Kryos: Chapter 5

Previous chapter

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.

Next chapter

Kryos: Chapter 4

Previous chapter

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.”

Next chapter

Kryos: Chapter 3

Previous chapter

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.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Then we can expect it on the news in the next day or two.”

“Probably, Sir.”

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.”

“Haunts?”

“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.”

“Yeah?”

“If this situation escalates, bring Syzr in.”

Vogel arched a brow.

“Bring him in?”

“For protection.”

“His, or ours?”

Next chapter

Kryos: Chapter 2

Previous chapter

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.

“Well?”

He grimaced.

“They’re dead.”

“How?”

“Some guy. Came out of nowhere. Don’t know who.”

“What happened?”

“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?”

“You’re sure?”

“Yeah. Why?”

“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.”

“Oh.”

“All you’ve got to say is ‘Oh?'”

The man said nothing, perplexed by the woman’s outrage.

“You said you stabbed him.”

“Yeah.”

The man cracked a prideful grin.

“Fatally?”

“Nah. Armor, remember.”

“And he saw your face?”

“Yeah.”

“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.”

“Sia!”

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.

Next chapter

Fiction Circular 7/4/20

A weekly dissemination of fiction writing from around the web.


From Candy’s Monsters: What’s Inside by Candy Korman.

Men always lied about their height the way women always lied about their weight.

~C. Korman, What’s Inside

From Delicious Tacos: The Rage.

Knees go bad and you turn into keyboard Paul Kersey…

~D.T., The Rage

From Flora Fiction: Death Witch by Leon Clifford.

The captured fool looked down and had two realizations almost immediately. One, the bone he could see jutting out of his leg should, in fact, be on the inside of his ankle, and two, it was probably the source of excruciating pain emanating from the lower half of his person.

~L. Clifford, Death Witch

From Literally Stories: Tylen Brackus by Tom Sheehan.

October clouds were raggy and less than unique, filled with promise of the ominous sort, darker than usual, inertia buried in them, as if they were hanging there for a definite purpose.

~T. Sheehan, Tylen Brackus

From Richard Becker: The Sweeper.

“Looks nice,” June hesitated. “Quiet, maybe.”

“Let’s hope not too quiet,” Medford said, thinking of his film again.

~R. Becker, The Sweeper

From Terror House Magazine: The Silent Man by Alfred Kinning.

He didn’t use an alarm clock; he’d woken up at this time every day of his life.

~A. Kinning, The Silent Man

From The Inkwell: Paint Me by Matthew Donnellon.

He would draw out different pictures for her to find when she got home that when put together would reveal the location of her date.

~M. Donnellon, Paint Me

From The Literary Yard: The Empty Azurite by B.A. Varghese.

His thoughts were on more pressing matters. For one, his glass was empty.

~B.A. Varghese

Compiled by Kaiter Enless

Tatter (a novella)

TATTER (2020), the complete novella (EPUB) by Kaiter Enless is now available from Gumroad and Patreon.

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.

Tatter: Chapter 37 (Finis)

Previous chapter

Ryard woke, to a curious, faint humming coming from somewhere below. He blinked, blinded by the intense albescence which bathed the room and shook his pulsing head, groaning quietly. A pungent, antiseptic scent clotted the air and as his vision came back into focus, he realized he lay upon a cot within a great dome, partially composed of something that looked vaguely like glass, beyond which swam schools of small and colorful fish, thereafter departing to make way for an old shark, some twenty feet in length, whose back and gills were canopied with parasites and the remnants of abyssal battles. Ryard slowly rose into a sitting position. Pain throbbed faintly in his side and when he raised his hand to his wound he found it meticulously bandaged. He looked around in a daze. The ceiling of the dome was solid white and girded at each apex by small black dots; cameras on short, automated stalks. As his senses returned to normalcy, Ryard realized the cot was stationed within a sealed, semi-transparent chamber upon a platform which sat a great abyss, the bottom of which darkness rendered opaque.

Momentarily, the far humming grew in intensity as the twin portals to the chamber slowly opened.

Overtaken by curiosity, Vancing exited the chamber and strode out upon the platform.

