit, tall and suspicious of eye, dressed in Vekt Corp uniform. The man’s hair was short and he was missing part of his left lower ear.
“Excuse me, sir.”
“I’m gonna have to ask you to leave this area.”
Ryard stiffened and tilted his head inquisitively.
“Why? This is public property.”
The man shrugged dismissively, throwing his arms briefly wide with entreaty.
“Orders, I’m afraid. From the top. You know how it is.”
Ryard looked to his module map once more. Tatter’s tracker-sigil displayed atop his present coordinates.
“Sir, I’m sorry, but, I’m gonna have to ask you to leave.”
Ryard eyed the man opaquely, gripping the multiratchet from his utility belt surreptitiously as he noticed another figure in the distance, a woman, observing the scene with obvious interest.
“I’d like to talk to your superior about this.”
“They’re presently preoccupied.”
“Who is your superior? Their name? You work for Vekt Corp, right? Nothing personal, but I’m gonna file a complaint.”
The man frowned, his expression darkening.
Without another word, Ryard brought up his module and began typing in the name ‘Sara Atbee.’ After two seconds of Ryard’s manipulation’s, the Vekt-garbed man drew a stun-gun from underneath his shirt and lunged. Ryard back-stepped the assault and brought his ratchet down upon the assailant’s skull with full force, prompting a sickening thud. The sentry slackened and crumbled to the ground; as he did, the woman in the distance bolted towards Ryard. The CAV-keep snatched the stun-gun from the ground and ran behind a massive obelisk as the second sentry fired into the well-worn marble facade. A near miss. He looked to the weapon in his hands; munition consisted of four charged adhesive packets, each capable of incapacitating a grown man.
“Come out now and I won’t hurt you.”
Ryard could hear her footsteps encroaching and something else, clattering dully at his periphery. He cast his gaze swiftly over his shoulder and beheld a caretaker drone, moving toward him, likely to clean the monument behind which he hid. He grinned slyly and kicked the drone from the shadow of the obelisk, causing the machine to land upon its back, its four metal-plastic legs writhing spastically into the air as the female sentry unloaded a stun-packet into it. The moment Ryard heard the weapon discharge he ducked out of cover, took aim at the woman’s midsection and squeezed the trigger. The woman flailed wildly and collapsed upon the ground, unconscious.
Ryard exhaled, lowered his weapon and looked to the drone, which now sputtered static, its legs moving erratically, sensor stalk writhing uncontrollably. He moved past the downed machine, stripped the weapon from the immobile woman and cautiously looked about the graveyard.
Only two guards… they’re small in number. Otherwise there would be more sentries. She’s directly below me. They didn’t bury her. Obviously. A false grave? Seems improbable… There’s an underground chamber, or system of chambers… Catacombs…
He looked to the closest building. Caretaker storage.
He rushed to the storage building and scented fresh-churned earth. He paused, turning to the source of the aroma and beheld over fifty graves, freshly dug. Burrows for those who had died during the grid attack, CAV-way passengers and reactor workers. The man read several of the shiny memorial plaques and moved to the door of the storage house. There was no handle. He plucked a caretaker drone up off the ground, removed its back-console panel and returned to the door and used the drone-bound passcode to open it, then set the drone down beside the door and passed into the storage facility. Inside the small building were several inert security drones lit by low, flickering yellow lights. Spare parts rested in bins in the next room and a stair that led down to the basement.
Ryard withdrew the woman’s stun-gun, loaded a packet from the other weapon into it and cautiously peered over the railing of the stair. The concrete well was empty and descended into utter darkness. He paused and surveyed the inert maintenance automatons, each of which bore a sleek Vilar Corp logo, his fingers gently brushing against the standardized power cores arrayed about his belt.
The room in which Tatter awoke was brightly lit and devoid of sound save for the gentle tapping of busy fingers on the keys of a computer pad and the gentle hum of a portable generator. The walls were barren, composed of aged, yet finely burnished metal. Numerous pieces of medical equipment lined a desk to the left and to the right, several crates of varying sizes were stacked one upon the other. Two figures were half-visible from the open-faced diagnostic pod upon which she lay, a man, at the desk, typing, and a woman, staring observantly at the occupant of the medical calyx. Tatter tried to move but found her body secured at the throat, chest, arms, legs and ankles by tight flexile straps. Significant motion was impossible.
“What do you want with me?” Tatter asked the moment her voice returned.
The woman, cruel-faced with a long, gray streak in her short-clipped hair, bent over the pod.
“I thought you gave it a sedative?”
