A 90 page PDF of the midwestern novella THE SILENCE & THE HOWL is now available from Gumroad with purchase of the previously released EPUB edition, at no additional charge.
A 106 page PDF edition of the scifi novella TATTER is now available on Gumroad with purchase of the previously released EPUB edition, at no additional charge.
A weekly dissemination of fiction writing from around the web by Kaiter Enless
I was convinced there was something down here with me. I could hear breathing. I couldn’t tell how far away it was, or where the sound was coming from, but I was sure it was there– V. Smith, The Corridor
From New Pop Lit: Zeenith, a fiction and poetry collection featuring Brian Eckert, Mark Marchenko, Holly Day, Chrissi Sepe, Kathleen M. Crane, Robert Kaercher, Erin Knowles Chapman, and James Croal Jackson. The volume is available for purchase for $25 via Paypal, or credit-card.
Full color. State of the art. Hand crafted. Sleek and stylish.– Promotional tag-line for Zeenith
George has gone too far. You can see that, surely? He has taken the law into his own hands – my law, let it be noted.– R. Tearle, Goodnight, Sweet Prince
From Short Stories Online: Progressive Jackpot by Shane Lambert. A raffle takes place at a bowling league. Instead of telling by showing action the author simply lists off what occurs, week by week, which makes the story read, unfortunately, like a news article.
Almost all of the other Beer Leaguers had their own minor-league fantasies about what they would do if they won the money. One lady wanted to be a bar star for a weekend at a local country club. Another guy wanted to place a bet on the Edmonton Oilers winning the Stanley Cup. Another simply would have bought a new RCA television.– Shane Lambert, Progressive Jackpot
From T. W. Iain: Ghost. A chronicle of a daring thief’s plan. At first, I assumed it was going to be one of those insufferably drippy slice-of-life flash-shorts which forms the great bulk of what is redundantly referred to as ‘literary fiction;’ thankfully, my assumption was incorrect. The piece develops its two principal characters impressively well with so few words and builds to a surprising, bittersweet crescendo.
The casket was closed, of course. She’d refused any suggestion of surgery.– T. W. Iain, Ghost
From Vastness: Discount Baby by H. W. Taylor. A speculative sci-fi tale concerning a future wherein certain classes are prohibited from childbirth, a situation which prompts a enterprising and childless couple to attempt to trick the system. A superb work, which, in the most positive of ways, reminded me, faintly, of Andrew Niccol’s Gattaca.
Best of the week.
She was protecting him, by letting him give her hope.– H. W. Taylor, Discount Baby
“What are you going to do?”
Ryard Vancing stared out the window of the tenement flat and turned to the querious woman with whom he shared it, his face a fretting blank.
“I’ve no idea.”
He looked back to the reflective pane and noticed the unruly whorls of his hair, matted his tresses and put his hands in his pockets, surveying the deteriorating vista. Consortium drones swarmed the air to the north, vainly attempting to dissuade the rioters who there stormed the streets. Ryard noticed a thin column of smoke building beyond the broil in the hazy distance of the eatery district. “Mechanical failure?” He wondered with rising agitation, “Or arson?”
“Indecision is uncharacteristic for you,” Lind Howell declared with concern, filling two cups with hot coffee from a insulated metal container, which sat the table in the middle of their small, plainly furnished living room; the device was battered, ornateless and strange against the black-matte tabletop, a relic from a bygone age, inherited from Howell’s late uncle, who had himself inherited the item from his father. Lind raised a cup to Ryard, who ambled to the couch and took it, setting himself heavily down with a sigh. He pressed the cool glass to his forehead and took a sip before speaking.
“I suppose it is. I just don’t want to make the situation worse.”
“I’m sure you wouldn’t.”
“No you’re not.”
“I’m trying to be supportive.”
“I know.” He forced a smile and swirled his glass, watching the bean juice slush like oxidized blood. He frowned briefly, set the glass down and slowly rotated it with his work-worn fingertips. “How was work?”
She sighed, “Terrible. More so than usual. Had to spend almost the entire morning cloud-side.”
“Because of the riots?”