The sound of footsteps reverberated throughout the chasm. A form moved in the depths. A man. The figure rose up from the lightless sink, pale and trim, with eyes like burnished heliodor, upon a floating bridge of argent, anthropodal machines, each offering itself in dutiful turn as a new step on a thriving aerial stair. The man stepped free from the flying extension and appraised the CAV-keep keenly as a whale bellowed beyond the transparent casing of the massive underwater dome.

“I hope your sleep was filled with pleasant dreams. I am Eidos Kryos. You are safe here. How are you feeling?”

Vancing was so surprised by the sudden visitation that, for a brief moment, he lost the power of speech and stood starring with bewilderment at the pallid, obsidian-garbed man before him as the aerial drones rose up out of the reach and drifted peaceably overhead.

“Much better. I barely feel any pain at all.” The CAV-keep turned and looked out the window at the aphotic expanse, lit only by the steady exterior lights of the gargantuan seacraft, “Where am I?”

“In the heart of The Progenitor, three kilometers under the ocean, fifty miles off the coast of Aecer. You’ve been asleep for three days.”

“No wonder I feel so disoriented. Not that I’m ungrateful for you patching me up, but… why am I here?”

“I wanted to meet you. I owe you. So very much. Your errant intervention saved not only my daughter and the city, but a bridge to the future.”

“I’m not really sure what you mean. I told her I’d help her get home. That was all.”

“A man of his word.”

“I try to be. What happened to the group that wanted her?”

“After you cut off the head of their snake, they scattered. I ensured the city would be sealed, and when they attempted to flee beyond it, found their way blocked and were promptly apprehended. Save for one, who my people will find, sooner or later. Aestival is no more. In no small part, thanks to you.”

“She told me you’d recompense me for my trouble.”

“And so I shall. What do you want, Mr. Vancing? Name it. If it is in my power to bestow, it shall be yours.”

“I just want to do my job. I’m never happier than when I’m ferrying fertilizer and fixing frayed wires. If you could make sure I keep my position after all of this blows over, I’d be immensely appreciative.”

“It shall be done.”

“And you – what do you want?”

Kryos looked off toward the abyss beyond, where phosphorescent jellyfish glowed in liminal drift.

“The firmament, gilded and baroque.”

Tatter: Chapter 35

Previous chapter

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?”

“Well done.”

“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.

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.

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Tatter: Chapter 32

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Moreno Carduus dashed through the mephitic, winding bowels of the subterranean reach. Mineral crunch following the echoing screams of her men. Ghastly wails, keen and guttural filled the passage one moment, muted the next.

She proceeded some fifty feet down the tunnel, reached the central urn repository and paused, crouching low, right hand firmly gripping the matte handle of her waverender. Two of the men she’d stationed at the corridor lay unconscious on the floor, flocked by six maintenance drones that scurried up and down the wall and floor of the long, narrow, cross-shaped stone chamber, seeking thermal signatures.

She raised her waverender, cross-haired the closest drone, took a deep breath, steadied, and fired. The machine twitched, stuttered and fell from the ceiling, crashing down upon the floor in a puff of dust, circuits fried. The remaining drones turned, erratically, scanning the room as the woman resumed her aim and took out two more of the machines before their sensors lighted upon her lithe and nervous frame.

Swiftly they came for her, from ceiling and wall, spiny legs clattering adroitly across fine-powered charnel and mold-grown stone. She fired blindly as she ran, and kept firing until her weapon clacked impotently against her weathered dactyls.

As she looked over her shoulder, cursing at her spent weapon, something caught her leg, tripping her face-first to the ground.

She scrambled to her elbows and looked up to behold a man who moved into the light with considerable agility and stood the center of the hall. He was of middling age and height, garbed in a monochrome jacket, with wild hair that spun up from his scalp in dark, wavy whorls. He held a stun gun loosely in his left hand, his form relaxed, his expression resolute. His eyes spared her but a brief glance before he took off down the hall, speeding towards the tar-pitched vault.

Toward Grazen’s lab.

Toward Her.

Moreno rose to a knee and unsheathed a carbide knife from her belt as the drones aggressively advanced, disclosing the possibility of escape.

She drew back her arm, skin slinging sweat, the blade glinting faintly with the scope-mounted light of the wasted weapon, grimaced, and lunged.

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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.

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