“I did. A potent one.” The man replied with surprise. “It must be due the… peculiarity of her neuronal system. Soriya told me she was unique, but she failed to impress upon me the extent of that uniqueness. No matter. Its all the same for the procedure.”
“I trust you’re not becoming distracted.”
The man sighed with exasperation.
“I’m prepping the sample now. It will be ready for injection soon.”
“What are you doing to me?” Tatter queried emphatically.
The source of the male voice, a balding, clean shaven man wearing a light suit, stepped into view. He had a broad shrunken face and walked with a marked limp and leaned a little towards her, his mouth formed a gentle smile but his eyes were cold.
“Running some tests. You’ll be able to go home very soon.”
The man looked up toward the anxious, gray-haired woman with severity.
“Isn’t that right, Moreno?”
The woman forced a brittle smile.
Tatter stared at the woman a long moment and attempted to withdraw as the gray-streaked creature leaned down toward her.
Before the woman could respond another voice intruded upon the scene. One low, gruff, male and unfamiliar to Tatter.
“Route is secure.” the man declared matter-of-factly, strolling into the room, hands swaying loosely at his sides, hard, dark eyes roving over the medical equipment hastily arrayed about the spacious, antiseptic chamber. The newcomer was short, stocky and clean-shaven with a bandaged arm. Tatter recognized him as one of Vangr’s men.
“Good.” Grazen declared. “And the Director?”
“Holding on to her. Least until we’re clear of the city. Bartering chip, n’case we get boxed in.”
Grazen nodded approvingly and gingerly hefted a small tube of liquid from a thawing chamber and swirled it in the light. The bandaged man waited for the Grazen to respond and, finally exasperated, took a step forward and spoke emphatically.
“He’s expecting you to keep your end of the bargain.”
Moreno turned to the bandaged man challengingly.
“His daughter will be released. As promised. Though, we should let her rot given your utter incompe-.”
The bandaged man did not even turn toward the woman as he spoke, “Wasn’t talking to you.”
Rage starkly colored the woman’s face, her jaw clenching, brow quivering, fingers flexing. For a brief moment Tatter thought the woman would rush the man and tear at him with her bare hands.
“Tell him I will make the call shortly.” Grazen declared flatly, his attention fixed upon the large console before him.
The bandaged man nodded briskly.
“Do you not understand the gravity of what we are doing here? Moreno inquired, whirling to the bandaged man with sudden agitation, “Take a moment to consider the coming change. One you helped to foster.”
“That’s none of my concern.”
The bandaged man turned slowly and left off. Moreno watched the man depart and spoke softly.
“Ignorant, greedy fool.”
Grazen ignored the woman and deftly manipulated the pod’s control-panel and shortly a mechanical arm descended upon its occupant, producing a long syringe and sinking it deep into the prisoner’s exposed arm.
“That’s good. We are never more aware of what is important to us than when we are in pain.”
Bioluminescent plankton basked the cloistered bar in dim azure glow from wall-bound tubes which ribboned the length of the square, low-ceilinged chamber. Blue-lit patrons sat around the semi-circular retractable table as drinks were ferried by server drones, payments automatically deducted from affin modules upon reception. Aecer Digest played across the numerous, wide wall-screens, information relayed to the onlookers by a prim woman in a suit.
Holleran Meris listened to the feed despondently, his eyes fixed upon his glass.
“Breaking news: Members of Aestival, the terror group responsible for the destruction of Starglaive One, have been detected within city limits. The Consortium, after considerable deliberation, has voted on a complete shut down until the criminals have been apprehended. If you see any suspicious activity, we encourage you to report to your local Consortium authorities as soon as possible.”
A young man with short, unkempt hair, and a complexion incongruent, sipped his half-empty glass and shook his head.
“Wish Aestival had blown up the Reiks Hall instead of the reactor, not that I mind them taking out that ugly hunk of junk.”
Men surrounding the speaker laughed derisively. Meris leaned towards the younger man with severity.
“That ‘hunk of junk’ powered the entire sector.”
“Seems we’re getting on just fine without it.” The man gestured flippantly to the chamber lights.
“Same people that built the reactor built this place.”
The man shrugged.
“The reactor isn’t running. There will be outages. Outages mean death for those on life support.”
“What’s your problem?”
“My problem? You’re sitting there celebrating terrorism and you ask me what my problem is.”
“Terrorism is a matter of perspective. If anyone’s the terrorists, its the Consortium. Detaining people without a trial. You know they locked up kids?”
“They detained the monsters that destroyed the reactor and everyone suspected of supporting them.”