She nodded, “Watched it spread. Like a bushfire in a high wind. Had to go up and retether one of the aerostats just beyond Southern. Someone, or ones, had cut it free. Haven’t got an ID yet. They must have thought it would just float away.”
Ryard raised his glass suddenly. “A toast, to our invaluable sky-techs.”
The woman half-heartedly raised her glass and downed the rest of its contents.
“I just don’t know what’s gotten into people lately.”
“I suspect the Eastern Federation has had a heavy hand in it. This recent chaos.”
“I heard some people talking about it on the news. The Federation envoys say that allegations of their involvement in the protests and the riots are just propaganda. I don’t know what to think. Everything that the media comes out with is propaganda about propaganda. You said it was Lanning that contacted you?”
“Yeah. Still had that ridiculous coat. I suppose he thinks its stylish. Said his wife and daughter have been getting on better, after the move.”
“Lanning’s wife had the right idea. Moving to the colonies.”
Ryard shook his head and rose, “I’ve heard a lot of talk like that recently. Of departing the city because of the southers coming in, or because of the way the Consortium has changed, or because of the Federation’s subversion; I can’t agree with it. I’m glad Lanning’s family are happy now, but consider what would happen if most people here thought that way; if most people decided to pack up and leave the moment things take a bad turn. When conflict becomes unavoidable. When fear flares. Its uncivilized.”
“Civility is more than manners.”
Ryard Vancing silenced his affin module upon the callithumpian sidewalk and craned his neck up at the immense facade of KSRU headquarters, which rose above the surrounding buildings of Southern Block like a prodigious, concrete anvil, condensed at the eyrie. Lanning tapped his foot with impatience. After a matter of seconds, a drone descended from a slot in the edifice’s sleek veneer and hovered before the entrants. Lanning proffered his affin module to the drone’s scanner, whereupon the aerial machine issued a series of clicks and flew away as the large, twin doors to the high compound opened with a hydraulic hiss. The duo traversed a long, narrow, glassy-floored lobby and emerged therefrom to a great vaulted hall, the entrance to which was guarded by two men with white-plated armor, undergirded by dark, coriaceous bodysuits; Kryos Industries insignias visible on their left pauldrons. Lanning greeted the guards and gestured cordially to his companion.
“This is Ryard Vancing. He’s expected.”
The guards swiftly parted, stiffened and, to Ryard’s surprise, saluted him solemnly. When the pair were beyond ear-shot of the sentinels, Ryard arched a brow and turned to his orange-clad escort.
“What was that?”
“Some people have forgotten about what you did for the city, but they haven’t. They respect you for it. Ah, there he is. Allow me to introduce you to Colonel Syzr. Though I should warn you, he’s not keen on small-talk.”
Lanning gestured to a large armatured man, who stood gazing intently at a enormous monitor which hung from the ceiling at the end of the hall, behind which a double stair with cupreous railing led to an upper landing. Syzr spoke without breaking from his enterprise; his voice radiating mechanistically through a polished vermeil helm.
“Greetings, Mr. Vancing.”
“Its an honor to meet you, Colonel.”
The Colonel turned sharply and fixed Ryard in what the guest could only assume to be his gaze, for his face was fully palled, his eyes, veiled by the lenses of his tactical mask.
“The honor is mine,” the Colonel replied demurely, extending a plated hand to his guest, who shook firmly, wincing as he did so.
“Lanning tells me Vera… er, Ms. Straker wanted a word. Is she here?”
“She will be down momentarily.”
Syzr turned to Lanning and gestured toward the door. Lanning bowed cordially, turned heel and departed. Shortly thereafter, a woman entered the hall from the rightward stair; decisive, pale and of middling height, garbed in a tight, high-collared white coat with black inner lining, visible in the vestment’s tails. Her long, raven hair, secured by a slender argent band. Her cold, primly restrained visage warmed slightly as she took the guest’s measure.
“Mr. Vancing. I see you’re still in the habit of combing with a windstorm.”
Ryard self-consciously raised a hand to his head.
“Uh, its good to see you too, Ms. Straker.”
“I’m glad you saw fit to heed my summons. I would have approached you myself, but you have doubtless seen what it is like out there.”
