Tatter: Chapter 36

Previous chapter

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.”

“Why?”

“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.

Next chapter

Tatter: Chapter 34

Previous chapter

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.

Next chapter

Tatter: Chapter 33

Previous chapter

Eric Grazen felt the intruder’s presence before he saw him.

“Raise your arms. Slowly.”

“Are you KSRU?” Grazen inquired trepidatiously, straightening before the diagnostic pod in which the specimen lay, watching with wide, dichromatic eyes.

“Doesn’t matter who I am,” the intruder responded flatly.

Grazen felt the cold, forceful sting of metal upon his neck, followed by a faint galvanic sibilation. The old man stiffened. Hairs standing on end.

“The guards… did you… kill them?”

“Put your arms up and move away from the calyx.”

“I take it you want the specimen. You can have her. I’m not with them. I just needed a sample.”

Grazen raised his arms, slowly, palms angled toward the ceiling, and moved away from the medical pod as commanded.

“Not with who?”

“Aestival.”

“I thought as much.” The man mumbled, seemingly to himself.

Grazen looked cautiously over his shoulder.

The man opened the medical pod with his left hand, his right holding a waverender, it aimed stolidly at Grazen’s head. The creature in the pod smiled faintly. It was the first time Grazen had seen it express strong emotion besides stress. Then its eyes widened, its mouth parting with haste.

“Ryard – look out!” It shouted.

The next instant, Moreno, bruised and battered, fell upon the intruder, driving a length of ancient bone into his side. The man screamed in pain and spun with such speed that the woman was thrown to the floor.

Grazen grabbed the small container which held eight phials of the specimen’s blood from off the table to his left and moved swiftly around the diagnostic pod as the now profusely bleeding intruder pulled the bone fragment from his side with a wretched howl and faced off against Moreno. As the combatants bodies clashed, Grazen tucked the cryogenic case under his arm and slipped out the door. He fled fast as his legs would carry him down the rightward hall as the sound of crashing equipment erupted from the lab, perspiration smattering his crinkled brow beneath the hot, harsh lights which flickered spastically. When the lights resumed, a pale woman stood the hall. Her left eye was black and blue and blood dripped from her mouth.

She held a charged waverender in her battered hands and raised it toward the old man, then wordlessly, coldly, fired.

Her imperious, disgusted face was the last thing Grazen saw, as his blood boiled and his eyes steamed out of his sockets.

Next chapter

Tatter: Chapter 31

Previous chapter

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?”

“No.”

“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.

Next chapter

Tatter: Chapter 30

Previous chapter

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.”

“Yeah?”

“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?”

“Sir?”

“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.

“Sara.”

“Just Sara?”

“Sara… Atbee.”

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.

No one.

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.

The basement.

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.

Next chapter

Tatter: Chapter 29

Previous chapter

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.

“That’s right.”

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.

“Grazen.”

“Hm?”

“He’s expecting you to keep your end of the bargain.”

“Of course.”

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.

“Comfortable?”

“No.”

“That’s good. We are never more aware of what is important to us than when we are in pain.”

Tatter: Chapter 28

Previous chapter

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.

“You shrug.”

“Yeah.”

“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?”

“Whatever.”

“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.”

“Who?”

“The terrorists.”

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.”

“What is?”

“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.”

“Yeah?”

“Would be nice if my han returned in better condition than you arrived.”

Ryard smiled.

“Will do, sir.”

Next chapter

Tatter: Chapter 27

Previous chapter

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.”

“Yes.”

“Given this, and the partisan’s recent interferences, he’s been rather hawkish on border issues. Wants it shut. Tightly.”

“I see.”

“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?”

Next chapter

Tatter: Chapter 26

Previous chapter

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.

“Fractured?”

He shook his head minimally, not wishing to cause further movement to his searing limb.

“Dislocated.”

“Shall I relocate it?”

“You know how?”

“Yes.”

“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.

“Do it.”

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.

“Better?”

He nodded.

“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.

Tatter: Chapter 25

Previous chapter

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?”

“No.”

“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.

“Get down.”

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.”

Next chapter

Tatter: Chapter 24

Previous chapter

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.

“Honey?”

He turned, peering into the living room where his wife sat upon the couch, shoulders slumped and dejected.

“Cynthia?”

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.

Next chapter

Tatter: Chapter 23

Previous chapter

One chair remained empty in the flickering Reiks Consortium boardroom. Ermin Gild stood attentively behind Chancellor Richter, silently observing the chamber occupants. Environmental Commissioner, Ponos Akantha. Economic Commissioner, Garlan Hayl. Security Commissioner, Galton Raka. Vilar Corp CEO, Julian Salis. Stellarin CEO, Telfyr Vays. Numerous secretaries, carrying capsule drinks and printed biscuits, moved in and out from the table, keeping their voices low and doing their best not to intervene in the council’s burgeoning discussions. Tensions simmered and discontent was clear-writ upon every creased and somber face.

Kryos was late.

Momentarily, the doors to the dim-lit chamber were pushed open by a young woman who held in her hands a firm yet pliable obsidian globule. Upon her belt she wore a small, silver scanner. She placed the globule upon the lone empty seat and removed the device from her belt. She pressed the machine to the amorphous mass upon the chair and held it there until a low and peculiar beep sounded from the scanner, whereupon the woman straightened, respectfully inclined her head to the council and retreated from whence she had come, hands behind her back. As the chamber doors hinged closed, the thing upon the chair twisted and quivered and rose, assuming the form of a man with a slender frame. Steadily, the obsidian coloration of the entity gave way to the pale palette of the human.

The spectre opened its eyes.

Terminated heliodor, lambent in the denim murk.