“So? I say fuck um all. Consortium, and the damned reactor.”
“Many of my friends died in that explosion.” The old man stated with rising emotion, his visage pocked with wrath and despair, knuckles white about his jittering glass.
“And how many people have died because of the Consortium? Because of Kryos?”
“You tell me. How many?” The young man fell silent, brows knitting. “You’ve no idea, do you?”
“How about every mother and father, daughter and son slaughtered in the blast? You think they deserved to die? Or does it not matter to you either way?”
“Take it easy.”
“Easy…” The old man slammed his cup upon the table. “I should take it easy while a Souther celebrates the murder of my friends?”
“You got a problem with Southers?”
“No. Just Southers like you. Consortium gives you all the handouts you demand and what do you people do? Spit in their face. In our face.”
“You’re starting to piss me off.”
“You people are parasites.”
The young man rose from his seat and grabbed the old man by the collar and threw him from his seat as the other patrons watched warily, the closest jumping from their perches and backing cautiously away from the scuffle. As the young man drew his arm back to strike the old man, a hand caught his forearm.
“That’s your elder, not your sirloin.”
Meris looked up from the ground to behold a middle aged man, battered and bruised, with a sling about his right arm and messy hair that spun up from his head in short, slick whorls. The face was familiar.
“This is none of your concern, CAV-keep,” the souther snarled, observing the monochrome Vilar Corp jacket and pulling his arm free of the interloper’s grasp.
Ryard Vancing surveyed the man calmly, stolidly.
“That man is my friend. I’ve business with him.”
“You didn’t hear what he said.”
“You can return to bashing each other’s brains in after I’m done talking to him,” Ryard plucked a glass of alcohol off a oblivious, nearby server drone and handed it to the man with a smile as the payment was deducted from his module. “In the meantime, drinks are on me.”
Reluctantly, the souther took the glass and, with a final glare at the old man, turned and strode back to his seat as his companions eyed the scene furtively, muttering amongst themselves. After the attacker departed, the CAV-keep pulled his friend from the ground.
“You trying to get yourself killed, Holleran? He’d have taken your head off if I hadn’t come in when I did.”
“Probably. And… I appreciate it. Just… had a lot on my mind lately,” the old man sighed and ran a hand through his unkempt hair, matting it back from his prominent brow, “Thinking about Hal and Carol and… well, that souther son-of-a-bitch was praising them.”
Ryard’s eyes narrowed and a dark expression passed across his face and was gone just as swiftly.
“What happened to you anyways?”
“I don’t have time to explain. Do you still have your priority lane pass?”
“Everything’s been hectic after the attack. Don’t know what deal the company is gonna work out with the staff, higher ups probably don’t know yet either. Whatever they’re doing or decide, I still have full CAV-way privileges – but so do you, why do you-.”
“I don’t have my lev-han.”
“Let me guess – you wanna borrow mine?”
“Yes. Its urgent.”
“There’s no time.”
“If whatever you’ve gotten yourself into is that bad, you had better go to the Security Commission.”
“They’ll pull me in for questioning and…” he lowered his uneven voice to evade the prying ears of the bar patrons, “Lives are at stake.”
The old man surveyed Vancing for a long moment, his critical eyes roaming over the battered, yet wholly determined face.
“Alright. I trust you. And Vancing.”
“Would be nice if my han returned in better condition than you arrived.”
“Will do, sir.”
Ermin Gild stared at the numerous screens set up in his spacious office, news feeds playing on every one. His hands tightly clasped together, chin upon his knuckles. Dark bags under eyes that darted to every blur of motion.
Mounting migrant asylum demands. Rising concerns over terrorist violence and potential lockdowns. Discussions of KSRU raids. Disturbances at the northern agricenter. A missing CAV-keep.
After a few minutes of attentive screen-gazing, a woman wearing a long skirt, frilly top, and thin, pale violet scarf entered the room. She knocked gently on the doorjam and waited.
“What is it, Theresa?”
“The Board has come to a conclusion.” Gild straightened in his chair and looked towards the woman intently. “They’ve decided against Kryos’ recommendation. The Chancellor ordered a city-wide lockdown, effective immediately.”
Gild closed his eyes, sighing with mild frustration.
“Of course they did. Old fools. He played them like cards.”
“What do you mean?”
Gild rose and began pacing slowly about his office, hands in his pockets.
“As you know, trade with the Eastern Federation has proven highly profitable and has allowed our company to circumvent reliance on Kryos’ Industries for manufacturing.”
“Given this, and the partisan’s recent interferences, he’s been rather hawkish on border issues. Wants it shut. Tightly.”