“Your face would be more readily recognized than Lanning’s,” he replied, matting his birdnest tresses, “A target for any radical with a grievance, real or imagined. And certainly, you could not have sent Mr. Syzr – given how omnipresent he is in the news cycle. I quite understand.”
“Its precisely that kind of keen perception we need. And I appreciate time’s scarcity. So I shall be brief. Mr. Kryos has tasked me with the reformation of the KSRU. He desires a transition from anti-terror operations to general policing – a move the Colonel has long advocated and the Constorium have long opposed. Mr. Syzr aims to integrate the KSRU into the block’s defensive infrastructure, and has the green-light from the mayor to do so. I want you to help him with the transition.”
“Help how? I don’t know much about security systems.”
“I keep Lanning on retainer for that. I want you to help us facilitate our message to the people. To gain their trust.”
“You want me to be your propaganda minister?”
“If that’s what you want to call it. The city is disintegrating before our eyes, the consequence of decades of madcap policy and a burgeoning population.”
She gestured to Syzr who switched on a series of feeds, each showing a different genre of barbarity. In the upper right hand corner of the screen was a intricate chart displaying incidence of institutionally recognized crimes. One panel displayed a newsfeed from Aecer Digest, the largest news corporation in the city, wherein aerial footage ran of three men standing before a woman in an alley, facing down a large figure, barely in frame, with the headline, “Riots continue after Kryos-connected vigilante killing.”
Syzr shook his head and crossed his arms about his vermeil-plated chest as Straker took a seat and lit up a cigarette; she offered one of the neat, psychoactive cylinders to Ryard, but he politely declined.
“Affin tampering, patch distribution, muggings, rapes, and murders are all on the rise. Revolutionary parties and gangs are emerging at breakneck speed. Worse, the Consortium refuses to do anything substantial about it. I shouldn’t have to elaborate – you saw the riots. The people are losing confidence in the system’s ability to protect them. It remains with us to restore that confidence.”
“I’ve obligations. To the station.”
“We are willing to pay you double your current weekly credit allotment.”
Ryard nodded, rubbed his chin and looked to his module. The screen of the slender device displayed two missed calls from Lind. No messages left. Lind never left messages.
“I have to go. I’ll think about it.”
“Very well. Let me know when you come to a decision.”
“Syzr will see you out. And Ryard.”
The man turned expectantly to the exquisite woman.
“A comb, next time.”
Ryard smiled wryly and left off, following Syzr out of the central hall, to the lobby which roiled with commotion. A group of local workers were arguing with KSRU clerks at the reception desk.
“A good a time as any to introduce you to the members of the Aecer Center for Social Progress,” Syzr declared, nodding towards the men and women waiting in the lobby, “They’ve been working with us to build a relationship between the labor unions and my men. That’s their leader, there.”
Ryard followed Syzr’s gesture to a slender man with a chartreuse coat and short pale blond hair, who stood slightly apart from the men arguing with the clerks behind the counter, hands in his pockets, eyes taking in the contours of the walls and ceiling. After hearing the sound of encroaching footsteps, the man with the pale green coat slowly turned to the duo and moved toward them with easy, languid strides.
“G’day Colonel. Dreadful what they’ve been saying about you. Truly dreadful. But you’ve a new friend. One whose face I recognize. You must be Ryard Vancing.”
The man extended his right hand to the CAV-keep, his left, curiously bandaged with thin medical wraps. Ryard took the man’s hand and shook amiably.
“That’s me. And you are?”
The man with the chartreuse coat flashed a charming smile.
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Ryard Vancing adjusted his coat collar and surveyed the crowds marching through the streets below the main CAV-way warily. Individually, the discordant multitude was unremarkable, composed of both men and women, young and old; the general heterogeneousness of their dress suggesting spontaneity of organization. There were mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, CAV-keeps and sky-techs, street-sweepers, artists and vagabonds, some with signs, most without. All particularities of the wild conglomeration evanesced in the novel meta-organism that roiled across the pedestrian lane with stark ferocity, howling to self and sky, breaking windows and signs as assurance drones of the Consortium moved to meet it. Chastising the malcontents with workshopped slogans.