The chancellor raised her hand slightly, a call for silence, and turned to the porcelain spectre.

“Thank you for joining us, Mr. Kryos. I do appreciate how valuable your times is, given your commitments to the colonies. I take it your emissary briefed you on the nature of this meeting?”

Kryos’ avatar placed its hands upon the arms of the chair, palms down, and stared at the gleaming finish of the table.

“Few are the hours to act. No time remains for trivial, internecine dissent.”

“Errant disregard for law and order is hardly ‘trivial.'” Raka contended dourly, his hands flexing with agitation.

“Nor is your company’s rapacious extraction. The people demand more environmental oversight,” Akantha enjoined, leaning over the table with considerable animation.

“There are no resources that are not created. Order foremost among them. So it is order I prioritize. Inter arma enim silent leges.” Kryos responded evenly, without glancing to either of his detractors, his hands moving slowly over the tabletop, as if memorizing the subtle curvature of its dark and polished surface. He paused and looked at the domed ceiling. “What you decry shall be your salvation. Should you choose to listen.”

A murmur went up around the table. Raka shook his head as Vays arched a brow curiously.

“Salvation? What hubris…” Akantha proclaimed with a disdainful tilt of her graying head.

“Enough.” The chancellor shouted suddenly, straightening in her seat. “Let him speak.”

“Indeed.” Salis enjoined calmly. “We can’t criticize what we’ve yet to hear.”

“If we cannot govern ourselves, how can the public expect us to govern a city?” Vays interjected sardonically.

“I said enough. All of you. Now – Mr. Kryos – explain yourself.”

The spectre of Kryos looked from the tabletop to the surrounding faces, taking the measure of each with dispassionate perspicacity.

“The partisan grid attack was a diversion. Disruption of energy flows was not their aim – rather, the procurement of a synthetic virus. This event coincided with the theft of an object from one of my research bases. When combined with the aforementioned virus, the object would produce a bioweapon of considerable potency. One capable of eradicating all human life upon the continent.”

“W-what?”

“Why did you not come to us with this sooner?” The chancellor inquired, her stoicism giving way to grave concern and something else, twisting in her visage. Something that looked to Ermin very much like fear.

Kryos looked toward the woman without emotion. “I needed time to verify.”

“Time to verify what?”

“That the virus was manufactured by Vekt Corporation.”

Kryos held the chancellor’s gaze as the other members of the council looked to each other and then to Ermin Gild, who stood in the corner, hands in his pockets. His face bore faint traces of annoyance, but was elsewise impassive.

“Don’t look at me. I’ve no idea what he’s talking about.”

“Is it true?” The chancellor demanded.

Gild shrugged. “I don’t run the institute, I just fund it. Professor Grazen is the lead researcher there. I’ll speak with him immediately.”

“How can you not know?”

“I’m not a scientist, chancellor. I try to keep out of my researcher’s hair. Obviously, a investigation will need to be carried out. You shall have my full compliance, of course.”

“Good.”

The chancellor returned her attentions to the machinic phantom.

“You said this virus had the potential to wipe out all humans on the continent if it was combined with a piece of your technology. Explain.”

“That which was taken from me was a synthetic organism, purposed for prolonged deep space exploration. The nanites developed by Vekt specifically target living human cells. The cells of my creation are incompatible for replication of the nanites. The organism would thus prove a reliable long-duration carrier. Though it is not needed to transmit the nanites, which suggests the partisan’s goals are not continental, but global.”

“I don’t follow your reasoning.”

“If Aestival merely wished to infect the city, they would not have bothered stealing my creation.”

“Why is it you believe they stole it?”

“After Aestival’s first attack, they starkly laid out their desires. An end to civilization. All civilization. The single most extensive transport system is the intercontinental hydrorail, which finds its nexus in the deep colonies. Given these facts, I concluded their plan was to utilize my creation as a international carrier; infecting it with the virus, then releasing it into the city, given its sentience, under its own power, it would be swiftly discovered by my operatives and transported back to base; from there, infection would rapidly spread to all of the colonies, and once that happened-”

“It would be a global pandemic.”

“Yes.” The spectre paused, raising a hand to its left ear. Mask-like face creasing momentarily with intense focus. “Fortunately, my director has just located the aforementioned organism. I will have her forward all of you a brief of the situation.”

The chancellor nodded. “That would be helpful. Tell us, what course of action do you recommend, Mr. Kryos?”

“Keep the city open and the matter quiet.”

The chancellor opened her mouth to speak but was waylaid by Akantha, whose face bore traces of rising vexation.

“I’m surprised you’d pass up an opportunity to advance marshal law. I thought you liked playing God.”

“Human action is chiefly framed by ancestral duolithics. Natural, or Unnatural. Authentic, or Artificial. God, or Devil. Yet. Seldom are those revelatory spaces between known and unknown so mythopoetically enshrined.”

“I’m not talking about the history of human action, I’m talking about yours. Your hubris, your blithe effrontery to Nature.”

“Eyes preoccupied by looking do not see, Commissioner.”

The woman’s visage clouded with perplexity as the lights flickered once more and failed completely. Darkness fell across the room. Vays cursed under his breath as Akantha shouted to her attendant to see to the generator.

The spectre calmly observed the ire-contorted woman and gestured through the gloom, spreading his hands, visible only through the illumination of his wide, heliodoric eyes.

“This sightless pall, a paltry imitation of cosmic predilection. Shorn of the demense of Man. No eyes to spy the firmament. Nor hands to scrap it. No tongue to taste the ichor. Nor will to shape it.”

Moments later, power returned, bathing the room in azure luminescence.

Kryos was gone.