“The Board fears the public has begun to view Kryos as an autocrat, and them, ineffectual beaurocrats. They needed to muster a display of power against Kryos, or at least convince the public that they had done as much. And I, as you also know, have, for several months, been urging them to do just that. Aided by Ponos’ fanaticism and Raka’s reaction of Kryos’ rather… extreme handling of the insurgents. Kryos was aware of this, of course, which is why his vote was seemingly uncharacteristic. He was counting on being contested.”
“He voted to keep the city open to ensure it would be closed.”
Gild nodded, amused and annoyed. After several moments he withdrew his left hand from his pocket and glanced at the clock on his affin module and languidly turned to the woman with a look of concern.
“Has anyone found Professor Grazen yet?”
She shook her head. He nodded dourly.
“I’m heading out for an early lunch. I plan on drowning my troubles in copious quantities of alcohol. Care to join me?”
Tatter supported Ryard beyond the southern exit of Northwing Detention Facility. Half-dragging him, his good arm round her shoulder. He was barely able to stand and grunted in pain with every jolt of movement that torqued his mangled limb, which dangled awkwardly at his side. Tatter paused and leaned the man against the sun-warmed concrete wall of the facility’s smooth, ornateless exterior as a gentle breeze caught her tessellated locks, stygian and agate coiling about a supple alabaster rind. A dance of fire and shadow over a field of shimmering snow. He wiped his bleeding face with the coat-sleeve of his good arm and closed his eyes.
He shook his head minimally, not wishing to cause further movement to his searing limb.
“Shall I relocate it?”
“You know how?”
“You’re sure about that?”
“Father taught me much about anatomy. You trust me, don’t you?”
Ryard thought at first it was a rhetorical question, but quickly realized, from her open, honest posture and the eagerness in her bicolored eyes, the earnestness of the query. The man opened his eyes and moved away from the wall, took a deep breath and nodded.
She gingerly rolled up his sleeve. Ryard ground his teeth and shivered, initially from the pain, then from the shocking frigidity of her touch. Icy as a corpse. She briskly took his arm at a 90 degree angle away from his body and pulled firmly. The CAV-keep gave a muted howl as a dull snick issued from his joint. Humerus returned to socket. Tatter removed the thick scarf she had obtained from the warehouse, tied it together, tested the knot, draped the interim sling about Ryard’s neck and gently rolled his injured arm into it as he groaned.
“You fixed me, its only fair I do the same.” She smiled broadly and the man, despite his woe, could not but smile in kind.
At length, he adjusted the makeshift sling with his good arm and broke away from Tatter, eyes fearfully scanning the surrounding lot.
“Come on. We need to keep moving.”
The pair passed through a high, fenced passage that lead from the exit of the penitentiary to an adjacent multi-leveled shiftyard, characterised by large square mechanized lifts, which moved with muted metalline thrums, ferrying automated detention shuttles and supply CAVs to appropriate levels, some vanishing beneath street level, others rising to upper transport lanes. All moved in a regular, orderly hum.
As the duo arrived at the bottom of the ramp, Ryard stopped his companion, gesturing to the proliferation of detention shuttles patrolling the perimeter and withdrew a small obsidian chip from his coat pocket.
“They’re shuttles everywhere. They’ll be under the control of whoever Vangr brought in to hack the complex.” The man’s face grew somber “Unlikely we’ll make it out of here together. Take this. Its the tracker from my vehicle. Swallow it. If they take you, wherever they take you, I’ll be able to find you with this.”
“You want to split up?”
He nodded resolutely.
“I’ll distract them, get them chasing me. Create an opening. Run to the south. Don’t stop until you’re outside of the HEZ. If I can shake them, I’ll meet up with you in central sector.”
Tatter looked to the man with grave concern, brow creasing.
“Hey. You trust me, right?”
In reply, Tatter suddenly and wordlessly tossed the chip into her mouth, swallowed it and stared at her companion intently. Ryard offered a lopsided grin and then bolted down the ramp and out across the lot as the sensor stalks of the detention shuttles writhed to life, bending confrontationally in the runner’s direction. The silvery vehicles sped after the hasty figure and vanished amid the architecture’s cloying convolutions.
Tatter steeled herself and then began to jog briskly down the ramp, turning to the left exit whereupon she spied the bodies of several KSRU officers laying upon the ground. As Tatter gasped, something hard collided with the back of her head and the world blurred to black.
The men and women of Aestival moved as a pack, eight in number, through the labyrinthian alleyways of the city as rain pelted all from the roiling red-gray welkin. Their muscles taunt; eyes sharp; hearts pounding; weapons primed.