Vancing idly wondered why the Consortium had their drones fly so low, where any volatile fool with a blunt object to-hand could strike them down.
As he watched the fray, he listened to the newsfeed on his wrist-bound module; an Aecer Digest roundtable discussion between a female anchor and two middling-profile pundits.
“Would you agree with Ms. Choufey, Mr. Sabin?”
“Not at all. He killed two people. He’s a maniac. The KSRU are not law enforcers, they’re mercenaries for Kryos Industries. Hired guns. The guy should be arrested.”
“Arrested? He should be given an award.”
“I’m beginning to think you’re as crazy as he is.”
“What kind of society is it, where you’re called ‘crazy’ for saving a woman from god-knows-what?'”
His module lit up, breaking the passenger from his oneirism. Call incoming. He looked swiftly to the name displayed on his bracer’s screen: Lind Howell. Vancing accepted the transmission request, listening as he continued to anxiously observe the mob pump their fists into the air and smash up the storefronts below.
“Ryard, are you alright?”
“Oh, thank goodness. I was worried sick about you.”
“Its not as if they’d clamber onto the CAV-way.”
“No. I guess not. I don’t know. Things have gotten so… I just had a bad feeling.”
“You and me both. I’m coming up on the way-station. I’ve gotta go. I’ll be home soon.”
“Alright. Stay safe, Ryard.”
He closed out the line and leaned back in his seat with a sigh as his lev-han shot beyond the pedestrian overpass and pulled into the eatery district substation shift-yard, just beyond Southern Block. His vehicle parked and opened the leftern passenger door, whereupon Ryard exited and, with practiced ease, strode to the back of the machine and removed two large cases, which he carried, one in each hand, as he walked into the station.
Inside a pert woman at the counter held up her hands in entreaty as a small, olive-skinned man gesticulated frustratedly.
“Its just cause I’m an outsider, isn’t it?”
“No. Sir, please calm yourself, I’m doing all I can.”
“We don’t have any more vehicles at present. We’re working at full capacity, and-“
“Lying bitch! I know how you people operate!”
Ryard set the rough-worn cases down gently and raised his calm, clear voice above the commotion.
“What’s the problem?”
“Who’re you?” The man snarled, whirling upon the entrant.
“Ryard Vancing. I’m the station manager. Now, what’s the problem?”
“I know that name.”
“How can I help you?”
“Ah. Well, its just-,” the man looked to the woman behind the counter and then to his shoes, unable to meet Ryard’s gaze, “Its my wife… she needs medicine regularly and we don’t have the credits for a home crafter and… and I needed to get to Southern Block for her medication – but there’s no damn vacancies in the line. She’s… not doing well… and…”
The man began to cry and turned away in shame.
“I don’t want to lose her.”
Ryard reached out and put a firm hand upon the distraught man’s shoulder.
“I understand your frustration. But you shouldn’t lash out at Victoria, she was telling the truth. Lot of my workers have gone out to protest. Line and vehicle maintenance has been suboptimal.”
The man nodded and, with considerable effort, looked up toward the woman behind the counter.
“I’m sorry, ma’am. I shouldn’t have-“
“Its quite alright.”
Ryard took the man some distance from the counter, mouthing “sorry I was late” at Victoria over his shoulder, to which the woman, with relief and exasperation, mutely lipped a “thank you.”
“What’s your name, sir?”
“Well, Mr. Wasil, you said you needed to get to Southern Block.”
“Yes,” the man replied despairingly.
“A vacancy just opened up. I live in Southern Block and was just headed home. I’ll give you a lift.”
The small man’s eyes widened and he took Ryard’s left hand in his own and pressed it firmly.
“Bless you, sir.”
With a faint smile Ryard patted the man on the back and walked him outside and down the substation stair to the shift-yard where he discovered a tall man with a long orange coat standing before his lev-han.
“Been a while, Mr. Vancing.”
Ryard regarded the man a long moment before he spoke.
Holleran Meris moved slowly through the main pedestrian thoroughfare of Aecer, relaxing as the warm rays licked his aged and crinkling skin. He wanted a cup of coffee and quiet, without solitude, and trode toward his favorite automat to sate the fickle desire. The street was filled with musicians and migrants, service drones and spruce businessmen, above whom the vast, albescent spires of Central Sector cut up the sky like incandescent brands, girded by the argent lifting envelopes of affinity dispatch dirigibles, whose prodigious shades variegated the bases of the high, glistening towers, and lent, to those magisterial constructs, an appearance of orphic flotation, as if the city’s lofty edifice rose not from the ground, but levitated inertly across the roiling, red horizon.
Meris paused and absorbed the palatial scenery as two children romped by, riant and nescient of the erstwhile striving that had brought forth the vertiginous bailiwick on which they twirled. He watched his people’s apogee turn, rosy cheeked and waving, and raised a hand in avuncular greeting, whereafter they waved back and passed west over the road and melded with the cosmopolitan itinerants, who scurried thickly along the bustling sprawl. Meris turned, left off to the north, and primed the credits in his wrist-borne affin module for the delights of the Wyntwurth automat. As he wound about the corner of the avenue which led up to the restaurant, he froze, perplexed and shocked.
The automat was awash in violence, visible through its diaphanous, polymeric exterior. Everywhere within the building, men collided, one lay upon the floor, bleeding from a deep gash upon his head. The server drones lay overturned, food spilling from their dispensers. A crowd began to form outside the restaurant, some recording the conflagration with their affin modules, others simply observing the row. None possessed of the courage or interest to intervene in the broil. Meris scanned the street; no Consortium security officers were in sight.
As Meris returned his attention to the motorized cafeteria he noticed, amidst the noisy crowd, a vivacious blonde, habilimented in sleek running shoes, skin-tight shorts and a crop-top, and a merry, lissom man, clad in a pale green coat and off-white sweater with pale blond hair parted to the right that fell down just below the eye. The pair conversed with adjacent observers, the man gesturing animatedly with a left bandaged hand. Meris approached the couple and raised his voice above the din.
The man with the green coat paused and gazed over his shoulder at the old man with a sorrowful expression.
Meris’ brows knit in confusion as he watched the pair depart, then in concern as several members of the crowd dashed into the restaurant to restrain the combatants.
The man with the chartreuse coat leaned back in his chair, keenly observing the patch-riddled occupants of the crowded, bioluminescent automat. The whole of the space was lit by large plankton-filled tubes that ran the length of the ceiling in loosely spaced rows; the patrons under which were divided, as if by an invisible line; aecerite to the left, fair and simply, but sharply, dressed; souther to the right, swarthy and cheaply, yet garishly, garbed. Each camp stayed together and furtively eyed the other. Tension writhed in every gesture, louder even than the news-feeds blaring and fading from screen-walls; stories of new building projects and migratory patterns and East Federation’s quarrels with The Consortium. Shortly, there arrived a detachment of low-level government officials, who sat a separate table at the back; an arrival heralded by discontented mumbling, needling eyes and shaking heads.
“Boring. Boring. Boring,” the man with the chartreuse coat lamented with a theatrical scowl, tossing his head back over the rest of his seat, stretching his arms out across the table, palms up, fingers flexing rapidly. The blonde who sat the opposite side of the table shrugged and primly lifted a small glass of aromatic liquid from the back of a passing automat server.
“Is it boredom that prompted you to send the drone-recording to the media?”
“I thought it would have a livening effect. Though the spin doctors are taking their time playing it. We’ve been here for thirty minutes and nothing.”
“Have you considered that the locals might like their doldrums?”
“No,” the man laughed, “People want adventure, Zarya.” He flicked his wrist and produced a flower, seemingly from the very air, “Romance. In the old sense of the word.” The man smiled widely and looked towards his companion, “And what is adventure but another word for trouble? Its trouble people want.”
“It’d be more useful to speak of specific people than ‘people,’ as if that were some definate polity.”
The man arched a brow and rolled the flower listlessly between thumb and index, “Your penchant for pedantry nauseates me.”
The woman screwed up her face and stuck out her tongue.