Upon entering the HEZ, they paused to recover and take in their surroundings, checking the meticulously detailed map displayed on their wrist-bound receivers, then surveying the sidewalkless expanse of high-stacked thoroughfares and magnetic rail lines. A screaming mineral lattice to encase the sky.
“Are you sure we can trust Vangr’s information?” Gerard inquired suddenly, pausing as they approached the Northwing Detention Facility, shoes kicking dust that lay heavy upon the ground, composed of years of accumulated rail-shavings and cargo-spills.
“All of the information he’s provided us so far has been sound. Why would he start lying now? It gains him nothing.” Carduus replied as she peeked around the corner of a large industrial warehouse, out of which moved numerous cargo drones, bearing resined crates on insectal arms.
“For profit. Credits. Status. Same as most anyone else.”
“Vangr isn’t interested in credits or status.”
“He isn’t interested in our cause either.”
“Not the time. Nor the place. You losing your nerve?”
“Then shut your mouth.”
Gerard resentfully resigned himself to silence as the party waited for the automated cargo-carriers to pass down the street, whereupon they crept from their hiding place and swarmed across the dusty, ground-level thoroughfare, ragged cloaks flapping in the wind. Everywhere the scent of steel and chalk and drying cement.
As they reached the detention facility block they spied a cluster of aerial surveillers flitting through the misted heights. Carduus dropped to her stomach, throwing her pale gray hood up and spreading her cloak about her body.
The rest of the pack quickly emulated the woman’s motions, positioning themselves flat and still upon the cool and faint-dusted concrete. There they lay until all trace of the surveillers had passed, then they rose and jogged steadily to the back entrance of the wardenless prison. At the portal into the complex’s shiftyard, Carduus halted and turned to her inferiors, feeling the harsh concrete wall before her with one hand.
“This is a grab job. In and out. No deviation. The target is our only priority.” Carduus turned to Aune, who nervously scanned the sky for the silvery sheen of more surveillance drones, “Anyone gets in our way gets taken out; anyone who falls behind gets left behind.”
All nodded save Aune.
Carduus struck the wall lightly and withdrew her weapon.
“Form up. Lets catch ourselves a monster.”
Weber closed the door to his apartment in the central sector with a sigh and stretched.
“I’m home. Stopped by the store. Picked up some of that chocolate fudge mix you like.”
He walked to the kitchen and placed a parcel of instacake on the counter, furrowing his brows as silence returned his greeting.
The subtle sound of sobs mutedly reverberated from the adjacent chamber. Low and muted and female.
He turned, peering into the living room where his wife sat upon the couch, shoulders slumped and dejected.
Weber dashed into the room and froze as he spied a figure sitting silently on a chair in the left corner, obscured by shadow. The man was of average height and build, distinguished by stark white plate, inlaid with glistening vermeil and wore a full-helm tactical mask that completely hid his face, characteristic of Kryos’ special reconissance operators.
Weber drew his cutter and aimed the weapon at the intruder’s head and pulled the trigger. Nothing happened. The trigger wouldn’t budge. He tried pulling the trigger once more. The back-panel flashed the words ‘Invalid target.’ The masked man looked towards the weapon and then to Weber’s face and spoke, his voice hissing and crackling with distortion, as from a distant loudspeaker.
“Civilization is an act of trust. Where the latter is sufficiently absent, so to shall be the former. Your wife realized this. I wonder, Mr. Weber, do you?”
Weber lowered his weapon and looked to the woman, whose eyes were streaked with tears.
“Is it true?”
Weber looked over his shoulder and discovered a man in white armor standing at the threshold of the kitchen. He turned to the stair directly across the room that let up to the half-finished nursery and beheld a third man, silent and still as statuary, upon the landing.
The officer sat slowly down upon the couch beside his wife and set the cutter upon the table and looked up at the masked man before him.
“What do you want?”
“Its useless to question when you already know the answer.”
Weber was silent a long moment, his face wracked with indecision until he beheld his wife’s pleading expression.
“Grazen. Professor Eric Grazen.”
“He worked with Soriya Haldeck. I induce this is how he came to be aware of the DS project?”
“Yes. She told him everything. He’s the one who offered up the hide-out for Haldeck and Vangr. When they botched the job he put the word out to me and a few others.”
He looked to his wife’s tear-stained face. She only shook her head and looked away.
“I require the names of these ‘others.'”
The masked man fixed Weber in the onyx sheen of his lenses, as he did, the officer sagged his head and began to weep.