He ignored her petulance and surveyed the distracted and patched-up patrons, “Look around. Bloodthirst in every eye.” He crushed the flower and dropped the remains upon the table, without sparing it a glance.
“Obviously. But they don’t act on it.”
“They just need an excuse.”
The woman smirked, “Perhaps you should give them one.”
“Perhaps I should.”
The man rose and moved to the southers and ordered them a round of drinks; server drones went scurrying. The woman watched with interest, and began folding a napkin with detached and practiced ease. A stout souther of considerable height raised his fresh glass to the man with the chartreuse coat.
“Much obliged, stranger.”
“Think nothing of it. I merely seek to remedy this,” he gestured broadly, “Dearth of festivity.”
“The what of what?”
“I mean you seemed glum, friend.”
“Mm. Been having a rough week of it,” the taciturn souther replied quietly as a breaking news alert flashed across the wall-screen that enclosed the large, hollow, featureless square which rose up from the core of the thin, square island counter which sat the center of the establishment.
“Self-defense or cold-blooded vigilantism?” A trim, blanched woman queried rhetorically as a New Vis Corp logo zipped across the bottom of the display, “This is doubtless the question many viewers will be asking after they see new and exclusive aerial footage of a recent confrontation in the North Central tenements; we would like to take a moment, however, to warn the more sensitive members of our audience that what you are about to see features explicit violence and intense language.”
The man with the chartreuse coat smiled as the recording he had stolen ran, displaying an armored man confronting two southers, one short, one fat. The crowd went silent until the recording progressed to the mugger’s deaths, at which point the establishment erupted with murmurs.
“As if we weren’t up against it enough. Now there’s a psycho out there hunting us…”
“I dimly understand how you feel,” the man with the chartreuse coat replied, “Given what those folks over there have been saying. Puts a bad mood into the air. Moods can be infectious.”
The massive souther followed the chartreuse-garbed man’s gesticulation – a quick tilt of the head – and lighted upon the aecerite locals, who sat in the left corner of the bar; they conversed quietly amongst themselves, seemingly wary of being overheard, despite the pervasive rumble of the newsfeed.
“And what have they been saying?” The man inquired slowly, feigned disinterest naked in uneven tones.
The man with the chartreuse coat leaned toward the souther and whispered in his ear. The listener tensed and shook with rage.
“They said that, did they?”
The man with the chartreuse coat nodded with simulated sadness. The souther worked his jaw, rose from his chair and strode furiously toward the aecerites.
The fighting began almost immediately.
A long, shallow pool sat the center of the vast, austere cavity; the still silhouette of a man beyond it. He reclined upon a thin, ashen chair, seldom more, to the lone female observer, than living shadow. His heliodoric eyes, lambent against the atramental pall; his voice, strident in opaque tranquility, echoed throughout the cavernous expanse of the underwater facility.
“The chalk is to hand, but the board has been moved.”
Vera Straker strode to the edge of the pool opposite the man and straightened, fastidiously adjusting her stiff monochrome coat and folding her hands at her waist before responding.
“Should the decline continue, our summit will be barred. For a time.”
The man in the ashen chair momentarily surveyed a young woman with dichromatic eyes who swam in the pool, surrounded by dark, anguilliform shapes, before answering.
“We do not seek summits. Only wings to surpass them.”
“So we find the feathers.”
“I want you to go to the mainland. Speak with Ryard Vancing.”
“Why him, Sir? He’s just a CAV-keep.”
“A single feather can be the difference between flight and freefall. The people regard him a hero. They like him, and he, you. And so…”
“I understand. But, with respect Sir, should our response not be more substantial?”
The man was silent a moment. He regarded the woman across the glistening expanse, rose and moved to the edge of the reservoir. His pallid skin and obsidian vestments illuminated by the water’s reflection. His visage mask-like, indecipherable save a recondite hardness; a implacable determination, evident in the stolid set of his jaw and the unblinking fixity of his keen, xanthous eyes.
“All barbarous quarters sink to the depths of their degradations. And the drowning are ill-inclined to argue the provision of a raft. Here. Now. The raft is the flood. And so, we shall offer our own.”
Galton Raka stared out the window of his highrise office in the Security Commission Center, observing Aecer’s vast, metallic grandeur. The Security Commission headquarters loomed above the Central Sector CAV-way intersection at the very heart of the city, which scintillant with the movement of thousands of lev-hans, mag-rays and assurance drones, dancing to the dictates of the affin net’s algorithms. The lanes dropped and rose in irregular tandem to the needs of the citizenry, appearing, to the lofty observer, like massive, beetle-clad serpents. Above the bustling racket of the grand transportation thoroughfares, colossal tethered aerostats drifted like great argent whales; fundamental infrastructure for the city’s communication network. Raka smiled weakly and took a sip of coffee. He had forgotten how beautiful the metropolis looked from above, and remembered all too well how ugly it had begun to look from below.
His quiet reverie was interrupted by the automated swish of the office door, footsteps following, quick and light across the scuffed hardwood floor. Raka gazed over his shoulder and beheld a fair-featured man, short, stocky and dressed in the vestments of a Consortium Security Commission officer. The guest performed a perfunctory half-bow and straightened, politely but impatiently awaiting address.
“What is it, Vogel?”
“Something I thought you should take a look at, sir.”
“Could have just sent it to me.”
“Didn’t want it in the system.”
At the admission, Raka turned slowly and walked to his table, setting his coffee down with agitation, leaning back in his chair as he waited to be told the news.
“There was a mugging, sir.”
Raka sighed heavily and gestured with disgust to his affin tablet.
“There’ve been plenty.”
“Three men attacked a woman in Central, near the HEZ.”
“And? Our hands are tied.”
“Two of the robbers were killed in the attempt.”
“By the woman?”
“No. By Acelin Syzr.”
“The head of the KSRU?”
Vogel nodded. Raka ran a hand through his thinning hair, working his jaw back and forth.
“Near the HEZ? What was he doing there?”
“I’ve no idea. The whole scene was captured by one of our assurance drones.”
“Has anyone but you and the monitors seen the recording?”
“Well, that’s the peculiar thing. The robbers trashed the drone once it flew down. We lost the signal. All we captured up to that point was the robbers assaulting the woman and knocking her to the ground.”
“Have you identified her?”
“A one Casja Fawnell. Middle-aged. Moderately wealthy. Member of the Aecer Historical Society. Works for the Sodabrucke campaign. She’s yet to file a complaint.”
“I take it you got the rest of the footage from the drone… you did recover it, didn’t you?”
“No, sir. Wasn’t there. Someone stole it.”
“Which means whoever took it has the whole recording.”
“Then we can expect it on the news in the next day or two.”
Raka shook his head and cursed.
“Can you identify the surviving robber from the footage you obtained?”
“I already have. His name is Danzig Kleiner. Career criminal. Been in and out of Northwing since he was a kid for everything from larceny to rape. No permanent residence.”
“Likes to hang around a club called The Red Moon. Disreputable establishment, from what I’ve heard. Its not far from the tenement where the assault occurred. I was planning on checking it out after I swing by Ms. Fawnell’s place.”
“Alright. And Vogel.”
“If this situation escalates, bring Syzr in.”
Vogel arched a brow.
“Bring him in?”
“His, or ours?”
Thrumming electronic music and hot ruby light subsumed Danzig Kleiner. The club’s sonic effluvia shook his haggard frame and rendered his voice near-inaudible, even to himself. He touched the drying re-gel on his face, winced, and ambled awkwardly past the shifting multi-colored dancefloor, where the establishment patrons whirled and twerked with manic ecstasy; wild and grotesque gyrations of taunt, sweat-stained abs and ample, ill-contained breasts. The floor was synchronized to the affin modules of every inhabitant such that the coloration would blend and change in accordance with the mood of the room; the more positive the collective associations, the brighter the hues, the more negative, the darker. A novel conceit intended by the designers to bolster empathy in the hall’s participants.
Despite the distinctiveness of the clientele, one dancer stood out to Danzig, a thin, merry man with a chartreuse coat, a left bandaged hand, an eggshell sweater, off-white slacks and matted hair, short on the sides and back and long in the front. He twirled with a youthful, vivacious, scant-garbed blonde, all curves and smiles and lascivious yearning. Her pale, pliant flesh yielding to his searching, rhythmic manipulations. As Danzig beheld the handsome couple with envy and enchantment, a tall, bulky, tattooed man swaggered drunkenly across the floor and began dancing before them.
With his view obstructed, Danzig passed to a table at the back of the establishment where a bored woman watched him with faint annoyance.
“What happened to your face?” The woman quickly scanned the spacious insulated hall, brows knitting, “Where’s Culp and Mehan?”
“That’s what I needed to talk to you about.”
“I’m listening,” the woman replied with impatience, sliding a drink across the table to the man as he set himself down upon one of the armless cushion chairs there arrayed with a grunt of pain and exhaustion.
“Some guy. Came out of nowhere. Don’t know who.”
“We were just teaching a lesson to one of the uptowners. Some bitch. Then this guy shows up, has a problem with it… well, I tell Mehan and Culp to get after him and he-“
“What did he look like?”
Kleiner felt his face again, sucked air through his teeth and took a drink before answering, “He was around my size. Little taller. Wore a mask. Had this… weird armor.”
The woman’s features contorted with apprehension.
“The armor, what did it look like?”
“I dunno. Like armor. I’m not a manufacturing expert. Was tough, whatever it was made of. But I got the bastard. Stuck him good. Thanks to your little gift.”
At this admission the woman’s mood darkened even further.
“Colors, materials, anything?”
“It was plated. White-ish. Silvery. Like silver and gold mixed together. Why? You know this guy?”
“That’s KSRU gear, Kleiner.”
The man spread his hands in confusion. The woman glared.
“Kryos Industries’ Special Reconnaissance Unit. Deep colony private military. Security for topside Kryos properties.”
“All you’ve got to say is ‘Oh?'”
The man said nothing, perplexed by the woman’s outrage.
“You said you stabbed him.”
The man cracked a prideful grin.
“Nah. Armor, remember.”
“And he saw your face?”
“They’ll be looking for you now.”
Kleiner pushed his drink away and snatched up one of the printed biscuits from a crafter on the table.
“I don’t care. I want him. That’s why I came straight to you.”
The woman was half-listening, now scanning the room nervously. Shortly, she downed her drink and shook her head.
“I’m not getting involved in whatever you’re thinking of doing.”
The man lowered his voice and spoke emphatically, leaning over the table, his posture both pleading and threatening.
“I need weapons, Sia.”
The woman got up and shook her head again.
“You take care.”
Heedless of his words, the arms dealer melded into a crowd exiting the polychromatic parquet. Kleiner cursed and watched the throng depart the establishment, catching the scent of smoke and the wail of a Consortium klaxon in the far-distance. His attention drifted back to the provocative couple; still dancing, now more exuberantly than before. The man with the chartreuse coat pulled the voluptuous blonde close and whispered something in her ear, she smiled and began to laugh manically. The man then parted from her and bounded, madcap, to the large branded man and slammed into him, swiftly retreating into the ebbing flow of bodies with a sly, lopsided smile. The inked man fell into another dancer, who turned with a snarl and yelled inaudible words across the churning, meretricious sprawl, then striking out at the jaw of the man who’d been shoved into him, who, patched-out of his mind, viciously retaliated. The two men careened into a pack of wild youths, who turned upon them. Swiftly, the hall erupted in screams and violence. The color of the floor, graduating from radiant ruby to blood-moon beryl. All the while the chartreuse man and his concupiscent companion frolicked, smiling like sphinxes well-sated on the blood of the riddleless.
Kleiner rose as two of the dancehall combatants, shaggy men, scrawny of frame, came wheeling toward him and went crashing into his table with howls of blind, drug-induced rage. He whirled round and dodged a fist from a young woman, pushing her aside he moved away from the nexus of the melee and scryed the room, looking for the couple, finding them to have moved to the very back of the dancefloor. With his hands about the woman, the man with the chartreuse coat looked up, catching the bystander’s gaze.
Kleiner’s visage assumed the proportions of bafflement.
Beneath the man with the chartreuse coat, there was no color at all.